It has been a year since the first blog entry went up about Marthe Gylbert and her letter. In this time, with the help of some very generous people, I have been able to discover much about Marthe and her wonderful love letter. If you have not seen the previous blog entries, they can be found here and here.

Marthe‘s nephew Jean Marc Gylbert has been very helpful and interested. He has provided much information about his family and his aunt although some part of the story remains a mystery even to him. This blog is based on information Jean Marc Gylbert has provided.

Courtesy of Jean Marc Gylbert and Rose Rae

Marthe was born on the 24th April 1901 to Louis and Marie Louise Gylbert. She was the fourth child in the family of six children, two of whom died while very young. The family came originally from Nieppe, a village about 3 km from Armentières, on the left bank of the Lys River. Jean Marc Gylbert describes the family as ‘very poor' with Marthe’s father working as a farm labourer and her mother employed as a servant.

Marthe met her Australian sweetheart in Armentières not Saint-Sulpice-les-Feuilles as I said before in my previous update. Armentières had been briefly occupied by the Germans, in October 1914, but was taken back by the British, who occupied the village until the 10th April 1918. Amongst the troops in Armentières were Australians and this is when Marthe appears to met her ‘Darling Little Sweetheart’.

Jean Marc Gylbert has always known that his aunt had an Australian sweetheart as his father has told him the story since his childhood. Unfortunately, this was a long time ago and he cannot recall the man’s surname other than it ended in ‘on’ and his first name seemed, to the young Jean Marc, a common Anglo-Saxon name.

During the summer of 1917, the Germans heavily bombarded Armentières, including the intense use of gas shells, and the military authorities decided to evacuate the civilian population.  The Gylbert family, without Marthe’s father who had died, was sent to little village in the centre of the south of France called St-Sulpice-les-Feuilles where life for the family was not easy. The refugees were not welcomed by the locals who equated these northerners with Germans. Jean Marc Gylbert describes it as ‘the life of peasants’ during which his father, then 12, worked at various agricultural jobs including as a shepherd and a butcher.  

Courtesy of Jean Marc Gylbert and Rose Rae

It was amongst these difficulties that Marthe sent her sweetheart the letter that is now in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. Jean Marc Gylbert believes that someone else must have written the letter on Marthe’s behalf as he knows that his aunt would have been unable write a letter like this at the time and certainly not in English.

It is not clear when the family returned to Armentières but Jean Marc Gylbert does know that the civil authorities insisted that the inhabitants of the town come back after the war.  The houses and factories needed to be rebuilt and they needed as many people as possible to do this.

Coutesy of Jean Marc Gylbert

The living members of the Gylbert Family do not know what happened to Marthe’s sweetheart and cannot recall his name. So his identity and fate seems destined to remain a mystery.  But we do know what happened to Marthe. After the war, Marthe married twice and went to live in Paris. She died in Issy les Moulineaux (part of Paris) on 27th February 1977. She had one child who died in infancy during her first marriage.

The letter is on display as part of the Memorial’s Of Love and War exhibition which is showing at the Memorial until 5th May 2010. The exhibition will travel to other venues but these are yet to be confirmed.

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.

 A general view of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade tent and horse lines at Heliopolis, near Cairo.

'We marched to the 4th Brigade camp at Heliopolis, and got our blankets from the 4th Field Ambulance during the afternoon. The buildings here are splendid structures, the well-to-do people live here only, it is situated about 4 miles from Cairo and has an up to date electric railway and tramway service. Our rations are a bit short, but will be alright when we draw 6d* a day extra allowed each man for rations.'

 *d is the abbreviation for pence (penny). The average rate of pay for a soldier was 6 shillings per day (One shilling = 12 pence) this is higher than any other army at the time.

Detail of navigation map kept by William Gourlay, showing Nuremberg

Detail of navigation map kept by William Gourlay, showing Nuremberg

The Australian War Memorial has recently received important documents relating to the Nuremberg bombing raid of 30-31 March 1944 and the iconic Lancaster bomber ‘G for George’.  Through a generous donation, the navigation log and map made by William Albert Gourlay, navigator on board ‘G for George’ for the fateful raid, have been added to the Private Records collection (PR04522).  These will complement our holdings relating to Bomber Command, and the Nuremberg raid in particular.

