Category Archives: Anzac

A podcast on New South Wales and the Great War

In March I addressed a lunchtime seminar of the Royal Australian Historical Society and talk to them about the book. The Society then suggested I turn the talk into a podcast, so I had a go. It was interesting recording the podcast – I tried to use the radio trick of talking like you are having a conversation with a friend, except if I really was having a conversation with a friend it wouldn’t sound as formal or polite as this.

There is no MP3 for this, you have to watch it on YouTube, but that’s cool because then you can see the images I’m talking about.

Event: the Katoomba launch of New South Wales and the Great War

Megalong Books invites history buffs and students and teachers to an afternoon at Katoomba Falls Kiosk with Katoomba local Dr Naomi Parry and Sydney University’s Professor Stephen Garton, two of the four authors of a New South Wales and the Great War, a new book that Governor David Hurley called “visually arresting and authoritative account of NSW during and after the Great War”.
When the Great War began in August 1914, the people of New South Wales took up the call to arms. NSW sent more people than any other state to serve overseas and many more worked and volunteered to support the war effort. But the economic, political and emotional strains of war, and the loss of so many young men, and some women, in the service of their country, fanned social and political divisions and wrought lasting changes to the society to which serving men and women would return.
New South Wales and the Great War tells this story. It is drawn from the rich visual and written records held by the Anzac Memorial, the State Library of NSW, NSW State Records, the NSW Department of Education and the University of Sydney, as well as collections from Bourke to Gilgandra and Newcastle to Lithgow.
It is the official publication of the NSW Centenary of Anzac Advisory Committee and over summer it was distributed, free of charge, to all public and Catholic schools in New South Wales and to most libraries.
This event is an opportunity to meet the authors and the publisher learn about the writing of this important publication.
Venue: Katoomba Falls Kiosk, Cliff Drive, Katoomba
Date: Sunday 30 April 2017
Time: 2-4pm
Entry by gold coin donation.
Megalong Books will be selling copies on the day.

New South Wales and the Great War is launched, and for sale!

In front of a portrait of George III at Government House, with my beautiful son, after the launch.

New South Wales and the Great War was launched by His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales, at Government House on 9 November 2016. He was very kind about it and his speech is here. It was rather amazing to sit there and listen (intently) while our book took on a life of its own.

The book was a headline project for the New South Wales Centenary of Anzac Committee, and their press release is here. Proceeds will go towards the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park. You can also buy it from the State Library’s online bookshop and from Gleebooks for $35.

New South Wales and the Great War

fullsizerender-3I have received an advance copy of this, my first book, and I am pleased to say it’s going to be launched by the Governor of New South Wales, The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), at Government House on 9 November 2016, with Lieutenant General Kenneth James “Ken” Gillespie AC, DSC, CSM, who is the chair of the NSW Centenary of Anzac Committee. I and my co-authors, Brad Manera, Will Davies and Stephen Garton, will all be signing copies in advance and the book will be sold through Dymocks.

On a more personal note, here’s some images of a historian getting her first book in her hands.

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Little treasures

‘Oxidised silver plated badge with real enamel’. Amor Ltd, 1918. State Records NSW, Colonial Secretary’s Special Bundles, NRS906, 5/5341.1

Archival research is one of the best things about being a historian. Although it usually involves inhumane levels of reading on microfilm, every now and again we get to don gloves and rifle through piles of old letters. Most of the archival material I’ve looked at for NSW and the Great War is old and little-used so remains in its original bundles. And sometimes those bundles contain tiny, overlooked objects.

These are badges, made as samples by WJ Amor of Amor Ltd, Newcastle, for Australia Day on 26 April 1918. They were tucked into one of the Colonial Secretary’s Special Bundles (NRS 906, Australia Day Red Cross Appeal, 5/5341.1) and were in amongst letters about race meetings, fund-raising and other issues that mattered on the day when the whole country stopped to raise money for the Australian Red Cross Society to help Australian soldiers. When I found them I was very excited – an excitement shared by my colleagues in State Records NSW, which owns these little treasures.

During the Great War ‘Australia Day’ was a day of pageantry and fund-raising that had nothing to do with the arrival of the First Fleet. Dreamed up by a Manly woman, Mrs Ellen Wharton-Kirke, who had four sons at the front and wanted to raise money for the Australian Red Cross Society, the concept was taken over by the NSW Government, who got expatriate American theatre entrepreneur Hugh Ward to organise it. It ended up being a nationwide event, was a roaring success, and became a feature of the fund-raising calendar from 1915 to 1918.

I like to think these little badges were made and adorned the patriotic breasts of Australians on 26 April 1918. I wonder if anyone has one?

