When we think of Christmas we think of presents, decorations and most importantly Christmas dinner. What was Christmas dinner like for those at war?

Private Charles Bennett (PR04245) writes in his letters home about the Christmas dinner he had in an English camp in 1916. He had: Turkey, Ham, Roast Potato, Peas, Parsnips, Xmas pudding, Café au Lait, apples, orange, bananas, saffron cakes, mince pies

Lieutenant Donald Armstrong (1DRL/0057) in Abassieh in a letter to his mother writes about the Christmas dinner he had in 1915: Roast Beef, Roast Mutton, Pickles, Sauce, Asparagus, Bread, Rolls and fish or meat paste, seven plum puddings, tinned pineapple and apricots, chocolates lollies, almonds, peanuts, brazil nuts, oranges and a bucket of cocoa. After which he has commented “I don’t want any more to eat for a week or so”

Even on a ship the Christmas meal was quite an event. Colonel Reginald Millard (1DRL/0499) writes in his diary while sailing through the Aegean Sea that dinner consisted of turbot, turkey, Grouse, Asparagus, Flaming plum pudding, mince pie and champagne complements of the captain.

However Christmas wasn’t always an enjoyable time. Captain Charles Gatliff (1DRL/0309) writes to his parents in 1916 from somewhere in France that there was no real Christmas dinner just the usual rations as the parcels from home didn’t arrive until the afternoon. He did receive some cheer at Christmas though in the form of some Christmas puddings brought by some of the officers returning from leave. He then goes on to mention that the Christmas was still better than the one he had in South Africa on the back of an open truck with only bully beef and biscuits for dinner.

 This menu of bully beef and biscuits was also had by Lieutenant Lancelot Horniman (1DRL/0357) in 1915. He goes on to say in his diary that this is an awful treatment for Christmas time, while we are all rejoicing to be free from Gallipoli at last... its disgraceful treatment, meanwhile the officers live like princes.

 In the Second World War Corporal Joseph Roxburgh (PR04665) had a different experience. For Christmas of 1941 he was at Skudai camp in Malaya and for dinner he got the normal ham, turkey, baked potatoes, plum pudding and a bottle of tiger beer. He became a prisoner of war  in February of 1942 and by 1944 Christmas dinner consisted of 1 ½ desserts spoons of fried whitebait, 1 dessert spoon of fried towgay, 2 pieces of fried tapioca, ½ baked bringle, 2 dessert spoon of Chinese cabbage, 1 vegetable pasty, 1 tempi cup (baked rice cup, sprouted towgay in a cream) ½ pint of browned rice gravy and one small Chester cake.

 

 For these Prisoners of War used to eating very little every day, this meagre meal made many feel sick by about 10pm that day and this carried on into Boxing Day. It was noted that the trees around the camp were almost all stripped of leaves due to toilet paper shortage.

 Back home in Australia Constance McEwen wrote about her Christmas dinner in a diary to her son who was unreachable in a prisoner of war camp. For Christmas dinner we had Roast fowl, potatoes, pudding, Christmas cake, fruit salad and cream.  

Organisations like the Red Cross and the Australian Comforts Funds helped add to the festivities in the form of care parcels. One of the most popular in the First World War was the Christmas billie. Australian soldiers were issued the billie in December of 1915 together with a plum pudding to be shared between two. The billies were mostly compiled by families back home in Australia. The items received in the billies is featured by many soldiers in their diaries and letters home. It added Christmas cheer to the day. Many of the contents were the same and some of the senders would add letters, messages or return addresses in the billie being sent

 Soldiers after opening their billies with the lids on their heads

 Lieutenant George Allardyce (1DRL/0024) writes in a letter to his father: The can contained sweets, cigarettes, chocolates, tinned pastries, a pipe and tobacco, playing cards and other sundry little things useful and useless

 Lieutenant Donald Armstrong ( 1DRL/0057) wrote in a letter to his mother: The Billie contained 1 plum pudding, 1 tin of salmon, 1 tin of meat paste, two tins of cigarettes, 1 cake chocolate, chewing gum, mints, safety pins, handkerchief, tooth brush and 1 tin of tooth powder.

