Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum, Western Australia

With the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, and the bombing of Darwin four days later, fears of a Japanese invasion of Australia began to reach fever pitch. The air raid on Broome in Western Australia on 3 March exacerbated concerns about the vulnerability of the state to Japanese invasion and led to the formation of III Corps and a bolstering of Western Australia’s military preparedness. One armoured and two infantry were deployed to the state and a rapid expansion of Western Australia’s defences commenced.

Nungarin, a small wheatbelt town situated approximately  278 km (173 mi) east of Perth became an important part of the supply network and at its peak was the third largest Army camp in Western Australia with around 1200 service personnel stationed there at any one time. The region was an integral part of the defence network as it was considered sufficiently inland to be outside the range of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. The town of Nungarin was selected for development, due to its location as a road and rail junction, had electricity and a good water supply.

In September 1942, the army acquired 1720 acres of land in and around the townsite and began construction of the Nungarin camp which was home to No.5 Base Ordnance Depot (5BOD), which at the time was the largest army ordnance storage facility in Western Australia and continued to operate there until its closure in 1960. The depot facilities included a vehicle workshop housed in a massive timber clad building which was sold to the Nungarin Shire.  It is now home to Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum, which officially opened on the 8th of October 1994.

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Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

As its name implies, the museum is more than just a military museum and also includes displays of farm machinery and other cultural artifacts related to the local community. However, it was the military aspects that interested me and after paying another visit to the Merredin Military Museum on the Saturday, I made the 30 minute drive to Nungarin early Sunday morning, just in time to arrive for one of the museums renowned Sunday Breakfasts ($10), which was a great way to begin the visit.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the exhibits are the vehicles and equipment of the type that were stored or repaired at the depot during its operation. Run by a small team of volunteer staff, the shed is filled with an assortment of military equipment, some complete and some still under restoration. Surrounding the shed are dozens more vehicles at different stages of disrepair, ‘projects’ is how Phil the caretaker/curator described them to me.

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Restored Australian Dingo Scout Car 1942. The chassis and wheels were donated by Anthony Thomson and Kodj Kodjin whilst the armour was found on Bruce Watson’s Nungarin farm. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Fully working WW2 period searchlight and generator, which has occasionally been dragged out to illuminate the night sky around Nungarin. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Unrestored M3 Stuart tank which was acquired by the museum in 1988 after it had been used for farm clearing at Nukarni after the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

In one corner of the shed there are a couple of rooms holding smaller artifacts including communications equipment, uniforms and personal effects. As a former communicator, of particular interest to me were a couple of Vietnam era patrol radio sets used by Australian Special Forces.

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Delco AN/PRC-64 and 64A radio sets used by Australian Special Forces in Vietnam and during the 1970’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

The lunchbox sized AN/PRC-64 was a spy radio set developed by Delco in the USA in the early 1960’s as a radio intended for Special Forces use and for espionage activities. Most of the original AN/PRC-64 sets were upgraded to the PRC-64A variant which included provision for the AN/GRA-71 Electro-mechanical Burst Encoder to allow for faster morse transmissions. These radios were used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment in Vietnam and also by 1 Commando Regiment. SASR soldier, John Trist recounts his experiences using the 64 set as a patrol sig in the early 1970’s on the Crypto Museum website  and was one of many ex sigs (myself included) who bought one when the Department of Defence disposed of stocks in 1995. These days, on the rare occasion when they do turn up in the marketplace, they sell for quite a bit more than the Au$50 asking price at the time.

The building housing the collection is an important part of the museum’s story, but unfortunately, a largely timber structure out in the middle of a dry and dusty wheatbelt town does not create an ideal conservation environment for textile artifacts. And although the staff have made considerable effort to try and protect the handful of uniforms and insignia on display in their cabinets, these are not the museum’s strong point. The uniforms that are on display represent a small selection of (mostly) Royal Australian Ordnance Corps uniforms, most of which are post war and reflect more recent connections with the Australian Army.

The main attraction is really the vehicles, and this is very much a hands-on type of museum where visitors can clamber around most of the displays to check out important details.  One of the vehicles that I found quite interesting was the Austin Champ, which was developed  to meet the British Army’s requirement for an off-road light vehicle in the early 1950’s. The Australian Army ordered 400 new Champs, plus a similar number of ex-British Army vehicles, but they were not popular due to their unsuitability for Australian conditions and were replaced by the Land Rover which was much better suited to requirements and significantly cheaper.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950's.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

For visitors a trip to the Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum can be done as a day-trip from Perth, although if you have time I would recommend staying overnight (possibly in nearby Merredin), which will give you time to check out the Merredin Military Museum as well as the Nungarin museum, plus explore the old military buildings that are spread around the area. These are well documented on the Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre website  or you can use Jane Hammond’s When war came to the wheatbelt piece for the Royal Automobile Club of WA (Inc.) as your guide for the trip east from Perth.

