Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds. Indian Mule Teams in Mule Gully, being loaded supplies for the troops. Lines of mules are tethered in the background.

‘At about 7am an enemy aeroplane dropped 3 bombs, one of which exploded in the lines of an Indian transport column at the head of Clarkes gully, several mules were killed but no further damage seems to have been done. One of the field guns of Burgess no 9 battery which is in position just above our camp has been set up in such a way s to be able to fire at enemy aeroplanes, we have not anti-aircraft guns here on shore though some of the battleships have them mounted. A consistent heavy rumble of artillery has been coming from the direction of Cape Helles all day. A large biplane circled overhead for about half an hour this evening. Preparations have been made for an attack upon enemy positions in front of Tasmania Post. Out howitzers have been very active all day. At 10pm mines were exploded in front of Tasmania Post and out infantry attacked the enemy trenches. “A” section were on duty at the aid posts and at 11pm “B” section were called out and we were given instructions to work in relays from Tasmania Post to a new relay post at Dawkins Point and from here to the C.C. Station to Anzac Cove. The mates and I happened to be detailed to work the top relay which included the steep climb from Clarkes Gully to Tasmania Post.’

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds. 'Sunset, Lemnos' By George Lambert

‘Six T.B.Destroyers have been cruising about all day, we have seen very little of them lately. Two have been doing patrol work about here for the past week and have been the only war boats about. The weather has been very warm for the past few weeks and it’s getting extremely hot now, the sun is very fierce and the nights fairly warm. Some exceptionally beautiful sunrises and sunsets are to be seen here at times. Last evening three large transports steamed across from Imbros to Cape Helles.’

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.  Informal group portrait of eight unidentified 4th Field Ambulance stretcher bearers at a relay station on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

‘Having spell from duty today I took the opportunity of visiting some old mates in the 4th Fld Amb, where I fell in with a bit of luck in getting a couple of tins of milk. The enemy fired several nasty shells on to the beach in the cover this afternoon. As I was coming back to our camp one shell alone wounded 7. The new 4.7 naval gun fired its first shell at about 6pm, to our surprise her second shot was answered by the enemy with a large shell from a new heavy gun of theirs. Our gun fired six shells all of which were replies to by the enemy gun, they seem to have a pretty good knowledge of the position of our new gun as all their shells have exploded in the vicinity, one in particular being very close.’  

For the classroom: Can you think of any types of reunions that might take place today?

Recently while cataloguing battlefield relics from Fromelles I came across an item I had not seen before, a German ersatz (substitute) sandbag made from paper. A search on the Memorial's database shows that this was not the only item that used substitute material; there are many items in the collection, including an ersatz felt pickelhaube (spiked helmet) and a packet of ersatz 'coffee'. As with France and Britain during the First World War, Germany brought in measures to save resources for the war effort, these shortages of material and food affected civilians and military alike.

                                                                                                                                      Ersatz Paper Sandbag

This sandbag was picked up at the front a few weeks before the Battle of Fromelles, 19 July 1916. It was brought to Australia by Chaplain Donald Burns Blackwood who was attached to the 52nd Battalion. During his service in France and Belgium Blackwood was Mentioned in Despatches in 1917 and awarded a Military Cross in April 1918. During May 1918 he was attached to the 49th Battalion until the end of the war when he returned to Australia for leave on 12 December 1918.

                                          Ersatz Paper Sandbag                                                                                          Ersatz Paper Sandbag

The sandbag was made by cutting rolls of unbleached paper into strips. It was then gathered on a spindle which rotated to give the paper the necessary twist. The paper thread was then woven into a coarse cloth. Then it was cut and stitched together with what appears to be cotton, but could be ‘ersatz cotton’ which was a mixture of nettle and willow fibre and small amounts of cotton. Paper based cloth was even used in the production of shirts, one of which we have in the Memorial’s collection.

German military uniforms were also affected by shortages of material. This pickelhaube (spiked helmet) was collected by a stretcher bearer Private Herbert Vincent Reynolds, during the 4 Field Ambulance’s advance along the Somme in August 1918. In a letter home to his sister he states his surprise at finding the pickelhaube especially as the infantry had all ready passed through the village and usually they collected all the good souvenirs first.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        German Ersatz Pickelhaube (spiked helmet)German Ersatz Pickelhaube (spiked helmet)

Pickelhaubes are normally made from leather but for a short period between September 1914 and mid 1915 were made from felt because of a shortage of leather and the need to quickly equip and outfit the mobilising German army. The German felt hat industry was well establish before First World War and had the technology to produce the amounts of helmets needed. As well as rabbit fur or shredded wool felt, other materials were used as substitutes to leather for the pickelhaube, such as tin plate and steel. Even pressed paper, cork, fibre or lacquered cardboard was used. These were inefficient in wet weather and as with the leather pickelhaubes they were not effective protection against bullets or shrapnel. 

