The Australian War Memorial's Heraldry collection contains a number of commemorative badges and brooches which display a high level of beauty and craftsmanship combined with poignant individual stories. A recently donated brooch demonstrates these characteristics excellently.

This fifteen carat gold brooch was one of four privately made for the Hislop family in memory of their son and brother, Allan Henderson, who died of wounds on 18 October 1916 while a German prisoner of war.  

Allan was born at St Mary’s, NSW on 6 October 1895, the fourth of six children (five surviving to adulthood) and only son of David and Annie Hislop. David and Annie were married in Brisbane in 1889 and relocated to Sydney after the birth of their first child, Evelyn. After the birth of their last child, Beryl Irene in 1890, the family returned to Brisbane, where David died in 1913.  

On 4 September 1915 Allan enlisted in the AIF as a member of 25 Battalion.  Joining up alongside his best friend Alec Peters (Alexander Drew Peters) both men were taken on by 10 Reinforcements. Allan and Alec were  just 19 years of age but both had already seen a number of years service in the militia and the naval cadets respectively.

Allan was also a gifted athlete and was noted for his excellence as a boxer and footballer. As a member of the Blue Star Football Club Allan played in and won the 1915 Queensland Rugby Football League 4th Grade Junior Premiership. 

Embarking from Brisbane for overseas service on 28 March 1916, Allan arrived in France on 5 June and joined up with 25 Battalion in the field on 16 July. At this time the battalion was yet to take part in a major battle on the Western Front but would do so in the coming weeks at Pozieres. At midnight on the night of 28/29 July, the battalion made their first attack during which Allan went missing. However, he was not confirmed as a prisoner of war until a month later. He had arrived at Gottingen Prisoner of War Camp on 7 August and was admitted to the camp hospital suffering wounds to his left hand and thigh. Hislop’s left hand was amputated and in the proceeding months he developed numerous abscesses on his body. He quietly passed away from an abscess to his heart at 8.30am on 18 October 1916.

Allan was buried in the neighbouring Gottingen Military Cemetery, however he was reinterred in Niederzwehren Cemetery in 1924 when four permanent cemeteries were established to house the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died in Germany. This cemetery is in the German city of Kassel, approximately 165kms south of Hannover.

After Allan’s mother and sisters were informed of his death they arranged to have four of these magnificent brooches made in his honour to commemorate his war service. One was made for each sister  – Evelyn, Meg (Margaret) Essie (Annie Estella) and Beryl. Only the brooch now held by the Memorial (believed to be Evelyn’s) is known to still exist.

The brooch is in the shape of a shield surmounted by a red enamelled King's crown. In the centre of the badge is a black and blue enamelled 25 Battalion colour patch, a gold machine gun and gold sergeant's rank insignia  On a white enamelled scroll above the colour patch is '4057 AHH FRANCE POZIERES 28-7-16. At the base is a black enamelled scroll with 'GOTTINGEN 18-10-16. The brooch is housed in its original blue presentation box with the maker’s details stamped in black on the inside lid.

Endnote: Alec Peters' survived the Battle of Pozieres but was killed in action at Flers on 5 November 1916. He is buried at Warlancourt British Cemetery in France.

The Memorial holds a fantastic collection of First World War trench art made by Sapper Stanley Pearl, who served in the First World War and later worked at the Australian War Memorial. Stanley Keith Pearl [6756] enlisted at 21 years of age on the 9 November 1915 at the Tasmanian town of Ulverstone.  On his service record, [held at: National Archives Australia] when asked about civil convictions, he responds that he was once convicted of riding a cycle on a foot path! The recruiter did not seem to mind and Pearl was accepted into the AIF.  He embarked from Sydney on HMAT Orsova on 11 March 1916 and arrived at Alexandria April that year.  From there he was sent to France with the 2nd Div reinforcements 8th Field Coy Engineers and by August was a Sapper with the 5 Field Coy Engineers where he served until the end of the War. During Pearl’s time in France he produced the most amazing and highly crafted items of trench art, much of which he later donated to the Memorial.   Trench art was made by soldiers in the trenches from any available material and ranged from small brooches for sweethearts to large sculptures made from brass shell casings.  The creation of these items helped occupy the soldiers between bouts of major action and gave an outlet for artistic expression.  RELAWM14153 - Trench art table napkin ring : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF

Sapper Pearl made this napkin ring at Armentieres in January 1918. The ring is a piece of 6-inch "dud" shell found lying near Favreuil. The stand is a nose-cap of a Newton rifle-grenade and the feet are 18-pounder shrapnel pellets dropped short near Le Touquet.  Trench art chrysanthemum vase : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF

This chrysanthemum vase was made by Sapper Pearl at Thy-le-Chateau from a French 75mm shell-case and embellished with the Royal Artillery badge and a French artillery button. The shell-case was souvenired from a French battery south of Villers-Bretonneux, while the handles are 1-inch copper steam pipes split down and flattened out. The latter were purloined from a German locomotive which formed part of the Armistice indemnity and were removed at night with a hack saw in spite of a guard.  Trench art clock : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF

This alarm clock was made by Sapper Pearl at Ypres in March 1918. The case was made from two 4.5 inch shell cases picked up on Christmas Day 1917 at the Australian batteries at Le Bizet. The foot support is a clip of an 18 pounder shell. The arms are detonator wells of rifle grenades and nose-caps. The hands are from a gun-cotton case, while the alarm cover is an American-made 18 pounder nose-cap with a 'whizz-bang' driving band. The Rising Sun badge belonged to one of Pearl’s mates who killed at Noreuil, while a button from the Pearl's greatcoat and a German bullet surmount the whole. These are but a few examples the trench art made by Sapper Pearl in the Memorial’s Collections.  They are a great illustration of the skill and talent of their maker.  After the war Stanley Keith Pearl became one of the original employees at the Memorial here in Canberra where he worked as a carpenter and senior tradesman from the Memorial’s opening in 1941 until his retirement. 

To view more items of Sapper Pearl’s trench art search our Collections Database. 

A young man, fit and blond, waits nervously in a trench, clenching his bayonet-fixed rifle across his chest. A whistle sounds and he throws himself over the top of the trench into no man’s land, which is already littered with the bodies of his fellow soldiers. Machine-guns chatter, more of his companions are cut down, and the young man drops his bayonet and runs as hard as he can toward the enemy trenches. Chin up, arms outstretched, his chest is riddled with bullets.

Few who have seen Australian director Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli can forget those final poignant scenes as Archy Hamilton and his friends are ripped apart by machine-gun fire in a failed charge toward enemy lines on the Turkish peninsula. But many may not realise that they are based on one particular battle fought at Anzac:  the Charge at the Nek, on 7 August 1915.

“The Nek was such a heroic failure it almost epitomises the First World War,” says Peter Burness, senior historian at the Australian War Memorial. “People connect with it because it’s on a scale we can grasp, and all the folly and valour we can accept.”

The Nek was a strategically important land bridge that connected Russell’s Top, the northern end of the Anzac front line, to the Turkish-held rise of Baby 700. The charge was a diversionary attack for the August Offensive, the last attempt of the allied forces at Gallipoli to break the stalemate that had persisted since the Anzacs landed on 25 April. It was to be carried out by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.

The attack began with a bombardment of Turkish positions by artillery and a destroyer steaming offshore, but the bulk of the shells fell beyond their target and the shelling finished seven minutes early. The officers of the light horse held off the charge until the allotted time of 4.30 am, giving the Turks a chance to return to their positions after sheltering further back during the bombardment.

First over the top was the 8th Light Horse Regiment, and immediately they were shot down by Turkish rifle and machine-gun fire. Many were killed just metres out of the trench. The second line, also from the 8th, scrambled over the dead and wounded to make their attack, and suffered the same fate.

The charge had obviously failed, and cancellation of the attack was proposed. But Lieutenant Colonel Jack Antill, who had effective command of the 3rd Brigade, rejected the idea and a third line of soldiers, from the 10th Light Horse, were sent over the top – Archy’s regiment.  With the body count climbing higher, cancellation was again suggested, but before a decision was made the right flank of the fourth line charged as a result of a misunderstanding, and the rest of the line followed. They too were mowed down by the Turkish fire. The 8th Light Horse suffered 234 casualties, 154 fatal; and the 10th suffered 138 casualties, 80 fatal.

