EDITORIAL: Australian Chief of Army’s directive re use of ‘death’ symbols

In early April 2018, the Chief of Army, Lt. Gen. Angus Campbell, a former Australian SAS officer, released a memo requesting that the RSM of Army incorporate an instruction into the Army Dress Manual that banned the use of emblems that incorporated “death” symbols or iconography. These include Punisher skull or pirate Jolly Roger symbols both of which feature in the range of emblems and patches used by sub-units within the Australian Special Operations community… and no doubt are also features of various other Australian Army sub-unit logos.
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As can be expected there has been a backlash and ridicule from various interested parties. Many cite the unique task that society assigns to the military, the creep of political correctness and the role unit emblems play in fostering a sense of identity with its associated importance in team cohesion/bonding.
 
Personally, I agree with these arguments and am in favour of maintaining the existing traditions through the symbols that have already been adopted by the various sub-units.
 
However… and despite being an insignia collector with a particular interest in Australian Special Operations units, I have long held the belief that widespread use of troop, platoon, company and squadron patches within the Australian Special Operations community has gone too far and may not be a good thing for OpSec reasons.
 
The days of these logos being confined to beer stubby holders and PT shirts sold ‘in-house’ to raise funds for unit ‘pissups’ seems long gone… Back then, most people outside of the units had no idea who the sub-unit symbols represented and they were rarely, if ever seen in the public domain. So, maybe this directive will have some positive spin-offs, making the activities of our operators less visible through the identification of units through their patches and bring them back into the shadows where they belong.
 
From a collectors perspective, I wonder what effect the ruling will have? The Australian Army insignia collector market is already saturated with fakes and fantasy items. Since the early 2000’s collector/dealers have been capitalising on the wants of Australian collectors manufacturing ‘local made’ copies of known insignia plus, not infrequently, completely making shit up to sell to an eager and unsuspecting market. Will this move curtail their activities? Maybe… or maybe it is already too late and the genie is out of the bottle…. maybe it will just lead to new batches of ‘rare unofficial’ patches for units that have no knowledge of these patches existence and collectors who have few points of reference to determine what is real and what is bullshit. Time will tell I guess.
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FAKE/FANTASY Australian Special Operations unit insignia made to fool unsuspecting collectors. Not sure what drugs the manufacturer has been taking to come up with these designs, but they are figments of his imagination. Unfortunately, some collectors continue to be fooled by this bullshit.

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REFERENCE BOOK: Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) – Volumes 1 & 2

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Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 by Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler

A4 size softcover, ring spiral binding on both books, 312 and 236 pages respectively

Published by CharlieBravoBooks, Brisbane (2017)

ISBN: 9780994199355 and 9780994199348

Arthur Butler and Mark Corcoran’s two volume set catalogue the metal insignia used by the Australian Army from 1953 until the present day. Volume 1 covers all Corps and school insignia and volume 2 deals with specific units and regiments.

Both are well laid out, dealing with manufacturers, notes on evaluating individual specimens as well as full colour photographs that include full size obverse and reverse images as well as close up details of key features when appropriate.

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The insignia are broken down into three distinct ‘generations’, including the: gilt brass and white metal badges used between 1953 to 1964; the anodized aluminium ‘Staybright’ badges that were introduced from 1964; and the more recent ‘Briteshine’ insignia adopted from 1997 onward.

The colour photographs are complimented by detailed text, which includes information regarding distinguishing characteristics, dimensions, weight makers marks and attachment details.

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Additional notes such as details of key events that influenced the evolution or use of the insignia are also included, as is a very useful chapter which provides detailed information about the numerous fakes, reproductions and ‘Regi shop’ private purchase items.

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Overall, the authors, who are both collectors, have done an outstanding job of researching and presenting a reference with the collector in mind. In addition to the two volumes, their website provides additional information, such as video links outlining casting techniques used in the manufacture of badges and discussion about specific insignia.

I suggest that you bookmark their page and if you are an Australian or British Commonwealth insignia collector, these two books are an absolute must for your reference library.

 

Australian Army Dress Manual: Chapter 4 – Badges & Emblems

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Sample page from the Army Dress Manual: Chapter 4 – Badges & Emblems.

 

The Australian Army Dress Manual is available as a pdf download, online from the Army website. Chapter 4 – Badges & Emblems details the insignia worn by members of the army along with instructions for placement and regulations re use. You can access a copy of the dress manual from the hyperlink above or follow the link below.

https://www.army.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1846/f/army_dress_manual_201712_chapt_4_badges_and_emblems.pdf

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance galleries

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1 Commando Regiment beret belonging to Private Greg Sher, KIA during a rocket attack in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan 04 January 2009.

