Man in the machine: submarines, ships, sailors and National memory

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

This is not a blog about the current Federal election … this is about something much more enduring and exciting – a bold new art installation that plays with the idea of animus, memory, the machinery of war, and to a degree geopolitics. It will be launched in the coming months on the forecourt at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and today, International Museums Day with its focus on cultural landscapes, seems an appropriate time to reveal something of the art work.

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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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AE2 remembered 100 years on

ANMM staff stand on the stern of HMAS Anzac after the AE2 commemoration ceremony. Left to right: Dr James Hunter (Curator, RAN Maritime Archaeology), Kevin Sumption (Director), and Dr Nigel Erskine (Head of Research).

ANMM staff stand on the stern of HMAS Anzac after the AE2 commemoration ceremony. Left to right: Dr James Hunter (Curator, RAN Maritime Archaeology), Kevin Sumption (Director), and Dr Nigel Erskine (Head of Research).

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.

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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

The ‘Devil fish’ and Empire Day 1914

AE1 off Balmain

As the sun rose over Sydney Harbour on Empire Day 1914, two sinister-looking, cigar-shaped vessels glided along behind their escort vessel HMAS Sydney. The radiant May sunshine glinted on the grey steel of the vessels that sat only a few feet above the water. Noone had seen anything like these craft in Australian waters. The first two submarines of the new Australian navy had arrived.

In October 2013 Sydney Harbour saw a grand celebration for the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the other elements of the new Royal Australian Navy – the warships. But on the 24th of May this year, 100 years to the day of the RAN’s first submarine arrival, there will be little fanfare.

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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

Troopships – The Forgotten Ships of WW1

Soldiers waiting to board HMAT NESTOR  in 1916. Photographer J.E. Barnes ANMM Collection 00027604

Soldiers waiting to board HMAT Nestor in 1916. Photographer J E Barnes, ANMM Collection 00027604

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

Men of the ‘Silent Anzac’

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. 
Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry Stoker who were responsible for taking the AE2 through the Dardenelle Straits and into the Sea of Marmara in April 1915.

Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry Stoker who were responsible for taking the AE2 through the Dardenelle Straits and into the Sea of Marmara in April 1915..

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.

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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

Christmas and the war effort

'The Sydney Mail' Wednesday 13 December 1916, Christmas Number, War Issue. ANMM Collection 00040698

‘The Sydney Mail’ Wednesday 13 December 1916, Christmas Number, War Issue. ANMM Collection 00040698

A woman watches her two young children, as they play in the sand at a beach, happily enjoying the Australian sunshine and thought that Christmas is near. A familiar image you might say? On 13 December 1916, The Sydney Mail published an illustration depicting this scenario in the ‘Christmas Number’, with one crucial difference… Continue reading

A Special Kind of Bluebird

For many years to come Australian women will be judged by you… Just as each soldier should fight as if the results of the battle depended upon his individual effort, so each one of you will do her work for something else besides the love of it, for the reputation of our great country. (24.08.1916)

With these words Lieutenant Colonel A. B. Brockway of the Army Medical Corps heralded the start of WW1 service for a group of exceptional Australian nurses.

They were known as the ‘Bluebirds’, so called because of their distinctive dark blue uniforms with pale blue piping and hat band. The Bluebirds were not members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, rather they were a small group of selected professionals funded by the Australian Red Cross Society as a ‘gift’ to the French Government for whom nurses were in short supply.

Australian Red Cross nurses and their French tutor Josephine Niau beside KANOWNA, Melbourne 1916. 00027608 ANMM Collection

Australian Red Cross nurses and their French tutor Josephine Niau beside KANOWNA, Melbourne 1916. 00027608 ANMM Collection

The Bluebirds left Melbourne on the troopship KANOWNA on 4 July 1916, keen to fulfil Brockway’s expectations of them as representatives of Australian women in a role that allowed a level of female participation in war that others could not come close to. This vital service saw women serve close to the front lines, share in the harsh conditions and deal directly with the effects of war as they fulfilled their nursing duties. Continue reading

Object of the Week: Coming home – the diary of Sgt JG Campbell

At 11am we were a few miles out from the coast of North Wales where the fields were all coated with snow. And at 12pm we passed the last point of land and bid good bye to Blighty with her snow clad mountains.

In England in March 1919, an Australian soldier, John Gordon Campbell, stepped on board the troopship HMAT Khyber, bound for Australia. After four long years with the army during which Campbell served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, perhaps the most important – or at least the most longed for – part of his war service was the journey home. This week’s object of the week is Campbell’s personal diary of that voyage.

