The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the Australian Flying Corps during the First World War.
The insignia related to Australian aviators of the First World War are one of my areas of collecting interest. Whilst most of these are associated with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), there are also some lesser known badges which are closely linked to the Australia’s early military aviators. The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the AFC. The school wore military styled uniforms and distinctive insignia on their caps and jacket sleeve. Very few surviving examples are known to exist and I am still searching for examples for my own collection. If anybody can help, please contact me.
The New South Wales State Aviation School opened on 28 August 1916 as a supplement to the Australian Flying Corps Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook in Victoria. The school was located at Ham Common, now site of the Richmond RAAF Base. The Premier of New South Wales, William A. Holman was a keen proponent of military aviation, so he put New South Wales State finances behind the development of the school, financing the procurement of two American Curtiss training aircraft, with two additional Curtiss JN-B4 aircraft acquired in 1917. Whilst the aim was to train pilots for the AFC, it was foreshadowed that after the war the school would continue to train pilots for civil aviation purposes.
Captain William ‘Billy’ John Stutt (1891-1920), the NSW State Aviation School’s chief instructor, sitting on one of the two American Curtiss trainers. Captain William ‘Billy’ John Stutt (1891-1920) was the Richmond flying school’s chief instructor. Born in Hawthorn, Victoria, he was an engineer by trade. After completing his flying training at the Bristol School, Salisbury Plain, England, Stutt became a distinguished pilot, flying across the English Channel 40 times as the first King’s Messenger, and was appointed Chief Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough in 1915. He was released from military duties in London to take up the position of Chief Pilot at the NSW flying school in 1916. He was an inspirational leader, greatly admired for his flying skills and rapport with his students. Stutt was also a tireless promoter of aviation, flying many daring demonstrations for dignitaries, the press and the public. He used one of the flying school’s Curtiss Jenny JN-4B aircraft to fly from Sydney to Melbourne in November 1917, despite becoming lost in fog and other misadventures, to promote flying as a ‘post-war transport prospect’. The return trip on 12th November 1917 was the first one-day flight between capital cities in Australia. In July 1919 he left the School to take up the position of Officer-in-charge, Aeroplane Repair Section, at the Central Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria. Stutt’s death was officially recorded as the 23rd of September 1920, when he was tragically lost at sea with Abner Dalziell after their plane disappeared during Australia’s first air-sea rescue flight, searching for the missing schooner, ‘Amelia J’, in Bass Strait. Source: Collection of photographs of WWI NSW State Aviation School, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
The NSW State Aviation School July 21, 1916, just before officially opening. Timber for the western annexe of the hangar still lies stacked on the ground, as the first Curtis ‘Jenny’ trainer aircraft is checked out by Chief Instructor Billy Stutt (nearest camera) and the workers who had assembled and rigged the airframe. Hurried patches in the aerodrome surface indicate the pace of preparations towards the official opening of the School on August 28, 1916. Picture: http://www.3squadron.org.au. Charter Family Collection
First student intake for the New South Wales State Aviation School, 28 August 1916. Back row, left to right: Nigel Love, who flew 200 hours over the front with 3 Sqn AFC; Garnsey Potts [briefly in 3AFC, invalided out due to sickness, thereafter instructing in England]; William L. King [joined 3AFC but crashed on a ferry flight with serious injuries, invalided to Australia]; Irving Sutherland [Royal Naval Air Service 10SQN, wounded in action]; Alan Weaver [joined 4AFC but soon seriously injured in a training accident]. Chief Instructor Billy Stutt (in centre, without cap); Augustus Woodward-Gregory [flew with 52SQN RAF, wounded in action, French Croix de Guerre]; John Weingarth [flew 151 missions over the lines in 4AFC Sopwith Camels, then instructing duties in England- died on a post-war training flight, 4 Feb 1919]; Jack Faviell [training and administration duties in England]; Edgar Coleman [joined RNAS, but dogged by illness and did not fly in combat]; Robert L. Clark [two months’ combat with 2AFC, injured in an SE5A landing accident, thence instructing in England; died in WW2 as a civilian internee of the Japanese, when the Japanese POW ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by submarine USS Sturgeon on 1 July 1942]; Leslie Sampson [4AFC but suffered several accidents flying