The Somers Camps
From early in its history, Somers has been known for its camps. Several have come and gone but a few still remain. We are indebted to our own local historian, Rod Nuske, for this section.
Lord Somers Camp.
Lord Somers was Governor of Victoria from 1926 until 1931 and during this time was anxious to establish a camp where young men from privileged backgrounds and those from a less affluent one could learn to respect each other and imbue them all with the “best of English traditions and ideals” and learn to live together in complete equality and to work as one for the common good. This concept was based on the Duke of York Camps in England. Several camps were held at Anglesea but the governor was intent on obtaining a permanent location and in viewing land at Balnarring East was greatly impressed and more so, when the owner of Coolart, J.S. Feehan donated the land to allow a permanent camp to be built there.
The popularity of Lord Somers ensured that there were adequate financial donations from industry and the business-world to allow construction to commence. The first annual camp was held in Somers in January 1931. Much later a Lady Somers Camp was held in 1985 to provide the same involvement that the male of the species already enjoyed.
Competitive sports form a major part of the time at camp for both sexes and there is always guest speakers to encourage the young people to develop their potential to the full. During the year there is a camp for “Special Kids” and their carers, whilst as well other groups do make use of the facilities. It is said that camp life is like a combination of the Masonic Lodge and the Boy Scouts. Many well known personalities have attended camps over the years.
The RAAF Initial Training School.
In 1940 the Commonwealth Government took over 85 acres of land abutting Lord Somers Camp and proceeded to erect sleeping accommodation, work rooms, administration buildings, equipment sheds and a parade ground. The first intakes were accommodated in Lord Somers Camp which later became the Officer’s Quarters. During the five years of occupation 12,984 male trainees, 1271 WAAF recruits and 702 Physical Training Instructors passed through on their monthly courses.
Initially there was no phone at the camp so the trainees had to cycle or walk up to the store to ring from there. Both Stan Byrne and Hubert Opperman were PTIs there and of course Stan married the store keeper’s daughter whilst Hubert lived in Ocean View Crescent and received his commission whilst serving at Somers.
There was a Somers Women’s Auxiliary who provided a very welcome canteen service at the camp.
To accustom the trainees to the use of gas masks, a gas chamber was installed as was a decompression chamber to simulate high altitude flying.