The sinking of SS Ceramic

A black and white photograph of HMAT CERAMIC which was used during World War 1 as a troop carrier. The frame around the photograph containing signatures of soldiers and the date '15.12.15' From this date, it is most likely that the soldiers were part of the 12th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They departed Melbourne on 23 November 1915. This Regiment was recruited exclusively Victoria in August 1914. ANMM Collection 00027600.

A black and white photograph of HMAT Ceramic, which was used during World War 1 as a troop carrier. The frame around the photograph contains the signatures of soldiers and the date ‘15.12.15’ –  it is likely that the soldiers were part of the 12th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They departed Melbourne on 23 November 1915. ANMM Collection 00027600.

A British liner, a German U-boat, the mid-Atlantic Ocean and the Royal Australian Navy – what do they have in common? The SS Ceramic.

Built by the famous Belfast shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff, SS Ceramic was launched on 11 December 1912 for the White Star Line’s Australian service. For 10 years the ocean liner was the largest ship sailing between Europe and Australia. During World War I was requisitioned for the First Australian Imperial Forces as a troopship with the pennant number A40. Continue reading

Remembering the White Russians

White Russians Eugene, Ilia and Katherine Seiz in Harbin, China, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy Natalie Seiz.

White Russians Eugene, Ilia and Katherine Seiz in Harbin, China, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy Natalie Seiz and Andrew Seiz.

One of the things I find most interesting about Australia’s immigration history is how political events and uprisings on the other side of the world can have a flow-on effect and shape our own history. Take for example the October Revolution in Russia, which occurred 100 years ago today on 7 November 1917 (or 25 October in the old Julian calendar) and would lead to the exodus of the refugees known as White Russians or white émigrés.

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After Emden: HMAS Sydney’s War 1915-18

HMAS Sydney in the Firth of Forth when she was operating in the North Sea as part of the part of the British Grand Fleet. Image: author’s collection.

HMAS Sydney in the Firth of Forth when she was operating in the North Sea as part of the part of the British Grand Fleet. Image: author’s collection.

Australian Naval Historian and author Dr David Stevens will present the annual Phil Renouf Memorial Lecture on Thursday 31 March 2016. Phil Renouf was the much-loved and highly respected leader of Sydney Heritage Fleet and this annual lecture series honours his significant contribution to Australian maritime heritage.

HMAS Sydney’s victory over SMS Emden in November 1914 marked an important milestone in the war at sea. But in no way was this the end of Australia’s naval war, and it certainly did not herald Sydney’s departure from our naval history. Indeed, the cruiser remained extremely busy throughout the Great War, roaming all over the world and achieving a number of naval firsts.

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Book review – In All Respects Ready: Australia’s Navy in World War One

ANMM curator Dr Stephen Gapps reviews In All Respects ready: Australia’s Navy in World War One by Dr David Stevensthe winner of the 2015 Frank Broeze Memorial Maritime History Book Prize. 

TIn all respects ready 9780195578584[1]he title of In all Respects Ready is taken from a 1919 assessment by the British Admiralty of the record of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in World War I:

Their Lordships state that Australia may well feel pride in the record of its navy newly created in the years prior to 1914, but shown by the test of war to be in all respects ready to render invaluable service to the Empire in the hour of need.

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Lost at sea, my uncle John Messenger – ERA HMAS AE1

John Messenger - Photo Courtesy Vera Ryan

Photo – courtesy Vera Ryan

My uncle John Messenger, known as Jack, was born in Ballarat, Victoria. He became a fitter and turner and studied to be a draughtsman. He was the eldest son, with six siblings. My father Albert was the second youngest. Jack was 20 when he was born.

Jack moved to Melbourne and enlisted in the Royal Navy as a crew member on the Australian Station in 1909.

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Remembering submarine AE1: ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’

Artist’s view of the work in the museum basin, courtesy Warren Langley

Artist’s view of the work in the museum basin, courtesy Warren Langley Artist: Warren Langley Materials: stainless steel, LED lighting, PVC piping 2015. Supported by a grant from the Federal Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.

On 14 September 1914 the 55 metre submarine HMAS AE1 disappeared with all hands, 35 Australian and British sailors, while patrolling German waters off Duke of York Island in present day Papua New Guinea.

On 14 September this year, 101 years on, a major art installation will be unveiled at the Australian National Maritime Museum to commemorate the loss in a work entitled ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’. The work is currently under construction at the workshop of the artist Warren Langley where descendants of those officers and crew, submariners and naval historians gathered recently to view it.

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100th anniversary of the sinking of Lusitania

RMS Lusitania.

RMS Lusitania. Image courtesy Eric Sauder.