I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Melbourne and on Sunday afternoon, just before heading to the airport I found that I had a couple of hours to kill whilst ‘she who must be obeyed’ spent some time with her sister. I was at Flinders street station so decided to take a walk down St Kilda Road to the Shrine of Remembrance. The walk takes about 10 to 15 minutes and is quite a pleasant stroll, but in retrospect I should have taken the 5 minute tram ride (‘Stop 19 – Shrine of Remembrance’) as it would have given me more time to explore the new Galleries of Remembrance which were still under development last time I visited, back in mid 2014. But, it was a spur of the moment decision and whilst I regret not having more time to look at the exhibits it gave me a taster for my next visit.

 

The Eternal Flame near the footsteps of Victoria's Shrine of Remembrance.

The Eternal Flame near the footsteps of Victoria’s Shrine of Remembrance.

Built in 1934, the Shrine is the Victorian state war memorial. It was built to help a grieving Victorian community which lost 19,000 of it’s 114,000 enlistees killed in the First World War. They were buried in distant graves at a time when most Australians did not travel abroad. The Shrine provided a place where Victorians could share their individual and collective grief for the lives that they had lost. Designed by architects Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop, both World War 1 veterans, it is located in Kings Domain on St Kilda Road and was opened on the 11th of November 1934.
The Galleries of Remembrance were opened to the public on 11 November 2014. It utilizes 1600 square meters in a cathedral-like chamber beneath the Shrine and exhibits over 800 items illustrating the Australian experience of war from the 1850’s until the present day. Because of the time limitations I had, I did not go into the Shrine itself this time, but instead opted to check out these displays. Unfortunately the picture quality isn’t the greatest as they were just snapped on my iphone, but they will give you an idea of what is on the display.

Ballarat Rangers Helmet c.1880 in the Pre-Federation Gallery.

Ballarat Rangers Helmet c.1880 in the Pre-Federation Gallery. This helmet is a rare example of the type worn with the distinctive green uniform of the Ballarat Rangers. Formed on 26th July 1858, the unit was originally known as the Ballarat Volunteer Rifle Regiment but changed its name a month later.

Gallipoli landing lifeboat in the First World War Gallery.

Gallipoli landing lifeboat in the First World War Gallery. Lifeboat No. 5 landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 at around 4.10 am. The lifeboat carried men of the 12th Battalion, the 3rd Field Ambulance and the 3rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters

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Australian Flying Corps pilot’s brevet with officers pips and farriers trade badge in the AFC and 4th Light Horse display in the First World War Gallery.

WW1 Aviators helmet, goggles and jacket in the First World War G

WW1 Aviators helmet, goggles and jacket in the First World War Gallery.

Australian uniform as worn on the Western Front circa 1917.

Australian uniform as worn on the Western Front circa 1917.

First Word War Gallery display.

First Word War Gallery display.

Italian, German and French uniforms in the Second World War Gall

Italian, German and French uniforms in the Second World War Gallery

Australian Kokoda / New Guinea display in the Second World War G

Australian Kokoda / New Guinea display in the Second World War Gallery.

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Shirt worn by Alf Argent (3RAR) as part of the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, Malaya c. 1960.

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Viet Cong embroidered propaganda pendant of Ho Chi Minh in the “1966 The year that changed the world” temporary exhibition.

'Khats' by George Gittoes (March 1993)

‘Khats’ by George Gittoes (March 1993). Australian artist George Gittoes spent time in Somalia with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). He accompanied soldiers from 1RAR on night patrols in Baidoa and was fascinated by their electronic night vision goggles. He observed that; “People through their goggles lose their humanity… it is like playing a virtual reality game…” Meanwhile a local man experiences his own state of altered reality by chewing the stimulant plant, khat.

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Plaque from Rwanda c. 1995 presented to WO2 Robert Burgess (UNAMIR II) and UNTAC (Cambodia) patches collected by Private David Jess in 1993.

Australian patches related to Iraq 2003 - 2008.

Australian patches related to the Iraq deployments 2003 – 2008.

Afghanistan & Iraq gallery.

Afghanistan & Iraq gallery.

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Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) shirt worn by Sgt Ricky Morris whilst serving as an engineer in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.

The Shrine of Remembrance is located on Birdwood Avenue and St Kilda Road, 1.3km from Flinders Street Railway Station. It can be reached by a nice 10 minute walk or by any St Kilda road south bound tram except route number 1. Disembark at tram stop 19 or the Domain Road interchange. If you are using the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle bus, disembark at Stop 13.

