Merredin Military Museum, Western Australia

 

Situated approximately 256 km (159 miles) east of Perth and roughly halfway to the goldfields surrounding Kalgoorlie, the town of Merredin was established as a rest stop for travellers making their way to the goldfield region. Being so far from the coast the town also became an important military base during World War 2 when military planners were establishing a defensive line in the event of a Japanese invasion. Merredin was considered distant enough from the coast to be out of range of carrier borne aircraft, close to major road and rail supply routes and in an area where there were good food and water supplies. As a result the town and surrounding district was home to several military bases during the war and since the early 1990’s, home to the Merredin Military Museum.

I had been wanting to visit this museum for some time and after giving the curator, Rob Endersbee a call to confirm that it would be open, I left Perth early on Friday morning for the three-hour drive. Because of its history during WW2, there are a number of military related sites around the area, so the plan was to stay in town overnight and make a leisurely drive back to Perth on Saturday or Sunday, checking out anything that took my fancy on the way.

Despite leaving quite early, I did get a little distracted on the drive when I passed an old service station in the town of Meckering, just over an hour outside of Perth. The gas station had been redecorated to look like a huge SLR camera and was now The Big Camera – Museum of Photography, a private collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cameras and photographic equipment that made for a nice little rest stop.

Arriving at the Merredin Military Museum shortly after 11am, I was met by Bill Beer, one of the volunteers and a little later, Rob the curator, both of whom were happy to talk about the exhibits and provide additional information about the pieces on display. The museum was established in the early 1990’s after three local collectors accepted an offer from the Merredin army cadet unit to pool their collections and set up a display in one of their sheds.

By 1998 and with support from the local shire the collections had been relocated to a new home, the old railway communications building less than 200m away from the train station and tourist information centre making it very convenient for any visitor arriving from Perth. The current location houses the three private collections as well as the museum’s own growing collection, so it is rather eclectic and as a result quite fascinating, including items that I had not expected to encounter in a regional town.

Very rare Australian 'Folboot' collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

An extremely rare Australian Mk III ‘Folbot’ collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

The first of these is in the main display room where an extremely rare Folbot (folding boat) canoe used by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department’s “Z” Special Unit operators is suspended from the ceiling. This was the same type of canoe used by the two-man teams during OPERATION JAYWICK to paddle into Singapore harbour and attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. There is also a small display of other “Z” Special Unit items, including a detonator timer and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) which is the Australian made dagger based on the famed Fairbairn Sykes design.

merredin military museum-01

Sten gun magazines with magazine filler and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) issued to “Z” Special Unit operatives and members of the 2/6th Independent (Commando) Company. Looking at the detail of the knife, I believe that this is the pattern made by Gregory Steel Products in Melbourne. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO's sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO’s sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Other rooms in the building feature an extensive selection of models and communications equipment, including an interesting display relating to one of Australia’s first surveillance units, the 2/1st Northern Australia Observation Unit, whose role was to carry out horse mounted patrols in the arid north watching for signs of Japanese invasion. There are also spaces dedicated to the local military history including several uniforms related RAAF personnel and the nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital that was based at Merredin in 1942-3, as well as the Vietnam war, a weapons display and the WW1 Honour Rolls room. This last room reminds us that of the approximately 375 local men who left to serve in WW1, 70 were killed in action. A significant number for any small rural community of the time.

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, was created in mid-March 1942 and were given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, and most of their patrols were on horseback. The men made use of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintained coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units. Photo: Julian Tennant

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, the unit was created in mid-March 1942 and given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, with most of their patrols were on horseback, taking advantage of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintaining isolated coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units of the Pilbarra Regiment, Norforce and 51 FNQR. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

 

 

Outside and in the vehicle shed are a several military vehicles plus aircraft, some of which are undergoing restoration, including a working Mk III Valentine tank, an CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) training jet built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a 1980’s era Toyota station wagon (something that for some reason I never expected to see in a museum) and an interesting Bren Gun carrier, officially designated the Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2 (LP2),  that had been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder anti-tank gun. Designated the Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack, it is a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. Bill said that around 200 were produced and were used for training but he did not think that they saw operational service.

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier which has been converted to carry a 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2) which has been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Chatting with Rob and Bill towards the end of my visit, it was quite interesting to hear some of stories surrounding the exhibits, but it also reinforced my respect for the people who keep places like the Merredin Military Museum open to the public. This is a private museum, running on a very tight budget, relying on donations and the goodwill of the public, plus its dedicated volunteers to stay afloat. When Rob heard that I was coming up from Perth for the visit, he told Bill, who actually turned up before the 10am opening time to make sure that somebody would be there when I arrived… which kinda made me feel bad for taking the break at The Big Camera in Meckering.

