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Queensland Anzac Centenary 2014-2018 / Issue 3

Throughout 2017, Queensland communities led many memorable tributes to our past and present servicemen and women. This third issue of Salute showcases a selection of these commemorative activities and project.

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Featured stories

Honouring a great Australian charge

The Australian Light Horse demonstrated exemplary courage, dedication and ingenuity when they charged the trenches and captured the town of Beersheba during the famed battle of 31 October 1917. One hundred years on, Queensland communities continue to commemorate how these incredible men and their horses changed the tide of the First World War in the Middle East.

“These men were hardy, resourceful and thoroughly independent, with a wonderful sense of adventure.”

That is how Honor Auchinleck describes the men of the Australian Light Horse, particularly her grandfather, the famed commander Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel, KCMG, KCB and Croix de Guerre.

At no time were these admirable attributes more apparent than during the Battle of Beersheba, when the Australian Light Horse thundered across the desert plains, bayonets in hand, to capture the town of Beersheba. They could not have known it as they leapt over the Turkish trenches, but the men were riding into history. Their actions on that decisive day, now regarded as Australia’s last great cavalry charge, continue to inspire.

Central West Queensland commemorates

When planning the Queensland Mounted Infantry Historical Troop’s(QMIHT) commemorations for Beersheba, organisers Jed Millen and Debbie Nicholls were in no doubt where events should take place.

“When we started to talk about it, we were thinking about South East Queensland, but the Central West is where many of the Queensland men and the horses came from,” Ms Nicholls said.

For 10 days in September 2017, riders from QMIHT joined other troops from Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory and even New Zealand for In Pursuit of Beersheba, a series of commemorative rides, ceremonies and activities throughout Central West Queensland.

The 90-strong contingent of riders passed through Barcaldine, Ilfracombe, Longreach and Winton, helping these communities pay tribute to the Australian Light Horse and their daring exploits.

The ride was well-received by the locals, many of whom were already exceedingly proud of their servicemen and women, past and present. At the opening of Beersheba Place—a new commemorative garden in Longreach—Mayor Ed Warren said, “We are proud of our region’s contribution to the heritage of our nation. I would like Beersheba Place to remind all who come here of the great contribution made not only by the people who went to war, but by the horses who went with them.

“The participants are left with many treasured memories, such as the sight of the long line of riders against the setting sun in Bladensburg National Park. They had hidden behind a low ridge and, as the sky glowed pink and orange, they charged with bayonets in hand at the crowd gathered for the Winton Outback Festival—a truly stirring scene.

With a larrikinism of which the Australian Light Horse of old were also known, Mr Millen remarked, “The experience has left me with a tear in my throat and a lump in my eye.”

International commemorations

Hundreds of Australians joined the commemorations in modern‑day Beersheba, Israel, on 31 October 2017, with His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland, officially representing Queensland. Following a solemn ceremony, the Australian Light Horse Association treated the crowd to a thunderous re-enactment of the legendary charge. This troop of 100 riders included individuals from In Pursuit of Beersheba and many descendants, as well as representatives of the Indigenous men who served in the Australian Light Horse—a group whose involvement is often tragically overlooked.

A show of force

On 28 October 2017, the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) commemorated the Battle of Beersheba by exercising their Right to Freedom of Entry to the City of Brisbane.

It was a truly impressive event. After an inspection by Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and a challenge from mounted Queensland Police, the regiment paraded through the city with swords and lances drawn, drums beating and colours flying. The lines of infantry, horses and more than 65 military vehicles—including massive, armoured M1A1 Abrams tanks—delighted the crowds. It was the first time these incredible machines had been seen on Brisbane’s streets.

Granting of Freedom of Entry is the highest accolade a town or city can bestow on a contingent of the Australian Defence Force. By turning out in force to support this parade just prior to the centenary anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, Queenslanders made it clear just how highly it values the men and women of the Australian Light Horse, past and present.

A spectacular ceremony

The excitement was palpable as 1700 South East Queensland schoolchildren poured into the amphitheatre at Australian Outback Spectacular, Gold Coast, for a special commemorative ceremony. It was the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, and the stage was set for an Anzac experience these children would treasure for many years.

Australian Outback Spectacular’s riders and horses took to the ring to perform excerpts from Salute to the Light Horse—a dramatic retelling of the events at Beersheba.