Burness became fascinated with the story of the Nek via the Official History writings of Charles Bean, the painting by George Lambert and other relics in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. In 1995 his account of the battle, The Nek: the tragic charge of the Light Horse at Gallipoli, was published and – owing to demand – he is now updating it.

“The whole thrust of the book is about the men involved in the charge, who they were and what made them tick,” Burness says. “In 1985 I’d interviewed survivors of the battle, and what they told me was included in the book. But since then I have had more material given to me by families of those who witnessed or were part of the charge. Research now is also easier, and there is much more material available at your fingertips on websites. This has confirmed and corrected information that I had, and gives a fuller picture.”

Burness has delved deeper into the lives of the senior officers overseeing the charge, and made some interesting discoveries.

 “The personal relationships between a couple of Australian officers were very poor – I’ve found they were poisonous,” he says.   At a time when clear thinking and cooperation were essential, there was no effective communication.  “One officer who later gave a clear description of the battle was very deeply affected by the failed attack.  I recently found out he committed suicide after the war.”

While today most people connect the story of the Nek with Peter Weir’s film, early generations compared it with the story of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.  Even Charles Bean made the comparison.  Burness says: “Behind the glorious charge of the Light Brigade there is a story of inadequacies, incompetence and bitter personal rivalries.  The action at the Nek was no different.  Yet still we marvel at the courage of those who took part.”

Burness will speak on “The Nek, a battle revisited” at the Narratives of War Symposium at the University of South Australia this Thursday, 29 September.  The new edition of The Nek is in production.

                                            The charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek, 7 August 1915, by George Lambert

While major structural work is being carried out, work progresses on some of the smaller cabin fitout items as well.  Mark Aitken, one of the Large Technology conservators, is currently replicating the F24 Camera Well using a loaned original for reference, as well as original blueprints.

The end of September marks the 71 year anniversary of the battle of Dakar. Also known as “Operation Menace”, this operation was endeavoured to be peaceful, with the aim of placing General Charles de Gaulle in leadership at Dakar. It was a significant attempt to set up a Free French government in Dakar (West Africa) by British, French and Australian forces.  The recently digitised Royal Australian Navy Reports of Proceedings highlight HMAS Australia’s three day skirmish with the Vichy French.

Dakar, French West Africa; HMAS Australia; HMAS Australia, seen from an unidentified British destroyer, in action against shore batteries at Dakar

HMAS Australia started her duties at Dakar on the 19th of September before the official dates of 23rd to 25th of September, 1940. The Australia landed the chore of tracking and “shadowing” French Vichy ships. Des Shinkfield, in his book HMAS AUSTRALIA: a lucky ship, describes the chase of the ship Gloire, “the climax came about midnight. Australia was steaming at full speed through a rain squall when, suddenly, on passing out of the rain squall into brilliant moonlight, there, on the starboard beam, and heading for Australia was Gloire, only a cable or two away.  A collision appeared inevitable. Only the smart handling of the ship by Captain Stewart averted what would have been a major disaster.” Captain Stewart’s account of the incident features in the Reports of Proceedings with a description of the Gloire as a ‘lone bird’

What then ensued was ship to ship stalking as the Australia stuck to Gloire’s tail to guarantee she was safely ensconced in Casablanca. Captain Stewart warned the captain of Gloire that if the Australia were attacked by submarines then they would engage in battle with the Gloire. Needless to say the Gloire assured him that they would be very civil! Captain Stewart suggests in the Reports of Proceedings, that the captain of Gloire was fearful and explains “I have no doubt...he went through an anxious moment when I encountered him on opposite courses and put my searchlight on him on the night of the 19th September”.  The Australia forced the Gloire on towards Casablanca; however the Gloire did finish part of the journey herself, and the Australia back-tracked to re-assemble with her team.


During the ensuing battle for Dakar, the Australia was involved in further skirmishes with Vichy French ships from Dakar. The Reports of Proceedings for the month of September describes an incident with the French destroyer L’audacieux on the 23rd of September in a very matter of fact manner.

Harold Plumber, a sailor on board the Australia, describes this situation with more energy in A Sailors Life when he says “she [the L’audacieux] immediately burst into flames from her bridge and right aft and it was a terrible sight watching the poor devils rushing right forward on the FX to get out of the way as she was one mass of flames.”

