The Role of Animals in World War I

A military elephant in World War I pulls ammunition in Sheffield. Image courtesy Illustrated War News.

A military elephant in World War I pulls ammunition in Sheffield. Image courtesy Illustrated War News.

Over the years a range of animals have made an invaluable contribution to Australia’s military history. Useful companions and dependable comrades, animals served, suffered, and died alongside the nation’s soldiers.

In the First World War horses, donkeys, camels, mules and even elephants were used to transport soldiers, weapons, ammunition and food. Homing pigeons were employed to convey messages, and dogs to track the enemy and locate injured soldiers. Even the humble European glow worm made a contribution to the war effort; soldiers in trenches would keep a jar of glow worms to read with by night. Read the rest of this entry »

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Story of The Lone Pine (Pinus halepensis subsp. brutia)

The Lone Pine before the charge, August 1915. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

The Lone Pine before the charge, August 1915.
Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Lone Pine Ridge (or Plateau 400) on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey was the scene of a major diversionary offensive lead by the 1st Australian Infantry Division on 6 August 1915. The ridge had been dominated by the Pinus halepensis tree, commonly known as the Aleppo Pine. The Turks had cut down all but one of these pines and used them to cover their trenches.

The Battle of Lone Pine was centred in a small area in the vicinity of the last remaining pine. Australia lost more than 2,000 men in the Battle; the Turks, 7,000 men.

Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded during the Battle of Lone Pine. Orange born John Patrick Hamilton was awarded his VC for conspicuous bravery at Lone Pine on 9 August 1915.

At least two Australian soldiers souvenired pine cones from Lone Pine Ridge and brought them home after World War I.

The first pine cone was collected by Lance Corporal Benjamin Smith of the 3rd Battalion, whose brother was killed during the Battle of Lone Pine. Smith sent the cone home to his mother, Mrs McMullen of Cardiff in NSW. Mrs McMullen kept the cone for 13 years before planting seeds from the cone in 1928. Three seedlings flourished (possibly representing her three sons that fought at Gallipoli). Mrs McMullen presented one seedling to the City of Inverell, who planted the pine in the Victoria Park. The second seedling was given to the Department of the Interior in Canberra. This tree was planted at the Australian War Memorial in October 1934 by the visiting Duke of Gloucester. Today it stands over 20 metres in height. Unfortunately the third seedling (like her son) did not survive.

Sgt Keith McDowell of 24th Battalion also souvenired a cone from the Lone Pine, carrying it in his haversack until the end of the war. On his arrival home he gave it to his aunt, Mrs Emma Gray, from Grassmere near Warrnambool in Victoria. A decade later Mrs Gray planted the seeds and four seedlings grew. One was planted in Wattle Park in Melbourne in May 1933, and another at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. The third was planted at the Soldiers Memorial Hall at The Sisters, and the fourth in Warrnambool Gardens.

Many trees have been propagated from the pine at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. There are a number of ‘Lone Pines’ in Orange, all in one way or another close relatives of the original tree from the Lone Pine Ridge at Gallipoli. The first ‘Lone Pine’ in Lone Pine Avenue in Orange was probably descended from the Australian War Memorial tree. A number of trees have since been propagated from the pine in Lone Pine Avenue. There is a pine in front of the RSL Memorial Hall, one at Duntryleague Golf Club and another at the Orange Agricultural Research Station.

*  Cr Reg Kidd, 5 February 2014

Post script
The tree in the main park in Inverell was later removed, due to its age and excessive weather damage. I was present at the time and was given two cross sections of the trunk. One was presented to the RSL in Orange, and the other will form part of an upcoming WWI display at Orange City Library. I also have a cone from the Inverell tree.

Whilst visiting Gallipoli in 2010 I was fortunate enough to receive a cone from the pine from the Lone Pine War Memorial. This tree was one of two trees given to the Turkish Government to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Lone Pine in 1990. This tree was propagated from the second pine that Mrs McMullen grew at Cardiff in 1928.

Lone Pine tree at the Australian War Memorial


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Australia Day

Australia Day 1915 fund raising ribbon. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Australia Day 1915 fund raising ribbon. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

In 1818 Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledged the thirtieth anniversary of the British occupation of Australia by proclaiming 26 January a public holiday in New South Wales. The day was known as ‘Foundation Day’, and each colony commemorated their founding independently. It was not until 1935 that all states and territories agreed to observe the same national day – Australia Day – on 26 January each year.

