Visiting the ANZAC Memorial – Hyde Park
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Mat: Hello everyone. Welcome to Living History and an episode that takes me out and about to explore an absolutely remarkable sight. It’s the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney. Now this building has stood here as an icon for veterans since 1934, but during the centenary years of the First World War, it underwent a major renovation. They built new water features and they built a wonderful new interpretive center/ museum to really tell the story of Australians in war, and it’s absolutely wonderful the work that they’ve done there, so I was very excited to go through and check out this new museum which only opened last year, and I was fortunate to be guided through the museum by the director Brad Manera and Brad’s an old mate of mine. He’s a wonderful historian and the work he has done on this museum is absolutely extraordinary.
They’ve done an incredible thing. Instead of trying to tell a chronological history of Australia’s involvement in war which is the way most museums would tackle the problem, they’ve gone a different way. They’ve decided to tell the story via individuals, so it’s a museum that is a collection of individual stories relating to all facets of military service. It’s quite unique and it’s absolutely extraordinary. If you’re in Sydney, I strongly recommend you get down there and check it out and if you know me, if you’ve listened to these podcasts, I don’t say that lightly because to be honest, a lot of the new museums that I’ve seen I don’t rate at all. I’m not a big fan of the way museums are trying to tell the story of military history these days, so when I see one that does it brilliantly like the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park does, I’m gonna point it out and I’m gonna tell you to go there because it’s fantastic.
So let’s join Brad Manera as we tour the ANZAC Memorial at Hyde Park. Brad, thanks for taking the time to show me through. I have not visited the Memorial since all the work was done. Just give us a bit of an indication of what you wanted to do for the centenary and how you accomplished it?
Brad: Yeah, good on you, Mat. We’ve missed you. the situation was that the building opened in November of 1934, and it was part of a plan that I guess it involved as a result of the casualties of Gallipoli and so the people of New South Wales started to raise funds for a war Memorial as early as 1916, and then through the 1920s, there was the issues about repatriating people got in the way, but there was a lot of demand for Memorials. Archibald built the fountain at the top end of Hyde Park. Eventually the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League built the Cenotaph in the heart of Sydney as a place of ceremony, but there was still this need to recognize the extraordinary grief that the people of New South Wales indeed around the world were suffering as a result of the Great War, and they wanted a place of silent contemplation, not a place of ceremony. That’s all fixed. Got that sorted with the Cenotaph in Martin Place. They wanted a park setting and so they ran a competition, ended up with an architect Bruce Dillards and he teamed up with an artist George Rayner Hoff. Hoff was a British migrant and a veteran of the Great War but he’d served as a map maker based in Amiens during the war. Dillards hadn’t served; his older brother had served in the AIF and they designed a building and surrounds to be located in Hyde Park South so the garden already existed. in the heart of that garden they built a rather monumental High Deco building and the intention was to have a still water feature flanked by poplars to the north, I guess reminiscent of the watercourses of Europe like the Somme. You know everybody wrote about the lines of poplars that flanked watercourses. They flanked roads and so on and so he achieved that by1934. He achieved the central building.
What he wanted on the southern side was a cascade water feature using the topography, so a stepped waterfall if you like running down to Liverpool Street, but they ran out of money and they had to open by November ’34, because the Duke of Gloucester was coming out to open the shrine in Melbourne and so a bit of interstate rivalry. They wanted to get a minor Royal to open the ANZAC Memorial as well, so that’s what they did. At the last minute, they had to raise a lot of cash and the Women’s Auxiliary of the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League came up with the idea of selling little gold-plated stars and they sold a hundred and twenty thousand of them, and they’re the stars that sort of populate the domed ceiling in the original building.
So the building was I don’t know 80%, 70% complete in time for the 1934 opening, but there was always that cascade water feature that hadn’t been completed and so it was a job half done. With the Centenary of the Great War, there was funding around for projects and so New South Wales said we’d really like to finish that original, complete the vision of the veterans of the 1914-18 war and put that cascade water feature in place. We had permission to put it in dating back to the 1930s so getting permission wasn’t a problem and now we had the money, and we thought well while we’re digging up Hyde Park to put in the cascade, let’s go underground and create an education and interpretation center because the building in the 1930s didn’t need to be interpreted. The veterans and their families knew all about it. They were still suffering the grief so the symbolism that is such a vital part of the original building was immediately comprehensible, if that’s a word. The past and passing population knew exactly what it all meant. The problem we’ve got in the 21st century is that that symbolism has been lost to time. Young Australians aren’t growing up with the stories of the First World War and the impact of that war on the Australian population, and so we set about using the Centenary of the Great War money to create an interpretation Center for the original building.
So what we’ve got is a space underneath the Cascade feature that’s a ceremonial space, a contemplative space that they’re calling the Hall of Service, and that is lined with the names of over 1700 recruitment and enlistment spaces, locations that soldiers from New South Wales put as either where they enlisted from, or their place of association, where they grew up, the place that they thought of as home and that was the result of an extraordinary 20-plus years of work by Peter Dennis and with some help by Geoff Gray down in Canberra and they just turned all of that stuff over to us. Here you go, free of charge and so we fed that into the public service and they came up with a list of, as I say, over 1700 locations, and we got soil samples from those locations with the name of the place, so that populates the Hall of Service.
