The bicycle is a machine that we can all relate to, it’s a common denominator.  Be that early childhood memories of the first ride down that steep hill, the freedom to go distances that would be problematic on foot or that flat tyre at the most inconvenient time.

Today, bike technology has changed dramatically from the bikes that were being used in the First World War.  No carbon fibre frames or dual suspension shock absorbers, gears – what were they?  And the AIF Uniform was the standard Cycling Corps apparel, no Italian lycra for our boys as the photograph below demonstrates. This photograph was taken in c1915 at Broadmeadows, Victoria of six members of the Australian Cycling Corps with their bicycles prior to deployment overseas.

Australian Cycling Corps c 1915 Broadmeadows, Victoria. DAOD0139
Australian Cycling Corps c 1915 Broadmeadows, Victoria. (DAOD0139)

It is not well known that the AIF had cycling units that were used in many of the major battles during the First World War such as Messines in June 1917, and Passchendale July 1917.  These units were deployed to the front line as well as undertaking cable burying, traffic control and reconnaissance work.

 The bikes were not the Malvern Star of the day. They were issued from England and manufactured from Birmingham Small Arms Company – or better known as BSA.  This company was also a major British arms and ammunition manufacturer since the Crimean War (1854-1856). It is interesting to note that the bikes did not come with bottle holders as today’s do.  The men would carry water supplies like the regular army corps.  Also the soldiers were issued with the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) .303 calibre rifles, having the option of either attaching it to the down tube of their bike or swung across their back.  As can be seen from the photograph of 827 Pte Jack Bambury and 830 Pte Herbert Davis at Henencourt, 12 May 1917. The colour patches are just visible in this image too.

827 Pte Jack Bambury and 830 Pte Herbert Davis at Henencourt, 12 May 1917. (P01802.001)
827 Pte Jack Bambury and 830 Pte Herbert Davis at Henencourt, 12 May 1917. (P01802.001)

The models of the bikes ranged from the Mark I through to the Mark IV.  If you were lucky you were issued with a Mark IV.  This bike had a free wheeled hub, which basically means you were able to coast without having to pedal constantly – as with the Mark I to III.  Those models had a fixed hub, which in today’s terms would be called a Fixie - or Track bike (those that you see on the Velodrome).  The Mark IV was also issued with a hand operated rear brake.  This brake would have nowhere near the stopping capacity of the disc brakes that are often on contemporary mountain bikes and some road bikes.

Before the official formation of cycling units, bikes were used for transport and other military needs as can be seen by this photograph taken in Serapeum, Egypt c1915. This photograph is of the Signal Section of the 13th Battalion, AIF ready to march off to a ceremonial parade with their bicycles and signal equipment.

13th Battalion AIF Serapeum, Egypt c1915 (H16429)
13th Battalion AIF Serapeum, Egypt c1915 (H16429)

All cycling units had colour patches and badges.  The colour patches were square with a white background and a superimposed red middle square. These were positioned at the top of each individual sleeve of the tunic. Below are examples of the 1 Australian Divisional Cyclist Company and the 2 Australian Divisional Cyclist Company.

Colour patch 1 Divisional Cycling Company (RELAWM13307.031)
Colour patch 1 Divisional Cycling Company (RELAWM13307.031)
Colour patch 2 Australian Divisional Cyclist Company (RELAWM13307.032)
Colour patch 2 Australian Divisional Cyclist Company (RELAWM13307.032)

The terrain these soldiers had to endure seems impossible to contemplate; riding through mud and rubble while under constant threat of shellfire.   These bikes did not have the luxury of knobblie tyres either (tyres that have protruding pieces of rubber for extra grip); but would have been a standard military issue of little or no grip, more like standard tyres, as can be seen in the bicycle below.  This photograph was taken in Ypres, Belgium on 26 September 1917.

26 September 1917 Ypres, Belgium (P02226.041)
26 September 1917 Ypres, Belgium (P02226.041)

The AIF cycling units have often been forgotten in military history but the humble bicycle played a very important role in the logistics of warfare.  The simplicity of the bike made transportation quick and reliable.  Even in 2008 the Australian Military were using the bicycle in East Timor to improve flexibility of field patrols with a unit called Bicycle Infantry Mounted Patrol (BIMP).  Here we are, nearly 100 years on, and it still plays an import role in military life as it does in civilian.

