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Brick Kilns Used for Wartime Ammunition Laboratories

Reproduced below is a newspaper article, from the Navy News of 2 April 1965.

Brick Kilns Used for Wartime Ammunition Laboratories

The story of how two unused kilns at the NSW State Brick Yards at Homebush were converted into ammunition laboratories during World War II was revealed recently when an explosives expert retired after a long association with the Navy.

The expert, Mr Fred Jeanes (65), told "Navy News" of the "bombs for bricks" operation on the occasion of his retirement as Superintending Foreman of Laboratories at the Royal Australian Navy Armament Depot, Newington.

Mr Jeanes explained that the use of the kilns was one of several special operations undertaken by the laboratory staff at RANAD during World War II.

Recalling how he was responsible for the establishing of the two laboratories at the Homebush Brickyards, Mr Jeanes said he would never forget his first day. He went on "it all began in 1939 [1] and just after I had been promoted to Assistant Laboratoryman. Like all those people who are promoted, I had visions of favourable surroundings for my new and special appointment.

However, you can imagine my disappointment when I was taken to the brickyard where I was shown the unused kilns and told that this was to be my future place of employment. Nevertheless, the kilns were suitably converted and everyone "pulled their weight" for the important job ahead.

For in these kilns, laboratory operations such as repairs and overhauling of all types of ammunition used by RAN ships were carried out."

Mr Jeanes' long association with the Navy actually began back in 1911, when he joined the Royal Hospitals School, Greenwich, the Naval Training Establishment, at age 15 [2].

He spent four years at the school where he attained the rate of Chief Petty Officer Boy. During World War I he was transferred to the HMAS AUSTRALIA in England in 1916 as a Boy Telegraphist, and he served in that ship for the duration of the war. He briefly outlined the collision between HMAS AUSTRALIA and the HMS REPULSE in the Firth of Forth when AUSTRALIA damaged her bow.

It was in this ship that he first saw Australia when he sailed here with the First Australian Fleet in 1919.

While serving in HMAS SYDNEY, and off Darwin, the ship welcomed home Ross Smith after his world air-crossing.

WARREGO, then to PENGUIN the then wireless station at Garden Island; CERBERUS, the Naval coal collier Biloela, MALLOW, and BRISBANE were other ships he served in until paying off in 1926.

From there he spent 10 years with the New South Wales Government Railways as a telegraphist. His association with the Navy continued in 1936 when he joined RANAD, Newington, as an assistant armament. His activities during World War II were of great importance, and included many special missions dealing with ammunition operations.

Four years after the war, he was promoted to Supervising Foreman of Laboratories at Newington.

In 1953, Mr Jeanes was sent to England for a two year course to gain experience in English armament depots [3].

Looking back over his career, Mr Jeanes was quite proud of the fact that during his time with the laboratory staff at RANAD there has not been one fatality or serious injury at the depot.

It is indeed a record to be proud of when you consider that the handling of explosives is daily routine for these men.

Mr Jeanes now intends to devote much of his time playing bowls with his club, Balmain.


1. Other evidence suggests that this occurred in either 1941 or 1942.

2. Fred was born 12 March 1900 so was probably aged about 11 when he entered the school.

3. Fred's exchange duty was at the RN Armament Depot, Priddys Hard.

Read more about Fred Jeanes

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Robert Curran
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