Tuesday 19 August 2008 by Amanda Rebbeck. 23 comments
Aircraft 1914 - 1918, News, Exhibitions

A new permanent exhibition, Over the Front: the Great War in the air, will open on 28 November 2008 at the eastern end of ANZAC Hall. The story of military flight and aerial combat during the First World War will be brought to life through the Memorial’s collection of five original and extraordinary aircraft and an exciting sound-and-light show.

Australians played a distinct part in aviation’s remarkable advances during the war. Four squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps flew above the Western Front in France and Belgium and over the Middle East. Training squadrons operated in Britain.

The exhibition will continue the Memorial’s tradition of presenting dramatic and instructive displays. It will pay tribute to the young men who fought in flimsy machines of wood, fabric and wire, risking their lives for dominance of the skies and in support of the ground operations below.

cas.awm.gov.au/photograph/B02209 Two Bristol Fighters of the Australian Flying Corps c. 1918

The Over the Front Team are using the AWM blog specifically to:

  • Support the exhibition and stimulate interest in it during the lead up to opening and beyond and to provide a sample of what will appear in the exhibition.
  • Record and relate some of the exhibition team’s experiences in putting together the exhibition, in particular our experiences working with the Memorial's First World War aircraft collection.
  • Provide additional content about the exhibition for those who want to know more, or for material we couldn’t fit into the physical exhibition.

The blog does not aim to provide an online version of the exhibition nor to replicate all available knowledge about the Australian Flying Corps, Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service but additional information can be found in the links we provide.

We also welcome comments and feedback from interested members of the public or those in the museum (or related) profession. However they may not necessarily reflect the views or interpretation of the Australian War Memorial as an organisation. Comments received will be moderated and some (not all) may be posted on the blog. Any inappropriate or uncivil messages will of course not be posted, nor responded to. Unfortunately we have neither the time nor the resources to enter into lengthy correspondence, or to manage complicated arguments about historical interpretations of events.

The Australian War Memorial recognises and respects the copyrights, including moral rights, of all copyright owners and licensees. Accordingly, every reasonable endeavour has been made to contact the copyright owners whose works appear on this website. This has not always proved possible and so copyright owners are asked to contact the publisher directly.

More and more content will be added progressively during the lead up to, and after the exhibition has opened (Nov 2008), so if you’re interested, keep visiting the blog regularly and check out what’s new.


Amanda Rebbeck

(Over the Front Blog Administrator/Editor)


Bob Meade

That's a very interesting photograph in this blog post. The "O.H. Coulson" shown at the bottom right hand corner is probably Oswald Hillam (Ossie) Coulson. Coulson was a Flight Sergeant with the No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and worked in the photographic section (SERN 455). He was commissioned Hon. Lieutenant on Armistace Day. He is also the donor and/or maker of other material in the AWM collection, in this case most notably photograph ID number P01726.003. If you examine P01726.003 you will see the central image of the montage is the fighter plane shown above at left, with surrounding cloud. However the fighter plane shown above at right does not appear in the central image of the montage obscuring part of the cloud where you would expect to find it. This implies that the photograph here, B02209, has been composed by the melding of two separate photographs - a composite image. Perhaps you would give us your thoughts about the possibility that this is a composite image?

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi Bob Thank you for your comment. Yes B02209 is indeed a composite image put together by AFC photographer Ossie Coulson c 1918. The photo montage at P01726.003 is also reproduced in our collection at P04934.003. In both versions, as you have correctly identified, the central image is the aircraft shown to the left of B02209. Unfortunately the Memorial does not know the source of the aircraft which appears to the right of B02209, but it would have come from a photograph Coulson had access to during his time in Palestine. Composites such as these were not an unusual part of First World War photography. Often it was not possible for Official War Photographers to shoot the images they wanted, so they produced composite images that combined fragments from different negatives. It was a controversial practice however, with Captain Frank Hurley, Australia's second appointed official First World War photographer, having a number of hostile exchanges with Charles Bean, the official correspondent for the Australian Imperial Force (and driving force behind the establishment of the Australian War Memorial) regarding the former's use of composites. For more information on composites and the close association between war and photography please click here.