Detail from the navigation log of William Gourlay

Detail from the navigation log of William Gourlay

A massive bombing raid was planned for Nuremberg on the night of 30-31 March 1944.  Nuremberg was a strategic and symbolic target, being both the symbolic heart of Nazism and a major centre of war production.  It was also part of the long ‘Battle of Berlin’, the months of bombings devised and ordered by the Commander of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, intended to crush the morale of German civilians and deliver a fundamental blow to the fighting capacity of Germany. 

William Gourlay was a member of 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force at the time, and had only recently joined it in February 1944.  But for the failure of another Lancaster bomber, Gourlay and his fellow aircrew would never have flown in ‘George’.  During their preparation at RAF Base Binbrook, their designated Lancaster was found to be unserviceable, and so, after a race with another aircrew whose bomber was also unserviceable, Gourlay, under the pilot Flight Sergeant Vic Neal, was fortunate to fly in the renowned ‘G for George’. 

In his memoir, Gourlay described the task and experience of a navigator: ‘In a small cubicle separated from the pilot’s cockpit by a black curtain, the navigator worked continuously throughout the trip, calculating and checking all the time, it being essential that both log and chart were properly kept up to the minute.  The pilot was always advised of all turning times and the new course to be flown, and he would often ask—“Pilot to Navigator, how long to E.T.A.?”’

Members of 460 Squadron RAAF in front of and lined up on the wing of Lancaster Bomber 'G for George'

Members of 460 Squadron RAAF in front of and lined up on the wing of Lancaster Bomber 'G for George'

The Nuremberg raid was problematic from the outset, principally because the raid would occur in full moonlight, and its flight time was over seven hours.  When the raid began, problems escalated when there was no cloud cover to protect the bombers. 

Like other bombing raids, the raid on Nuremberg assembled a significant complement of bombers: 795 aircraft were despatched, including 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitos.  The bombers met resistance at the Belgian border from German fighters.  In total, 95 bombers were lost, making it the largest Bomber Command loss of the Second World War.  Reconnaissance following the raid found that the mission had in fact been a failure: little damage was caused to the city of Nuremberg, and most of the bombing occurred, incorrectly, at Schweinfurt, 50 miles to the north-west of Nuremberg, and even there the bombing caused little damage. 

Reflecting on the Nuremberg raid, Gourlay thought it was ‘grim, enemy fighters really got onto us, and all along the route there were blazing four engined bombers falling out of the sky.’  Unlike so many other airmen, Gourlay was lucky enough to return to base, having seen so many others downed by the German fighters.  In September 1944, Gourlay was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his continued excellent service.

'G for George' on display at the Australian War Memorial

'G for George' on display at the Australian War Memorial

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.

 Courtyard, 14th Australian General Hospital, Abbassia By George Lambert

'The Field Ambulance reinforcements for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd disembarked at 9am and entrained for Cairo* at 9.30am. We arrived at Abbassia at 5pm and marched to the camp behind the barracks. We slept in a mess room for the night, but it was too cold to sleep comfortably, we had only a small blanket. All the Field Ambulance reinforcements were under the charge of Sgt, Baker. Our camp is about 4 miles from the city.'

 *Originally soldiers of the AIF were going to finish their training in England but after the bitter winter experienced by Canadian soldiers the men of the AIF were sent to Egypt to train in a more ‘suitable’ climate.

For the classroom: What other reasons might they have to send the troops to train in the Egyptian desert?

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.

Herbert embarked on the HMAT A35 Berrima at 12pm on the 22nd of December 1914

Herbert embarked on the HMAT A35 Berrima at 12pm on the 22nd of December 1914.  C382998

'Arrived at Alexandria at 8am the harbour was full of wind jammers most of which are prizes. We pulled into the wharf at 2pm, the Light Horse Ambulance reinforcements went ashore and proceeded to the camp. No leave was granted, but I got ashore with a couple of other chaps and we went to the city, returning at about 1am. We got a cab man to drive us back to the wharf, could not see much of the place at night, visited a couple of music halls.*'

 *After so long on a ship the many soldiers looked forward to the excitement of Alexandria.  The men wanted to partake in recreational activities such as music halls.

For the classroom: If you were a soldier and spent a long period at sea how would you spend your first day in a new land?

In 1944, Yvonne Jobling was a schoolgirl studying shorthand.  Every evening at her home in Geelong, Victoria, she practiced her shorthand by listening to the radio.  On Friday, 17 March 1944, she happened to be listening to the short-wave broadcast of Radio Tokyo, and heard messages from Australian prisoners of war. 