Camels and was grounded]; Roy Smallwood [combat with 4AFC for four months, shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, but survived]; Leonard Webber [left Richmond course but later saw action in Belgium]; and Charles Dagg [RNAS seaplane pilot, awarded Air Force Cross after he survived a wreck in the Mediterranean, died in WW2 serving in the RAF.] Front Row, left to right: Norman Clark [served with 3AFC for 9 months, pilot and Signals Officer, thence instructor in England, promoted to Captain and Flight Commander]; Cecil R. Burton [4AFC for two months, but invalided to England with illness]; Vernon Burgess [9SQN RFC and Flight Commander with 7SQN RFC on RE8s, shot down and wounded after six months in action, thence instruction duties]; Michael Cleary [served with 62SQN RFC, killed in action flying a Bristol Fighter, 28 March 1918 near Villers-Bretonneux, France]; Hector K. Tiddy [killed on a practice flight in France, 1917, 7SQN RFC]; and D. Reginald Williams [retained as an instructor at Richmond, then joined the AFC in England, but only employed ferrying new aircraft to France, due to medical restrictions.] Photo courtesy: The Nigel Love Photo Collection
Twenty-five students were chosen from 230 applicants for the Flying School’s first course. Applicants had to be 18 to 30 years of age and in good health. Preference was given to commissioned officers, engineers, mechanics or other specified trades. All students trained at their own risk and no compensation was offered on account of death or injury. Instruction included lectures and practical training over 12 weeks followed by an examination. Workshop training, to familiarise students with the construction and operation of aircraft and engines, was required for at least 160 hours while only four hours of flying time were required, of which not less than two were to be ‘in complete charge of the aeroplane‘. The applicant also had to pass the test for the Royal Aero Club Certificate. If unsuccessful, an applicant could qualify as an Aircraft Mechanic, provided he demonstrated ‘the necessary mechanical ability and sufficient merit‘.
Of the initial course, 19 trainees qualified despite delays due to bad weather. Students were housed and taught in purpose-built accommodation on site and referred to themselves as BPs, probably from the term Basic Pilot Training. A total of six training courses were conducted by the flying school with the last completed just before the announcement of the Armistice in 1918. The rationale for the school had always been driven by politics rather than demonstrated need and this did cause some friction with the military. Graduates were deemed as being inexperienced in military flying and tactical skills and as a civilian training school, pilots did not automatically gain commissions in the Australian Flying Corps, but had to submit for further examination by the Central Flying School in Victoria.
NSW State Aviation School Curtiss Jenny JN4 training aircraft after a crash whilst being flown by K.A. Hendy. November 1918. Source: Collection of photographs of WWI NSW State Aviation School, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
One of the NSW State Aviation School’s “Jennies” returns to the base during WW1, after a crash-landing. Photo courtesy: 3 Squadron RAAF Association http://www.3squadron.org.au
Richmond, NSW. 1917. Probably Australian Flying Corps (AFC) trainees and instructors of the NSW Aviation School in front of a Curtiss Jenny (JN) aircraft at Ham Common near Richmond. Back row, left to right: S. C. Francis; Alfred C. (Alf) Le Grice; David Reginald (Reg) Williams; William John (Billy) Stutt; Richard Henry Chester; F. C. Collins; L. C. Royle. Middle row: J. H. Summers; Derek Hudson; Brian Lucy; Burton B. Sampson; Walter Roy Boulton; M. A. Watts. Front row: H. G. Murray; Lewis Audet; Gordon Vincent Oxenham (later posted to 1 Squadraon AFC and shot down and killed in Palestine on 27 June 1918. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial, Israel: W A. McDougall. AWM Accession Number: P00731.005
Only a handful of qualifying pilots secured commissions with the AFC leading to considerable frustration. Their services were offered by the Prime Minister to the Royal Flying Corps and some embarked for England to serve either as cadet pilots or mechanics. There was uncertainty as to how long the war would last and their training was also seen to be inadequate by the War Office for the same reasons as those of the Australian military. By the fourth intake a group of students were making their dissatisfaction over their future known. There was also wrangling about allowances and having to fund their own travel to the UK or Egypt to enlist.
Nevertheless, Premier Holman persisted, and two further courses were run prior to the war’s end. The sixth course started in August 1918 and by Armistice in November, a total of 71 pilots had graduated with 20 joining the AFC and 40 going to the RFC (and, after April 1918, the Royal Air Force). Seven graduates lost their lives during the war, 3 in the AFC and 2 in the RFC and 2 in the RAF.
