Australians and the Great War at the National Library

A collage of drawings, cartoons and text from wartime publications interspersed with statistics about the war covers one wall at the Exhibition.

A collage of wartime publications displayed at the National Library of Australia’s ‘Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War’ exhibition.

With two daughters now living in Canberra and research required for my book, I am frequently visiting our national capital. On the weekend I attended a seminar about writing during World War One at the National Library of Australia. In the lunch break we had the opportunity to join a curator’s tour of the Library’s World War One exhibition, ‘Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War’.

Like many cultural institutions in Australia, the National Library of Australia is holding an exhibition to showcase the material held in their collections about World War One. We often think that libraries only hold published material, and archives are the home of manuscripts, ephemera and other items. However, the delineation between libraries and archives is not so straight forward, for example the Public Records Office of Victoria holds a number of school readers from the nineteenth century. Libraries such as the State Library of New South Wales hold significant collections of handwritten World War I diaries.

One of the reasons that government libraries in Australia hold unpublished archival material is that in many cases government archives were established many years after government libraries. The National Library of Australia emerged from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library which was established in the early years of Federation whereas the National Archives of Australia traces its founding back to concerns expressed by Charles Bean in the 1940s about the need to preserve war records.

The Director of Exhibitions, Dr Guy Hansen, explained that the Keepsakes Exhibition was not about developing a particular narrative about the Great War but about highlighting the extent of the primary sources about the War held by the Library. The ‘Mementos of the War’ section shows autograph books, letters, photos and diaries of women and men who served in the War. Here visitors can see a memorial plaque or ‘dead man’s penny’ issued by the government to the next of kin of soldiers who died in the War. Continue reading

Indian Soldiers Fought at Gallipoli

Group of soldiers wearing turbans gathered on top of a hill around a gun barrel on wheels.

The Australian War Memorial says of this photo, “A group of gunners from the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade with one of their guns, which was used to support the Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The guns of this brigade were the first shore at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915; from then on they won, and kept, the admiration of the infantry.”

The Anzac Day that was bigger than ever has been and gone. Returned soldiers from Australia and New Zealand have marched for another year, remembering wars past and present. This year was the centenary of the event that started it all – the landing of British forces at Gallipoli. Australians and New Zealanders were there.

And so were many Indians.

New Zealand journalist, William Hill landed as a soldier with the Auckland Infantry Battalion. While in hospital later that year he wrote a letter in which he recalled:

The first realisation of what the war really is like came to us as we stumbled across the beach, which was just littered with wounded men – English, French, Indians, New Zealanders and Australians.

29/8/1915

On Saturday Indian soldiers marched at Anzac Day events around Australia. The presence of Indians in the Anzac Day marches is an important reminder of the nature of World War I. It was a war of empires. The imperial overlords mustered the colonials to battle the armies of other empires. At Gallipoli the armies of the French and British empires fought the Ottoman forces on their home soil. The British forces included soldiers from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the India subcontinent and Newfoundland which is now part of Canada.

One hundred years after the first landing of troops at Gallipoli Australians hear very little about the Indian soldiers who played an important part in the fighting at Gallipoli. Yet there are many references to the Indians at Gallipoli in the diaries of the Anzacs. Continue reading

Australia: Respect, Rubbish Bins and Underwear

Anzac Rubbish BinI was astonished. There have been so many complaints about the branding of Anzac and Gallipoli but I never expected to see a rubbish bin adorned with the official logo of the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli.

There it was on Glenferrie Road. I was walking to the hairdresser, minding my own business, and the anniversary was thrust in front of me, unasked, via a rubbish bin!

I took a photo and showed it to a local resident. They took it in their stride. “I think they put Christmas banners on the rubbish bins in Hawthorn too”, they said. I vaguely recall seeing Christmas bells on the rubbish bins. It makes them look pretty and we don’t seem to mind trashy (pardon the pun) promotion of Christmas do we? Anzac is also sacred so if it works for Christmas it must be fine for Anzac.

The Anzac rubbish bin actually says a lot about us. We have a rather haphazard sense of respect. To my knowledge no-one else has raised an eyebrow about these bins and the fact that the logo of a supposedly revered anniversary is a wrapper for a rubbish receptacle.