Collection of letters sent to Yvonne Jobling, March 1944

Jobling took the messages of five prisoners of war, and sent them to their families across Australia.  A few days later families in Katoomba (NSW), Fairfield (NSW), Petersham (NSW), Adelaide (South Australia) and Sunshine (Victoria), received these welcome messages.  Each family responded with deep gratitude.  Mrs Barber of Petersham thanked Yvonne for her kind letter, and told her that ‘my heart has been aching for news of him’.  Nancy of Adelaide, sister of Robert Louis Whitington (SX8121), wrote: ‘If you have a friend or brother a prisoner I sincerely trust you have received news of him ‘ere this.’

These letters have recently been received by the Australian War Memorial in a generous donation from Yvonne (Private Records Collection PR04494).  They form a small collection that speaks eloquently of the kindness of strangers on the home front during the Second World War, and the capacity of such kindness to bring hope to anxious families.

Messages from prisoners of war became a regular and integral feature of Japanese propaganda efforts, beginning in 1943.  Radio Tokyo, along with stations in Batavia (Jakarta), Saigon, Shanghai and Singapore — all stations of the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), an important part of the Japanese war machine — broadcast the messages alongside so-called ‘news’ in an effort to lure listeners, and further the general aim of disheartening a war-weary nation.  Indeed, broadcasts were made in many languages, and intended for soldiers and civilians alike.

The Radio Tokyo building, Tokyo (DUKJ4432).

The Radio Tokyo building, Tokyo

The Japanese took care, unlike their German counterparts, to announce the service number, name and regimental details of the prisoner whose message was being announced.  It also seems that most of the messages were genuine, another strategy to keep Australian audiences listening.  During the course of the war, however, the Japanese began subtly editing the messages to include stock phrases about good food and good living conditions, hoping Australian audiences would be fooled by these false hopes.  Unfortunately, and perhaps deliberately, some messages were read months after writing, which led to confusion and false hopes on the part of families who had already received word that their relatives were dead.

As with all propaganda, these radio broadcasts were all made in the hope that Australians might be deluded into accepting the expansionist desires of the Japanese.  And as with most propaganda, the target audiences were usually unreceptive.  Australians took heart from the messages, but were advised by their government that all messages should not be accepted at face value. 

Even if the messages Yvonne heard were only partially the works of Australian prisoners of war, her action in transcribing and posting them to the families around Australia was a truly kind and generous act.

Official Records is pleased to announce the acquisition of original nominal roll cards of the 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion into the National Collection. The nominal roll has been catalogued as AWM359 on the RecordSearch database.

Card of Lt-Col John Mitchell DSO*, first CO of the 2/8th Battalion



Each card presents a record of service for an individual unit member. Their creation during the Second World War appears to have been an initiative of the battalion itself; i.e. they were not required to keep them, nor are they on official forms. Responsibility fell to each of the four company clerks of the battalion to create, manage and safeguard the cards. At the end of the war, the cards were transferred to Secretary of the 2/8th Association. The collection was managed as a membership database of the Association until they ceased activity in 2007.  Later that year the cards were offered to the Memorial.


AWM359 consists of index cards, one for each individual of the battalion, upon which detailed service information is entered. The top section identifies the soldier’s regimental number, name and rank. The middle section (‘Remarks’) records the date and nature of his service. Typically, these consisted of routing, embarkation, battles and operations, injury, evacuation, promotion and home leave. The bottom of the card lists next of kin (relationship and address), date of birth, religion, civil occupation, date of enlistment, date of joining battalion and previous unit or regiment (if applicable).

Men of 2/8th Battalion at Wewak in June 1945


The nominal roll is arranged alphabetically, reflecting the way the cards were used by the association secretary.  They were subdivided as follows:

  • Main roll (Items 1-8)
  • Soldiers as members of the battalion for only a short time (9-10)
  • Officers (11)
  • Members killed in action (12)
  • Members taken prisoner of war (13)

In order to safeguard the handling of the collection, the cards have now been divided into manageable quantities and housed in archival quality containers.

These records form an additional valuable source of information useful to researchers of individual soldiers or those researching the battalion as a whole.  They should be used in conjunction with the official service records held by the National Archives of Australia and the 2/8th unit war diaries held by the Memorial.

