Born in 1916, Perditta Marjorie McCarthy’s life spanned almost a century. “Ditta” McCarthy, of Wagga Wagga, NSW, died peacefully in her sleep last weekend on 10 March after a long battle with failing health. She was 96. The Royal Australian Army Nursing Service has lost its highest ranking officer.

McCarthy trained at the Sydney Hospital, graduating in 1939. She served with the Second AIF as a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service which later became the Royal Australian Army Nursing Service, and then the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps (RAANC). She saw considerable overseas service spanning several conflicts, initially in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War, then with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, on to Korea, then Malaya, and finally Vietnam.

Captain McCarthy takes a break in the grounds of the British Commonwealth General Hospital during her service with BCOF in Kure, Japan in 1950.

McCarthy later wrote of her time spent nursing the wounded at the BCOF General Hospital at Kure in Japan during the Korean War in 1950:

The real horrors of the Korean War were "brought home" to me when I was allocated for duty in the Burns Ward of the BRITCOM Hospital ... Many were bandaged from head to foot, with only slits for their eyes and mouths, and obviously in great pain, which we attempted to alleviate with what "pain killers" were available at the time. Rarely - if ever - did they complain. Their youthful eyes would "light up" as we bent over them to dress their wounds or to apply medication. Their eyes also revealed their suffering and pain, their stoicism under such traumas had to be witnessed to be believed. As we approached the Burns Ward, to report for duty, the stench from putrefying flesh was overpowering, the memory of which remains with me to this day.

Patient Private B.G 'Knobby' Tranter of 3RAR, chats with the matron, Captain McCarthy at the BCCZMU in Seoul in 1953.

In 1953, McCarthy was posted to the British Commonwealth Communications Zone Medical Unit (BCCZMU) which was located in a suburb on the outskirts of Seoul in Korea. The hospital was in a bombed out, two storey school building, and the nurses lived and worked under Spartan conditions, with no fresh running water and few personal comforts. McCarthy recalled the initial opposition and resentment the women experienced in what had formerly been perceived as a male domain so close to “the front”.

There were some very heated verbal confrontations and even the "pulling of rank", which is virtually unknown in Nursing Corps. Drastic situations demand drastic action. All we wanted to do was to nurse and care for our wounded. All problems were eventually resolved and we slowly became accepted as an integral part of the “team".

Despite the lack of facilities and equipment, Matron McCarthy and her nurses determined that their “hospital” would be “the cleanest, most hygienic, germ and bacteria free establishment in Korea. This entailed the continual scrubbing and washing down of floors, walls, beds etc with what soap, detergents and antiseptics we could beg, borrow or steal.”

McCarthy believed that “humour was the element that allowed us to retain our sanity. It came from the staff and from our patients, who despite serious wounds, would continually tell jokes and take "the mickey" out of their fellow diggers and officers.”

With a long and distinguished career as a military nurse, McCarthy held many appointments, her last being as Matron-in-Chief of the RAANC. Before her retirement she was promoted to brigadier, the only nursing officer to reach such a rank. She was awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross in 1954 and the Royal Red Cross in 1972 for her dedication and service to nursing.

Never one to remain idle for long, McCarthy kept busy for many years in her retirement working as a volunteer at the Army Museum in Victoria Barracks, Sydney. She was also responsible for the research and writing of several biographies of colleagues and predecessors from the Army nursing fraternity.

Of the late Brigadier Perditta McCarthy it can genuinely be said that “she served the Army with distinction.”

While Director of the RAANC, Colonel McCarthy visited several hospitals in Vietnam in 1971.  Major J.S. Vercoe, Officer Commanding 8th Field Ambulance escorted her around the Baria Hospital in Phuoc Tuy Province, where she visited local patients.The maternity ward at Baria Hospital, Phuoc Tuy Province.More information

Our current exhibition is Nurses: from Zululand to Afghanistan

Assistant Curator Alexandra Wiber and artist Carla Wherby 9th January 2012. Image courtesy of Carla Wherby and Arts Access

In January, Sydney artist Carla Wherby visited the Australian War Memorial to explore the collection. Wherby was awarded an Accessible Arts’ AART.BOXX scholarship, funded by Arts NSW in 2011. She is using the scholarship to attend the National Art School in Sydney and to visit institutions such as the Australian War Memorial. This new scholarship is designed to ‘improve access to arts and cultural funding for artists with disability.’ Wherby viewed collection items from the Art Section and the Military, Heraldy and Technology Section. The experience of seeing these collection items had a powerful affect on her. “When I arrived at the AWM I became very emotional and felt deep respect and sadness for all the men and women whose lives were forever changed and sometimes lost by serving in the armed forces” she said.

