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What Australian soldiers ate for Christmas in WWI



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Cover of the menu for the AIF Christmas Dinner, Hotel Cecil, London, in 1916. Illustration by Fred Leist.
Museums Victoria collection, donated by Jean Bourke

Heather Merle Benbow, University of Melbourne and Deborah Tout-Smith, Museums Victoria

We have just concluded four years of commemoration of the centenary of the first world war and, although the guns fell silent in November 1918, by Christmas many Australians were still separated from their loved ones.

For Australians serving overseas in WWI, celebrations such as Christmas were particularly difficult, a reminder that the war had laid waste to their routines and taken them away from their families.

We can see from historical documents that every effort was made to reproduce the form and content of a traditional Christmas meal, whether that be on board a ship, in the mess or even in the trenches

On active service

Maintaining the traditions of Christmas could be logistically difficult. It was often simply a slightly larger amount of food than the normal rations, with additional treats, such as the half pound of Christmas pudding that Major-General John Monash procured for every man in his Third Division in 1917. Alcohol was a welcome addition.

Women distribute Christmas billies to men in Cairo, Egypt, December 1915.
Australian War Memorial

Christmas hampers and billies sent from home provided particular joy to those lucky enough to receive them.
Some, however, experienced Christmas dinners like that of Private John Chugg of 1st Light Horse Field Ambulance, who complained “it was a miserable Xmas” in Egypt in 1914: “boiled beef unpeeled potatoes and tea without milk… [and] no mail or anything to cheer us”.

Sapper Alfred Galbraith described Christmas day in Ismailia Camp, Egypt, in December 1915 in a letter to his family. Each man chipped in to purchase a turkey and

chickens more like humming birds, soft drinks and a few biscuits. The chickens were dealt out 1 between 5 men and some of them would not feed one let alone 5 men, the one we got we tossed up to see who would get it & I won but I half it with my pal & then the two of us went & bought some […] biscuits & some tin fruit.

Alf is depicted in a photo of the dinner, sitting awkwardly on canvas at the end of a row of soldiers, mess tins in front of each and an occasional bottle, likely of beer. Alf’s Christmas letter concludes nostalgically “Dear Australia the land of my Birth which we will all be glad to see again … it will be a glorious day if I live to see it out … ” It was to be his last Christmas.

AIF troops celebrating Christmas at Ismailia Camp, Egypt, in December 1915.
Museums Victoria

A special meal could have the effect of making the war recede, if briefly, for the soldiers who partook of it. This is the impression gleaned from the menu for the 1917 Christmas dinner at the “A” Mess of the 3rd Australian Divisional Headquarters in France, led by Monash.

The hand-drawn menu features bucolic sketches of rural French life, and a list of dishes in a mix of French and English, signalling the prestige of the officers’ dinner.

The 10 courses included hors d’oeuvres (olives and “Tomato au Lobster”), potage _(“_Crème de Giblet”), poisson, entrée (chicken), viands (pork and ham), legumes, sweets (three choices) and a cheese tart, ending with wine and coffee.

The menu served at an AIF Christmas Dinner in 1916.
Museums Victoria collection, donated by Jean Bourke

The “B” Mess dinner at the Headquarters was almost as sumptuous, but with fewer courses. Its more simple menu included a humorous script, poetry and parodies. When the food concluded a toast was made to “Absent Ones”, drunk “while softly murmuring the words ‘Not lost but gone to CORPS’”. Notably, the term “Lest We Forget” was used to remind diners of good etiquette!

Christmas in transit

The voyage to active overseas service was a mixture of excitement, trepidation and monotony. Food service broke the boredom of long days at sea. On board the SS Suffolk on Christmas day 1915 diners were treated to a multi-course dinner, opening with olives, mock turtle soup and salmon cutlets in anchovy sauce. The next course featured iced asparagus, beef fillets with mushrooms and prawns in aspic, before the food became even more serious, with four types of meat, baked and boiled potatoes, and beans.

Members of the 4th Australian Field Ambulance at Christmas in Lemnos in 1915.
Australian War Memorial

Four deserts followed, including plum pudding with both hard and brandy sauces. Like many special occasion menus of the war, diners signed their names on the back.

Aprés la guerre

The desire to be “home by Christmas” had been widely expressed from the very first year of the Great War, yet when the armistice finally came in 1918, Australians on active service still had a long journey ahead of them and faced another Christmas away from home.

In 1918, the 2nd Australian pioneers officers’ Christmas dinner took place “somewhere in France”, featuring a menu entirely in French save for the words “plum pudding” and “God Save the King”. Two half pages of the menu were dedicated to “Autographs”.

