Posts Tagged 'Australian War Memorial'



Sam Alexander

In September 1916, Private Sam Alexander, of the 9th Brigade, 34th Battalion, 3rd Division, Australian Imperial Force, began writing in a diary. Over the next three years or so he would scrawl a few lines on most days about his experiences as a soldier on the Western Front.

Two decades later, as the world was plunging into yet another global conflict, a young neighbour called Kevin Jeffcoat sat spellbound as Sam showed him spiked helmets, medals, gas masks and guns, amazing him with stories of the trenches. “It was awful, it was terrible”, Sam told him. “But it was a grand adventure!”

Kevin would eventually become a professional author, writing books like More precious than gold: An illustrated history of water in New South Wales and Burrinjuck to Balranald: The Early Days. But he also wrote an unpublished manuscript based on his memories of conversations with his childhood neighbour. Called From Kangaroo Valley to Messines Ridge: A Digger’s Diary 1917-1918, it’s a remarkable mix of transcripts of Sam Alexander’s diary entries, with context added by explanatory notes based on research and on Kevin’s own memories.

My parents live in the NSW Southern Tablelands town of Goulburn, where my father is the Principal at one of the two state high schools in the town. Dad transferred to Mulwaree High School almost two years ago, though it took a year before he and my mother moved there. When we visited them a few days after they moved into their new house at Christmas last year, Dad managed to find a little time to show me one of Mulwaree’s hidden secrets. In an unassuming little cinder block building near the school’s main entrance is the Mulwaree High School Remembrance Library.

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Started in 1992, it’s a collection of some 4,000 artefacts, photos and documents relating to local men at war, dating from Vietnam all the way back to the New Zealand-Maori War of the mid-nineteenth century. The Australian War Memorial has described it as perhaps the best collection, outside its own, of war memorabilia in Australia.

Kevin Jeffcoat’s granddaughter is a student at Mulwarree. And in August 2012 she donated to the Remembrance Library a signed copy of her grandfather’s manuscript. It is beautifully written and a fantastic resource for the school. Kevin Jeffcoat has put Sam Alexander’s story into an easily understood form and so has ensured that those stories that he was lucky enough to hear ‘from the horse’s mouth’, so to speak, will remain accessible to new generations into the future.

© 2012 Adam Purcell

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460 Squadron in Brisbane

I was in Brisbane for a work trip for the last week or so of January. It didn’t stop raining all week.

I had a short chance to stop by the Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith Memorial that is on the road leading to Brisbane Airport. Under a large curved roof, preserved in a glass ‘hangar’, is Smithy’s original Fokker Fokker F.VII/3m three-engined aircraft, the Southern Cross. It’s a very important part of Australia’s aviation heritage and it is fantastic to see the old aeroplane is being well looked after.

But what does this have to do with Bomber Command, I hear you ask? Well, if I’m honest, very little. But a short distance from the Southern Cross is a tree. Under the tree are three plaques dedicated to 460 Squadron, arguably one of the most famous of the Australian bomber units.

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Beneath one of the plaques is a representation of a boomerang, symbolising the motto of the Squadron: ‘Strike and Return’. Sadly, many of the airmen of 460 Squadron struck… but did not return. In fact, the Squadron suffered by far the highest casualty rate of any Australian unit in WWII: out of around 2700 airmen who served in the Squadron, more than 1000 were killed in action – 589 of those being Australians. 181 aircraft were lost on operations in the four years of the Squadron’s existence.

One of 460 Squadron’s aeroplanes survives. It is, of course, W4783 G for George, today forming the centrepiece of the Australian War Memorial’s Striking by Night sound and light exhibit. It is an extremely impressive memorial. And in Queensland, under a tree near Brisbane Airport, those three plaques also help ensure that the deeds of this Squadron are not forgotten.

© 2012 Adam Purcell

Event: Bomber Command Commemorative Day, Canberra, 2-3 June 2012

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation, with the support of the Australian War Memorial, will hold their 5th annual Commemorative Day in Canberra on the weekend of 2-3 June 2012. Three events are planned: a ‘Meet and Greet’ function on the Saturday night, then a Memorial Service and Luncheon on Sunday.

The Meet and Greet function takes place in the shadow of G for George, the AWM’s Lancaster, in the ANZAC Hall from 6 to 8pm on Saturday 2 June. Cost is $50, hot and cold canapes will be served with beer, wine, soft drink and juice also provided.

The Luncheon takes place at the Rydges Lakeside, Canberra, 12.30 for 1pm to 4pm. $55 covers a sit-down two-course meal with tea and coffee, with a cash bar operating.