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Ammunition bunker near Nokaning East Road, between Nungarin and Merredin. This is one of 46 concrete bunkers scattered around the area which were used to store various munitions during the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum
26 Second Avenue
Nungarin
Western Australia, 6490

Phone: +61 (0)8 9046 5040
Email: nungarinheritage@bigpond.com
Website: www.nungarinmuseum.com.au

Open: Every day from 09:00 to 16:00.

Entry Fees: $5 per person

You may also be interested in this review of the nearby Merredin Military Museum

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Help preserve the Musée Somme 1916

5AIF Montauban Road Picardi Dec 1916

Unidentified diggers of the 5th Division AIF having a smoke and resting by the side of the Montauban road, near Mametz approximately 7km east of Albert, while enroute to the trenches. December 1916. Photograph: Herbert Frederick Baldwin. Australian War Memorial Accession Number: E00019

 

ANZAC Day, the 25th of April, is a day where Aussies and Kiwis remember the sacrifices made during times of war. Dawn service commemorations are held around the country and at memorials across the globe. This year, lock-downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a huge impact on the way 2020’s commemorations and also on the places we visit to remember. Memorials, museums and local businesses have been forced to close their doors to the public and for some, who rely on the patronage of tourists making the pilgrimage to the sites where their forebears fought, the impact may be fatal.

This morning, whilst checking Facebook I stumbled across a cry for help from the non-profit Musée Somme 1916 in the French town of Albert, approximately 7km southwest of Pozieres, in the Somme region. Albert would be familiar to thousands of Australians who have made the pilgrimage to the battlefields of the Western Front and many may have visited the museum which is located in the tunnels under the Basilica of Note-Dame de Brebieres.

The Basilica was home to the famous leaning Golden Virgin statue of Mary and the infant Jesus which was hit by a German shell in 1915 and knocked to a near horizontal position. A number of legends developed among the thousands of soldiers who passed through Albert around the ‘Leaning Virgin’ including the myth that whichever side caused the statue to fall, would lose the war. It was eventually knocked down and destroyed by allied shells in April 1918 after the Germans recaptured the town during their Spring Offensive. After the war, the Basilica was faithfully rebuilt according to its original design, complete with a replica of the statue.

1916 Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebieres

1916 postcard of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebieres, France. The postcard is folded in half and opens up to twice the size of a regular postcard, with text ‘Guerre 1914-1916’, and featuring black and white photographs on the front, with the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebieres in Albert, France on the right, and on the left a photograph of the Basilica showing the destruction done to the building after 15 months of bombardment. The postcard was sent by No. 171 Private Philip George Pittaway of the 27th Battalion AIF to his sister back in Australia a few months after arriving in France. George Pittaway enlisted in South Australia on 14 January 1915 and served in Egypt and Gallipoli for three months before being sent to France in March 1916. He was killed in action on 5 November 1916 in France during the 27th Battalion’s attack on German positions in Flers, and has no known grave. State Library of South Australia Artifact Number: PRG 1675/6/4/R

 

The Musée Somme 1916’s entry, which is on the side of the Basilica, takes visitors down into tunnels that were first built in the 13th century, before being converted to an air raid shelter in 1938 and then finally the current museum in 1992. Its tunnels and dozen alcoves stretch for 250m and provide visitors with an overview of what life was like for soldiers during the July 1916 offensive. The photographs of the museum that you see here were taken during a pilgrimage that I made to the battlefields of the Somme in 2015. The trip was a humbling and moving experience, made even more poignant by places such as the Musée Somme 1916 which contextualise the sacrifices that were made by all sides during that terrible period in history. If you are able, I encourage you to give the museum whatever support you can, to help preserve the history for future generations.

The museum’s crowd funding page can be found here and you can find them on Facebook here.

Lest We Forget!

 

Musée Somme 1916
Rue Anicet Godin
80300 Albert
France

Phone: +33 (0)3 22751617
Email: musee@somme1916.org
Website: www.musee-somme-1916.eu

Open:                                                                                                                                                         The Musée Somme 1916 is usually open everyday 09:00 until 18:00 (last entry at 17:30). However due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is temporarily closed until further notice.

