Autographed drumhead, Suez Canal Zone 1915-16 : Private P L Lawson, Drummer, 4 Victorian Naval Unit and 30 Battalion, AIF

Place Africa: Egypt, Suez Canal
Accession Number RELAWM13561
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Animal hide, Ink
Maker Various
Place made Egypt
Date made 1916
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Circular drumhead made from animal hide which has been cut from its drum. This example has been signed and labelled and features a pencil sketch of a digger in 1915 period leather equipment, waving his soft cap and holding a rifle with bayonet attached, one knee on a parapet. The boots of a dead enemy stick above the parapet to his left; and a trio of German pickelhaubes, two shell cases and an ammunition pouch appear at his feet.

The skin is labelled at the top in serif shadowed letters '30th BATT BAND / A.I.F.', and in different, sand-serif lettering and a heavier, blacker ink, '1916 '17 '18 & '19 in FRANCE and BELGIUM.' Below the sketch are the words "ADVANCE AUSTRALIA" / AUTOGRAPHS COLLECTED BY ME / AT / SUEZ CANAL / EGYPT 1915. 16.' Under this, in longhand is the phrase 'Arrived Suez 8th Dec 1915 per SS Beltana A72'.

A selection of names have been rubbed or are faded and cannot be interpreted.

Those that are legible are: J McDuff, Lieut 30th Batt in France; Robret Wright WO1; Frank L M? Capt; W D Eyles Orange NSW; P Lawson Surrey Hills; Charles J Davis Sgt Newcastle NS Wales; W L M Roberts Manly NSW; D Basty RSM; T R Williams Charles H Johnson Wallsend NSW; Arthur Archer NL; Percy Cotterill Croyden NSW; J Talbot-Hobbs Australian Corps; Les G Hough Waverley NSW; F Knight Dee-Why, Manly NSW; L Wellington Manly NSW; L Wellings SBM Manly NSW; H H Williamson Manly NSW; F Sheet Lieut Colonel 30th Bn AIF 9/11/18 3rd Anniversary of sailing from Sydney NSW; D Vincent 30 Bn; Robt Backford Adelaide S Aust; Lt A Prockter; D L Fry; E Stilson; C W Charles Victoria; Arthur C Hall Syd VC; W M Hughes; Blair Wark Major, VC; J J Murray , Major; Edward P 20/12/18; E Tivey MG; D Vincent Lieut 30 Bn; J J Murray, Major; E S Wright 30th Bn Sigs; W R Birdwood; A J Walker Egypt; A H Klaffer; E Colley Wyong NSW; C Peters Wallsend, NSW; H Sharp Manly NSW; Chas B Hadfield Manly NSW; J J Brennan, Manly NSW; C S May Manly NSW; Frank Pearse Flemington VIC; Robert Rambert-Buik, NSW; J D Croft Peak Hill, NSW; J K Leurs Manly NSW; J Stone Kensington NSW; C Stuart Coyne, Homebush NSW; F Erickson Eglington St Lidcombe N S Wales.

History / Summary

This signed drum head s closely associated with the Victorian Naval Unit, Private Percy L Lawson and the formation of 30 Battalion. When the new volunteer recruits formed up at Seymour Camp, Victoria in May 1915, "all ex-naval men were asked to take two steps forward. All complying were drafted into what was known as the Victorian Naval Unit and were told that we were to proceed overseas as seamen to man minesweepers," stated 1133 Private Harold Rogers. The 136 men thus chosen were assigned to the 4th Victorian Naval Unit and were allocated service numbers running consecutively from 1021 to 1157.

It appears, however, that military authorities were at a loss as to how to deploy them, their number being too low to form a complete battalion. They spent some weeks at Seymour before being sent to Broadmeadows Camp, "still wearing naval rig and still called the Naval Unit," 1100 Private Percy Lawson noted "we had no officers and in fact seemed to be in everybody's way". Lawson, an iron-moulder, professional drummer, Boer War veteran (he had served with 2 Scottish Horse) and a member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, had originally joined up with the Victorian Naval Brass and Military Band at Port Melbourne on 1 July and had been asked by his fellow recruits to be the unit drummer; they raised a collection and sent Lawson off to purchase this drum, which they then presented to him.

At Seymour they spent more time unsure of their future, before being packed off to Liverpool Camp in NSW, arriving there on 28 August. Lawson proudly recalled that "on arriving there I drummed the boys through the Camp to Headquarters. The OC who took us to Sydney, Captain Dike, returned to Melbourne leaving us to the officials of Liverpool Camp and they decided to hand us over to 30 Battalion, just being formed under Colonel Tom Clark, who turned out to be our best friend. He adopted us and we formed part of that battalion." In fact, A Company, 30 Battalion was almost entirely populated with ex-members of the Victorian Naval Unit. Private Rogers noted that their arrival at Liverpool was "unique.. Clad in their blue uniforms and marching with that peculiar gait which marks the seaman, they made a picturesque entry into the camp between long lines of cheering onlookers, the band meanwhile playing 'Sons of the Sea'. Long after they had shed their navy blue for khaki, they remained a separate entity in the battalion, never completely submerged, and always expressing their own breezy, but nevertheless strong personality."

During training, Colonel Clark asked Lawson to assist with the formation of a battalion band. This was formed under Bandmaster 1160 Sergeant Leslie C Wellings, later Town Clerk of Manly; indeed, the Battalion History (Martin Buckley, 1986, p45) notes that "many of the bandsmen were former members of the Manly Municipal Band", distinguishing themselves later as stretcher bearers in action in France and initially at Fromelles.

30 Battalion trained and eventually embarked for overseas service aboard the transport HMAT Beltana, which departed Sydney on 9 November 1915. Private Lawson had members of the band sign the drumskin at Suez on their arrival and soon after sent the drum back to Australia; a replacement was obtained. On 10 September 1916, Lawson was detached from 30 Battalion to 5 Division Headquarters (and later, in 1917, 8 Brigade) "for band duties" and remained detached for the remainder of the war. The replacement drum was autographed on the return voyage back to Australia, noting that the illustration of the Devanha was undertaken by "Eric Wright, Signallers, of NSW". In 1940 he wrote to the Memorial "I am still drumming and in good form. I only wish I was 10 - 15 years younger, I would be with the second AIF, but as I served in the South African Campaign and the last war, I could not drop my age sufficient to bluff the present officials."