Getting down below for breakfast there was one wave that struck the side of our boat and the port holes being all open. So the water rushed through and swept the bread and cutlery clean off the table… But was a good joke for all the rest of the Sgts…

Campbell, an iron moulder from NSW, enlisted in October 1914, only two months after the commencement of World War I. He spent almost his entire service with the 4th Battalion, an infantry unit that was involved in some of the most significant and bloody battles in Australian military history – including the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and the Battle of Amiens on the Western Front in August 1918.

On 7 May 1917, in heavy fighting on the Hindenburg Line near Bullecourt, France, Campbell’s conduct earned him the Military Medal for bravery. The citation for his award reads: when in sole charge of a platoon this NCO showed the greatest judgement in handling the men. The trench was under a heavy bombardment for 24 hours through which Cpl Campbell patrolled the trench at frequent intervals and kept his men in hand by his coolness and courage. He himself had been previously buried by shell fire and severely shaken.

Due to Australia’s distance from Europe and the Middle East, soldiers such as Campbell faced a long sea journey to get to the central theatres of the war and back home again. Overall around 330,700 members of the AIF embarked from Australia for service in WWI with considerably less making the return journey, ending their days in the cemeteries of foreign lands or remaining behind to settle in England or Europe. Still, by the end of the war official historian Charles Bean writes that there were an estimated 165,000 troops waiting to be repatriated back to Australia from the UK – a journey that took nearly two months. For John Gordon Campbell the cessation of hostilities came as welcome news, however Australia and home were still a long way away.

So we have had a splendid trip up till now. So different from the last two I had at sea, where I passed along here (the African coast) three years ago, when we were always on the lookout for submarines.

KHYBER as a commercial passenger liner in 1923 in Circular Quay. Object number 00040925.

KHYBER as a commercial passenger liner in 1923 in Circular Quay. Object number 00040925.

Additionally, although in 1919 returning troops were no longer at risk of enemy attacks along sea routes, there were still other dangers present. Most significantly, the end of World War I and the resulting mass migration of people and troops coincided with a devastating worldwide influenza epidemic. When it came to infectious disease, each troopship was a hazardous contained environment, particularly for the long voyage to Australia which provided plenty of opportunity for viruses to develop and spread. Each vessel was thus subjected to shore quarantine, isolation and inoculations – not just for influenza but also for illnesses such as small pox and cerebrospinal fever. Campbell describes these issues in his diary and relates the story of a man who cut his own arm to avoid another needle, hoping to make it look as though he had already had his vaccinations. Campbell also writes of his concern that the voyage home will be delayed due to quarantining when a man on board is diagnosed with small pox.

There is orders posted up to say that there will be no swimming allowed while in Colombo. And it is unfortunate that these odd cases of small pox has occurred as we were all looking forward to getting ashore at Colombo to stretch our limbs…

The length of the journey to Australia required inventive ways of keeping the troops entertained. Shore trips were longed for as an opportunity to purchase souvenirs, buy food, socialise and to ‘stretch our limbs’.

And we are just idling our time away the best we can…

The long hours of Campbell’s voyage were filled by card games and brightened by sports and dances. A band performs regularly and a gramophone plays well into each night. The old gramophone gets so much use that Campbell is pressed to write that I hope when I get off this boat that I don’t hear a gramophone again as I have had enough of them to last me for the next twenty years. He observes the harbours of Port Said and Colombo, their people and their activities as the vessel slowly makes its way home to Sydney.

Campbell’s diary makes little mention of his active service, of Gallipoli, the trenches or the act that led to his gallantry medal. The journal is a quiet record of the ‘delightful trip’ home, of the joys of the sun and a warmer climate. Campbell describes the daily life on a troopship and writes of his gratitude to the Red Cross who kept the men supplied with writing material, cigarettes and luxuries such as fruits throughout their journey. He talks of the activities on board including cricket and other sports and describes the Anzac Day commemorations on a troopship in 1919.

With Anzac Day approaching I thought this might provide an opportunity commemorate the service of soldiers such as Campbell and to provide a peek into a soldier’s voyage back to the place he was fighting for all along – home.

So we have received our disembarkation today… so we retire to bed quite pleased. And will be in Sydney Harbour when we awake tomorrow morning…

You can read the transcript of Campbell’s diary online here.

Penny Hyde, Curatorial Assistant