Bob Meade

Thanks for that information. As there was no mention in the description of B02209 that it was a composite image, I thought it may have gone undetected. But you are well ahead of me. I did come across another Hurley image which I think was previously not known to have a composite derivative : http://lifeasdaddy.typepad.com/lifeasdaddy/2008/09/the-unmistakable-photographic-compositions-of-frank-hurley-and-some-interesting-questions-of-copyright.html

Greg Cox

I was wondering when the exhibition is open until, or is the display open-ended?

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi Greg Over the Front: the Great War in the air is a permanent exhibition with no fixed end date. Amanda

Bruce Kennewell

A great exhibition and my congratulations to all who were involved in the project. With regard to the blog, however, I'm disappointed not to find many more "what we do and how we do it" posts (with photos) from the conservators. This aspect is fascinating to many people - myself included - and would have been an excellent ramping-up, culminating in the opening of the exhibition itself. All the best. Bruce

Doug Meller

Hi, Great to see that the Avro will finally be on display again having been on loan to Qantas from 1965 to 1988. I worked on A3-4 in order to prepare it for return to the AWM in 1988, and manufactured a number of replacement parts including part of the engine mount that was missing. I have many photos at home showing the construction of the two Qantas replicas, plus the repair work on A3-4. It will be great to see this aircraft again. Regards, Doug Meller

Rob McCubbin

I intend seeing this display early next year. However, having been a keen photographer and darkroom worker for most of my life, I would like to stick my oar (or at least a small paddle) in to the debate about historical accuracy. Apparently there was arguement about Hurley setting up the action again for photographs. As I see it, his 'set-up' photos tell us the story of how it was at the time. If the soldiers just repeated what happened for him, then I take the photos as legitimate. They tell the story. 100 years on, oyur descendants need to experience what it was LIKE, not necessarily exactly as it was. (There is a difference.) I write novels based on historical facts. I like my research to be thorough so the stories are believable, but I do embellish the facts from time to time to bring life to the narrative, or to drive a point home. I see where Hurley was coming from, and I think he was well within the boundaries in doing what he did. His photography was designed to tell a story, and the chances of him capturing a well exposed and composed shot at the height of action during an actual battle, would be slim. If he had not taken those photos in question, how much poorer would be our collection and understanding of the futility and savageness of war. Just my take on it and open to argument. Rob McCubbin

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi Bruce Unfortunately our hectic schedule of exhibition work did impact on the amount of info we were able to put up on the blog about our aircraft conservation work. However now that the exhibition is open we will have more of an opportunity to catch up with our posts. Amanda

Robin Mead

Congratulations on the new exhibition, including the display of Ray Parer's DH9 aircraft which has been fortunate to survive down the years since it arrived in Australia in 1920. As you will be aware, Parer went on to a remarkable and exciting aviation career in inter-war New Guinea, well chronicled in "Wings of Gold" by Jim Sinclair, and also flew with Geoff Hemsworth in the second England to Australia Air Race in 1934. The launch of this new AWM exhibition is noted in the Aviation Forum of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia website. Best wishes, Robin Mead

Dave Knowles

How on earth was the film of Over the Front taken - in particular the close-ups of the rear gunner swinging his gun? Was this a real enaction using historical planes? or what? It was amazing.

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi Dave Thank you for your comment. The Over the Front film was a mixture of CGI technology and real enaction using historical replica aircaft. The close ups incuding the ones you have referred to were all filmed on the ground in front of a blue screen. Amanda

Clifford Wignell

Hello Amanda, I have just returned from Canberra on a brief trip, I sat and watched the "Over the Front" production somewhat in awe; it was fantastic to say the least; well done. In a previous post you mentioned it was a mixture of live action and CGI, if I may I would like to know the production house. There were no credits, which I can understand; credits would seem to divert the attention from the real message. So would you mind sharing a little of the production history. Thank you

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi Clifford Thank you for your compliments, they are much appreciated. The Over the Front audiovisual was produced by Wingnut Film Production Ltd with the visual effects completed by Weta Digital. The aircraft used were flyable replicas sourced from the 1914-18 Heritage Trust via Peter Jackson. Scale models were also used in collaboration with extensive computer animation and digital effects. We hope to have a text/graphic panel installed in the Over the Front exhibition soon along with a small monitor with rolling credits detailing the production’s acknowledgements. Amanda


Hello Amanda, Thank you for the information, regarding the AWM, It is obvious all the staff understand what has been entrusted to them and are equal to it; I cannot find fault, any complements I can offer are inadequate.