The souvenir menu card from the 13th Australian Field Ambulance 2nd anniversary dinner, held on Christmas Day 1918 in the Palace of Justice, Dinant-Sur-Meuse, Belgium likewise has a page for autographs. The festive menu features an extensive list of desserts.

The menu served to the 13th Australian Field Ambulance on Christmas Day 1918.
Museums Victoria collection, donated by John Lord

Christmas dinner in 1919 saw Australians who had served in Europe returning home on the SS Königin Luise, a German ship allocated to Britain as part of war reparations. A menu saved by Sergeant Tom Robinson Lydster bears no references to the war.

A wreath of holly frames an eclectic menu including “Fillet of Sole au Vin Blanc, Asperges au Beurre Fondu” but also “Lamb cutlets, Tomato sauce, Roast Sirlion of Beef”. The Christmas element is provided by “Plum Pudding, Brandy Sauce, Mince Pies”. More than a year after the end of the war, some surviving Australians were yet to celebrate Christmas on home soil.

Christmas traditions for Australian soldiers, nurses and medics helped maintain cultural normalcy during overseas service. Yet Christmas on active service could be a time of significant stress, a reminder of loved ones far away and of fallen friends. Unfortunately, for those who returned to Australia, forever changed by their experiences, Christmas was not always what they remembered or had imagined.The Conversation

Heather Merle Benbow, Senior lecturer in German and European Studies, University of Melbourne and Deborah Tout-Smith, Senior Curator, Society & Technology Department, Museums Victoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


WWI Graffiti Found Near Somme



Soldiers, thieves, Māori warriors: the NZ convicts sent to Australia



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Detail from a coloured lithograph depicting Port Arthur penal station in 1843.
State Library of New South Wales.

Kristyn Harman, University of Tasmania

Soon after it became a British colony, New Zealand began shipping the worst of its offenders across the Tasman Sea. Between 1843 and 1853, an eclectic mix of more than 110 soldiers, sailors, Māori, civilians and convict absconders from the Australian penal colonies were transported from New Zealand to Van Diemen’s Land.

This little-known chapter of history happened for several reasons. The colonists wanted to cleanse their land of thieves, vagrants and murderers and deal with Māori opposition to colonisation. Transporting fighting men like Hōhepa Te Umuroa, Te Kūmete, Te Waretiti, Matiu Tikiahi and Te Rāhui for life to Van Diemen’s Land was meant to subdue Māori resistance.

Portrait of Hohepa Te Umuroa by William Duke.
Wikimedia Commons

Transportation was also used to punish redcoats (the British soldiers sent to guard the colony and fight opposing Māori), who deserted their regiments or otherwise misbehaved. Some soldiers were so terrified of Māori warriors that they took off when faced with the enemy.

William Phelps Pickering, his second wife Grace Martha, and two of her children.
Author provided

Early colonial New Zealand had no room for reprobates. Idealised as a new sort of colony for gentlefolk and free labourers, New Zealanders aspired towards creating a utopia by brutally suppressing challenges to that dream. On 4 November 1841, the colony’s first governor, William Hobson, named Van Diemen’s Land as the site to which its prisoners would be sent. The first boatload arrived in Hobart in 1843 and included William Phelps Pickering, one of the few white-collar criminals transported across the Tasman. Pickering later lived as a gentleman after returning home.

In 1840s Van Diemen’s Land, convict labourers were sent to probation stations before being hired out. Many men transported from New Zealand were sent down the Tasman Peninsula, where labourers were needed at the time.

Ironically, those eventually allocated to masters or mistresses in larger centres like Hobart or Launceston would have enjoyed more developed living conditions than New Zealand’s fledgling townships. In those days, Auckland’s main street was rather muddy. Early colonial buildings were often constructed by Māori from local materials.

At least 51 redcoats were shipped to the penal island. Some committed crimes after being discharged from the military. But many faced charges related to desertion. Four of the six soldier convicts who arrived Van Diemen’s Land in June 1847 were court-martialled in Auckland the previous winter for “deserting in the vicinity of hostile natives”.

Port Arthur penal station, Tasmania, showing convict labourers in 1843.
Coloured lithograph signed ‘R.N.N’ (or ‘K.N.N’).

State Library of New South Wales.

As Irish soldier convict Michael Tobin explained, the deserters had been returned to the colonists by “friendly natives”; that is, Māori who were loyal to the Crown during the New Zealand Wars. Perhaps as a form of insurance, Tobin had also struck Captain Armstrong, his superior. Several other soldiers also used violence against a superior – it was bound to ensure a sentence of transportation, removing them from the theatre of war.