The children were captivated by the insights from Lieutenant General Sir Chauvel’s descendants and poet Dennis Scanlon’s evocative descriptions of the Australian Imperial Force’s 121,000 Waler horses. A cheer went up as the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) burst into the amphitheatre, roaring around the ring in their imposing Australian Light Armoured Vehicles.

Charlotte Solomon, Somerville House student and a recipient of the 2017 Premier’s Anzac Prize, read The Ode, which has been a key feature of commemorative ceremonies in Australia since 1921.

The delighted faces and excited chatter as the students left the amphitheatre suggested the Australian Light Horse’s heroics at Beersheba would be a hot topic of discussion around classrooms and playgrounds in Queensland for weeks.

“Our students and teachers were absolutely amazed by the presentation. Any opportunity to immerse our students in such events is truly worthwhile.”
Greg Kenafake, Head of Department, Social Science, Southport State High.

“Many thanks for the management of the wonderful performance for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. The children talked endlessly about the performance on the bus trip back to school.”
Val Faulks, Principal, Biggera Waters State School.

An Australian Light Horse patrol passing through Zernukah, Israel 1914–1918.

At Bladensburg National Park, the In Pursuit of Beersheba riders prepare for a re‑enactment of the historic charge.

The In Pursuit of Beersheba riders enter Longreach, accompanied by mounted Queensland Police.

The In Pursuit of Beersheba riders.

The Colours of the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) move past the dais on board an Australian Light Armoured Vehicle during the Freedom of Entry march.

Soldiers from the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) march past the dais during the Freedom of Entry march.

The 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) joined performers from Salute to the Light Horse in the amphitheatre for the solemn commemorations.

Salute to the Light Horse performers.

1700 South East Queensland schoolchildren excitedly attended the commemorations at Australian Outback Spectacular.

The surprising side of war







Although it can be confronting to explore such an emotive and sombre topic, it is important to understand how the First World War challenged and affected all Australians. In 2017, Queenslanders explored another side of this period—one that is full of surprises.

In 2016, 100 Queenslanders were quizzed about their knowledge of the First World War. When presented with nine unusual facts about this period, only three from the group knew them all. Surprisingly, even people who believed they had a strong knowledge of this era could only claim to know half of the facts.

From this insight, a Queensland‑wide campaign was developed and launched in 2017. It featured a collection of interesting First World War facts that highlighted some of the most surprising aspects of the First World War—fascinating details that were easy to share and talk about. The campaign was designed to spark interest, provide new perspectives and encourage conversation across generations, helping to keep the Anzac spirit alive. These fascinating First World War facts were viewed more than 2.7 million times on Facebook—a hugely encouraging outcome.

What Queenslanders experience, learn and share during the Anzac Centenary period—such as these extraordinary First World War facts—will help our proud Anzac traditions and spirit endure for another 100 years.

From ruined forest to regional Queensland

On 26 September 1917, soldiers of the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions fought their way through treacherous mud and past heavily-fortified German bunkers to capture Polygon Wood, Belgium. It was a resounding success for the Australians that greatly contributed to the allied force’s advance on the Western Front.

One hundred years later, communities across Queensland gathered to pay their respects to the men who fought and died during the Battle of Polygon Wood. More than 500 people attended ceremonies in Cairns, Rockhampton and Roma, including descendants of those who served at Polygon Wood and current serving defence force personnel. At each service, they planted commemorative trees to provide a living reminder of the sacrifices the Queensland soldiers made.

Uncovered connections

At the event in Rockhampton, Mayor Margaret Strelow shared how preparations for the Polygon Wood commemorations prompted her to look closely at her own family tree. She was taken aback by what she discovered.

Cr Strelow’s great grand-uncle, James Oakes, was there amidst the mud and chaos on those terrible days in 1917.

“I was saddened, touched, probably any number of emotions—I didn’t know my uncle but realised that I also had a blood connection with this battle,” Cr Strelow said.

Her research was inspired by the story of Farrier Sergeant John Wynd, a Rockhampton local who was just 20 years old when he enlisted.

“The young John Wynd who we learnt about was an apprentice—he worked in Kent Street, he went to Allenstown School,” Cr Strelow said.

