Dean Willis, LTO conservator, Australian War Memorial
The Amiens Gun and its shelter have been a feature of the Memorial’s outdoor displays since 1960. The gun barrel was originally mounted on a German naval vessel, and was modified by the German army and fitted for use as a railway gun. The story of its origins and capture by Australian forces on 8 August 1918 can be read in Wartime Issue 80. The 28-cm calibre gun was used along the Villiers-Bretonneux front, shelling the railway yards at Amiens. After capture, the Amiens gun was displayed in Paris and was then eventually transported to Australia as a war trophy.
The only pieces of the weapon still in existence are the barrel and the shelter, which are both being refurbished, as corrosion has taken hold between the shelter’s armoured metal plates and at various spots on the barrel. The shelter was conserved first, as it was considered at risk; it was returned to its site in February 2018. All the corrosion-affected areas were active and base metal was being lost.
First the shelter was removed from its mount outside the Memorial’s administration building and was brought to the Mitchell Conservation workshop for treatment. The first stage was to manufacture a dolly to support the shelter and keep it in position. The next step was to remove the roof plates, the railway beam supporting them, and the top section plate; after these were removed, the areas of corrosion areas could be addressed. The Fe (iron) corrosion was removed mechanically, treated with phosphoric acid to neutralise these areas, and two coats of two-pack acrylic paint were applied. The six roof plates were re-attached with sealant as extra protection for the shelter’s position on outdoor display. During this work, the original colour of the underside of the shelter was discovered, improving the authenticity of the artefact.
Two coats of new paint were applied over the existing colour scheme (which was heavily researched some 20 years ago by curators and conservators) for protection against the elements. The new paint also protects the remaining original paint samples that can still be seen as rough areas under the paint. Once the shelter was reinstalled, work on the barrel began on 20 February 2018.