Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial

“Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made"

The colours of the Richmond Volunteer Rifles are thought to be the oldest surviving example of regimental colours in Australia. Colours were once carried into battle. With a long tradition in armies, they retain a symbolic significance today.

The departure of the Australian contingent for the Sudan, 1885
In March 1885 a 770-man New South Wales military contingent was despatched to the war in the Sudan. For the first time in Australia’s history one of its colonies had raised, equipped, and funded a force of soldiers to fight in a war overseas to uphold imperial rule and Christian values. Marching through the streets to embark from Sydney’s Circular Quay on board the SS Iberia and Australasian, the contingent was farewelled by an estimated two in every three Sydneysiders.

The map depicts Peking at the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1900–01). In June 1900 anti-Western groups and around 25,000 Chinese imperial troops had besieged foreigners, as well as many Chinese Christians, in the quarter of the city that housed the foreign diplomatic legations. The siege was brought to an end on 14 August 1900 by military contingents from a number of European nations, the United States, and Japan.

These two large handwritten leather-bound ledgers hold the service records of 1,700 Australians and New Zealanders engaged in the Commonwealth Naval Forces between 1903 and 1911.

Taken together, the individual records provide a vivid image of navy life. Physical descriptions of the men describe such details as their tattoos, which ranged from traditional anchors to Buffalo Bill and ballet girls.

In 1900 Queen Victoria conceived the idea of sending a personal New Year’s gift to British soldiers serving in the Boer War in South Africa. This was later extended to include colonial troops and members of the naval brigade.

History of Australian Military Uniforms

The Memorial’s Deperdussin single-seat training monoplane is Australia’s oldest surviving military aircraft.

"The Embarkation Photographer"
Australian troops on board HMAT Ajana are farewelled as they depart for war, Port Melbourne, 8 July 1916. The departure was one of many captured by Josiah Barnes, a Melbourne-based photographer who made a living from his images of 69 embarkations.

Steel lifeboat from HMT Ascot (A33) used in the landings at Gallipoli by 13 Battalion AIF

The Australian official war correspondent Charles Bean helped create The Dinkum Oil, an early example of the trench newspapers that appeared during the First World War. Bean noted in his diary on 7 June 1915 that Major Thomas Blamey had requested the production of a “Furphies Gazette” to quell “spy-mania” and the rumours constantly flying around the trenches. The idea, according to Bean, was that these damaging rumours would “be laughed out of court” through comic sketches and exaggeration.

Lawrence’s account of his involvement in the Arab revolt during the Great War stands as one of the major English-language literary works of the twentieth century. Lawrence began writing Seven pillars of wisdom: a triumph immediately after the war. He had a major setback in 1919 when he lost the greater part of the original manuscript on a platform at Reading railway station. Encouraged by his friends, however, he began again, and in 1926 a limited subscriber’s deluxe first edition of fewer than 200 copies was issued.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a stretcher-bearer whose brief life ended early in the Gallipoli campaign, is better known today as “the man with the donkey”.

Having been posted to the 3rd Field Ambulance, Simpson was among those who landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Though a stretcher-bearer, he decided his task could be better accomplished using a donkey to carry the wounded. Just three weeks after the landing, Simpson was killed by a Turkish bullet during one of his morning journeys up the feature known as Monash Valley to retrieve wounded men.

Damaged 4.7 inch naval gun barrel, Heavy Battery, 1 Australian Division, AIF : Clarke's Valley, Gallipoli

The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917

The Memorial’s Research Centre holds some of Arthur Streeton’s personal correspondence. Streeton was a lively and prolific letter writer who often enlivened his correspondence with pen sketches of people and landscapes. The letters held in the Memorial’s collections were found in the personal papers of Lady Ethel Turing. Turing worked for the British Red Cross and was a regular visitor to the 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth

The Mark IV tank had been developed in Britain to break the trench war stalemate on the Western Front. Tanks were regarded as a revolutionary weapon and this example (serial number 4643) attracted a great deal of interest when it toured Australia as a fund-raising tool.