 The Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund would send out parcels. Often it was these parcels which added that something special to Christmas dinner which would otherwise have been a meal like any other day. The parcel received by Lance Corporal David Wilson (PR03539) contained the items on the card below.

 For Corporal Joseph Roxburgh (PR03539) , a prisoner of war during the Second World War, and his fellow prisoners it was the saving of items in their comforts parcel which enabled them to have Christmas feast the first year in the camp.

To the Australian soldier it did not really matter what they had to eat for Christmas dinner nor where they had to eat it. While it is true they preferred somewhere warm and dry to spend their Christmas day and to celebrate it together with their family and friends back home, it was the Christmas spirit and the act of celebration which was most important to them.

To assist with the manufacture of missing and damaged components and structure in the Hudson, the AWM purchased a copy of original Lockheed blueprints on Microfilm.  Digitisation of the blueprints for ease of reference has commenced, and they are providing invaluable information for most areas in the airframe.  The blueprints contain the original dimensions and material specifications of each individual item used to build the aircraft. 

Once printed, the blue print is used to accurately replicate the component. The two supports shown below were badly  twisted and corroded.  Two replica items were accurately produced using the blue prints, and the original damaged items.

The support structure for the upper turret is beginning to take shape, with repaired and replicated components being pieced together before installation.   This structure is approximately 1/3 of the way through the fabrication stage.  When complete, the structure will be disassembled, painted, and then installed into the airframe.    

Mess tin found at Lone Pine, Gallipoli in 1919

There is a mess tin on display in the Gallipoli gallery that is rusted and full of holes. It was found over 90 years ago scattered with dozens of other pieces of kit around the Lone Pine position at Gallipoli in January 1919 by staff from the Australian War Records Section.

The ground over which the 1st Battalion advanced to attack Lone Pine on 6 August 1915, seen from the newly captured Turkish front line trenches.

Despite sitting out in the elements for almost four years before it was collected, amazingly the name of the soldier who used it is still legible, scratched into the bottom of the tin. 90 years after it was collected, using records available online, I was able to identify the soldier who used it and discover some of the story of his war.

The name scratched in cursive script on the mess tin is ‘E WalKer’. His unit, ‘1 AIF’ ‘ (presumed to mean '1st Battalion AIF’), is also scratched on the tin along with some other letters (possibly 'ER'). When I began to research and catalogue this mess tin I realised it was highly probable that whoever used it was killed during the campaign and that was why the tin had been discarded. So, although I could have initially checked the embarkation or nominal rolls to see who served in the 1st Battalion with that name, I decided to quickly check the Roll of Honour to see if I could find any ‘E Walkers’ who died at Lone Pine.

I found nine E Walkers that died in the First World War. Three died at Gallipoli: 203 Trooper Eric Walker (3rd Light Horse Regiment), who died in August while the Regiment was at Quinn’s Post, 1832 Private Eric De Witte Talmage Walker ( 1st Battalion)  who died at Lone Pine in August and 247 Private Ernest Percy Walker (11th Battalion), who died at the landing on 25 April.

So of those three, Eric De Witte Talmage Walker appeared to be the most likely owner of the mess tin, as he served with 1 Battalion AIF and was killed between 6-9 August at Lone Pine. There was no Red Cross wounded and missing file for Eric, so I checked his personal service file, which has been digitised by the National Archives of Australia.

His identity was reinforced when I discovered that the way 'Walker' was scratched into the bottom of the mess tin was the same as the way Eric signed his attestation papers (at the bottom of page 1 in his service record) when he enlisted - one prominent feature being the enlarged 'K' in the middle of his surname.

From the resources available online (including the digitised unit war diaries for the 1st Battalion), I discovered that Eric was 20 years old and working as a labourer when he enlisted in the AIF on 12 January 1915. As he was under 21 he obtained permission from both his mother and father to enlist. Eric had a small amount of military experience, having served six months with cadets and six months with the Militia. He embarked from Sydney with the 4th reinforcements of the 1st Battalion on 10 April 1915, aboard HMAT Argyllshire, bound for Egypt. They were still at sea when the famous landing took place at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915. Eric joined his unit on Gallipoli on 26 May, one of 134 reinforcements for the 1st Battalion to arrive that day. He was allocated to the battalion's 'B' Company.