During the 24th and 25th the Australia continued to help battle against enemy ships on the seas outside Dakar. There were many incidents where the Australia had to engage in attacking and defensive fire. However by the 25th it was clear that this battle was not going to succeed. Australia lost her “walrus” (aircraft spotter) to the sea, and got hit twice herself by enemy fire. Other allied ships were also suffering the marks of war. This battle was over after the faintest sniff at victory. The HMAS Australia successfully carried out everything thrown at her in Operation Menace, albeit with just a few battle scars to take home.

Further reading

Des Shinkfield, HMAS AUSTRALIA, A lucky ship (Ringwood Victoria: 2001)

Peter Taylor, A Sailor’s Life, Aboard HMAS AUSTRALIA (II) (Western Australia: Peter CW Taylor, 2010)

Reports of Proceedings, HMA Ships and Establishments. AWM78 44/1 HMAS Australia: Reports of Proceedings August 1939-December 1941

Reports of Proceedings, HMA Ships and Establishments. AWM78 44/3 HMAS Australia: Reports of Proceedings August 1939-November 1944

Where there is war, there is love. Almost 13,000 Australian soldiers who fought in the First World War married during their years of service, mostly to English women they met while on leave or during training stints in country.

The Aussie soldiers were an attractive prospect: comparatively well-paid, lively and free-spirited, they offered an escape from bleak surroundings for many young women. Official war historian Charles Bean noted in his diary on 31 January 1916, during a break in London, that girls “are simply throwing themselves at our mens’ heads” – but not all matches, or all girls, were suitable.

He recounted the following:

 Jack tells me that quite a few of our men have been marrying English girls. These marriages are rather lightly undertaken in some cases, I fancy. One of Jack’s men in the 3rd Battalion – a most stolid, dry old bone of a chap ... came back to the office the other day and after much scratching of his head, he blurted out that he too had been married in the interval. “Quite a nice girl too,” he said, half to himself, reflectively, fingering the back of his head. The next week he turned up on sick parade and was seen by Sgt Wolseley, Jack’s little right-hand man. He confessed in the same dry style that he was suffering from a dose of gonorrhoea. “Why, who gave it to you?” asked little Wolseley. “Not your wife, surely?” “Well – no – as a matter of fact, it was the chief bridesmaid,” said the bashful A -- -- mournfully. These Australians!

Tilly Devine was a war bride with a less than reputable past, and an even more notorious future ahead of her. Born Matilda Twiss in London in 1900, she was working as a prostitute on the city’s streets when she married Sapper James Devine, a former Queensland shearer, in 1917.

Jim Devine was quite possibly the AIF’s worst soldier: his service record lists dozens of unauthorised absences, periods in detention, and numerous stints in hospital with “VD”– venereal disease. He served briefly in France with the 4th Tunnelling Company, but spent most of the war in English training camps, or AWOL. When the war ended, he faced court martial for his illegal absences, and served a lengthy sentence in England before returning to Australia in October 1919.

Tilly arrived in Sydney in January 1920 aboard the “bride” ship, Waimana. The couple quickly established themselves as part of the city’s seedy underbelly; Tilly once again began working as a prostitute, and Jim as her protector and chauffeur. She was arrested often: before she had turned 25 she had almost 80 convictions for prostitution, offensive behaviour and indecent language. In 1925, she was imprisoned for two years after slashing a man with a razor.  She gained a reputation as the “Worst Woman in Sydney” and “The Queen of the Night”.

By the late 1920s Jim Devine had further enmeshed himself in the criminal underworld, with dealings in drugs, “sly grog” and attacks on rival gangs. Tilly moved on from being a prostitute to becoming a madam, and more charges followed for her illegal activities. Despite this, she was a very successful businesswoman, employing bodyguards and acquiring properties. By the time the Second World War broke out, Tilly had attained a more affectionate reputation among Sydneysiders and was known for her collection of diamond rings, her opulent dress style and her lavish parties.

Tilly’s relationship with Jim had become increasingly violent and, no longer needing his protection, she divorced him in August 1943 on the grounds of cruelty. It was a boom time for her, as vast numbers of local and Allied servicemen passing through Sydney fed a demand for brothel services. Tilly contributed generously to the war effort and in 1945 she married again, to a seaman named Eric Parsons.