Members of the 1st Australian Infantry Battalion outside their billets
After Herbert Baldwin, Frank Hurley was the next Australian to be appointed an official photographer during the First World War. Hurley spent over three months photographing the Western Front, where he produced some of the finest photographs of his long and illustrious career.This clearly posed image was probably taken by Hurley on 1 November 1917. Its composition, framed by the building, is typical of many of Hurley’s photographs from the period.

Semakh Diorama

The portraits and landscapes in Sidney Nolan’s Gallipoli series represent an attempt to define the Australian national character. They provide timeless images of the Anzacs: the young and the old, the innocent and the war-weary, the bushman and the city-dweller.

Hilda Rix Nicholas (1884-1961)
"A Man" c.1921
oil on canvas

This video captures the installation of the Bullecourt Tank display in the Memorial’s First World War gallery.

The tank, Mk II, No. 799 was immobilised after crossing German lines during the battle for Bullecourt on April 11, 1917. After being immobilised, the tank was subsequently destroyed, buried and unearthed decades later. The battle is depicted in the diorama which is located adjacent to the tank in the gallery.

The tank was one of the final items to be installed in the newly refurbished First World War gallery. The process was captured over several days during November 2014 in the final weeks leading up to the opening of the gallery.

Gilbert Doble
"Winged Victory"
made in Sydney in 1918-1919
copper alloy

The First World War marked the end of a long era of colourful military uniforms, and this Pelzmütze (literally, a fur cap, but commonly referred to as a busby) provides a fascinating insight into the elaborate uniforms worn by cavalry units of the Deutsches Heer (Imperial German Army). Such Pelzmütze were worn on parade and into battle in the early stages of the First World War, but were later replaced with steel helmets, which offered far greater protection to the wearer.

Field Marshal Lord Birdwood wore this helmet in his position as Colonel of the Regiment, Royal Horse Guards (the Blues). This appointment carried with it the position of “Gold Stick in Waiting”, a traditional bodyguard in the British royal household who served as a personal attendant to the sovereign on ceremonial occasions.

Of the 136,000 Australian horses sent away to the First World War Just one horse out was brought back: General Sir William Bridges’s charger, Sandy. Although Bridges had the use of three horses, Sandy was believed to be his favourite.
Bridges died on Gallipoli in May 1915 after being mortally wounded by a Turkish sniper. Sandy was kept safely in a veterinary hospital in Egypt until 1918, when the Minister for Defence authorised his return to Australia.

The Memorial’s German Albatros D.Va scout aircraft, captured by Australian troops during an air engagement of the First World War, is one of only two of its kind in the world today.

The rapid development of radar equipment in Australia during the Second World War grew out of concerns about a possible Japanese invasion, especially from the air. An excellent example of Australian innovation to come out of this time is the Light Weight Air Warning set.

A relic of war
In September 1984 a combined Australian War Memorial/RAAF team recovered this damaged Japanese airframe from the Sek fighter airstrip at Alexishafen near Madang, Papua New Guinea.
Codenamed “Oscar” by the allied forces, the Nakajima Ki43-II Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) was the principal fighter aircraft used by the Japanese Army Air Forces during the Pacific war. Together with navy fighter aircraft, machines of this type participated in all the significant Japanese land actions after 1941, and the Oscar was used extensively against Australian forces.

In 1941 the Lockheed bomber in which Frank Hinder was undertaking an aerial reconnaissance mission crashed in Rabaul. His subsequent painting of this event, Bomber crash, is a synthesis of the exotic environment in Rabaul, the terrifying plane crash, and the artist’s strong philosophical beliefs.

This photograph of munitions workers pressing .303 cartridge cases is one of countless images that document the changing role of Australian women during the Second World War. It was taken by Edward Cranstone, a freelance photographer who became head of the Department of Information photographic unit during the war. In this role, he was responsible for documenting the effects of the war on the home front.

