The centenary of the First World War is a momentous international cultural, historical, and commemorative event. It resonates powerfully in Australia and New Zealand, where the war and the coming together of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) on Gallipoli in 1915 remain closely linked to contemporary national identity and the enduring bond between both countries. To mark the centenary the Australian War Memorial has commissioned the Anzac Centenary Print Portfolio, comprising contemporary artistic responses to the First World War by five Australian and five New Zealand artists.
The Australian and New Zealand experience of the First World War can never be fully comprehended by those who did not participate, so the aim of the Portfolio is not to try to represent the experiences of those men and women. Instead, the aim is to creatively explore the legacy of the First World War and the Centenary itself as a way of linking our past with our present and future.
The ten artists chosen to participate were: Daniel Boyd, Megan Cope, Helen Johnson, Mike Parr, and Sangeeta Sandrasegar from Australia; and Shane Cotton, Brett Graham, Fiona Jack, John Reynolds, and Sriwhana Spong from New Zealand. Each artist came to Canberra for an individual two-week residency between May 2014 and July 2015, working with master printmaker John Loane and the specialist staff at Megalo Print Studio and Gallery to produce their print. The artists worked in isolation from each other; the aim was never to produce a consistent or even cohesive account of this history, but to reflect a diversity of artistic perspectives and constitute a broad-ranging survey of creative responses.
A limited edition of 20 portfolios has been printed, 17 of which will be given to peer cultural institutions in Australia and around the world to promote international awareness of Australian and New Zealand artists and of our countries’ experiences of the First World War.
The edition presented to the Parliament House Art Collection will be on public display in the Presiding Officers’ Exhibition Area at Parliament House, Canberra from 17 March 2016 until 5 June 2016.
Your parcel came to hand last evening about 4.30, contents: Tin Coffee & milk, already broken open, or burst open at one end, indelible pencil, broken in two, envelopes OK, tin of Chocolates with side bashed in, but alright … Yours is the only parcel I have received and I don’t think I would have received even that, only that you enclosed it in hessian. Accept my best thanks. Glad Trise and you (now) are the only two I have told I have been bowled over [on leave due to being wounded], don’t tell Mum – understand? I can’t say further, if I do my letter will be torn up, so you’ll understand. All my pals, or the lads I came over with are gone, but 7 out of 150 remain, it's simply scientific murder, not war at all. As for seeing Germans it's all lies; you never get close enough to do that, unless in a charge. I keep smiling, but I tell you it takes some doing, but I’m not meant to be killed, I know that, yet the premonition I had when leaving Sydney, that I would never see home again still hangs about me. One would be unnatural to go through uninjured, if I get out of it with a leg, and arm off I’ll be perfectly satisfied …
Well, the lads lost 9,500 in one and ¾ hours at Pozieres, picked up Reinforcements, and on 22 Oct, were sent to an even worse hell. The Somme, Mum’s letters from me will tell you all about that, the boys simply got butchered there … its simply murder … indescribable … I‘ve said enough here I suppose to get me 10 years imprisonment … … Eatables in France extortionate prices, same here [England] no butter or pastry or eggs procurable unless at prohibitive prices …
The whole of the bay and parts of the ocean are frozen here, taps can’t be turned on, prunes left in a dish after tea last week, could not be dug out of the dish – frozen into ice, even the Thames is frozen hard, this is the coldest winter for 78 years in England …
I’m no saint and to hell with religion after this war … If ever I get out of this soldier business I’ll cut my throat before I take it on again.
Pte. Erle Neaves wrote the above letter while recovering in England from wounds. He returned to the front, and was killed in action on 6 November 1917 near Polygon Wood. He has no known grave. His brother was also killed in action. His mother in Australia died before the war ended.
Source 3: Film
Fighting in Flanders, Part I, Frank Hurley and Hubert Wilkins, 1917.
This film deals with the participation of the Australian troops in the third battle of Ypres during the autumn of 1917. The scenes include Australians preparing for the attack; being reviewed by Sir Douglas Haig before going in to action; shells falling amongst the ruins of Ypres, and then the battlefields over which Australians fought and incidents connected with the fighting.