Off the Old Head of Kinsale, within sight of the green Irish coast, Cunard’s Queen Victoria will soon pause on her Lusitania memorial cruise to mark the centenary of Lusitania‘s sinking — a maritime tragedy inextricably tangled, then as now, in the horrors and controversy of war. Ashore in Cobh, where the Irish fishermen of so long ago landed row upon row of bodies, commemorative wreaths will be laid at the feet of the sorrowing angel of the Lusitania memorial, a monument to these causalities of a war that claimed so many lives.

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Anzacs and surf lifesavers

Installing the Souter murals in the Australian National Maritime Museum's Navy gallery

Installing the murals in the Navy gallery, March 2015

A few weeks ago we installed a series of murals in the museum that were painted by David Henry Souter for the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Lifesaving Club (BSBLC). In January 1921 a ceremony was held to unveil an honour roll listing the names of the club members who had served during World War I and died far from their beloved Bondi. Also unveiled that day was this series of murals. The local sporting gazette The Arrow reported on the unveiling and made brief mention of the paintings:

The interior of the clubhouse is now distinctly attractive. The walls are panelled and Bulletin artist Souter has supplied a series of friezes done in his own inimitable style. (21 January 1921, p.6)

Souter (BSBLC President, 1920–21 season) completed the series in 1934 when he painted an additional two works.

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Exploring a diorama: The RAN Bridging Train at Suvla Bay during the Gallipoli Campaign

“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.

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Surviving Emden

For the anniversary of the Battle of Cocos 100 years ago, the museum is displaying a collection of material associated with the World War I German raider SMS Emden that was destroyed by HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914.

Objects on display at the museum to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy’s battle cruiser HMAS Sydney defeated the German raider SMS Emden at the Battle of Cocos.

Objects on display at the museum to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy’s battle cruiser HMAS Sydney defeating the German raider SMS Emden at the Battle of Cocos on 9 November 1914.

The items include a German military songbook from 1912, a Reich Pass or travel document, two photographs of Emden crew with a model of their vessel, a small purse, a pair of glasses, and several hand-carved wooden decorative picture frames and skittles  games. Importantly, the material includes first-hand accounts by German sailors of ‘The Raid of the Emden’ and the Emden’s battle with HMAS Sydney.

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The ‘triumphant procession’ of the ANMEF

troops of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road

Contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road, 18 August 1914.
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

On this day, 100 years ago, a contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) marched through Sydney for final embarkation. Fourteen days after Britain declared war on Germany, the ANMEF contingent made their way through streets flooded with tens of thousands of well-wishers. It would be the start of many marches to come throughout the war, and one of the many photographer Samuel J Hood captured with his Folmer and Schwing Graflex camera. Yesterday, a service was held at Government House and re-enactment of the march took place. As Royal Australian Navy (RAN) cadets marched down a soggy Macquarie Street, they paid homage to the ‘khaki clad contingent’ who had taken the same steps a century before under a clear blue sky. Continue reading

Black Sailors – Indigenous service in the navy during WWI?

Black Sailors on HMAS Geranium in 1926.  National Library of Australia

Black Sailors on HMAS Geranium in 1926. From an album compiled by crew member Petty Officer A A Smith. National Library of Australia nla.pic-an23607993

NAIDOC Week (celebrating National National Aborigines and Islanders Day) is held every second week in July. The NAIDOC theme for 2014 is ‘Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond.’ The theme honours all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have fought in defence of country.

While we are starting to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who fought as Black Diggers during World War I, what do we know of any Indigenous sailors?

The image above shows Aboriginal sailors on HMAS Geranium when it was conducting a mapping survey of waters across the north and west of Australia in 1926. They may well have been recruited for their intimate knowledge of the area. The title ‘Black Watch’ – while a reference to the famous Scottish regiment – may also refer to their role and skills in surveillance. Continue reading

The ‘March of the Gallant Five Thousand’

Australian Light Horse saluting the Governor-General

Australian Light Horse saluting the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, and riding along Macquarie Street in Sydney, 24 April 1915.
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

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

Remembrance Day and the Royal Australian Navy in World War I

HMAS Australia

HMAS Australia

On the 11th of November the museum will hold a Remembrance Day ceremony which features the vessel MV Krait and its role in Operation Jaywick in World War II.

Remembrance Day on the 11th of November each year was initially called Armistice Day as it was established on the first anniversary of the signing on the armistice that ended World War I. It was changed to Remembrance Day in Australia after the Second World War in order to commemorate all war dead.