Through her art, Wherby seeks to explore “the psychological effects of war on those who served their country.” She said that “by putting certain images together that excite me, I hope [to] provoke people to think about certain things going on in the world that they might normally ignore or avoid.” Wherby’s bright collages are manipulated, altering their meaning and creating new and original narratives. Her series Women and War, celebrates women’s contributions to wars and peacekeeping operations throughout history. Wherby was particularly interested in art and items related to the Australian Women’s Land Army including recruitment posters, uniforms and ephemera. She ‘was amazed to see the work of Jon Cattapan, eX de Medici and Wendy Sharpe in person.’

Carla hopes that her scholarship, and visit to the Memorial will result in a large body of artwork inspired by Australia’s military history, past and present. "I came away so inspired and ready to create important, stimulating work” she said.

Thank you to Curator, Diane Rutherford, for helping facilitate Carla Wherby’s visit.

Alexandra Wiber, Assistant Curator, Art

http://www.aarts.net.au/

This Sunday night, the stars of cinema will come together in Hollywood to celebrate the year’s best films at the 84th Academy Awards. Among the nine movies vying for best picture is Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, about a young Englishman who enlists to serve in the First World War after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry.

Whether or not War Horse wins, it’s no surprise that a war film has made the best picture list. The Academy’s very first best picture was a war film – Wings, in 1927–28 – and in its third year of issuing awards All Quiet on the Western Front (1929–30) took the gong. Other war films to have won best picture include The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Patton (1970), Platoon (1986) and, most recently, The Hurt Locker in 2009.

So when war historians look to the cinema for a fresh interpretation of a conflict – or just for good old-fashioned entertainment – they have a glut of films to choose from. The action, glory and tragedy of war make it a popular choice for filmmakers the world over, and thousands of movies on the topic have been made since the birth of cinema in 1895.

Defining a war film is not simple: it generally features a battle at sea, on land or in the air, but it is not confined to depicting combat alone. War films may focus on other aspects of war, such as covert operations, prisoners of war or the civilian experience. Action and drama are typically involved, but a war movie may be a comedy or romance. War films are used as propaganda, to mobilise forces, encourage patriotism or remind a nation of its power and glory. But they are also often anti-war films, concentrating on suffering and horror and designed to make a political or ideological statement about the futility of the endeavour.

Historians at the Australian War Memorial are as enamoured of war films as the broader movie-going public, but they view them through a different lens. They do not expect fictional war films to broaden their knowledge of war, but they do expect filmmakers to get the facts right.

“Historical accuracy is important, even within a fictional retelling of an event,” says Second World War historian Lachlan Grant. “Memory is often shaped by popular mediums such as literature, film, television, and even computer games in more recent times. There are many historical myths that have been fuelled or are reinforced by popular fictional works that are mistakenly accepted as historical fact.”

First World War expert Aaron Pegram agrees. “As historians, we have to turn to the real, tangential fragments of the past kept in archives, museums and from our veterans to get a real understanding of what the nature of conflict was like. War films can provide a frame of reference which we can use to imagine what war might have been like. Everything from the badges to buttons, the sights and sounds has to be as close to reality as possible. There’s nothing more irritating than a misrepresentation of the past.”

Action should be intense. To this end, our historians’ list of favourite war films includes many from the 1950s and 1960s, a period when combat-heavy films were all the rage: The Dam Busters, The Guns of Navarone and Battle of Britain are just some examples. More recent action-based war films that make the list are Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, Master and Commander and Saving Private Ryan – the first 30 minutes, anyway.

“It’s action and drama that I want to watch,” says Pacific war specialist Karl James. “I grew up watching John Wayne movies and I love the nostalgia and sentimentality of 1940s British war films.”