For those wanting further information the book ‘History of the First AIF/NZ Cyclist Corps 1916-19 CYCLING TO WAR’ by Ronald J Austin goes into detail of the Corps and is an excellent overview.

Sarbi EDD

Date: Tuesday 5 April 2011 at 1:00 pm

Location: Animals in War

Sculpture Garden

Australian War Memorial

Sarbi will be receiving a Purple Cross from the RSPCA

Please do not bring animals to the event

EDD (Explosive Detection Dog) Sarbi is an Australian Army working dog, please do not pat or crowd her

We look forward to welcoming your group to the Memorial. First make sure you have booked your visit; bookings are essential for all visiting school groups.

Memorial development project

The Memorial is undergoing several major development changes which will impact Education bookings and school visitors. To manage this impact the length of a school visit will be up to a maximum of three hours onsite. If you would like to enquire further or you would like assistance with making your booking please contact school.bookings@awm.gov.au.

Students in the Commemorative Area

Before you arrive

  • You need to advise us of any cancellations or number changes at least 5 working days prior to visiting.
  • Please ensure a ratio of at least one accompanying adult to 15 students. Accompanying adults are free of charge.

When you arrive

  • Remind students about appropriate behaviour at the Memorial. Teachers continue to have duty of care and responsibility for their group.
  • Ensure you bring your completed PACER (Parliament and Civics Education Rebate) paperwork to be stamped.
  • Parking: The road outside the schools entrance is for drop-off/pick-up only. Buses and coaches must park in the dedicated areas provided on Treloar Crescent.

While you're here

  • Students should leave their bags on the bus. For the safety of the collection, teachers will be asked to wear backpacks on their front or carry them on their side.
  • Food and drink is not permitted in the galleries, but bottled water and medication may be brought in.
  • Pencils, rather than pens, should be used in the galleries if writing is necessary.
  • Please note that photographs may be taken by Memorial photographers during your visit and uploaded to Flickr.

Lunches

Schools are welcome to eat at the outdoor picnic areas in the Memorial's grounds, or on the base of Mt Ainslie. The Memorial’s hospitality partner, Trippas White Group, can also arrange lunches for your group (pick up only).

Lunch order form for school groups (PDF, 116KB)
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For further information call (02) 6113 0634

Last Post Ceremony

If you would like to attend the daily Last Post Ceremony, please ensure that you note this in the "special comments" when you book online.

Important: due to high demand and limited space, not all requests to attend the Last Post Ceremony can currently be accommodated. Only schools who have a confirmed booking for the Last Post Ceremony (this will be noted on your information sheet when you arrive) will be able to stay.

Don't forget that school wreathlaying ceremonies continue to be available and are the commemorative activity designed specifically for visiting school groups.

Safety

Risk assessment plan
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Public liability certificate

Public liability certificate
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COVID-19 Safe Plan for School Visits

COVID-19 Safe Plan
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Contact

Education staff can be reached at school.bookings@awm.gov.au
For urgent enquiries call (02) 6243 4268 (after 9am weekdays)
Fax: (02) 6243 4541

Australia in the Great War is the Memorial’s permanent exhibition on display in the First World War Galleries.

The Ascot Lifeboat is featured prominently at the gallery entrance

The exhibition presents the story of Australia in the First World War chronologically, covering all major theatres of operations: Gallipoli; the Western Front; Sinai and Palestine; and the war at sea. The events taking place on the home front and the immediate and enduring legacy of the war are also included.

The Memorial holds one of the world’s great collections of material related to the First World War. The First World War Galleries feature a wide variety of items from this collection, including dioramas and other works of art; uniforms; medals; technology such as artillery and firearms; photographs; film; and personal items such as letters and diaries.

Since the opening of the Memorial in 1941 the First World War Galleries have undergone several major alterations and many smaller updates. The new state-of-the-art galleries now occupy the entire west wing of the Memorial’s ground level.

