RAAF Base Richmond


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Site Name: RAAF Base Richmond
Site Number: 3
Address: Percival Street , McNamarra Avenue Richamond NSW 2755
Category: Base - Air Force Base
Date: c. 1915
War: WW I
Heritage Listings: None

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About 50ha, Windsor Road, Richmond, comprising the following: 1. A core precinct being an area bounded by McNamarra Avenue in the east, Canberra Avenue in the north, and Middleton Avenue in the west and south. 2. The main runway. 3. The following places located outside the core precinct area: Hangars 1, 2, 4, 5 and Building 9 located on the western and southern side of Middleton Avenue; the Metro Cinema (373) on Memorial Drive, corner McNamarra Avenue; Bellman Hangars (311-313) located to the south of the intersection of Memorial Drive and Percival Street; the Thrift Shop (231), Cottages (M59 and 65), Nissen Huts (ACS 2, 6) and P-type huts (ACS 11, 12) located to the north of Canberra Avenue.

History / Provenance

RAAF Base Richmond is one of the most active in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and a site of early aviation attempts in Australia.  In 1912, Parramatta dentist, William Ewart Hart, obtained land at Richmond, known as Ham Common, for an airfield.

However, the ground was not used again until September 1914, one month after the onset of the First World War, when Frenchman Maurice Guillaux set up a flying school.  The First World War slowed development, but in 1915 the NSW Government set up an Aviation School to produce, initially, military pilots for the fledgling Australian Flying Corps and the Royal Flying Corps, and later to train civilian pilots.  On graduation the new pilots went to Point Cook in Victoria, Australia's first military aviation establishment.


The establishment of the training program followed a flight to Parramatta from Richmond by the NSW Minister for Public Instruction.  The NSW Aviation School began under the auspices of the Department of Public Works but was transferred to the NSW Department of Public Instruction in March 1917.  In April 1916, the NSW Government Gazette listed, as reserved from sale, land at Ham Common for aviation purposes.  Richmond was the first government owned civil aerodrome in Australia.  A large hangar 162x120 feet (now demolished) was built at a cost of 12,000 pounds in addition to a repair shop.  The first instructor's were Australians W J Stutt and Andrew Lang.  Stutt had worked at the Royal Aircraft factory Farnborough as a test pilot.  The Aviation School was officially opened on 28 August 1916, by the State Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, with the first course starting in August 1916.


The Armistice in November 1918 ended the need for military training, and in May 1919 Stutt recommended that Sydney Technical College could hold appropriate technical courses and that the base be taken over by the Department of Defence.  In July 1920, the Ham Common site was offered to the Commonwealth for 14,118 pounds for the land and buildings, including the hangar, a caretaker’s cottage and wooden huts for staff and pupils.  On 31 March 1921, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was formed and by July 1921 the RAAF had outlined its intention to acquire a site to establish 2nd Wing Headquarters and Nos 3 and 4 Squadrons in the Sydney region.  The choice of Richmond was based on the existing facilities and its proximity to rail services in addition to its location beyond possible coastal attack.  A 175 acre site was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1923 at a cost of 9,318 pounds.


A Public Works Committee visited Richmond on 4 November 1924 to inspect the site.  The report of the Public Works Committee recommended development of the site, at a cost of 177,400 pounds, for Commonwealth aviation purposes.  No.101 Flight was established at Point Cook in July 1925, equipped with Supermarine Seagull MK 2 amphibious aircraft.  These moved to Richmond in April 1926.  Despite a critical report in 1928 by Air Marshall Sir John Salmond, recommending expansion over a nine-year period, the only outcome was the purchase of eight Bristol Bulldog fighters in 1929.


A three-year expansion program was however, announced by the Minister for Defence for the RAAF and by 1932 new facilities included a second hangar (part hangar 4) in brick, the first amenities block (10), the Air Base Wing Headquarters building (11) and two brick airmen's accommodation blocks (26-27).  By the time a new transport hangar was completed in 1935, building 22 (now RAAF College), the Sergeant's Mess (25) and married officers quarters (M1, M2) had also been added.  The planning of the base was beginning to emerge, with the road networks, including Middleton Avenue, under construction.  No. 3 Squadron was the RAAF's top Squadron in 1935, but in 1936 this Squadron split, with No. 2 Aircraft Depot to be formed at Richmond.  Except for a small break in the 1950s No.2 Aircraft Depot (AD) is still at Richmond.