The banner on the bin highlights the official government logo for the centenary. The Australian government’s Anzac Centenary website stipulates that permission must be sought for any use of the logo, so I presume that the Department of Veteran Affairs has approved the Boroondara Council’s use of the logo on rubbish bins. There is no controversy about these bins in the local area so if they have been noticed, which we can’t assume in a country that plasters logos on everything, people have thought the bins are fine.   Continue reading

Australian Wartime Entertainment in a Century of Wars

Banner of the title of the exhibition on the wall at the entrance to the exhibition.The arts were important to many Australian soldiers during the World War I. This is evident from reading the diaries of Australian soldiers. Soldiers wrote about the books they read, the songs they sang together, quoted extracts from poems and many diaries have sketches and accounts of the beautiful churches they visited. I am planning to do some further research on the singing of Australian soldiers so I was pleased when I accidentally found an exhibition at the Victorian Arts Centre about the entertainment of Australian soldiers.

The exhibition, ‘Theatres of War: Wartime entertainment & the Australian experience‘ tells the stories of the professional entertainers who put on concerts for Australian troops in war zones over the last one hundred years. The exhibition looks at the entertainment provided during wars to boost morale on the home front, military personnel who entertained troops and those entertainers who were not part of the military but who travelled to war zones to entertain the soldiers.  Continue reading

The Destruction of Memory

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012.

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012. Photo via The Telegraph, India.

The rebels had fled, but before they left they had destroyed a precious archive. The world gasped in dismay as the mayor of Timbuktu announced that a library recently built to hold Timbuktu’s historic manuscripts had burnt to the ground.

At the time the Mayor did not know that while some historic manuscripts were now a pile of ashes, most had been saved. Yet these manuscripts were not the only physical reminders of a rich culture that were destroyed.  During their ten months ruling Timbuktu the rebels destroyed most of the city’s Sufi shrines. It was no accident.

The deliberate targeting and destruction of culturally significant items occurs too often. In our life time we have witnessed the detonation of the giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001. In 1992 the heart of the cultural heritage of Bosnia was destroyed when the library in Sarajevo was subjected to the artillery fire of Serbian troops who were encircling the city. The deliberate nature of the attack was evident when snipers shot at firemen trying to save the library.

Director of 'The Destruction of Memory', Tim Slade.

Director of ‘The Destruction of Memory’, Tim Slade.

Director, Tim Slade is working on a documentary which he hopes will help people understand the serious nature of this ‘war against culture’.

“The killing of people and the killing of books and buildings are intimately and inextricably related”, states Slade. Referring to Raphael Lemkin, the man who helped to create the UN Convention Against Genocide, Slade observes, “Lemkin saw that it can be difficult to wipe out an entire people, but a group can be annihilated if their identity and culture has been erased.” Continue reading

Silence is Human

The interior courtyard of the Australian War Memorial with two soldiers standing sentry.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Today is Remembrance Day.

We bow our heads in silence to remember all the soldiers who were killed on active duty. This year we are asked to pause for just one minute longer to remember those who continue to suffer after they have left the battle ground. Wars kill, maim and etch themselves indelibly in the psyche of returned soldiers.

The war is never over for the returned soldiers and their families.

Silence.

This pause is observed on Remembrance Day throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. The Australian War Memorial says it was a South African and an Australian who separately proposed the silence which first became part of Remembrance Day observances in 1919. But this was not the first time a respectful moment of quiet was used to remember the war dead. In Cape Town silence was observed during the Great War when South African deaths on the front were particularly heavy. As I wrote earlier this year, silence for the war dead was first observed in Australia on Brisbane’s first Anzac Day observance in 1916. Continue reading

WWI Soldier’s Daughter to Speak About Peace

Head and shoulders photo of Judy Hassall

Judy Hassall

This Sunday in Sydney a human rights champion will be talking about her lifetime of work and how she was influenced in this work by her father, a veteran from World War I.

If you are in Sydney tomorrow morning I encourage you to attend.

Judy Hassall is the daughter of Archie Barwick whose wartime service has recently featured on the ABC television series, The War That Changed Us. Archie Barwick returned to Australia and lived a full life in northern New South Wales. He was more than a valiant soldier and expressive diarist. He helped to create a vibrant family and gave to his community. Judy Hassall is part of his legacy.

As I have written previously Judy has had a big impact on many lives, including mine. She used what she learned from her parents to spend a life time working to foster intercultural harmony and shining a light on human rights abuses. Continue reading