An army marches on its stomach

Sepia Sat 180It seems that my uncle Pat Farraher is determined to have his moment in the Sepia Saturday sun. Pat appeared back in Sepia Saturday 166 and today’s topic is tailor-made for him.

The World War II nominal roll only gives bare details but it lists Patrick Joseph Farraher enlisting on 15 September 1942 in Enoggera, Brisbane at the age of 34. He was attached to the 4th Field Bakery (AASC) as a private. His next of kin was my Aunty Mary.

Among my aunt’s estate were some old family photos including some of Uncle Pat’s military service, including those mentioned above. Today we start moving into the field and the Australian War Memorial’s photographic collection places Pat’s photos in context. I knew he’d served in Papua New Guinea, and immediately recognised some of Pat’s place photos from his time there, but knew nothing about these service photos of his.

It may be this is field training prior to departing to Papua New Guinea -it looks like Australian scrub in the background.

It may be this is field training prior to departing to Papua New Guinea -it looks like Australian scrub in the background. Photograph from Pat Farraher collection.

The cook "train" -you can see this photo links with the one above.

The cook “train” -you can see this photo links with the one above. Photo from Pat Farraher collection.

I could see this was an Army Dukw (amphibious vehicle) photographed, I suspect, at Enoggera army camp by Uncle Pat but what relevance did it have?

Perhaps they were heading off to the ship to PNG.

Perhaps they were heading off to the ship to PNG. Photograph from Pat Farraher collection.

But the AWM website makes it clearer in its caption for this photo: A FIELD BAKERY BEING ESTABLISHED ON THE NORTHERN BANK OF THE BUMI RIVER. THIS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS MEMBERS OF THE 4TH AUSTRALIAN FIELD BAKERY PLACING SHEER LEGS IN POSITION ON TWO “DUKWs” PREPARATORY TO UNLOADING THE BAKERS OVENS.

Photograph 61074 from the AWM Collection, taken in the Finchhafen area of PNG.

Photograph 61074 from the AWM Collection, taken in the Finchhafen area of PNG. Image in the public domain. Men from the 4th Field Bakery.

Armies need food as well as ammunition so the army bakers were kept busy making bread, rolls, meat pies and who knows what else. I don’t suppose that with people being shot at, any concerns for health regulations went out the window. I was lucky to find so many great photos of the 4th Field Bakery in the AWM collections.

Image 061258 AWM. 4th Field Bakery men preparing bread rolls.

Image 061258 AWM. 4th Field Bakery men preparing bread rolls. Image out of copyright.

In a hot and humid region, working in the bakehouse must have been incredible sweaty work though they were probably well-served by their bush-materials bake house. In the bigger scheme of things I guess the Diggers probably didn’t care too much about a salty addition to their bread rolls.

The AWM states on one picture “with improvised ovens and huts and the help of native boys, the men of the 2/4th Field Bakery baked thousands of bread rolls each day to supply the Division”.

Some bakers from the 4th Field Bakery heading back to quarters after a busy day’s work. The contrast between the featured image today and the men in this image is amusing, I think. No wonder the British officers complained about the casualness of Australian soldiers during WWI.

AWM Image 061613 of the 4th Field Bakery men leaving the bush materials bakehouse at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, PNG.

AWM Image 061613 of the 4th Field Bakery men leaving the bush materials bakehouse at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, PNG. Image out of copyright and in the public domain.

Beyond the Internet: Week 16 War service records

This is Week 16 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. In honour of Anzac Day coming up this week, the topic is War service records.  Once again this week, the topic will be a cross-over between online and offline resources.  Please do join in with this series and add your thoughts.

Online with World War I

We have been very spoiled with Australian World War I service records being digitised and made available online through the National Archives of Australia (NAA). All we have to do is put a name in the search bar, limit it to a period (1914-1919), and Bob’s your uncle, up come the list of names with a digitised symbol on the right hand side for you to click on.

Might I make a suggestion if you haven’t already tried this? As well as looking at your own ancestor’s records, have a look at any of his siblings/cousins etc or perhaps anyone with the same unusual name (obviously Smith just isn’t going to work). My grandfather’s service record includes pages from two of his brothers’ service records. Only looking at one record might not give the full story.

Then of course, there are the other options for that period, available online through the Australian War Memorial (AWM): Red Cross, Roll of Honour, and Honours and Awards through the biographical database.  Also don’t forget to search the collections which might pick up additional information eg my husband’s great uncle is mentioned in the write-up of another man’s medals.

But what of those records beyond the internet which is after all what we’re supposed to be looking at?

Boer War Service

There are search facilities with AWM and the NAA but my understanding is that many of these records are available through the state archives, or even libraries. If you have a relative who fought in the Boer War, you might want to explore these options. This is a useful information sheet.

Post World War I Service Records

There are other records which are still only available by ordering from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). They are the World War II service records, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf. Let’s assume you want to find out which members of your family served in World War II. You again enter the family name, plus a first name if necessary. It then presents you with the options available and you can choose the correct person. If you’re just using it to fill out information on your families you may want to stop there because you will have acquired some useful extra detail.

