The secret of Camp Hill

When the Second World War broke out, little did Andy Duncan know that he would uncover a plot on Australian soil.

The grave news came that Great Britain and France had declared war on Germany, and it was received with a stoical calm by the majority of Australians, who realised that the Empire and its Allies were facing the inevitable

Riponshire Advocate 9 September 1939

Andy was determined to do his bit for the Empire once more, even though he knew he was medically unfit: he still carried shrapnel from Gallipoli, his mangled toes were a legacy of German interrogations, and he had increasing  periods where he was bed-ridden.

A War Veterans’ Defence Corps was proposed for Beaufort, to be made up of men who had fought in the 1914-18 war. Andy voted for it without hesitation. A unit was formed with Mr. C. H. McKay Commanding Officer, Mr. W. Cheeseman Second-in-Command, and Mr. A. S. Duncan – Andy – Adjutant.

As part of the home defences a communications bonfire was built on Camp Hill. It was to be lit if Beaufort was in danger of enemy attack.

The Defence Corps was a part-time affair, with weekly muster parades and drills. The rest of the time Andy continued his work as paymaster for the forestry workers on Mount Cole. Each fortnight he would ride out to the timber cutters’ camps to issue their wages.

While making payments Andy overheard a small group of migrant workers speaking in German. They were planning a night raid to set the communications bonfire alight. They were then going to take advantage of the confusion to target the state-of-the-art Wotherspoon store and steal from it and other retail shops in Neill Street and Lawrence Street.

The German workers thought that they could plan in secret if they used their mother tongue, but Andy had picked up enough German during his time as a prisoner of war that he understood the plan.

A few nights later, when the would-be looters arrived at Camp Hill to light the communications bonfire they were surrounded by members of the Defence Corps and the military – and interned until the end of World War II.

The men involved in this event kept it secret as Australia was at war. It was only years later that Andy told the story to his grandson.


Adapted from a family story told by Andy Duncan to his grandson, Robert Palmer

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 – 1957) 12 Aug 1940. National Library of Australia

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 Sep 1939. State Library of Victoria

Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 29 Jun 1940. State Library of Victoria

Featured image: Camp Hill Beaufort. Looking across the railroad tracks to Camp Hill.

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