Saturday, March 21, 2015

National Archives of Australia preparation and findings

display case at RSL Museum Redcliffe featuring rifle and hat propped in bed of sand with bullets in front of cross
RSL Museum Redcliffe

It's been another busy week at work preparing for the WWI commemorations; working on digital presentations to go with physical display items.  This is a photo of one of the displays at the Redcliffe RSL Museum which is worth a visit. You can have a cup of coffee or lunch afterwards at The Point - which just opened recently; all very swish.  The photos on their website/Facebook page don't really do it justice.  Go and see it for yourself.

Today I have been preparing to attend Congress next week and have just ordered some items to view in the National Archives Reading Room in Canberra. In the process I created a template for a form which I have called National Archives of Australia Advance Records Request.  It's for when you are requesting multiple items. Probably someone has already created this template but if you think you might use it in future you can download it here.  I've shared it on Dropbox.  I'm not the world's most advanced Excel user so if you think you can improve it, please go right ahead.  If you want to view items at the NAA while you are at Congress, you really need to get onto this NOW as they do like 5 working days notice.

Photo of printed files from National Archives of Australia
Printed files from NAA

And so today I wanted to report on the files I recently acquired from the National Archives with regard to the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation.

I ordered the following on 18 January this year:

Barcode number: 401104
Series number: M274
Control symbol: 13
Item title: Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Aircraft Engine Factory, Lidcombe
Access status: Open

Barcode number: 3305912
Series number: MP959/57
Control symbol: 280/F/653
Item title: Future of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Engine Factory Lidcombe

Access status: Open
Barcode number: 3305999
Series number: MP959/57
Control symbol: 280/L/721
Item title: Representation on behalf of retrenched employees at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Lidcombe for payment for Long Service Leave

Access status: Open

NAA replied 4 February (10 working day turnaround which I think is very good) advising me that I could view the records in the North Melbourne reading room or order electronic or printed copies.  I ordered electronic copies at a cost of $62.70 the next day.  Printed would have cost me $89.70.  

I received the links to view them 17 March (approximately 6 week turnaround) which I guess is how long it takes to digitize 58 pages.  I'm just one of many family historians badgering poor Archives I suppose.

Now that I've ordered them, you can view them for yourself at the hotlinks indicated above.  That's my contribution to the unveiling of Australian history.  You're most welcome.

A search of the National Archives of Australia for "Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation" gives 501 results.  I confess that I haven't searched all of these results properly.  Maybe about 300 or so results.  It all takes time.

The Archives are spread across Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney repositories.  

You could search by the term "CAC" which is how many people refer to it.  That produces 382 results.  However, there is the risk that it could be confused with the Civil Aliens Corporation (now there's a whole other interesting story) or indeed the Commonwealth Archives Committee.

I was really interested in the Lidcombe Engine Factory because that was where my grandfather worked from 1942 to 1956 to the best of my knowledge.

The search term "CAC Lidcombe" produces 23 results.

The search term "Lidcombe engine" produces 70 results.

The search term "Lidcombe engine factory" produces 61 results.

You can see where the time goes.

Anyway so what did the files I ordered reveal?

You might remember from a previous blog post that I found a photo of my grandfather with some fellow chess players including a W.R. Pye.

There's the signature on the back. Well I have to assume it's a signature.  I have no way of knowing who wrote the name.  

I ordered some of the files from the National Archives because in the item record it says that they feature representations by Mr R W Pye.  I thought that was too close to be a coincidence.  I hoped to compare signatures on documents or something like that.

Now let's look at the signature on the correspondence to Archives in the item with Barcode number: 3305912.

Sigh.  What do you think this looks like?  Could it be a RW Pye?  The more I look at it the more I think it says R.D. Pye.  

A search of Ancestry found a William Robert Pye at Cabramatta described as a sheet-metal worker and if you check him on Trove he seems to win the problem solving competitions in the Sunday Herald on a regular basis.  So I think that's the person that my grandfather knew through chess.  WR Pye of course could also have worked at C.A.C. as a sheet metal worker.

A search of an R.D. Pye on Trove find a chap who hails from Rabaul originally and who studied Industrial Management at Technical college.  

I think we have two different people. Oh well.  

Back to the files!

Barcode number: 401104 or PDF
Series number: M274
Control symbol: 13
Item title: Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Aircraft Engine Factory, Lidcombe

Warning:  This file doesn't print out very well from the PDF.  The paper is very dark and you might want to try adjusting the print quality if you can.  

68 pages in length.

This file basically contains the report by Mr E. J. L. Gibson -the Engineer in charge of construction of the Aircraft Engine Factory at Lidcombe which suggests the procedure to be adopted with regard to the building program.  

If you wanted to get an insight into what it took to set up an aircraft engine factory in the 1940s, this has all the detail you need.  

It was suggested that the procedure used to build the G.M.H. Plant at Pagewood be followed, to the extent that it was recommended that Mr. J.E.R. Doig - Chief Architectural Draughtsman of the Pagewood Plant and Miss L. Loftus, Secretary at G.M.H. also be employed because of their previous experience.  Furthermore "it is strongly recommended that, in general, the Contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers of material employed by G.M.H. Ltd at Pagewood by employed on the Lidcombe works without further reference."

From Zero Hour, the factory was expected to be completed in 24 weeks according to the Time Schedule.  The preliminary estimate of costs was £151,760 of which £77, 480 was for the engine factory, £16,570 for a club house building (including servery, cloakrooms, washrooms and shower rooms for 450 men) and £2,000 for a gate-house building including employment office.  The engine test house, where my grandfather worked was allocated £15,000 and was calculated to be 2, 600 square feet in area.