The First World War Galleries are located in the Western Wing on ground level.

Explore

Read more

More images

A featured collection object in the gallery
An interactive display of the Gallipoli Landing
The Somme Winter diorama
The 1916-17 area of the galleries
The Semakh diorama
An audiovisual display at the end of the galleries

The most valuable learning experience for both students and teachers is to participate in one of our facilitated programs. The goal of all our programs is to assist students to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society.

An education program in the galleries.

Programs draw on real objects and fascinating stories, using hands-on items and interactive discussion to engage students. All programs are linked to national curriculum profiles for History, Civics & Citizenship, English, Visual Arts, Science and Technology.

Bookings

Book your facilitated program today
Make a booking

Health and safety is top priority for the Memorial, and social distancing and hygiene guidelines remain in place. To safely manage school visits we have made necessary changes to school bookings, including removing teacher-guided time in the galleries.

For Term 4 2020 and Terms 1 and 2 2021, bookings can be made for primary students for the facilitated Wartime stories program only (at $5.50 per student). Secondary school visits remain suspended for Term 4 2020, however bookings can be made for secondary students for the facilitated We will remember them program in Terms 1 and 2 2021 ($5.50 per student).  Find out more.

As a precautionary measure, please note the Discovery Zone at the Memorial is now closed. Reopening of the space will remain under review.

 

Education programs

 

Facilitated programs
Primary
Secondary
$/head*
Duration
Anzac Legacy
  $6.60 45 min
Australians and the First World War
  $6.60 45 min
Australians and the world wars
  $9.90 75 min
Strange But True
$6.60 45 min
We Will Remember Them
$6.60 45 min
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wartime Service
$6.60 45 min
The Past in the Present
  $6.60 45 min
Cobber's Tales
Preschool & foundation   $3.30 30 min
Weekend Program**
$9.90 45 min
dzone.png   $3.30 30 min

Discovery Zone can be booked in conjunction with one of the above programs.
*Cost per head is given for Mon - Fri only.
**Weekend programs can be booked from 12pm onwards.

Teacher-guided visit*
    Free

*Can only be booked from 10am onwards.

 

School wreathlayings and Last Post Ceremony

In addition to education programs, the Memorial has a specially designed commemorative activity for school groups: the School Wreath Laying Ceremony. If you would like to book a School Wreathlaying, please ensure that you note this in the "special comments" when you book online.

Students in the Hall of Memory for a School Wreathlaying Ceremony

There is also limited availability each day for visiting school groups to attend the Last Post Ceremony. You can email a request but please note that due to limited capacity, not all groups can be accommodated. Please wait for confirmation from the Memorial before arranging to attend the Last Post Ceremony. If attending, be aware that students will be standing for up to 45 minutes in the outdoors prior to and during the ceremony. Ensure you prepare adequately, bringing sufficient water and seasonally-appropriate clothing for your students.

Pre/post visit ideas

Visit the Learn section for resources and activities
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Passionate about education?

So are we.

The Australian War Memorial can enrich your classroom by:

  • customising our stories to your curriculum needs
  • presenting creative, enjoyable skill development opportunities for your students
  • building imaginative and interactive learning experiences for students
  • integrating students' feelings, knowledge and imagination into a life-long love of learning
  • linking key learning areas in an exciting, challenging and creative way
  • making history real, personal and up close
  • being accessible.

A visit to the Memorial by the staff of your whole school or subject area will really give you the opportunity to become familiar with what we have to offer.

Book a session at the Memorial and our professional staff will tailor a program to suit your specific needs. Consider it as an option for your next professional development day.

Contact

Telephone: (02) 6243 4207 (after 9 am weekdays)
Email: robyn.siers@awm.gov.au

  • E02876

    Mephisto

    After 70 years of exhibition in Queensland the First World War German tank Mephisto has arrived at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. To commemorate the centenary of the First World War, the Memorial has collaborated with the Queensland Museum to display Mephisto outside Brisbane for the first time since it was transported from Europe after the end of the First World War. Now on display in Anzac Hall.

  • Anzac connections papers

    Anzac Connections

    More than 50,000 pages of First World War private collections have been digitised and released online, as part of the Anzac Connections project.