Entry Fees:
Adults –  7.00 €
Children 6 to 18 years old –  4.00 €
Children  under 6 years old –  Free
Veterans –  5.00 €
Disabled –  6.00 €
Adult groups (10 pax or more) –  6.00 €
Guided tour (25 pax maximum) –  50.00 €

 

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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! If you like what you see here, please follow this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

An Australian souvenir from Operation CRIMP, South Vietnam, January 1966.

A selection of items related to the initial deployment of 1RAR to South Vietnam from May 1965 until April 1966 when they were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The WW2 era Australian Military Forces lighter which has been modified with the addition of the enameled 173 Abn and Viet Cong badges was issued to Corporal Lex McAulay, who was with 1RAR during this time. Collection: Julian Tennant

A selection of items related to the initial deployment of 1RAR to South Vietnam during the period from May 1965 until April 1966 when they were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The WW2 era Australian Military Forces lighter which has been modified with the addition of the enameled 17rd Airborne and Viet Cong badges was issued to Corporal Lex McAulay, who was serving as a linguist with 1RAR during this time. Collection: Julian Tennant

One of my collecting interests is Australian cigarette lighters from the Vietnam War. In recent years I have tended to reduce my focus to (predominantly) Zippo lighters related to the Australian Special Forces units and the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV). However, I do still collect some that are from other units or have interesting provenance. This Australian Army issue lighter, which I obtained from noted military author and historian, Lex McAulay OAM, is one of those unique objects that makes collecting interesting.

Personalised WW2 period Australian Military Forces issue lighter carried Corporal Lex McAulay during his first tour of Vietnam with 1RAR in 1965. Collection: Julian Tennant

Personalised WW2 period Department of Defence issue Mark III  lighter carried by Corporal Lex McAulay during his first tour of Vietnam with the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in 1965-66. Collection: Julian Tennant

The marking’s on the lighter’s base indicate that it is the Department of Defence issue Mark III, which was one of the 96,000 made by the munitions factory in Footscray, Victoria, just before the end of WW2, in July 1945. These lighters continued to be issued to Australian servicemen for several years, including during the war in Vietnam. This personalised example is one of two lighters that I acquired from Lex, the other being a Korean copy of a Zippo (also shown below) which he picked up in Saigon during one of his later tours.

Bien Hoa, Vietnam. 1965-09. Two bare-chested Australians Corporal Lex McAulay (left) of Innisfail, Qld, and Corporal John Henderson of Macquarie Fields, NSW, inspect an Armalite rifle at the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). Photograph: Bryan Dunne. Australian War Memorial Accession Number DNE/65/0335A/VN

Bien Hoa, Vietnam. 1965-09. Two bare-chested Australians Corporal Lex McAulay (left) of Innisfail, Qld, and Corporal John Henderson of Macquarie Fields, NSW, inspect an Armalite rifle at the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). Photograph: Bryan Dunne. Australian War Memorial Accession Number DNE/65/0335A/VN

Lex McAulay joined the Australian Regular Army in June 1960 and trained as an infantryman. In 1962 he volunteered for language aptitude testing and was subsequently accepted to the RAAF School of Languages, where after completing a year-long Vietnamese language course, qualified as a Vietnamese linguist. Lex was subsequently posted to the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment but when Australia committed ground combat troops to South Vietnam in April 1965, he was immediately transferred to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR).

The battalion departed Australia in May 1965 and upon arrival in Vietnam was attached (as a third battalion) to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) which was based at the Bien Hoa Airbase 25km North East of Saigon. 1RAR was initially restricted to operations protecting the airbase until, in September 1965, the Australian Government lifted these restrictions and the battalion was expanded to a battalion-group, with the addition of supporting artillery, engineers, aviation, medical and logistic elements. The battalion-group now began to undertake operations in the Viet Cong dominated areas of War Zones C, D and the Iron Triangle.

The battalion performed extremely well on operations with the American Brigade, most notably during Operation CRIMP in January 1966, when the Australians breached the extensive Cu Chi tunnel network. This operation is described in detail in the book, First to Fight, by Bob Breen and is also the main theme of Lex McAulay’s book, Blue Lanyard Red Banner. The US military policy of the time was to destroy tunnels and bunkers, but the Australian engineers of 3 Field Troop RAE began searching them, capturing large stocks of food, weapons, equipment and documents. It was during one of the tunnel clearances that the Viet Cong lapel badge that is attached to the lighter was discovered and in a note that Lex sent to me with the lighter, outlining its provenance, he writes,

During the operation, a small box, about the size of an old matchbox, was found in one of the tunnels being investigated by 1RAR soldiers. The matchbox was filled with these Vietcong badges. Corporal McAulay was the only linguist available to 1RAR for this operation and was responsible for sorting and sending back all captured items. His unofficial but personal policy was to send items of intelligence value back to higher headquarters but return everything else to the capturing sub-unit for use as souvenirs and keep the soldiers motivated to send captured items to him or other members of the battalion intelligence section.