However, there is definitely a need for a meaningful, even romantic, story to propel a war film – just don’t get too soppy.

“As a historian, I’m looking for a movie that evokes something genuine about the experience and events of war without false sentimentality,” says Jean Bou, an authority on the Australian Light Horse. “Regardless of whether the sentimentality arises from an absurd romance, from shallow characters or from blatant nationalism, or whatever, it is the big killer, in my opinion.”

While American and British films dominate our historians’ list of favourite war flicks, films made by other nations are considered equally – if not more—important.

“The Germans make great war movies,” says Pegram. “Rarely do we see war from the other side of the hill; most are made from the Allies’ perspective.” Among his favourites are Downfall, which tells of Adolf Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker, and is based on a memoir by his last private secretary, Traudl Junge; and Stalingrad, a depiction of the brutal Russian battle as seen through the eyes of a German officer and his battalion.

It may have been made by an American, but Letters from Iwo Jima is important for telling the Japanese perspective of war, says Grant. Clint Eastwood’s Second World War film “re-humanises for Western audiences the Japanese experience of the war against the grain of often dehumanising depictions that have persisted since 1945. It therefore highlights the point that Japanese militarism, as an ideology, rather than the Japanese as a people, was the real enemy in this bitter conflict.”

Vietnam war and Gallipoli expert Ashley Ekins favours French films. “La grande illusion by Jean Renoir ranks as one of the greatest war/anti-war films of all time; and A Very Long Engagement is a brilliant re-creation of post–First World War France.” Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson, also makes his list. “Despite its historical inaccuracies, it is an enduring evocation of period and place.”

Despite a profusion of war films, there is room for more – particularly about Australians at war.

“Popular movies like The Lighthorsemen and Gallipoli have helped place the ‘sideshow’ campaigns in recent popular memory, but it’s the Western Front – the main theatre of the First World War – where Australian troops fought and suffered the most,” Pegram says. “It’s also where they performed their greatest achievements. I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Beneath Hill 60, which I think is an extraordinary story [about Australian tunnellers on the Western Front], but I think it’s time for a movie about the ‘ordinary’ soldier’s experience, and one much more representative of an Australian infantryman’s war.”

James would like to see a film about one of the final campaigns the Australians fought on Bougainville in 1945.

“The story has everything; heroes and villains, pitched battles and irregular warfare, mutinies, black market profiteers, three weddings – even cannibalism,” he says. A box-office hit, for sure.

 

Memorial historians’ best ever war movies (in no particular order)

 The Dam Busters (1955)

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Das Boot (The Boat) (1981)

Der Untergang (Downfall) (2004)

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Henry V (1989)

Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

In Which We Serve (1942)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Paths of Glory (1957)

Patton (1970)

Westfront 1918 (1930)

Stalingrad (1993)

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Battle of Britain (1969)

The Longest Day (1962)

The Guns of Navarone (1961)

La grande illusion (Grand Illusion) (1937)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

La vie et rien d’autre (Life and Nothing But) (1989)

Un long dimanche de fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement) (2004)

Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) (2005)

Gallipoli (1981)

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983)

The Dawn Patrol (1930)

Wings (1927)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Quiet American (2002)

Cross of Iron (1977)

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930 and 1979)

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Glory (1989)

Master and Commander (2003)

Beneath Hill 60 (2010)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

 

TV Series or Mini-Series

Band of Brothers (2001)

Generation Kill (2008)

On the 19th of February seventy years ago, the city of Darwin was bombed. Sustaining heavy damage and civilian casualties in air raids by Japanese forces, this attack was the first of over sixty air raids conducted up until November 1943.

For footage of the actual bombing, we today rely on the films of amateur filmmakers who were living or stationed in Darwin at the time. They also took in scenes of destruction, filmed once the danger had passed. Though mostly black and white, faded, scratched and lacking a sound track, the films clearly convey the devastating effects of the attacks : masses of smoke rise against a clear sky, out of which a shot fighter plane drops to earth; ships stream plumes of smoke, and the wreckage of homes and more is seen.

