Pair of spectacles which deflected shrapnel : Sergeant W R Fisher, 1 Battalion AIF

Survival in war is more often a matter of luck than skill, and luck is fickle. These spectacles were being worn by Sergeant William Fisher as he and three others played cards in a dug-out in France in August 1918. His mate, Lance Corporal John Drum, was last to join the game, and moved a dud shell out of the way to sit down. It exploded.

Both men had already survived battles and wounds. Fisher had been shot in the foot at Passchendaele in 1917, and Drum was wounded in 1916; both had recovered and returned to their unit. Now, in late August 1918, the Germans were fighting a drawn-out retreat and the end was in sight.

The explosion ended John Drum’s war – his right hand and right leg were shattered and both were amputated later, while his left leg received a compound fracture. He was fitted with artificial limbs in 1920 and lived with this legacy for the rest of his life.

Bill Fisher was more than lucky. A metal splinter from the explosion hit one lens of his spectacles and smashed it, but he walked away with nothing more than a ringing in his ears and a new respect for luck.

The spectacles form part of the Australian War Memorial’s extensive collection of artefacts from the battlefields of France.

For a longer account of Sergeant Fisher’s wartime experiences, see REL/00877 in our Collection.

Commemorative service held on the site of the battle of Long Tan, 1969, photographed by Christopher John Bellis

On 18 August 1969, soldiers of 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) erected a cross in the Long Tan rubber plantation in Phuoc Tuy province (now Ba Ria–Vung Tau province), South Vietnam. 

The cross marked the site where three years earlier, on 18 August 1966, 108 soldiers of D Company, 6RAR, had fought a fierce battle against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces. 

Following the communist victory in 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam, the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa City acquired the Long Tan cross. In 1989 the Long Dat District People’s Committee erected a replica cross on the original site. 

The original cross, on loan from the Dong Nai Museum and the Ministry of Culture, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, will be on display at the Australian War Memorial from 17 August 2012 until April 2013. 

The public is invited to come to the Memorial to be part of a special closing ceremony at 4.45pm on Friday 17 August to commemorate the men who fought in the battle of Long Tan and to remember those who died. 

All Australians who served during the Vietnam War will be recognised at a commemorative closing ceremony on Saturday 18 August.

On occasion a totally unexpected document walks in the front door and into Official Records.  Recently a report made at Gallipoli was generously donated by Cindy Osborne to the Memorial.  The document in question is a handover report from the Commanding Officer 26th Infantry Battalion to the Commanding Officer of the 28th.  The Russell Top handover report is a most welcome addition to the Official Records held at the Memorial, for although we hold the War Diaries of the units involved, supporting reports such as this one are rarely present in the Gallipoli records.

The front page of the report from Russels Top. AWM255 [51]

The report was written when the Battalion commanders would have been unaware that they were only weeks away from being evacuated.  It is a detailed set of instruction on how the position (Russells Top) should be maintained and held against the enemy.  Of particular interest is the page regarding “Works proposed and in course of construction”, this mentions deepening trenches and providing overhead shelter for the fire trenches.  Activities that would be unlikely to be undertaken if it were known the positions would be abandoned almost two weeks from the date of the report.

Two unidentified soldiers at a sandbagged position near Russells Top in 1915. Behind them is the prominent landmark that was dubbed The Sphinx.

The report was authored by Lieutenant Colonel George Andrew Ferguson DSO VD, who had been a long serving militia officer prior to joing in the AIF, hence the VD post-nominal for the Volunteer Officers' Decoration, and was to later become the recipient of the Distinguished Service Order.  He commanded the 26th Battalion for the duration of the Gallipoli campaign and also in France until wounded in September 1916.  Due to the severity of his wounds he was discharged from the Army and returned to Australia in February 1917.  For his efforts he was awarded the DSO and was mentioned in despatches.  He lived for another 16 years after returning to Australia and passed away at the age of 60 on 20 April 1933.