    • Interested in transcribing letters and diaries? Find out more...
    • The Daily Digger project on Twitter uses personal quotes drawn from digitised private letters and diaries of First World War diggers and nurses.
  • Roll of Honour name projection

    Roll of Honour name projections

    During the Centenary period, the name of each of the 62,000 Australians who gave their lives during the First World War will be projected onto the façade of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial. The names will be displayed from sunset to sunrise every night, and can be seen from the Memorial's grounds. Each name will be visible for 30 seconds.

    Search name 

  • Silver bugle.RELAWM01070

    The Last Post Ceremony

    At the end of each day, commencing at 4.55 AEDT pm, the Memorial farewells visitors with its moving Last Post Ceremony.

    Live video stream

Filet crochet was a popular craft before and during the First World War. Women would make decorative or functional items for the home such as tray cloths, milk jug covers, tea cosies, tablecloths and cushion covers. They also made decorative items for clothing, such as crochet lace collars or cuffs. During the First World War patriotic military themes were popular. Images such as ships, flags, soldiers and medals, along with slogans such as: ‘Success to the Allies’, ‘God bless our brave boys’, 'God bless our khaki boys' and ‘Our hero we're proud of him’ were available.

Tray cloth commemorating the Gallipoli campaign.

Patterns were published in popular ladies magazines and newspaper supplements. Often individuals would mix and match designs, creating a wonderful variety of items, or they would combine them to create large items, such as bedspreads. The magnificent bedspread below is 260 cm x 200 cm and was made by Mrs Mary Griffith of Cathcart, NSW. Rather than crochet each pattern individually and sew or crochet them together, she drafted a design for a seamless bedspread with the help of one of her daughters, combining the many patterns she held.

Sometimes the makers would personalise their items to commemorate a specific serviceman. The cloth below was made to commemorate the death of Private Cecil Atherton. Atherton served in France with the 21st Battalion for only three months before he was mortally wounded by a shell on 20 March 1917. The design was adapted from one published in women's newspapers and magazines in about 1916 which commemorated the death of Earl Kitchener.

In addition to decorating the home or commemorating a loved one’s service, some items were made and sold at fetes and fundraising events for the war effort. One famous Australian designer, Mary Card, created a number of filet crochet doilies. She sold the patterns to the public, donating the money to war charities and also encouraged women to sell items made from her patterns to raise further funds for charity. Her most famous pattern was of an Australian soldier, which she designed in 1916 to commemorate the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915. In 1918 she designed a matching sailor, which was published in October - a month before the First World War's end.

Patriotic filet crochet commemorating the Gallipoli Campaign

The cushion cover above is a nice example of how different designs were mixed together. The maker took Mary Card's Australian soldier pattern, which included the wattle and leaves design and the text 'ANZAC 1915' and added a Victoria Cross and the text 'OUR HERO WE'RE PROUD OF HIM', along with an elaborate scalloped edging, made up of a repeated pattern of Victoria Crosses.

Not all patriotic crochet motifs were of a military nature, as shown by this Australian coat of arms tea tray doilie.

The filet crochet cloths in the Memorial's collection are a tangible link with women on the home front, illustrating how they displayed their support for the war effort in their homes and commemorated  loved ones and important events.

“I had a very close shave...”
Private Charles Lester, 1 October 1917

As many soldiers will testify, war can be as much about luck as it is about training and equipment. Luck can take many forms, such as being in the right place at the right time, and the closely related not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The men listed below are a few examples of these places and the sometimes very short distance between them.

Lieutenant William Henry Guard

platoon roll book

Lieutenant William Henry Guard's platoon roll book, 2DRL/0879

William Guard was a 21 year-old locomotive fireman when he enlisted in May 1915. This was not his first time in the army in the First World War – he had already been a part of Australia’s first overseas military contingent, the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF). This force was raised soon after the declaration of war and sent to take control of Germany’s territorial possessions in what is now Papua New Guinea.

A quick and almost bloodless campaign, some of the AN & MEF remained as an occupation force & military administration, while the rest returned to Australia and were discharged. Most of these men immediately sign up in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and Guard is one of these. Appointed to 20 Battalion, he is quickly promoted to Sergeant.