“It becomes very personal for all of us, I think, when we put it in terms of the streets that we know, the schools that we know, and realise this was just a normal bloke who had a very ordinary life and then went off and participated in a war which was fundamental to saving our free way of life.”

During the First World War, almost one in 11 Australians enlisted, and many more supported in non‑military roles. With such a large proportion of the population involved, it is likely that many Australians are connected with the First World War without realising.

“If you know your family tree, go and do a search. I think many Australians will be surprised to realise how close their own forebears were to some of these extraordinary battles we’re commemorating,” Cr Strelow said.

Proud history

Some families do not need to go digging to discover their military history. For 93 year-old Yvonne Leigh, her connection to the Battle of Polygon Wood was always evident. Her father, Private Harry Schell, was a veteran of the battle and on his return to Australia, he named the family home after the plantation forest.

“He was a stretcher bearer and saw some terrible things,” Ms Leigh said at the commemorative ceremony in Cairns.

“But he was a very happy man, I can hear him singing now out in the garden.”

Private Schell did not speak much about his experiences, but Ms Leigh recalls one of his comrades would often visit on Sunday mornings and only had great things to say about ‘the man who saved his life’. It remains one of her most cherished memories.

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Jaclyn Hine from Brisbane had similar impressions of her grand‑uncle, Lance Corporal David Murphy, the youngest brother of her grandfather. He was just 22 years old when he enlisted, and was promoted to Lance Corporal just days before his death during the Battle of Polygon Wood.

“My mother often spoke of Dave, always with tears in her eyes,” Ms Hine said.

Sadly, Lance Corporal Murphy was one of countless Australian men who died at Polygon Wood and never received a proper burial. This may be what led Ms Hine to travel throughout Europe, tracking down the final resting places of servicemen from the Roma area.

She uncovered incredible stories through her travels and research. Ms Hine discovered that one of Lance Corporal Murphy’s friends and colleagues from Roma, Private Neil McMaster Crawford, was killed on the same day in the same area, also with no known grave.

Her research also put her in contact with Brian Hanlon, whose grandfather Private Garnet Michael ‘Mick’ Hanlon also served with Lance Corporal Murphy. Mr Hanlon was able to share a photograph taken during the war of his grandfather and an unknown companion alongside Lance Corporal Murphy—the last known image of the brave young soldier.

“It was a wonderful thing to receive,” Ms Hine said. “Since then, Brian and I have marched together on Anzac Day with the RSL here in Roma, which was another special moment.”

Children connected

In addition to the ceremonies, selected libraries in Cairns, Cloncurry, Roma and Rockhampton hosted installations for younger generations to learn about Polygon Wood, the Anzac values and their local soldiers who fought in this battle.

The Polygon Wood patchwork trees were extremely popular. Hundreds of children coloured in polygon‑shaped leaves depicting Anzac values and attached them to the trees. The display helped children better understand the values our Anzacs stand for: mateship, courage, duty, teamwork and integrity. Some library teams even had to prune back their patchwork trees, as each branch was absolutely blooming with countless Anzac value leaves.

A special thank you to Cairns, Rockhampton and Maranoa Regional Councils and Cloncurry Shire Council for helping Queensland honour this special anniversary.

Members of the 2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion lay planks of wood over the mud to make a wagon track through the Ypres Sector.

Yvonne Leigh’s father, Private Harry Schell, served in the Battle of Polygon Wood.

Lance Corporal David Murphy excelled at sport, playing representative rugby before enlisting. Jaclyn Hine (pictured) has his Roma Rugby Union Community Football Club velvet cap dated 1912–1913.

Lance Corporal David Murphy, Private Garnet Michael ‘Mick’ Hanlon and an unknown companion, on leave prior to the Battle of Polygon Wood.

Hon Bill Byrne MP, Cr Margaret Strelow and descendant Jon Cookson plant a tree in memory of local servicemen at Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.

Children coloured in polygon‑shaped leaves depicting Anzac values.

Children helped the Polygon Wood peace trees bloom with colourful Anzac value leaves.

The installations helped younger generations to learn about Polygon Wood.

Archives illustrate women’s duty and care

Annie Wheeler wrote countless letters, providing a point of contact between Australian troops and their families in Queensland.

Robyn Hamilton, the library’s Coordinator of Q ANZAC 100 Content, reviews the Duty and Care collection.