Irish Catholic soldier Richard Shea, for instance, was a private in the 99th Regiment who used his firelock to strike his lieutenant while on parade. This earned him a passage on the Castor to Van Diemen’s Land. His three military companions on the vessel, William Lane, George Morris and John Bailey, all claimed to have been taken by Maori north of Auckland and kept prisoner for four months. But surviving records reveal that their military overlords thought that the three had instead deserted to join the ranks of a rebel chief.

Maori fighters

In 1846, NZ governor George Grey proclaimed martial law across the Wellington region. When several Māori fighters were eventually captured and handed over to colonists by the Crown’s Indigenous allies, they were tried by court martial at Porirua, north of Wellington.

A portrait of Matiu Tikiaki by John Skinner Prout, painted in Hobart in 1846.
British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

After being found guilty of charges that included being in open rebellion against Queen and country, five were sentenced to transportation for life in Van Diemen’s Land. The traditionally-clothed Māori attracted a lot of attention in Hobart, where colonists loudly disapproved of their New Zealand neighbours’ treatment of Indigenous people. This is ironic given the Tasmanians’ own near-genocidal war against Aboriginal people.

Grey had wanted the Māori warriors sent to Norfolk Island or Port Arthur and hoped they would write letters to their allies at home describing how harshly they were being treated. Instead, they were initially held in Hobart, where they were visited by media and other well-wishers. Colonial artist John Skinner Prout painted translucent watercolour portraits of them. Each of the fighters used pencil to sign his name to his likeness. William Duke created a portrait of Te Umuroa in oils.

Hobartians were worried that the Māori could become contaminated through contact with other convicts. Arrangements were made to send them to Maria Island off the island’s east coast, where they could live separately from the other convicts.

John Jennings Imrie, a man who previously lived in New Zealand and knew some Māori language, became their overseer. Their lives in captivity were as gentle as possible and involved Bible study, vegetable gardening, nature walks and hunting.

Hohepa Te Umuroa’s headstone at Darlington on Maria Island.
Kristyn Harman

Following lobbying from Tasmanian colonists and a pardon from Britain, four of the men, Te Kūmete, Te Waretiti, Matiu Tikiahi, Te Rāhui, were sent home in 1848. Te Umuroa died in custody at the Maria Island probation station in July 1847. It was not until 1988 that his remains were repatriated to New Zealand.

Reducing crime through imposing exemplary sentences saw dozens of working-class men transported to Van Diemen’s Land. One such fellow was James Beckett, a sausage-seller transported for theft for seven years. The only woman sent from New Zealand, Margaret Reardon, was sentenced to seven years’ transportation for perjuring herself trying to protect her partner (and possibly herself) from murder charges. After being found guilty of murdering Lieutenant Robert Snow on Auckland’s North Shore in 1847, the following year Reardon’s former lover Joseph Burns became the first white man judicially executed in New Zealand.

At one stage, Reardon was sent to the Female Factory at Cascades on Hobart’s outskirts to be punished for a transgression. Eventually, she remarried and moved to Victoria where she died in old age.

The ConversationIn 1853, transportation to Van Diemen’s Land formally ended. New Zealand then had to upgrade its flimsy gaols so criminals could be punished within its own borders.

Kristyn Harman, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Humane and intimate, how the Red Cross helped families trace the fates of WW2 soldiers



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Australians shelter from Japanese snipers in Borneo, 1945.
Australian War Memorial collection/Flickr

Fiona Ross, University of Melbourne

Private Rawson’s mother first contacted the Red Cross in early April 1942, six weeks after her son was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. For her, and thousands of other Australian mothers, fathers, wives, sisters and brothers, this began three and half years of longing and fear, and above all, silence. The Conversation

For the duration of the war, Mrs Rawson’s only news of her son’s fate were the snippets received and sent on to her by the Red Cross Bureau for Wounded, Missing and Prisoners of War.

In the Spring Street premises, lent to the Red Cross by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, volunteers received Mrs Rawson’s enquiry, made a file for her son and added a card to a rapidly growing system:

Surname: RAWSON

Rank: PTE. [Private]

Reg No. VX43216

Unit: 2/29th. Btn. H.Q. COY.

9/4/42 Enq. From Vic. – Unof. Msg. [unofficially missing] MALAYA

Over the next 18 months they retrieved and updated the card as numbered lists of missing and captured servicemen reached the Red Cross:

19-8-42: Cas.[casualty] List V.319 rep. [reported] Missing.

27-5-43: List AC 494 adv.[advice] Tokio cables interned Malai Camp.

21-6-43: Cas list V467 prev. rept. [previously reported] Missing now rpt.[reported] P.O.W.[prisoner of war]

10-9-43: List WC 13 adv. Card rec. Washington POW [prisoner of war] Jap.[Japanese] Hands.

28-10-43: List JB. 213 adv. Singapore Radio Allege POW.

Then the reports cease. Nothing more, for two years.

