39th Australian Employment Company
From Our Contribution
The 39th Australian Employment Company was formed at the RAF Training Centre at Kapooka in New South Wales in December 1943 before moving the following month to Gaythorne in Queensland. Renamed 39th Australian Works Company in April 1944 they were allocated to assist in preparations for action north of New Guinea. However, in late 1944 Australian troops were needed to replace US troops in New Guinea and its islands, with the 5th Australian Infantry Division to land at Jacquinot Bay on the south coast of New Britain to contain the Japanese troops in Rabaul.
In October 1944 the unit left for New Guinea and was in Jacquinot Bay in December. They worked at Jacquinot Bay until the end of the war before moving to Raaul once the Japanese had surrendered.
- Norman Henry Napier Fowler 1 Nov 1944 - 16 Oct 1945
During the Second World War, the Australian Army established 39 Employment Companies, totaling by war’s end about 15,000 men. While the name of these army units occasionally varied – Employment Company, Labour Company, Works Company, Labour Unit, Labour Corps – their function did not. They were established to ensure that the Australian Defence Force had a large corpus of soldiers dedicated to essential labouring tasks, the hard physical labour needed to maintain the war effort and support the fighting forces. Of the 39 Companies, 11 were in part or whole made up of ‘aliens’, non-British citizens.
The ‘alien’ companies were not armed. Soldiers without guns, they camped at places like Tocumwal and Albury on the New South Wales/Victorian border, where an earlier history of State rivalry led to the stupidity of differing rail gauges. There they worked on the trains, loading and unloading military supplies, including foodstuffs and armaments. Across the country, parties of Employment Company soldiers were directed to factories for packing and transporting goods; others worked on the wharves, repaired roads, drove trucks loaded with military equipment. In the words of a journalist, ‘Men who were not allowed to carry arms spent their days loading bombs on trucks.’ Some of the Chinese in the 7th Company worked in the mines in Queensland and later ended up under the control of the US military. A number of the Koepangese from the 23rd Company became members of the sabotage units in Z Force, sent to report on and infiltrate Japanese-occupied Timor.
Brief History content has come from The Unit Guide - Volume 6 - The Australian Army 1939-1945 , pages 6.147 & 6.148 - Graham R McKenzie-Smith - Big Sky Publishing - 2018