The audio you hear playing at the beginning of this video is S05008, a Christmas message from Lieutenant Colonel William John Victor Windeyer (later Major General Sir William John Victor Windeyer, KBE, CB, DSO & Bar). Lieutenant Colonel Windeyer was stationed in the Middle East as the commanding officer of 2/48 Battalion when he recorded this very personal Christmas message to his family. He makes no mention of the war as he speaks to them “from the land where the first Christmas was”. 

 Messages such as this were recorded by the ABC Field Recording Unit to be broadcast by radio stations in Australia. In 1942 the ABC recordings were made available for purchase by families in aid of fundraising for the Red Cross.

Some of these fragile metal-core discs have survived seventy years since they were made, kept as precious mementoes by families. On occasion, the families have decided to donate their discs to the Australian War Memorial, where we preserve them for all Australians to hear.

-Jennifer Selby, Assistant Curator - Sound. 

The footage in this light-hearted Christmas video has been selected from 22mins of rushes and offcuts from F01123, film taken by Frank Hurley in Palestine in November, 1941. The footage was originally intended to be edited together into a comic Christmas story for friends and family back home entitled, Xmas Greetings from the AIF overseas.

It stars troops from the 6th Division Cavalry Regiment  and the four ‘leads’ in the pudding making scene (from left to right) are troopers D. Inglis, J. Emmell, M. Brady and S. O'Leary. Reasons for the film never being completed are unclear, though technical issues with parts of the footage is a possibility. However, detailed records in the collection do outline Hurley’s intended final cut of the film. The film was to have an introduction by General Sir Thomas Blamey, substantially more adventures surrounding the cooking of the Christmas pudding, further scenes in Jerusalem (including footage of the carolling nuns who can be heard in this video) and songs from the troops themselves and a number of nurses. The unedited footage of all these scenes, including people forgetting lines and multiple takes, is retained in the Australian War Memorial collection under F01123.

-Daniel Eisenberg, Assistant Curator - Film.


My name is Maxwell Warren and I am a work experience student at the Memorial. One part of my work experience was to research a person and one of his belongings held by the Memorial). This person was Private Frank Pendlebury, a soldier during the First World War.

HMAT Borda in 1916

Frank was born in Newcastle, NSW in December 1890. Frank was a tailor, living at Plattsburg, NSW when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 31 March, 1916 at the age of 28 years. He was allocated to the 4th Reinforcements to the 34th Battalion and embarked from Sydney on 9 October 1916 on the troopship A30 BORDA, disembarking at Plymouth, England on 9 January 1917.

Strafer's Nest and Ploegsteert Wood, December 1917

During his service on the Western Front, Frank was wounded twice. The first time he was one of several men gassed on the way to an attack near Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium on the night of 6 June 1917. He was admitted a day later to the 9th Field Ambulance where he was treated for the gassing, rejoining his unit on 11 June.

Men gassed in 1918.

During the early hours of 26 July 1917, he was wounded in action again, this time in his left leg and thigh. His battalion had been in the front line in the Messines area in Belgium for two days and were relieved later that morning by the 36th Battalion. Frank was sent to England to recover from these wounds on 29 July and was later classified as being unfit for service. He departed from England on 18 October 1917, disembarking at Sydney on 10 December 1917. He was then discharged medically unfit from the AIF on 16 January 1918. 

After his discharge he returned home and was presented with a watch fob by the Wallsend Soldiers Citizens Committee, on 13March 1918. These types of gold fobs were often given to returning servicemen like Frank as a way of saying thank you for his service. His collection also includes other badges acknowledging his service including a silver war badge, a returned from active service badge and a membership badge from the Returned Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen – Imperial Australian League (Now the Returned Soldiers League). After receiving these badges, Frank attached them onto an old silver watch chain which is now in the Memorial collection.

A lot of work has been carried out on the Hudson since the last blog update.  A large number of structural components have been manufactured and fitted into the lower airframe, culminating in the trail fitment last week of the 'Tunnel Gun' position.  Work will soon move forward and concentrate on the Navigators step and forward cabin detail, folowed by construction of the Radio Operators room directly behind the pilot.  