In July 1915 ‘Australia Day’ was observed as a national fundraising venture to support wounded soldiers. The concept of such a day was initiated by the mother of four servicemen, Mrs Wharton-Kirke of Manly. In June 1915 she suggested to NSW Premier, Sir Charles Wade, that such a day would draw on the nation’s pride and contribute to a growing sense of national identity. July 30 was subsequently declared as ‘Australia Day’ with a variety fundraising events including auctions, stalls, performances and street collections. £839,500 was raised in New South Wales alone, close to $1.7 million in today’s currency. The success of Australia Day in 1915 saw a repeat of similar national fundraising events for the duration of the war. In recognition of her efforts, the NSW Premier presented Mrs Wharton-Kirke with a gold medalet. It is one of only four commemorative Gallipoli medalets that were struck in solid gold.

Australia Day in Orange in 1915 was celebrated over several days. Events in the week preceding 30 July included a concert and memorial service at the Australian Hall, a social evening and variety entertainment at East Orange Public School, a torchlight procession, a rugby football league benefit match and an Australian fair at the Oddfellows’ Hall. On the day school children joined military and friendly societies and numerous community groups in a huge street procession that terminated outside the Australian Hall. The Mayor then addressed the people of Orange and delivered an appeal. Throughout the day special Australia Day souvenirs and badges were on sale. Other events included a patriotic rifle match, continuous children’s concerts and a presentation of moving picture displays by the Empire Picture Company. Celebrations concluded with the presentation of the Orange Player’s Club drama, The Englishman’s Home.

Australia Day celebrations in Orange in 1915 raised in excess of £10,000 ($20,000). Australia Day Special Fund

For Australia’s Heroes – the other ‘Australia Day’, 30 July 1915

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Poppies for Remembrance

Poppy bed in the form of a Maltese Cross at Cook Park, Orange, c1920, in memory of fallen soldiers. The poppies were grown from seeds gathered from French battlefields and were supplied by the director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Image courtesy Orange City Library.

Poppy bed in the form of a Maltese Cross at Cook Park, Orange, c1920, in memory of fallen soldiers. The poppies were grown from seeds gathered from French battlefields and were supplied by the director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Image courtesy Orange City Library.

This year 11 November marks the 96th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the nation stops and Australians unite to observe one minute’s silence in memory of those who have fallen in war.

Since the end of the First World War the Flanders poppy – Papaver rhoeas – has been associated with Remembrance Day. This vivid red flower has become synonymous with the great loss of life in war and is an internationally recognised symbol of remembrance. The poppy first emerged as a symbol of remembrance following the publication of John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Emden beached and done for”

The wreck of the German light cruiser SMS Emden after her action with HMAS Sydney, 1914. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

The wreck of the German light cruiser SMS Emden after her action with HMAS Sydney, 1914. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Since the beginning of the war SMS Emden, under the command of Captain Karl Friedrich Max von Muller, had been patrolling the Indian Ocean threatening British and Allied interests. Between August and October 1914, Emden captured or sank 25 civilian vessels, destroyed two Allied warships at Penang and shelled Madras. The vessel was clearly a threat to the convoy transporting the first contingent of Australian and New Zealand troops that had set sail from Albany on 1 November.

HMAS Sydney was one of four vessels escorting the convoy of ships, however, on the morning of 9 November, left the convoy to investigate a distress call from a British wireless and cable transmission station on Direction Island in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. At 9.15am Sydney surprised Emden, which despite being over 9km distant, proceeded to open fire with long-range guns. Sydney advanced, and began firing shells at 8.7km. At 5km she started firing torpedoes, damaging Emden’s wireless and steering equipment and rangefinders. The ship’s funnels and foremast collapsed as fire took hold of the engine room. At about 11.20am Emden ran aground and Sydney ceased fire.

The battle resulted in 134 German sailors killed, 69 wounded and Captain von Muller and 156 other survivors taken prisoner. The Emden managed to strike Sydney, killing four Australian sailors and wounding sixteen.

Confirming the Australian victory, the captain of Sydney – Vice Admiral John Collings Taswell Glossop – cabled ‘Emden beached and done for’ to the Department of Defence. The Battle of Cocos was an emphatic first victory at sea for the recently-formed Royal Australian Navy; Australia had put an end to the Emden’s dominance in the Indian Ocean and ensured safe passage for the 1st Australian Imperial Force convoy.

Interview with Alan Zwek, descendant of Sidney Russell, who fought in the Battle of Cocos

Transcripts of accounts of the battle between HMAS Sydney and SMS Emden:
Franz Bordeaux, paymaster on SMS Emden
Leonard Darby, surgeon on HMAS Sydney
Vivian Agincourt Spence, chaplain on HMAS Sydney

Cocos Islands to mark Sydney-Emden battle, Navy Daily, 3 November 2014

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Gone to the War

World War I or as it was known, the ‘Great War’, began on 28 July 1914 when the Austro-Hungarians fired the first shots in preparation for the invasion of Serbia. As Russia mobilised, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain and Australia to declare war on Germany on 4 August of that year.