In the floor, we made a Ring of Battle Honours, if you like or at least battle titles from the time that New South Wales became self-governing in the late 1850s through to 2018 because it’s a centenary project and so I chose a hundred battlefields, consulted with military historians around the country, and it got a little bit controversial. There were some fairly robust discussions, but we settled with a hundred battlefields from the Maori Wars. The first formed units of soldiers from New South Wales to deploy overseas were the 2nd and 4th battalions of the Waikato Militia and so we included Orakau and Tauranga into the floor, and then of course the Sudan contingent from New South Wales in 1885, over a half a dozen sites from the war in South Africa against the Boers. We even included a place for soil from Peking because the New South Wales Marine Light Infantry deployed to the Boxer Rebellion. The Chinese haven’t allowed us to collect that soil yet. That’s still a little bit delicate, but one day in the future we’ll be able to get some soil from the site of where those New South Welshman operated in aid of the civil power, and then of course a huge number of soil samples from the Great War from Bita Paka in what’s now New Britain, through to soil from the beach at North Keeling Island where the Emden ran aground after being destroyed in battle with HMAS Sydney through to Gallipoli, France the Somme from 1916, Belgium in 1917 and the Somme again in 1918, World War II sites from North Africa and there around the Mediterranean, to the South Pacific.
We’ve tried to incorporate as much naval and air content as we possibly can, and so I was very privileged that some former colleagues from the Western Australian Maritime Museum had been involved in a study of the wreck of HMS Sydney got us a little piece of the seabed right next to the fo’c’sle of the wreck of HMS Sydney, so we’ve got a little piece of the ocean floor from 2,650 meters under the Indian Ocean in the floor of the ANZAC Memorial because there were 247 New South Welshman among the crew of HMAS Sydney when she was lost in November 1941, and right through to the post-1945 conflicts, the Malayan Emergency with Indonesia, the war in Vietnam through to peacekeeping operations and more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So 100 soil samples have really focused the visitors, gives them time to reflect before they walk into our historical gallery and that leads off to the side of the Hall of Service so you know it gives us an opportunity to talk about what the Memorial does, and that is tell personal stories of soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses and most particularly of the families of those that have served from colonial times through to the present day, and that’s been our guiding theme right from the start. There’s no overall combat narrative. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra does that better than we could ever imagine, and so what we’ve tried to do is make sure that that symbolism represents the lived experience of real people, and particularly obviously real people from New South Wales.
Each state in Australia created its own Memorial. My home state in Western Australia, we turned our Botanic Gardens at Kings Park into our state Memorial, and the Victorians created a very classical shrine away from the CBD. Sydney couldn’t make up its mind so they ended up with a place of ceremony in the heart of the city at Martin Place, our location for silent contemplation and that’s what we’ve got here at Hyde Park but the symbolism was so rich for that generation. It needs interpretation for the 21st century and that’s what we’re trying to do here.
Mat: Well from what I’ve seen, it looks like you’ve done it really well. On that subject of the evolving nature of Memorials, what’s the balance between the original vision when they first built the building we’re sitting in and the requirements for a modern generation to understand what the hell went on a century ago? How do you get that right? How do you make sure that you’re maintaining what was originally intended for the building and that it’s also speaking to the new generation? Is it even important to do that, I mean, what’s your opinion about that?
Brad: That’s a frightening question; I don’t know that there’s an answer. It’s one that we certainly asked ourselves during the process. We really weren’t sure how to go about it and the problem that we had with the original artist and the architect was that they both died in their 40s so they didn’t get old enough to become reflective, and so what they were trying to do they didn’t write about and so the building invites so many questions. I’d really love to know what went on behind the scenes and who made those decisions. There are a few scraps of information, a few little pieces of correspondence that shows that the artist and the architect corresponded with the official history team, Charles Bean and his mob that were writing down a Tuggeranong. They corresponded with the Army because the Royal Military College had moved to Sydney in 1932 because of the depression, and Brigadier Francis Heritage was in charge up at Victoria barracks, and he was very critical so there’s little glimpses into the fact that what they’ve done here was a contested space even back in the 1930s, so you know I thought well I’ve got to expect a little criticism with what we’ve done here. It’s been marvellous. Just how positive the public have been but there have been critics and so they should be.
You know, if 990,000 Australians were a uniform during World War two I think that means that there’s close to a million war stories. everybody sees their service differently and the service of their family and friends and so the beauty of the original symbolism is that it can be read in a variety of ways and so I hope we’ve tried to do that with the Interpretation Center and invite people to make their own sense of it. What we tried to do was invite the visitors to think about the human form.
When you look at the original building, the artist and the architect used the human form probably more than any other Memorial in Australia, possibly the world. Crowning the building are 16 buttress and 4 corner figures. there are shallow reliefs on the inside and outside of the building that have dozens and dozens of figures, all of them doing different military tasks and so I think they were making a place where veterans could see themselves, and they could tell people what they did in the war, and so you know they tried to make a statement that could be interpreted in the widest possible number of ways. At the heart of the Memorial is this extraordinary statue Sacrifice. we’re using the story of the Spartan warrior being returned dead on his shield to those who loved him most and the dead warrior is being supported by his mother, his wife and infant child and his sister, and so the next of kin have got extraordinary prominence in this place. So that’s what we wanted to do with the historical displays was take that idea of the lived experience of humans and run that through. One of the big criticisms we get is that there’s no overall historical narrative, that what we’re doing is just taking little glimpses of personal stories. We’re living with that criticism because that’s what I want people to take away from this. I think there are other very fine museums and the amount of information that’s online can fill in those gaps. What we want people to take away from this place is that the war reached into every home in Australia. It affected the lives of real people and so that if we if we achieve that, we’ve achieved our goal.