Source 4: Photograph
Unknown Australian Official Photographer, Bapaume, 1917.
Source 5: Cartoon
Daryl Lindsay, Optimism, 1917.
Source 6: Painting
The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917, George Lambert, 1920.
Source 7: Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services
At the beginning of 1917 … the Australian Government negotiated with an American firm to provide an expert and make available the patent for a type of [wooden] limb … In March 1917 the Director of Medical Services Australian Imperial Force was informed that the factory at Caulfield [Australia] was working and that both arms and legs could be fitted in Australia … [T]he accumulation of limbless Australians in Engand, waiting with nothing to do, was found most detrimental to the interests of all concerned and General Howse was insistent that the supply [of wooden limbs] in Australia should be expedited … “Am sending you by hospital ship a certain number of unfitted legless men (the first batch). Shall be glad when you are able to deal with all limbless, as they take such a long time getting ready to be fitted. Possibly you will be able to send me a cable when you are ready for more legless. Chapter XV, "Medical Problems on the Home Front", p.768.
From a body of apparently normal men subjected to the Pozières bombardments (and similar experiences later) there arrived at the aid posts and ambulances men suffering from confusion, signs of mental and physical exhaustion, acute fears, phobias, amnesia, tremor … deafness, speechlessness, visual defects and so forth … “shell-shock”. Chapter II: "Moral and Mental Disorders in the War of 1914-1918", p.114-5.
Source 8: Leaflets
a) E.J. Dempsey, Claude Marquet & W.R. Winspear, The Blood Vote, 1917.
b) Fred P. Morris, A Mother’s Lament, 1917.
For all copyright enquiries relating to the above sources write to:
Head, Research Centre
Australian War Memorial
GPO Box 345
Canberra ACT 2601 email@example.com
The war that shaped Australia
“My Dear Mother … I entered this war with the knowledge that I had a rather small chance of coming out of it alive. I was under no false impression – I knew I had to kill – and perhaps be killed. Since I commenced flying I have spent probably the happiest time of my life … Above all, Mother dear, I have proved to my satisfaction that I was, at least, a man.”
Twenty-year-old John “Jack” Yarra wrote this letter to be sent to his mother in the event of his death. He was killed six months later.
Australia’s attention is currently focused on the Centenary of the First World War, and one might be forgiven for assuming that Yarra was talking about the Great War. Certainly many of the young Australians who served and died in that terrible conflict expressed similar thoughts when they went off to war. But it was Yarra’s father who was a decorated Gallipoli and Western Front veteran. As for Jack Yarra, he was just one of the millions who perished in what became the most destructive war in human history – the Second World War.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. Sunday, 3 September 1939, was Fathers’ Day, but for most Australians the day was filled with anxiety and apprehension rather than celebration. Church congregations at morning services seemed larger than normal, and families gathered around radios waiting for what seemed like the inevitable. The Great War, fought between 1914 and 1918, was supposed to have been the war to end all wars, yet once again the world was on the brink of conflict.
At 9.15 pm Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies delivered an address to the nation: “It is my melancholy duty to inform you”, he began, that as a result of Germany’s invasion of Poland, “Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that as a result, Australia is at war.” It was never doubted that Australia would play an active role in the war to come.
While the causes for the outbreak of war in 1914 are still hotly debated, as recent discussions in Britain and Australia have shown, there is no ambiguity about the outbreak of the Second World War. Both Britain and France followed a policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the 1930s and were unwilling and unable to intervene militarily against their subsequent aggression. However, following the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Britain and France, who had made Anglo–French guarantees to defend Poland, delivered an ultimatum to Hitler demanding the withdrawal of German forces. Germany had three days to comply; it did not. On 3 September, Britain and France declared war on Germany. About an hour later, Menzies delivered his announcement.
The war lasted six long years. It was a clash of ideologies. It was a conflict that the western Allies – principally the British Commonwealth and the United States – had to win to preserve democratic rights and personal freedoms. On the Eastern Front the war between Nazism and Communism became a struggle of near extermination. The Allies’ hard-fought defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan came at a heavy cost. Parts of Europe, Asia, and the Pacific were devastated, tens of millions of people were displaced, and at least 60 million people died, including an estimated six million who perished as a result of the Holocaust.