Looking towards Russell's Top 1915.

The report has been digitised and can be viewed via the link below:

https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RC09950-ENTIRE-0-.pdf

My name is Isobel White and I am a work experience student from Alfred Deakin High. As part of my week at the War Memorial I have been asked to research an item, an old Kodak camera used in World War 1 by Wilfrid Selwyn Kent Hughes.

Wilfred Kent-Hughes

The camera is a Kodak Vest Pocket.  It was originally made around 1912 and it was used by the soldiers in WW1 because unlike previous models, it could fit in their pocket and did not need a tripod or other equipment. This meant that in addition to diaries and letters, they could also send home photos to their loved ones.  It was not allowed for soldiers to have cameras at the front, as in addition to the security risks, the government thought that others may see the realtities of war through the photographs which could cause them to not want to sign up. Although they were forbidden, many soldiers, like Kent Hughes, carried their pocket cameras into the front line at Gallipoli and Palestine. However, on the Western Front, the rules were more strictly enforced and it was harder for soldiers to take cameras into the trenches.

One of the photographs taken by Kent-Hughes

Lieutenant Wilfrid ‘Billy’ Kent Hughes, owner of this camera, landed at Gallipoli with the Light Horse in May 1915. Although receiving a bullet wound while at Gallipoli, he stayed in the AIF until 1919, when he was discharged. The next year, he participated in the 400m hurdles event, representing Australia at the Belgium Olympics.

Photograph of Light Horsemen sniping at Rhododendron Ridge, taken by Kent-Hughes

 In 1927, Kent Hughes entered politics and became a member of the Nationalist Party of Australia. In 1928, he was appointed secretary to Sir William McPherson’s cabinet, but by June the next year he had resigned his position.  He later served in the Second World War and became a prisoner of the Japanese.  He came back to Australia by 1948 and was chairman of the Australian Olympic Committee from 1951 planning the Olympic Games in Melbourne for 1956. After a long and distinguished career in politics he died in 1970.

Acclaimed British author and Second World War historian Antony Beevor will deliver the keynote address at the Australian War Memorial’s annual history conference to be held in Canberra in September.

Beevor, the author of international bestsellers Stalingrad, Berlin and D-Day, is the inaugural Boeing Visiting Fellow to the international conference, titled Kokoda: Beyond the Legend, and convened to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda and Papuan campaigns in 1942. He heads a distinguished line-up of historians and emerging scholars from Britain, the United States, and Australia attending the two-day event.

“This conference features some of the leading scholars in the field, with international reputations,” says Australian War Memorial historian Dr Karl James. “Bringing them together in Canberra for the Memorial’s conference is a great coup.”

The aim of the conference is to reassess the principal battles fought in Papua and discuss the campaign from both the Allied and Japanese perspectives. According to James, “this is a unique opportunity to bring together leading historians from around the world to assess Papua’s significance to the global war while also getting into the real tactics – the mud and blood – of the campaign”.

Beevor’s latest book is a single-volume history of the Second World War. In it he weaves together the story of the conflict in its entirety to show how one theatre of war influenced events in other regions, while detailing the fate of ordinary soldiers and civilians in Europe, the North Atlantic, and Northern Africa, as well as in the South Pacific. His appearance at the conference is a rare opportunity for Australian followers to see him speak.

James says Beevor’s keynote address on “The World at War, 1942” will be a highlight for conference attendees seeking to place the story of Kokoda in a broader context. “Kokoda has become a major focus of Second World War commemorations in Australia, and the campaign dominates our popular memory. But it is rarely discussed in terms of its strategic role in the wider war effort. Antony Beevor will enlighten the audience on events occurring concurrently with Kokoda, and the links between them.”

Other guest speakers attending the conference include the acclaimed historian Richard B. Frank, who has written several books on the Pacific War. He will give an address on “South Pacific turning points: Guadalcanal, Kokoda and Milne Bay” at the conference dinner.