For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted (8.5% of the population), of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

In stark contrast to today’s almost instantaneous news services confirmation of Australia’s involvement dribbled through to an anxious public. On 5 August the Orange Leader reported:

War fever has attained an epidemic degree in our midst. Everybody thinks war and talks war, and are waiting, the latest details as it filters through the telegraph and telephone. All day long people have been watching the special notice board for the posting of press messages, with the latest particulars.

On the 7 August the Leader advised that from that day they would be issuing a, special war edition each day at 1pm which would be available from the ‘leading agents, runner boys, and at the office, at a cost one penny.’

The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great public enthusiasm.  One of the first people in Orange to enlist was Dr Neville Howse then aged 50 and at that time Mayor of Orange. Howse had previously served in the Boer War where he had been awarded the Victoria Cross, and held the rank of honorary medical officer in the Army Medical Corp. His sudden departure took everyone by surprise including the other doctors in the practice who found a note propped on the mantelpiece that read ‘I have gone to the war, you can do what you  … well like with the practice N R H’.

In response to the overwhelming number of volunteers, the authorities set exacting physical standards for recruits.  Among those who volunteered from the district in August 1914 are many familiar ‘Orange’ names. Edmund Thomas Cornish, a labourer at the Dalton Brothers mill and resident of 90 March Street enlisted on 24 August aged 21. As a Sergeant with the 10 Field Artillery Brigade he would be killed in action almost four years later at Amiens in France. His younger brother Walter, who had enlisted in 1915, had died 11 months previously while another brother, Thomas, had been invalided home suffering from shell-shock.

The journalist writing of Edmund’s death in the Leader on 2 September 1918 reflects the effect of the war on families when he wrote ‘It can well be said of the Cornish family that they have done their bit for the Empire’.

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Indigenous servicemen

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are warned that content on this page may contain images and references to deceased persons.

It is estimated that up to 800 indigenous servicemen served in the First World War. The exact number will never be known since ethnicity was not recorded on enlistment papers.

When war broke out in 1914, many indigenous Australians who attempted to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race, their attestation papers marked ‘Unsuitable physique – Aboriginal’ or ‘Unsuitable physique – Colour’. This was in accordance with the Commonwealth Defence Act 1909 which prevented those who were not of ‘substantially European descent’ from enlisting in the armed forces.

Many indigenous men enlisted under false names and/or places of birth in an attempt to evade these conditions. Others claimed to be African American, Maori or only distantly related to Aboriginal people. Read the rest of this entry »

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Australian nurses in World War I

Australian Staff Nurses in the grounds of No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, England. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Australian Staff Nurses in the grounds of No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, England.
Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

During the First World War Australian nurses served in 192 locations overseas, in Egypt, Lemnos, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Salonika, Palestine, Mesopotamia and India, as well as on 39 ships.

It is difficult to determine the exact number of Australian nurses who served since there is no complete official nominal roll of nurses for World War One. According to the Australian War Memorial 2,139 nurses served with the Australian Army Nursing Service, and 130 with the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service. A further 423 nurses served in hospitals in Australia. The National Archives of Australia cites 2,304 confirmed nurses, and perhaps as many as 2,497.

Of those nurses who served overseas for whom there are detailed statistics, seven were under 21 (despite the official minimum age being 25), 1,184 were aged 21–30, 947 were aged 31–40, and 91 were 41 or older. 25 nurses died from injuries or from disease whilst on active service, and 388 were decorated for “bravery in the face of danger.”

The Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) established the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve (AANSR) on 1 July 1902.  It was organised from ‘those trained nurses … qualified and willing to serve as such with stationary Field Hospitals and Base Hospitals when required upon a National Emergency.” Nurses were expected to be single or widowed.

When war was declared in August 1914 the Commonwealth called up the nursing Reserve and by October 1914 over 300 nurses had volunteered for the service. Nurses’ motives in volunteering for active service were varied. Some – like soldiers – craved adventure; many felt a patriotism for nation and empire, others sought independence, or to advance their career. Financial gain, however, was not an incentive, since military nurses’ pay was generally less than civilian rates of pay.

In November 1948 the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve was renamed the Royal Australian Army Nursing Service (RANS), and in July 1949 became part of the regular Army.

New Zealand born military doctor Robert Campbell Begg described nursing during WWI as “the most important job of all”, claiming that on the battlefield hot drinks and warm blankets administered by nurses saved more lives than doctors’ drugs and operative skill. Mortality rates during the war would have been much higher without competent military nursing. Nurses worked relentlessly to reduce the shock suffered by casualties, to prevent dehydration and excessive blood loss, to curtail the onset of infection or pneumonia, all of which could prove fatal. Skilled nursing also helped to alleviate soldier’s depression while increasing their will to live.