Australia played its part in the Allied victory. From a population of just seven million, almost one million Australians – men and women – enlisted and more than half a million served overseas. They were posted across the world: from the deserts of North Africa to the Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union; from the skies over occupied Europe to the jungles of Malaya and New Guinea.
Closer to home, the Japanese occupied Australian New Guinea, and the Australian mainland was bombed nearly 100 times during the course of the war. Northern Australia bore the brunt of this assault but the Japanese also attacked Sydney Harbour and Newcastle. Some Australians understandably feared a Japanese invasion.
The burden of Australia’s participation fell heavily on many families. All three sons of Alfred and Harriet Yarra’s six children enlisted. Their two eldest would be killed. Jack Yarra enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in late 1940. He trained in Canada and became a decorated Spitfire pilot. He flew in the defence of Malta before being posted to Britain. He was killed flying off the coast of Holland on 10 December 1942. Robert “Bob” Yarra also joined the RAAF. He was posted to Britain, joining his brother’s squadron, and on 14 April 1944 he was killed when his plane was shot down over France. The youngest Yarra son, James, volunteered for the army and fought on Borneo in 1945. The boys’ father, Alfred Yarra, enlisted in his second war, and served in the army.
Jack and Bob Yarra were two of the approximately 40,000 Australians killed during the Second World War. More than 30,000 Australians became prisoners of war.
On the home front the Australian government mobilised its population, economy, and industry for total war. Prime Minister John Curtin’s mantra became “All-in!” Rationing was introduced and the federal government enacted a series of unprecedented restrictions and controls over the daily lives of Australians.
It was also a time of great social change – most obviously for women. More than 66,000 enlisted and thousands more began working in factories and other traditionally male occupations. Many women gave up their positions when peace came in 1945 but fostered in their daughters the spirit of independence and equality that helped drive the women’s movements of the 1960s.
Indigenous Australians serving in uniform likewise began to experience a greater level of equality with white Australia. At least 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples served directly in the military and thousands of men were employed as labourers in northern Australia. This interaction, of course, was reciprocal; for the first time many white Australians were exposed to and developed an appreciation for Aboriginal customs and traditions.
Australia also saw a period of engineering and technical achievement. For a country that was yet to build a mass-produced motor car, Australia’s industry rapidly modernised and expanded during the war. The country manufactured aircraft, landing craft, and armoured vehicles, and this industrialisation helped form the basis for Australia’s economic prosperity in the years following 1945.
Australia came out of the Second World War confident and with an independent outlook. It enjoyed a more sophisticated relationship with Britain and found in the United States a new and powerful ally. The influx of postwar migration from Britain and war-torn Europe forever diversified Australia’s population and society.
Australia may have emerged from the Great War with a sense of national identity, but it was also a divided society and one in mourning. Australia experienced great losses in the First World War, too, but it was the Second World War that shaped modern Australia.
Dr Karl James is a senior historian at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Here in the Education section we love to know what you're working on in the classroom, or how you might have used some of our resources. Send in your pictures, poems, photos, or anything else you'd like to share to firstname.lastname@example.org. A selection of recent submissions is featured below.
Students at Truganina College learned about the significance of Remembrance Day this week and contributed to a display. Every student in the school from Foundation to Year 8 was involved.
Luke made this model of a Sopwith Camel as flown by the Australian Flying Corps during the First World War. The model, and accompanying research, were submitted for Luke's Year 9 History assignment.
Australian Air League
Members of Padstow Squadron, Australian Air League, produced this fantastic education display for the League's 2016 NSW Group Review. The theme this year was 'Australian Aviation in the Great War'. Cadets from 8 years and up made replicas of First World War aircraft, researching information and completing the display.
Marrara Christian College, NT
After completing the unit of study, students submitted to the Memorial their reflections on the First World War.
I am a year nine student at Marrara Christian College. We have been studying World War One this term and I will be telling you about what WW1 means to me. Although I had learnt about Anzac Day before, I understand what had happened better, I see Anzac Day differently now... read more
St. Luke's Catholic Parish School
Year 3 students at St. Luke's have been doing presentations, building a classroom exhibit, baking Anzac biscuits, and writing letters from Gallipoli. Well done Year 3.