Here are a few selections from the Memorial’s film collection of Darwin in 1942. See our YouTube channel to view the clips.

http://youtu.be/LIn695k9QiU

1. Bombing of Darwin , by Roy Wheeler. Title no. F04605.

Aboard the hospital ship Manunda moored in Darwin Harbour on February 19, Lieutenant Roy Wheeler filmed smoke rising from the USS Peary and the SS Zealandia, hit by Japanese aircraft. In other scenes, army personnel in tin hats and life jackets watch the bombing as it occurs, and the camera surveys damage done to the Manunda's rigging, deck and windows.

2. The bombing of Darwin and aftermath February-March 1942 by Francis Sheldon-Collins . Title no. F04775

Sheldon-Collins, Captain and Commodore's cook at Darwin's Naval Headquarters, had ample opportunity to follow the bombing and its effects. In the first scene, smoke from bombs bursting on Darwin's RAAF Station can be seen. These shots were taken from a rooftop at Myilly Point. In the second scene, Members of the 2/14th Field Regiment are seen proceeding to slit trenches for defence. Then the camera races to keep up as bombs rapidly fall across the landscape, hitting the Naval Barracks at Myilly Point, the hospital beach, the Naval Supply stores and the Naval Paymaster’s office. In the third scene, the camera follows the course of an aircraft shot from the sky. The film donor thought it was a P-40 Kittyhawk, which, he later observed , was not a craft to match the speed of the Japanese Zeros. In the fourth scene, we see a bomb crater by the hospital, while officer’s cook, N.J. Phillips, stands within to give an idea of the depth. Then follows scenes of damage to the town including the Supreme Court, the Administrator’s Residence, a block of flats nearby, the Post Office, and the Darwin Pier, damaged in the first air raid. Behind it, lying on its side, is the wrecked freighter Neptuna , lost when her cargo of depth charges was exploded by a bomb.

Read more about the bombing of Darwin here

Look here for more Darwin bombing content in the Memorial's collection.

Soldier,  drawn in Albury, NSW, 1942, oil on hardboard

To mark the centenary of the birth of one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, a new exhibition Russell Drysdale at war is being held at the Australian War Memorial. Exhibiting a collection of 15 of his wartime artworks, it presents a haunting account of the Australian home front during the Second World War.

Drysdale was not an official war artist, yet felt compelled to document his experience to provide future generations with a visual account of the period. His imagery was inspired by a period he spent living in Albury, New South Wales and explores the loneliness and isolation of war and the displacement experienced by those involved.  

 

Study for “Exercise near Hume Camp, NSW”, drawn in Albury, NSW, 1942, pen, brush and ink, and watercolour on paper

Experimenting with new techniques and mediums, his wartime imagery marks an important prelude to his much loved imagery of the Australian outback. In works such as Study of ‘Exercise new Hume Camp NSW’ the agitated application of ink and coloured washes show an important shift from the formalist approach he had learnt at art school.  It creates a scene replete with a sense of restlessness and eerie tension. 

The exhibition includes iconic works such as the painting Soldier as well as a collection of less-known illustrations that Drysdale was commissioned to produce for the wartime publications The Australian Soldier by John Hetherington and Soldier Superb by Allan Dawes.  It will be on display until February 2013.

Documents supporting the award of the Victoria Cross are now on display at the Reading Room of the Australian War Memorial. The display is arranged to show three themes associated with Australia's highest award for gallantry. These include official records produced leading to the award of the Victoria Cross; the ceremony of the award, which includes VC memorials and reunions; and items of commemoration, which are often autographed, such as invitations and correspondence between VC recipients, their communities and clubs.

 

Item of correspondence relating to Sgt Tom Derrick, 2/48 Bn

The sovereign traditionally reserves the right to make the award in person, at a ceremony called an investiture. The Governor-General of Australia invested Trp Mark Donaldson with the Victoria Cross for Australia in 2009, and Cpl Benjamin Roberts-Smith in 2011. The programs of their investiture are displayed. The sovereign may honour recipients of the award with memorials and services. On display are tickets and programs of the VC Centenary, held in London in 1954. In 1992 Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a display at Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building. The three living Australian VC recipients at the time autographed the souvenir program.