When the war ended the best of Tilly’s years were behind her, but she remained a prominent and criminally active figure and was brought before the court numerous times. She travelled to London in 1953 to see the Coronation procession, and operated her brothel until 1968.

Tilly Devine died in a Sydney hospital on 24 November 1970. She was survived by a son whom she had adopted during her second marriage. Her two children to Jim Devine had predeceased her.

Tilly would undoubtedly be delighted to know that her story lives on, with the current Nine Network television series Underbelly razor based on her and Jim’s notorious activities. The contribution made to Australian society by so many other First World War brides was, of course, of far greater moral and social value, and today there are tens of thousands of their descendants among us.

Sources and further reading

Allen, Judith, 'Devine, Matilda Mary (Tilly) (1900–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

Fifty Australians exhibition, Australian War Memorial,  /exhibitions/fiftyaustralians/15.asp

C.E.W. Bean, AWM38 Official History, 1914–18 War: Records of C.E.W. Bean, Official Historian.

Visitors to the Memorial’s exhibition Rats of Tobruk 1941 will have noticed the unofficial Rats of Tobruk medal presented, according to its engraving, by Lord Haw Haw. Around twenty of these medals were made at Tobruk, which illustrates one of the earliest examples of the town’s defenders reclaiming the title ‘Rat’, bestowed on them by the propaganda radio program ‘Germany Calling’. Visitors may also notice the brasso caked around the small copper rat on this medal, the result of many years of cleaning. This perhaps gives an idea of the importance of this object in the life of its owner, John Joseph Murray, who commanded 20 Brigade at Tobruk. The care lavished on this object certainly accords with views expressed during Murray’s own lifetime about the pride he felt in having participated in this pivotal campaign. But this medal, while illustrating a highly significant period in Murray’s service career, does not give a full view of the breadth of his service. For a better appreciation of his distinguished career, we must turn to another set of objects, Murray’s medal group, which have recently gone on display in the Memorial’s Second World War gallery.


The medals of Major General J J Murray are impressive by anyone’s standards, and are the tangible result of a distinguished career which spanned thirty years and two wars. A native of Sydney, Murray had already served in the militia when he left Australia with the 5th Reinforcements to 1 Battalion in 1915. This unit had already participated in the first landings at ANZAC, and would remain at Gallipoli until the evacuation in December. Although his unit served at Gallipoli, his service record indicates that Murray did not. This anomaly may stem from the sectarian prejudices of his day, denying this Catholic officer the opportunity of frontline service.


With the doubling of the AIF in 1916, Murray was transferred to 53 Battalion and promoted to Temporary Captain. The battalion was subsequently sent to France, and its first major action on the Western Front was at the disastrous battle of Fromelles on 19 July. For his courage and leadership during this battle, Murray was awarded the Military Cross. In a similar vein to many award recommendations from that terrible day, Murray’s recommendation concludes, ‘[a]ll the other officers in his company were either killed or wounded.’

Murray’s unit participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in March 1917, and defended gains made during the second battle of Bullecourt. Promoted to Major, his unit saw further service when the AIF’s focus shifted to the Ypres sector in Belgium, where he was Mentioned in Despatches toward the end of 1917.

The stalled German offensive in March 1918 prompted an allied counteroffensive, which saw 53 Battalion in action in the capture of Peronne, where Murray was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His unit was withdrawn from the line at the start of October, and saw no further action in the First World War. After the armistice Murray was again Mentioned in Despatches for his leadership, and returned to Australia in 1919.

Murray resumed his duties in the militia, and after several command appointments and promotions, and the outbreak of a new war, joined the Second AIF in April 1940. He was appointed to command 20 Brigade, which embarked for the Middle East in October. In February 1941 the brigade transferred from 7 Division to 9 Division. Despite being poorly equipped, 9 Division were then sent to relieve 6 Division in Libya. At Er Regima, 20 Brigade were one of the first Australian formations to engage Rommel’s advancing Afrika Korps. The brigade successfully staged a fighting withdrawal to Tobruk, where they played an integral part in halting and eventually repelling the German advance on 14 April.