The Daughter's Father in War
I am a daughter with a father in war.
He walked off;
I waved goodbye.
In the house there was silence.
Everyone was hoping we were going to see them again.
In a little white house in Watervale
Balbina a widow Mother began to wail
As her six boys were going to war
All her boys had enlisted to join the Army Corp
My boys have gone off to war
Leaving behind our Aussie Shore
I do hope my boys will return home soon
To tell us of their war stories in our family room
"The time has come" an Australian said,
"Bye" as he faced the door and ran ahead.
The war has started the battle begun,
Smack,boom,crash went the lethal gun.
Oww, the pain, other soldiers cried,
Most of their friends sadly died.
All the solders tried to laugh in glee,
But they all missed their family.
A soldier stands, proud and stiff,
in the centre of our town,
With a rifle, never to fire again,
with its barrel pointing to the ground
Through, rain, hail, shine and wind,
he reminds us as time passes by
That life doesn't always go your way,
it's just a beautiful lie.
I peer through the darkness towards the shore's outline and it feels like it is thirstily staring back at me, daring me with its evil eye to set foot on its beach. The idea of dying brings a sharp pang to my gut and makes me feel uneasy. I huddle to the side of the boat and I can't keep my family from crossing my mind, that it may have been my last goodbye. Continue reading...
Corowa High School
Many thanks to Corowa High School for posting this film they made for the local Anzac Day dawn service in 2015, to mark the centenary.
A mother's love for her son
Planted in the Australian soil
Drank tears of her loss
We as a nation
Tend the tree
Like a new born
Feed with it Remembrance
Water it with Honour
And watch over it with pride
And never forget.
The soldiers fought for us then
As men fell, death took
Those who died for us bravely
Do not forget them
Gunfire, blood, smoke
Deafening soldier's ear drums
Screams, screams, everywhere
T'was the 25th of April dawn about to break,
We had our rifles ready, oh how our shoulders ached.
I remember my mates silent, no-one dared to say a word,
We thought we saw some movement, but all our minds were blurred.
Some boots hit the sand, but some just sank straight down,
All I saw was a cliff face and a sea of khaki and brown.
13 year old Jess Love painted this artwork to represent the experiences of her family in wartime. Titled A Child's Sacrifice, the painting shows her father, Shaun, in the foreground. The image is based on a photograph taken while he was serving in Western Sahara. Shaun also served in East Timor, Iraq and Sinai. The silhouette is Jess' great grand-father, Ernest Gibson, who served during the Second World War.
Mullumbimby Public School & St John's Catholic School
Students from these schools participating in the opening of Re-Membering Our ANZACS exhibition by Deborah Gower at Ex-Services Club Mullumbimby on 11 November 2014. The display shows a number of wooden crosses with hand-written messages. These crosses are part of one of the AWM's First World War Centenary projects, which commemorates those who served and died during the First World War. Photos: Paul Schneider Photographics.
Bunbury Cathedral Grammar, New England Girls School, Oakburn College, The Armidale School, Trinity Anglican School & Vivek High School
A group of 46 students and staff from these schools visited the Gallipoli Peninsula in October 2014. All these schools belong to the international network of schools known as Round Square. The students researched the campaign before their visit and participated in a ceremony at the Lone Pine Memorial, where they lay their commemorative crosses.
Photos: Grant Harris, recently retired Deputy Headmaster of The Armidale School.
On that dark and gloomy April night,
Away from our beloved hometown,
We loaded our guns – ready to fight,
Frozen with fear as we squatted down,
In the feared filled trench,
The blood of soldiers lost in the war,
Down low you could smell the stench,
Dead soldiers seek the white door.
Far back they sealed the fates of us all,
With each doomsday shell,
The ones were lucky that didn't fall,
No man could escape such hell.
Mary-Anne Taylor, her mother and her brother and sisters were standing in the hot sun watching the parade go past. It was the spring of 1914 and war had broken out three months ago. Her father came to Australia to work in the goldfields but unfortunately made no money to go home. After years' worth of savings, he finally got enough money to take a trip to England. When the war started Mary-Anne's father was in England visiting his sick mother, so he joined up to fight for the British Empire. He was fighting on the Western Front against the Germans.