A wrecked D.H.5 aircraft near Railway Dugout in the Ypres Sector. It had crashed whilst assisting the operations of the infantry in the attack on Passchendaele Ridge.

Dogfights and daring feats define the way we remember the airmen of the First World War. Popular imagination has been captured by the aces that ducked and dived in aerial duels with the enemy, notching up “kills” and narrowly avoiding crashes to return to their squadron as instant heroes.

But for many airmen, the reality of the air war was not so glamorous and there were many casualties. Planes were fragile and highly flammable, and parachutes were not provided. In the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), one in five pilots and observers were killed in training, air crashes or air combat. 

A small group of airmen defied the odds after being shot down or crash landing, and became prisoners of the Germans or the Turks. At a history conference in Victoria last week, Australian War Memorial historian Aaron Pegram presented his research on the 35 AFC airmen who saw out the war in captivity.

“Those airmen whose machines were chalked up as ‘kills’ by enemy pilots have received less attention than what they deserve, and among them were prisoners of war,” he said. “Captivity plays such an important part in the Allied airman’s story of the Second World War, but it barely registers in the memory of what air combat was like a generation earlier.”

The first Australian airmen to participate in the war went into action in Mesopotamia in April 1915, and the first complete flying unit of the AFC, No. 1 Squadron, were sent to the Middle East in March 1916. Among their ranks were some of Australia’s aviation pioneers. 

By late 1917 three more squadrons – Nos 2, 3, and 4 – had been formed to fight in France. A further four training squadrons were based in England to provide pilots for the Western Front.

The first aircraft flown by Australians were inferior to German aircraft, but by late 1917 the allies were equipped with stronger and faster planes. Aircraft were used in a variety of roles: for reconnaissance or artillery spotting, as fighters or for bombing operations inside enemy territory.

Aircraft were either twin-seater or single-seater, the latter being the “scouts” or fighters that went head to head in dogfights over enemy territory. Twin-seater aircraft contained a pilot and observer, who might also perform a bombing role.

A total of 410 pilots and 153 observers flew operations with the AFC, of which 110 died from combat-related causes.  Of the 35 Australian pilots and observers of the AFC taken prisoner during the First World War, 14 were captured by Ottoman forces in the Middle East, and 21 on the Western Front in the war against Germany.

“These considerably small numbers reflected the extremely hazardous nature of aviation at a time when death was more a likely outcome for air casualties than capture by the enemy,” Pegram said. “But if an airman managed to survive a landing in hostile territory, and was captured, the chances of him surviving the war as a prisoner were remarkably high.”

Airmen were treated relatively well by the Germans or Turks upon capture, more so if they were wounded. “The Germans probably had less sympathy for an Allied airman who wasn’t wounded, because ground troops were often strafed and bombed by them. There are instances where airmen were kicked, slapped, beaten and verbally abused.”

In Palestine, there was one instance where a captured Australian airman was given a tour of Jerusalem by the Albatross pilot who had brought him down. The German pilot, Gerhard Felmy, later flew over No. 1 Squadron’s airfield and dropped a photograph of himself with the Australian pilot Claude Vautin to let them know he was alive and well.  

Lieutenant Claude Vautin, No 1 Squadron AFC, on the left, and German aviator Oberleutnant Gerhardt Felmy. The photo was dropped to the No 1 Squadron AFC airfield as proof that Lt Vautin was unharmed after he was forced down in German territory and was taken prisoner.

But the treatment of airmen who fell into the hands of the Arab tribesmen in the desert could be a lot worse: one of the four Australian pilots with the Mesopotamian Half Flight was killed by Arab tribesmen after landing in Ottoman territory; two others were assaulted with clubs, rifles, axes, and hammers before the Turks arrived and took the Australians prisoner.

The German Air Service conducted all interrogations. Allied airmen were considered a great source of intelligence to the enemy “because they were flying some of the most advanced technology of the period, they had a good sense of geography, great technical capabilities, and they knew the nature of operations,” Pegram said. “By comparison, the standard infantryman would have known next to nothing.”

