RAAF GAWLER 1941-1946:

During the Second World War the RAAF built a number of air bases around Australia to house units and squadrons in the rapidly expanding Air Force. These bases particularly in the southern regions of the continent were constructed for two main reasons. 

Initially they were far enough away from any areas that could be classed as a combat zone and therefore were ideal to house newly formed units and to provide bases that flying training could be undertaken in complete safety without fear of being intercepted. Secondly, with the invasion scare after the Japanese advance through New Guinea and the Solomon Islands the infamous "Brisbane Line" was put in place should the Australian mainland be directly threatened with invasion.

This line ran from approximately Pt Augusta at the top of Spencer Gulf in South Australia to a point north of Brisbane, Queensland and was a fall back line to concede the north to the Japanese whilst affording protection to the industrial and built up southern regions. Those airfields then being built (1941/42) and exisiting airfields would then form the RAAF's frontline airfields. Fortunately the battles on the Kokoda Track and at Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, along with the Carrier battle of the Coral Sea and the US landings on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands; checked the Japanese advance and saved Australia from any theat of invasion.

RAAF Station Gawler was one of those stations built in late 1941 as a further extension of RAAF Mallala* itself then the largest air force base in South Australia. 

The huge task of building a modern  airfield was given to the State Highway’s Department for urgent completion. However, the sophisticated road making equipment  needed was in short supply in those days, and given the urgency, it was seen as a mammoth task. A US Engineer Unit was at hand later in the war and provided much of the knowhow and specialist equipment needed to seal the runways of the airfield and erect its required hangers and buildings.

The design brief for Gawler Airfield was to provide an all weather aerodrome, capable of lasting for three years. The construction method was novel for the day, employing a compact earth technique not usually used for the purpose. The soundness of the concept is born out by the fact that some 70 years later, the airfield has well outlasted its three-year use-by date! And it was capable of handling the heaviest aircraft in service during the war. It is known that US B-24 Liberators, B-29 Superfortresses and at least one RAAF Lancaster had flown in and out of Gawler during the war years.

Aside the airfield, an extensive accommodation arrangement and administration was erected in the depression east of the present day Northern Expressway. Post war, this was used as a migrant hostel, but was dismantled in 1960. This is the area now occupied by the Willaston Oval and 608SQN AAFC.

*NOTE that RAAF Edinburgh was not built until the 1950's.


B-29 "Waltzing Matilda" on the Apron at RAAF Gawler; Circa 1945.


Qantas Empire Airways C-87 Liberator at Gawler Circa 1945-6. The young lady is ACW Rae Bull.