Ryan wrote and delivered this address for his school's Remembrance Day speech evening.
Year 6 students
Trinity College, Albury-Wodonga
On behalf of Year 6 students at Trinity College, we would like to thank you for touring us and showing us around the War Memorial. We really enjoyed the statues, the movie and the stuffed horse, all these things had stories about war heroes.
We remember when we saw all the huge aircraft and we saw the light show, the gift shop was full of interesting things.
We had great fun doing all the activities and looking at all the old features and we could touch so many different things such as hard tack and all different relics.
Vicke, Ava, and Danielle, Year 6 students
Hughes, ACT - Aged 10
Fiona sent in this card for Anzac Day 2014.
Years 5/6 students
Hale School, Wembley Downs, WA
Middle School students from Hale researched an Old Haleian who was lost in a theatre of war and whose name appears on the Memorial's Roll of Honour. These posters summarise their findings.
The Unseen Murderer
The sky cries, all day it has cried
The cold sodden hearts and muddy earth are untouched
For not one but many have just died
And no goal has been reached.
Their precious lives lost, a generation wasted
Carried away by the wind and mustard gas
Erased from the earth by shells and false hatred
Their world razed while they watch in a trench pass.
Eating, sleeping and walking in their graves
Their Generals commanding kilometres away
Fighting against reason and living worse than slaves
Families praying the telegram never reaches their doorways.
The sky shrieks for the tortured men and cries
For one stone pillar cannot replace the millions of stolen lives.
The Australian War Memorial does not necessarily endorse the views expressed within these examples of students' work, which remain the intellectual property of their respective authors.
The small French village of Vignacourt was always behind the front lines. For much of the First World War it was a staging point, casualty clearing station and recreation area for troops of all nationalities moving up to and then back from the battlefields on the Somme. Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt tells the story of how one enterprising photographer took the opportunity of this passing traffic to establish a business taking portrait photographs.
Captured on glass, printed into postcards and posted home, the photographs made by the Thuillier family enabled Australian soldiers to maintain a fragile link with loved ones in Australia. The Thuillier collection covers many of the significant aspects of Australian involvement on the Western Front, from military life to the friendships and bonds formed between the soldiers and civilians.
The exhibition showcases a selection of the photographs as handmade traditional darkroom prints and draws on the Memorial's own collections to tell the story of these men in their own voices.
Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt collection
If you would like to ask a question about any of the images in Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt, please read our Frequently Asked Questions. If you think you have identified a relative in one of the photographs in the Vignacourt collection, please contact our curators at email@example.com.
The Louis and Antoinette Thuillier Collection contains almost 4,000 glass-plate negatives depicting British, French, Australian, US, and Indian soldiers, Chinese labour corps, and French civilians. More than 800 of these glass-plate negatives featuring Australians were generously donated to the Memorial by Mr Kerry Stokes AC in August 2012. You can view all the Thuillier images donated to the Memorial on these webpages.
The Australian War Memorial’s exhibition Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt showcases 74 photographs specially hand-printed in the Memorial’s darkrooms from the original glass-plate negatives. You can see more images from The Louis and Antoinette Thuillier Collection on Seven Network’s Lost Diggers Facebook page.
The glass-plate negatives from Vignacourt are significant because they offer insights into the reality of life on the Western Front. There are photos that show the laughter and the mateship among these soldiers, and the general feeling of life away from the line. Like any true portrait, many offer an insight into the character and mood of the subject. None of the soldiers in this post have been identified, but photographs created so close to the battlefields of the Somme means portrait subjects who have witnessed true horrors.
Far from the formal portraits taken at studios back in Australia, the expressions in many of these images tell a story very different to the optimism of life at home. Features such as misshapen slouch hats and frayed colour patches suggest that these are men who have truly been ‘in the thick of it’. Other features such as the position of some of their hands together with a particular facial expression hint at war wounds that are beyond the physical.