Pilots were well informed of the techniques enemy intelligence staff used to extract information from prisoners, and “to prevent their machines from being captured, studied, salvaged or pressed into service by enemy forces, Australian pilots flew with a flare pistol in their cockpits so that a disabled aircraft and any maps, letters or operations documents could be set alight after a forced landing”.

The captured airmen were detained in a prison camp in the homeland of their captors. Conditions for prisoners in Turkey were primitive: their quarters were cramped, rations were basic and Red Cross food parcels would go missing or be delayed for several months. One Australian pilot, Thomas White, managed to escape. In June 1918, White stowed away on a Russian merchant ship in Constantinople harbour bound for Odessa in the Ukraine. He eventually made his way back to London.

Airmen captured in Germany were treated much better, and some were even given parole on the understanding that they would not attempt to escape. But, overall, the imprisonment of AFC pilots and observers – all officers – was tolerable, and when the war ended on 11 November 1918, all 35 Australian airmen captured in Mesopotamia, Palestine and on the Western Front were alive.

“Their humble experiences behind barbed wire were not as glorious or as well -known as the deeds of the leading air aces of the war, many of whom were killed in their pursuit of triumph,” Pegram said. “But the experiences of the AFC’s captured airmen reminds us of the harsh realities of aerial combat when aviation was in its infancy, and of the certainty that not all who took to the skies became the stuff of legends.”

The papers from the Military History and Heritage Victoria conference, By the seat of their pants: Australian airmen and their aircraft 1915–1918, will be published by the Office of Air Force History.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. -- British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 10 November 1942 

The nature and timing of the turning point of the Second World War has been debated and redefined numerous times since the end of the conflict in 1945.

The Russian victory at Stalingrad in January 1943 has often been seen as the key to the eventual defeat of Germany, although other historians have pointed to the failure of the Germans to capture Moscow in December 1941 as the watershed event. The Allied victory at the second battle of El Alamein in North Africa in November 1942 – a victory which inspired one of Churchill’s most memorable speeches – is a strong contender, along with the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

In the fight against the Japanese, some pinpoint the battle of Midway in June 1942 as the milestone; to others, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor in early December 1941 that brought the United States into the war, bringing with it unbeatable military might.

But to consider just one battle or event as the decisive moment in the Allies’ campaign to beat the Axis powers is to view the conflict too narrowly, according to esteemed British author and military historian Antony Beevor.

“The Second World War was such a huge conglomeration of different conflicts that it’s almost impossible to point to a single battle as a turning point,” he said at the Australian War Memorial’s recent international history conference.

“The real turning point inevitably came when both Germany and Japan had reached their full extent of advance; they were overextended, and everything was going to turn. It happened to coincide in the case of Germany and Japan around October and November of 1942.

“The geopolitical turning point was December 1941 [when the United States entered the war] and the really perceived turning point – strategic and psychological – came in the [Northern Hemisphere] autumn of 1942.”

Australians played an important part in two of the campaigns of that period. In North Africa, the Australian 9th Division helped to end the Axis threat to Egypt, the Suez Canal and the Middle Eastern oilfields with victory in the second battle of El Alamein. In the Pacific, the Second AIF and the Militia finally ended their struggle against the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail, in Papua, stemming Japan’s southernmost advance.

Troops of the Australian 9th Division help a wounded German prisoner after capturing a German strongpoint during the second battle of El Alamein.

The second battle of El Alamein began on 23 October and lasted 13 days. Under the command of Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery, the British Eighth Army (including the Australian 9th Division) launched an offensive against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Panzerarmee Afrika, composed of German and Italian infantry and mechanised units. Rommel, known as “The Desert Fox”, and his forces had held sway in North Africa since January 1942, when Rommel began a counter-offensive against the British at El Agheila, on the western edge of Libya. By the end of June, Rommel had forced the Allies deep back into Egypt, and the capture of Cairo and the Suez Canal seemed a very real possibility.