Another military historian attending from the United States is Dr Edward J. Drea, who works with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A former soldier who served in Japan and Vietnam, Drea will deliver an address titled “Making Soldiers: training, doctrine, and culture in the Imperial Japanese Army” during the Second World War. The conference program also includes renowned American naval historian John B. Lundstrom, and James Zobel from the MacArthur Memorial, who will speak about Douglas MacArthur’s controversial command in Papua in 1942.

Esteemed Australian military historian Professor David Horner will give an address on Kokoda and its place in Australian history. Horner is the official historian and general editor for the Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post–Cold War Operations, as well as Professor of Australian Defence History at the Australian National University’s Research School of International, Political and Strategic Studies. Other Australian historians who will speak at the conference include Dr Mark Johnston, of Scotch College Melbourne, who will speak on the air war over Papua; Dr Peter Williams, who will address the question of the strength of the forces engaged on the Kokoda Trail; and Dr James, who will present “A terrible experience: the battle of Eora Creek”.

There will also be speakers from Japan and Papua New Guinea. “Including Japanese and Papuan voices in the conference reflects a more sophisticated and inclusive approach to thinking about Australian military history,” says James.

The Australian War Memorial’s international history conference Kokoda: Beyond the Legend is on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 September, 2012. Tickets to the conference are limited and are selling fast. For program details and to register, go to /events/conference/2012/

While recently at Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli, I took the opportunity to visit the graves of two men, Corporal David 'Yank' McVay and Private Charles Hampson who served with D Company in the 23rd Battalion. A few years ago I researched their stories while cataloguing the metal cross plates that came from their original graves.

 The original grave marker for David McVay 

In 1915, the plates were attached wooden crosses. Both plates have holes around the edges for nails, showing where they were attached. Unfortunately, the crosses were probably used as fire wood by Turkish soldiers or civilians after the evacuation, as wood was scarce in the area and the crosses were easy to access. Stylistically, Hampson's and McVay's cross plates are very similar, and may have been made by the same person, possibly also a member of D Company, 23rd Battalion. Hampson's cross is currently on display in ANZAC Hall and is more damaged than McVay's - with some bullet or shrapnel holes and some sections torn away. 

The plates were found at Gallipoli by Captain Gordon Samuel Keesing in 1919. Keesing was an assistant to the architect, Sir John Burnet and they were visiting Gallipoli to inspect the area as Burnet was designing the permanent cemeteries at Gallipoli for the Imperial War Graves Commission.

 

1243 Private David McVay was a 32 year old miner from Fitzroy in Melbourne and he enlisted in the AIF on 8 April 1915. He was an original member of D Coy, and embarked from Australia aboard HMAT Euripides on 10 May 1915. McVay was born in England, and had previously served with the Field Artillery in South Africa. He had deserted from the army but was pardoned on King Edward VII's death in 1910.

After a period of training in Egypt, he landed with the 23rd Battalion at Gallipoli on the night of 4 September and was marched to Rest Gully. On 5 September the battalion spent their first night in the front line trenches at Lone Pine. The fighting here was so dangerous and exhausting that battalions were relieved every day. The 23rd Battalion manned Lone Pine, alternating with the 24th Battalion, until they left Gallipoli in December 1915. McVay was promoted to corporal on 9 September. Four days later, he was one of three men from the 23rd Battalion killed at Lone Pine on 13 September. The unit war diary for that day notes that McVay was sniped by a Turk from the unit's right flank. McVay had no known surviving relatives.

743 Private Charles George Hubbard Hampson was a 36 year old driver from Richmond, Victoria when he enlisted in the AIF on 1 March 1915. Like McVay, he was also a member of D Company, 23 Battalion and he landed at Gallipoli on the night of 4 September. Hampson had served at Gallipoli for almost a month when he was was killed on 3 October 1915, at Lone Pine. That day, Turkish artillery were firing from the direction of Scrubby Knoll at the Lone Pine trenches, and it is possible he was killed by a shell. Hampson's Mother died in 1917 and his Father had been dead for many years before that. After the war his sisters chose to put an epitaph on his new headstone which reads "OUR BROTHER THE DEAREST AND BEST EVER FONDLY LOVED AND REMEMBERED".