Flight in the 20th century

Flying machines only properly got off the ground in 1903 so they really are a defining invention of the 20th century. It’s a sad fact that, before an aeroplane had even been flown in Australia, the Commonwealth Government offered a prize for the first person who could invent one for military purposes. Our WWI pilots flew French and British planes, as it turned out.

This is a gorgeous 1914 picture of the first seaplane in Australia which was imported by Lebbeus Hordern and piloted by Maurice Gillaux, a dashing French acrobatic aviator who would die in 1917, doing test flights for the French military. I love this – the old technology stands behind the new but they are both just canvas and sticks. You wouldn’t have gotten me up in one of those for quids, but people took them into battle, against Zeppelins and guns and other planes! I guess war is the best place for nuttersdaredevils.

Sam Hood, M. Guillaux in Sydney (Lebbeus Hordern's seaplane), State Library of NSW, digital order no a128591
Sam Hood, M. Guillaux in Sydney (Lebbeus Hordern’s seaplane), State Library of NSW, digital order no a128591

Louise Mack, World War One war correspondent

Mitchell Library, August 1897, P1/1090, DON a4220090. The inscription reads "AG Stephens with friendship from 'Louise Mack'". AG Stephens worked at The Bulletin with Mack, and was a great mentor to writers.
Mitchell Library, August 1897, P1/1090, DON a4220090. The inscription reads “A. G. Stephens with friendship from ‘Louise Mack”. AG Stephens worked at The Bulletin with Mack, and was a great mentor to writers of a leftist persuasion.

Well before CEW Bean and Keith Murdoch slugged it out to become Australia’s Official War Correspondent and Bean got on the boat with the first AIF, this journalist was sheltering in Antwerp while the Germans overran it. Meet Louise Mack (Mrs Creed), who was paid by the London Evening News and wired stories of the Siege of Antwerp and German atrocities to Australian papers. Born in Hobart and raised in Sydney she was stationed in Europe at the time, living in England and Italy before heading to Belgium to write for the Evening News and The Daily Mail. She also wrote romance novels.

In 1915 she published a book about her experiences, called A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War and she had a mighty lively tone. Here she is, describing arriving in Belgium and meeting a fellow correspondent mansplainer.

from A Woman's Experiences in the Great War, 1915 via Internet Archive
from A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, 1915 via Internet Archive

“My orders are,” Mr. Frank Fox told me as we chatted away, “to stick it out. Whatever happens, I’ve got to see it through for the Morning Post.”
“And I’m going to see it through, too,” I said.
“Oh no!” said Mr. Fox. “You’ll have to go as soon as trouble threatens!”
“Shall I?” I thought.
But as he was a man and an Australian, I did not think it was worth while arguing the matter with him. Instead, we talked of Sydney, and old friends across the seas, the Blue mountains, and the Bush, and our poets and writers and painters and politicians, friends of long ago, forgetting for the moment that we were chatting as it were on the edge of a crater.”

From A Woman's Experiences in the Great War, 1915  via Internet Archive
From A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War, 1915 via Internet Archive

War’s long shadow

One hundred years since Anzac, and the men and women who fought the Great War are no longer with us. The last Anzac was Alec Campbell, who died aged 103 in 2002, and the last Australian World War One soldier was John Campbell Ross, who died in 2009 aged 110. Wikipedia has a list of the longest-lived veterans of the First World War from all countries, but after the 2012 death of Florence Green, who had served in the Royal Women’s Air Force as an officer’s mess steward and lived to the age of 111, no person who saw active service in World War I remains alive.

Yet the Great War still has a first-generation effect, because there are 115 living widows of World War One veterans surviving in Australia. I don’t know how old the oldest of these widows might be, but it seems clear that most of the survivors hadn’t even been born at the time of the Great War — they married returned soldiers who were much older than themselves, many years after the war. The Department of Veterans Affairs knows their names, because most of them will still be receiving war widows’ pensions, revealing how long the costs of war linger.

Ten of these WWI widows will travel to Gallipoli this year, representing those too frail to fly, and creating a link with the men who fought and fell there. I feel a little unsettled when I read that most of the widows say their husbands never spoke about the war, as they’d moved on with their lives and chose not to remember. Thinking of the widows’ presence on Gallipoli gives me a feeling of bones being rattled, of something new and not quite right entering these old marriages, but then if anyone has a right to rattle those bones it’s the women who took the old soldiers and sailors on and loved them while they lived out the rest of their lives. I guess the cameras will pan over their tear-stained faces when they broadcast the Dawn Service there, and I might end up shedding a few myself.