12th Australian Employment Company

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Brief History

Originally raised during May 1942 as the 11th Australian Labour Company (Alien) at Davilak (Cockburn) in Western Australia from volunteer alien refugees and some allied nationals. They worked primarily on the wharves at Fremantle. In July they were renamed the 12th Australian Labour Company, and then in September the 12th Australian Employment Company. Planned to be disbanded in January 1944, they were instead moved to Chermside in Queensland during March 1944 where they worked in the general Brisbane area, and had a detachment at the Redbank Returned Stores Depot. In May 1945 they comprised a HQ unit and five platoons which continued to work in the Brisbane area until the end of the war.

Unit Personnel


During the Second World War, the Australian Army established 39 Employment Companies, totaling by war’s end about 15,000 men. While the name of these army units occasionally varied – Employment Company, Labour Company, Works Company, Labour Unit, Labour Corps – their function did not. They were established to ensure that the Australian Defence Force had a large body of soldiers dedicated to essential labouring tasks, the hard physical labour needed to maintain the war effort and support the fighting forces. Of the 39 Companies, 11 were in part or whole made up of ‘aliens’, non-British citizens.

The ‘alien’ companies were not armed. Soldiers without guns, they camped at places like Tocumwal and Albury on the New South Wales/Victorian border, where an earlier history of State rivalry led to the stupidity of differing rail gauges. There they worked on the trains, loading and unloading military supplies, including foodstuffs and armaments. Across the country, parties of Employment Company soldiers were directed to factories for packing and transporting goods; others worked on the wharves, repaired roads, drove trucks loaded with military equipment. In the words of a journalist, ‘Men who were not allowed to carry arms spent their days loading bombs on trucks.’ Some of the Chinese in the 7th Company worked in the mines in Queensland and later ended up under the control of the US military. A number of the Koepangese from the 23rd Company became members of the sabotage units in Z Force, sent to report on and infiltrate Japanese-occupied Timor.

Brief History content has come from The Unit Guide - Volume 6 - The Australian Army 1939-1945, page 6.136 - Graham R McKenzie-Smith - Big Sky Publishing - 2018

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