Program cover for the investiture of Tpr Mark Donaldson, SAS

Australia has a tradition of exhibiting the achievements of its VC recipients. A popular way of doing this is through commemorative issues of everyday products, such envelopes, stamps, and even cigarette cards. Recipients were also given first-class rail travel or memberships of clubs by a grateful nation. Acts of commemoration helped perpetuate the memory of those who died performing the actions for which they received the VC.  On occasions where VC recipients gathered for a journey or reunion, menu cards and theatre programs were often autographed, exchanged or presented to the host.

As a duty curator in the Military Heraldry and Technology section, you discover some unexpected stories when items are donated to the Memorial. One such story was that of Sergeant Daniel Gallogly of the 6th Field Company Engineers and the embroidered souvenir from Egypt that he purchased in 1916.

Gallogly's souvenir from Egypt

 The souvenir was found recently at the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment’s facilities but nothing was known about how it had come to be there. The souvenir was originally purple, representing the engineer’s colour patch but has faded significantly. The only clue to its history was embroidered on the souvenir, ‘6th Field Coy Eng, 1916, 2nd Division, Souvenir of Egypt, To Mimmie from Dan’. A search of the nominal roll of the 6th Field Company Engineers from the First World War revealed only one Daniel who had served in the unit. Confirmation was found in a letter written by Miss Mary ‘Mimmie’ McMahon in Daniel Gallogly’s service record.

Gallogly's message to Mimmie

 Gallogly was born in Darlington, Durham, England in 1883 and arrived in Brisbane on the ship SS Perthshire on 28 June 1909. At the start of the First World War he was living in Toowoomba, Queensland, working as a bricklaying contractor. He enlisted on 24 July 1915, aged thirty two. Four months later the 6th Field Company Engineers embarked at Sydney on board HMAT A40 Ceramic.

The reverse on the souvenir and the original colour.

 The unit arrived in Egypt on 18 December and started training at Ferry Post. In the first three months of 1916 unit life consisted of training and surveying of railway lines and the Australian trench systems east of the Suez Canal. These were reinforced in case of any Turkish attack. Gallogly gained promotion to second corporal and in March Australian troops started to make their way to the Western Front in France.

A small ship passing Ferry Post on the Suez Canal.

6th Field Company engineers arrived in Marseilles on 26 March 1916 and were training at Warne north of Paris by the end of the month. With a promotion to sergeant, Gallogly and his unit were introduced to trench life on the Western Front in the Fleurbaix sector in April. They surveyed the trenches and constructed everything from observation posts to detention enclosures. The next few months followed a similar pattern, with the unit moving to Messines sector in mid June. At the beginning of July they were moved south in preparation to Australia’s contribution to the Somme Offensive.

The Remains of the French village of Pozieres as it appeared shortly after capture by the Australians.

As part of the Somme offensive of 1916 Australian troops of the 1st Division attacked the village of Pozieres, France between 23rd and 27th of July. The division took heavy casualties before being relieved by the 2nd Division. On 29 July, the division began its attack. Gallogly and his unit were consolidating positions taken by the 28th Battalion and constructing a medical dressing station when he was wounded. According to his service records he sustained multiple shrapnel and gunshot wounds to his face, back and right foot.

By the beginning of January 1917 Gallogly had recovered sufficiently from his wounds to attend a rifle course in Sidmouth, Devon, England. He attained a first class qualification and passed Lewis gun training with a ‘fair knowledge’ of the weapon. After spending the next seven months in a training battalion he was deemed unfit for front line duties and returned to Australia in August.

In Gallogly’s service record, Mary ‘Mimmie’ McMahon wrote in September 1917 to the Officer in Charge of the Base Records in Melbourne to know when she could expect him home. He was discharged by the end of November 1917. Mimmie and Daniel reunited and were married on the 16 January 1918 in Queensland. They had three children Vincent, Felix and Kathleen.

After the war Gallogly continued his building work and constructed buildings around Queensland, though this was not without problems as his industrial dispute with the United Operative Brick- layers' Society of Queensland (Toowoomba branch) would suggest. Some of the buildings he built were the Harrison Home, Toowoomba, St James’s Catholic Church and school at Coorparoo in 1925, the Marist Brothers' Monastery at Rosalie in the late 1920s. His tender for the erection of the Commonwealth Bank in Gympie was accepted in 1927.