Mat: Wonderful! Well, let’s go have a look. So Brad, we’re standing in, well a very modern-looking museum space. We’ve got video monitors. We’ve got statuettes. What’s this room? Tell us about it.
Brad: Well, this is the history gallery. It comes off that central commemorative space, the Hall of Service and it’s about 420 square metres, and the plan was to take aspects of the original building and bring them down to floor level. The buttress figures that crown the Memorial 30 metres off the ground, the shallow reliefs up to 5 and 10 metres off the ground and so it’s very important for us to bring those down to eye level, and to explain what they’re doing. When I was a youngster back in the 60s, World War 2 was a constant presence. I spent a lot of time as a kid with my grandparents, and my grandfather had served in the RAF during the war. On Saturday nights him and his mates would sit around the piano and sing wartime songs and you know after a few beers they’d speak in New Guinea pidgin and all that sort of stuff. World War 2 was a constant presence. On top of the piano were photographs of his dad’s generation had gone to the Great War, so you didn’t need to be to have Commemoration explained. You grew up with it whereas I look now at my 11 year old nephew and he’s not growing up with it. I didn’t serve. My brother hasn’t served. Dad was the most reluctant national servicemen ever to wear a slouch hat in WA back in the 1950s, so it’s been a few generations since somebody’s taken a well-aimed shot at a member of our family.
So as a result, that knowledge has disappeared. Now we’ve got to teach the 21st century generation to commemorate, so they’ve got to be educated before they can commemorate. things as basic as the Division of Branch of Service or Arm of Service, and so we’re walking into this long rectangular room that’s divided by display cases, and what we’re seeing are of the corner figures from the Memorial reproduced in risen models and brought down to ground level. one is a Naval Lieutenant Commander, one’s an Infantry Lieutenant, one’s a Lieutenant of Australian Flying Corps and one is a Junior Matron so a sailor, a soldier, an airman, and a nurse. This was the way the veterans wanted to see themselves. They want to explain the way that the services worked, and so beyond each of these corner figures are the seated buttress figures and there’s 16 of those, most of them soldiers. So we’ve grouped them into these sort of little galleries if you like, telling their stories so again we’ve walked into a space.
What we’re seeing in front of us are openings that lead us into four small galleries, and each of those galleries is structured around a Branch of Service. The first gallery is the Navy and so we’ve got the replica of the corner figure, the Naval Lieutenant Commander and immediately opposite him is a large screen showing historic images of Australians going to war on the sea, and then in the center is our Infantry Second Lieutenant, a junior leader and next to him is a large screen showing Australians going to war on land, and then the final ones obviously the aviator has a screen next to him that shows Australians going to war in the air, and then the nurse obviously looks at the medical treatment of Australian soldiers from colonial times to the present day. so that’s all I wanted the introductory space to do was to tell our visitors something as simple as some Australians go to war on the sea, some on land and some in the air. That’s all we needed this space to do and then you step through past those corner figures into each of the galleries.
So let’s wander down to the first space which is the Naval space. We’ve followed the British tradition and so the Navy come first. The Navy gets priority.
Mat: Just something I want to touch on, Brad which I think was really interesting. You get a lot of young people coming in here. Obviously a lot of this display is designed to as you said, tell the story for people who didn’t live through it. Do you think that…I understand there’s a requirement for education for the newer generations, do you also think though this is part of the story of why they engage so strongly with this history because they didn’t have to live through the alcoholic father coming home from the war. They didn’t have to live through the trauma of what went on after these wars. Do you think that’s part of the story why young people engage so strongly with ANZAC history?
Brad: No. I think the significance of ANZAC history is that it’s such an important part of how we as Australians see ourselves. the Great War occurring just so shortly after Federation had a really made big impact on the way we as Australians see ourselves, and so I think it’s really you know there’s sort of the light Horseman or the Gallipoli ANZAC or similar military figures became a really important part of how this emerging nation saw itself, and suddenly we were called on to perform on a world stage and we didn’t let the Empire down. and so right from the start, the military history and the military prowess if you like of Australians has become part of our national self-image and I think the 21st century generation is still growing up with that, because we do sort of tend to cast a large shadow, probably punch above our weight if you like, on the world stage and so I think that’s a big part of the Australian story. I think it’s a bit of a shame that we’re seeing the detail of Australian military history disappearing from school curriculum, but we can but try.
Mat: Well, you’re doing a great job telling the story here and where as you said we’re in the Naval section. What are some of the highlights of this section of the gallery?