The fighting at El Alamein was fierce, and the 9th Division – commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead —played a major part, holding the vital northern sector of the line. The Allies eventually broke through the Axis line and drove Rommel’s forces westwards, ultimately leading to their surrender in Tunisia in May 1943. It was the first victory in a major offensive against the Germans since the start of the European war in 1939, and it revived the Allies’ morale.

The 9th Division suffered heavy casualties at the final battle of El Alamein: between October and early November, it recorded 520 dead, 1,948 wounded, and 218 men missing, about half of whom were later found to be dead.

In the Pacific, November 1942 also marked the end of the Kokoda campaign, which had begun in July. The rugged, mountainous Kokoda Trail across the Owen Stanley Range was used by the Japanese to advance on the Papuan capital of Port Moresby after an earlier attempt at a seaborne landing was disrupted by the battle of the Coral Sea. Capturing Port Moresby was part of a broader Japanese strategy to isolate Australia from the United States.

Native New Guinea carriers meet Australian officers along the Kokoda Trail.

The Japanese came menacingly close to their target, as the Australians were poorly equipped and had not yet developed effective jungle warfare tactics. But in September the tactical situation swung in the Australians’ favour, as artillery came within range and their supplies could be trucked most of the way forward. Severe losses suffered by the Japanese on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands following the American landing there in August also led to an order for the South Seas Force on the Kokoda Trail to withdraw to the north coast of Papua and establish a defensive position.

The Australian force went on the offensive and by mid-November they had crossed the Kumusi River at Wairopi, effectively ending the Kokoda campaign. It had been some of the most desperate and vicious fighting encountered by Australians in the Second World War: 625 Australians were killed on the Kokoda Trail, and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.

The Australian 9th Division was recalled to Australia following their victory in North Africa, and then sent to fight in the Pacific. Within days of their victory on the Kokoda Trail, the AIF and the Militia encountered even fiercer fighting around the Japanese beachheads at Gona, Buna, and Sanananda. It would be another three years before the war came to an end, with the unconditional surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945, and the Japanese surrender on 15 August. Nevertheless, as early as November 1942 the Australians had played an important part in the turning points that ultimately led to victory.

My name is Brady Davison and I am a work experience student from St Stanislaus College, Bathurst. As part of my week at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra I researched the Next of Kin plaque commemorating the First World War service of Private John Joseph Edward Darnedt. Here is his story.

Jack Darnedt's Next of kin plaque

John Joseph Edward “Jack” Darnedt was born in Collingwood, Victoria in 1899, one of eight children to William and Mary Darnedt. He was working as a trainer when he joined the AIF under the alias Jack Kerrigan on 23 August 1916. Enlisting with the 6th Reinforcements of the 59th Battalion he embarked aboard HMAT Nestor on 2 October, bound for training in England.

A month after his arrival, Jack (now a member of 15 Training Battalion) made a sworn statutory declaration confessing that his correct name was John Joseph Edward Darnedt. He had taken the name Jack Kerrigan to pass the medical examination for entry into the AIF as he had already failed under his real name due to a problem with his left foot. It is not known why he chose the name Kerrigan.

After his confession Jack embarked overseas to France on 30 December 1916 aboard the Princess Clementine. The following day he marched into Etaples and was taken on strength by 59 Battalion on 7 February 1917. After only three weeks with his unit Jack was detached for duty with the YMCA, where he worked for five months, rejoining his unit on 1 August.

The 59th Battalion were involved in the Third Battle of Ypres at Polygon Wood from 26 September. Jack was killed in action on that day near Blackwatch Corner. His body was not recovered for burial at the time and could not be located after the war. His name is commemorated on the Menin Gate.

Watercolour of the Polygon Wood and Nonne Boschen Area on the Western FrontThe unveiling of the Menin Gate Memorial, 24 June 1927Jack’s widow, Mary Darnedt received his Next of Kin plaque on 16 October 1922. The couple had married in 1916 shortly before Jack embarked for overseas service. She later remarried and died in Castlemaine, Victoria in 1978. The ultimate fate of the plaque was unknown until 2000 when it was found in a paddock in Castlemaine. It was later donated to the Australian War Memorial.

