Red Shield Address

7 mins read

Address given by Mr Matt Anderson PSM, Director, Australian War Memorial

The Salvation Army had been in Australia of 34 years when the First World War broke out. 

By 1918 there were 45 chaplains on active service. 

The Chaplains were important to the men, but so too were the other services they provided.

87 hostels, 220 rest rooms, 57 ambulances manned by Salvationists and 182 “hutments” in allied camps. 

The hutments provided reading and meeting rooms, places to store soldier’s gear and refreshment bars. 

They also assisted at home, helping soldier’s wives and widows secure pensions, managing estates and visiting.  

They were known as “the army that went with the boys”.

Chaplain William “Fighting Mac” McKenzie was born in Scotland.  He migrated to Australia with his family at 14 years old. 

He received his first appointment as a Salvation Army Lieutenant in January 1890 and was promoted to Captain by October of the same year. 

William joined the Australian Imperial Force on 25 September 1914 and was attached to the 4th Battalion.  McKenzie was with the first troops to arrive a Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, however, that first day, he stayed on the boat to assist in treating the wounded. 

He disembarked on 10 May.  In his first days ashore, he buried 170 men, often under fire.

We have in our national collection a letter he wrote to the Commissioner dated 14 May about the night-time burial of the Commanding Officer 4th Battalion, LTCOL Onslow Thompson: 

“I had to kneel down to keep my head and body in a crouching position while reading the burial service. Hundreds of bullets swept over us while this was going on.

 I don’t know what the Australian papers will say about the brave boys. But I want to tell you that they accomplished a well-nigh impossible task and have shown themselves to be amongst the best fighters in the world.

We are still at it and a great task before us. The price will be heavy.”

He continued to do whatever he could to support the troops, carrying stretchers and water. 

One night, he spent hours cutting steps into the hillside after watching the other water carriers struggle on a particularly difficult length of the track. 

By the Battle of Lone Pine in August 1915, McKenzie had earned his nickname “Fighting Mac”.  After Gallipoli, McKenzie served in France and Belgium, living in the front line with the troops.  He was gazetted a Military Cross on 3 June 1916. 

However, his service took its toll.  McKenzie returned to Australia in March 1918.  He survived the war but he continued to be plagued by nightmares, memory loss and illness for the rest of his life.  

His loss is a reminder that while we lost 60,000 men and women during the First World War, we lost another 60,000 and the decade that followed.

In 1939, with the commencement of the Second World War, the Salvation Army again joined the Australian war effort.

 They established a “Red Shield” tent at the training camp in Trawool, Victoria and provided comforts to the Victorian artillery brigade there.  

As in the First World War, when troops were sent overseas, the Salvation Army went with them. 

In 1940, the 2nd AIF left Australia for the Middle East, accompanied by 2 Salvation Army representatives. 

During the long months of the siege of Tobruk, the Salvos were there. 

We have, in our collection at the Memorial, the gramophone and a collection of records belonging to Brigadier Arthur McIlveen. 

McIlveen was a padre in the Salvation Army and the records provided comfort and the sounds of home to thousands of troops and enemy POWs. 

McIlveen recalls a visit to the 4th Australian General Hospital, on Mother’s Day 1941 where he played a small selection of records for severely wounded Australian, Allied, German and Italian troops.  He said:

“It was possible to see tears streaming down the face of several men as they listened hungrily to the old hymns and they fought down homesickness and pain”.

The Salvation Army were also famous for the mobile units that moved with the troops, to be as close as possible in order to provide the comforts they could when they were needed most. 

They were described by the Brisbane Telegraph in 1940 as “men who will stand side by side with their fellow Australians, not as fighting men, but as comforters and consolers”. 

Chaplain Deputy Commissioner William Bramwell Tibbs stands side by side too on our Commemorative Roll at the Memorial. 

Born in Armidale in 1909, Tibbs joined the Salvation Army when he was only 19 years old.  He is best known for the “Sermon in the Sandhills”, a commemorative service held shortly after the Battle of El Alamein. 

El Alamein was a turning point for the war in North Africa, but came at the cost of nearly 6000 allied casualties.  The terrain of the battle was flat and open; cover was scarce.  The service was held in a sunken gully, protected by anti-aircraft guns and with the sound of gunfire in the background.

Tibbs was later awarded the British Empire Medal for devotion to duty for carrying coffee to advanced troops under fire during the Battle of El Alamein. 

Tibbs would die on 19 December 1943, when the USAAF C47 he was travelling in crashed near Rockhampton, Queensland.

As the conflict moved into the Pacific, Major Albert Moore set up a Salvation Army hut at Uberi on the Kokoda Trail.  Uberi is the base of the one of the most challenging sections of the trail and the comforts provided there did much to alleviate the terrible conditions.  Coffee or tea, scones and cakes were on offer to men descending the Golden Stairs on their way back along the trail. 

Moore remembers “Those who had already passed by would tell the men that were coming on the way that within so many hours they should come across the Red Shield coffee post and they were counting the steps until they would arrive”.

The Salvation Army has continued to serve alongside Australian troops, including on peacekeeping operations and training including deployments to Palestine, Libya, on the Kokoda Track, Borneo, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Somalia, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands. 

Salvation Army officer Major Nigel Roden deployed to Afghanistan in 2017 following in the proud footsteps of Chaplains McKenzie, McIlveen and Tibbs.

Based at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, he said the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan to support those deployed on Operation Highroad was an experience he will never forget.

“For me as a Sallyman, it’s at the core of what we do,” he said.

“It’s part of our esprit de corps.

“What I do is both visible and invisible - it’s about just being present wherever the guys are.

And I know, from personal experience, they still are.

I recall, at a pretty low ebb, on a freezing day, on a windswept hill in Puckapunyal, following a pretty poor attempt at an infantry armour attack that I was notionally if not actually in charge of as a Cadet at Duntroon, that sweet smell of hot chocolate that had no right to be on that desolate moonscape.

I would smell it again, months later, on the top Jungle Training Centre in Canungra.

To this very day, I can’t walk past the Salvo at the Canberra Centre without making a donation in thanks for that cup of hot morale – that taste of home – that brew prepared lovingly by someone else’s hand.

By my wife’s reckoning, it’s the most expensive drink I’ve ever bought – and I’m happy to keep on paying for it.

I know from this experience what it means to be dead on your feet, to look up, and see the smiling face, the outstretched hand and the red shield. 

I know that they cannot continue to do these things without support. 

That is why I am here today to launch this year’s Red Shield Appeal.

And to ask you to dig deep for the Salvos, just as they have for us for over 140 years.

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