Annie Wheeler created and maintained personalised index cards for more than 2300 Queensland soldiers.

Annie Wheeler arrives at Springsure to unveil the School War Memorial, 1920.

A 1918 portrait of Nurse Ella Clow McLean.

Ursula Cleary worked with SLQ and historians from Capricorn Coast Historical Society to produce the Discovering Annie Wheeler digital story.

A tray with an inscription dedicated to Annie Wheeler.

One of Annie Wheeler's letters.

One of Annie Wheeler's letters.

One of Annie Wheeler's letters.

One of Annie Wheeler's letters.

One of Annie Wheeler's letters.

In 2017, women accounted for approximately 16 per cent of the Australian Defence Force, including 82 senior officer positions. They also represented more than 14 per cent of troops on operations overseas. Throughout 2017, the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) was involved in a number of projects that illustrated how women made similarly important contributions 100 years ago.

Duty and Care

Whilst willing and able, women had limited opportunity for active service during the First World War.

SLQ’s Duty and Care exhibition, displayed in the Talbot Family Treasures Wall, highlighted the many ways in which women overcame these limitations to make a powerful, lasting impact on Australia’s war effort.

State Librarian Vicki McDonald said the exhibition provided personal insight into the often untold contributions and sacrifices made by women.

“Women found creative and resourceful ways to participate and contribute to the war efforts,” Ms McDonald said.

“Some enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service and saw active service overseas. Others threw themselves into fundraising activities, volunteered to care for wounded soldiers, or protested for peace.”

Powerful stories emerge when browsing the photographs, letters, scrapbooks, postcard albums and more—all drawn from SLQ’s First World War collections.

“They reveal private experiences and, as a collection, these personal mementos and accounts can provide a greater understanding of how women in Queensland experienced the First World War, both at home and overseas,” Ms McDonald said.

Mother of Queenslanders

The story of Annie Wheeler is perhaps one of the most striking examples of unique, proactive contributions to the war effort.

Mrs Wheeler, a Rockhampton local, was living in England when the war broke out. According to writer, researcher and Q ANZAC 100 Fellow, Ursula Cleary, Mrs Wheeler immediately knew she had to play a part and initially volunteered as a nurse.

“In 1915, as the Australians are starting to come back to England from Gallipoli, Annie begins visiting Queenslanders in hospital—particularly anyone who was from or near Rockhampton,” Ms Cleary said.

“She quickly realised she could be of more use looking after and administering to these boys—effectively being their mother—than she could as their nurse.”

Mrs Wheeler started by simply providing hospitalised soldiers with a postcard and her address, advising them to contact her if they ever needed anything. From there, she endeavoured to contact all soldiers from Central Queensland— whether wounded, imprisoned, or in the trenches—to provide for their immediate needs and help connect them with their families at home.

The evidence of her commitment is housed at SLQ’s archives—three red boxes containing personalised index cards for more than 2300 men. Each card tells a unique story and illustrates why Mrs Wheeler quickly became known as the ‘Mother of Queenslanders’.

“On the front of each card she had information about each soldier, and on the back she had information about the soldier’s family,” Ms Cleary said.

“The cards recorded any time Annie or her team corresponded with a solider, had any visits with the soldiers, or if they sent a parcel—all that information went on those cards.”

“The help Mrs Wheeler is rendering is above all praise. In her, Queensland soldiers, whether in the trenches or in the hospitals, have a friend that never fails them; and our wounded heroes especially have reason to be grateful for her unceasing care and devotion.”
T J Ryan, Premier of Queensland, 1916.

Not just concerned with the soldiers’ welfare, Mrs Wheeler also worked to support the families in Queensland. She wrote detailed letters home each fortnight which were published in The Capricornian and Rockhampton Morning Bulletin newspapers.

“Annie was also working with a number of people in Rockhampton and Central Queensland, trying to find men who had been reported missing,” Ms Cleary said.

“They would work to try to find soldiers who had been with the missing soldier the day before or the hour before—to give a more full account to the family back home who had nothing to remember of their son or brother or husband who had been killed.”

It’s no surprise that Mrs Wheeler was regarded as a hero in her day. In fact, more than 5000 people gathered to meet her train on her return to Australia in 1919.