Brad: They are all personal stories and we’ve really got lucky in a number of cases. We’ve got souvenirs of the Sydney Emden fight there. I was helping a friend in Western Australia edit the history of the 44th Battalion and the final chapter had never been published before. it was found in a collection of old documents among the survivor of the battalion in a room, where the chapter heading said that the Germans fight for the Fatherland, the French for the Republic, the British for the Empire, and the Australians for souvenirs, and we really see that in the collection that evolved at this place, so it’s based on personal souvenirs so you know it’s just some great little bits and pieces that have come off the Emden. this shell case from Emden main’s armament , a 10.5 centimetre German naval gun, but it’s been beautifully engraved in China of dragons because of course Emden’s last port was Tsingtao in China, but next to it is a projectile from the secondary armament that was removed from Emden and this was being used as a doorstop in a backyard dunny on the central coast of New South Wales, and it wasn’t until the family member dropped it and the base broke away that they found a personal slip signed by Captain Glossop himself, saying a souvenir taken from the wreck of the Emden, and so fortunately the object had been dropped and this remarkable document from the Battle of November 1814 emerged. It may have gone for another few generations as a doorstop, had that had that not occurred.
Mat: It makes you wonder what’s out there in suburban households that we’re yet to discover.
Brad: Indeed. I mean, we got extraordinarily lucky I think with this remarkable medal group to a fellow named Bruce Harvey who was the technician on board HMAS Deloraine when the vessel was sank the I-124 off Darwin. This was the first major Japanese submarine incursion into Australian waters and the I-124 was chasing an American convoy coming into Darwin. The Americans couldn’t deal with it. They had to stay and protect the tanker and so they called out the Australians. Only two of the three Australian Corvettes were functional at that stage, and so Deloraine went out, the Australian small ship to Corvette. It’s underwater detection equipment operator wasn’t very well, so they grabbed one of the blokes from shore-based Darwin and that was Bruce Harvey to serve on that vessel, and in a three-hour cat-and-mouse game, he detected the location of the I-124 and they repeatedly dropped depth charges on that vessel and eventually sunk that Japanese submarine, and she’s still lying in 72 metres of water off Darwin Harbour, a gazetted Japanese war grave, and Harvey earned the Distinguished Service Cross. He ended up having a heart attack on a golf course in Western Australia in the 1970s, but his family have, because he was born and raised in Sydney, his family wanted to donate his medals here. So we were very, very fortunate to have his medals on display and I got to meet his widow and she shared their wedding photographs. They got married during the war and so with the medals is a photograph of the two of them on their wedding day, with him looking resplendent in his uniform but she’s looking rather magnificent in her 1940s wedding dress. So that story from the Second World War, the Emden story from the Great War running right through to material that we’ve got from veterans of the Gulf War who have donated their material, and because of such a vital role being played by Australian Defence Force personnel in the Persian Gulf to this day and so you know we’ve got the ensign from HMAS Melbourne that was donated by one of our guides who was working here, and she was in charge of the sewing machine on board Melbourne and the flag was a getting a bit too tatty, so they took it down and it was put into her care and eventually written off, as though when they were never returning to Australia and she donated it to us. She said, do you think I should have washed it, and I said, oh no. we were really want it because it’s stained with the dark red dust of the Middle East, so we’re rather pleased to have that on display.
Mat: I like what you’ve done here, Brad. the significance played by more recent conflicts because as much as we all appreciate and respect what went on in the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam, I mean it is an evolving story, isn’t it? It’s continuing to this day. We don’t know what chapters are yet to be written in the ANZAC story, so I love the focus on this more recent conflicts as well.
Brad: Yeah, we got the funding to be a Centenary statement and it would have been foolish of us, I think, to have just focused on the Great War. Current serving personnel do see themselves as descendants of a tradition created by our First World War ANZACs. I think it was essential that we look at the buttress figures from the Great War and try and tell their story, but then also make it a 21st century story as well. In fact, I’ll show you what we’ve done with the nurse’s story because we were very lucky in receiving a group of medals from the family when they were trying to do one of their ancestor’s grave up at Warren Ora [31:40]. Her name was Alice Cashion and she was a matron served in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military nursing service. the Australian Army nursing service was a very, very small unit during the Great War and so many Australian nurses volunteered for other units particularly Queen Alexandra’s. Alice kashin was one of those and she owned two Royal Red Crosses during her service in the Great War, and then returned to New South Wales, lived out the rest of her long life and she’s buried in the cemetery in the shire, but the family have donated her photograph album and her Royal Red Cross and bar, and her trio of World War One service medals, and fascinating because they’re extremely rare to an Australian, the 1914 star. She was operating in an Australian hospital at Wilmer ruin [32:40] in northern France in 1914, so a very rare medal to an Australian. The bar to Her Royal Red Cross is a marvellous story. She was serving on a hospital ship that was torpedoed in the English Channel by a U-boat in 1917. The captain ordered abandon ship. She said my nurses and I are not leaving the vessel until our patients are all brought up on deck and evacuated, and by the time they’d managed that, they realized the vessel wasn’t sinking quite as quickly as had first been realised, and so with all of the pumps going and a great deal of luck, they made it back into a British port and so the patients were saved and the ship was saved. So an extraordinary decoration for stubbornness basically and great courage on the part of her and her nurses and their devotion to their patients, so a great story from the First World War relating to our matron figure.
