Home' Position : Position Jun Jul 2015 Contents 100 years of The Royal
Australian Survey Corps
ANTHONY WALLACE, WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM PETER JENSEN
1 July 2015 will mark one hundred years since the Royal Australian Survey Corps was formed during
World War One. While the Survey Corps is no longer, its achievements live on in the survey operations and
modern technologies that the Corps encouraged the Defence Force to adopt - technologies that ultimately
contributed to the Corps' disbanding in 1996. No piece of writing can adequately describe the extent and
value of the Corps' achievements over 81 years of service. This article attempts to summarise the history
of the Corps and highlight just some of its greatest contributions and technological advancements.
Troops of the Australian 13th Brigade studying
the large contour map near Petit Pont, Belgium.
The model was specially made to prepare the
troops for the attack on the Messines battlefield
the following morning.
Survey Corps members Sapper F.G.C Coughlin
and Lance Corporal R.J. Pauley perform a plane
table survey in Syria, 1941.
Members of the Women's Royal Australian
Army Corps, attached to the Survey Corps,
working on topographical survey maps in
Bendigo, Victoria, 1957.
Asearch on the Australian National
Library's online catalogue for
maps by author "Survey Corps,"
"General Staff" and "RASC" will return
a result of more than 6,000 maps - more
than just about any other mapping or-
ganisation in Australia.
The Royal Australian Survey Corps was
born from a need for military mapping for
the defence of Australia. The Corps then
evolved to provide essential support in
overseas military conflicts, peacekeeping
initiatives, and development programs in
Australia and across the Pacific region.
This was only possible by leading, adapt-
ing and adopting technical developments
and by attracting defence resources based
on a long history of quality service.
More than 6,300 people served with
the Australian Survey Corps over its
81 years of service - a number roughly
equivalent to the number of maps
produced by the Corps.
The military survey of Australia started
shakily in an ad-hoc manner by the pre-fed-
eration colonial forces and the part-time ef-
forts of the Australian Intelligence Corps. In
1910, a Survey Section was formed within
the Royal Australian Engineers (Permanent
Military Forces) to handle the increased
requirement for maps and surveys.
The Survey Section established the mil-
itary standard 1 inch to 1 mile map made
from plane-table surveys and replaced
parish plans with triangulation networks,
establishing the framework for nation-
wide military maps. They were able to
triangulate, map, draw and have printed
about 2,000 square miles or five military
maps per year, until World War I saw the
need for significant shift in output. Within
two weeks of the declaration of war, the
Survey Section produced a 1 inch to 6
mile strategic map of France and Belgium
for the General Staff.
World War I: The
Australian Survey Corps
The precise reason for forming the
Australian Survey Corps has been lost to
date, as the relevant administrative file
in Army Headquarters is missing. It may
have come from the desire of the Survey
Officer at the time, Lieutenant (Honorary
Captain) Cecil Quinlan, wanting to be in-
dependent of any other Corps. It was com-
mon for specialist functions to be grouped
into Corps, which at that time included
the Cyclist Corps and the Pigeon Corps.
In July 1915, a military order reported
that His Excellency the Governor-General
Ronald Munro Ferguson had announced
the appointment of "a Corps to be called
the Australian Survey Corps being raised
as a unit of the Permanent Military
Forces. All officers, warrant officers,
non-commissioned officers and men now
serving in the Survey Section of the Royal
Australian Engineers being transferred
to the Australian Survey Corps with their
present ranks and seniority."
The effective date of the foundation
of the Corps was 1 July 1915, with
Quinlan as captain and eighteen other
ranks in support. The Australian Survey
Corps was placed fourth in the Order
of Precedence of Corps after the Royal
Australian Engineers (RAE).
The Survey Corps was not part of the
Australian Imperial Force (AIF), so when
the Australian forces departed Australia in
late 1914, they did so without dedicated
survey and mapping personnel. Indeed, at
first the war did not affect the work of the
Corps at all, as the expectation was that
Image top left: This Corps badge, believed to date back to World War I, was discovered under
Bob Wells Bridge in Weston, New South Wales in 2014. Image credit: The Advertiser, Cessnock.
36 position June/July 2015
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