- Steven Kafkarisos on the Library's military history collection
[On screen slide shows black logo of State Library of Victoria against a red background. Below is white text: Well armed! The military history collection at the State Library of Victoria. Steven Kafkarisos – Librarian, Redmond Barry Team. 5 August, 2013.]
[A bearded man wearing a grey suit jacket over a blue shirt stands behind a lectern branded State Library of Victoria. Behind him is a projector screen.]
Steven Kafkarisos: Good afternoon. Yes my name is Steven Kafkarisos and as Anne said I work mostly in the humanities and social sciences area here at the State Library.
[Steven puts on his glasses and looks at the projector screen.]
[On screen shows slide of sepia photograph of a well-worn road with overturned wooden carts on the sides with a lone horseman riding into the distance, with black lettering on the background: Well armed! The military history collection at the State Library of Victoria.]
Steven: The title of my talk today is Well armed! and there is a reason for that and I hope that will become obvious when we get to the end of the paper. I’m pleased to say that even after working for many years with the history collections at the State Library, I can still be surprised by the richness of the general collection and by the depth of the military history collection available within the broader Library. There is not enough time in this talk to cover this area in detail, so I think we’ll call this session an introduction to the collection; and having said that I think a good place to begin this brief overview are two written comments made some 80 years apart that throw a little light on a collection that has rarely been written about or even properly described.
First, a comment found in probably the best and most inclusive dictionary of battles published to date, the preface of Tony Jacque’s Dictionary of battles and seizures published in 2007 includes acknowledgement to scores of scholars, historians, researchers and enthusiasts around the world, not to mention dozens of mainly anonymous librarians, especially those at the State Library of Victoria. Tony in fact did most of his research here at the State Library and to the best of my knowledge the major part of this massive three volume dictionary was done here at the State Library.
Secondly, a comment in the State Library’s annual report from 1915; in those days it was about half a page, unlike today. This comment goes some way to explaining the extraordinary collection of World War One material now held by the Library. I quote, ‘The trustees are making a special collection of books on the European war and they have already obtained several hundred volumes and pamphlets. The section devoted to the war will doubtless be one of the largest in the Library.’ This comment was in fact borne out; the amount of World War One material collected was extraordinary.
These two brief comments suggest both a broad coverage of military history and a serious policy to collect in-depth for material during the Great War. And this in fact can stand as a good description of the Library’s overall collection: very broad, but with amazing depth in certain areas.
Since the Library was established in the 1850s it has collected technical manuals on military equipment; published and unpublished scholar’s diaries, military biographies, letters, pamphlets, newspapers, parliamentary papers; microfilmed archive material from the UK including war office files, military law and court martial material and major and minor military histories, old and new, including material published overseas.
This is one of my favourite little bits that we collected from just after the First World War.
[On screen shows slide with red lettering on a white background: Deeds that thrill the empire: true stories of the most glorious acts of heroism of the empire’s soldiers and sailors during the Great War / written by well-known authors; foreword by the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Derby, K.G. Underneath shows a book opened up to two pages; left hand page has black and white photograph of three gentlemen in black and white formal attire holding a cup and saucer. On the right hand page, black writing on a red background: Deeds that Thrill the empire. Underneath is an oval frame with a black and white photograph of eight army personnel attempting to push a machine gun up a steep hill with white clouds or smoke in the background.]
Steven: Deeds that thrill the empire. It’s an extraordinary little publication; it’s two volumes and it’s full of thrilling episodes, I think the title says it all. And it also has fabulous line drawings in it.
This is a drawing of the SS River Clyde which landed at the Dardanelles, landing British troops at the Dardanelles.
[On screen shows slide with black and white drawing of the ship SS River Clyde, middle right of the picture, with a large crowd of soldiers coming off the ship into a landing craft. In the foreground soldiers are wading out of the water and onto land. In the background shows rocky land with clouds behind. The title at the bottom in black lettering on white background: The… landing from the “River Clyde” at …. Beach.]