Brown's Dip Cemetery 1919

Both McVay and Hampson were originally buried at Brown's Dip Cemetery, which was near Lone Pine.  After the war the cemetery was found to be at major risk from erosion, so in 1923 the bodies were exhumed and reinterred in what became known as the Brown's Dip plot in Lone Pine Cemetery. This is located at the opposite end of the cemetery from the Lone Pine Memorial.

If you have the chance to visit Lone Pine Cemetery and are interested in visiting their graves, McVay and Hampson are both located in Plot 1 of the Brown's Dip Plot, Mc Vay is in Row B grave 15 and Hampson in Row E grave 6.

The Pacific war campaign fought by the Australians on Bougainville in 1944–45 has long suffered from a poor reputation: during its first few months, the operation was disparaged by politicians and the media as “mopping-up”; for decades afterwards, it was criticised as “unnecessary”.

But in his new book The Hard Slog, Australian War Memorial historian Dr Karl James argues that the arduous fight that involved more than 30,000 Australians – 500 of whom were killed – against the Japanese on the South Pacific island was both important and successful.

“Bougainville was one of the largest campaigns the Australians fought during the Second World War, and it’s certainly the most controversial in terms of the debate over its necessity,” says James. “But they did the job they were meant to do, and they did it with minimal casualties.”

Private Gordon Atwell of the 42nd Battaltion checks over the mechanism of his Vickers gun, at Mawaraka, 20 January 1945.

The Japanese invaded the Australian Mandated Territory of Bougainville in 1942 as part of their sweep across the South Pacific. They remained there unchallenged until November 1943, when the Americans landed on Bougainville as part of the Allied counter-offensive to regain domination of the South West Pacific Area. 

The Australians were brought in to relieve the Americans a year later. The war was expected to continue until at least 1946, and so aggressive operations were planned for Bougainville and New Guinea with the aim of freeing up Australian manpower for future operations against Japan, or for employment on the home front. However, critics claimed that Australian forces were being “whittled away” on a more or less “face-saving” task in New Guinea and Bougainville.

“By 1945 the Americans in the central Pacific were pushing toward Japan, having landed in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, whereas the Australians were still in the jungle in New Guinea, Bougainville and Borneo, and seem to have been sidelined from the main game rather than being at the forefront of Allied operations,” James says. “There was a lot of resentment and frustration within Australia during 1944-45, with critics wondering why we weren’t in a more prominent role.”

It was a slow and gruelling effort, fought with limited resources and in difficult tropical conditions. Over nine months Lieutenant General Stanley Savige’s Australian II Corps made tedious advances; actions were fierce, but on a small-scale, and the patrolling was constant.

“The war the infantry knew was one of patrolling along stinking, humid jungle tracks and putrid swamps in an intimate, personal war of section patrols and the occasional company-size attack,” James writes. “The strain of constant clashes with the Japanese and harassing artillery fire eroded the men’s morale.”

But it was even worse for the Japanese. “The Japanese experience of the campaign was one of deprivation, desperation and defeat. In the most extreme instances, a few even resorted to cannibalism.”

A patrol from the 42nd Battalion crosses a log bridge as it works its way through the oppressive jungle.

The Australians suffered just one defeat during the Bougainville campaign, at the Porton Plantation in the island’s northern sector. An amphibious landing on the night of 8–9 June 1945 went awry: the landing was in the wrong place, an essential supply barge was grounded on the rough coral that surrounded the beach, and the Japanese were able to get in reinforcements that gave them control over the area. Dozens of Australian troops were stranded on the beach, and when rescue craft were sent in to get the men, they also became stuck on reefs. Men tried to swim through the shark-infested water to safe ground. When the ordeal was over, 27 men had been killed or were missing, and 69 were wounded.