To help preserve her important legacy, in 2017 Ms Cleary worked with SLQ and historians from Capricorn Coast Historical Society to produce a new digital story, Discovering Annie Wheeler. Available to download from the SLQ website, this fascinating short film celebrates the life and achievements of this remarkable woman.

An evolving commitment

From the work completed through the Duty and Care exhibition, SLQ was also able to contribute to Australia Post’s Australia: Women in War stamp issue. The 2017 collection acknowledges the many ways in which women serve, and is the fourth in a series commemorating a century of service. The First World War stamp and collection cover features Ella Clow McLean, one of more than 2000 Australian nurses who served abroad with the Australian Army Nursing Service. SLQ supplied the image of Roma-born Sister McLean in her tippet, as well as excerpts from a letter she wrote to Canon Garland during her service in India and Egypt.

The collection also features war correspondents, Red Cross workers, members of The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force and the Women’s Land Army, and a number of Australian Defence Force personnel engaged in recent conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Together, the Duty and Care exhibition, the Discovering Annie Wheeler digital story and the Australia: Women in War stamp issue demonstrate that, while the roles and opportunities may have changed, Australian women have always gone above and beyond during times of war.

In remembrance of a Noosa past

Renowned for its beaches and stunning coastline, Noosa Shire can also take pride in its past—particularly the community’s dedication to memorialising all those who served. Thanks to a new publication Noosa Remembers: A History of the World War 1 Memorials of Noosa Shire, the community spirit rallied all those years ago lives on.

The Shire of Noosa was established just a few years before the First World War. Even though the population was approximately 2000 when war was declared, 200 men from the fledgling region enlisted.

Those who stayed behind also played a vital part. This small community not only tirelessly fundraised to support the war effort—with donations ranging from honey to horses—they were also determined those who served should be remembered. Through their efforts, enough money was raised to fund no less than 15 major memorials as well as a number of honour boards.

The first of these was the planting of memorial trees in Pomona on Anzac Day 1917. The last was the official opening of the Pomona Memorial Rotunda on 24 June 1939, just 10 weeks before the start of the Second World War. Other memorials include halls, parks, cenotaphs and swimming baths.

The commitment and efforts of such a small and young community to support and honour their servicemen is the inspiration behind Noosa Remembers: A History of the World War 1 Memorials of Noosa Shire.

As highlighted in the book’s introduction, “it was the people who wanted to commemorate the efforts of their local boys. Australia’s memorials were not rolled out by governments to drum up national pride. It was already there, shining.”

During the First World War, the community of Noosa Shire helped raise more than £27,000 to support the war effort and memorialise their local soldiers’ sacrifices.

The book was launched at a community event on 8 September 2017, at the Pomona Rotunda. The launch day marked the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of the Shire of Noosa Honor Board, which took place at the former Noosa Shire Chambers, just down the road from the rotunda.

Co-author, Noosa Shire Council’s Heritage Librarian Jane Harding, said the event was well attended by an enthusiastic audience.

“There was strong community demand for copies of the book with stocks being depleted within a few weeks,” Ms Harding said.

“Joe Hextall was the heritage consultant on this project and had a pivotal role in reviewing the amassed research and weaving the facts and information into an engaging narrative.

“Joe also worked on our prior project Noosa’s War Front and has passion for this topic.

“Our volunteer researchers were also invaluable in methodically searching through old newspapers on Trove* and collating material related to each memorial.”

Ms Harding said the book was made possible by the National Library of Australia’s digitisation of newspapers—a critical resource for any researcher of local or regional history.

This was supplemented by images and information from a range of sources including: Council minute books and archives, historic photos from Noosa Library Service’s Picture Noosa, the Noosa Shire Museum, State Library of Queensland, private collections and Returned and Services League archives. The team also interviewed Council staff, Returned and Services League members and the Tewantin Historical Society.

Supported by a Queensland Anzac Centenary Spirit of Service grant, Noosa Remembers is available as an e-book via the Noosa Library Service website:

*Trove is the National Library of Australia website where users can search books, photos, pictures, journal articles, archived newspapers, people, organisations, maps, music and more. Visit

Joe Hextall and Jane Harding developed Noosa Remembers to share the history of the region’s war memorials, such as the Tewantin War Memorial seen in the background.

