Australian red ensign presented to Imperial Reservists by W M 'Billy' Hughes in 1914 : Corporal E D Watson, East Lancashire Regiment

Unit British Army
Accession Number RELAWM08019.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Flag
Physical description Wool; Canvas
Location Main Bld: First World War Gallery: Australia Goes To War: The AIF Dispatched
Maker Unknown
Date made c 1914
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Australian Red ensign with a printed Union Jack set into the upper left canton. The stars on the flag have points that have been irregularly cut out before application to the body of the flag. The flag bears approximately 60 signatures in idelible pencil. Apart from one signature they are all placed on the white stripes of the Union flag or on the white stars. Most of the signatures are those of Imperial Reservists, although a few are of members of the AIF, and give their names, British units, and in some cases their place of residence in Australia. The canvas hoist has been marked at some time after Hughes became Prime Minister in 1916 'W.M. HUGHES P.M. 1914 (CPL.E. WATSON EAST.LANCS SYDNEY. 17TH.10.14)'. The name of the troop ship bearing the Imperial Reservists to England in October 1914, A.28 Militiades, is also written on the flag, although it is misspelt.

History / Summary

This ensign was presented to the Imperial Reservists who left Australia in 1914, by the Honourable W M 'Billy' Hughes, then Attorney General and later Prime Minister, and personally handed to Corporal Edward Dawson Watson of the East Lancashire Regiment.

The Imperial Reservists were men who had recently served with a British Regiment before emigrating to Australia. On the outbreak of the First World War they were recalled to serve with their old units and sailed in the first troop convoy to leave Australia.

Dawson took the flag to England and France, and carried it during the retreat from Mons. After a spell in England he took it back to France in March 1917. Watson remained in France until the German Advance in March 1918, when he was wounded. He brought the flag back to Australia in 1919. Watson claimed that it was the was the first Australian flag to fly in France during the First World War, however the NSW Volunteer Ambulance Unit may also have carried one in France in 1914.

Watson presented the flag to the Australian War Museum (later War Memorial) in 1925 on the condition that it be returned to him for each year's Anzac Day march. He died shortly after Anzac Day in 1934 and the flag has been part of the Memorial's permanent collection since this date.