Now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the symptoms of ‘shell shock’, the term that emerged during the First World War to refer to the human reaction to trauma, would manifest in different ways. One was the expression on a soldier’s face, described as vacant and doleful. In later conflicts the term ‘Thousand Yard Stare’ emerged to describe this expression, and has come to be understood as the mind’s dissociation from traumatic events.
Sergeant Edgar Rule of the 14th Battalion provided a description of this condition on page 599 of Volume III of the Official History. He had seen the men of the 1st Division pass him on the road after they had been relieved at Pozieres:
‘Those who saw them will never forget it as long as they live. They looked like men who had been in Hell. Almost without exception each man looked drawn and haggard, and so dazed that they appeared to be walking in a dream, and their eyes looked glassy and starey.’
Vignacourt’s proximity to the fighting on the Somme gives this collection of images an honesty that many other photographs don’t possess, and it is this honesty that makes them significant. There are no polished studio portraits here, and no omissions courtesy of the censor’s pen. When viewing the faces of many of these men we can only imagine the horrors that they have witnessed and endured.
Many people have already looked at this collection of photographs on our website.
You will always notice something you haven’t noticed before:
Half a world away Australians are serving their country by building another. The war in Afghanistan and operations in the Middle East have engaged thousands of Australian men and women, both military and civilian, for over a decade.
They have built schools, roads, and hospitals. They have mentored the fledgling army of a new, democratic nation. They have engaged in fierce fighting and have demonstrated bravery and dedication beyond compare.
On 11 September 2001, Australians felt outrage at al Qaeda’s attack on the United States. A year later, the devastating Bali bombings in Indonesia again brought home the threat of global terrorism. Some of those who planned the bombings had trained in Afghanistan. Australians were killed in both attacks.
Australia joined the United States and its allies across the world to take a stand against this threat. Afghanistan, a land contested by armies for centuries, became the focus of international efforts to contain terrorism.
The mission has evolved over the past decade in what is called the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO). From counter-insurgency, through reconstruction, to mentoring, Australians have been working to create a democratic and stable Afghan nation. This mission aims to assist the people of Afghanistan, but also to promote the security of the region, diminish the influence of terrorist groups, and create a safer global environment.
A world away
Afghanistan and the Middle East are now indelibly linked to Australia’s national story.
Australia’s mission is clear: to combat international terrorism, to help stabilise Afghanistan, and to support Australia’s international alliances. Yet a mission statement cannot capture the challenges, the successes, and the comradeship of the Australian men and women who pursue it. Nor the joys and heartbreaks, or the loneliness and the dedication of those who wait at home.
Some of these experiences, set against the powerful imagery of a modern war, are told in this exhibition. Over time, the display will change and evolve as more veterans share their stories.
Bringing historic documents from the Australian War Memorial’s archive to all Australians
Anzac Connections is a major web development project that not only progressively delivers new digitised collections to the website but also aims to improve search and discovery on the site, providing new ways for people to interact with our collections. The project was originally established to mark the 2015 centenary of the Gallipoli campaign but has since expanded to include collections relating to the Western Front and Sinai/Palestine.
The private record collections of hundreds of individuals who served in the First World War are now online and hold a wealth of stories: a young soldier on the Somme, freezing and up to his knees in mud, using a brief lull in the fighting to pen a letter to his parents at home; a nurse in one of the many field hospitals, exhausted and desperately trying to treat the mass of incoming wounded. From diaries to letters, postcards to photographs, souvenirs to ephemera, these collections tell the stories of ordinary men and women caught up in the extraordinary events of the war.
One hundred years on, their stories are now ours.
Read history, make history
By using the Memorial’s new transcription tool you can help bring these collections to life by making them searchable and accessible to everyone. Read more about how to transcribe.
The project will continue to progressively release more new digitised collections.
Using personal quotes drawn from the digitised private letters and diaries of First World War soldiers and nurses, this narrative will reveal the thoughts, activities, and responses of all ranks to the experience of active service during this conflict. Find out more about the Daily Digger project.
From 2014, the world will be commemorating 100 years since the start of the First World War. For Australians this is a momentous occasion. The redevelopment of the First World War galleries is the Memorial’s key contribution to the Anzac Centenary.
