The Archaeology of World War II in South Australia
Archaeological Investigations of the Repatriation General Hospital Air Raid Shelters, Daw Park, South Australia.
- Memories of the Air Raid Shelters
- Archaeology of the Repat's Air Raid Shelters (pamphlet) (PDF 1MB)
- Student Interpretive Projects
- Investigations by Repat staff (PDF 109KB)
Final report -
Beginning in 2004, the Department of Archaeology became involved in a long term project to investigate the archaeological potential of surviving World War II air raid shelters thought to be located beneath the Daw Park Repatriation Hospital (the 'Repat') in Adelaide. As potential surviving relics of WWII, the air raid shelters are rare elements of the military cultural landscape of the Repatriation Hospital, as well as of the wider defensive landscape of Adelaide in general.
The Repatriation General Hospital was opened in 1942 as an Australian Military Hospital and used for Army casualties during World War II. In 1947 the control of the hospital passed to the Repatriation Commission, until it was taken over by the State Government in 1995. The air raid shelters were built as part of general precautions ( General Precautions (PDF 491KB) ) for protecting staff and patients in the event of enemy attack. Not much is known about them, but there are various pieces of hospital folklore that claim they came complete with an underground operating theatre. This was probably not the case, but archaeology will be able to fill in these gaps and tell a unique story about these largely forgotten features.
The Archaeology of WWII Project was initiated by the Repat, who contacted the Department of Archaeology for assistance in locating the air raid shelters. Initial research into the possible location of the air raid shelters in 2004, conducted by undergraduate students in ARCH3302: Archaeological Field Methods, located part of a concrete pathway leading to one of the shelters, but was unable to excavate further (the remainder of the land was private property). Although three other trenches were dug in nearby locations, none discovered definite evidence of the air raid shelters or their entrances.
Subsequent research in 2005 focussed on collecting oral histories from staff and former patients of the Repatriation Hospital to see how much people remembered about the location of the air raid shelters and whether there were other areas in which we could focus a future excavation. Students in ARCH2002: Australian Historical Archaeology interviewed several people who remembered the shelters, and, in some instances, had even been inside them. These interviews revealed an alternative location for one of the entrances to the air raid shelters, which became the focus of geophysical survey work that commenced in 2006.
One thing that the oral history program clearly revealed was the volume and extent of stories referring to a range of underground places at the Repat. We collected numerous references to tunnels between buildings, underground storage areas, secret holding cells, underfloor sleeping areas and hidden cache locations. Repat staff members Ken Mayes and Darren Renshaw personally followed up each of these leads (PDF 109KB) , as well as investigating every possible hatch or manhole noted across the Repat complex. None proved positive: reputed “tunnels” turned out to be stormwater drains, “cellars” were exposed as crawl spaces for service access, and many areas claimed to have entry hatches showed no signs of any underfloor features. If tunnels had been installed it is reasonable to assume they would have been built before or during the main construction phase (1940-1942) and therefore would be indicated on existing plans and specifications. With the exception of Laybourne-Smith's plans for the shelters, all construction specifications for the Repat have been located and none show any evidence for underground areas. Tunnelling would also have involved considerable expense and labour, neither of which is present in any expenditure reports. Despite their proliferation and resilience none of these stories could be substantiated as true.
In September 2007, students of ARCH3303: Historical Archaeological Field School excavated at several sites indicated by oral histories as possibly containing physical remnants of the air raid shelters. The excavation was open to the public and many trenches were dug on the Repat's grounds. No new traces of the air raid shelters were revealed, but the entrance between Wards 1 and 3, first identified in 2004, was re-opened and excavated in more detail. This trench revealed low L-shaped walls at the mouth of the entrance, capped by concrete on the north side and stone on the south. The walls of the tunnel entrance to the shelter were formed from the natural hard clay subsoil, and were approximately 1.8 metres high, and appear to continue through to the adjoining property. A short length of concrete path led from the road to the mouth of the entrance and beyond the end of this path was a thick layer of gravel laid over a thin lens of builder's sand.
We know from historical records that the shelters were constructed using timber trestles to support walls made from rivetted galvanised corrugated iron, and with additional timbering for the roof to support curved corrugated iron sheets (see general precautions for more details). There are no historical details of the interior floor of the shelters, but based on the archaeological remains these may have been made of timber, possibly with slats to enable the water to drain through the layer of gravel to the bottom layer of sand. No other structural elements of the air raid shelter entrance have survived, leading us to suspect that all of the timber and corrugated iron sheeting was removed before the trenches were filled in. Many oral histories continue to insist that one, possibly two, entrances were still open and accessible in the 1970s, but at this point we cannot reconcile the archaeological information with the oral histories.
The Archaeology of WWII Project at the Repat is asking a range of questions about the intent and purpose of the shelters: What were the local defensive perceptions that led to the construction of the air raid shelters? How long was it intended that people stay in them and what range of activities could be accommodated within them? How serious was the threat of an enemy air raid considered to be?
Find out more about air raid shelters in Australia and the Repatriation Hospital project by downloading the powerpoint presentation, 'The Archaeology of Air Raid Shelters', by Dr Alice Gorman, here (PPT 3MB) .
Trench 1: Excavation in 2007 revealed more details of one entrance between Wards 1 and 3.
Trench 1: In 2004 a hand-dug trench near Ward 3 revealed traces of a concrete pathway leading to the entrance of one of the shelters.