Fort Lytton Since WW2

Maurrie at 6 inch breech 1000x288 v1

When World War II ended in August 1945, the old Fort Lytton built in 1881 became redundant and was abandoned. It was emptied of all equipment, except fortunately for four original barrels, of 1886 vintage, which were left lying in the Fort area. These were from the 6 Inch Rifled Breech Loading Disappearing Guns. Two were at some time removed. One is now mounted in concrete at the Main Entrance to the Ampol/Caltex refinery. The other found a home at 11th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), in the depot at Dudley Street, Annerley. This Unit is now disbanded and is also part of history. With the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the old Fort was left to the wind, rain, sun, and occasional grass fires. These grass fires eventually destroyed a lot of the wooden construction within the Fortress area.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Ampol negotiated the purchase of Lytton Defence Reserve as a site for a new refinery. The transfer occurred in 1963 and the refinery was completed by 1965.

The original bridge into Fort Lytton had been burned down, and also the buildings inside. The area was cleaned up and part of the moat in front was filled in to gain access to Fort Lytton in order to remove the rank undergrowth. A causeway was then built in place of the wooden bridge and Fort Lytton became a type of picnic area for refinery workers.

In 1988, the Gunner network became aware that Ampol was to return the Fort Lytton area to the Government as an Historic Tourist Attraction. Very quietly, on a particularly wet Saturday afternoon of the same year, there was a gathering of near doddering, old ex-service World War II gunners. Much younger National Parks and Wildlife personnel plus a few serving Army personnel also attended. It was agreed to develop a Tourist Attraction, supported by volunteer guiding groups, who were to be managed by the veteran gunners. These gunners were members of the RAA Association (Queensland Branch). Fort Lytton Guides was then created with their assistance, as a Sub-Committee. Subsequently, in 1999 Fort Lytton Historical Association was formed in its own right.

The future refurbishment of the gun emplacements was planned at this time. National Parks and Wildlife offered the old Quarantine Station Laundry and provided a working refrigerator. The building was furnished with tables and chairs to be used as a Canteen and part Museum. The Museum in the Fort Lytton area was restored by the Department of Works and filled with memorabilia. Two of the guns inside were part of the original Fort armament. One is a 9 Pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading horse-drawn field gun and the other a four barrelled Nordenfeldt garrison and naval gun. This was an early machine gun, which was actuated manually and was very effective. Two Rifled Muzzle Loading 64 Pounder Guns, on 6 Inch Barbette Mountings, of 1878 vintage were also returned to the Fort. These guns had been on display at Brisbane’s Expo ‘88 and were emplaced in the original Auxiliary positions. One of the two 6 Inch barrels mounted at the entrance to the Park is the barrel that was at 11th Field Regiment, RAA for a number of years and the other is from No. 2 Disappearing Gun.

Fort Lytton is now managed by National Parks and was initially assisted by survivors of the original group of gunners and one signaller. These dedicated men still carried on voluntarily as Guides to the public until they were called to the “Great Gun Park in the sky”. It is worth mentioning that the original group who started in 1988 were a mixture of gunners, NCOs and officers. Most were returned Artillery servicemen from World War II with one Korean War veteran. They all pitched in to get things going, notably led by Ray Cook.

In the beginning, this original optimistic group consisted of Ray Cook, Bert Lonie, George Ludinski, John and Ian McKenna, Fred Shelberg, Howard Williams, Bernie “Max” Beare, Harry Campbell, Dan Hunter, Alan Brooke, Eric Bingham, Col Fraser, Dick Phillips, Frank Davies and one sig, Jim Meehan. They were subsequently reinforced by other World War II veterans John Allen, Frank Pellat, Jim Cross, Alan Brooks, Don Morrison and Tom Trevannion.

Over the years, the older men passed away, and their places were taken by others: Frank Heywood, Harry Lynas, Maurrie McGuire, Peter Gore, Dave Sinclair, Ray Jell, Grant Carpenter, Dave Spethman, Lee Deighton, Joe Curcurato and Ian Wheeler. Russell Miller, although not an active Guide, has been involved heavily in many projects over the last twenty years. More recent volunteers are Graham Kluver, Adrian Scott, Mike McLean and Graham McLeod.

In 1992 permission was granted to proceed with the construction of the Disappearing Gun in No 1 Gun Pit. This was completed in five stages as money became available. Work was finally finished in time for Easter Camp 1996. The only original part was the barrel. Soon after, work began on a 6 Pounder Quick Firing Hotchkiss Gun in No. 3 Pit, which was completed by Christmas of the same year. There were no original parts used in the construction of this gun.

Later again in 1997, more patterns were made by Ray Cook and Dick Phillips. A replica of an 1898 Quick Firing 4.7 Inch Naval Gun was slowly constructed. This was achieved with the tremendous assistance of Bryan Davidson, from National Parks, who was a consummate welder. The gun was mounted in No. 4 Gun Pit in the Fort. Again, there were no original parts used in the construction of this gun. The National Parks and Wildlife arranged for the timber flooring to be replaced and the overhead cover to be shored up.

After a brief respite and a lot of thought, Ray Cook and Dick Phillips realised that though their minds were willing, their bodies were now much weaker. Age was taking its toll. They decided to finish on that note. A tremendous amount of time and money had been put into these three pieces of armament. Though the desire was there, the men were approaching eighty and they felt that they had done enough.

BUT, charged with confidence and the fact that the Fort would be complete only if the last gun was built, these three men then decided that they would go ahead and do the job with the assistance of others. Consequently a twin barrelled Quick Firing 6 Pounder Gun was built for No 5 Gun Pit from nothing. This can now be seen along with the other three guns inside the Fort. They are a testament to the efforts of those old ex-servicemen who thought enough of the future generation to show what was emplaced in Fort Lytton.

Since 1882 Fort Lytton had operated as the first defence of the entrance to the Brisbane River, until August 1945, when World War II ended. There was then no longer a use for this type of fortification. Everything had become obsolete. Fortunately Ampol, the Government, National Parks and Wildlife, and a small band of dedicated men and women had the foresight to preserve our Heritage.

A couple of years later, it was decided to erect a Repository and Moving of Ordnance display in the Artillery Store. By May 2001 it was finished, and the refurbishment of the Artillery Store was completed. Also in 2001, one of the original 6 Inch 80 Pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading Guns was returned to Fort Lytton by 1st Field Regiment, RAA. After 3 months hard work, this gun was restored, repainted and put on display in the Foyer of the Canteen.

In 1992 Ray Cook was honoured with the Order of Australia Medal for his untiring efforts, and his dream of seeing the fort brought up to its present standard. This same honour was accorded to Dick Phillips in 2000, and in 2007 George Ludinski was also awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his work at Fort Lytton. Dan Hunter was the fourth Guide to receive recognition for his services at the Fort in 2009. In 2014 Dave Spethman received the same award for his research efforts and for his construction of historical equipment and models.

Work and research continues on this great part of Queensland’s Military heritage and history. This work was recognised by the National Trust of Queensland in August 2015. Fort Lytton Historical Association was awarded a Gold Certificate in Conservation for the Black Powder Rooms and Magazine.

(Revised edition 2015 by Graham Kluver, Adrian Scott and Harry Lynas – from the original by Dick Phillips, OAM and Harry Lynas circa 1998)
See also Gun Park Construction Photos

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