There was movement in the Research Centre yesterday afternoon as news spread about a momentous event in the history of the AWM4 First World War unit war diaries digitisation project. For those who have been involved in this project, space was not an issue as we crammed into the digitisation room to witness the scanning of the final page at 2pm on 5 January 2010.


The final page to be scanned for the AWM4 digitisation project

The final page was taken from the unit war diary of the Australian Base Post Office, Egyptian Expeditionary Force for January 1919, item AWM 4 17/3/8. Titled, "A statement of mail handled at the Australian Base Post Office", this document records the numbers of letters, packets and parcels unloaded from SS Wyreema on 27 January 1919. These figures also include details of the amount of items originating in each Australian state and an estimate of the date they were posted.

Scanning the final page of AWM4

Planning for the AWM4 digitisation project commenced in 2005 with the aim to make digital copies available for research online to preserve the original documents. Following a tender contract process, the first page was scanned by Document Imaging Services (DIS) in December 2006.

Since then, approximately 500 000 pages have been scanned. The scanning of the final page is the latest significant event in a project that has passed many milestones whilst edging closer to completion through the collaboration of Memorial staff and DIS.


Some of the people who worked on the AWM4 project over the past three years

These diaries document the daily activities of military units on active service in the First World War and supplement the war diaries from other conflicts that are already available online. The digital versions of these files are available on the Australian Army War Diaries web page on the Australian War Memorial’s website.

The Australian War Memorial’s Bean diaries digitisation project was short listed for the Manning Clark House National Cultural Awards – 2009. The Award recognises outstanding contributions to the quality of Australian cultural life in 2009.

The digitisation of these fragile bound diaries represented a significant achievement for the Memorial. Personal records are not always presented in a logical or chronological order. The challenge for the Memorial's Research Centre was to digitise all of Charles Bean's 286 volumes of diaries, notebooks and folders without damaging them and to make the digital images of the records accessible and usable in the online environment without interfering with the integrity of the original documents.

Our intention of displaying this valuable collection online means that the original records are now preserved and this  historically significant and unique collection is available to all researchers across Australia and the world.

The records can be viewed on the Memorial’s website here: /collection/war_diaries/cew_bean/

Emma Jones previously mentioned in 60 year old sweat on a wedding dress – a conservation challenge the preparation of Miss Platt-Hepworth’s wedding dress for the exhibition Of Love and War. The decision was made by the curator Rebecca Britt to keep the staining as evidence of use. While the staining is important to keep, the fabric was not as lustrous as it once was. The dress has a pattern of pretty daises made from cream silk woven with numerous silver threads. A lot of the silver plating on the metal threads had tarnished and been damaged; this has exposed the copper substrate of the thread and gives the dress a more golden appearance than it originally had.

Due to the presence of the metal threads, I discounted the use of many of the cleaning methods that a textile conservator might normally use such as washing. As any treatment with water could damage the silk or cause further corrosion of the metal I decided to use a solvent to ‘dry-clean’ the dress. Petroleum spirits was my chosen solvent as it is less toxic than a lot of the other dry-cleaning solvents. My tests also indicated that the lustre and handle of the silk would be improved, while leaving the historical staining intact.

Petroleum Sprits is an unpleasant chemical to use, so to ensure our safety we used gloves and respirators. The bath was set up in a large fume extractor in the Large Technology Conservation Workshop, which is usually used to paint tanks!

When historical textiles are being treated it is important to be very gentle so as not to damage the fabric. So for this wedding dress a large bath was used to prevent creases and folds.  During ‘dry-cleaning’ the dress was very gently sponged by hand to move the solvent through the fabric without moving the fabric too much. Once rinsed with more of the solvent, the dress was lifted out of the bath on a nylon netting supporting sling and placed on a hammock (made of more netting) to dry.

The following photographs show Sarah Clayton, Senior Textile Conservator, and myself, ‘dry-cleaning’ Miss Platt-Hepworth’s wedding dress in Petroleum Spirits and the dress drying.

Sarah Clayton and Jessie Firth ‘dry-cleaning’ Miss Platt-Hepworth’s wedding dressMiss Platt-Hepworth’s wedding dress drying after 'dry-cleaning'

This was a successful treatment; the fabric is fresher and more lustrous after cleaning, whilst the historical stains remain intact. It is now very important that we use gloves when handling this dress, to prevent the natural oils and acids from our skin tarnishing the silver threads again.

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