Rob also told me that despite a lot of information still stating that the museum is only open from Monday to Friday, it is NOW OPEN 7 DAYS PER WEEK from 10:00 until 15:00, but if you’re passing through Merredin and want to visit outside of those hours, give him a call and he will try to arrange to have it opened so that you can get in. That shows real dedication and I definitely recommend a visit the Merredin Military Museum as a day or overnight trip from Perth or if you’re making a trip to visit the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Finally, if you are interested in exploring more of the sites related to the war history of Merredin and the wheatbelt region this RAC magazine article and this guide from the Merredin Tourist Visitors Centre are also worth reading.

The Merredin Military Museum

Great Eastern Highway
Merredin
Western Australia 6415

Phone: +61 (0) 429 411 204 (Rob Endersbee – Curator)

https://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com/business/attractions/merredin-military-museum

Opening Times                                                                                                               

Everyday 10:00 – 15:00  Or call Rob to arrange a visit

 

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Army Museum Žižkov – Prague, Czech Republic

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

One of the World War One galleries at the Army Museum Žižkov

Undoubtably one of the highlights of my trip to Prague in 2015 was visiting the Army Museum Žižkov (Armádní muzeum Žižkov). The museum, located at the foot of Vitkov hill, was about half an hour’s walk from the Old Town Square and a little off the beaten track, but it was a must-visit site for me and I planned my route to pass The Military Shop  to see if I could find anything for my collection. Apart from a few contemporary Czech airborne patches, there was not much there for me that time as it is more of a surplus store than a military antiques dealer.

 

A much better option for older militaria is Vojenské Starožitnosti, which is in the opposite direction and much closer to the Old Town (Staré Mesto námesti). But I digress…

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

T-34 tank at the entrance to the The Army Museum Žižkov

Walking up the hill to the museum visitors are confronted by an old Soviet T-34 tank outside a very austere looking building and, when I visited, not many people around. Entry to the museum was free and the rather unforgiving exterior belied a treasure trove of artifacts which I found fascinating.  The museum exhibits covered the first World War, interwar Czechoslovakia, the second World War, persecution of members of the Czechoslovak army after the coup in 1948 and the anti-communist resistance. The museum was well laid out, with a range of very interesting uniforms and equipment exhibits accompanied by descriptions in Czech and English, it was easy to lose track of time as I encountered unusual wings and exhibits that fell directly into my own collecting areas. Of particular interest to me were the items belonging to Czech agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who parachuted back into the country during the Nazi occupation and also some uniform items belonging to Czech expatriates who fled post war Communist rule and served with the US 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

US Special Forces green beret featuring US Army parachutist wings on the teal blue and yellow wing oval for the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne). This is one of the items on display at the Army Museum Žižkov belonging to Josef and Cirad Masin, two Czech brothers who escaped the communist regime to West Germany and in 1954 joined the US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Dix, NJ they joined the US Special Forces, hoping to take part in the liberation of Europe from the Communists. Along with fellow Czech, Milan Paumer they served in the 77th Special Forces Group.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Two unusual examples of the British parachutist wings worn by Czech SOE agents who parachuted back into occupied Czechoslovakia to fight the occupying German forces during WW2. The wings on the lower badge may simply have faded over time, but the uppermost badge is definitely a unique variation that I had not encountered before.

 

Unfortunately the museum is now closed whilst a complete reconstruction takes place and I am told that it won’t reopen until at least 2020, but it will be interesting to see what changes are made. So, in the interim, here are some of the photos that I snapped on my iphone during my visit. Hopefully when the museum finally reopens these objects will be back on display because it really was a fascinating display of Czech military history.

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.

 

Display in the First World War gallery at the the Army Museum Žižkov.

French 75mm tank gun, 1916 Model, used in the first French Schneider CA-1 tanks.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Exhibition area showing the development of the Czech Armed Forces between the wars.

 

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Armband of the Sudetendeutsche Partei, (SdP) Order Units. The SdP was a pro-Nazi party that existed in Czechoslovakia from 1933 until annexation in 1938.

 

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Waffen SS NCO’s visor cap and label from the kennel of the SS Security dogs at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

Prague - The Army Museum Žižkov

Concentration Camp inmate uniform and identification patches. The inverted red triangle indicates that this was a political prisoner and the letter T identifies the prisoner’s nationality as Czech. “T” stands for Tscheche (Czech) in German.

 

 

 

Army Museum Žižkov /Armádní muzeum Žižkov                                                                   U Památníku 2,                                                                                                                                        Praha 3 – Žižkov,

Phone No: +420 973 204 924.

