The conservation of the Lockheed Hudson Bomber A16-105 has begun in the War Memorial's Treloar workshops, the main aim of the work being the refitting of the upper and lower gun positions, as well as internal fitout of equipment and furnishings and application of a paint scheme more representative of that worn by the aircraft during Second World War service. 

The first steps in the conservation will involve the removal of post war modifications carried out by civilian operators, and the manufacture of the upper turret support structure.

 An unidentified Australian ex prisoner of war playing his accordion at Bicycle Camp

An unidentified Australian ex prisoner of war playing his accordion at Bicycle Camp

We are seeking your help to identify a former Australian prisoner of war who will appear in the next edition of our quarterly journal Wartime.

Dubbed ‘The Accordion Man’ by Memorial historians, the Digger is pictured smiling to the camera and holding a small battered accordion.

The photograph was taken 65 years ago on 24 September 1945.

We would like to find out more about this soldier; how he kept his accordion hidden from his captors; what music he played to entertain his fellow prisoners; what happened to him after he returned home; whether he had a family, and what happened to the accordion?

So what do we know already?

The photograph was taken by Lieutenant R Buchanan at the recently liberated Bicycle Camp (so called because of number of bicycles found on site when the Australians first arrived) in Batavia (Jakarta) Java, Indonesia.

The Australian Army photographers pictured in the background are documenting the state of the prison camp and the condition of the prisoners.

It is likely that ’Accordion Man’ was an infantryman from 2/40th Battalion or a supporting unit – and was among those captured by the Japanese in early 1942 while defending the Penfui airfield at Koepang in Dutch West Timor.

The 2/40th Infantry Battalion was the only battalion in the AIF recruited almost entirely from Tasmania.  The Battalion formed the bulk of “Sparrow Force” and were rushed to Dutch West Timor at the end of 1941 to help defend against invading Japanese forces.

However, like most of the ‘bird’ forces deployed across the islands to Australia’s north, the men of “Sparrow Force” were ill equipped and undersupplied and were overwhelmed by the large numbers of invading Japanese forces.

Most men of the 2/40th became prisoners of war and were eventually interned at the Java camp, although some members managed to escape to join  2/2nd Independent Company, an Australian guerrilla force that had eluded captivity by hiding in the rough Timor jungle.  

The prisoners were liberated in late August and early September 1945 and repatriated home to Australia almost immediately.

Anyone with information about ‘The Accordion Man’ is invited to comment on this blog or write to us at ‘The Accordion Man’ c/- Communications and Marketing, Australian War Memorial, GPO Box 345 Canberra ACT 2601 or email to

The next edition of Wartime Issue 52 will be on the news stands from 27 October. 

At the outbreak of the Second World War, there were some 450 Australians serving with the Royal Air Force (RAF) on short-term commissions. Once the Empire Air Training Scheme got underway, thousands more Australians arrived in Britain. Many of them were posted to Royal Air Force squadrons, even though they were members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

As these Australians were serving with the RAF, many of the important records usually used to research someone’s service, such as squadron records, are held in Britain rather than Australia. This can make it difficult if you are based in Australia to trace an individual’s career using archival records.


Recordkeeping at RAAF Overseas Headquarters, c. 1942.

Fortunately, in 1943 RAAF Overseas Headquarters began to compile biographical files of some of its personnel serving in Britain. Their purpose was to collect historical information on Australians serving in the RAAF, RAF and Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who achieved distinction, and they were to be used by the RAAF Historical Records Section. These records are now held at the Australian War Memorial in the archival series AWM65. The files include a basic survey that collects the airman's personal information and details of operations, decorations, previous service experience and sometimes details of squadrons and aircraft. The records can also include press releases and newspaper cuttings, debriefs, transcripts of interviews and any form of publicity such as Air Ministry or RAAF bulletins, scripts of BBC "Calling Australia" broadcasts and newspaper reports.

One particularly interesting file is about Charles Gordon Chaloner Olive (AWM65 4018). Gordon Olive was a civil engineering cadet in Brisbane when he joined the RAAF. He trained at Point Cook and took up a short service commission in the RAF in 1937. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Olive was a Flying Officer in 65 Squadron. He became one of the small number of Australian pilots who participated in both the evacuation at Dunkirk and, later, the Battle of Britain.


Pilots of 65 Squadron, RAF, c. 1948. Pilot Officer Gordon Olive is second from the left.

Olive's file tells us many details we wouldn't usually find in other official records, such as his success as an athlete, breaking the RAF javelin record in 1939. Transcripts of radio interviews share his experiences as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, and recount the respect he had for his fellow pilots, British, Dominion, and Polish alike.