The current estimated cost of the project is $32.5 million (GST excl.) comprised of $28.7 million of Federal Government funding and $3.82 million allocated from Memorial capital reserves and Collection Development and Acquisition Budget. BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities has also generously donated $1 million towards the new galleries.
The Joint Standing Committee on Public Works reviewed the project in February 2013 and parliamentary approval for it to proceed was given on 18 March 2013. You can access a copy of the Memorial’s submission and the Committee’s report here.
The architect for the redevelopment is Sydney-based multi-disciplinary design practice Johnson Pilton Walker. The exhibition designer is Melbourne-based firm Cunningham Martyn Design.
You can follow the redevelopment by visiting this page, liking us onFacebook, following us on Twitter, and reading our blog posts.
Speeches from the official opening
The Galleries were officially opened on 22 February.
Since the opening of the Memorial in 1941, the First World War galleries have undergone several major alterations and many small iterative changes. Originally comprising the entirety of exhibition space in the Memorial building, they now occupy the prominent west wing of the Memorial’s ground level galleries.
Before the process began, the old First World War galleries.
Despite changes down through the years, the galleries include some of the oldest and relatively unchanged parts of the Memorial building. Significant heritage value can be found in the form of the architectural spaces; the fabric, fixtures and fittings; and the function and character of the galleries. A major redevelopment of the galleries presents a significant challenge in retaining and restoring these values while simultaneously acknowledging the changed concept of commemoration and presenting the story of the First World War with veracity, depth and relevance to Australians today.
The design of the First World War galleries has been undertaken by Cunningham Martyn Design. The exhibition will be staged to suit the restored gallery spaces and the story of the First World War will be returned to a chronological presentation commencing in 1914 and concluding with the immediate and enduring legacies of the conflict.
Artist’s impression of the entrance to the new First World War galleries.
The spatial treatment provides open vistas to the length of each of the galleries and a clear separation between the interior fit-out and the c.1940s building allowing the volume of the original gallery spaces to be experienced. The colour and texture of the exhibition will reference the period to reflect the time and place of the story.
The Memorial holds one of the world’s great collections of material related to the First World War, and the redevelopment of the galleries presents a unique opportunity. Historic items which have been unseen for many years will be returning, together with significant newly-acquired items such as a 4.5” Howitzer and relics from the 2010 excavations at the Pheasant Wood mass grave site.
The iconic dioramas will remain an integral part of the galleries. Some of the Memorial’s original dioramas no longer exist, having been damaged or removed during earlier building renovations when they were considered to be merely exhibition displays rather than works of art. Today, 13 First World War dioramas are held in the National Collection. Ten of these dioramas are planned for display in the new exhibition, including two desert campaign dioramas - Semakh and Desert Patrol - which have not been publically displayed since the 1980s. Desert Patrol depicts a light horse patrol in the Sinai desert and will replace the Romani diorama. Semakh depicts the events of 25 September 1918 when the 11th Light Horse Regiment attacked the village of Semakh, in Palestine. Its inclusion in the galleries is of particular importance as recent research into indigenous service has revealed that the 11th Light Horse Regiment had the largest known group of indigenous Australians in one AIF unit. You can read all about the conservation of the dioramas on our blog.
Famous Australian leaders such as Sir John Monash and Sir Harry Chauvel will feature prominently in the story, along with lesser known – but no less important – soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses. The new galleries will tell the story of Australia’s First World War in a coherent chronological fashion, allowing visitors to understand the progress of events as they occurred. While the strong focus will be upon the battlefield exploits of the AIF, whose men contributed the vast majority of the nation’s 62,000 dead, other important aspects such as the war on the home front and at sea will not be neglected, and the enduring impacts on the nation is examined.
The project is being undertaken in accordance with the Memorial’s specific delivery strategy for major gallery redevelopments which involves the staging of works in three phases:
Phase 1: permanent construction to the base of the building to prepare it for the exhibition commenced in June 2013 and is scheduled for completion in February 2014
Phase 2: the second phase of work comprising exhibition-specific infrastructure commenced in November 2013 and is scheduled for completion in August 2014
Phase 3: the third phase of work comprising all items to be installed in the exhibition, such as collection material, has been undertaken concurrently with the first two phases of work and is scheduled to be completed in late 2014
It is planned to open the new galleries to the public in late 2014, prior to an official launch in February 2015.