Pipers flank the men who fought in the battle of Long Tan during the dedication ceremony.

Pipers flank the men who fought in the battle of Long Tan during the dedication ceremony.  C1183238

It’s rough, scarred and made of concrete, but the Long Tan Cross has a beauty and poignancy that transcends its rudimentary form.

Erected in memory of the 18 young men who died in one of the most intense and dramatic actions of the Vietnam War, the cross has been adopted by veterans to symbolise all Australians who died or were wounded in that conflict.

The cross is now on display at the Australian War Memorial, loaned by the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa City. At its recent unveiling, the men who fought in the now famous battle of Long Tan joined with those who built the cross and placed it on the battle site, to reflect on its significance.

“The memorial cross is what Long Tan was all about. It’s a symbol that enshrines the spirits of those 18 young men … but [it also] now symbolises the 520 young men we lost in Vietnam and the 3,000 that were wounded,” said Harry Smith, the commander of D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), which fought that day on 18 August 1966.

The battle of Long Tan was the most costly single engagement for Australians in the Vietnam War. An isolated infantry company of 108 men withstood massed Viet Cong attacks for three hours in torrential rain in a rubber plantation near the small village of Long Tan. They were outnumbered by at least ten to one, and they might have been overrun, but for a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base at Nui Dat, and the arrival of reinforcements by armoured personnel carrier But victory came at a high cost: 17 Australians were killed and 25 were wounded, one of whom later died of his wounds. After the battle, the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers were found. There was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away.

“The next morning we went back and it was like the aftermath of Cyclone Tracey,” Smith recalled. “There were trees everywhere, and there was carnage. There were bodies and bits of bodies everywhere. It was a terrible sight, and it lingers in my mind.”

As the war raged on and the focus of Australian task force operations shifted to other areas, few Australians visited the site of the battle. But Long Tan was not forgotten, and on the third anniversary of the fight an unconventional operation was launched to return to the site.

Allan MacLean with the Long Tan Cross at the Australian War Memorial.

Allan MacLean with the Long Tan Cross at the Australian War Memorial.

In 1969, 6RAR was on its second tour to Vietnam, now as 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) with the integration of two New Zealand rifle companies. Allan MacLean was the sergeant of the regiment’s pioneer platoon. He and his men were getting ready to board helicopters for an operation to neutralise mines and booby traps when he was pulled aside by his regimental sergeant major and asked to manufacture a cross.

“He didn’t tell me why, he didn’t have to; he just had to tell me to do it, that’s all,” MacLean recalled. “And so we did it. It was pretty much a team effort: one man drew up a plan, I handed that to another and told him what I wanted, the grade of concrete that we needed. Then we went off to the Long Hai hills to give Charlie a hard time.”

A team of three or four men constructed the cross while MacLean was on operations.

“I remember flying back to Nui Dat to have a look at the cross and see how it was going. They were having a few problems with it but we sorted that out. After our operation, we went on what they call Operation Long Tan, to take the cross out and plant it where we wanted it.”   

The Long Tan cross is flown in by helicopter.

The Long Tan cross is flown in by helicopter.   C1183225

Neil Rankin was the platoon sergeant of 10 Platoon, D Company, 6RAR in 1966, and he fought in the battle of Long Tan. He returned to Vietnam with 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC), and on 18 August 1969 he was sent out to the rubber plantation in an armoured personnel carrier, charged with finding the right site for the cross.

“The site that I was looking for was not D Company’s position, but a certain location where the second contact took place,” he said. “That position was 11 Platoon’s, one of the three platoons that took part in the battle. This platoon, under the command of Gordon Sharp and Bob Buick, not only had the first and second contacts with the enemy, but repelled attack after attack [against] machine-guns of 50 calibre which were zeroed at ground level.  This was the platoon that took the most casualties. Out of a strength of 28, 13 were killed and eight wounded. This to me was the site on which the cross had to be erected.”

Rankin had a special attachment to these men: he had trained them prior to the battle, and also knew the families of most of them.  After some searching, he found the site of their last stand.

