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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Frank McNamara: The first Australian aviator to win the Victoria Cross

Lt Frank H McNamara outside his tent at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria, shortly after graduating as a pilot in October 1915.

Lt Frank H McNamara outside his tent at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria, shortly after graduating as a pilot in October 1915

The first pattern Australian Military Forces (AMF) wings of the type issued to Frank McNamara upon graduation and as seen in the photograph above. The later issue Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot wings are below.

The first pattern Australian Military Forces (AMF) pilot’s wings of the type issued to Frank McNamara upon graduation and as seen in the photograph above. The later issue Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot wings are below.

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.

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection). Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Image No. A05340

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection).
Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Image No. A05340

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.

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.

Cigarette card showing a portrait of Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC. Part of a series of cards depicting Australian VCs printed by Sniders and Abrahams.

Cigarette card showing a portrait of Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC. These cigarette cards were produced by the company Sniders and Abrahams  Pty Ltd and featured Australia’s Victoria Cross winners of the First World War.

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.

Images of War: Collecting and Preserving Military Photographs. Part 1. The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt.

Portrait of two Australian soldiers on a despatch motorcycle and sidecar. Identified on the right, in the sidecar, is 750 Lieutenant Sydney Hubert Carroll MC, 4th Machine Gun Battalion; and left, on the motorcycle, is an unidentified 4th Brigade Headquarters staff officer, also wearing a Military Cross. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.Object TypeBlack & white - Glass original quarter-plate negativeItem IDP10550.049Source: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.049

Portrait of two Australian soldiers on a despatch motorcycle and sidecar. Identified on the right, in the sidecar, is 750 Lieutenant Sydney Hubert Carroll MC, 4th Machine Gun Battalion; and left, on the motorcycle, is an unidentified 4th Brigade Headquarters staff officer, also wearing a Military Cross. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.
Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative
Item ID P10550.049
Source: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.049

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 am also 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.

Group portrait of a British artillery unit. From the Thuillier collection of glass plate negatives. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918. Object TypeBlack & white - Glass original quarter-plate negativeItem IDP10550.144

Group portrait of a British artillery unit. From the Thuillier collection of glass plate negatives. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.
Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative
Item ID P10550.144

Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.144

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.

Group portrait of five unidentified American soldiers, with two local French civilian women, standing in front of a US Army Quarter Masters Corps truck. From the Thuillier collection of glass plate negatives. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.Object TypeBlack & white - Glass original quarter-plate negative. Item IDP10550.143

Group portrait of five unidentified American soldiers, with two local French civilian women, standing in front of a US Army Quarter Masters Corps truck. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.
Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative.
Item ID P10550.143

Source: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.143

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.

Item IDP10550.050PhotographerThuillier, LouisPlace madeFrance: Picardie, Somme, VignacourtDate Madec 1916-1918Copyright holder Australian Capital Equity Pty LtdObject TypeBlack & white - Glass original quarter-plate negativeCollection	PhotographCredit line	Kerry Stokes collection, the Louis and Antoinette Thuillier CollectionDescription	Portrait of possibly 3335 Private Joseph William Devlin, 2nd Pioneer Battalion with a gas respirator bag around his neck. From the Thuillier collection of glass plate negatives. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.

Portrait of possibly 3335 Private Joseph William Devlin, 2nd Pioneer Battalion with a gas respirator bag around his neck. Taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.
Object Type Black & white – Glass original quarter-plate negative. Item ID P10550.050

Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/p10550.050

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 have been selected and reprinted using the traditional darkroom techniques to feature as part of the Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt exhibition which runs at the AWM until July 2013.

Click image to see video of the handover of the negatives to the AWM

Click the image to see a video of the handover of the negatives to the Australian War Memorial

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.

Click the image to see a video featuring some of the background preservation and production of the images.

Click the image to see a video featuring some of the background preservation and production of the images.