Arthur McIlveen joined the Salvation Army in 1911. He attempted to enlist as a padre during the First World War but the Salvation Army refused to send him as his superiors considered him too reckless. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private on 9 July 1918, but the war ended before he had the chance to serve overseas.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted, at the age of 54, and served as a Salvation Army representative and unofficial padre attached to the 18th Brigade in North Africa.
During the siege of Tobruk, McIlveen became well-known for playing records on this portable gramophone to raise the spirits of the city’s defenders and captured soldiers. He travelled around the besieged garrison, often risking his life to reach front-line units. McIlveen and his gramophone were so popular that when his records were damaged, the men repaired them for him.
McIlveen returned to Australia in early 1942, becoming the Salvation Army’s secretary for prison work in New South Wales. His gramophone went to New Guinea with another padre to entertain the troops. When it was returned to him, McIlveen began using it in a series of lectures on his experiences in North Africa. McIlveen donated the gramophone to the Australian War Memorial in 1948, along with seven battle-damaged records. Before officially handing it over, he played Lead, Kindly Light by Peter Dawson for the Memorial’s visitors.