Private Rawson’s card is now the first one in box 45 of the archival records series “Missing, Wounded and Prisoner of War Enquiry Cards”. This series was transferred to the University of Melbourne Archives in 2016 as part of the Red Cross’s Gift to the Nation – the records of its first 100 years in Australia. Digitised copies of cards from the second world war are now available to researchers online.

Cards from the Red Cross’s enquiry bureau.
University of Melbourne Archives

In an era before vision statements and key performance indicators, the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau expressed its ethos as a “Golden Rule”:

No definite information that would be of solace to relatives should be allowed to remain in the office over-night.

The Red Cross saw this work as a “humane and intimate administration”. Speed and accuracy were the essence of the service, which during WWII helped over 58,000 Australian families to learn the fate of loved ones displaced by the war. The vast majority of these enquiries concerned personnel in the Australian Imperial Force.

Typically families first received missing, wounded, killed or captured notification from the armed services. They then turned to the Red Cross to learn more about their loved one’s fate. However the Red Cross also attempted to trace the whereabouts of civilians – both Australian and foreign citizens – living overseas who were caught up in the war in Europe or the Pacific.

The index cards were the administrative cornerstone of the bureau’s enquiry service. For such a harrowing and solemn business, the cards are a marvel of clerical efficiency and precision. Entries are heavily abbreviated and the volunteer typists rarely missed a capital letter or full stop.

There are no back-stories, no narrative, in most cases not even first names, just the barest facts about a missing person’s fate, ultimately summarised in one word at the top of each card; “repatriated”, “safe”, “recovered”, “liberated”, “located”, “missing”, “POW” (prisoner of war), “deceased”.

The Geneva Bureau in Switzerland which performed a similar service to the Red Cross in Australia.
University of Melbourne Archives

Yet the staccato shorthand belies both the complexity and compassion of this wartime service. Most of the bureau volunteers were themselves next-of-kin of POWs. They somehow managed to channel their anxiety into the myriad of clerical tasks that enabled information to flow between state, national and overseas Red Cross bureaus, searchers in military hospitals and the armed services. Cards, files, lists, letters and cables in the face of fearful waiting.

Bureaucracy and heartbreak often make for peculiar companions in the Red Cross archive. Within the Red Cross’s administrative file titled Bureau 1943 we find a few stray copies of letters to family members, laden with sympathy and sadness:

Dear Mrs Bould

We have, as you know, been making enquiries to try and obtain news of your son…and we have now had an unofficial report from a member of the Battalion who has returned to Australia.

His account of what happened when the Japanese attacked Kokoda toward the end of July is a sad one… According to our witness, [Private] Bould was busy on a job, ahead of the Unit’s defence position, when he was hit by a bullet which killed him instantly. The witness spoke as though he had known your son well… and added: “He was a particularly well-liked chap and a game soldier”. This is a tribute of which any soldier might be very proud, and we trust that it may bring you some slight comfort in your distress.

Please believe that our heartfelt sympathy goes out to you and that we will continue to do our utmost to find further witnesses who may be able to confirm or deny what we have so far learned.

Good relations with the Australian armed services were crucial to the bureau’s information gathering work, but the relationship was often strained. A few pages away from the bureau’s gentle letter to Mrs Bould we find the army threatening to withdraw cooperation because, in its opinion, the bureau was too hasty in providing information to next of kin. From the army:

It is not the policy of this Department to declare the death of a soldier as the result of hearsay information …

The sheer volume of these cards is hard to fathom; 59 archive boxes each containing around 1,000 cards, each card bearing witness to a family’s trauma and tragedy. They are uniform, ordered and monochrome. The lack of colour suits them. Emotions are suppressed beneath precision and procedure.

There is no nuance or commentary, just the cold, hard, abbreviated facts of war. Seventy years on, the sombre silence of these cards is a testament to the lives of those who went to war, and those who waited at home, longing for their return.

For Mrs Rawson, the silence about her son ended in October 1945 after the Red Cross volunteers updated her son’s card one more time:

Army Cas. 5231 adv. a/n [above named] died of disease whilst POW Siam Dysentry 31-10-43.


University of Melbourne Archives Series 2016.0049: Missing, Wounded and Prisoner of War Enquiry Cards will be available online to researchers from May 2017. Further information, and a name-based search option is available from the University of Melbourne Archives digitised items catalogue. Private Rawson’s card is item 2016.0049.44698. Read more about the Enquiry Cards.

Fiona Ross, Senior Archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Italy’s Melting Glaciers Contain the Preserved Bodies of WWI Soldiers



Article: Glowing at the Battle of Shiloh


The following article reports on the strange reports of glowing soldiers at the Battle of Shiloh in the American Civil War.

For more, visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/122477


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