The Ladies’ Patriotic Committee planted memorial trees at Pomona on Anzac Day 1917—the first of many community‑funded memorials in the region.

Volunteers helped with research, searching archives and databases for material related to each memorial.

Playwright pays tribute to her father’s story

William Snowden Acworth with other junior officers of 26th Battalion.

Gavin Bannerman, Elaine Acworth and State Librarian Vicki McDonald at the My Father’s Wars launch.

William Acworth with baby Elaine.

State Librarian Vicki McDonald introduces Elaine Acworth at the My Father’s Wars launch.

Researching family history is a journey of discovery that often leads to very unexpected places.

The research that laid the foundation for award-winning playwright Elaine Acworth’s audio work My Father’s Wars was inspired by a very personal quest to better know her father William (Bill) Acworth, a veteran of both world wars, who died when she was only 14.

Speaking at the launch held at the State Library of Queensland Ms Acworth said, “Dad was a mystery to me when he was alive, and he died well over 40 years ago now.”

She knew some of the facts, for example, that her father had fought in the First World War in 1917 and 1918.

“He was a young lieutenant on the Western Front serving in Belgium and France in the 26th Battalion, 7th Brigade, Australian Imperial Forces,” Ms Acworth said.

“Four years ago, I had known a little bit of that, but not all of it.

“On his enlistment papers his occupation was given as commercial traveller of Ganges Street, West End.

“A West End boy who sold typewriter ribbons all up and down the coast—I hadn’t known that.”

Bill Acworth left no diaries and none of his letters home survived. And like many of his generation, he never spoke about what happened ‘over there’—the events that were so formative in his young life.

“I could never get him to say anything, except that war was terrible and good men died, and there were a lot of poor buggers who didn’t deserve what they got,” Ms Acworth said.

But thanks to a Q ANZAC 100 Fellowship, Ms Acworth was able to draw on the rich resources of John Oxley Library and has finally been able to shine a light on the darker corners of her father’s story.

Ms Acworth said, as a child she of course loved her father, but didn’t really understand why he was the way he was, “very tough, observant, always a very direct speaker.”

“He didn’t suffer fools at all. Fools, whingers, anyone who was sorry for themselves, he had no time for them whatsoever.

“I’ve subsequently learned that this all came from his time in the war, the war that fundamentally shaped the man he was.”

Insights came from reading the letters home and diaries of other young men who served in her father’s brigade or who fought in the same battles he had fought in, all around the Ypres sector in France.

That research was initially intended to be developed into a theatre piece examining the Western Front’s impact on Ms Acworth’s father and on his children.

But when she started thinking about the prospective audience, the project began to take on a whole new shape and direction.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought there were a number of conversations that I really wanted to participate in or encourage,” Ms Acworth said.

“Conversations such as those between children, like my sister and I—children of a veteran—and their families, the mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters who served.

“Conversations between young people about World War One, but also about war in general.

“Surely these young people must be thinking, why would someone choose to go and fight on the other side of the world in a country that they’ve never seen? And what would I do, if I were in those circumstances?

“Grades 9 or 10 study World War One so these are important questions for them.”

The material Ms Acworth read came from all around the state. It included diaries of jackaroos from stations outside of Charters Towers, letters home written by young men from Yelarbon—near the Queensland‑New South Wales border, from Gympie, Rockhampton and Mackay.

“So a live performance in Brisbane just didn’t seem to cut it really—I needed another medium,” she said.

“I needed something that was free, something that people around the whole state could easily access. And something that they could play at a time of their choosing. In short, I needed to write the story as podcasts, so I did. Then of course, the podcasts needed to be produced.”

To enable that to happen, Ms Acworth applied for a Spirit of Service grant with the Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program and feels very grateful to have been selected.

Part drama, part documentary, the finished product My Father’s Wars speaks to anyone who also seeks to understand the impact of war not only on those who fought but on those closest to them.

Auspiced by Playlab, Ms Acworth said the audio production was “gifted with wonderful actors and a terrific sound design and original composition.”

The My Father’s Wars podcasts are available for download at

Remembering the maids of all work

The badge from a Second World War uniform inspired a Red Cross volunteer to learn more about the largely‑forgotten Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) of the First World War, and to establish a bank of their uniforms for commemorative events and an educational booklet.