Admission is free and it is open from 10:00 until 17:00 (last entry 16:30) everyday except Good Friday and Christmas Day.  For more information visit the Shrine of Remembrance website here.

Australian ANZAC Day Iraq 2016 patch

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Close up of an Australian helmet featuring the Taji ANZAC Day Iraq 2016 patch at the dawn service held at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq. 25 April 2016. Picture by Cpl Jake Sims (ADF)

On 25 April 2016, Australian and New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed to Iraq with Task Group Taji commemorated the Task Group’s first Anzac Day at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq. This year’s Anzac day marks the 100th anniversary since the first Anzac Day service in 1916. To commemorate the day a special one-off patch was produced by a Sydney based company for the troops serving with Task Group Taji.

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Australian Army soldier Private Andrew Lawrence from Task Group Taji commemorates Anzac Day at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq. The ANZAC Day Iraq 2016 patch can be seen on the helmet and the issue Task Group Taji patch is visible on his right shoulder. Picture by Cpl Jake Sims (ADF) 

Task Group Taji ANZAC Day 2016 patch

ANZAC Day Iraq 2016 patch produced for  the first ANZAC Day commemoration service at the Taji Military Complex in Iraq.

Personnel from Australia and New Zealand based at the Taji Military Complex in Iraq are part of the broader international Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission training members of the Iraqi security forces. The training includes weapon handling, building clearances and obstacle breaching techniques; as well as training in the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for squad through to company-level operations to use in their fight against Daesh.

Task Group Taji 2016 patch

General issue, Australian manufactured, Task Group Taji patch worn by Australian & New Zealand personnel serving with the Task Group as part of the mission designated Operation OKRA by the Australian Defence Force.

Task Group Taji’s BPC contribution is part of Australia’s broader Defence contribution to Iraq, codenamed Operation OKRA, which includes a Special Operations Task Group and an Air Task Group.

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Australian Army soldier Private Andrew Lawrence from Task Group Taji commemorates Anzac Day at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq. 25 April 2016.  Picture by Cpl Jake Sims (ADF)

Shaun Gladwell’s video portrait of Mark Donaldson VC

Portrait of Mark Donaldson VC (video still) by Shaun Gladwell. Note the ‘chopped’ Australian National Flag patch just visible on his left shoulder.

This afternoon  I dropped by the John Curtin Gallery here in Perth to check out an exhibition by two recent Australian War artists, Ben Quilty and Shaun Gladwell, both of whom were commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to cover the conflict in Afghanistan. It’s a very contemporary approach to war art and if one is expecting the traditional heroic depictions of the military on operations they will be sadly disappointed.

I quite liked the show, particularly Ben Quilty‘s very emotional and expressive portraits of the servicemen and women that he met whilst in Afghanistan in 2011 and then subsequently painted again after their return to Australia. The resulting portraits are not pretty likenesses, but are raw, the thick impasto application of paint charged with emotion. The paintings reveal much about the vulnerability and difficulty that so many of our servicemen face when returning home and trying to reintegrate into a society that is largely indifferent to their service and sacrifice.

Shaun Gladwell traveled to Afghanistan as an official War Artist in 2009. His work includes photographs, paintings and video. One of his pieces is a video portrait of Australian Special Air Service Regiment Victoria Cross winner Mark Donaldson VC. As a badge collector I found some aspects of this work particularly interesting, including Donno’s choice of chopped ANF patch that can be seen on his left sleeve in the stills grab above. It appears that he has cut the Southern Cross from the national flag and is wearing just the Union Jack with a single star below it. Interesting… I’ve seen this a couple of times now and I wonder if there is a reason for this symbolic change or (more likely) that its just to reduce the IR signature of the full size patch?

Both artists were commissioned as part of the Official War Art Scheme, the longest running and largest commissioning program of art in Australia. The Scheme was started during WW1 and reactivated during WW2, then again for the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. In 1999 the Scheme was renewed for the Australian deployment to Timor and since then has seen artists deploy to various theatres of conflict, including the Middle East and Solomon Islands.  In 2003 the AWM commissioned a mate of mine, David Dare Parker, to be its first official War Photographer, deploying alongside artist Lewis Miller to document the Second Gulf War. The patch below is one that was given to Dave by the AWM for use during the deployment and then subsequently given to me for my collection.

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Australian War Memorial “Australian Official Photographer” patch worn by photojournalist David Dare Parker whilst embedded with Australian forces as part of the Official War Art Scheme during the Second Gulf War. (Julian Tennant Collection)

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Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan and Shaun Gladwell: Afghanistan is on show at the gallery from 2 August – 14 September, 2014