The 20th is sent to Gallipoli in August 1915 and spends most of the time until evacuation at Russell’s Top, overlooking the carnage of the Light Horse’s charge at the Nek. On 11 November he receives a shrapnel wound to the head, which sees him evacuated to Egypt.

After Gallipoli the AIF spends some time re-organising before they are transferred to France. In mid-1916 Sgt Guard and the rest of the battalion find themselves near a small town called Pozieres. The Battle of the Somme had commenced on 1 July and the first Australians were in action on the 23rd.

Commanding 14 Platoon of D Company, on 4 August Sergeant Guard is involved in his unit’s successful attack on the German OG 1 and OG 2 trenches just beyond the town. The rest of the battalion is relieved that night, but possibly acting as a guide for the new unit, he is sent to a post forward of the lines, leaving his gear behind in the trenches.

Returning later to the lines during a heavy bombardment with a wounded man, he himself is wounded. When he collects his belongings he discovers that his possessions have been wounded as well. The result being the hole through the notebook, and presumably, at least the coat that he had left it in.

In November 1916 he was again wounded slightly, but remained on duty. Soon after the action at Pozieres he was commissioned as an officer and promoted to Lieutenant. He survives the war and returns to Australia, later settling in Queanbeyan and Canberra. He donates his pocketbook to the Memorial in 1936.

Private Charles Henry Lester

Pocket testament and shrapnel that damaged it

Private Lester's pocket testament and the shell fragment, PR00129

Private Lester was a 22 year-old electro-plater when he joins the AIF in November 1916, and he’s appointed to 53 Battalion, joining it in Belgium in September of 1917. A mere 8 days later he is in the thick of the fighting for Polygon Wood, part of the Battle of 3rd Ypres, or Passchendaele.

He is one of 42 men of his battalion evacuated over these couple of days with shell shock, and this is not really surprising when you read the letter he composed a few days later. In this he describes that day’s events in which he is hit no less than 5 times by bullets, shrapnel and shell fragments!

The first hits the stock of his rifle he is carrying in his hands. The second travels through his haversack damaging various items such as his eating utensils, a tin of food, his shaving brush and ending in a tangle in his housewife.

Two other close shaves punch holes in his trousers, one grazing his leg. After helping evacuate a wounded officer he is heading back towards the line when a shell explodes in front of him. He is knocked to the ground winded and escorted to a dressing station where he discovers he has only a bruised and painful breastbone.

Examining his gear he finds the cause of the bruising to be a shell fragment, roughly 2x2x2cm has pierced his jacket, tunic pocket, testament and ended up lodged in his writing wallet. While he is recovering from this experience he writes this letter home to let his family know of his amazing luck.

In looking through the war diary for his unit there is reference to how the new method of carrying entrenching tools has saved at least three lives by acting as a type of body armour and stopping bullets! Private Lester it certainly not alone in having luck intervene for him during the battle.

After this exciting day he spends a couple of months recovering before returning to his unit. In January 1918 he is evacuated to hospital sick with diphtheria, which while he is there turns into tonsillitis, but he recovers and rejoins his battalion.

In September 1918 he is involved in the attack on Mont St Quentin, near the town of Peronne, but sadly his luck has run out and he is killed. He is buried in the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension.

Private John Hector Croft

Shrapnel damaged pocket book

A glimpse of home and well wishes from the friends of Private Croft, PR03842

John Croft was a 23 year old labourer, born in Mittagong when he enlisted in November 1914. He joins 3 Battalion which is involved in the initial landings at Gallipoli on 25 April. For him the fighting becomes intense around midday and he reports many men are being killed and wounded around him.

He has a couple of close shaves at this point, including a spent shrapnel ball which hits him in the shoulder, but does no harm. He picks this up, (noting it is hot to touch), and shows it to an officer next to him who is then shot through the shoulder. He doesn’t have long to reflect on this however as he receives a blow to his heart which he fears is the finish of him.

