Ipswich Railway Workshops

Mitsubishi A6M engine valve cover sent to the Ipswich Railway Workshops for metallurgical analysis during the Second World War (Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich)

As a consequence of the 1939 British Air Mission to Australia, the state railways in Victorian, New South Wales, and South Australian each became involved in the production of military aircraft and aero engines.

Following a visit to Queensland in March 1939 by the Mission’s Technical Member L C Ord, serious consideration was also given to expanding the state rail workshops at Ipswich, west of Brisbane, so that aircraft and engine production could commence there.

Ord had ’empasized the necessity for spreading production of aircraft as widely as possible over industrial areas of the Commonwealth’, adding that …’It was preferable to use existing offices and buildings if a quick start were desired.’ (The Courier-Mail, 25 March 1939 Page 2)

Negotiations between the Queensland State and Commonwealth Governments commenced earnestly mid July 1939, points of difference appearing almost immediately. Ord had estimated a minimum floor space requirement of 30,000 square feet, only 10,000 of which was then available. Although the Commonwealth was prepared to fund the expansion, it insisted on being ‘reimbursed the salvage value of such provisions or alterations when the buildings are no longer required for the purpose.’ This proposition was rejected outright by the Queensland Premier in a letter to R G Casey (Minister for Supply & Development) dated 14 July 1939:

‘…the Queensland Government does not regard with favour the proposition that it should spend £30,000 on buildings that are not needed for the State’s own requirements and may never be used.’ (Queensland State Archives Item 267150)

The Commonwealth responded the following month by sending the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation’s General Manager (the unfortunately named – Mr Clapp) to Ipswich, the latter finding ‘that the facilities available in the Ipswich railway workshops, as well as in private engineering establishments in Queensland, were incompatible with the carrying out of the work which it was originally tentatively proposed should be allocated to Queensland.’

The Ipswich facilities which Ord had described in March 1939 as ‘impressive’ were, barely five months later, deemed by Clapp to be ‘incompatible’. The latter’s findings effectively put an end to the proposal, triggering an immediate recall of the four Queensland Railway employees who had been sent to England mid year for production aircraft training (a fifth trainee, Toolmaker Wood, remaining in England to complete his training).

Although during the war the Ipswich Workshops were mainly producing munitions they did, by virtue of their of their metallurgical expertise, occasionally have some limited involvement with military aviation.

Vince Preston, who worked in the Tool and Gauge Room at Ipswich during the war, recalled how these engines pieces – recovered from a Japanese Zero fighter aircraft – had been sent to Ipswich for metallurgical analysis (hence, the drill holes)….’we were under a lot of pressure to provide quick and accurate results.’

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