St James’s Catholic Church and school at Coorparoo.

The Depression years affected Gallogly’s business and a newspaper article in the The Brisbane Courier suggests that he was declared bankrupt in 1931. The Second World War was not kind to the Gallogly family. Mary died in 1940 and the eldest son, Vincent, was killed while serving as a flight Sergeant in Bomber Command’s 103 Squadron RAF on 23 June 1942 over Germany.

The electoral roll of 1943 has the surviving family living in the Brisbane suburb of Albion, with Daniel listed as a public servant. He appears to have lived at this address until 1963. His date of death is unknown but he was buried in Nudgee cemetery, Brisbane, along with his wife and two of his children, Felix and his daughter Kathleen who died in 2008.

From the limited information provided by the donor of the souvenir, the Memorial through the use of digitised records, has discovered Daniel Gallogly’s story and recounted it. His narrative just one of the many that are uncovered by the Memorial during its work to remember the Australians who have served for this country.

After months of work treating and reproducing individual pieces, the complex structure which supports the Boulton Paul turret has been trial fitted.  It was great to see all the separate items come together.  These parts, after final undercoating, will now be riveted into the airframe permanently.  Rear fuselage skins can then be rolled, and the Boulton Paul turret fitted.

Delighted to be home: four of the six Australian army nurses arrive in Sydney on 13 September, 1945. Left to right: Captain Kay Parker, Lieutenant (Lt) Lorna Whyte; Lt Daisy 'Tootie' Keast; Lt Mavis Cullen.

Fried shrimps and scallops, ham “a la King” and lemon sponge: these were the dishes that six Australian Army nurses would dream of while they were held captive in Japan during the Second World War.

Instead, the prisoners received a monotonous diet consisting mostly of rice and soya bean soup, and stew with questionable pieces of meat. On the eighth day of each month – known as “degradation” or “humiliation” day – the meagre vegetables that were issued were thrown into a cesspit and the women made to retrieve them; occasionally they were made to eat scraps from a pig bucket.

The nurses’ ordeal, which was to last three years and seven months, began 70 years ago when they surrendered to the Japanese after the invasion of Rabaul on 23 January 1942. Rabaul was the administrative capital of Australia’s Mandated Territory of New Guinea. It had a strategically important, deep-water harbour and airfields that were well-positioned for reconnaissance and bombing sorties over the Japanese naval bases in the Caroline Islands. But few resources were allocated to the protection of the garrison, and the men who tried gallantly to protect it from attack were overwhelmed by a much larger invading force.

The Australian army nurses were mostly country girls who had sailed from Sydney on the converted troopship Zealandia in April 1941. The nurses were the only servicewomen on the island and served with the 2/10th Field Ambulance, which consisted of two doctors and 20 male orderlies.

The army hospital in Rabaul had been evacuated on 22 January and transferred to the Roman Catholic mission at Vunapope. The army doctors didn’t stay on and took with them the ambulances, most of the medical supplies and the orderlies. The head nurse, Sister Kathleen Parker, and an Anglican chaplain surrendered on behalf of the hospital when the Japanese arrived.

The nurses were made to stand for hours in the blazing sun with Japanese machine-guns trained on them. That day the Japanese killed about 20 patients, as well as the chaplain. The army nurses expected to be killed too; instead they were imprisoned in a convent within the mission until July 1942, along with a small number of missionary and administrative nurses and one civilian woman. Some Australian soldiers were also imprisoned in the mission.

In early July the nurses and other internees – including the Australian soldiers -- were taken by ship to Yokohama, Japan. The women spent most of the next two years under guard in the Yokohama Amateur Rowing Club, not allowed to write to their families. At first, the conditions were tolerable: they had clean toilets and cold showers were always available; hot baths were occasionally allowed. There were ping-pong sets, badminton and cards, and during the warmer months they swam in the club pool. But conditions declined after the first year in captivity: the women were regularly slapped and occasionally they were lined up at gunpoint. Red Cross officials were stopped from visiting them. They suffered greatly in the extreme cold of the winter months: their bed coverings were flimsy and heating within the building was poor or non-existent, so to stay warm they slept two to a bed.