It was at Tobruk that Murray’s experience and leadership became wholly apparent. In his account of the campaign Tobruk 1941, Chester Wilmot described Murray as ‘…a big, genial Irishman who loves a fight. He is personally easy-going but brooks no slackness among his troops and even before Tobruk his brigade was marked out as one of the best-trained in the 2nd AIF. His dogged temperament made him well suited for the defensive tasks that lay ahead. He had shown himself a strong leader in the Great War when he won the DSO and MC and rose to be second-in-command of the 53rd Battalion.’

Overall command of Tobruk lay with Major General Leslie Morshead, whose defensive strategy was one of aggressive patrolling, summed up in his statement to Wilmot ‘I determined we should make no man’s land our land’.  Murray’s First World War experience of static warfare in the trenches of the Western Front was readily adapted to Morshead’s philosophy. It was these tactics that prevented the German and Italian forces from observing the allied defences and kept Tobruk’s besiegers in a constant state of tension.

A good example is the ‘V For Victory’ campaign of psychological warfare that was adopted by Murray’s 20 Brigade in the southern sector during July and August. Murray ordered leaflets stencilled with ‘V Per Vittorio’ and ordered that they be attached ‘by the use of clips, string, nails, pins, etc., to enemy bodies, posts wire, sandbags, sangars, etc., by patrols’. With monotonous regularity, the Italian forces in this sector found Murray’s leaflets in their own defences, left by Australian patrols that they had never heard.

For his leadership during this period, Murray was awarded a Bar to his DSO. He left Tobruk in November with most of his brigade, and was Mentioned in Despatches for the performance of his duties. He returned to Australia in January 1942 and was promoted to Major General. This period of Murray’s career saw several commands at Division level, and the command of Northern Territory Force from March 1945 until the expiration of his appointment with the Second AIF in January 1946 when he was placed on the Reserve of Officers.

In peacetime, Murray worked as Australian trade commissioner to New Zealand from 1946 to 1949, and then to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1949, where health considerations saw him return to Australia. He died in Sydney in 1951.

The Australian War Memorial is proud to be able to display the medals of a soldier to the public whom he served with such distinction. They can be viewed as part of the Tobruk display in the Memorial’s Second World War gallery.

Further reading

For a detailed account of the entire Tobruk campaign, see Chester Wilmot’s Tobruk 1941.

For an insight into Murray’s own thoughts on this campaign, see his recently published account I Confess – A Memoir of the Siege of Tobruk.

Do your bit on the Food Front

A poster produced by the Department of Agriculture and Commerce in Canberra to encourage people in Australia to grow their own vegetables for home consumption.

Floriade (17 September – 16 October) is Australia’s celebration of Spring and Australia’s biggest flower show. This year the Australian War Memorial is creating a Second World War Victory Garden, reminiscent of those grown by Australian families in the Second World War.

In 1942 Prime Minister John Curtin launched the “Dig for Victory” campaign, which encouraged Australian householders to grow their own vegetables. Families across the country enthusiastically adopted the idea, making this campaign and other efforts part of the most ambitious home gardening program Australia has ever seen.

The Floriade Victory Garden will contain over 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables alongside a special commemorative planting of Lone Pine, poppies, and rosemary. The Garden is based around research by staff in the Memorial’s Research Centre.

Over 4000 plants are being grown from seed generously donated by the Australian garden supplier, Yates. A team of eight final year horticultural students from the Canberra Institute of Technology have been busy growing the Victory Garden which moves to the 2011 Floriade site next month.Floriade Seedlings

Throughout the Festival Memorial Research Centre staff will share stories of wartime gardens, kitchens and food production in a series of free public talks and tours both at Floriade, and at the Australian War Memorial. The Hyatt Hotel will also be at Floriade doing cooking demonstrations of wartime recipes with a contemporary twist.

The Victory Garden is a timely reminder of the gardening efforts of wartime families as a new generation of Australians is looking to be self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable.