The Bougainville campaign came to an end when the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. The objective set by senior Australian commanders for “destruction” of the Japanese had not been fulfilled, but II Corps could claim to have controlled about two-thirds of Bougainville. About 65,000 Japanese occupied the island when the Americans arrived in 1943; at surrender, there were just over 23,800. The Australians had killed 8,789 Japanese during the nine-month campaign, and the Americans estimated they had killed about 9,890. Many thousands of Japanese had died from sickness and disease. Australian deaths on Bougainville numbered 516, and another 1,572 were wounded.

While the Bougainville campaign did not change the outcome of the war, nor help it end any sooner, James says its importance lay in fulfilling the Australian government’s political and strategic agenda “of having Australian forces actively involved in the liberation of Australian territory”. It also ensured a favourable postwar position for Australia among its allies, and in the distribution of the spoils of war.

“The war ends, fortunately, just before the Australians make that last attack on the big Japanese base at Buin. I think that had that happened, we would have seen the outcome of the campaign as being quite different. We would have had heavy casualties for little gains. Because the war ended when it did, I think you can judge it to be a successful campaign.”

The Hard Slog: Australians in the Bougainville Campaign, 1944–45, by Karl James, is published by Cambridge and available at the Australian War Memorial bookshop or online at /shop/

 Jeeps and trailers loaded with members of the 58th/59th Battalion make their way along the muddy, corduroyed Buin Road near the Ogorata River, 18 July 1945.

The ongoing project to digitise AWM78 Reports of Proceedings, HMA Ships and Establishments has now reached 46 341 images. The reports of proceedings for seventy-nine ships are now available on the Memorial’s website. This includes all of the destroyers employed in the Tobruk Ferry.  Some of the ships that were later involved with the Tobruk Ferry, HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Yarra, have also been digitised. These files can be viewed online here.

May 1941 saw the commencement of the Tobruk Ferry Service to transport troops, supplies and ammunition between Alexandria and Tobruk. The Tobruk Ferry employed the destroyers of the 10th Flotilla (HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta, HMAS Voyager and HMAS Waterhen). Other Mediterranean ships also became involved from August 1941.

Running to a regular routine, the service began on 5th May 1941 with a successful round trip completed by HMAS Waterhen and HMAS Voyager. This voyage was described in Waterhen’s report of proceedings for May 1941. This report illustrates the function of the service as well as the speed of turnarounds:

5th Proceeded in company with “Voyager” to Tobruk with military personnel and stores.   

6th Arrived Tobruk at 0230. Sailed for Alexandria at 0430 with military wounded and details being relieved. Arrived Alexandria 1900.

 

Whilst the ships navigated the distance between points of arrival and departure, it was expected that they would be attacked by the enemy. Sadly, it was these attacks which brought an end to the career of HMAS Waterhen.

 HMAS WATERHEN

Waterhen sailed from Mersa Matruh on her 13th run to Tobruk during the afternoon of 29 June 1941. Weighed down by 50 tons of stores and carrying 70 troops, she was accompanied by HMS Defender who bore a similar cargo. Both ships were attacked by a squadron of 15 dive bombers off the coast near Salum at 7.45pm. The Defender was attacked first but emerged from the encounter unscathed. The first bomb aimed at Waterhen exploded in the water behind her but resulted in the ship becoming unresponsive to the helm. Three more bombs resulted in the flooding of the engine and boiler rooms. The final attack brought damage to the engine room, the engineer’s cabin and the central store. Defender responded to Lieutenant Commander Swain’s decision to abandon ship and came alongside the stricken ship to remove everyone on board.

