Raising the Independent Companies: Australia’s first special forces

The camp at Wilsons Promontory

The camp at Wilsons Promontory was given the cover name of No 7 Infantry Training School. To confuse any local spies, there was no No 6 Infantry Training School.
Courtesy TG Nisbet 

A small British military mission arrived in Australia in November 1940. Its task was to establish a covert camp to train Australians as special forces for use behind enemy lines. The rugged and isolated Wilsons Promontory, a narrow-necked peninsula 230kms south east of Melbourne, was chosen.

Volunteers were sought from the AIF who were under 33 years, single, and without dependents or strong family ties. Only the fit, self-reliant and adventurous were selected. They included bushmen, farmers and sportsmen who were formed into units each with 272 men.

These men were highly trained as guerrilla fighters for independent actions behind enemy lines. Each man became skilled in weapons’ use, infiltration, reconnaissance, field craft, demolition and signals.

The second unit raised, the No 2 Independent Company, was recruited largely from Western Australia (81%). Some of the officers and specialists came from the eastern states.

This unit was redesignated as the 2/2nd Independent Company while fighting in East Timor.

No 1 and No 2 Independent Company were then attached to Lark and Sparrow Forces.

British Military Mission instructors

British Military Mission instructors, Captain (Capt) Freddie Spencer Chapman and Captain (Capt) Michael ‘Mad Mike’ Calvert, were specialists in field craft and demolition. The British instructors departed when the Australian government determined that these units would only be used for the defence of Australia.
Courtesy Chatto & Windus