The announcement of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Japan brought an uplift of spirit among personnel. The end of the war, hitherto a nebulous source of conjecture, suddenly became a definite possibility within a matter of days, even hours. Crowds imbued with eager anticipation mustered round the unit’s radio sets for each news session and gasped with amazement as statistical information about the potentialities of the bomb were unfolded. [57th/60th Australian Infantry Battalion war diary, 8 August 1945]

Whether fighting in the jungles of Bougainville or working in a factory at home, Australians were rocked by the news that an atomic bomb had been dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

The action – one of the most divisive and debated in military history – came as a surprise to the Australian government, who as minor allies with Britain and the United States had not been privy to such top secret developments. But it was not an unwelcome decision: after almost six years of fighting on fronts in Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the war-weary troops were itching to return home, and their loved ones were desperate to have them back. The bomb, it was anticipated, would bring the war swiftly to an end.

More than 200,000 Japanese were killed by the two atomic bombs, nicknamed Little Boy and Fat Man, dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August respectively. On 14 August, following subtle assurances from the United States that the Emperor could stay on the throne, Japan surrendered.

In Australia, the first news of the blasts was focused on the power of the bomb. The Sydney Morning Herald was the only newspaper to report the story on 7 August (other newspapers were a day behind), its front page headline announcing “Atomic Bomb on Japan. Huge Blast Effect”.

“An atomic bomb, with more power than 20,000 tons of TNT and producing a blast 2,000 times greater than the largest bomb previously used, was dropped on Hiroshima (Japan) today,” the correspondent in Washington wrote. “This is the first of many that will be used to complete the destruction of Japan.”

There was no mention of the damage done, or the lives lost.

The following day’s Sydney Morning Herald headline announced that the bomb “May End War. Big Possibilities in Peace”, but its editorial reflected considerable anxiety about this new weapon.

The first atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan has done far more than wreck the city of Hiroshima. It has shaken civilisation to its foundations ... If the invention of gunpowder revolutionised the art of war, the release of atomic power may very well, in time, spell the very end of war itself: either that or the human family is doomed to perish by its own hand.

Such concerns were far from the minds of those Australians still at the front. They were focused on the prospect that this new weapon would win the war. Victory could not come quickly enough for the men of the 8th Battalion, who were still engaged in a difficult and dangerous fight against an aggressive Japanese force in north Bougainville.

“Morale of the troops was raised considerably by the news of the first Atomic Bomb being dropped on Japan,” it was recorded in the battalion’s war diary on 8 August. “Bets are being taken for the day of Japan’s surrender.”

It took weeks, even months, before the real level of damage and destruction in Hiroshima were known to Australians and the international community. By 23 August The Sydney Morning Herald, quoting a Tokyo report, carried news that the death toll in Hiroshima was 60,000 people; another 60,000 had died instantly at Nagasaki, it said. In her essay, “‘The world was black’: initial Australian reactions to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, Kay Saunders noted that journalists knew that “slow lingering deaths ensued from radiation”, but “could not find the words to define or describe the dimensions of suffering ... Certainly no images of the damage to human beings was produced in Australian newspapers in 1945.”

But there was another group suffering, too: Australian prisoners of war, many of them starving in prisons and camps throughout Asia, captives of the Japanese.

Former prisoner Hugh Clarke believed that if the bomb had not been dropped, he would surely have been killed by the Japanese when the Allies invaded the home islands – two massive invasions were being planned, for the island of Kyushu in November 1945 and Honshu in March 1946.

“There was a directive by the Japanese high command that all prisoners were to be eliminated at a certain date [if Japan was invaded],” Clarke told The Independent Monthly in an interview before the 50th anniversary of the bombings.

Clarke was working in a naval dockyard in the Japanese port city of Fukuoka when the bombs were dropped. He said that while he did not know what had occurred, after the first bomb hit Hiroshima on 6 August, “the behaviour of our guards changed ... They stopped bashing us, for a start, and they were pre-occupied among themselves.” Before then, the Japanese had shown no signs that they would be likely to surrender; blanket bombing of the country by the Americans seemed only to strengthen their resolve to fight to the finish.

“They were training women and children to fight with sharpened bamboo sticks and I am quite convinced they would have fought to the last man if there was an invasion,” Clarke said. “Suddenly a whole bloody city was obliterated, they [the Japanese] were absolutely stunned. In the circumstances, it had to be something incomprehensible to the Japs to make them stop. They could not comprehend it; well, we couldn’t either.”