“The rubber trees bore the scars of small arms and heavy machine-gun fire. With the heel of my boot I marked the site where the cross was to be erected. The cross was flown in, slung underneath a helicopter and positioned on the battlefield where three years earlier the bloodiest battle involving Australian troops took place.”

The entire battalion of 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) were assembled for the dedication ceremony led by a chaplain. Standing on either side of the cross, flanked by two pipers, were ten soldiers who fought at Long Tan in 1966.

“When they played the piper’s lament, that’s when it really hit home, when it really got emotional,” Rankin said.

“Where I put that cross – in 11 Platoon’s position – I knew it was in the blood of that platoon. It was important to me that that was where that cross stood.”

The cross was removed some time after the communist victory in 1975, and recycled by local people as a memorial for a Catholic priest. In 1984, it was recovered by the Dong Nai Museum and went on display with other relics from the Vietnam War. Two years later, a replica cross was erected on the site and is now a focus for visits and remembrance ceremonies by Australian Vietnam veterans.

Rankin said those who come to view the original cross at the Australian War Memorial would see “not just a scarred cross but a symbol of our heritage and our sacrifice”.

“I hope when you look at the original Long Tan cross you will see it with a different view, by having the knowledge  where this cross once stood, in the blood-soaked earth where so many young men paid the ultimate price for what they believe.”

Neil Rankin and Harry Smith reflect on the significance of the Long Tan cross at the Australian War Memorial.

The Long Tan Cross is on display at the Australian War Memorial until June 2013.

“Say it with flowers” is a well known advertising slogan but these days the language of flowers is not as well known as it was almost 100 years ago. During the First World War Australians serving overseas, many away from their families for years, sent floral tributes to their loved ones in the form of embroidered postcards, handkerchiefs, cushion covers and other souvenir items.

Patriotic Australian postcard
Patriotic Australian postcard

While flowers were selected for their beauty, some also had special meanings of a personal nature that were well known from the Victorian period. These could help express the feelings of those separated for long periods, without always needing to use words.

Embroidered handkerchief
Embroidered handkerchief

The most popular design appears to have been the pansy, which means loving thoughts. Roses were also popular, often in pink thread (friendship) or sometimes in red (passionate love). The pretty little blue  forget-me- not was an obvious choice to send to those at home.

Silk postcard embroidered with forget me nots
Silk postcard embroidered with forget me nots

Some other flowers and their meanings are listed below.

Violets –faithfulness

Daisies - gentleness, innocence, loyal love

Embroidered postcard
Embroidered postcard

Iris - inspiration

Ivy - fidelity

Embroidered postcard with the message 'Where I cling I die', presumably reinforcing the idea of Ivy meaning fidelity.
Embroidered postcard with the message 'Where I cling I die', presumably reinforcing the idea of Ivy meaning fidelity.

Poppy - imagination, dreaminess or eternal sleep. Depending on the context, they could also just represent the fields of France.

Patriotic sentiments were also displayed through flowers. Either through national emblems, such as Australian wattle, Scottish thistles or Irish clover or through bunches of flowers coloured red, white and blue. This can be seen in the item below which, in addition to the colours of the flowers has added meaning through representing flowers (and plants) of the French fields with the poppies, cornflowers, daisies and wheat.

Embroidered French souvenir
Embroidered French souvenir

Finally, for special occasions, such as Christmas, holly (foresight) and mistletoe (love and affection) were popular flowers.

Steve Gower.  Photo courtesy of Silas Brown

After more than 16 years as Director of the Australian War Memorial Steve Gower AO AO (Mil) retires on Friday 31 August 2012.

“On behalf of the Council, staff and volunteers at the Memorial, I pay tribute to Steve for his visionary and inspirational leadership. His extraordinary talents have guided the Memorial for more than a decade and a half,” said Rear Admiral Ken Doolan AO RAN (Ret'd), Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.

“The Memorial has thrived under his directorship. Steve’s energy and vision have helped to extend its reputation as a world-class museum and a revered national site of commemoration”.

