The Army Museum of Western Australia forms part of the Australian Army History Unit network of museums that document, conserve and promote the history of the Australian Army. Housed in the, heritage listed, Artillery Barracks built between 1910 and 1913 as a home for the artillerymen tasked to defend the Port of Fremantle, the museum reflects the history of the Australian Army in Western Australia and the service of Western Australians’ service within the army from the colonial period through to the present day.
The museum explores these themes through seven sections and is one of the largest military museums in Australia. For Part 1 of this review I will show some of the exhibits from the Tradtions, Pre-1914, World War One, Prisoner of War and World War 2 Galleries. Part 2 will focus on the Post 1945 Galleries and the Guns & Vehicles section which includes the larger exhibits not displayed in the main exhibition building. Click on the photographs to read the caption information which provides more detail about what is shown.
The TRADITIONS section provides an overview of the Australian Army. Rather than focus on any single time period, the exhibits present a cross-section delving into the customs & traditions, rank structures, insignia, Regimental Colour’s, honours & awards of the Army. For visitors not familiar with the Australian Army it presents a nice introduction whilst also allowing some items, which otherwise may not have been displayed, to be shown to the public.
The PRE-1914 galleries cover the colonial garrisons, Pensioner Guards, pre-Federation volunteer units, the creation of the Western Australian Defence Force and the transition to Commonwealth Military Forces after Federation in 1901.
View of the Pre-1914 Gallery at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
Hat, collar badges and shoulder title of the Goldfields Infantry Regiment 1903-1912. Photo: Julian Tennant
Hat badge, shoulder titles and collar badges of the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment, 1903 – 1912. Photo: Julian Tennant
19th Century British Army artifacts in the Pre-1914 Gallery of the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
Campaign medals for the Crimean War (1854-56) awarded to Private John McMahon of the 47th Regiment of Foot who later became one of the Pensioner Guards in the Colony of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
Representation of the Pensioner Guards of Western Australia (later known as the Enrolled Pensioner Force) in summer uniform circa 1870. Pensioner Guards were convict guards recruited from veterans of the British Army. Photo: Julian Tennant
A soldier from the Western Australian contingent in the Boer War. Photo: Julian Tennant
The WORLD WAR ONE galleries cover the Australian contribution to the First World War with an emphasis on the personal narratives of individual Western Australians who served in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the war.
ANZAC at Gallipoli, 1915. Photo: Julian Tennant
ANZAC Gallipoli trench display in the WW1 Gallery. Photo: Julian Tennant
Stretcher bearer on the Western Front. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian trench raider, Western Front 1917. Photo: Julian Tennant
Officer in the Trench dug out display at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
Sidcot Flying Suit with Private Pattern Flying Helmet. Frederick Sidney Cotton OBE was an Australian inventor, photographer and aviation pioneer, responsible for developing an early colour film process and largely responsible for the development of photographic reconnaissance before and during the Second World War. Cotton joined the Royal Naval Air Service in November 1915 and after only 5 hours solo flying qualified as a combat pilot. Cotton went on to participate in night bombing sorties over France and Germany. His experience with high level and low-temperature flying let Cotton to develop the revolutionary new ‘Sidcot’ flying suit in 1917 to help keep pilots warm in the cockpit. This flying suit was widely used until the 1950’s. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian Light Horseman in the Sinai campaign at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
Grave marker and Military Cross of Lt. Hugh Russel, 3rd Australian Tunneling Company Australian Engineers who died of wounds on 22 January 1918. Photo: Julian Tennant
The POW experience is covered in depth with its own PRISONER OF WAR Gallery which looks at the stories of capture and internment from the Boer to Korean Wars. Special attention is given to the POW experiences on the Thai-Burma Railway through a series of life-size dioramas. If I recall correctly from the brief period where I helped as a behind-the-scenes volunteer in the mid 2000’s, these displays came about through the efforts of some of the West Australian soldiers who were taken captive by the Japanese when Singapore fell and subsequently endured the construction of the Thai-Burma railway.
Medical staff in an improvised operating theatre in a POW camp along the Thai-Burma Railway display. Prisoner Of War Gallery at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
Prisoner and guard in the Thai-Burma Railway display of the Prisoner Of War Gallery at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
“Mateship” A lifesize diorama depicting emaciated Australian POWs supporting a mate in the Thai-Burma Railway display of the Prisoner Of War Gallery at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
WORLD WAR TWO is represented in the next section which is upstairs. It follows the stories of the Australian Divisions of the 2nd AIF through North Africa, Greece, Crete, Syria, Singapore, Papua/New Guinea and the campaign in the South West Pacific Theatre. It also explores the home front and how Western Australia, isolated by distance from the rest of Australia prepared for its own defence.
Detail showing an Australian Infantryman engaging descending German paratroopers in a diorama depicting the invasion of Crete, May 1941. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail from a diorama depicting the invasion of Crete showing a German paratrooper of the 7th Flieger-Division descending under fire from the Australian defenders. Photo: Julian Tennant
A ‘Rat of Tobruk’. An Australian soldier from the 9th Division manning a Bren Gun in the defence of Tobruk. Photo: Julian Tennant
A soldier of the Japanese XXV Army as encountered during the battles for Malaya and Singapore in late 1941 and early 1942. He is armed with a Type 38 Ariska 6.5mm rifle with a Type 30 bayonet. Photo: Julian Tennant
War on the Doorstep: Two serving Australian women in a suburban Perth backyard Anderson Shelter in early 1942. One, wearing a steel helmet, is representative of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) personnel who helped operate the coastal defences. The other is a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). Photo: Julian Tennant
A soldier of the 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion late 1942/early 1943. He is armed with a Thompson submachine gun and is dressed in the transitional uniform of khaki trousers and dyed shirt. By September 1943 when the battalion commenced operations in the Markham Valley, the Thompson had been replaced by the Owen submachine gun and jungle green trousers. Photo: Julian Tennant
Medals, binoculars, Japanese Occupation currency and the distinctive red ‘double diamond’ commando unit colour patch belonging to Sgt Arthur Wray (MID) of the 2/2 Independent Company which waged a guerilla campaign against the Japanese in Timor from December 1941 until December 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant
For those interested in commando and special operations, this gallery features a very nice selection of exhibits related to the activities of the Australian commandos, particularly the 2/2nd Independent Company and Z Special Unit of the Services Reconnaissance Department.
Liberator M1942 Pistol. Manufactured for the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) for use by clandestine forces during WW2. A very crude and cheap weapon to produce (approximately 1 million were manufactured between June August 1942), the Liberator is a single shot smoothbore pistol intended for close range use. Photo: Julian Tennant
Colt Model M1911A1 Pistol issued to Australian Special Forces and Commandos during WW2. This pistol was used by Private Frederick Mills when serving with the 1st Australian Parachute Battalion. Photo: Julian Tennant
This is a well laid out and interesting museum, with clear descriptions of the exhibits, supported by a staff of volunteers including many ex-servicemen who are happy to chat to visitors. Being largely volunteer run, the opening hours are a little restricted, being from 10:30 until 15:00 (last entries 13:00) from Wednesday to Sunday. There is no on-site parking for visitors, but it is not too difficult to find parking in the surrounding streets. If you’re relying on public transport, several buses leaving from the Fremantle train station pass close by or it’s an easy 20-minute walk from the station. An important point for visitors to note is that all adult visitors must be able to show appropriate photo identification (passport, drivers’ licence etc) prior to entry.
Next week I will take a look at the Post 1945 Galleries plus the Guns & Vehicles section.
The Army Museum of Western Australia
Fremantle, Western Australia, 6160
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