And so I was thinking about what or where do we start to look for a 21st century equivalent and while having those conversations, the daughter of one of our guides who’s a nurse at a hospital in Western Sydney said that she was about to deploy to Afghanistan and I said Jennifer next time you’re in a really dodgy situation, would you box up your uniform and send it to us and she did and so at the end of that gallery, we’ve got the uniform worn by a Naval Reserve theatre nurse Jennifer Evans, who served in the NATO hospital at Kandahar in 2014, so you know just you know her devotion to her patients, her medical experience, her experience of war is very, very similar to that of Alice Cashin just a hundred years apart. Of course their tools have changed. her patients were coming in by helicopter, whereas Alice’s obviously were arriving by train and hospital ship, but essentially that quality of devotion to patients hasn’t changed but it’s a wonderful uniform because it’s a disruptive pattern uniform, the camouflage uniform if you will, of the latest pattern worn by the Australian Defence Force personnel but she wore a theatre scarf that is of white fabric with barcodes on it. Completely non-issue and it came about because she was talking to her mother who’s also a theatre nurse and said that she feels like they were being treated like numbers. on her deployment she was a naval reservist and she felt that working with soldiers, the army treats its people like numbers, very much tongue-in-cheek of course, but her mother discovered a bolt of cloth that was printed with barcodes and so she made theatre scarves for Jennifer and her entire team and you can see behind the uniform is a photograph of Jennifer’s team in the hospital in the surgical ward at of the NATO hospital at Kandahar, all in their disruptive pattern uniforms but they’ve all got these bar-coded theatre scarves on, so it’s a lovely little personal touch to the stories behind the objects in the Memorial.
Mat: It’s wonderful to see a museum that is dedicated to those personal stories and I mean as the curator of this exhibition, it must have been a wonderful experience to delve into all these stories. I can’t imagine the ones that actually didn’t make the cut because you must have been inundated with amazing personal stories.
Brad: Look, it’s always been a privilege you. So many stories that really make you glad to be alive. some of them though very sad, very heart-breaking stories but also some very humorous stories as well and so with this Memorial created in the 1930s, it’s the only Memorial in Australia where they created little spaces where veterans could have breakout rooms to create self-help groups, and so there was always a basic collection here, usually of material that veterans had left behind and some of their stories are remarkable. What we’re standing in front of at the moment are prosthetic limbs, and so the arm that we can see in front of us was issued by the Department of Repatriation and Veterans Affairs at the end of the Second World War to a soldier named Stan Mulliner. Now Stan had loved soldiering. he was a part-time soldier in the 1930s, couldn’t wait to join the AIF but as a skilled instructor they’d kept him behind and he ended up teaching a militia unit, and when his unit finally got orders to deploy to New Guinea in 1943, he couldn’t wait and very, very keen and tragically on their training exercise just prior to deploying, in a training accident he got his right arm blown off so he never served overseas so he stayed at the Memorial as a member of the Limbless Soldiers Association, and as prosthetic limbs got better he left the original limb that had been issued with here at the Memorial and so we’ve got it on display to tell that rather sad story but a poignant story about a bloke who never served overseas but had always wanted to.
Next to it is a great yarn. It’s a peg leg worn by a fellow named Jack Tinsey, who was tragically in one of the AIF soldiers, the 8th division who became prisoners of war in Changi when Singapore fell in 1942. He’d lost his leg as a result of tropical ulcers and his mates in the prison camp fashioned this from bits and pieces of aluminium from old aeroplanes. There’s bits of metal brackets from a range of places. I think there’s an old boot heel as the foot of the piece but it’s hollowed out and Tinsey used to smuggle rice into the camp from various supply dumps where his mates were working and past the Japanese guards. as you can imagine, a limbless soldier stumping into the camp and the guards didn’t bother to search him all that thoroughly and the hollow peg leg was used to smuggle contraband, and of course when he gets back to Australia the government issues him with a much more professional piece of gear – you know a prosthetic leg and so he left the peg that his mates had made for him in Changi here at the ANZAC Memorial, and so we’ve got that on display with the story, and those very, very challenging photographs of how skinny, emaciated the survivors of the Japanese incarceration were and…
Mat: It’s extraordinary.
Brad: There is another set of medals that we had here were the DSO earned by Colonel Clement Chapman, who was a surgeon. Went away as a junior surgeon with an Australian field ambulance. After Gallipoli, he realised that unless professional medical help was applied to wounded soldiers much closer to the front, they weren’t going to survive and so although he’d been recommended for a Military Cross on Gallipoli, that was cancelled and it was upgraded to a Distinguished Service Order on the Western Front during the fighting in the Somme in 1916, because he put together a team of skilled surgeons and nurses, created an advanced dressing station that was very, very close behind the assault battalions at Pozieres and the fighting further down the Somme, and for that he was awarded a DSO. So how many soldiers did he save because he was able to apply immediate and highly skilled medical attention, and as a result Australian soldiers learned from that and so the skill of our medics, our combat medics was second to none during the Great War and in the Second World War.
Mat: And just next to that display we’ve got what I assume is a portable operating table and a whole selection of quite hideous looking medical implements. What story does this tell?
