Share this story:

Air Raid Trenches

This is a story about Air Raid Trenches in Port Pirie during World War Two.

Japan’s intrusion into World War 2 roused sudden desire for certitude of safety among the civilians of Port Pirie. Port Pirie was considered a prime target for air raiders given its importance to the war as a key port and railway hub, lead smelter, and armaments manufacturing site.

7 weeks before the bombing of Darwin, a survey was carried out to determine excavation sites for the establishment of slit trenches around Port Pirie for the protection of schoolchildren.

Trenches were dug in Pirie Primary School, and the Children’s Playground (Pirie West Primary School Oval); Solomontown School and Prince’s Park; St. Mark’s School (in Soldier’s Memorial Park), at the rear of St. Anthony’s School in Solomontown; south of Pirie High School and west of the Technical School.

The trenches were zig-zagged (each section 15 yards long) in nature so that the occupants may have protection from dive-bombing from any direction and included entry and exit ramps.

The trenches were ideally dug 2 feet wide and to a depth of 4 feet 6 inches but due to the low water table this was not always possible; therefore low trenches were shaped-up with protective banks on the surface to afford protection.

Whilst 600 people gave their time at different stages, one survey counted voluntary labour of 300 men digging in the trenches and about 100 more helpers.

School staffs and officials, school committees, mothers clubs and similar organisations attended with enthusiastic assistance, particularly in regard to the arrangements made for afternoon tea for the working parties.

On all ‘fronts’ a flagon or two of beer arrived at intervals, and men halted just long enough to swallow a glass of the amber liquid.

Almost 3 miles of trenches were excavated for the protection of 2,300 children. It was described as the greatest piece of voluntary hard work ever accomplished in Port Pirie.

Several people also dug trenches and shelters at home at their own expense.

Civil Defence Authorities conducted air raid signals tests where the Port Pirie Smelter ‘whistle’, a siren on Esmond Road and a siren at Forgan’s Foundry alerted citizens of an “impending air raid”. Opportunity was taken by headmasters to rehearse the scholars in approaching and entering the slit trenches.

This story was collected by the Port Pirie RSL to preserve the history of people in their local community.