To attend the Lunch and/or the Meet and Greet, contact Keith Campbell by 18 May: 142 Coonanbarra Road Wahroonga NSW 2076. Cheques to be made out to Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation.

The focus of the weekend, however, is the Memorial Service. This is held outdoors in the Sculpture Garden of the Australian War Memorial, by the Bomber Command Memorial. To allow the organisers to anticipate numbers, please RSVP to the AWM by 11 May: rsvp@awm.gov.au or 02 6243 4363.

In the group photo taken at this event last year, I counted 50 veterans. This is one of the largest gatherings of Bomber Command aircrew (and at least one WAAF) in Australia and for that reason alone it is well worth attending. Talking to so many veterans in the one place at the one time is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. I’ve been to three of the last four of these events (though at this stage it is looking unlikely that I’ll be able to make it to this one) and they never fail to impress. More information can be found at http://commemorativedayfoundation.com/.

Update 21APR12: I’ve managed to organise the weekend off so I’ve booked my flights to Canberra for this event. There are also events on in other parts of Australia, for those who can’t make it to Canberra:

VICTORIA: Hastings RSL, 11am Sunday 3rd June

QUEENSLAND: Memorial Gardens at RAAF Amberley, 11am Sunday 3rd June

I think there are also plans for NSW and SA, but I haven’t got details yet.

Bomber Command in Canberra

There was an old man sitting patiently in the departure lounge in Melbourne when I boarded a QantasLink Dash 8 to fly to Canberra last weekend. Sat next to him was his middle-aged son. When we boarded the aircraft they sat across the aisle and a few rows in front of me. I overheard a snippet of half a conversation that the younger man was having on his phone: “meeting in Canberra… taking him to… you know, Air Force stuff…” I watched his father as we powered down Runway 34 and took off. He was gazing out of the window, and his thoughts looked like they were miles away: across the seas, and across the decades.

They were going to Canberra for the same reason I was: the fourth annual Bomber Command Commemorative Day. I next saw Ian and his son Phillip underneath the nose of Lancaster G for George at the Meet & Greet cocktail party later that evening and went across and said g’day. Ian had been a 460 Squadron pilot so it was fitting that G for George, a 460 Squadron machine, was the centerpiece of the function.

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It was an outstanding evening. There were perhaps 150 people present, a fair proportion of those being veterans. Talking about flying Lancasters with people like Don Huxtable, a 463 Sqn skipper, was a unique experience as he casually threw a thumb over his shoulder at the old bomber to emphasize a point. The function ended with the magnificent ‘Striking by Night’ sound and light show recreating a bombing raid around the Lancaster. We retired to the hotel bar for a nightcap, ensconced in a warm corner while Don Southwell held court.

It was a cold and misty Canberra winter’s morning when we awoke. But the sky soon cleared and the sun was nicely warming as we took our seats for the ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.

As is customary the AWM Ceremonies division put on a good show. It ran smoothly and Don Browning’s ‘Reflections’ presentation was particularly good. As the first notes of The Last Post rang out into a brilliant blue sky the line of young RAAF officers in the row in front of us snapped into a salute. It was a moving moment.

After the ceremony all the veterans moved up towards the War Memorial buildings for an extraordinary group photo. I counted 50 veterans, surely one of the largest gatherings of Bomber Command airmen (and at least one WAAF) anywhere in the world these days.

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The final part of the weekend was the luncheon. This was, I reckon, the highlight of an already highlight-heavy weekend. Some 200 people showed up, with at least one veteran at each table.

The best part of this event is the ability to float around between tables talking to all sorts of interesting people. Until today, I’d never met a real live Bomber Command flight engineer. Tom Knox, a Glaswegian flight engineer from 149 and 199 Squadrons, is on the right here:

11jun-bombercommandcanberra-067s copyThe other man is Pat Kerrins, a pilot from 115 Squadron. They were in animated conversation regarding a mutual friend and just being a fly on the wall while they chatted away was fascinating. A copy of this photo will be winging its way to each of these men shortly. I also met Jean Smith, who served in the WAAF at 27 OTU, RAF Lichfield, and a couple of likely suspects involved with the 463-467 Squadron Association in Melbourne. All very interesting people to know.

This has become an extremely significant event in the Bomber Command calendar in Australia. The Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation was set up to organise events like these to ensure that the men and women of Bomber Command get some long-deserved recognition. Behind ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, this is now the third largest single event held by the Australian War Memorial each year.

Given the level of interest in this year’s event, the men and women of Bomber Command can rest assured that it will continue into perpetuity.

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(c) 2011 Adam Purcell


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