Steven: A number of VCs were won apparently during this episode. This material is what the Library has collected, but let’s not forget that most of what we collect is published material and most of the personal war and service record material is held by the National Archives and by the War Memorial and similar institutes overseas. This area of information has undergone a revolution in the last ten years with progressively more material becoming available as archives all over the world have begun to digitise their collected records, most recently with the National Archives in Britain, and I’ll speak about towards the end of this talk.
While some of the above-mentioned historical works are materials that most state libraries and university libraries would have collected, other material is a little more unusual. For example while we have many works on the Boer War published in the UK we also have the German general staff analysis of the Boer War, translated into English and published in 1904, 1906. Similarly while we have hundreds of books on the battles and strategies of the two world wars, we also have a broad collection of books on the home front, the war industry, the women, the children, and life before, during and after the wars.
We even have a photo of Tommy the pigeon being awarded the Dicken Medal for distinguished war service.
[On screen shows slide of black and white newspaper cutting: “Animal VC” For Two Australian War Pigeons. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: The Dicken Medal awarded to Australian pigeons.]
Steven: There’s actually even an article in the Argus newspaper, Tommy’s not mentioned there but two Australian war pigeons which I believe were bred in Melbourne were awarded the Dicken Medal and here we go.
[On screen shows slide of black and white photograph of two men, one in army uniform on the left and the other on the right in civilian clothes, placing the medal around Tommy’s neck. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: “Tommy” the pigeon being awarded the Dicken medal for distinguished war service.]
Steven: That’s Tommy with his Dicken medal. We even have a book on war elephants. I couldn’t find a picture of a war elephant very easily so this one rather took my fancy.
[On screen shows slide of black and white photograph in the foreground of a man riding on top of a very large ‘elephant’ made from canvas and other fabrics, draped over the top of a jeep. Two more ‘elephants’ on jeeps are following in the background. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Full dress-rehearsal for the Tidworth Tattoo.]
Steven: And of course we probably all remember that war elephants or elephants were certainly used in military parades, right, in India in particular, up until fairly recently. So we do have a really broad range of materials.
I’m going to run through and briefly describe some of these groups of publications in general and I’ll talk about some titles in detail to give you an idea of what they offer to the researcher or the family historian. I’ll cover a range of periods but to keep it under control I’ll focus mainly on the 19th and 20th centuries.
To begin at the beginning, most people in the modern period end up as members of a military unit, like a battalion or a regiment, a ship or a squadron. And at some stage most of these units have a history published – either officially or unofficially – not always, but mostly. Often this unit information is available with service records or via family history. So once we know the name of a unit we can quickly check something like Roger Perkins’ book Regiments: regiments and corps of the British Empire and Commonwealth 1758 to 1993, a critical bibliography of their published histories. This book will tell us what’s been published on a particular Commonwealth unit certainly up to 1993 and then we can track it down, either here at the State Library and another library in Australia or indeed overseas.
For example, the 8th Battalion First AIF was raised in Victoria and served in Gallipoli and France, and is now remembered in popular cultures certainly as the battalion in the 1980s TV mini-series, Anzacs.
[On screen shows slide of a poster, with a pale green border; the upper part of the poster depicts oval coloured photographs of the heads of five military men with the Union Jack on the left and the Australian flag on the right, with the Rising Sun badge in the middle. White printing on pale blue background: Record of the Australian Imperial Force. Underneath is larger yellow printing on dark green background: Great War. Underneath that is an oval photograph of another military man. Beside him in smaller yellow printing on the same green background: 4th Aug. 1914 – 28th June 1919. On the sides of this photograph are different war medals depicted on a yellow background. On the bottom half of the poster are coloured photographs the heads of five more military men with many more war medals depicted on yellow background and more inscriptions written down the bottom. At the very bottom of the poster is a coloured drawing of Florence Nightingale with the kangaroo and emu from the Australian coat of arms on either side. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Record of the Australian Imperial Force in the Great War 4th Aug. 1914 – 28th June 1919.]