The VADs were a group of women who contributed enormously to the war effort. They volunteered for what may be regarded as ‘ordinary’ work so that others could concentrate on more skilled tasks. However, their committed involvement has been forgotten and the VADs have slowly vanished into the mists of time.

Now, thanks to the determination of Louise Kear and her fellow volunteers at the Red Cross Milton office in Brisbane, the uniforms of the VADs will be seen again and worn with pride at commemorative events across Queensland. These esteemed women will be overlooked no more.

“A colleague showed me the shoulder badge of a uniform worn by her mother who was a VAD during the Second World War. I had never heard of these detachments so I started researching 100 years of Red Cross VAD history in Australia,” Ms Kear said.

“The more I learnt about them, the more I felt it was wrong that their significant contribution had been forgotten. These women had ‘disappeared’ from people’s memories.

“I wanted to focus on the First World War VADs and their relationship with the Anzacs returning home, so a group of five volunteers in the ‘Red Records’ Archives team has been researching, creating displays, organising uniforms and liaising with Red Cross branches throughout Queensland to participate in our VAD commemorations in 2018.”

During the First World War, women wanted to support the war effort in any practical way. Many joined voluntary organisations such as the Australian Red Cross, Country Women’s Association, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Australian Women’s National League, Australian Comforts Fund and the Cheer-Up Society.

Through these groups, women enlisted as VADs to perform many menial tasks in auxiliary hospitals across Queensland such as cleaning, setting trays, cooking meals, lighting fires and boiling water for washing clothes, dressing and undressing injured servicemen, entertaining patients, serving refreshments and fundraising.

Professor Melanie Oppenheimer described these duties as ‘housework on a large scale’ in her official centenary history of Australian Red Cross, The Power of Humanity.

While most women were General Service VADs, some Special Service VADs also provided auxiliary nurses to hospitals and convalescent homes.

They received training and performed drills, sat exams and worked under a burden of expectation. They were required to wear a uniform which practically disappeared from view in the decades since, but this has been rectified by Ms Kear and her colleagues.

“We had a range of other VAD uniforms but none from the First World War era. They are quite striking in appearance so we hope people will see it at commemoration events and start a conversation about who the VADs were and their work in supporting Anzacs to recover from their wounds,” Ms Kear said.

“The General Service VAD uniform was largely fashioned on that of the British Red Cross. It consisted of a mid-blue loose cotton overdress with stiff white collar, and a distinctive white apron with a large red cross on the bib which covered the dress. Both were ankle length.

“White veils were worn and these changed in design over the course of the war but were typically pulled together at the back to distinguish them from nurses. Over-sleeves were worn for dirty work and women had to provide their own footwear, usually practical black shoes or boots.”

Australian Red Cross in Queensland ordered 60 replica uniform sets comprising the dress, apron, veil and over-sleeves. These will be distributed, as required, to be worn with pride at commemorative events.

“The uniform is a visually effective and practical way to engage the public in commemorating VADs with us, and we will be sharing them with many of our 70 branches throughout Queensland as they participate in community events and fundraising activities in 2018 and beyond,” Ms Kear said.

“We have also produced a 28-page educational booklet about Red Cross VADs in the First World War called Maids of All Work, a title inspired by a phrase used by Professor Oppenheimer in our official history—I felt it summed up the type of work and lack of recognition of the VADs.

“Our PowerPoint presentation is for branches to take to community groups and schools, and bookmarks and buttons summarising the key points about VADS will also be distributed.

“We want people to be able to answer the question ‘what is a VAD?’ and hopefully reconnect to their own family history.”

Elizabeth-Rose Ahearn proudly wears a replica General Service Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform.

Members of the Australian Imperial VAD with Lady Robinson (Commandant), 1919.

Voluntary Aid Detachments would support troops travelling to and from the front, often supplying them with small indulgences like tea, chocolate and cigarettes.

Ann Power and Elizabeth-Rose Ahearn demonstrate some of the duties performed by the Voluntary Aid Detachments, which were affectionately described as ‘housework on a large scale’.

Bringing a forgotten battle to light

Australians in the second line of the trenches before Riencourt (near Bullecourt), cleaning their rifles in readiness for an attack.

A big gun used during the battle.