Food was always on their minds, and a recipe book compiled by Sister Eileen Callaghan and held at the Australian War Memorial reveals just what they desired: cheese dishes, hearty roasts, fresh salads, luscious desserts, and cakes.

Nurse Daisy Keast recalled that after her release, her first letter home to her parents demanded that her first meal when she arrived home be roast pork and steamed date pudding.

“That’s all we thought about and talked about,” she said. “My family said we never talked to them at all, all we talked about was food.”

The women were moved in April 1944 to a farmhouse at Totsuka, about 50 kilometres from Yokohama and with a view of Mount Fuji. The house had no heating or showers so they washed from buckets. They were made dig air-raid trenches for the Japanese, and in winter had to shovel paths in the snow. They grew weaker from hunger and suffered deficiency diseases such as beri-beri.

The women had scant news from the outside world, but by 1945 they could tell the war was going badly for the Japanese. They watched the bombing raids over Yokohama and Tokyo. On 17 August, 1945, the internees were told that peace had been declared. The women were free, but afraid of reprisals, they remained in the compound. Food suddenly improved, a doctor visited and gave them medicine, and they also received coats to cover their tattered nurses’ uniforms.

On 31 August, after three years and seven months of imprisonment, two of the army nurses intercepted an American convoy and were finally rescued from Totsuka. They were flown to Okinawa Island and then to Manila. They were among the first prisoners of war to arrive home, most of them arriving in Australia on 13 September 1945. Sister Callaghan, who had contracted tuberculosis and received no treatment, arrived back in Australia one month later. She died in March 1954 from continuing problems related to the disease.

The nurses had survived because of a determination to not let the Japanese defeat them. “If we had given up we wouldn’t have come back, it’s as simple as that,” said Sister Marjory Anderson. “If we gave up hope we’d have just died.”

Sources and further reading

Catherine Kenny, Captives : Australian army nurses in Japanese prison camps (University of Queensland Press, 1986)

Second World War Official Histories, Volume VI – The New Guinea Offensives (1st edition, 1961)

Rupert Goodman, Our War Nurses: The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902-1988 (Boolarong Publications, 1988)

Michael (Mike) Coleridge will always be remembered for the photograph he took on 26 August 1967 of a group of soldiers of 5 Platoon, B Company, 7RAR, waiting for an Iroquois helicopter to land and take them back to Nui Dat at the end of Operation Ulmarra. This photograph has become an Australian icon of the Vietnam War and is graphically featured on the Vietnam National Memorial on ANZAC Parade in Canberra. But this is just one of 558 still photographs and 54 films taken in Vietnam by Mike Coleridge in the Australian War Memorial's collection.

Mike Coleridge, Members of 5 Platoon, B Company, 7RAR waiting to board an Iroquois helicopter to return to Nui Dat, 26 August 1967

Coleridge was born in Slovenia on 11 July 1933. At the end of the Second World War his parents' marriage failed, and he accompanied his mother to Austria, before migrating to Australia as an unaccompanied 16-year-old. As a young man, he worked in a range of manual jobs in Sydney, always struggling to make his junior wages cover his expenses. At 18 he found work on a property in rural New South Wales, where his circumstances improved and his life assumed some degree of normality. A young man looking for adventure, he eventually found his way to Darwin. Life in the Northern Territory was exciting, and during this time he learnt to fly and was awarded a private pilot's license.

Vietnam. 1967. Private Peter Harding of Ballina (NSW), paddles out from the bank of a tributary of the Song Rai River in a boat which had been secreted among mangroves by the Viet Cong. Assault pioneers from the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), discovered nearly a dozen craft.

In 1957 Coleridge enlisted in the Australian Army, hoping to enter the fledgling Army Aviation Corps. Believing the recruiting sergeant's assurances that he could transfer after completing his recruit training, he signed up; however, his lack of formal education proved a barrier to army pilot training and he found himself a gunner in the Royal Australian Artillery Corps. He never realised his ambition to fly. Gunner Coleridge was posted to Malaysia in 1961, and during his tour he privately made films for the British Army using his own cameras.