Brad: Where do you start when you’re looking at a bone saw? In fact, the bone saw is a gift from the Medical Museum which is great. It’s one of one of Sydney’s unknown gems. It’s at Sydney hospital on Macquarie Street. If you get a chance, check out the museum there. it’s in one of the oldest parts of the original Hospital but this particular bone saw was used by an Australian surgeon in the war in South Africa in 1899 – 1902, and it came back with him and was used by the family as a bread knife for a generation until they said no, okay, we think we’ll donate it to somewhere, and so a marvellous story, but next to it is a surgical kit from 1917 that was owned by a doctor in Tasmania and who donated it to us when he heard we were putting on a display that tried to capture the experience of field surgeons, and it’s got three trays full of wound probes and forceps and bone saws and tourniquets, you know an extraordinary complete collection that was in a home in Tasmania and it’s all sitting on a portable surgical table. The table was designed in 1908 and is of the type used in Australian casualty clearing stations, and in general hospitals right through the First World War.
Mat: And like everything I’m looking at in this room just in remarkable condition, all of these specimens. I’m always amazed how much wonderful artefacts are left over from these important chapters of history.
Brad: Indeed. It is just stuff that people pinch and put aside, or has been left behind somewhere, like with Chapman’s medals, they were left here. Stan Mullener’s arm, Jack Tinsey’s leg just left behind here at the Memorial and so we’ve got lucky that they have survived.
Mat: Wonderful! Let’s continue the tour.
Brad: The in-session if you like, talks about Australia’s youngest service, the Royal Australian Air Force that evolved out of the Australian Flying Corps from the First World War and so in 2021, we’ll be looking at the Centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force but the men of Number 3 squadron told me that when they were flying in Syria in 2016, their CO, John Haley would constantly remind them that 3-squadron Australian Flying Corps was on active service as early as 1916 and John Haley gave us his flying suit. It’s standing there in the corner of the room and he’s since been promoted and he’s a senior member of the RAAF staff in Canberra, but they were great bunch of characters.
One of the officers in the mess gave me the squadron lucky watch. They call it the Sand Tiger. they argued that it was potentially the ugliest G-Shock watch sold by any jeweller in Newcastle because it’s on a mustard yellow and orange striped band and so the pilot who acquired it prior to his tour in in the Middle East claimed that he talked the jeweller into a very substantial discount because the watch couldn’t be sold because of its color scheme, that he thought that it looked like a desert disruptive pattern so he bought this thing christened it the Sand Tiger and when they were flying out of the UAE and on operations against Daech in Syria and in Iraq, he felt that every time he wore that watch he was called in to drop a bomb and that was what he’d trained for. That’s what he was deployed for so he was rather pleased and then he said when they were coming to the end of their tour, a friend of his who had flown a number of sorties but had never been called in to attack didn’t have a watch and so his mate loaned him the Sand Tiger, and for the first time in his operational tour, he got to drop a bomb so he was rather pleased and so the Sand Tiger entered squadron mythology so we were rather delighted that the flyers still believe in good luck omens and talismans, so we’ve got the 3-squadron’s Sand Tiger from their deployment to Syria and with operations over the Middle East in 2016, and that’s sharing a case with the objects that an Australian aviator from 3-squadron, Nigel Love brought back as souvenirs from his time over the Western Front in 1918.
They include the section of his canvas SE-5 aircraft with its registration number on it that he got his pocketknife out and slashed away from the aircraft, as well as a similar souvenir of red painted canvas that he took from the wreck of the Red Baron’s plane on the north bank of the Somme in 1918, and alongside that is the map of Chemille and Villiers-Bretonneau and that he mounted on a piece of timber so that he could make markings or the note the enemy positions around Chemille when he over flew the position in June just prior to the attack on Chemille by Monash’s Australian Corps, so Lieutenant Love was over flying and doing the scouting for the great battle of Chemille and we’ve got the map that sat on his knee in the open cockpit of his biplane when he did that, so from 1918 and the Great War through the uniform worn by a mechanic who flew as an air gunner with one squadron in the Middle East in 1918 through to uniforms worn by Australian aviators in the Second World War, the DFC and uniform worn by Peter Finley who was mentioned in the official history for bringing back a crippled Halifax and the aircraft fell apart in the air but he got his crew back to over allied lines in 1944 and kept the aeroplane in the air long enough for them to bail out, and then he and his flight engineer got out at the last moment. It’s described that pieces of the aircraft were falling around them as they floated to earth in their parachutes so there the battle dress uniform that he’s wearing with his DFC is on display.
At the other end of the display case is a fighter pilot service dress to Sam Adcock, Australian fighter pilot who flew with the Royal Air Force, Number 3 squadron and he’s also mentioned in the official history as the first Australian to shoot down a Doodlebug, a V-1 flying bomb and an extraordinary flying career and he was captured in the last weeks of the war flying a Typhoon, launching rocket attacks on the German flying bomb sites in Northern Europe and the family donated his medals, his flying log and letters, and they tell a wonderful story about the love affair he was having with an English woman, and there’s a terrific aerogram letter from a German prisoner of war camp that had just been liberated by the Americans, and he’s writing to the woman that became his wife saying, is the wedding still on but I might look a little different. I’ve been a bit burnt and she must have got some warning of that because we’ve also got a letter in the collection which the Squadron Leader describes to the family. We’re pretty sure that Sam got out safe. We could see him. He was on fire as he got out of the aircraft but he pulled the ripcord on his parachutes.
Mat: Again, I just keep saying the same thing but extraordinary personal stories.