Steven: Perkins’ book tells us that there was no published history of the 8th up to 1993. Bit unusual you would imagine and it’s true, it is unusual. Perkins’ book tells us that there was no published history, but most other battalions did have histories published between 1920 and 1990. But there were some exceptions including the 8th, the 4th and four or five others. Nevertheless, Perkins lists Saving the Channel ports 1918 by WD Joint VC, published in 1975. Joint was in the Eighth Battalion and won the Victoria Cross in August 1918. He was wounded soon after but survived the war and later in life put together a readable account of how the Australian divisions helped to stem the massive German defensive in March 1918, together with an account of the 8th Battalion activities in 1918. As Perkins notes however it’s more a memoir than a unit history.
On further checking you’ll find that Perkins is quite correct in that there have been no published histories of the 8th Battalion up to 1993. But if we check the State Library of Victoria’s catalogue or the Australian War Memorial website, we find that in 1997 a Ronald J Austin published Cobbers in khaki: the history of the 8th Battalion 1914–1919. We would all agree that it’s a long stretch between 1919 and 1997, all of 78 years. I don’t think there would have been too many members of the 8th Battalion left at that stage, but I think the book was written for us as opposed to the survivors of the 8th Battalion.
This example is just to show that occasionally you really have to dig around a little bit to find material; it might not be listed somewhere but you know it could have just been written yesterday.
A generation or two prior to the Great War we can find British units serving in colonial Australia; there’s an entry in Perkins you can check for that. And I can recall being stumped by trying to track down a history of the 28th Foot Regiment. Using Ian Hallows’ Regiments and corps of the British Army, which we’ve got on the shelves in the Library, we can quickly work out that this unit had a long and distinguished history and was called the North Gloucestershire Regiment, until they merged with the 61st Foot South Gloucestershire Regiment in 1881, to form the Gloucestershire Regiment the 28th/61st Foot. The 28th served in Australia between 1835 and 1842. And Hallows tells us that we should look for the title Cap of honour: the story of the Gloucesters 1694–1950 published in 1951. If you put in ‘28th Foot’ into our catalogue and into quite a lot of other catalogues you don’t come up with anything because that wasn’t the title of the battalion when the history of it was published.
We’ve got quite a range of these battalion histories. Names are sometimes mentioned in these books but the style varies depending on the author, and less detail is given in the big histories covering more than a hundred years.
Although it’s difficult to give exact numbers it appears that the Library holds histories of most Australian units and the majority of British units, covering varying periods of their history. Given that some older books are very primitively catalogued, some are reprinted with different titles and some units have several histories by different authors. A rough estimate suggests more than 500 works covering most areas of military service, including field engineers, nurses, artillery, light horse and cavalry, service corps, machine gun battalions and the army medical corps and ambulance units. The number increases if we add histories of RAF or RAAF squadrons and various ship histories. My number is quite conservative; I just can’t track them down.
I would hope that it doesn’t surprise you to learn that we also have some non-British Battalion histories, and I will mention that we have two books on the German List Battalion, the regiment that Corporal Adolf Hitler served with in World War One.
Once we track down the unit history, if one has been published, we can then turn to the histories and battles and campaigns. As you can imagine we have books on almost every battle in the Great War including the Dardanelles; the Western Front in France; the Eastern Front, Italy; the Middle East with the light horse; Mesopotamia; Africa; Jutland; New Guinea. As the comment above from Tony Jacques suggests however, the collection goes much deeper and you can probably find something on most wars in history. Two examples might be the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and Borneo in 1962, ’66. If you check the catalogue you will find that there are at least four books on Agincourt and two on the Australians in Borneo.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll end up with even more if you follow up the history, for example, Henry V. You’ll all remember Shakespeare or the Hundred Years War; Agincourt was just one battle in this long war and when I dug deeper I found about 30 or 40 other books talking about it. Try something bigger like the Napoleonic Wars and you end up with over 200 titles in our catalogue.
Going back to the 8th Battalion AIF a quick review of the Wikipedia entry indicates that members of the battalion received a number of decorations including three Victoria Crosses.
[On screen shows slide. Left hand side is sepia photograph of a soldier resting in a chair, holding a walking cane in his hand; with the signature across the left hand top of Lieut. W J Symonds, VC. On the right hand side there is a close up photograph of a VC medal on a red background.Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Lieut. W J Symons, VC Winner.]