For someone who is employed now in estimates on a construction site, this might provide amusing reading.  For example, the cost of wiring all telephone connections was estimated at £100, £500 for timekeeping equipment and £300 for a bicycle shed.

There is an analysis of tenders for the structural steel contract.  Tenders were received from Bernard Smith Pty Ltd, Sydney Steel Co, Morris & Co, Hurll & Douglas and C.E. Goodwin.

Then follows a list of machine tools and equipment for the twin row factory not yet delivered and a list of machine tools and equipment on loan from Hastings Deering and Broken Hill Pty Ltd. Then follows a list of £316,082 worth of equipment shipped from R.W. Cameron & Co. as at 4 October 1940.

Then a breakdown of "S" orders.  I assume "S" in this instance means suppliers.  Once again if you wanted an idea of which companies supplied aircraft manufacture this gives you a great overview.  We're talking lathes, grinders, drills, patterns, gears.  So not my thing.  But an insight nevertheless.

Barcode number: 3305912 or PDF
Series number: MP959/57
Control symbol: 280/F/653
Item title: Future of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Engine Factory Lidcombe
Access status: Open

Warning : there are the usual duplicates to be found in Archival documents so just check before you print that you only print the pages you need!

42 pages

This file features correspondence between a Mr R.D. Pye of 17 Squire Street Ryde to The Hon. Howard Beale, then Minister for Supply from November 1956 until April 1957.

"Howard Beale" by Australian News Information Bureau - National Library of Australia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Mr Pye does not reveal what position he held at C.A.C. He just says that he was employed there for 16 years and "held staff positions of responsibility."

It is difficult to summarise all the points he raises but chiefly he is concerned with what he perceived to be the lack of proper planning which led to not only swift and unexpected retrenchments but also many people leaving as a result of the instability.  Here are some quotes to give you a flavour of the three page letter:

"One of the greatest blows and most politically damaging actions was the sudden closing down of the Apprentice School.  The Management asked for £2,700 to carry on the School until the end of this month in order to permit the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year boys to complete their examinations.  This was refused and instead instructions issued to give teachers and boys one weeks notice to finish on 9/11/56."


"Mr Holt publicly state that skilled people would be easily absorbed in private industry.  He was probably right if he was thinking of people under 40.  Some highly skilled people from here are finding it very difficult indeed to find jobs - the over 40 ones.

In the unskilled class i.e. people not tradesmen, but who through long schoolig here became skilled in their own particular job, are in a situation that is more than difficult." (I think my grandfather would have been classed in this category)

(Yes, Loani - this photo is for you - read caption carefully...perhaps another angle for Julian to follow up???)


"I and my friends have been liberal all our lives and a number of us have been fighting communism in various ways.  It is galling to see smiles on the faces of communists over the actions of a liberal government and have to remain silent and red faced in the presence of labour-socialists."

There then follows correspondence between the Minister and the Acting Assistant Secretary of Aircraft Production Mr E.A. Simmell and and the Secretary of C.A.C. (Shannon?).

Salient points to note from the Minister's final correspondence to Mr Pye are:

  • 309 workers left the Lidcombe factory from January 1st to September 30th, including those employees on engine servicing who were retrenched in March and April 1956
  • retrenchment of employees on servicing work was brought about by the decision of the R.A.A.F. to discontinue allotting twin row Wasp and Merlin engines to the factory for attention.

Barcode number: 3305999 and PDF
Series number: MP959/57
Control symbol: 280/L/721
Item title: Representation on behalf of retrenched employees at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Lidcombe for payment for Long Service Leave

11 pages

This file includes correspondence from the C.A.C. Combined Unions Shop Committee (A.D. Roberts) and The Secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (J.D. Garland) to Mr Howard Beale, Minister for Defence Production from 3 July 1957 to September 1957.

Both unions wrote to the Minister regarding the delay in payment of long service leave to ex-employees of the plant who had been retrenched.  

The issue was resolved to the satisfaction of both unions.

There is mention of a court case which seemed to delay the process W.N. Haylor against T.A. Robinson & Sons Pty Ltd.  I'm not sure if that is worth following up or not.  

The letter from the CAC Combined Unions shop committee refers to:

"200 employees who were dismissed last October as a result of your Governments reorganiation of the military aircraft industry."

So - what have I gained?  Well some insight into what was going on for my grandfather during his working life at C.A.C.  I still haven't found official documents that confirm his employment there.  I'm not sure if I ever will but I will keep hunting.


Commonwealth Electoral Roll, 1930, District Parramatta, Subdivision Liverpool, Bankstown, p. 68, 4008, Pye, William Robert Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010

"CHESS." The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) 13 Jun 1950: 12. Web. 21 Mar 2015 <>

"CHESS." The Sunday Herald (Sydney, NSW : 1949 - 1953) 18 Jun 1950: 12 Supplement: Features. Web. 21 Mar 2015 <>

"CHESS." The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) 25 Sep 1951: 12. Web. 21 Mar 2015 <>.tle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) 1 Jan 1953: 4. Web. 21 Mar 2015 <>.

"DEPT. OF INDUSTRIAL MANAGEMENT." The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) 7 Jan 1946: 7. Web. 21 Mar 2015 <>

"Speaking Personally." Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) 1 Jan 1953: 4. Web. 21 Mar 2015 <>.


Karen S. said...

Wow, what you are doing is incredible. You must feel very honored.

Alex Daw said...

Thanks Karen. Though I do feel very guilty about not participating in Sepia Saturday of late, I must say.

Jill Ball said...

Wow - have you been getting any sleep?

Oops, think I've left my NAA run a bit late. With the amount of stuff I've ordered in from the NLA I think I'll be occupied!

Queen of the Tea Cosies said...

Julian alerted to his family name reference. He's keen to delve further.