“Steve’s legacy to the nation is one of a renewed vision for the Memorial, firmly establishing its place in the hearts of so many Australians.”

Steve Gower was appointed Director of the Memorial in March 1996, following an outstanding career in the Australian Army, where he reached the rank of Major General. He saw active service in Vietnam as an artillery forward observer.

As Memorial Director, Steve led the redevelopment of many of the Memorial’s exhibition galleries, including the Second World War galleries, Aircraft Hall, the Hall of Valour, and the Conflicts 1945 to today galleries, as well as the construction of ANZAC Hall, the CEW Bean Building, the creation of the Sculpture Garden, and the award-winning redevelopment of the Eastern Precinct, which features the National Service Memorial. 

Steve was also instrumental in the Memorial being inducted into the Australian Tourism Awards Hall of Fame in 2003.

Other substantial contributions include those to the broader Canberra community and, at the national level, to the Australian tourism and museum industries. Steve has held the positions of Chair of the Council of Australian Museum Directors (2000–04); member of the Executive Board for Museum Management, International Council of Museums (2001–07); Chair of the Board, Canberra Convention Bureau; patron of ACT Cricket; and honorary ambassador for Canberra. In 2006, Steve received a tourism industry award recognising the outstanding contribution by an individual.

Steve has been on personal carer’s leave since November 2011. Nola Anderson has been Acting Director during this time and will continue acting in the role until December 2012 when the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson takes up the position.

Read more of Steve Gower’s time at the Australian War Memorial in a recent Wartime article.


When war was declared in August 1914, it began a period of great upheaval for the lives of Australians. The young nation of just over 4 million sent 330,000 men to foreign lands such as Turkey, Egypt, France, and Belgium with the newly formed Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Most families had at least one member – or a friend or neighbour – in the fight.

These men had volunteered for war; in turn, their families and friends mobilised to support them. Socks and vests were knitted, treats were baked, and committees were formed to raise funds for other comforts. But perhaps most importantly, people wrote letters.

Letters were a lifeline for soldiers, who longed to hear news from home and to know that they were loved and missed. Letters provided an escape from the reality of war, which was brutal but also often boring. Whether in the trenches, on a break behind lines, in hospital or in training, the men of the AIF keenly awaited the arrival of mail. It gave them something to do and something else to think about. Letters were treasured by those back home, too: a note from a loved one would be passed among families and friends, and perhaps even given to the local newspaper to be published.

Phyllis Lynch was one young woman to pick up her pen as part of the patriotic movement. Born in Dubbo in western New South Wales and later moving with her family to Pennant Hills in Sydney, Miss Lynch had several relatives, friends, and acquaintances who volunteered for the AIF. She knew how important it was for them to receive letters of support, to give them news from home and generally keep their spirits up. During the course of the war she corresponded with some 15 men who served across the various theatres, as soldiers in the infantry or with the Australian Light Horse. Her letters would often include photographs of herself or others they might know, as well as comforts or small items of clothing she had made. Miss Lynch received around 200 letters in return, and the collection is now held at the Australian War Memorial.

The letters to Miss Lynch are indicative of what most soldiers were writing home about: their travels and the people they encountered; the good times they had while on leave; their experience in the trenches (often served with bravado to make it sound less terrifying than it was); the weather; and the progress of the war – usually expressing hope that it would end soon. They would almost certainly ask about happenings at home, comment on how long it had been since they had received mail, and implore Miss Lynch to write again soon. Their letters expressed optimism, confidence, frustration, fear, anger, sadness, desperation, relief, and gratitude. Men who were starting their war adventure were excited about what lay ahead; those who had experienced trench fighting revealed their weariness and the desire to be out of it as soon as possible.

Australian soldiers at Mena Camp in Egypt in 1915 read letters from home.

The letters are scribbled notes written by candlelight just behind the line; tourist-style postcards sent from soldiers on leave or in training camps; official postcards from the trenches with scant detail, save to say the soldier was okay; and much longer missives written when the soldier was in camp or laid up in hospital. Sometimes the men would enclose a photograph or a souvenir picked up in Cairo or London, or in a French village where their battalion was being rested.