I find this search useful to determine a preliminary birth date, while it’s not yet available through BDM searches, even by year.  It may also tell you (with varying reliability) where they were probably living when they joined up, their place of birth, and possibly their spouse’s name as next of kin. Not bad for a quick haul. Of course with WWII we’re also more likely to pick up female family members.

However if it’s your direct ancestor, it’s still worth your while to obtain the full service history from DVA by providing the details (or a printout) found from your search. Why would you bother? Well just think about what you find in your World War I records, and it’s easy to see the benefits. Combine it with other sources like war diaries, photographs and oral histories and you can build a comprehensive picture which tells of your relative’s experience.

For last year’s Anzac Day post I told the story of one of my family members, based on a combination of his Korean service records and the digitised war diaries. You can read it here to see just how you can build a picture from these record sets, probably more so where the person was killed in action.

Catalogue items

It’s true that not all of us can manage to get to see the original records in the archives, but with online catalogues it makes it possible to draw up a list that you might want to look at if/when you’re lucky enough to be on site. If it’s a very specific item, you may just be able to order it directly, for a fee (still cheaper than airfare+accommodation).

I’ve already mentioned the AWM collections search but also have a look at what NAA has available through this link. Of course Ancestry and Findmypast also have overseas service information which you may want to explore.

I hope this post has provided some strategies for building up your relative’s military service history to incorporate into your family story.

Beyond the Internet Week 14: War diaries, shipping and photographs

This is Week 14 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is War Diaries, shipping and photos.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic, especially if you live overseas and have a different set of records to tell us about. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

This week’s topic is going to be a bit of “dollar each way” because I realise that many of these records are now available online. And yes, it beats having to schedule a trip to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, with all the associated expense, to read the documents themselves..but not always as much fun. Still and all, I suspect war diaries are not something that many people use in their family history, so I’m sitting on the virtual fence with this one.

War diaries

While war diaries can be succinct and uninformative on the day of the battle, the attached operations orders can be immensely useful to really add depth to your family history. This is some of the information I’ve found in them, taken from AWM 4, 23/66/1-37 for the 49th Battalion and AWM 4 15/6/1-18 ABGROC:

  • The men of the 40th walking 40 miles to Serapeum on the Suez Canal carrying full kits, packs and ammunition but limited water, in 110C heat.
  • The men of the 49th  referring to their colour patch as the “soccer ball” because they were moved so often.
  • Arrival of additional troops in the field may not mention names but when put with your family member’s service records you can see whether it was a big intake or only a few men.
  • Men going on leave may be mentioned.
  • Men injured or killed, usually only deaths of officers, otherwise numbers only.
  • Summaries of the battle.
  • Descriptions of the clothes issued to the men (sheepskin jackets, leather waistcoats, thigh-high gumboots).
  • The dispersal of companies across the battle field together with their list of responsibilities.
  • The Railway Operating Division’s nickname of “Right Out of Danger”. I’ve talked about their responsibilities here.
  • How the men spent Christmas, received special food treats, and their behind-the-lines activities.
  • Little asides about how the men dealt with being required to sleep on the ground under canvas while there were empty huts nearby.

If you’ve not yet used the war diaries of the AWM either virtually or in situ, I hope I’ve convinced you that there’s plenty there that will reveal the story of your family member’s service.

Of course this refers to the official war diaries for each unit, perhaps your ancestor left a personal diary or perhaps one of his fellow servicemen did. Just imagine what you might learn from those.

War transportation records

Another rich source is the files on the ship transportation of the men to/from foreign service. The men were probably well enough informed about the world (after all in those days schooling focused on the Empire’s history, not Australia’s) but it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been amazed by the sights they saw or the opportunity to go dancing or for picnics and motor trips in Capetown. On the way overseas the CO for the men on the Port Sydney[i] commended them for their excellent behaviour while on two days leave in Colombo. On the voyage over they also learned additional military skills but they also had a “fine brass band”, an orchestra and several concert parties. My grandfather returned to Australia on the Karmala[ii] in 1919 and the files report they had an orchestra, daily sports, chess, bridge and drafts competitions as well as a daily newspaper, the Karmala Kuts.

Photographs

J06286 AWM out of copyright. Crossing the line on board Port Sydney November 1917.

This is another fence-sitter as many of these have been digitised, however they’re probably worth mentioning here. Things to look for: names of people, ships to/from field, battle areas.

I was lucky that there was an amateur photographer on board the Port Sydney with my grandfather so I have photos of the Crossing the Line[iii] ceremony on that voyage. There are also quite a lot of my husband’s great-uncle. The photos of Milne Bay or Norieul are certainly much better now in digital form than the old thermal printed ones I got back years ago!

I hope I’ve managed to convince you that there’s lots out there which can enrich your family’s wartime stories, whether in digital or non-digital form.


[i] AWM 7, Port Sydney [5]. This now appears to be item 528138.  Not yet digitised.

[ii] AWM 31, Karmala 306. This now appears to be item 514921. Not yet digitised.