Olive won the Distinguished Flying Cross in September 1940. At the age of just 24, he became the first Commanding Officer of 456 Squadron, the RAAF’s only night fighter squadron in the Second World War. He rose to the rank of Acting Wing Commander, and rejoined the RAAF in 1943.


Distinguished Flying Cross citation.


Olive used to tell his pilots the tale of a particularly memorable incident. Once when he bailed out, his parachute nearly failed to open. When he landed in a paddock, he was confronted by members of the land army and home guard, and had to convince them he was not German. That accomplished, he thought he'd made it, but the ambulance taking him back to the aerodrome overturned and, as the file notes:

"I scrambled out with a few more bruises, and was then picked up by a fire engine dashing to the spot where my Spitfire was burning itself out. "The fire engine, too, ended up a minute later in the ditch. "After that, I decided to walk." And that is why the wing commander always tells his pilots that they are safer in the air.

Olive's biography, The Devil at 6 O'Clock: An Australian Ace in the Battle of Britain, was published in 2001. His biographical file and over 4,600 others can be viewed in the Memorial’s Research Centre. References and Further Reading

  • 'Olive, Charles Gordon Chaloner 39469', Australian War Memorial, AWM65 4018.
  • 277457 Wing Commander Charles Gordon Chaloner Olive, DFC.
  • John Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy, 1939-1943, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series 3 (Air), vol. III (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1954).
  • Dennis Newton, A Few of 'The Few': Australians and the Battle of Britain (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1990).
  • Gordon Olive and Dennis Newton, The Devil at 6 O'Clock: An Australian Ace in the Battle of Britain (Loftus: Australian Military History Publications, 2001).
  • Series note, AWM65.
  • Alan Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, The Australian Centenary History of Defence, vol. II (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Thousands of former National Servicemen and their families came together in Canberra last week to take part in the official dedication by the Governor- General on 8 September of their new memorial fountain located in the Eastern Precinct of  the  Australian War Memorial.

Beneath sunny skies old mates gathered together to laugh and shed a few tears, swap yarns and remember absent friends in what was one of the largest reunions of former 'Nashos' .

The  memorial fountain features a  sandstone plinth (matching the colour of the Australian War Memorial itself) which symbolises the Army;  the reflection of the sky in the black polished granite  represents the  Royal Australian Air Force and the water in the bronze bowl represents the  Royal Australian Navy. 

Designed by Richard Johnson, of Johnson Pilton Walker (who are redesigning the Opera Theatre at the world heritage listed Sydney Opera House) the memorial fountain uses recycled water and is drought resistant.

Click here for photos from the day.

The Second World War galleries recently opened to the public after a re-development that puts never-before-seen objects alongside some remodeled existing exhibits.

The Dingo Scout car.

The new items include a rare Australian armoured vehicle, the Dingo scout car; a captured German Flak 38 anti-aircraft gun still in its original desert camouflage; and a unique Chevrolet lorry and Breda anti-aircraft gun combination used by Australians during the siege of Tobruk.

Chevrolet lorry and Breda anti-aircraft gun .

A new showcase emphasises the importance of the "home front" and includes a beautifully restored civilian Studebaker sedan with its producer gas unit and an Anderson shelter, which was designed to protect families in their backyards.

1940 Studebaker Commander Sedan

Returning displays include the Kokoda campaign and German Kübelwagen. The HMAS Sydney exhibit has been updated to include an audiovisual presentation.

The carley float from HMAS Sydney. PAIU2010_075_06_1


Come and see the galleries for yourself.

More information

As a curator cataloguing objects in the Memorial’s collections, I have had the chance to discover and research many interesting war time stories and experiences of Australian service personnel. One such interesting story that I found was of Sergeant Rolstyn Nicholas Tonkin. As a prisoner of the Germans during the Second World War, Tonkin risked severe punishment to provide intelligence for the Allied war effort.


Tonkin was born in Bendigo, Victoria and was twenty seven when he enlisted in the second AIF on the 25 July 1940. He joined the 7th Battery 2/3rd Light Anti Aircraft (LAA) Regiment and left Australia aboard HMT Mauretania on 29 December 1940. Tonkin arrived in Palestine on 31 January 1941 and the following day the unit moved by train and bus to Khassa Camp north of Gaza.

On 6 April the Germans launched Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece and the Allied situation there quickly become serious. Tonkin’s unit was due to join Lustre Force in Greece but because of the rapid German advance, 7th Battery was ordered to Crete to take-over defence of the islands air bases.

The crew of a 40mm Bofors anti aircraft gun awaiting the next German aerial attack from a position overlooking Suda Bay, Crete.Officers of all the units which arrived in Crete from Greece await the arrival of Major General Sir Bernard C Freyberg, VC, KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO, April 1941, Suda Bay, Crete.

Arriving at Sunda Bay on 24 April 1941, Tonkin was confronted with the large number of troops that had been evacuated to Crete following the Allied withdrawal from Greece. Over the next few days thousands more would arrive. Tonkin assisted by distributing food and water, and working on the wharf under constant bombing from the Luftwaffe.


In early May 1941 Tonkin’s unit, along with a rifle company of the 22nd New Zealand Battalion (NZ Btn), was tasked with defending the airfield at Maleme using Bofors anti-aircraft guns. They had no practical or operational experience with the Bofors predictor equipment (target computer) nor had they ever fired the Bofors anti-aircraft gun until practically on the eve of battle. [1]  As the Germans gave them no respite in aerial attacks the gunners learnt on the job. With the Australian’s black sense humour these attacks became known as the ‘daily strafe’.[2]

Crete, 1941-05-20. German paratroops, part of the German airborne invasion of Crete, parachuting onto the village of Suda.

On the morning of 20 May the gunners noticed more enemy planes than usual. In a short time around seventy five German gliders had landed along with parachute troops around the airfield. By the middle of the afternoon they were overpowered by the Germans and small groups of gunners were trying to make their escape back to the main lines of the 22nd NZ Btn.  Tonkin was with A Troop Headquarters and was cut off and surrounded by Germans. The order was given to withdraw up a neighbouring valley through the Germans to meet up with allied lines. In the attempt to breakout Tonkin was captured by the Germans. He was put to work by his captors, unloading planes carrying ammunition and supplies and loading German wounded back on the flights out. He was also forced to fill in craters and move wrecked planes off the runway, during which he did as much as possible to ‘disrupt the movement of [German] planes.’[3]


Tonkin was moved to Stalag XIII C prisoner of war camp near the town of Hammelburg on 18 August 1941. The camp held over 30 000 prisoners including approximately 1000 Australians. Tonkin worked in the Kartei (an office that maintained the index card system that tracked the camps prisoners) as a clerk looking after the records of the British Commonwealth troops.

During his time in Stalag XIII C Tonkin met Padre Captain John King who had been captured at Dunkirk. King was tasked with gathering intelligence around Hammelburg. Padres were considered non-combatants or protected personnel and were allowed to travel around Germany unescorted during their time as prisoners to minister to Australian POWs. King recruited Tonkin alongside Acting Bombardier Law Rolling who worked in the camp post office, a useful position which allowed him to intercept letters and parcels.

Group portrait of Australian Prisoners of War at Stalag XIIIc in Hammelburg am Main, Germany. Tonkin is standing far left and Rolling is standing third from right

Tonkin spent over three years in Stalag XIII C passing information back to military intelligence in England that could be used in the bombing campaign against Germany. Messages were sent via letters written in a special code and reported on German military and industrial sites around Hammelburg. This included the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt which were targeted because bearings were essential in the manufacture of tanks, planes and vehicles. The destruction of the factories was seen as vital in the endeavour to hamper German industry and its war effort. They also intercepted bogus parcels sent by British military intelligence which contained escape equipment for the camp.

PRISONERS AT THE GERMAN PRISONER OF WAR CAMP STALAG XIIIc. Tonkin is seated second row from the front, fourth from the right. Rolling is standing third row down fifth from the left.

By early 1944 Tonkin was transferred to work at the POW hospital at Ebelsbach east of Schweinfurt as a liaison officer, smoothing relations between the Germans and Commonwealth troops. Gaining the trust of the German authorities Tonkin was allowed to travel alone within 5 kilometres of the hospital which helped in his intelligence gathering. One of his duties at the hospital was to collect distilled water from a Tiger tank depot in Schweinfurt. Tonkin reported information about the depot to London and it was targeted in a subsequent raid.

Ariel photograph of ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt.

Trips into big cities were dangerous because of Allied bombing. During trips into Schweinfurt in April and July 1944, Tonkin was caught in bombing raids. Both times he and his escort were forced into a shelter where German civilians noticed Tonkin’s British battle dress and became agitated. Tonkin feared he would be attacked. Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, he waited outside during the raid while his German escort stayed in the shelter.

By September 1944, the Allies had gained air superiority and intelligence could be gathered by aircraft, so the nature of Tonkin’s work changed. Propaganda messages such as ‘surrender’ were to be painted on walls and there were instructions on how to keep POWs off the roads so not to obstruct the Allied armies.