A memento of the missing This Carley float, currently displayed in the Second World War Galleries, is a poignant reminder of the tragic sinking of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney (II). Recovered from the sea by HMAS Heros, this battle-damaged life raft is one of the few surviving relics collected from Sydney, sunk with all 645 hands off the Western Australian coast on 19 November 1941 after an engagement with the German surface raider HSK Kormoran.

On 15 April 1945, as the war in Europe drew to an end, British forces liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. With them was Australian official war artist Alan Moore. For three days he drew and photographed the skeletal survivors and their persecutors, including the SS troops who were forced to bury their victims.

V2 Rocket and Meillerwagen

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Northern Australia were more affected by the Second World War than any other Indigenous community on the Australian home front. This bark painting by Paddy Fordham Wainburranga (1932–2006), was the Memorial’s first work of art by an Indigenous artist giving an Aboriginal perspective on the war.

Bomb-damaged Australian flag from the Administrator's Residence, Darwin, 1942
This flag was flying at Government House in Darwin on the morning of 19 February 1942, when Japanese aircraft bombed the city and harbour. It was the first, the largest, and the most destructive attack made by the enemy on the Australian mainland

This portrait of Sister Sybil Fletcher, 2/1st Australian General Hospital, was taken shortly after she arrived in the Middle East in 1940. Fletcher was one of more than 4,000 Australian nurses who served in the Second World War

The papers of Sister Agnes Betty Jeffrey.


While working as a forced labourer on the notorious Burma–Thailand Railway, Private James Fraser, an Australian prisoner of war from the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, noticed some Japanese officers intensely studying a plan. He watched them place it in a leather case which they then hung up in a hut. Intrigued, Fraser reached in and took the plan without realising precisely what it was he was stealing. It turned out to be part of the plan for the railway itself. He realised the plan was important to the Japanese the next day when an announcement was made that any Japanese papers found were to be returned. Knowing the consequences of discovery, Fraser successfully managed to conceal the plan throughout his captivity. Regular searches made it necessary to change its hiding place on several occasions. This led to some damage and deterioration of the map.

25-pounder gun
Men of B Troop, 14 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, pull a 25-pounder gun through dense jungle near Uberi, on the Kokoda Trail in the Owen Stanley Range in September 1942. They are being assisted by the 2/1st Australian Pioneer Battalion.

Between July and November 1942, Australian and Japanese soldiers fought a bitter campaign along the Kokoda Trail, which crossed the Owen Stanley Range in Papua.

Official Australian photographer Lieutenant Thomas Fisher captured the exhaustion and malnutrition of troops from the 2/27th Battalion as they reached an outpost in Itiki in October 1942, after being out of contact for 13 days.

In 1944 Reg Saunders was the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian army. He had seen action during the Second World War with the 2/7th Battalion in North Africa at Benghazi, in Greece, in Crete and on the Kokoda Track. During the Korean War he served as Officer Commanding, C Company, 3 RAR, leading his company through fierce fighting, including the battle at Kapyong in April 1951 for which the battalion was awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation.
He kept this souvenir pennant as a proud memento of his service. It displays the colour patch and battle honours of the 2/7th battalion and is pinned with badges from his time in Korea, including the US Presidential Unit Citation and significant American insignia.

In December 1942 an American B-24 Liberator Bomber called “Little Eva” crashed near Moonlight Creek north of Doomadgee, Queensland, after getting lost in a huge storm. Four of the crew survived the crash, but were left struggling to stay alive in this remote area near the Gulf of Carpentaria.

This work by Jacky Green (b. 1953) reveals the legacy this wartime story continues to play in the lives of the Indigenous people from the Borroloola region. To remember this event, Aboriginal people in the Gulf still perform Ka-wayawayama, “the aeroplane dance”.