He soon learns this is not the case as his pocket book has saved him, though the fact the bullet passed through his arm first also helped! The doctor tells him later that this took speed off the bullet and caused it to turn and hit the pocketbook side on. He notes that he was on the shore a grand total of seven hours before he was hit.

He is evacuated to Egypt where he undergoes a period of convalescence before being returned to duties. During this recovery he discovers that his wound has badly damaged the soft tissue of his arm and he cannot perform drill. He writes that he was nearly sent home to Australia, but managed to get sent to another hospital where he undergoes surgery to have his arm fixed.

This is a fateful decision, as he rejoins his unit and travels to France with them, but falls ill and has a couple of weeks sick in hospital. Four weeks after being discharged from the hospital he is fighting in the Battle of the Somme, where he is badly wounded in the left shoulder. He is evacuated by ambulance train, but dies on the hospital ship crossing from France to England. Initially listed as being buried at sea, he was in fact taken ashore and is buried in the grounds of what was the hospital at Netley Military Cemetery, United Kingdom.

Most of the above comes from two letters written by him that we have in our Private Records collection in which he describes that eventful day. With one of the letters he sent the pocket book, which is a very interesting object. While most of the pages are blank, it seems that it was purchased by his friends the Catt family, who wrote a few cheery messages and greetings in it before presenting it to him, possibly around the time he enlisted.

2/Lt Graham David Spinkston

One for those who think books are of no use! Have a look at our catalogue entry here - it says it all.

Bullet embedded in book

Book 'The Taste of Courage' which was penetrated by a bullet, RELAWM40961

Listen to an ABC 666 radio broadcast on Close Shaves here.

Vignacourt is an old rural village in France, larger than most, 12 kilometres north of the city of Amiens. During the First World War it stood behind the front-line of the Somme fighting, although the action was never far away and soldiers were always present.  For much of the time it was a forward rest area where troops arrived to recover from recent battle and prepare for the next. Men were billeted in the houses, lofts, stables and barns, and mixed freely with the villagers.

A photo from the Memorial's collection of an unidentified Australian soldier standing in a street in Vignacourt in 1919.

The comings and goings of the troops, British, Indian, French, Australians, and Americans, and even some of the Chinese Labour Corps, was recorded by a local photographer, Louis Thuillier and his wife. Throughout much of the war they photographed the fighting men who came to their humble outdoor studio in the courtyard of their house. Thousands of their photographs must have found their way to homes around the world, including Australia.

Remarkably the Thuilliers’ glass plate negatives still exist, sitting almost undisturbed for nearly a century.  They have recently been located by investigators from Australia’s Channel 7.   An unknown number of the photographs show Australian diggers, but they must number in the hundreds.

Research at the Australian War Memorial indicates that the Australian photographs were mostly taken in November 1916 and during November-December 1918.  Among the latter are scenes of celebration on the day the war ended, 11 November 1918. A study of the soldiers’ faces shows men pleased to be away from the dangers of the front-line, although many also show the strain of recent heavy action or that accumulated over years of fighting.

The first Australian troops in Vignacourt were men of the 1st Division who were billeted there only days before facing the horror of the fighting at Pozieres on 23 July 1916.  A few months later the survivors of the battles of Fromelles and Pozieres moved into the Somme trenches where they would face the misery of the wet and frozen trenches in an ordeal some found worse than heavy battle. Some of the exhausted brigades went to Vignacourt to recover.

The history of the 5th Australian Battalion records its move to Vignacourt:

The Australian regiment was weary, untidy, and muddy to the last degree ... their despondency was noticeable, though not to be wondered at, when one remembers the misery of the preceding days in the mud. The Fifth underwent a rigid course of training in Vignacourt.  New clothes were issued, and the men were refitted generally.  Five hours daily of hard work soon had its effect, and the Regiment rapidly regained its physical and mental fitness.

The Vignacourt photographs are a record of Australian troops in France and their interaction with French civilians, and present unique evidence of the life and experiences of men following battle. The story of the amazing photographs and their discovery airs on Sunday Night at 6.30pm on the Seven Network.

Update: There is also a Facebook page called Lost diggers with more photos, video, and details about who to contact if you think you can identify any of the soldiers.

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