After the war, effort was made to convert the school to a civilian flying school, but the costs associated were becoming prohibitive and the NSW Government eventually asked the Commonwealth Government to take control. In 1923 the Commonwealth purchased the site and in 1925 became RAAF Base Richmond, home to No 3 Squadron.
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Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.
WW1 Australian Flying Corps (AFC) brevet and medal ribbons. Whilst this example is original, the wing featured on the tunic worn by the pilot mannequin at the Sopwith Camel is one of the cheap reproductions that are made by Lukus Productions and sold for $10 in the museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant
A very unusual A.F.C. insignia in the First World War section. Photo: Julian Tennant
Royal Flying Corps bullion Observer’s brevet. This pattern was also worn by Observers of the Australian Flying Corps up until the uniquely Australian Observer’s brevet was introduced. Photo: Julian Tennant
A piece of fabric from Baron Manfred Von Richtofen’s aircraft, souvenired by 2274 Sergeant J.H. Gratwick of the 44th Battalion AIF on Sunday 21 April 1918. Photo: Julian Tennant
Tunic of ‘Jimmy’ Woods, a Western Australian who flew with the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt in 1918. Photo: Julian Tennant
Air Woman’s cap of the type worn by the Women’s Royal Air Force in 1918. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform of Digby Bull, a QANTAS Empire Airways, a PBY-5A Catalina Flight Engineer. Photo: Julian Tennant
Original 1927 period insignia worn by pilots of MacRobertson Miller Airlines (MMA), a civil aviation company established in 1927 and flying until 1993. Photo: Julian Tennant
PBY-5A Catalina. Photo: Julian Tennant
Airport control tower display in the South Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
MacRobertson Miller Airlines (MMA) display at the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.
Lancaster bomber and Bomber Command squadron patches. Photo: Julian Tennant
Bomber Command display. Photo: Julian Tennant
Detail of the Avro Lancaster Mk VII which is the centre-piece the North Wing. Photo: Julian Tennant
Pilot wings, ribbons and Pathfinder badge on the tunic of Robert Newbiggin who joined the RAAF in 1942 after serving in the Militia. From 1944 – 45 he flew heavy bombers in Europe with 195 and 35 Squadrons RAF, the latter being part of No. 8 Group (Pathfinder Force). Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform of Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry G.C.B., K.B.E., D.S.O. and 3 bars, D.F.C., A.F.C., R.A.F. Danish Order of Dannebrog, Commander 1st Class Dutch Order of Orang Nassau, Grand Officer French Croix d Guerre, Legion d’honneure, Croix de Commandeur. Photo: Julian Tennant
WW2 period RAAF Nursing Service sister. Photo: Julian Tennant
WW2 period Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) officers hat. Photo: Julian Tennant
RAAF Observer officer’s tunic, sam-browne belt and helmet. Photo: Julian Tennant
RAAF trainee pilot of No. 4 Service Training School, Geraldton WA during WW2. Photo: Julian Tennant
RAF Spitfire pilot’s helmet from the Battle of Britain. Photo: Julian Tennant
Aircraft Spotter playing cards from WW2 which were first issued in 1943. Photo: Julian Tennant
Souvenir belt with various insignia brought back from the North African campaign. Photo: Julian Tennant
The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-16 Wirraway Mk. III and other aircraft on display in the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
Air Force Survival Kit carried by air crew in the Burma Campaign. Photo: Julian Tennant
As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.
My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum.
