Birdwood Military Museum – Geraldton, Western Australia

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One of the earliest known purpose-built Returned and Services League (RSL) halls in Western Australia is also home to one of the state’s regional military museums.

Built in 1935, Birdwood House in Geraldton, was named in honour of much respected soldier, Field Marshal Sir William Riddell Birdwood, who commanded the ANZACs at Gallipoli and I ANZAC Corps in France until he was succeeded by Lieutenant General John Monash in May 1918. It is still used by the local RSL but some rooms have also been set aside to showcase their collection, which is a constantly-evolving depiction of Geraldton’s and the Mid West’s military history.

Geraldton Volunteer Rifle Corps 1890

Geraldton Rifle Volunteer Corps camp at Separation Point circa 1890. Established in 1877, the Corps served in the Boer War in 1899 as ‘A’ Company 16th Battalion and was one of the most active in the State. The Corps, later renamed the Geraldton Rifle Club, continued to use the Army rifle range at Separation Point until the late 1940s. During World War II the Army called on local members of the Rifle Club to perform voluntary military roles in the town. Photo Courtesy Geraldton Regional Library – GRL, P 851

Like many RSLs, Birdwood House features various military artifacts spread around the building that reflects and reinforces the connection between the members and its history. At Birdwood House this includes a ‘rogues gallery’ of some of their members, past and present including interesting characters such as Derek Andrews, who after serving as an infantryman with 3RAR in Vietnam, travelled to Rhodesia in 1976. Derek first joined the Greys Scouts and then transferred to the Selous Scouts until he discharged in 1979 with the rank of sergeant. In 1981 he moved to South Africa and served as a pathfinder in the 44th Parachute Brigade alongside well known former SAS soldier and author of  Beyond No Mean Soldier by Peter McAleese who mentions him in the memoir. Derek returned to Australia in early 1984, then moved to Victor Harbor in South Australia in 2001 where he became a member of that RSL Sub Branch.

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Geraldton RSL’s ‘rogues gallery’ picture of 54909, Ronald Lindsay Gammie who served with SASR, completing a tour of Borneo with 1 SAS Squadron and 3 SAS Squadron’s first tour of Vietnam in 1966. Some of his personal items are also in the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The bulk of the Birdwood Military Museum’s collection on display is contained in two rooms that are packed full of artifacts including uniforms, photos, medals, weapons and personal effects. There are many more in storage and Treasurer Glenn Law says that display space is an issue, particularly as the number of items being donated by local veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts continues to grow.

The number of items crammed into a small, volunteer run, museum has created challenges for display which can create a sense of disorder. But the ‘staff’ are very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and happy to answer questions about specific pieces. Look closely and there are some fascinating treasures to be found such as the Darnley Dixaline.

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The Darnley Dixaline (Mark IV) made by Signalman Walter Darnley of the 2/28th Battalion during World War 2. Photo: Julian Tennant

This unique handmade banjo type musical instrument was made by Signalman Walter Darnley, who served with the 2/28th Battalion during World War 2. Sig Darnley made what he called the Darnley Dixaline (Mark IV) from battlefield remnants, including the skin from a discarded drum, wooden crates, and toothpaste containers. His wife, Thelma, sent the strings to him. The instrument, believed to be the only one of its type in the world, was crafted sometime between 1941 and 1942 and is believed to have been used at Tobruk. It is signed by all 29 members of Sig Darnley’s platoon and has a further 12 signatures of men from the battalion.

Naturally, being located in regional Western Australia, units such as the 10th Light Horse, 11th, 16th and 28th Infantry Battalions which recruited from the local population base, are well represented in the displays. But there are also some interesting pieces from as far away as the British Army of the Rhine and souvenirs brought back by returning servicemen.