[iii] AWM negative J06286

Never rains but it pours: Historical talks in Darwin

It’s not just the weather in Darwin where it never rains but it pours. Over the past week we’ve had a flurry of diverse historical and genealogical talks. Today I’ll focus on the historical talks.

On Saturday 18th February the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory, with support from The Northern Territory Archives, hosted a talk by local identity Pearl Ogden on “The impact of the war years on Darwin” though Pearl extended it down to Katherine.  A couple of snippets that particularly caught my attention were that the prisoners were released from the Fannie Bay Gaol so it could be used to house servicemen, the number of army farms growing a wide variety of vegetables, there were Catalinas anchored at Doctor’s Gully (now fish-feeding tourism), the Vic Hotel was favoured by the Americans, and that indigenous women workers were treated and paid the same as men. There were obviously large communities of Army activity around Adelaide River and Katherine. Pearl also talked a little about the the bombings further down the Highway. I’ve now been in Darwin quite a while so as she mentioned innumerable places and streets I mostly knew where she was talking about. A big omission from the talk was any maps or photographs to illustrate the talks. It would have been greatly enhanced if these had been used – and no doubt the interstate visitors would have gained far more from what was a fascinating talk. And I still don’t know where the Victualling Yards are in Stuart Park –need to suss out a Darwin “old timer” and ask.

Monday evening 20th February a large number of people lined up for another session hosted by the Northern Territory Library and attended by many from the combined Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan BattlefieldWar comes to Australia” Tour. The first speaker was Dr Tom Lewis, former naval officer and Director of the Darwin Military Museum and the wonderful new Defence of Darwin experience. (Previous to last week I hadn’t known there was a anti-submarine boom net across from what we call East Point but technically is Pt Dudley ). Tom’s talk had lots of fascinating detail which addressed some of the misconceptions and myths surrounding the bombing.  In particular he emphasised that some of the statistics bandied around were misleading, for example comparison with Pearl Harbor did not match up because the bomb capacity was lower even though more bombs fell. The torpedo bombs used on Pearl Harbor were far more damaging.  Dr Lewis made a very valid point which was that Nagasaki had only one (atomic) bomb and by a pure comparison of numbers, Pearl Harbor and Darwin would both be more important than that which would indeed be plainly ridiculous. He cited that 2000 civilians died at Pearl Harbour, which did not concur with the 40 listed on the Pearl Harbor website I’d already looked at, and wondered whether some were civilians employed on military bases. Certainly the Bombing of Darwin wasn’t the biggest disaster in Australia’s history and he cited Cyclone Tracy and the sinking of HMAS Sydney. He did not agree that Prime Minister Curtin had covered up the bombing deaths and also denied that we had insufficient  defences with 18 anti-aircraft batteries around town, which were red-hot after the battle. However he did agree that the men had not had much practice prior to the event. My own view was that the talk was fascinating and full of detail and that Tom’s personal experience  of the “fog of war”, as he called it, added to his understanding of the history of the event, but there were times throughout the talk when I wondered if it didn’t blinker him to some of the other views put forward. Shauna Hicks has also posted her views of the talk. What became very clear is that anyone with a serious interest in this historic event would need to read widely and critique what they read before reaching their own conclusions.

The second speaker was Brad Manera who is the Executive Manager of the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney. Brad spoke more widely about the experience of Australians in war right back to our early white settlement. He also gave a good summary of the different Australian Brigades as they entered World War I. His explanation of the Gallipoli battles was clear and concise. It would be fascinating to be on a battlefield tour in situ to really understand more about this Australian-coming-of-age battle.  His discussion of Australians on the Western Front was informative and no matter how many times you hear the numbers, they remain sobering. Again it’s emphasised for me that a Western Front battlefield tour is one I’d really like to take so an expert can fully explain the mechanics of the battles on the ground. We visited Villers-Bretonneux , Amiens and Fleurbaix back in 1992 as these are “family sites” and they were tremendously moving but to learn more from an expert would add a greater dimension. Another item for the bucket list!

A number of my relatives were in the Light Horse so I was interested to learn that it was the Queensland Light Horse who started the tradition of the emu feather in their slouch hats and that it dated from the 1891 shearers’ strike in which they helped to break the strike –not so keen on that bit. The New South Welshmen apparently wore a black cockatoo feather while unsurprisingly the West Australians chose a black swan feather.

Brad also explained that the ubiquitous presence of war memorials around Australia post-WWI was partly because the families of those who died would never have a burial and were unlikely to ever see their relative’s grave because it was so far away (not to mention that some soldiers’ bodies were never found as evidenced by the huge wall at Villers-Bretonneux) .  Almost every family was affected and every community so they needed to have some symbol of their patriotism and tremendous losses.

Shauna Hicks was the last speaker at this seminar and spoke clearly about how to locate information on your military ancestors. Although I don’t have anyone in the Boer War, I was interested to learn that some of those records remain with the state libraries or other repositories. She also highlighted the Mapping Our Anzacs website, reminding me that adding scrapbook notes to my relatives’ entries is another item on my “to do” list that remains outstanding.  The other helpful site is the ADFA site which has had various incarnations over the years. As usual, Shauna will post her talk on her webpage making it easier to revisit the details.