76 Squadron sports uniform patch, circa 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
76 Squadron sports uniform patch and PT singlet, circa 1944. Photo: Julian Tennant
Vietnam War period Douglas AC-47D “Spooky” gunship crew patch. Photo: Julian Tennant
Vietnam War period Douglas AC-47D “Spooky” gunship crew patch. Photo: Julian Tennant
Patch and model aircraft representing the Royal Australian Navy’s 817 Squadron. The construction of this patch leads me to believe that it is probably Japanese made and dates from the 1950’s or 60’s. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Model aircraft and patch of 77 Squadron RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant
General Dynamics F-111 “Aardvark” Cockpit Simulator. Photo: Julian Tennant
Link Trainer Type 03. . Developed in the USA by Edwin C. Link to fill the need to train pilots safely (on the ground) in the skills of flying an aircraft blind, in cloud or at night using only instruments on the control panel. The instructor sat at the desk, communicating with the pilot by microphone and headphones whilst conducting various training exercises. Photo: Julian Tennant
RAAF Aermacchi MB326H Macchi training aircraft and pilot. Photo: Julian Tennant
Patch detail of the RAAF fire fighting and aviation rescue teams. Photo: Julian Tennant
Patch detail from a baseball cap used by the RAAF Airfield Construction Squadron. Photo: Julian Tennant
1960’s era RAAF Medical Operational Support Unit patch. Photo: Julian Tennant
Selection of metal dies from the insignia manufacturer Sheridans, Perth that were used to make various aviation badges. Photo: Julian Tennant
Selection of metal dies from the insignia manufacturer Sheridans, Perth that were used to make various aviation badges. Photo: Julian Tennant
In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.
The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away. It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with theArmy Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.
The Aviation Heritage Museum Air Force Memorial Estate 2 Bull Creek Drive, Bull Creek WA 6149 Australia
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The Merredin Military Museum, Great Eastern Highway, Merredin, Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Merredin Military Museum is easily found from the street with this World War 1 Vickers manufactured Ordnance BL 6 inch 26cwt howitzer sitting out the front of the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Bell 206B-1 Kiowa recon helicopter used by the Australian Army from 1972 – 2019. Photo: Julian Tennant
View of the open air exhibits at the Merredin Military Museum. Some of the vehicles on display include a Mk III Valentine tank, Staghound armoured car, Aermacchi MB-326H jet, UH-1H and Bell 206B-1 Kiowa helicopters and a M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier. Photo: Julian Tennant
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.
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.
Clock timer used for initiating explosives. Part of the “Z” Special Unit display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
World War 2 period uniform of the 2/23rd Infantry Battalion (left) and Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps officers tunic circa 1945 (right).
World War 2 period RAAF winter greatcoat belonging to WJ (Bill) Allen who served in the Battle of Britain as an Air Gunner and finished his war service in 1945 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Photo: Julian Tennant
Items belonging to WX16991 Jack Flinders, who served with the SRD (Z Special Unit). 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.
World War 2 period RAAF Air Gunner’s tunic and sign from the old Merredin Hotel. Photo: Julian Tennant
Two of the Australian Army issued booklets on display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform worn by nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital in Merredin, 1942/3. Photo: Julian Tennant
Uniform worn by nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital in Merredin, 1942/3. Photo: Julian Tennant
2/1st Australian General Hospital display depicting the tent wards that existed when the unit first relocated to Merredin from Guildford in July 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant
A nice WW2 period Submarine Trench Art piece made from brass shell casings and bullet heads. Photo: Julian Tennant
Royal Australian Navy submariner wearing the Disruptive Pattern Navy Uniform (SW12). Photo: Julian Tennant
Some of the extensive range of model tanks and AFV’s on display at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
A section of the Vietnam War display room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian Armed Forces Vietnam airmail envelopes and an anti-union card which originated after the postal union urged its members not to send mail to the servicemen in Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant
Dolls in Vietnamese national dress presented to Australian troops as a token of gratitude from the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. For many, these dolls are best known as the ‘award’ that was presented to members of Delta Company 6 RAR after the Battle of Long Tan in 1966 after the Australian Government denied the Vietnamese Government’s request to award them gallantry medals after the battle. The dolls were, however, given to many Australian servicemen, not just the Long Tan participants. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Vietnam war period 3 Cavalry Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) beret and badge. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian infantryman, Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant
First World War Australian Imperial Force digger’s uniform in the WW1 room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
First World War Australian Light Horse uniform in the WW1 room at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
First World War Australian medics uniform in the WW1 room at the Merredin Military Museum. 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.