Steven: This gentleman unfortunately was from the 7th Battalion, not the 8th, but I couldn’t get a photo of an 8th Battalion person.
This is certainly another area that generates inquiries from the public and the researchers. The Library has collected most major published lists of military awards and we also collected both the London Gazette and the Commonwealth Gazette where the awards were first published. The London Gazette of course has been digitised for some years now which is a really great thing for people to check to see whether an award was given.
Another photo here.
[On screen shows slide of black and white photograph of two soldiers in the foreground, one about to pin on a medal on the other. There are two other soldiers standing a little further back on the right hand side, and a large group of soldiers clustered in the background.Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Lt. W. Ruthven receiving the VC at the presentation held by Lt. Gen Sir John Monash in Camon, France, 13th July, 1918.]
Steven: Some of the books are simple lists without citation for the award while others include the full citation from the Gazette. Not all awards actually had citations.
One book that the Library acquired recently is of particular interest as it covers the BEM, the British Empire Medal, and this medal was often awarded to soldiers, nurses and civilians for war work other than on the front line. For God and the empire, the Medal of the Order of the British Empire 1917 to 1922 by Richard Willoughby.
We will of course have lists especially of awards to Australians covering certainly the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal and mentioned in dispatches. We also have books describing if not giving lists of awardees of the medals of all the other countries, and certainly in the First World War and most of the Second World War countries. So they may not have the names of the people awarded but if you’re interested in the medals we’ve got a full range of books on military medals.
Curiously the Library also has the Zulu War medal roll 1877–1879 among a dozen or more other major works on all the military awards; some are multi-volume sets and some cover large parts of the 20th century, like the one on the Distinguished Flying medal covering 1918 to 1996.
The other place to find information on military decorations is the newspapers of the time and as the Library has one of the largest collections in Australia, this avenue is well worth pursuing. While not all awards were written up in the newspapers, many were, and they often provided interesting information that is sometimes hard to track down.
[On screen shows slide with newspaper cutting with black lettering on a white background: The Sterner Task – Artist Wins Medal at Anzac. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Article in the Argus newspaper Saturday 24th June, 1916, p. 19.]
Steven: It’s not unusual to find biographical descriptions in some of these accounts and sometimes you get details of what those awarded decorations did before they enlisted and occasionally details of their families.
This one is not very clear but I’ll read it out for you. This is from the Argus Saturday 24 June, 1916.
Artist wins medal at Anzac. Sergeant Charles Wheeler, an Australian artist, has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Sergeant Wheeler is a native of Dunedin, New Zealand but he studied at the National Gallery, Melbourne. His portraits include those of Sir John Madden, Chief Justice of Victoria and the Reverend E H Sugden, master of the Queen’s College, Melbourne. In the Melbourne Gallery Wheeler has The poem while The portfolio is in the Sydney Gallery. He is 35 years of age.
Aside from the main dailies like the Argus, now available on Trove, as well as all of the other main dailies, all digitised and available on Trove, many of the local papers for the years 1914 to 1918 have also been digitised, and the State Library has bought access to the Times of London from 1785 to 2000. Which means that most of the war reports from the 19th century, including the Napoleonic Wars, Crimea, the Zulu War, the Boer War, are also available.
Steven: Another major source of information on wars since 1801 is the Library’s electronic database on British parliamentary papers 1801 to 2004. While we also have most of the print volumes, it’s much easier to do a quick search on our database and searching for information on promotions during the Crimean War brings up several entries including, and I quote, ‘Return of the names of all officers of Her Majesty’s Army who have been promoted for distinguished services since the commencement of the war in the Crimea, distinguishing between officers on the staff and officers serving with their regiments 1854, 1855.’ That’s included amongst that enormous range of material on this British parliamentary papers. It doesn’t specialise in that sort of information but sometimes you just don’t know what you’ll find.
These parliamentary papers are an enormous resource covering all the recent wars and it’s a major research collection in its own right, especially as it now includes material from the British Hansard debates of the period.