The moment chosen for the signing of the armistice was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month in 1918. On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919, two minutes silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony in London. King George V personally requested all the people of the British Empire to suspend normal activities for two minutes on the hour of the armistice, which as he announced, had ‘…stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years.’  The two minutes silence became a central feature of annual commemorations on Armistice Day.

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Horses by sea…

After winning the 1931 Melbourne Cup, the famous horse Phar Lap, was transported to the United States by ship to compete in the Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico.

Phar Lap being shipped to America

Phar Lap being shipped to America

Jointly owned by Sydney trainer Harry Telford and American businessman David J. Davis, Telford did not agree with the decision to move the horse overseas and refused to go. Davis took the horse regardless, along with new trainer, Tommy Woodcock. Phar Lap was loaded onto the ship Ulimaroa to New Zealand, before boarding the Monowai to San Francisco. It was reported the horse would become anxious when his trainer was not in sight, making the trip a long one for Woodcock, who was required to stay by his side the entire journey. On arrival in Mexico, Phar Lap won what was to be his last big race, before succumbing to either sickness or poison (or a combination of both) and dying in California months later.

Of the trip, Woodcock, via the The Mercury newspaper (Tasmania, 1936) stated,

…a special box was built for him on the upper deck. It was approximately 14ft. x 14ft., and padded to guard against his knocking himself. He had a space between his box and a sand roll, and by walking him into his box, turning round and walking him to the roll and vice versa, he had good room for exercise.

Woodcock went on to describe how the ships cook had complained that he had never gone through so much sugar in one trip – the passengers had been taking it to feed Phar Lap and in the process making a new friend on the journey.

Transporting a multimillion dollar racehorse by ship on a two month journey across open ocean was a risky venture, but it was not uncommon at this time. Humans have long held a special bond with horses.  Throughout history they have been an important part of daily life as food and transport, an indication of social status and wealth, and used in companionship and sport. The practice of transporting horses over water for breeding, sport, trade and war possibly spans more than 4000 years, and with some estimates being closer to 6000, we’ve certainly had a lot of practice.  Clearly the effort taken has been deemed worth it, and at times necessary.

Bayeux tapestry (c. 1070)

Bayeux tapestry (c. 1070)

During the middle ages, transporting horses by ship was common, as written and other evidence such as the Bayeaux tapestry, show. Vikings used various breeds of horses and it is beileved they shipped what are now known as Icelandic horses to Iceland in the 9th century (the museums current exhibition Vikings: Beyond the legend, dispels myth and delves into the daily lives of Vikings). However, there is mounting evidence to suggest the ancient Egyptians were already transporting horses by ship along the Nile and along the coast of the Aegean by the end of the 13th Dynasty (approx 1802BCE to 1649BCE) some two and a half thousand years earlier, having used them during wars with the Hyskos (often credited with introducing horses to Egypt, however, this is still debated).  Vessels used to transport horses and other livestock included boats and barges made mostly of reeds, not a particularly sturdy or safe method, and we can only assume voyages must have been treacherous.

The horse transporter, SS Armenian

The horse transporter, SS Armenian

In more modern times, during the Boer War (1899-1902) and World War 1 the demand for horses was enormous, and thousands were lost at sea from shipwreck, sickness and injury from rolling vessels. During the Great War, lacking the numbers within the United Kingdom, the British looked to the United States for more. The horses were loaded onto transport ships by the hundreds and taken to the United Kingdom. Those that survived were loaded up again and taken to mainland Europe. Sailors and soldiers on these vessels reported the conditions as horrendous.  In one incident alone in 1915, 1400 horses were lost from one vessel, the SS Armenian, when it was torpedoed off the Cornish coast. Australia sustained its own losses – 121,324 Waller horses were shipped during WW1 from Australia to Europe, Africa, India and Palestine. Look out for the museums coming exhibition on The Royal Australian Navy in WW1, in August 2014. Any horses that survived the conditions on these journeys took several weeks to recuperate once on dry land.

Unloading horses at Gallipoli

Unloading horses at Gallipoli

Today, horses are generally shipped by air and the risk to their wellbeing and the length of the trips have dramatically reduced. Fiorente, an Irish bred horse, was originally imported by air from England to race in the 2012 Melbourne Cup. She was unsuccessful, but came home strong this year to take out the 2013 Melbourne Cup.

Siobhan McKenna

References and further reading:

• Blenkinsop & Rainey, ed. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents Veterinary Services, London: H.M. Stationers, 1925.

• Hyland Ann, The Medieval Warhorse: From Byzantium to the Crusades, London: Grange Books. 1994

• Mberlin JD, Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations. Random House, Inc, 2007.

• PHAR LAP MEMORIES. (1936, September 30). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved November 4, 2013, from