One of the main themes to come through the letters to Miss Lynch is the conditions the men endured, particularly on the Western Front. Miss Lynch’s cousin Sam Greer served with the 20th Battalion. He had been wounded on Gallipoli but later returned to his battalion and served in France until August 1916, when he got trench fever (spread by lice) and rheumatism. From his hospital bed in England on 30 September he wrote:

Things are pretty hot out in France now. Our battalion was 3 months at Bois Grenier, over on the Somme, and when I left were at Ypres – all the hottest corners going. The Somme is “hell itself”, artillery going the whole time; the men are running the whole time digging some unfortunate out who has been buried by shells.

Greer was eventually discharged on medical grounds and returned to Australia in August 1917. He died in June 1919.

Signaller George Davey of the 2nd Battalion wrote Miss Lynch while on the Somme, in November 1916:

[I have] cold feet, wet clothes and ... Bill is holding the candle while I try to write between my coughs; every now and then I stop to warm my fingers in the flame. It cannot burn them because it is so cold.

A few weeks later, Davey wrote from his hospital bed, where – similar to Greer – he was laid up with rheumatism and trench foot:

It was awful just in the part of the line where we were (where the big push was on). The mud was up to our hips and when we got wet we stopped wet, but they say mud keeps one warm. It does when we get a big issue of rum and some “tucker”. When I got down to the field ambulance you never saw the like, I was mud from head to feet, hands and face included. I had not had a shave or wash for about 10 days. I could hardly walk and Fritz had been putting as much mud on me as he could with his wiz-bangs 5.9 and 9.2 bursting all around. I think it was only the will of God that kept me as several times his high explosive shells fell “duds” just behind me.

A soldier wading through the mud in Gird Trench, near Gueudecourt, in December 1916.

Private Vincent James McGarry of the 1st Pioneer Battalion wrote often to Miss Lynch, and his letters make up the bulk of the collection. The 32-year-old butcher from Wongarbon, New South Wales, had enlisted in November 1916 and arrived in England for training in March 1917. He didn’t get to the front until October that year. His letters from camp tell of German prisoners, leave excursions to London, cricket matches and snowball fights. He became obsessed with the often patchy delivery and arrival of mail: “Many of the boys are afraid that a great number of our letters are not reaching home, through absolute neglect somewhere.” But his frustration really lay at being kept from the action. On 23 June he wrote:

I am disappointed at being held back from France. This part of the world has no beauty for me. I have no desire whatever to stay here and wish for a chance at the Hun. I have to smile to myself at times – as if I would make a difference in this great struggle. Still I feel if I was there it would be a step nearer home.

McGarry did get to the Western Front and his battalion was at Ypres in Belgium. Later, in a long, detailed letter written from an English hospital on 7 April 1918, he describes his early experience there:

My first few days in the line made me feel awfully sick but I soon got used to the sights which at times were awful. I got my first punch in after being in the line about a fortnight. We were sent up to strengthen some new position and in the early hours of the morning Fritz tried a raid on us … we were soon busy with the rifle which became hot in my hands. I often wonder what you women think about men killing men. Do you ever picture any one of your friends drawing a bead on a German and killing him with a feeling of satisfaction. I found myself hesitate when I levelled my first sight on a Hun that morning but I couldn’t fire fast enough after accounting for my first.

McGarry was diagnosed with nephritis – inflammation of the kidneys – and never returned to the front. He was discharged on medical grounds and left for Australia at the end of June 1918.

It is not known what happened to a number of the men that Miss Lynch corresponded with as their service records could not all be traced due to a lack of personal information in the letters. But at least one did not survive the war – her uncle Lew, killed on the Western Front – and it is likely that others were killed, too. A number of others returned in poor health.

Details are also sketchy about what happened to Miss Lynch after the war, but to the men to whom she wrote repeatedly during those long, hard years she was surely fondly remembered.

The ruins of Ypres and transports passing toward the Menin Gate of the Ramparts.

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