Men of the 1st Battalion before the attack on Lone Pine August 1915

Eric served on Gallipoli for over two months and took part in the August offensive. He was killed some time between 6 and 9 August 1915, either during the attack on the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine, or the subsequent Turkish counter attack. He was only 21 years old. His body was not recovered in 1915, but when the unburied remains of the men killed at Lone Pine were interred in the newly created Lone Pine Cemetery after the war, his remains were believed to be among them. As his exact grave location was unknown a memorial headstone was placed in Lone Pine cemetery to commemorate him.

Lone Pine Memorial and Cemetery

Eric Walker is commemorated here at the Memorial on panel 31 of the Roll of Honour. He is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Wahroonga in New South Wales and on the Warrawee Public School Roll of Honour.

One of the first steps in the conversion to re-fit the Boulton Paul upper turret was to remove any excess material from the fuselage.  This meant cutting a hole in the upper rear fuselage, and removing the skin and additional structure which had been replaced post war.

After taking a template form the structure of A16-128, the skin was cut.

After the initial cuts and removal of skin, it was decided to completely remove the inaccurate upper rear skins from the fuselage, to gain access for repairs, and to fit accurate replacements.

 

Work continues on the fabrication and conservation of internal structure and components.

The tank to the rear right in this image was captured in a pivotal action at Milne Bay in New Guinea in September 1942 after the defeat of the Japanese landing force. It had been involved in actions with Australian infantry of the 61st and 2/10th Batallions, and was stopped by SX1603 Jack O'Brien with a Boyes anti-tank rifle on 28 August 1942. O'Brien was wounded and awarded a DCM for this and other actions around that time. The tank was brought to Australia, dismantled, examined and partially reassembled by the Army. It was damaged by mine testing, then languished in the weather outside in a scrap yard for many years, and was then acquired by a private collector in the 1970's. The tank was repainted at that time and put into a diorama type display. No other conservation work was done other than the loose replacement of a non original track on one side of the tank. The Australian War Memorial acquired the tank in 2005 following the dispersal of this private collection.

Comparison of the tank in its current appearance with the above original image enabled  verification of battle damage and positive identification of the AWM tank.

The above images show the tank  partially dismantled, pallets of original parts, parts sourced  from other Ha-Go tanks, and replica components. The aim of the conservation treatment is to treat extensive corrosion damage, free up corroded components, source original components or replicate missing components such as both tracks, and return the tank to its 'as captured' but non-operational service appearance.

Above are some images of works in progress. Surprisingly, although corroded, most of the upper body bolts were relatively easy to unfasten, but it is anticipated that disassembly will become more difficult lower in the hull closer to accumulated water damage. Work is progressing dismantling and treating components, repairing the jigsaw of corrosion pressure cracking of the armour plates, and rebuilding badly damaged and corroded original road wheels sourced from other Ha -Go tank wrecks in the Pacific area.

A particular challenge with this treatment is to identify and preserve any historic evidence still remaining on the tank after its chequered career. Battle damage is largely obvious and easy to preserve. Not so obvious or easy to preserve are the signatures  of the 61st Bn infantry, scratched by the men on 9 October 1942, and still present in original paint remnants on the tank.

Improvised Australian street sign, 'ROO DE KANGA', from Peronne, France

This blog post was written by Justin Powell, a post-graduate student from the Australian National University who briefly worked at the Memorial as an intern in our Military Heraldry and Technology section. The Memorial’s collection houses a number of First World War trench signs and notice boards.  Perhaps the most interesting of these signs came from Peronne which was captured by the Australian troops of the 14th and 15th Brigades on 2 September 1918 as part of the 2nd Division’s assault on Mont St. Quentin. 

Improvised Australian street sign, 'WOMBAT RD', from Peronne, France

Within days of the capture of Peronne a number of signs with Australian themed names appeared on the streets of Peronne, painted on bits of old ammunition boxes.  These included Wallaby Lane, Wombat Road, Ding Bat Alley, Digger Road, Dinkum Alley but perhaps the most iconic of these was Roo De Kanga.  These names were found to be a sharp contrast to the German sign post which they replaced such as "Hohenzollern Street," and "Tirpitz Avenue.”    