Violet Lloyd married Alan Glover on 7 June 1941, just five days after he enlisted in the Second AIF. After a ten-day honeymoon Alan began basic training at Puckapunyal, Victoria. He was assigned to the 8th Division and embarked for Malaya on 30 July. It was to be the last time the couple saw each other.
They wrote each other regularly, exchanging several letters a week, until March 1942 when Violet’s letters began returning unopened. Alan had been captured by the Japanese that month, just after the fall of Singapore, but she did not receive official word that he was missing until 1 July. By then Alan was already dead.

Yes Sir

Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack


This photograph, dating from early 1950, shows the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, heavily laden with weapons, shovels, and packs, walking carefully across a valley of snow-covered rice paddies and up a hillside during an operation in Korea.

The war diary of 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), provides a crucial perspective on the battle of Maryang San; it is one of the few official documents held at the Australian War Memorial that relates to Australia’s involvement in this momentous Korean War battle.

Sectioned Own Mk II submachine gun.

Evelyn Owen, from Wollongong, New South Wales, designed a weapon in his backyard shed. His repeated attempts to have the military adopt the weapon were rejected. Disappointed, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He did, however, manage to attract the interest of the manager of the Port Kembla plant of Lysaght’s Newcastle Works. They took the weapon to the Minister for the Army, who eventually had Owen transferred from the AIF to the Central Inventions Board. The design was finally adopted, and it went through several minor modifications during the more than 45,000 produced during the war.

Soviet PPSh-41 sub-machine gun The PPSh-41 (Pistolet Pulemjot Shpagina sub-machine gun, 1941 model) was one of the most significant infantry weapons used by Soviet troops during the Second World War. Robust, simple to use, fast-firing, and compact, it was tremendously useful in the massive urban street-to-street fighting on the Eastern Front between 1942 and 1945. Captured examples of this weapon were prized by German forces, who used them against their former Soviet owners. It is estimated that a total of six million PPSh-41 sub-machine guns were manufactured during the Second World War.

“Huey”: The Bell UH-1B Iroquois Helicopter

“The Wild One” tours Vietnam


Two lapel badges : Vietnam Moratorium


Journeys in my head: 21st state


Interview with Neil Davis for In the eye of a storm - Sydney Film 3


The Vung Tau Ferry: HMAS Sydney III


Sister Margaret Ahern, army nurse


UN badge


Adaptability of the Australian Soldier


Night patrols (Around Maliana)


Captain Rachel Leal of 1st Intelligence Battalion


The Australian War Memorial’s Research Centre holds an original deck of playing cards, known as Iraqi “Most Wanted” cards. These cards have become a cultural icon for the earlier phase of the Second Gulf War. They were designed to assist troops to recognise key Iraqi figures wanted by the coalition forces. The numbering of the cards was based loosely on the structure of the Iraqi regime, and each deck has two jokers, one listing Iraqi military ranks, and the other, Arab titles. Saddam Hussein is the Ace of Spades.


eX de Medici, 2009

Night and day

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, 2010

Eye in the sky
In modern warfare the front line is often undefined, and the difference between insurgent and civilian is often difficult to determine. Technology, therefore, plays a vital role. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) such as this unarmed Boeing ScanEagle aircraft deliver real-time video surveillance back to operators on the ground.


Ben Quilty, 2012

Conducting a CASEVAC
A US Black Hawk helicopter comes into land at Forward Operating Base Budwan, Afghanistan, during a CASEVAC (emergency casualty evacuation) at one of the artillery positions for Australian gunners attached to Operation Herrick XIII.

Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force on a logistics run to Patrol Base Wali

Battle damaged storage bin: Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle

Captain S, After Afghanistan 2012

Be deadly: NORFORCE


Australian War Memorial
Credits: Story

Curator; Photo, Film and Sound - Ally Roche
Curator; Photo, Film and Sound - Laura Wiles
Curator; Military Heraldry and Technology - Kerry Neale
Curator; Military Heraldry and Technology - Ashleigh Wadman
Curator; Art - Alex Torrens
Curator; Research Centre - Robyn Van Dyk
Video Producer - Kris Kerehona
Editor - Robert Nichols
Project Manager - Jordie Mckay

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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