Nurses often worked under deplorable conditions. The No 3 Australian General Hospital was established in August 1915 at West Mudros on the island of Lemnos, Greece, in preparation for the evacuation of Gallipoli. Medical staff were forced to sleep outdoors on their first night there, and their equipment did not arrive for a further three weeks. Nurses worked in tents in primitive conditions, sterilising equipment and preparing food by spirit lamp, with scant water and other supplies.

The battle of Messines on 7 June 1917 was the first large-scale action involving Australian troops in Belgium. Nurses at two Australian casualty clearing stations admitted 2,800 wounded men in 48 hours, clearing over 2,500 as well as assisting in over 1,000 operations. They managed to perform their duties whilst being bombed and showered by flying glass.

At the conclusion of the war many nurses struggled to readjust to civilian life. Some could no longer work as nurses; others were unable to work at all. Women were not recognised as military veterans by the government, thus they were denied the much-needed healthcare and financial benefits available to returning soldiers.

Australia’s Army nurses received national recognition in 1999 with the dedication of the Australian Service Nurses’ National Memorial in Canberra. Located in Anzac Parade, the cast glass memorial was unveiled on 2 October 1999 by the Governor-General, Sir William Deane.

The memorial is dedicated to Australian Army Nurses past and present, who have cared for the sick and wounded since the South African War. Designed by sculptor Robin Moorhouse, the memorial is made of etched glass, with text and images cast into the inner walls that portray the history and contribution of Australian Service Nursing.

In the words of the designer, the memorial is “a celebration of nurses’ lives, their courage and compassion”.

To date 29 nurses from Orange and the surrounding area have been identified:

ARTHUR, Mary Ellen Aloysius (Mollie)
BOND, Ena Marion
BOON, Gladys Elizabeth Clare
CARTER, Ursula Mary
CREAL, Rose Ann
DUNSTAN, Edith Lillian
DWYER, Agnes Ellen
GOODMAN, Pearl Stella
KING, Esther Wynne
KING, Lydia Kate
LEAKE, Nellie
LEE, Violet Claire
LEWIS, Florence Laura
LOWE, Elma Constance Apsley
McDONALD, Florence Emily Isabel
McLEAN, Christina Elizabeth
McRAE, Elizabeth
O’NEILL, Emily Gertrude
RYAN, Mollie Josephine
SKIDMORE, Jean Gillies
SKIDMORE, Margaret
SOLLING, Wilhelmina Jane
SPALDING, Florence Ethel
STONE, Constance Adelaide

Australian nurses in WWI

Great War nurses

Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) 1914-15 outdoor dress

*  De Vries, Susanna 2013, Australian heroines of World War One : Gallipoli, Lemnos and the Western Front, Pirgos Press, Chapel Hill, QLD.

*  Goodman, Rupert Douglas 1988, Our war nurses: the history of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps, 1902-1988, Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, QLD.

*  Harris, Kirsty 2011, More than bombs and bandages : Australian Army nurses at work in World War I, Big Sky Publishing, Newport, NSW.

*  Rees, Peter 2008, The other ANZACS: nurses at war 1914-1918, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW

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Moving On

In this war we’re always moving,
Moving on;
When we make a friend another friend has gone;
Should a woman’s kindly face
Make us welcome for a space,
Then it’s boot and saddle, boys, we’re
Moving on.
In the hospitals they’re moving,
Moving on;
They’re here today, tomorrow they are gone;
When the bravest and the best
Of the boys you know “go west”,
Then you’re choking down your tears and
Moving on.

‘Banjo’ Paterson

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Time out in Egypt

Banjo Paterson, captain with the 2nd Remount Unit in Egypt, organised morale boosting activities for the men of the Australian Light Horse.  In a letter to his publisher, George Robertson, he explained:

I got the idea of giving a rough-riding display in public.  We won five out of seven events open to all troops in Egypt at a show the other day.  In the wrestling on horseback, one of my Queenslanders, a big half-caste named Ned Kelly, pulled the English Tommies off their horses like picking apples off a tree.  You say what does this do towards winning the war?  Well, it shows that we are up in our work and are doing it and it is not too easy.  At the present moment I have two men with broken legs, one with a fractured shoulder blade, two with badly crushed ankles, and about seven others more or less disabled.  I have never had to tell a man twice to get on a horse, no matter how hostile the animal appeared; in fact, they dearly like to do a bit of ‘grandstand’ work even though they risk their necks by it.

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