Mk III Valentine and M3 Grant tanks undergoing conservation and restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
Officially designated ‘Car, Armoured, Heavy,’ but colloquially known by Australian crews as the ‘Stag’. The Staghound Armoured Car entered service with the Australian Army in 1943, and the last of the vehicles were retired in the late 1960s. Photo: Julian Tennant
Toyota station wagon used by the Australian Army in the 1980’s. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian Army M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
A WW1 period 18 Pounder wagon/limber that had been converted to be used with the 25 Pounder gun (as seen in the background) due to the shortage of purpose built limbers for these artillery pieces. The limbers had new axel bars, truck tyres, breaks and mud-guards added. These went on to serve in the Middle East and Pacific Campaigns. Photo: Julian Tennant
Australian M3 Stuart tank undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant
The Wiles Junior Mobile Cooker. Invented by Boer War veteran, James Fletcher Wiles, who recognised the difficulties involved in preparing hot meals for troops close to the front-line. During World War 1 over 300 of these cookers were used in Australia, Egypt and France by Australian troops. Photo: Julian Tennant
25 Pounder Gun on display at the Merredin Military Museum. 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
Western Australia 6415
On the 20th of March 1917, Lt. Frank H McNamara became the first Australian aviator to be awarded the Victoria Cross after landing his aircraft behind enemy lines to rescue a downed comrade, whilst serving with No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps in Palestine. The citation for the Victoria Cross reads,
“most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during an aerial bomb attack upon a hostile construction train, when one of our pilots was forced to land behind the enemy’s lines. Lieutenant McNamara, observing the pilots predicament and the fact that hostile cavalry were approaching, descended to his rescue. He did this under heavy rifle fire and in spite of the fact that he himself had been severely wounded in the thigh. He landed about 200 yards from the damaged machine, the pilot of which climbed on to Lieutenant McNamara’s machine, and an attempt was made to rise. Owing, however, to his disabled leg, Lieutenant McNamara was unable to keep his machine straight, and it turned over. The two officers, having extricated themselves, immediately set fire to the machine and made their way across to the damaged machine, which they succeeded in starting. Finally, Lieutenant McNamara, although weak from loss of blood. flew this machine back to the aerodrome, a distance of seventy miles, and thus completed his comrade’s rescue.”
Frank Hubert McNamara was born at Rushworth, Victoria, on 4 April 1894. After completing secondary schooling in Shepparton, he studied teaching at the Teachers Training College and the University of Melbourne and went on to teach at a number of Victorian Schools where he joined the senior cadet units. In 1912 he transferred to the Brighton Rifles and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1913. After the outbreak of the First World War he served at Queenscliff and then Point Nepean before attending the Officers Training School at Broadmeadows, then between February and May 1915, instructed at the AIF Training Depot at Broadmeadows.
In August 1915 McNamara was selected to attend the Point Cook Flying School, graduating as a pilot in October that year. In January 1916 he was posted as an adjutant to No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and sailed for Egypt. In May 1916 he was seconded to No. 42 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps to attend the Central Flying School at Upavon, England. Following this he was attached as an instructor to No. 22 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt before returning to duty with No. 1 Squadron.
On 20 March 1917 McNamara, flying on a bombing mission in Gaza, saw a fellow squadron member, Captain D. W. Rutherford, shot down. Although having just suffered a serious leg wound, McNamara landed near the stricken Rutherford who climbed aboard, but his wound prevented McNamara from taking off and the aircraft crashed. The two men returned to Rutherford’s plane, which they succeeded in starting and, with McNamara at the controls, they took off just as enemy cavalry arrived. For this action McNamara was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Portrait, maternity jacket and items belonging to Douglas Wallace Rutherford, No. 1 Sqn AFC, who was rescued by Frank McNamara in the action for which he was awarded the VC. These items all comprise part of the collection held at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook in Victoria. Note that despite being an AFC pilot, Wallace’s jacket features the pilot wings of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), whilst the portrait shows him with the Observers brevet for which he originally qualified. Douglas Wallace Rutherford was born in Rockhampton, Queensland on 29 September 1890. He joined 5 Light Horse Regiment on 7 December 1914 and departed Australia later that month with the second contingent destined for Gallipoli. He went into action in May 1915 and was wounded on 28 June. After receiving medical attention in Alexandria, Egypt and London, UK, he returned to the 5th Light Horse in April 1916 and soon transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, qualifying as an Observer in August 1916. After promotion to Captain in November 1916, Rutherford commenced pilot training with the 5th School of Military Aeronautics at Aboukir, Egypt and by 1917 had returned to No. 1 Squadron AFC as a qualified pilot. Rutherford undertook operations against Turkish forces with No. 1 Squadron until being forced down in the Amman area and was captured by the Turks. He was imprisoned in Constantinople for six months before being returned to Australia in December 1918.