Brad: Great personal stories! What a wonderful happy ending! There’s a photograph of him on his wedding day wearing the uniform that we’ve got on display with his bride standing next to him, but you can still kind of see the outline of his goggles because the rest of his face is still recovering from the burns that he suffered as he was getting out of his aircraft as it plummeted to earth, so they are marvellous stories. At the end of the display, we had to make sure of course because of the buttress fingers that there are ground staff stories. The Air Force isn’t just about the men in the in the air but there are those on the ground and we had a great collection donated to us by the son of Peter Omar who was an instructor in the RAAF in training bases in Australia. He was married with several children and he used to write to them during the war and he would illustrate his letters with little hand-drawn depictions of what they were going to do next time he had leave and there’s a marvellous letter to his kids talking about going to the zoo next time he’s in Sydney, because he was working at a training base on the outskirts of Sydney and so he’s drawn a little train, a little monkey, and a little elephant in there in the letter so telling his kids that next time he’s allowed leave, he’s going to take them to Taranga Park Zoo so they can have a look at the animals there, and so yeah it’s just the humanity of the wartime experience is a really important thing for us to try and capture every bit as much as the gas-operated Vickers gun on display, or the Viper-4 motor that powered so many of the First World War biplanes. I think that the letters are even more precious than the machine gun and the engine.
Mat: So what’s this section, Brad? The larger section of the museum, where are we standing now?
Brad: Yeah, it’s the largest because most of the buttress figures related to the experience of Australian ground troops during the First World War initially on Gallipoli and then later in France and Belgium and also in the Middle East, and so what we’re looking at is a gallery with display cases, and between each display case small clusters of the recreations of the buttress figures and they depict a wide variety of military tasks, from our infantry soldier to a mounted gunner, because the guns in the First World War were horse-drawn and a grenade thrower. then we’ve got light horsemen and a member of the Australian Light Car Patrol from the Middle East, an ammunition carrier from Gallipoli, a field telephone signaller at the end during the Great War, part of the Australian engineers but now a separate Corps, a pioneer and a tunneler, and so all of this diversity gives us an opportunity to show just how broad the experience of soldiering during the First World War and in subsequent Wars was.
With our infantry soldier for example, we’ve got artefacts, metal groups and documents, images and souvenirs from soldiers from the Sudan contingent. John Joseph Shayne whose great-great-great grandson lives in Orange, New South Wales and when he heard about what we were doing, he donated his ancestor’s pair of medals that he was awarded for his service in the Sudan and quite extraordinary because Shayne’s ancestors were Chinese and so he’s this very, very Chinese looking soldier, white pith helmet and red jacket and the medals that he was awarded for his service as a senior NCO with the New South Wales Sudan contingent in 1885, through to the medals that were sent to the mother of the youngest Australian soldier killed in action in the Great War.
Jack Harris lied about his age and yet we’ve got the document from his dad and there’s no mention of his age at all. It just says that he permits his son to join the AIF. The kid was 15. He claimed that he was an 18 year old clerk. The reality was he was a 15 year old schoolboy, joined up from Cleveland Street School, landed at Gallipoli as a reinforcement to the second Battalion. They got to the peninsula just before dawn on the 6th of August. Of course as we know, First Brigade was sent into the charge at Lone Pine that afternoon. He was dead by 7 o’clock that night, and so initially listed as missing. The heart-breaking story that emerges from the collection is through the documents that are telegrams, newspaper clippings, and letters sent by his mum and dad to friends trying to work out was the boy missing or was he killed, and I’ve got friends in the UK that they’re writing to saying, look can you go from hospital to hospital just to check whether he’s there and hasn’t been identified, and but eventually of course the notification came through that they’d met somebody, one of the wounded who’d seen him die, and so we’ve got this letter from the Red Cross with the transcript of the description of a wounded soldier who lay beside him on the Turkish parapet at Lone Pine and said, I could see how our badly wounded he was, and clearly he wasn’t going to survive. and so the mother kept that hope alive until that letter and a few personal effects arrived in the mail in February 1916, including his identity disc and the draft of the Christmas card that he never obviously got to send her, and of course she received his medals and his death plaque in the mail in the early 1920s and we’re displaying them in the boxes that they arrived in the post. She never had them mounted. She never threaded the ribbons and that’s the way that we will preserve them on display.
But then there are other personal Memorials, one of which was the cricket ball that the Great Australian fast bowler, Larrikin fast bowler Albert Cotter known as Tibby to his family and friends, bowled 6 Englishmen for 40 runs or something like that – my father will abuse me and my father is a cricket tragic, I’m not – but anyway Cotter in the 1904 test basically won it single-handed with his bowling record, and this was the cricket ball that he used. He wasn’t a great horseman but because of his local fame, he joined the12th Light Horse and he went to Gallipoli. Of course, the 12th didn’t deploy as a regiment. he was posted to 1st Light Horse and a bit of a ratbag after the storms in November, he was able to acquire a rum jar that had washed ashore and shared it with his mates and as a result suffered field punishment number two on the peninsula, but then re-joined 12th Light Horse and served with them through Sinai and was killed in the Great Charge at Beersheba, and he rode in the charge as a stretcher bearer, but his mum got that cricket ball and mounted a small silver plaque on the side in memory of trooper Albert Cotter and so that’s in the collection.