Greetings Amanda, I was recently at the Memorial, and extremely enjoyed the audiovisual. I did inquire with shop near the entrance and was informed that the film was not available for sale. Are there plans to offer it for retail in the future?

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi James Unfortunately at this stage there are no plans for the Over the Front audiovisual to be seen anywhere other than in the Memorial's exhibition. The film has been specially designed for display in Anzac Hall using multiple projectors and sound systems on an unusually wide aspect screen (21 metres x 3 metres) and in high definition. Because of this the program cannot be directly transferred into a format suitable for personal use without making many changes, in essence creating a completely different program. So for the present it can only be seen in the Memorial's Over the Front exhibition.

John Owens

Can I just join the chorus of appreciation for the 'Over the Front' presentation. I thought it was simply outstanding, and marvelled at how it was done and looked so realistic. It was also very moving and brought a lump to the throat. Well done, and once more the AWM demonstrates its superb capability in all things. Thanks John Owens (ex Aust Int Corps)

Anthony Criscitelli

I commend the AWM on commissioning the creation of these A/V spectaculars to complement the breathtaking displays. The sound and vision was superb and the chance to glance at the very planes that were up on screen was quite moving. Furthermore, from a techie, I was totally impressed at the triple panel hi-def projections and bone-jarring audio. A true pleasure and undeniably absorbing.

Robert Richardson

Recently (6th Dec) visited the museum and was fascinated by the overall display of the WW1 and 2 aircraft and artifacts. I have never seen better dioramas. Thank goodness somebody has looked after their WW1 original aircraft. It took all day to see these, although I did attend a guided tour which gave a very good overall overview of many parts of the museum. You have really achieved an excellent excellent standard and Peter Jackson's film is both moving and superbly filmed. Having been involved in building two aircraft (Sopwith Triplane and Bristol M.1c Monoplane) for the Shuttleworth Collection both to original drawings and powered by rotary engines, it was good to see the accuracy of all display items. (We are currently involved in the construction of a Sopwith Camel for the same museum). Keep up the good work!

Andrew Haas

Recently visited the Memorial with the family whilst on holidays and was very impressed with the Over the Front exhibition. The aircraft on display are fantastic and quite an eye opener. They have inspired me to construct my own scale models of WW1 aircraft and my children are quite enthused as well (my son calls them plane 'sculptures'). The blog re the restoration of the Albatross is very interesting - is the museum planning a booklet/book on the process as the details are fascinating and I think it would generate much interest?? Thankyou for all your outstanding work.


Hi - I had a few hours to kill in Canberra this afternoon and visited the AWM. The "Over the Front" display is absolutely outstanding - my very warmest congratulations and compliments to everyone involved in it. There were a couple of school groups watching the showing that I saw and I was astonished that 60-odd teenagers uttered not a sound while the thing was showing, and then initiated the applause when it finished. It was thoroughly well done, and very powerful and moving in a sensitive, subtle and respectful way. Again, my very warmest compliments.

Grant Prunster

I am constantly amazed at the WW1 "Over the Front" display. I enjoy taking new visitors to this section and find that they all have the same reaction as I did when I first saw it. Usually the next question is, "Where can we get a copy of the film?" I believe it was a special commission film and not available to the public, which is sad but understandable. A possible suggestion to enhance the display would be to have a mannequin dressed in period uniform standing next to each of the aircraft. Maybe even two, showing the flying clothing and then one in dress uniform for the time. Well done to everyone involved in making this exhibition available.