In April 1917McNamara was promoted to captain and appointed Flight Commander, but his wound prevented further flying and he was invalided to Australia in August. His appointment with the AFC ended in January 1918 but he was reappointed in September and became an aviation instructor. In 1921 he transferred to the newly established Royal Australian Air Force as a flight lieutenant and held a number of senior RAAF appointments between the wars, including two years on exchange to the RAF in the mid-1920s.
At the outbreak of the World War Two, McNamara was promoted to air commodore and then an air vice marshal in 1942. From 1942 until 1945 he served as Air Officer Commanding British Forces in Aden before returning to London as the RAAF’s representative at Britain’s Ministry of Defence. In July 1946 he became Director of Education at the headquarters of the British Occupation Administration in Germany. He remained in the UK after retiring and died in London on 2nd November 1961.
The invention of photography in 1839 changed the world. It provided a more accessible means for society to record and over the course of time, define itself. For the collector, researcher and historian, photographic records are absolutely invaluable in providing important pieces of information about everything that has contributed to our past and our current identity. The camera has recorded everything, from the minutiae of detail on an item of clothing to a providing a document of events that shaped opinions and changed the course of history.
Like many soldiers, I also carried a camera and documented my life in the army and when I decided that it was time to head down ‘civvie’ street, I opted to take my photography to the next level opting to become a professional photographer. These days, in addition to taking photographs I also work as a Photography/Media lecturer at the Central Institute of Technology in Perth. My classes are varied and range from teaching digital capture, editorial photography to traditional darkroom and long obsolete 19th century ‘alternative’ printing techniques. I have also been responsible for instructing the students on storing archiving and exhibiting their photographic collections. These are aspects that most people pay little attention to, with potentially disastrous consequences for the future, particularly in this digital era of built in obsolescence where technology becomes obsolete overnight and we are no longer limited by the shooting restrictions of a roll film.
So, in future blog posts, I’ll present a series of articles aimed at us collectors and military enthusiasts that will look at how to preserve, store and share the photos that are important to us, from a collectors perspective and also to ensure that our kids or grandchildren can enjoy the photographs that we take today. We will look at the various technologies from the birth of photography in 1839 through to the present day. For each of these we will cover considerations for preventive conservation, storage, handling and presentation. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I’ll break up the sessions with some battlefield reports (I’m heading back to Vietnam in a few weeks) or titbits from my collection. But, before we start, here is something that should arouse your interest in the topic.
Vignacourt is a small French town a little to the north of Amiens and during the First World War played an important role as a base and rest area for allied troops from the nearby fighting as it was just outside artillery range, but close enough to act as a staging area for the British sector. In late 1916 hundreds of Australians moved from the winter trenches of the Somme to the relative comfort of the town to rest and refit. Whilst many of the young Frenchmen had left to fight, the town it was still functioning and amongst those who remained were Louis and Antoinette Thuillier who turned their home into a photo studio and advertised for soldiers to have their photographs taken.
These were taken using glass plate negatives and printed outdoors, using the sun to expose the image onto postcards which the diggers could keep as a souvenir or send home to their families as evidence that they were still alive and well. Thousands of soldiers passed through their studio and whilst many of the resulting images have been preserved in family albums and institutions, it was believed that the original glass negatives had been lost. Then, in 2011 over 3000 of the glass negatives were discovered in a barn, amongst them around 800 images of the Australian troops. Kerry Stokes, businessman, philanthropist and friend of the Australian War Memorial generously donated these to the Australian War Memorial. Of these, 74 images were selected and reprinted using the traditional darkroom techniques and featured as part of the Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt exhibition which ran at the AWM until July 2013.
The exhibition combines the images along with it’s own records and collection to tell the story of the subjects in their own voices. Whilst the exhibition only features a small number of the photos, the full collection is available online at the AWM site (http://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/remember-me/collection/). To coincide with the exhibition, Ross Coulthart has produced a book, The Lost Diggers, which tells the story of the discovery of the negatives and the stories of many of the people in the photos. The AWM has also released a video showing the restoration and printing of the images, which is worth watching and provides an insight into the preservation of this type of photograph.