Email:  museum@army.cz

The Military History Institute Prague                                                                                            http://www.vhu.cz/english-summary

WW2 US Navy Submarine Combat Insignia

WW2 period USN officer's 'Dolphins' submarine qualification badge (manufacturer H&H, New York) and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars indicating successful completion of 4 'war' patrols (manufacturer AMICO, New York).

WW2 period USN officer’s ‘Dolphins’ submarine qualification badge (manufacturer H&H, New York) and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars indicating successful completion of 4 ‘war’ patrols (manufacturer AMICO, New York).

On March 26, 1943, the US Navy authorized an award, known as the Submarine Combat Insignia, for successful completion of a ‘war’ patrol in which the submarine sunk, or assisted with the sinking of at least one enemy vessel or carried out a combat mission of comparable importance. The award consisted of a silver submarine pin approximately 5.6cm (2 ¼ inches) long with a scroll beneath the waves where a gold star was affixed for each successful war patrol. The badge itself represented the first successful patrol, so the addition of the first gold star represented the second patrol, an additional star the third patrol and so on. The scroll only allowed space for three stars (four successful war patrols) so if a fifth successful patrol was carried out, one of the gold stars was removed and replaced with a silver star. The attachment for the badge was a horizontal pin back. Clutch backed versions do exist, although they are post WW2 replacements.

Both officers and men wore the Submarine Combat Insignia on the left breast just above the centre of ribbons or medals and in the case of officers, directly below the gold submariner ‘dolphins’ badge. It should be noted that enlisted seamen who qualified for submarine duty prior to and during WW2 wore an embroidered version of the ‘dolphins’ badge on their right sleeve. This was moved to the chest in mid 1947, but the ‘enlisted’ silver metal variation of ‘dolphins’ badge was only approved in September 1950.

My interest in these badges was aroused when I saw WW2 veteran Australian Special Forces operator, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing a USN Submarine Combat Insignia badges on his medals during an ANZAC Day commemoration. Jack served with Z Special Unit and was one of a seven-man team that operated for six months behind Japanese lines in Borneo. The team, code named AGAS-1, was inserted by the US submarine, USS Tuna, a Tambor class submarine on it’s thirteenth patrol of the war.

WW2 Australian Special Forces soldier, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing his medals and the USN Submarine Combat Insignia award during the ANZAC Day commemorations.

WW2 Australian Special Forces soldier, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing his medals and the USN Submarine Combat Insignia award during the ANZAC Day commemorations.

As I researched a little further I started to uncover a multitude of manufacturers variations of this fascinating badge and soon had developed a sideline collection of combat patrol insignia, some of which are shown below.

Manufacturer: Amico, New York

Manufacturer: Amico, New York

Manufacturer: Vanguard, New York

Manufacturer: Vanguard, New York

Unknown manufacturer - hallmarked Sterling

Unknown manufacturer – hallmarked Sterling

Unknown manufacturer - hallmarked Sterling

Unknown manufacturer – hallmarked Sterling

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 2

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 2

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 1

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 1

Manufacturer: NS Meyer, New York

Manufacturer: NS Meyer, New York

Manufacturer:  Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 2

Manufacturer: Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 2

Manfacturer: Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 1

Manfacturer: Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 1

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut.

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut.

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut. Pin back variation (early post war)

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut. Pin back variation (early post war)

Fullsize and miniature mess dress variations of the Submarine Combat Insignia in display/sales boxes. Three 'war patrol' stars can also be seen wrapped in cellophane in the box of the miniature badge, which was made by the NS Meyer Company of New York. The larger badge on the left is in a box from the Los Angeles based firm of Wolf-Brown Inc, although the badge itself is hallmarked Gemsco and has clutch back fittings indicating early post war stock.

Full size and miniature mess dress variations of the Submarine Combat Insignia in display/sales boxes. Three ‘war patrol’ stars can also be seen wrapped in cellophane in the box of the miniature badge, which was made by the NS Meyer Company of New York. The larger badge on the left is in a box from the Los Angeles based firm of Wolf-Brown Inc, although the badge itself is hallmarked Gemsco and has clutch back fittings indicating early post war stock.

For any collector interested in exploring these or the USN ‘Dolphins’ qualification badges in more detail, I thoroughly recommend David A. Jones’ excellent book US Silent Service: Dolphins & Combat Insignia 1921-1945.

US Silent Service: Dolphins & Combat Insignia 1924 - 1945 by David A. Jones. Published by R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-88-2

US Silent Service: Dolphins & Combat Insignia 1924 – 1945 by David A. Jones. Published by R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-88-2