McAulay goes on to note that he kept one badge and returned the rest to the platoon. The text on the Vietcong badge is: Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam which translates as South Vietnam People’s Liberation Front. The 173rd Airborne Brigade badge was acquired and attached by Lex sometime after the operation.

Viet Cong badge held in the Australian War Memorial collection of the same type to that affixed to Lex McAulay's lighter. The badge consists of a white enamel oval shape with 'MAI DAN TOC GIAI PHONG' written in raised brass lettering. In the top right of the badge is the Viet Cong flag, red over blue with a central yellow star in enamel. At the bottom of the badge is a red enamelled scroll with 'MIEN NAM VIET NAM' written in raised brass lettering. On the reverse of the badge is a pin and catch threaded into a small brass tube which has then been soldered onto the badge. This particular example was given to 213419 Lieutenant Alan George Hutchinson, a Royal Australian Artillery Forward Observer attached to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) during Operation Crimp in January 1965. Is it possible that this badge came from the same matchbox of badges given to Lex McCaulay during the operation? Australian War Memorial Accession Number REL38058

Viet Cong badge held in the Australian War Memorial collection of the same type to that is affixed to Lex McAulay’s lighter. The badge consists of a white enamel oval shape with ‘MAI DAN TOC GIAI PHONG’ written in raised brass lettering. In the top right of the badge is the Viet Cong flag, red over blue with a central yellow star in enamel. At the bottom of the badge is a red enamelled scroll with ‘MIEN NAM VIET NAM’ written in raised brass lettering. On the reverse of the badge is a pin and catch threaded into a small brass tube which has then been soldered onto the badge. This particular example was given to 213419 Lieutenant Alan George Hutchinson, a Royal Australian Artillery Forward Observer attached to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) during Operation CRIMP in January 1965. Is it possible that this badge came from the same box of badges given to Corporal Lex McAulay during the same operation? Australian War Memorial Accession Number REL38058

Corporal Lex McAulay, of 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), holds the hand of an old man as he leads him to safety after a village had been cleared of the Viet Cong. Photograph: Michael Shannon. Australian War Memorial Accession Number SHA/65/0220/VN

Corporal Lex McAulay, of 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), holds the hand of an old man as he leads him to safety after a village had been cleared of the Viet Cong. Photograph: Michael Shannon. Australian War Memorial Accession Number SHA/65/0220/VN

Whilst Operation CRIMP failed to achieve its objective of destroying the Communist Committee Headquarters that controlled all Viet Cong activity in the Capital Military District, the performance of the Australians in entering the tunnels, capturing valuable resources and intelligence information, led to a change in American policies and subsequently all American units throughout Vietnam were ordered to enter and clear tunnels before destroying them. The operation also highlighted the differences in doctrine and tactical principles between the Australians, who had brought years of counter-insurgency experience from Malaya with them and the Americans whose strategy was one of attrition, with ‘body counts’ being their measure of success. In 1966 as the allied build up in Vietnam grew, the Australian units were placed under direct Australian operational command with the formation of the 1st Australian Task Force in April 1966.

After completing a 12 month stint in Vietnam with 1RAR, Lex McAulay returned to Australia in 1966 and helped to set up a short colloquial Vietnamese course in Sydney. In late 1967, Lex went back to Vietnam as a staff member of the Military Attaché at the Australian Embassy in Saigon, returning in 1968. His final tour of duty in Vietnam was in 1970 where he eventually took charge of the Interrogation and Document Translation Section of the Australian field HQ. It was in Saigon during one of these later tours that he acquired the other lighter I acquired from him, a Korean ‘My-Lite’ copy of a Zippo lighter which features a Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) badge on one side and the US Vietnam Service medal on the other.

Korean 'My-Lite' copy of the Zippo lighter which Lex McAulay bought in Saigon during one of his later deployments to Vietnam. Collection: Julian Tennant

Korean ‘My-Lite’ copy of the Zippo lighter which Lex McAulay bought in Saigon during one of his later deployments to Vietnam. Collection: Julian Tennant

Lex completed his third deployment to Vietnam in April 1971 and was preparing for a fourth tour when the Australian commitment ended. He remained in the Army until his retirement in 1982 and has subsequently authored several books related to military history as well as managing Banner Books, which specialises in Australian aviation and military studies. In 2007 Lex was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to literature and as a military historian.

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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! If you like what you see here, please follow this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages