Between 17 and 25 April, I travelled to Turkey to participate in a closing conference and commemoration ceremony associated with the submarine AE2. AE2 was one of two Australian submarines to participate in World War I. It gained notoriety for penetrating the Dardanelles, a narrow and well-defended Turkish waterway that became a graveyard for a number of British and French warships — including two submarines — during an ill-fated naval campaign in March 1915.
100 years after the Anzac landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, the museum has acquired a rare diary written on board a transport ship lying off Anzac Cove.
“These men took pride in the fact they were the only Australian naval unit serving in the European theatre of war … They were therefore bent on proving to the Royal Navy and the Army that they could overcome any difficulties”.
CMDR L. S. Bracegirdle, RN, commanding the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train at Gallipoli, 16 November 1915
One of the most popular parts of the War at Sea – The Navy in WWI exhibition at the museum is a wonderfully old-school diorama. It has no bells or whistles. You can’t swipe, touch or play with it — apart from a series of buttons that light up various sections. But everyone — even the ‘walk through’ visitor — stops and checks it out.
Cheryl Ward’s play Through These Lines tells the moving story of Australia’s WWI army nurses. The 2014 production, directed by Mary-Anne Gifford, has its Sydney season at the Museum, 25-28 September and 3-5 October.
As part of the research for the play, Cheryl travelled to Lemnos to walk in the nurses’ footsteps. Using period photographs and diaries crammed full of invaluable eyewitness accounts, Cheryl was able to turn back the clock 100 years.
At about 2pm on 24 April 1915, 5,000 Australian troops marched through streets of Sydney. Symbolising the ‘State’s official farewell to the troops’, it wasn’t until a few months later that they finally embarked for war. On this day, 99 years ago, over 200,000 people flocked to the city to bid farewell and a safe return to ‘Our Boys in Blue’ and ‘The Khaki Men‘. It was a goodbye seemingly unaware of the horror that would unfold the following day – the day Australian and New Zealand forces commenced a devastating 8-month conflict; the day they landed at what is now known as ANZAC Cove. Continue reading
Some of the most interesting items in the museum’s collection are the personal accounts of life’s experiences. Whether a voyage, a ship’s log or a diary these firsthand accounts are a priceless record. I recently came across one such journal written by 20 year old serviceman Allan Witt Edwards from Victoria. Edwards was sent to England in 1916 aboard the troopship HMAT Shropshire. His journal is a very personal account of what was a massive undertaking by Australia and is very endearing in its simplicity. For Edwards, as with all the troops, life on the ship was a new experience for them and I would imagine it embodied much of what they had envisioned the war to be. The camaraderie, the new sights and the thrill of seeing the surrounding warships in action must have been as exciting as they had hoped. For most however, it would be as good as war would ever get. Continue reading
- When I first came across this photo of Commander Henry Stoker and Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard of the AE2 submarine in the museum’s collection, I was struck by how confident and relaxed both men look, quite different to other military portraits I had seen.
Once I looked into the story of the AE2 I began to think of the extraordinary experience these men had shared side by side. They had bought the AE2 out from England together just prior to WW1, at the time the longest voyage ever undertaken by a submarine. So confident in his crew and sub, it was Stoker who argued in April 1915, that the AE2 could breach the Dardanelles and enter the Sea of Marmora, despite previous failed Allied attempts. The Admiralty gave authority to do so and the general order to ‘run amok’.
All the crew must have felt the trepidation and fear as they entered the Dardanelles, being hunted by Turkish forces from above, and the quiet jubilation of entering the Sea of Marmora. But the disappointment and agonizing decision to sink the submarine must have been particularly wrenching for Haggard and Stoker.I can only imagine the frustration and despair as they realized there was no way out.The two men managed to save the lives of the rest of the crew and were the last to leave the AE2 as she was scuttled. By one account, they escaped only just in time.
We will remember them
Amidst ANZAC day commemorations, Samuel J Hood’s photographs stand as a poignant pictorial record of those who served and lost their lives in World War I. There are many photographs in the collection, however, here are some highlights depicting Australian soldiers marching the streets of Sydney. Macquarie Street, Garden Island and Central Station are featured in their former early 20th century glory, as crowds of people gather to catch a glimpse of the brave men about to set sail for war.
For other photographs from the same series, please visit our flickr site.
The museum offers free entry to our exhibitions and vessels to any current or former servicemen and women wearing their medals on Anzac Day (not including their guests).