This military organisation was originally formed as part of the Royal Australian Engineers in mid-1942, under the leadership of infantry Captain Jim McAllester. Known initially as the 2/1st Australian Mobile Anti-gas Laboratory, it was located in Broadmeadows Camp in Victoria. Following a name change to 2/1st Australian Chemical Warfare Laboratory in February 1943 it was moved to Brisbane to be closer to field operations. Approval was given to re-establish the laboratory at St John’s Wood in August 1943, and it was in operation at that site by October.
The mobile chemical warfare laboratory operated by the unit had been constructed in recognition of its need to be mobile in Australia in event of enemy chemical attack, and potentially to be used in the Pacific area of operations. The tasks and processes adopted by the unit were similar to those of British units, and were well established by the time they settled in as St John’s Wood. The Laboratory was tasked with the examination of enemy chemical weapons, ammunition, and protective clothing and respirators.
At various times the St Johns Wood Laboratory also stored larger quantities of chemicals. In February 1944 for example, 75 boxes of 25-pounder shells containing bromobenzylcyanide (known as BBC) were delivered for training purposes. The site is believed to have been cleared when abandoned by the Army.