In 1935, over 100,000 pounds was set aside, for construction. Included in the program were two twin hangars (2, 5), a large store building (110), a small store, a transport building, and five more single-men's blocks flanking the parade ground.  By 1937, the Richmond base was clearly differentiated into grassed runway areas and a core area, in three zones, with hangars (1-5) and service buildings (106, 107, 110), barracks (26-35), sergeants mess (25) and communal buildings, including a parade ground, theatre (24 now gymnasium) and a hospital and married officers housing (M0-3, M12-14 and M19 Richmond House) associated with the landscaped oval.  Building 7 (now Hydraulics Store) and Building 13 (now Air Lift HQ) also appear to have been erected by 1937.  The boundaries of the core areas were defined by the road network and Main Gate (112), reinforced by wind break trees.  The oval was landscaped with cypress trees set out in circles and arcs.


In 1937-38 a new budget statement, as part of the New Defence Program Statement, outlined the provision of additional funding for Defence.  Over 30% would be spent on the air force, reinforcing the high priority for expansion of the air force.  Major capital works were envisaged.  In 1938 a new gymnasium and the officers mess (71) were completed.  Building M15-18, flat type accommodation for Wing Commanders, was probably completed by 1939.


The declaration of war in 1939 placed Richmond in an active role and in September 1939 No.11 Squadron was formed at Richmond.  A camp, Tin City, was also formed across Cornwallis Road for 650 men. A bomb dump was also established opposite No.3 Squadron hangar, with coastal defence a priority, including anti-submarine bombing. In January 1940, Richmond took over a recruit training role, becoming No. 2 Recruit Depot.  A small hospital with 122 beds and 123 staff accommodated the expansion.  Coastal surveillance was transferred to Camden in November 1942, following Japan's entry into the war, with Richmond responsible for flying training, target training, meteorological surveys and cooperation with the Army.  In April 1943, the Paratroop Training Unit (PTU) at Laverton moved to Richmond.  The PTU utilised hangars 4 and 5 for training and administration.  The base now included, as well as the brick hangar and original Ham Common hangar, three new hangars, building 111 erected as a warehouse (pre-1941), building 9 (now No1 Combat Communications), additional brick barracks blocks, an ornamental lake, a hospital and a population of some 4,500.  RAAF other ranks were accommodated in P-type huts, with soldiers in tents in Tin City.  A new cinema, the Metro theatre (373) now relocated, was erected in the wartime expansion associated with Tin City.  The Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAF) was formed in April 1941, playing a major role in servicing the base and in technical work, including aircraft maintenance.  Although increased flying activity was generated, it was not until the end of the war, in January 1945, that the runways were sealed and surfaced.  The Chapels (374) were completed in 1945 using P-type huts.


During the post war years, demobilisation dramatically reduced the numbers of enlisted personnel with No.2 AD consolidated into Headquarters Squadron.  However, a new runway was built in 1950 and rebuilt in 1953 in conjunction with new Pentard hangars (307, 308, 320, 321) on the eastern side of the base, following the introduction of the National Service Scheme in July 1951.  In addition Bellman hangars (311, 312, 313) were relocated from Evans Head to form the motor transport repair section.  Buildings from the wartime years, including Nissen huts, were adapted to other uses (65, M59, ACS-2,-6,-11,-12,-231).  From 1966, the Richmond base almost doubled in size, requiring the construction of new entrance gates.


In the second half of the twentieth century, the Richmond base has become the centre of the RAAF's air transport operations, in particular C130 Hercules aircraft, which operated in conjunction with No3 RAAF hospital at Richmond during emergencies.  The No3 RAAF hospital, redeveloped in the 1990s, has now become one of the leading medical establishments in the Australian Defence Force.  Many early buildings have been identified for their historic and heritage values by Defence.

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