The Australian W Class Destroyer HMAS Waterhen takes water over her bow after she has been crippled by German dive bombers off the port of Salum, Egypt, while en route to Tobruk.The British destroyer HMS Defender (left) alongside the Australian destroyer HMAS Waterhen

It was decided Defender would take advantage of nightfall and tow Waterhen into Mersa Matruh before dawn. During the ensuing preparations, the rising moon highlighted a submarine lying nearby. Shells were fired and the submarine crash dived with Defender in pursuit. After losing contact, Defender returned to where Waterhen was waiting and the tow commenced.

By 11pm it was evident that the listing to port was increasing and Swain decided to abandon the tow. Some men had re-boarded the Waterhen for the tow and they were all brought back to Defender where they watched and waited for the ship to sink. At 1.50am on 30 June 1941, the Waterhen, or “Chook” as she was warmly referred to by her crew, rolled over and sank. She was the first ship of the Royal Australian Navy to be lost by enemy action in the Second World War.

Although the official report of proceedings for June 1941 was never filed for Waterhen, having gone down with the ship, anecdotal stories and eye-witness accounts of the event do exist. The sadness of the event is very much evident in the ten pages devoted to the loss of the Waterhen in the diary of Andrew Robert Nation. Lieutenant Commander Ean Lawrence McDonald recalls how he was so engrossed in photographing the incident that he forgot his belongings were going down with the ship. He recounts his experience of retrieving his case of photographs from below deck and laments that he never found the fancy French cakes that he had taken on board. Remarkably, there was only one other casualty – a rating who was struck by a tin of peaches.

More information

Lind, L.J. and Payne, A., Scrap Iron Destroyers: The Story of HMA Ships Stuart, Waterhen, Vampire, Vendetta and Voyager, Garden Island, 1993.

HMAS Waterhen Reports of Proceedings September 1939 – May 1941, Australian War Memorial, AWM78 362/1. Retrieved from: /collection/records/awm78/362/awm78-362-1.pdf

Papers of McDonald, Ean Lawrence, (Lieutenant Commander, b: 1918), Australian War Memorial, MSS1081.

Papers of Nation, Andrew Robert (Stoker Petty Officer Mechanic b: 1920), Australian War Memorial, PR00186.

Gill, G Herman, Royal Australian Navy, 1939-1942, Australia in the war of 1939-1945, Series 2 (Navy), vol. 1, Canberra, 1957. Retrieved from: /cms_images/histories/24/chapters/11.pdf

This presentation of WW1 film, together with voices of WW1 veterans, was produced by the Australian War Memorial's film and sound curators. The footage and original oral history recordings are part of the rich film and sound collections of the Australian War Memorial.

The Memorial holds many oral history stories of the Great War; these are stories of veterans who survived to record their stories of the war years leading up to Armistice and beyond. These stories are a fascinating insight into the minds of a previous generation, revealing not only how campaigns were fought, but also the realities of war at an individual level, deeply personalising the Australian history of war with humour and with tears.

Some recordings were conducted by Memorial staff, while a few are memoirs, recorded by the veterans themselves.

Most of Australia's WW1 Western Front footage was shot by official photographers, such as Sir Hubert Wilkins, Herbert Baldwin and Captain Frank Hurley. It was their role to capture an authentic record of Australians in WW1. However, it was virtually impossible for a cameraman of the early 20th Century to take his camera, (large and unwieldy by today's standards), into the active front line. Some footage -- men leaping from a trench and across the wire, for example - had to be staged by arrangement of the cameraman. Nevertheless, it is to these talented and courageous cameramen we owe this captivating glimpse of Australians long gone, and the conditions under which they lived and fought.

A major milestone was reached late last week with the trial fit of the Boulton Paul upper turret into the Hudson rear fuselage.  The installation was carried out to check the fit with the re-constructed support structure, which required only minor adjusting before the turret was bolted into postion.  The turret will now be removed to allow fabrication of fuselage skins to be completed, and routing of the empennage flight control cables.  

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