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10th Western Australian Mounted Infantry beret and badge. The 10th W.A.M.I. was formed in 1949 and equipped with Staghound Armoured Cars and Canadian Scout Cars. In 1956 the unit was re-designated with its previous title, the 10th Light Horse. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Post WW2 Australian paratrooper’s beret. This beret quite possibly belonged to a member of the early SAS Company based at Swanbourne who wore the maroon beret and RAINF badge for a time after their formation in 1957. The ‘dog tags’ appear to be unrelated to the beret. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Composite ‘Vietnam’ Australian SAS uniform which includes a US ERDL camouflage shirt used by Corporal Ron Gammie who completed a tour of South Vietnam with 3 SAS Squadron in 1966-67. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Insignia belonging to 5/588 Corporal K.C. Burgess who served with the Royal Australian Regiment in Korea. Note the IRVIN parachute pin which was often presented to individuals who had undertaken parachute descents using rigs made by that company. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Royal Australian Navy is also reasonably well represented, and the displays include two very detailed scale models depicting the HMAS Sydney and German auxiliary cruiser/raider Kormoran (HSK-8) which both sank after an epic clash off the WA coast on 19 November 1941. A very impressive memorial to the HMAS Sydney is located on the hill about 900m away from the museum and a visit is recommended, along with the Museum of Geraldton which also includes a 3D film of the wrecks, detailed information about the battle as well as other artifacts and aspects of the city’s wartime history.

For those with an interest in military history visiting Geraldton, a trip to the Birdwood Military Museum should be on the agenda but it is important to plan ahead. Formal entry times are restricted as the ‘staff’ are volunteer members of the RSL however if you do wish to visit outside of the times noted below contact them and see what can be arranged. If possible, try to visit on a Friday evening as this coincides with their BBQ night which is also a good opportunity to meet with some of the local veterans for a feed and a beer or two. If you are visiting Geraldton and have some flexibility with timings, try to arrange your trip to coincide with the third Saturday of the month as this is when Leane’s Trench, which is run by the Geraldton-based 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit, is open to the public. The trench is about 30km outside of the city, just off the road to Mullewa. Unfortunately, my Geraldton stop-over did not coincide with the opening times for the trench visit, but it has given me the incentive to plan another weekend away from Perth.

Birdwood Military Museum
Birdwood House
46 Chapman Road
Geraldton
Western Australia 6530
Australia

Phone: +61 (0)8 9964 1520 (Mon. and Thurs. 0900 – 11400) / 0427 612 479 or 0408 222 653 (all other times)
Website: https://www.geraldtonrsl.org.au/

Open:
Monday 0900 – 1400
Thursday 0900 – 1400
Friday 1700 – Late
Sunday 1200 – 1500
Other times by arrangement

HMAS Sydney II memorial Geraldton

H.M.A.S. Sydney II Memorial overlooking the Geraldton town centre and waterfront. The memorial is less than a kilometer away from the Birdwood Military Museum and can be reached within a few minutes by car or about 10 minutes if walking.

Geraldton 11 bn Leanes Trench

Members of the 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit and visitors to ‘Leane’s Trench’ near Mullewa. Photos: Ken Lawson

Members of the the 11th Battalion AIF and the Gallipoli Trench P

Members of the the 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit, Dr Stewart Adamson, Ian Wright, Mark Long, Phil Eather, Karl Edwards, Chris Cox. and Michael McGilvray. Photo: Elise Van Aken/Geraldton Guardian

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The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Situated approximately 30km west of Melbourne at Point Cook, the RAAF Museum was established in 1952 as a repository for the preservation of aircraft, documents and memorabilia associated with the AFC and RAAF. The location is apt as Point Cook is also the birthplace of both the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and its successor, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  In 1972 the museum opened to the public and the collection has subsequently grown to over 100,000 items. I first visited the museum back in 1981 and have returned several times to see it evolve and grow. Smaller items such as heraldry and ephemera are changed reasonably regularly and some of the things I saw on my previous trip were no longer on display, so for this week’s post I have again included a lot of pictures. Note that as with all my weekly posts, when the pictures are laid out as a mosaic pattern, you can click on them to see a larger view with the caption.

My last visit to the museum had been back in 2014 when I spent some time in the Research Centre trawling through the records relating to the insignia worn by the Australian Flying Corps as part of my research and contribution to Bob Pandis’ book Flight Badges of the Allied Nations 1914-1918, Volume II, but I have been wanting to visit again and reacquaint myself with the exhibits. The opportunity presented itself this past week when I made a trip to Melbourne to visit my ageing parents and I am glad that I was able take a few hours out of my schedule to take another look.