                                      German Ersatz Pickelhaube (spiked helmet)                                                                                              German Ersatz Pickelhaube (spiked helmet)

Ersatz felt helmets were the same shape as leather helmets but were easier to manufacture. Usually they were pressed from one piece of felt which reduced production time. Some helmets were made up of two or four pieces of felt stitched together or had small additions of leather. They used pre-war fittings made of brass or silver, but as these metals became scarce, grey painted steel fittings were used. Sometimes a combination of both was used. The helmets came in black or field grey felt and were sometimes lacquered black. During 1915 production of the felt pickelhaube ceased as leather became available again. By the end of 1916 German front line troops were wearing the model 1916 steel helmet, although the pickelhaube continued to be worn by troops in Germany.

Germany was hit hard by food shortages caused by British and French blockade of German ports and by the end of 1916 Germany was forced to drastically tighten its belt. Staples such as bread came to include ingredients such as rye, a smaller amount of wheat, sugar and potato meal. This does not sound to bad and was meant to have been quite palatable. Rye and wheat were not always available and oats, Indian corn, peas and buckwheat meal were used as substitutes in bread. Saw dust was also used by some bakers in their products as well. ‘Meat’ could be made from a mixture of vegetables, nuts and offal, while an egg substitute was made up from maize and potato meal. There was a desperate need for fat and they tried to obtain substitutes from rats, hamsters, crows, cockroaches, snails and earthworms. An attempt even was made to gain fat from hair clippings and old leather boots. Coffee went through varying stages of substitution during the war, from a blend of roasted barley and oats with coal tar flavouring, through to carrots and yellow turnips towards the end of the war. The example below of 'coffee' is dated c 1917 - 1918 and comes in its original packaging. The ingredients of this 'coffee' is believed to be made up of cereal and vegetable matter.   

                                      German Ersatz 'Coffee'                                                                                        German Ersatz 'Coffee'

These items from the Memorial's National Collection help us to understand the lengths that Germany went to sustain its war effort. This effort though was not enough, the harsh conditions on the home front, the failure of the German army’s 1918 offensive and the subsequent Allied advance made Germany ripe for unrest. German sailors mutinied in late October 1918 and the revolt spread to the workers on land. Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on 9 November and power was given to the Chancellorship with a German Republic announced. The Armistice came on 11 November ending the bloodiest war the world had seen.

Further Reading:

Somers, Johan. Imperial German Field Uniforms and Equipment 1907-1918 (Atglen PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2005).

Williams, John. The Home Fronts: Britain, France and Germany 1914-1918 (London: Constable, 1972).

Late last year the Memorial received a pair of Second World War escape and evasion (E&E) boots as part of a donation. We already held two pairs of 1943 Pattern E&E boots in the collection which were designed so that if an airman baled out or crash landed over enemy territory, he could cut away the suede upper with a concealed knife. This would turn his boots into 'civilian' style shoes to help him evade capture by the Germans. Neither pair held by the Memorial had their original knife (they often get separated from the boots), so I hoped this new pair might. When I first saw the new boots I thought they looked a bit strange. They were similar to the 1943 Pattern boots, but were of a different design to the boots already held. The fleece lined calf section was not suede, but instead was polished leather. The zipper was located at the front of the boot, not to the side and the strap at the top looked different. 

I knew prototype versions of the 1943 Pattern boot had been made in 1941 and 1942 and when I looked into it further, I was thrilled to discover that the new boots were indeed a pair of the rare version 1 prototypes! This version was made in relatively small numbers in 1941 and early 1942. They were issued to select air crew by MI9 to test their functionality. This particular pair is well worn and appears to have also been used after the war.  Due to their rarity, these boots are special, but what makes them even more special to the Memorial is that they were issued to, and used by, a known Australian airman – Flight Lieutenant Daniel Joseph Reid, DFC. 

When this prototype proved useful, a second version was developed later in 1942, this prototype also being rare. The main difference between the two protoypes was the movement of the zipper from the front of the boot to the side so the shoe laces would not get caught in the zip. As a result of this change, the strap along the top was shortened. The new zipper placement remained as a feature of the official 1943 Pattern boot. Recently the Memorial was fortunate enough to acquire a pair of version 2 prototype boots. This pair has no known service history, but they illustrate the development of the escape boot that was issued to Australian air men. 

Both pairs of boots are very welcome additions to the Memorial's collections. You may be wondering if either pair included the original knife. Unfortunately not, but hopefully one day we will get one!

The many donations to the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection come in all shapes and sizes as well as conditions. Many collections are treasured family objects that are passed on through generations which represent stories of family members who were involved in Australia’s military commitments. Others are rescued from disposal centres or found in op shops and deposited to the Memorial from strangers who have no knowledge of the person the collection relates to. As interesting as these stories are, I often notice the varied packaging in which these objects, whether treasured or found, arrive at the Memorial.

In 2005, SBS Radio hosted a program called ‘Migrant Memories- Australian at War’ which includes interviews with children about their experiences growing up in a theatre of war. The interviews were donated to the Memorial by SBS Radio in a presentation to the Director in 2005. The CD’s came in specially designed presentation cases in an ornate box, pictured below.

Another example from the Memorial’s Sound Collection is a set of recorded letters which Peter Winter sent to and from his family whilst serving in South Vietnam with 7RAR as a 2nd Lieutenant from February 1970 to March 1971. These sound tape reels were sent to the Memorial in boxes ranging from original sound tape reel boxes to Aspirin boxes. Sometimes, the packaging of items tells a whole story of its own and shows what was available at the time of sending objects home to the family.

A recent acquisition for our Vietnam recorded letter collection is from Bryan O’Donnell who donated a sound reel recorded letter which was sent to Australia during his time of service in a purpose made sound reel postage case. Bryan served with 5RAR as a Private in the Infantry Corps and was stationed in South Vietnam from May 1966 to May 1967. He tells his parents about his duties and that he is taking many slides to send home.

Whilst the sound recordings of the National Collection at the Memorial are important in commemorating the sacrifice of Australians who have died in war as well as the experiences of those who returned home to us, the packaging the recordings arrive at the Memorial sometimes have an interesting story too, like these three examples. As we move into the digital world, the sound section is continually receiving digitally recorded material making the original boxes increasingly rare and interesting object to receive.

 

1941 was a year of battle. It was a time of victories and defeat. Australian soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought their first major battles of the Second World War in North Africa and in the Mediterranean. Australian and British troops won a series of early successes in Libya and later in Syria. But they also suffered greatly on mainland Greece and on Crete. When a rapid German offensive swept the British from Libya, all that stopped the Germans from continuing into Egypt was the defiant garrison at Tobruk.

Members of the 2/11th Battalion, having penetrated the outer defences of Tobruk, assemble again on the escarpment on the south side of the harbour after attacking ack ack gun positions. The men were all from C Company, mostly from 14 platoon, 22 January 1941.

For the eight months from April until December 1941, Australian and British soldiers – with Indian, Polish, and Czech troops – held Tobruk against besieging German and Italian forces. British and Australian warships helped keep the defenders supplied, bringing in food, ammunition, and reinforcements, and evacuating the wounded. Australian airmen, meanwhile, made an important contribution to the air war fought above the desert battlefields. 

When the Australians captured Tobruk in January 1941, they found large amounts of abandoned Italian equipment and stockpiles of ammunition. In part to relieve boredom and in part to help support the British artillery, the Australian infantrymen became part-time gunners using captured Italian guns. Learning largely through trial and error, the “bush artillery” quickly became a feature of Tobruk’s defences. Infantrymen from the 2/17th Battalion with an Italian 75mm gun wait to go into action, 27 August 1941.

2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the first Australian battles of the war. To commemorate these significant events, planning is now well under way for a special anniversary exhibition that will open at the Memorial in March 2011. Drawing on the Memorial’s rich collection of war relics, photographs, artworks, and documents, this exhibition will highlight Australia’s involvement in these early campaigns with a specific focus on the famous siege of Tobruk. 

In the weeks and months to come, the Memorial’s historians and curators will be featuring some of the stories and experiences of different men and women who served in the Middle East during 1941 as we prepare for the exhibition’s opening next year.

 

 “.. give what you can, give a little of your happiness, a little of your well-being and a lot of your soul.”

These words are an English translation of a 1916 French poster for “Journée Nationale des Orphelins” (National Orphans’ Day).

Philanthropic organisations and patriotic groups moved swiftly to help alleviate the suffering caused by the First World War. A new vulnerable class of people had been created. There were former soldiers permanently incapacitated by injury, those who had tuberculosis, refugees and orphans. Although there was eventually some state aid, many people fell through the cracks of bureaucracy. In Europe, Australia and America, local fundraising as well as national campaigns were soon in full swing. Women’s voluntary organisations, made up mainly of women from the upper and middle classes, were essential in providing support for these activities.