On his return to Australia in 1963, Coleridge sought a transfer to the Royal Australian Army Education Corps as a public relations photographer. During this time he married and had two children. But his marriage failed, leaving him with his two children of his own and another his wife had brought to the marriage. Coleridge, now a single father, was posted to Vietnam. With much difficulty, and without any support from the army, he arranged for a family in Melbourne to care for his children. Sergeant Coleridge arrived in Vietnam on 19 November 1966, and although posted to Headquarters in Saigon, he spent most of his time at the new 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) base at Nui Dat. Over the next 12 months he recorded the activities of 5RAR, 6RAR and 7RAR and other elements of 1ATF. There were no facilities at the 1ATF base for a photographer, so he constructed a makeshift darkroom, in which he developed his own films.

A digger with his dog and gun watch for the Viet Cong during Operation Paddington, 1967.Vietnam. 1967. On top of Nui Dat hill, the highest point in the Australian Task Force area, Delta (D) Company soldiers of the 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), keep constant watch for Viet Cong movement.

Coleridge operated independently, accompanying soldiers on operations, seeking out images to satisfy the needs of the Public Relations Officer in Saigon and taking many photographs in response to the conflict that surrounded him, including many shots of Australian soldiers moving through the Vietnamese landscape. Like many photographers of the time, he always carried a number of cameras, including 35 mm and 120 still cameras and frequently a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera. Using his own initiative, Coleridge started using colour film in both his still and movie cameras. However, the army was geared to providing the print media and TV with black-and-white images, and so initially it didn't support Coleridge's use of colour. Because the army only supplied black-and-white film, colour film and colour stock either had to be traded with other photographers or purchased privately. Colour film had to be processed privately in Saigon, and as most of his salary was spent supporting his three children back in Australia this must have been very difficult for him. Many of Coleridge's colour film stills, and the colour films of the photographers who followed him, were duplicated in black-and-white for use in the media. Coleridge's persistence was eventually rewarded by the Army Public Relations Directorate in Canberra: a signal sent to Saigon in September 1967 acknowledged both the high standard of the colour footage and the fact that Coleridge had provided the colour stock personally, and advised that replacement stock would be dispatched from Canberra.

After completing his tour of Vietnam on 21 November 1967, Coleridge was posted to Melbourne. His period of enlistment had expired and he resisted the army's efforts to keep him, realising how difficult it would be to continue serving as a single father. Vietnam. 1967. During operation Broken Hill in Phuoc Tuy Province, troops took the elusive Viet Cong by surprise. Lance Corporal Geoff McGuffog of Tamworth, NSW (right), leads a gagged and securely tied Viet Cong suspect past Bombardier Jim Creber of Mortdale, NSW.Vietnam. 1967. The tracks of armoured personnel carriers of A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, take heavy punishment in the war and have to be changed about every 2000 miles. Soldiers of the Squadron lay out new tracks ready to be fitted.

Over the decades that followed the war, Mike Coleridge traveled the countryside, finding work wherever he could. He worked for a time as a photographer for the Melbourne Truth and at other jobs, always supporting his two children. He moved to Darwin and then, in the early 1970s, to North Queensland, where he drove steam locos in the cane fields; from there it was on to Western Australia, where he mined gold, before moving to New South Wales. He and his children settled in Canberra in 1984, where he worked for a time as an attendant at the Australian War Memorial. With his children now grown up, he found some relief from his responsibilities and began growing walnuts on a small property at Jerangle, New South Wales. His final move was to a property on the outskirts of Braidwood, where he raised Angus cattle. Identity discs worn by 4410203 Sergeant Michael (Mike) Coleridge

Like many Vietnam veterans, Coleridge experienced a range of health issues, including first cancer of the bladder and more recently lung cancer. Just before Christmas 2011 he had a bad fall in his house and was taken by ambulance to the Braidwood Hospital. He was transferred to hospital in Canberra, where an X-ray revealed he had two fractured vertebrae in his lower back.

Michael Coleridge passed away peacefully in hospital in the early hours of 10 January 2012. He is survived by his son, David, daughter, Rhonda, and granddaughter, Julia.

 

 

 

 

 

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