In late September after an altercation with a Gestapo captain at Ebelsbach railway station, Tonkin was cautioned by the hospital commandant and sent back to Stalag XIII C. When the prison camp was liberated by the 47th United States Tank Battalion on 6 April 1945 the guards had already left. Tonkin and several others departed two days later and by hitch hiking and flying with the US and Canadian air forces they arrived on 11 April in London. Tonkin travelled back to Australia arriving in Sydney in June and was discharged the following month. In February 1946 Tonkin was Mentioned in Despatches in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the field.

Tonkin was one of many Allied POWs who worked in small groups to gathered intelligence against the Germans. If caught, they risked severe punishment or even death but were still determined to do their bit against Nazi Germany.

[1] C. J. E Rae, A.L Harris, and R. K Bryant, On target : the story of the 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment from formation on 18th July, 1940 until disbandment on 14th July, 1943, and the subsequent service of 7th Battery, 8th Battery, and 9th Battery, until the end of World War II. 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Association, (Victoria, 1987) p41.

[2]Gavin Long, Australia in the War of 1939-45 Army; Greece, Crete and Syria. (Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1953) p221.

[3] C. J. E Rae, A.L Harris, and R. K Bryant, On target : the story of the 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, p 79

Further Reading

Greville, Howard. Prison Camp Spies: Intelligence Gathering Behind the Wire. (Loftus, NSW, Australian  Military History Publications, 1998).

Long , Gavin. Australia in the War of 1939-45 Army; Greece, Crete and Syria. (Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1953).

Rae, C. J. E, Harris, A. L. and Bryant, R. K.  On target : the story of the 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment from formation on 18th July, 1940 until disbandment on 14th July, 1943, and the subsequent service of 7th Battery, 8th Battery, and 9th Battery, until the end of World War II. 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Association, (Victoria, 1987).

Tonkin, Rolstyn Nicholas. AWM PR03241.

Tonkin, Rolstyn Nicholas. NAA B883, VX37081.

One of the questions asked today on Ask a Curator day on Twitter was:

Q: Interested to know if the curators have a favourite piece, or does it change with each new exhibition?

Our curators came up with a lot of different answers:


I love Middleton VC’s service dress uniform for the personal connection. He was a family friend prior to the war and trained in my hometown. (You can read more about R. H  Middleton over here.)

Another is our quirky First World War knitting pattern which gives you directions for knitting two socks at once.


The German camouflage observation post (called a “Baumbeobachter” by the Germans, literally meaning “tree observer”) because it looks so real.


It varies, and personally I can never settle on one item. I am constantly discovering items which are new to me but have been in the collection since 1919; and new donations always have a wee treasure or story lurking in them. Also, as you note, exhibition development allows you to investigate and research individual items more intensely, and thus appreciate their provenance, history and associations. As a curator, you have your areas of expertise and speciality but exhibitions, due to their broader scope, will present subjects and objects with which you have no familiarity. It’s often a steep but rewarding learning experience.   

Objects in themselves are interesting, often beautifully made, but it is the stories which accompany them which elevates them to a higher level and provides the colour and associations which an anonymous version of the same object would lack. Thus, one of my recent faves is REL34430, a tiny squashed celluloid doll accompanied by a note “God send you back to us”. God never did unfortunately – it was owned by Private Walter Davis of 2/18 Battalion who was captured by the Japanese at Singapore and died in captivity on 4 August 1945, eleven days before the end of the war, of dysentery. Brought up by his aunt and uncle, and obviously with close family ties, he tossed a message in a bottle overboard on his way to Singapore in February 1941 assuring them he was alright. The message  actually found its way to his family in 1945. This doll was amongst his effects – squashed, dissembled, but complete and obviously of huge importance to him in the camps in Malaya and Japan as a link back to the life he knew and which must have seemed a galaxy away by 1945. 

Without this story, the doll is merely a badly damaged piece of celluloid which no one is likely to give a second thought to.


My favourite work of art is Dobell’s “The Billy Boy”. There’s something innately human about the subject character that appeals to me.

My favourite object is probably the Beaufort bomber, because I spent so much time working on it, and became good friends with a number of Beaufort squadron veterans.

My favourite part of the Australian War Memorial is the Roll of Honour/Commemorative area, after hours. It’s so calm and peaceful there.