In the decades since the bombs were dropped, debate has raged about the morality of using such a weapon of indiscriminate power, and whether it was necessary to end the war. Back in 1945, Australians were not immune to feelings of unease about atomic power, but there seemed little question about the need for something drastic to be done to bring the bloody fighting to a close. But for the following 40 years of the Cold War, the spectre of nuclear power made very real the possibility of MAD – mutually assured destruction – and shaped politics on both sides of the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.

More information


Two soldiers returning from patrol

Two soldiers returning from patrol to Patrol Base Razaq.

The AWM has recently acquired a significant set of photographs taken by photographer Gary Ramage in Afghanistan in 2010. Photographs such as these, of Australian Defence Force personnel on patrol ‘outside the wire’ in Afghanistan, are a first for the AWM. 

For visiting media, commissioned artists and photographers, the ADF generally permit only a few days on the ground, usually in the relative safety of established bases, and they are escorted at all times by an officer from Defence Public Affairs. These measures help protect the safety of the visiting journalist and our ADF troops, but limit access to the work the ADF is doing in the more remote areas of Uruzgan Province.

The newly formed Mentoring Team Delta (MT-D), as part of the ADF 1st Mentoring Task Force (MTF-1), began operations in the Deh Rawood Valley Region (otherwise known as the Deh Rawood Green Zone), approximately 60km west of Tarin Kowt in July 2010. Key to these operations was the mentoring of the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade, 205 Corps.

The Company was based at Patrol Base Razaq, its first priority being the movement of stores, equipment and supplies, and the establishment of security points. Ramage accompanied MT-D on several patrols in the Deh Rawood region focussing on the crucial task of clearing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from the area.

Members of MT-D, and their explosive detection dog, clearing the area of IEDs

Members of MT-D, and their explosive detection dog, clearing the area of IEDs

Soldier with mine sweeper

Previously a member of 6RAR, and a long serving military photographer with the ADF’s 1st Joint Public Affairs Unit, Ramage is afforded the freedom that many other photographers aren’t when in Afghanistan. As such, we are given a rare insight into the harsh and primitive living conditions experienced by Australian personnel at remote base locations.

Mentoring Team Delta made their way from Tarin Kowt, to Patrol Base Razaq via an overnight stop at Forward Operating Base Hadrian. You can see in this small series, the rough sleeping conditions endured by the unit; wedging themselves between the fortified HESCO wall and the solid bulk of their bushmaster patrol vehicles.

Overnight accommodations at Forward Operating Base Hadrian

Overnight accommodations at Forward Operating Base Hadrian

En route to PB Razaq via an overnight stop at FOB Hadrian.

En route to PB Razaq via an overnight stop at FOB Hadrian.

These photographs also show us the dangers that landscape and environment pose on Australian and Afghan troops. A single patrol route can cover ground that takes them from the sweeping, exposed landscape of the desert mountain ranges, to the dense, vegetation of the green zone in the lower valleys, each terrain posing differing threats and security risks. Patrols often pass through small villages and inhabited areas in the green zone, which is a rich agricultural area. The inherent vulnerability of the patrol group is emphasized by the backdrop of the towering mountain expanses.

Looking over the Deh Rawood valley

Looking over the Deh Rawood valley

Patrol vehicles heading down into the valley from the patrol base

Patrol vehicles heading down into the valley from the patrol base

A patrol leaving Patrol Base Razaq

A patrol leaving Patrol Base Razaq

Patrolling the fertile 'green zone'

Patrolling the fertile 'green zone'

Between June and August 2010, whilst Ramage was in Afghanistan, MTF-1 was to suffer the deaths of 6 of its members, several from IED explosions and one in the Battle of Derapet. This collection of images puts into perspective the conditions faced by ADF troops in Afghanistan every day and we get an insight into how troops on the ground cope with and commemorate the loss of their comrades.

Commemoration to sappers Snowy and Smitty

Commemoration to sappers Snowy and Smitty

Gary Ramage served 20 years with the Australian Army and was the chief photographer when he left. He is now Chief Photographer for News Limited at the National Press Gallery in Canberra. He travelled to Afghanistan independently.

This acquisition will greatly enhance the Memorial’s growing collection of material related to current conflicts. You can view the photographs online at: /advanced-search

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