The performance of the British tanks was to blame for the losses suffered at Bullecourt.

Troops preparing for battle at Bullecourt.

Keith Shang with a portrait of his father, Private Sidney Shang.

Rae McDougall with a photo of her great uncle, Driver Herbert Mallyon.

Mary McCarthy with her daughter Helen and a photograph of her father John Herbert Green (centre) and his brothers.

For the men who were there, the two disastrous clashes at Bullecourt were terrible experiences. To ensure the gallant actions of these men are not lost to time, Queenslanders are doing their part to shine a light on these dark days of the First World War.

Before dawn on 11 April 1917, troops from the 4th Australian Division began their advance on the German trenches near the small village of Bullecourt in northern France.

With limited ammunition and little artillery support, the men were simply overwhelmed by the enemy’s strong counter-attack. By the evening, countless fallen men lay in the two‑kilometre stretch between the two trenches, leading the Australians to nickname it ‘the blood tub’. More than 3000 Australians were killed or wounded and 1170 were taken prisoner—the largest number of troops captured in a single engagement during the First World War.

Despite being an unmitigated disaster, the Australians were ordered to try again within a month. In the second battle the men were able to secure their objectives, despite fierce counter-attacks that lasted almost three weeks. While technically victorious, the Australians were unlikely to be celebratory—a further 7482 men had been killed or injured during the Second Battle of Bullecourt.

“The Second Bullecourt (battle) was, in some ways, the stoutest achievement of the Australian soldier in France.”
Charles Bean, official Australian Imperial Force historian.

Solemn ceremony

On 25 April 2017, Captain Ian Watson RAN (Retired) represented Queensland at the official commemorative ceremonies held in Australian Memorial Park, Bullecourt. The solemn service was conducted close to the ‘Bullecourt Digger’—a bronze statue of an Australian infantryman who forever looks over the fields where so many fellow servicemen gave their lives.

Digging up the past

With hindsight, it is clear to many that poor planning on behalf of the British greatly contributed to the terrible losses at Bullecourt—particularly the decision for the first battle to proceed before artillery support arrived. But for the Australian troops on the ground, the performance of the British tanks was also to blame. Twelve tanks were deployed to lead the advance and provide cover, but most could not keep up with the troops, broke down in the mud or were shelled to pieces.

One hundred years on, a team of British and Australian archaeologists have begun excavating the battle site, hoping to learn more about these tanks’ failings.

Remains of Tank 796 have been uncovered, including armour plates, sections of track, and its six‑pounder shells. The findings confirm that Tank 796 was a lightly-armoured training tank. This model was known to break down and was probably unsuitable for use in battle, let alone in the terrible conditions at Bullecourt—further evidence of poor planning.

However, each piece recovered had been heavily damaged, indicating this British tank crew were in the thick of the battle alongside their Australian companions.

Awareness at home

Back in Australia, digging of a different sort was underway. Spurred on by the Anzac Centenary’s awareness‑raising efforts, many descendants were searching through records and databases to determine just what happened to their forebears at Bullecourt.

Among them was Keith Shang from Maryborough, whose father and uncle, Private Sidney Chang and Private Caleb Shang, were two of only 200 Chinese‑Australians allowed to enlist. Caleb fought in and survived the First Battle of Bullecourt. By the time of his discharge, Caleb had earned two Distinguished Conduct Medals and one Military Medal—Queensland’s most decorated soldier at the time.

Rae McDougall of Brisbane told of her great-uncle, Driver Herbert Mallyon, who was a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver on the Western Front. In his diaries, Herbert described the bombing of the field hospital during the Second Battle of Bullecourt as “...absolutely the worst experience I ever had”.

For Mary McCarthy of Bribie Island and Cathy Kelly of the Sunshine Coast, their father’s story is a source of constant inspiration. Private John Herbert Green was shot in both legs while behind enemy lines during the first battle. Determined not to become a prisoner of war, John dragged himself back across the battlefield and lay among the dead for 24 hours before being rescued.

These are just some of the incredible stories unearthed and shared during the 100th anniversary commemorations for the Battles of Bullecourt. While often tragic and confronting, these personal accounts also show that, despite the terrible conditions and devastating losses, the Australians at Bullecourt exemplified the Anzac values we hold dear.

Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0)
Last updated
3 June, 2019

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