Dr Brendan Nelson discusses the changes to the galleries
Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, discusses the changes to the Memorial's First World War galleries in the lead up to the Centenary.
Check out how the gallery redevelopment progressed onFlickr
Success in life requires three things - show humanity toward others, nurture the inner integrity of your intellect and keep an open mind – open to new ideas and people.
When recently in Afghanistan, an Australian soldier remarked, “Sir, when I take my son to the War Memorial, I can show him what his great-grandfather did. I can show him what his grandfather did. But I can’t show him what I’m doing.”
He’s right. Australian men and women have been serving our nation in our name, our uniform and under our flag for over a decade. Their story needs to be told through their eyes and voices - now.
It should encompass the entire Middle East Area of Operations and three services. It should show Australians not only the danger and valour of sharp end operations, but also the heroism of those who train Afghans, counter the threat of explosive devices, build bridges and schools, maintain aircraft and patrol the Persian Gulf among many others. It should also reveal the remarkable sacrifices made by families in support of them.
This exhibition will be in the Memorial this year and remain in place until the permanent display. The Afghanistan story needs to be told now to educate Australians about the conflict and the extraordinary efforts made on our behalf.
There is also a significant and growing “therapeutic” need of what is now a small army of veterans, many of whom are still serving. They must know their story is being told through their eyes and voices. They should be able to visit the Memorial to see, hear and feel something of their service.
If we had been able to present the Vietnam War a little sooner, perhaps those men might not have suffered quite as much.
Having examined all viable options, the only space for the Afghanistan exhibition is that currently occupied by the online gallery.
Established in the late nineties, this gallery has provided a greatly appreciated service to Australians researching their family’s military history, guided by volunteers on computers. Long before the ubiquitous availability of laptops, tablets and smartphones, it has helped thousands of visitors. While the search can be undertaken anywhere from any computer outside the Memorial, having a person help is a comfort.
However, it occupies the Memorial’s most precious commodity beyond its staff and volunteers – space.
We are looking at alternative delivery models for the service – fewer computer terminals in another area, tablets and online advice amongst them. But whatever the outcome, Afghanistan is an urgent priority going to the very core of the Memorial’s mission.
On another front, others have criticised me being photographed with Ben Roberts Smith VC in front of the Memorial with a Bushmaster promoting Anzac Day. The fact is we should be concerned that Australia’s young veterans from contemporary conflicts are not joining RSL marches around the nation on Anzac Day.
Many attend the Dawn Service but think marches are for an earlier generation of veterans. I asked Ben to consider coming to Anzac Day at the War Memorial in Canberra and to march. That he agreed to do so reflects deep leadership qualities and sense of service.
Young veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands should know it is for them as much as their forebears, that we are proud of them.
Some 25,000 people attended the Dawn Service at the Memorial last year. That is likely to grow. Some begin arriving around midnight to get a spot where they can see. One father told me he had stopped bringing his kids because they couldn’t see anything.
From midnight we will project in light onto each side of the Memorial the names of the iconic battle sites over a century, from Gallipoli to the Chora Valley across land, sea and air. As one name fades, another will appear. So too on the inner pillars we plan to project images of Australian service and sacrifice from the Memorial’s rich pictorial archive.
From 4.30 am there will be readings to the crowd – Charles Bean’s description of the Gallipoli landing, soldiers’ diary entries and letters, and Kokoda as examples. At 5 am, Ben Roberts Smith will similarly read evocative descriptions from Afghanistan. All will be quiet and dark at 5.15 am with the Dawn Service commencing at 5.30 am.
Two large screens will be placed either side at the roadside edge of the parade ground, well in front of the Memorial so that people may actually see the service. The only musical addition will be the Defence wives choir and other groups singing hymns during the service itself.
Far from detracting from its ambience, surely this can only enhance the experience.
Change for its own sake is dangerous. Change can also be very painful. But in facing new and distant horizons, the stories told within the Memorial and the experiences it provides on Anzac Day, are paradoxically more about our nation’s future than its past.