National badge days were a common method of fundraising. The organisational logistics of holding such days must have been as enormous as they are today. Promotional posters and badges needed to be produced and volunteers required co-ordination.  

During the First World War, Germaine Boglio (nee Roquebrune) was a schoolgirl living in Nice, France. Like other community-minded students, Germaine sold badges on fundraising days. A collection of her badges is now held by the Memorial.

Thanks to the Boglio donation, the Memorial now holds both badge and poster for Journée Nationale des Tuberculeux (Anciens Militaires), 1917.

The standard of graphic detail shown in the badges is impressive. However small the badge, the image is clearly recognisable. Graphic production for fundraising badges would have drawn on European traditions of medal-making and engraving. In terms of technique, both traditions were capable of delivering extraordinary detail within a small area.

Fundraising imagery can be symbolic, which aligns it with medal-making, or can tell a story which is reminiscent of engraved illustrations. Here are examples of both.

More symbolic imagery is shown in a series that commemorates the contribution of African soldiers and those from other French colonies. Of the eight million troops who fought for France in the First World War, almost half a million were colonial troops.

The Boglio collection is part of the Research Centre’s Souvenirs 5, Appeals and Fundraising Souvenir Collection.

Today a wreathlaying ceremony will be held at the Sandakan Memorial in the Australian War Memorial’s Sculpture Garden to remember the prisoners of the Sandakan Death Marches of 1945. It seems appropriate to highlight a new Sound Collection acquisition which relates to another group of prisoners of the Japanese.

The Sound Section received a donation of a lacquer disc containing a recording of a radio broadcast made in September 1945 by David Druitt Nathan of the 5th Signals Corp. Captain Nathan was based in Saigon, and he speaks about the prisoners of the Thai-Burma railway in this recording.

As you can see from the above image, the disc is in a very fragile state, and we were not sure that we would be able to recover the audio from it. The core of the disc is metal and it has been coated with a lacquer compound into which the grooves of the recording have been cut. Over time, the lacquer surface has degraded and cracked as the metal core expanded and contracted with fluctuations in air temperature.

Luckily the recording starts about two centimetres in from the edge of the disc which is where the worst degradation of the surface has occurred, meaning our audio engineers were able to play and digitally preserve the complete recording.

Listen to the digitised audio of S04844

Our innovative audio engineers used a paintbrush to gently hold down the arm of the record player to ensure the needle did not skip out of the grooves on the disc when it hit a crack in the surface.

Now that this disc has been digitally preserved, the original disc will be safely stored and won’t be subjected to being played again.

The postcard concept had its origins in Germany and the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. By the outbreak of the First World War, millions of postcards were being sent across the world via postal services. The phenomenon of collecting postcards was also well and truly established.

A new display featuring images of women from the First World War postcard collection, is currently showing in the Australian War Memorial’s Reading Room.

The Memorial has a rich collection of postcards that servicemen sent to family and friends, and also those they collected for themselves. Many of these postcards depict images of women. In this display, several prominent themes are featured.

“Women in Uniform” encompasses symbolic nationalistic images such as Britannia and La France, as well as photographs of the women’s war effort. Thousands of allied women worked as nurses, in factories, in general services and on public transport. Images of the British war effort were used for propaganda purposes, and postcards of women working in these capacities were released in several languages.

Romantic images form the largest category of postcards of women. The sweetheart image was ubiquitous and we hold German, French, English, Egyptian and Australian examples. The woman writing to her sweetheart or waiting for news from him, became an iconic image of the time.

Portraits of beauties were popular to send to loved ones, friends and girlfriends. Glamorous postcards of actresses, the pin-ups of their age, were also widely collected. When looking at these postcards, a shared ideal of beauty and perception of fashion emerges that traversed national boundaries. 

The First World War enabled many Australians to visit countries, that they would have financially have been unable to reach.  The soldier-tourist collected postcards of these places. Scenes of women in daily life and wearing traditional dress, were among the customary postcards available from these countries.

A novel category for the soldier-tourist were French risqué postcards. Not available to any large extent at home, servicemen took full advantage of the opportunity to purchase these witty and stylishly illustrated cheeky cards.

For this display, paper flowers have been scattered amongst the postcards to either reflect national flag colours or to mirror the hand-tinted colours used in many of the postcards from the First World War. Our local scrapbooker, Assistant Curator Kim Giannasca, created and matched these flowers especially for the display.  

The display will be on for six months. The Reading Room is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm, and on Saturday from 1pm to 5pm.

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