The museum consists of several parts including external displays of aircraft and a Bristol Bloodhound missile launcher. However, most of the aircraft are housed in the various hangar displays which are divided into different sections across the complex. These are descriptively named the Technology Hangar, Training Hangar, Aircraft Display Hangar 180, Strike Reconnaissance Hangar 178 and the Restoration Hangar 187 where one can watch the conservators restore various aircraft including a de Havilland Mosquito (A52-600).

The aircraft collection is no doubt fascinating for the plane buffs, but as an insignia collector for me the really interesting stuff is housed in the Heritage Galleries which are situated in the main building. These galleries feature objects tracing a chronological the history of the AFC and RAAF from its birth as the Central Flying School on the 7th of March 1913 up until the present day. My main aviator collecting interest is focused on wings of the Australian Flying Corps up until the formation of the RAAF in March 1921 and the museum has some incredibly rare pieces on display including the very first set of wings (known as the AMF Pilots Badge) awarded.

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

The First World War gallery also includes items such as the maternity jacket with RFC wings worn by Captain Douglas Rutherford (1 Sqn AFC) who was rescued by Lieutenant Frank McNamara V.C. after being shot down behind enemy lines in Palestine in 1917. It was this rescue that resulted in McNamara being awarded the Victoria Cross, the first for an Australian aviator.

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot's brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot’s brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

'A Dangerous Life!' Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For Holden and other 'fighting instructors' life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

‘A Dangerous Life!’ Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For the ‘fighting instructors’ life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

In addition to exhibits relating to Australia’s air power contributions in the world wars, post war conflicts including Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq plus the various Peacekeeping deployments and Civil Aid Operations, the galleries also feature exhibits about specific branches such as Chaplains, the RAAF Medical Service and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (later Women’s Royal Australian Air Force). There are also displays that cover aspects such as basic training, life at postings such as the RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia and the RAAF Marine Section.

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of last Aust MIA's during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign 'Magpie 91' flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA's from Vietnam began. The "Ugly Club" was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of the last Aust MIA’s during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign ‘Magpie 91’ flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA’s from Vietnam began. The “Ugly Club” was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V 'Walrus' (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V ‘Walrus’ (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H 'Bushranger' gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980's. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H ‘Bushranger’ gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980’s. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

There is also a small gift shop which includes books, souvenir items and a comprehensive selection of Squadron patches for purchase. As far as I am aware, these are the same patches that are used by the squadrons, originating from the same manufacturer, the only difference being the lack of Velcro backing. In addition the shop sells some REPRO aviator brevets and collectors should not confuse those with the issue wings.

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot's brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot’s brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Every-time I visit this museum I find something new to look at and this visit was no exception as there were pieces on display including some items from recent deployments to the Middle East which had not yet been displayed during my previous trip. There were also some things such as the rare Roo and Caterpillar Club pins that resonated with my parachuting/special forces collecting interests.  For a visitor to Melbourne it can be a bit difficult to get to as it is located on the RAAF base about 25 minutes’ drive from Melbourne although there is also a bus service, the Werribee Park Shuttle, which stops at the RAAF Museum on flying days (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays). However, despite its location, the RAAF Museum should be on the agenda for anybody visiting Melbourne with an interest in aviation or military history.

RAAF Museum
RAAF Base Point Cook
Point Cook Road
Victoria 3030
Australia

View location on Google Maps 

Phone: 03) 8348 6040

Email: RAAF.MuseumInfo@defence.gov.au

Website: https://www.airforce.gov.au/raaf-museum

Opening hours

Tuesday to Friday: 10am-3pm

Weekends and public holidays: 10am-5pm

The Museum is closed on Mondays (except public holidays), Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

Entry

Admission to the RAAF Museum is free, however, donations are gratefully accepted.

Note that as the museum is located within the grounds of the RAAF Base, all visitors over the age of 16 will need to bring photo identification to enter the Base.

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