Improvised Australian street sign,'WALLABY LANE', from Peronne, France

Roo De Kanga is a classic example of the Australian sense of humour, transforming the word Kangaroo into a French sounding street name (as the word 'street' in French is 'rue')The sign was photographed on  3 October 1918 and was likely collected Australian War Records Section (AWRS) shortly after.  Roo De Kanga was recorded as having been collected in October and had reached the AWRS depot on 2 November 1918, exactly two months after the town had been liberated by the AIF.

A sign which reads 'Roo de Kanga', a characteristic example of Australian street nomenclature, in Peronne, a month after its capture by the Australian troops. 3 October 1918.

In May of 1919, Sir John Monash toured the battlefields of France and Belgium with his daughter, Bertha.  Bertha recalled seeing a sign that read ‘Roo De Kanga’ in her diary.  However, given the fact that the sign currently on display in the Memorial’s Western Front Gallery had been collected in October 1918, it can be assumed that this was a replacement. Few towns in France, with the exception of Villers Breonneux, have retained the street names afforded to them by the A.I.F.  However, in 1997 the commune of Peronne restored the name Roo De Kanga to a stretch of the rue de St Savour, by the Hotel de Ville, where the sign had hung briefly some seventy nine years before.

In preparation for the upcoming 100 year anniversaries of the First World War, curatorial sections at the Memorial have begun concentrated cataloguing projects for objects relating to the Great War.

Having taken a particular interest in the Australian Flying Corps after working on the Memorial's First World War aircraft exhibition - Over the front: the Great War in the air I took great pleasure in researching the war time story of Captain T W White DFC, MID* and his daring escape from a Turklish prisoner of war camp in 1918.

White was born in Hotham, Victoria on 26 April 1888 and at an early age developed an interest in aviation. On 1 August 1914 he was selected for the Australian Flying Corps' first training course at the Central Flying School, Point Cook where he qualified as a pilot the following year.

Group portrait of instructors and pupils from the first flying training course at the Central Flying School Point Cook. White is standing in the back row; second from the left.   C38073

Early in February 1915, the Indian Government requested the support of an Australian air force unit for the Indian Army's campaign in Mesopotamia. Forty five men, including White, were selected and the group was named the Mesopotamia Half Flight.

On 1 April White was promoted captain and adjutant of the Half Flight. The unit embarked for India on 20 April and after reaching Bombay were transferred to Basra (now part of present day Iraq).

On 13 November 1915 White and Captain Francis Yeats-Brown, 17th Indian Cavalry were taken prisoners of war. The following extract is from the official statement made by White on 31 December 1918 to the Administrative Headquarters, AIF describing what happened that day in the lead up to their capture: (The text remains as written.)  

On 12th November, whilst at AZIZIEH, the, divisional Commander, Major General TOWNSHEND, ordered that the Telegraph lines in rear of the Turkish positions before BAGDAD be destroyed by Aeroplane, which was to land behind the enemy's lines. Volunteers were asked for by the Flight Commander, and, with Captain F. YEATS-BROWN. 17th Indian Cavalry, (who was my observer), I volunteered for this task. I was flying a MAURICE-FARMAN Longhorn Aeroplane with a 70 h.p. Renault engine. Owing to the distance to be covered i had to carry tins of petrol and oil to fill up my tanks after landing for the return journey.

 

Port side view of a Maurice Farman Longhorn, similar to the aircraft flown by Captain White. C283550  

I left on 13th November 1915 and found that the telegraph lines ran along the main road from FELUDJAH to BAGDAD and not at some distance from it, as shewn in the Official maps. For this reason I had great difficulty in finding a place to land owing to the large number of Turkish troops of all arms that were marching along the road. I landed on a small patch of ground bounded by canals where the line was about 200 yards from the road, and where there appeared to be only Arabs and no regular troops about, but through trying to land as close as possible to the wires, and owing to the smallness of the patch of ground, I struck a telegraph pole after landing and broke the longeron and ribs of my lower left plane. Some Arabs opened fire from about 200 yards immediately I had landed and a cavalry man, whom I had passed over in landing, rode off for assistance to what we had mistaken for a deserted building, but was really a gendarmerie barracks. I filled my tanks and kept off the Arabs and Gendarmerie with the rifle which we carried in the aeroplane, while Capt-Yeats-Brown blew up the telegraph wires with guncotton. But the enemy had cover and were able to advance on us along the canal, and I was unable, not having a machine gun, to keep them off long enough to attempt temporary repairs, and though we started the engine, the aeroplane became entangled in the broken telegraph wires and we were quickly taken prisoners, although Capt. YEATS-BROWN attempted to taxi away at the last moment.

The Arabs struck White and Yeats-Brown with their rifle butts and because White had particularly exasperated them by shooting the rifle, struck him several times on the head. One blow delivered with an adze, left a particularly bad wound. Both prisoners were then taken to Baghdad where after three weeks in hospital, including a week's solitary confinement for White, they were sent to Mosul. White was imprisoned at Mosul for two and a half months before being sent to Afion Kara Hissar the principal concentration camp of Australian prisoners of war in Turkey. He was imprisoned there for two years and three months.

View of Afion Kara Hissar, the principal concentration camp of Australian prisoners of war in Turkey. C1004303

On 26 July 1918, owing to an enquiry about his health, White was transferred to a hospital in Constantinople. After being discharged, he arranged to escape with Captain Alan Bott from the Royal Air Force. The following descriptions from White's official statement explains what happened next:

I succeeded in escaping from my guard during a railway collision on a viaduct at KUM KAPU, near Constantinople. I gained a start on the soldier who followed me, by jumping from a buttress of the viaduct into the street, and after a long chase through the streets, I escaped from him by running into a house, where the tenants proved to be Greeks. From them i bought a Turkish Fez and coat and went by tram to GALATA in search of a Russian, who promised to find me a hiding place. I did not find him till the second day, spending the interval in trips on the Bosphorus and in cafes and various places of amusements. Finding the man i wanted in a German beer garden and knowing him because he carried a cigarette behind his right ear (pre-arranged signal) I followed him to a deserted carpenter's shop in a back street in GALATA. A Turkish Officer lived upstairs, and his orderly lived on the other side of the partition of the room in which i was hiding. For this reason I had to make no more noise than was made by the numerous rats which infested the place, and I could not wear my boots. Captain Bott joined me at this place on the second day. He had succeeded in giving his guard the slip whilst waiting for a boat at GALATA bridge.

Portrait of Captain White in Turkish dress. C1004313

 

Turkish tobacco tin given to White as a parting gift by the Greeks who outfitted him in Turkish dress. C117569  

I remained in this hiding place for six days, when, being discovered by a Turk who climbed up to the window, we left and went aboard the Ukranian steamer. "Batoum" which was anchored in the port. Unknown to the captain we were concealed by the ship's engineers.
For various reasons the ship did not sail for a further 33 days, during which time we had to remain below, at times having to be hidden from the Turkish police in small ballast tanks below the propeller shaft tunnel. The tanks were so small that we were unable to sit up, whilst the air was always foul. Through lying for long periods in these tanks, which admitted no light and contained a certain quantity a water and mud, and through lack of exercise, we became very weak and emaciated.
I had twice to leave the ship to visit Constantinople regarding the obtaining of money with which to bribe the Russians. On one occasion I visited Mr. J Sykes, an English civilian, who cashed some cheques for us, whilst he was at the office of the Prisoners of War Bureau, without my identity being discovered by the Turkish Officials there.

On October 6th. 1918., we reached ODESSA, after a three days trip. The journey was longer than usual, as the firemen, (some of whom were BOLSHEVIKI) were frequently drunk and their work had to be done by the engineers.

We found it impossible to carry out our original intentions of going to the MURMAN country to join the British Force there, owing to the unsettled state of Central Russia. We had offers to join the Russian Volunteer Army which was fighting BOLSHEVIKI in the DON Country. We would have accepted (for we would later have been able to join the British Force in Siberia), when we heard of the Bulgarian peace.

During our stay in ODESSA we collected what information we could regarding the Austrian and German Troops, (who were in occupation of the town) and of the BOLSHEVIKI.

The city of Odessa. A huge Austro-German ammunition dump has recently exploded. C1004305

Partial clip of .303 inch Ball Mk 6 Cartridges. White found this damaged clip at the scene of the Odessa ammunition dump explosion. C223384

As we managed to obtained false Russian passports and as Capt. BOTT spoke German and I knew sufficient Russian (which I had studied in Turkey) we managed to evade suspicion. We spent most of our nights in ODESSA at the house of a Ukranian officer, who lived in the BOLSHEVIKI quarter, and who was glad to have two people staying with him who owned revolvers. For, owing to the BOLSHEVIKI, any civilians who carried arms could be shot by the police.
On the night of November 3rd., by arrangement with a Russian Captain of the Mercantile Marine, we went aboard the Ukranian steamer "Euphrates", which was bound for VARNA to pick up released Ukranian prisoners. We remained concealed till the ship had left ODESSA and on arrival in VARNA with the assistance of a French Officer, who boarded the ship there, we evaded an unnecessary 4 days quarantine.
At Varna we met Brigadier-Gen. ROSS, who arranged that we should go by train to SOFIA. From sofia we came by motor car SALONIKA, reaching there on the evening of November 10. We remained in Salonika for about 2 weeks, during which time we managed to obtain uniforms. We were then sent to CAIRO via Port Said.

White and Bott arrived at Port Said on 25 November 1918, with White arriving in England on 21 December.  He was gazetted a Distinguished Flying Cross on 3 June 1919 'In recognition of distinguished service rendered during the war' and was Mentioned in Despatches on 16 December 'for valuable services whilst in captivity'. White had previously been  Mentioned in the Despatches of General Sir John Nixon on 17 January 1916.

Returning to Australia via America aboard the SS Ventura, White disembarked in Sydney on 5 January 1920. His appointment in the Australian Imperial Force was terminated the following day.

During his period of incarceration, Captain White kept a diary of his experiences. To keep it safe he concealed it in the sole of this boot. He subsequently published an account of his experience based on the diary, titled 'Guests of the Unspeakable'. C118483

The damaged rear fuselage section from Hudson A16-128, which crashed during training at Tocumwal, New South Wales,  was aquired by the AWM several years ago.  This fuselage section contains a large proportion of the structure missing from A16-105 to support the upper gun turret in the fuselage.

 

Although badly damaged and corroded, the structure is a great reference and base for templates to reproduce the missing structure for A16-105.  Copies of the original Lockheed blueprints, and photos, will also be used as reference.

After detailed photography, the structure was broken down into its individual components. Once completed, treatment of original items to be reused and fabrication of the replacement items to be fitted to A16-105 could begin.

When the Gallipoli campaign quickly bogged down into trench warfare, there were not enough periscopes available to allow Australian and New Zealand soldiers to look over the parapets at ANZAC without being shot.

Australian soldier using an improvised periscope at Gallipoli

Luckily the soldiers do not appear to have been superstitious as to fill the gap improvised periscopes were made by breaking shaving mirrors or mirrors taken from transport ships and attaching them at an angle to lengths of wood.

The improvised periscope above was found at Gallipoli in 1919 by the Australian Historical Mission. The mirrors endured a bit of wear and tear during the war, but they can still sufficiently reflect images to give us an idea of how well the periscope worked.

The image below shows the view reflected from the top mirror to the bottom one - in this case part of the staff library. You can make out the rows of books, although the image is a little 'foggy'. You can also see the piece of wood and the ceiling reflected in the bottom mirror, which is a bit distracting and makes it a little difficult to focus on the image from the top mirror.

Still, they were better than nothing and fulfilled an important role in the campaign. Improvised periscopes were an important feature of the periscope rifle. The photograph below even shows one man using a periscope rifle, while another observes through an improvised periscope!

One soldier uses a periscope rifle, while another observes through an improvised periscope.

The Gallipoli campaign is full of examples of improvisation and this trench periscope is one of the classics. You have to admire the ingenuity and ability of the soldiers to use whatever they could find around them to create an item so important in trench warfare.

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