We’ve got this steel postcard if you like, Warren Rock from Redfern RSL was a truck driver with the 6th Division. Joined up in 1939, had been unemployed during the Depression and drove trucks right through the Middle East, the Mediterranean campaigns and then the Pacific Islands. a very, very skilled sign writer by trade and as you can see from the helmets that he wore, he’s beautifully marked them with all of the locations in which he served and as a member of the Army Service Corps attached to 16th Brigade, and so they’re really quite fascinating objects. He obviously made one for himself and one for his co-driver and they cover all of the campaigns and all the countries on which these blokes drove. It’s just a fascinating insight into his attitude to the war. Clearly, he was born and raised in Redfern, never travelled outside Sydney and suddenly World War 2 gave him a chance to broaden his horizons and he got to see North Africa and the Mediterranean and the Pacific. It took a World War to make him a citizen of the world and so they’re a fascinating object, and he clearly placed a great deal of value on them and when he passed away, his widow donated them to the local RSL and they eventually passed them on to us.
Mat: The focal point of the room is this wonderful diorama depicting the Australian soul just slogging their way through the mud of Passchendaele. Tell us about the inspiration behind this and the story that it tells.
Brad: The room is quite beautiful. The polished Jarrah floors, stone finishes on the walls. Everything is very clean and neat and beautifully presented. we had some very skilled designers working with the curatorial team to create this space, but I really wanted somehow to inject a feeling that cleanliness is a hell of a long way from the battlefield, and that’s how the veterans must have felt having come back to Australia, come back to the peace and serenity and the people who love the most. Where did their heads go? How often did they think about what they had lived through? What they had seen, what they had experienced?
I remember a wonderful old neighbor of mine, John Norris who was only a teenager when he enlisted in the Great War and we were sitting on his veranda one day and it came out of nowhere, but he just looked into the middle distance and said, God wasn’t with us on the ridge line at Passchendaele and then got back to whatever else we’d been talking about, and I wish I could recreate the way he said that, but it has stayed with me obviously for 40-plus years. And so when I looked at the buttress figures here and clearly they date from 1917. Our artillery rider looks like he could have stepped out of a Septimus Power painting of bringing the guns up at Edieper. Our infantryman is rugged up with mud protectors around his leggings and so on, so it’s clearly Ypres-Salient 1917, the mud of Belgian Flanders.
So I thought, right we need to tell a story of the battles of Passchendaele and clearly if it’s going to be about New South Wales then the 34th Battalion’s performance at Passchendaele. These are men that enlisted together from Maitland and the Hunter and so there are groups of mates that have grown up together. They enlist together, they serve and tragically before the German positions at Passchendaele, they died together and yet they captured their allocated position. The battalions on either side. weren’t able to hold and so they made the deep penetration. They got to the outskirts of Passchendaele village but then had to fall back and one of the great company commanders was a 22 year old kid from Wallsend named Clarence Jeffries, and he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. He was an only child. His loss devastated his family. His mother ended up leaving his Victoria Cross and medals on the altar in the cathedral at Newcastle, and they’re still there so I wanted to tell Clarence Jeffrey’s story about the horrors of Passchendaele.
So what we’re looking at is a circular space about two and a half metres across, a patch of mud with the German block house off to one side on the gently sloping ground moving up from the Australian attack line to the German positions on the Flanders and one trench complex, and the German concrete block house and what we’re looking at is a frozen moment. Charles Beam chose these picture playing models. it’s not a diorama because you can see it from 360 degrees, so it’s a picture playing model of a frozen moment in time and so what our artist has recreated is about a 1:30 scale model of the mud of Passchendaele and a little glimpse, a frozen moment of the survivors of B company of the 34th battalion at 8:30 in the morning of the 12th of October 1917 and they’re attacking their third German block house on that ridge line. Jeffries is killed shortly after this. His senior non-commissioned officer drags the body out and buries it. marks the gas cape that he wraps him in with Jeffries’ initials, and so here and that brings a much longer story because that senior NCO was the former underground manager on one of Jeffries father’s mines on the Hunter, so this frozen moment shows group of 18 Australian soldiers. The machine gunners have deployed on the right, with Lewis guns to fire at the German block house. An assault team is going in on the left to cut their way using wire cutters and grenades through the wire, and Jeffries is remaining in reserve with the rest of the platoon to consolidate. The Germans are trying to get a light machine gun out the back of the bunker to provide a bit of defense in depth, so this is the critical moment of this battle. they take that position but they can’t hold because the battalions on the flanks have been forced to fall back, and so Jeffries is killed but the senior NCO James Bruce eventually gathers the men up and leads them out of the place, but this is the moment just before they win their little battle in the corner of what was a massive battlefield that extended across 13 kilometres of devastated landscape, of mud-filled craters, of barbed wire of rotting bodies and swept by machine-gun and artillery fire and eventually poison gas, so it’s a depiction of a little corner of a foreign field that killed and maimed so many Australians.
Mat: Brad, it’s an incredible depiction. It’s incredibly well done as is everything that we’ve seen today. Thank you so much for taking the time to show me around. Anyone who’s listening to this, do yourself a favour when you’re in Sydney. Go to the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park and visit this for yourself. We’ve told a small percentage of the thousands of amazing stories that are here. Brad, you’re doing wonderful work. thank you so much for joining us
Brad: Oh Mat, thank you very much indeed for your interest and yeah I’d encourage anyone to take you up on the offer. Come and visit us. Thanks very much