My favourite is the Bean collection. (Charles Edward Woodrow Bean was Australia’s official war correspondent during the First World War and was later appointed official historian for that conflict. The personal records created by Bean in the course of those appointments now form part of the official records series: AWM38 Official History, 1914–18 War: Records of C.E.W. Bean, Official Historian. The Memorial has digitised 286 volumes of diaries, notebooks, and folders kept by Bean during and after the war and used by him to write the official history of the First World War.)


The war diary for 1 Naval Bombardment (AWM52 4/10/1) because when I was researching my grandfather’s service I found a group photo of the unit taken in Morotai that included him.  ( While on active service, Australian Army headquarters, formations, and units are required to keep a unit war diary recording their daily activities.  The diary that Jennie names is one of these.  You can read more about the official diaries  over here. )


I like the photos that Sean Hobbs bought back in 2007 – especially this one  because I think it really captures what it can be like to be working in a  place where the concept of a “set” bedtime is completely foreign. Being in a warzone means you are on high alert the whole time and the way in which Private Ormes is just grabbing rest where he can really shows that. I also am interested in the way in which he has put aside all of his “protection” – helmet, flak jacket.

Today, 1 September, is Ask a Curator day on Twitter.  One of the first questions we had was this one:

Q: Is there an overall index to colonial defence personnel pre 1900 either for each state or together?

The answer is, not really, but there are some starting places.  Because there is too much information to put on Twitter, we have written a blog post to list these sources. 

There are a some books:

Donohoe, James Hugh, 1941-;    The British Army in Australia 1788-1870 : index of personnel.   J S Shaw North,  1996.

Donohoe, James Hugh, 1941-;     The British Army in Australia : index of personnel: v. 1. 1788-1820.  J. Donohoe,  1993.

Statham, Pamela, 1944-; Jenkins, Sarah.; Booker, John, 1941-; Cox and Co.;   A Colonial regiment : new sources relating to the New South Wales Corps, 1789-1810. P. Statham,  c1992.  (NOTES:  Bibliography: p. 387-389. Includes a biographical listing of every soldier who served in the NSW Corps from 1790 to 1800 (called the Register) as compiled from various sources by Sarah Jenkins, and a transcription of a book of accounts detailing the financial transactions of the. orps with its Army Agent in London from 1800 to 1805 (entitled the Ledger), introduced and transcribed by John Booker. ) 

(try this quick search in Trove for more)

 And there are some records:

AWM1 Pre-Federation and Commonwealth records  contains some nominal rolls. (This record is listed on the National Archives of Australia's RecordSearch database, but you would need to come here to the Memorial to see it.)

National Archives of Australia Fact sheet 134 – Colonial defence personnel records held in Melbourne

The Memorial has nominal rolls for pre-1900 conflicts

We also have indices to 19th century NSW Corps service personnel in hardcopy in PR86/062: (though the link to reference images from that page is currently broken - we are working on it).

 Thanks to Jennie Norberry and Jessie Webb, who work in our Research Centre, for this information.


English sculptor Gladys Blaiberg (1882-1969) created paper sculptures of Australian troops in London during the First World War. In 1917, Blaiberg volunteered to work in the Australian Forces canteen in London where her interest in the Australian presence became a source of inspiration for her paper figures. Largely caricaturing the Australian troops, she became fascinated with their spirited sense of humour and irreverence for authority. In 1917-18, Blaiberg even exhibited the sculptures in her studio for the entertainment of the Australian troops. 

In 1971, Gladys Blaiberg’s family presented to the Memorial thirty four paper sculptures depicting Australian soldiers during the First World War. They provide a rich source of historical material relating the experience of Australian troops based in London on leave and undergoing rehabilitation. This work continues in its relevance today. 

Gladys Blaiberg’s sculptures will be included in the Memorial’s touring exhibition, Of love and war, which will open to the public at the State Library of Queensland on 4 November 2010. 

Should you have any information regarding the copyright holder for Gladys Blaiberg, please contact the Memorial by emailing;

There were grave fears for the strength of Australians fighting in the malaria prone regions of the Pacific during the Second World War. By June 1943, it was estimated 25,000 Australians in Papua and New Guinea had contracted malaria. Supplies of quinine, used to treat malaria since the First World War, and the synthetic drug atebrin were inadequate to meet demand. The Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit was quickly established in Cairns, Queensland where a specialist team of researchers trialled synthetic anti-malarial drugs. This exhibition of works on paper, paintings, sculpture and posters records the vital role played by the volunteers who took part in the experiments and the top secret research which assisted in combating malaria on the frontline.

See this exhibition which is currently on display in the Link Gallery at the Australian War Memorial.

Nora Heysen (1911-2003), Sponging a malaria patient

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