Another piece of information that is sometimes asked for at the Library is indeed the listing of officers, their rank and regiment, at a particular point in history. These lists have been available since the late 18th century and the Library holds a good but not complete collection of the War Office army list, from this time up to the Second World War. We also hold a privately published list called Harts annual army list for part of the 19th century, as well as a variety of other lists including, for example, the army lists of the Round heads and cavaliers containing the names of the officers in the Royal and Parliamentary armies of 1642, edited by Edward Peacock.
We have Australian materials as well; some of this material is now becoming available on the internet so it’s well worth having a scratch around on the internet to see whether anything’s been published there.
The British Raj is also well covered with the alphabetical list of the officers of the Indian army with the dates of their respective promotion, retirement, resignation or death whether in India or in Europe from the year 1760 to the year 1834 inclusive, corrected to September 1837. This work with several others is available on microfiche in the genealogy centre here at the Library.
Following on from that comment about promotion in the Crimean War, I recall that I was asked some years ago for advice following up some information that had been found in the Times of London after a family who came in asked about the types of swords used during the Crimean War. Apparently they or a close relative had recently received some cuttings, letters and a sabre passed down from an ancestor. The letters and cuttings were not an issue but there was some dispute as to the authenticity of the sword.
[On screen shows slide of black and white photograph with an army officer on the left hand side. He is standing with his legs apart, knees bent holding up a sabre with a straight, single-edged blade and rather large hand guard. There are ten soldiers lined up to his left, also holding sabres and poised in the same position as the officer with the sabre.]
Steven: And we had to dig around and look for material. A quick look at the catalogue indicated that we had over 50 books on swords in history and we found exactly what we wanted in Swords of the British Empire, the regulation patterns 1788 to 1914 by Ryan Robson.
We also have some other interesting things on swords.
[On screen shows slide with black and white sketch of three views of an elaborate sword handle; left hand side sketch shows side view of a woman’s figure, being the straight part of the handle; the middle sketch shows the front view and the right hand side the back view, with handwritten explanations below each sketch. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Design of the hilt of a Sword to be presented by the Colony of Victoria to G. Garibaldi. 1860?]
Steven: Apparently Victoria had a sword created and given as a presentation sword to Garibaldi when, I presume, just before the unification of Italy. This collection on swords is not unusual and the Library has a very broad range of books and pamphlets on military weapons and equipment, especially from the late 19th century onwards.
And the same applies to military uniforms. A quick search of the catalogue shows that we hold over 120 books and pamphlets covering uniforms and codes of military dress. And one of my favourite titles is a book by Liliane and Fred Funcken called The lace wars, covering the 18thcentury French, English and German armies. This is a nice little two-volume set, it’s quite small …
[Steven makes a hand gesture showing about 15 centimetres.]
Steven: … but it’s got fabulous illustrations of all of the very colourful uniforms of the 18th century.
[On screen shows slide of a coloured drawing of men from different regiments of the British standing around in a group. A number of them have red jackets; some with kilts, some with dark trousers and most of them holding guns. Those at the back are mostly on horseback. At the bottom of the drawing in black lettering on a white background The Guard of Honour. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: The guard of honour. Representing the British Army at the Australian Commonwealth inauguration, 1st January, 1901.]
Steven: This one is digitised in our Pictures Collection, quite interesting. You’ve got all the different regiments of the British army in January 1901 when Australia became a nation.
Another interesting work is British military spectacle from the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea by Scott Hughes Myerly. I mention this book especially because it’s a little bit different. This book looks at the costumes through war and peace and discusses their role in both the social and the military environments. So it’s not a book full of images as such but it does talk about the importance of the uniform, how they were created, why they were created and what role they played in society and in military.
This is the Queen Alexandra’s nurses.
[On screen slide shows a black and white photograph of a group of nurses: five sitting in the front row with four nurses behind them. Printed heading on top of the article in red on white background: Acting-Matron M Bentley, QANNS (R) and the nursing sisters of a British hospital ship.]
Steven: Victorian Rifle Brigade.
[On screen slide shows a black and white photograph of two soldiers, one sitting and the other standing, both with rifles. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: Victorian Rifle Brigade c. 1860s.]
Steven: Showing the Victorian Rifle Brigade gives me the opportunity to basically mention, I think this was mentioned earlier, yes, the ‘Australian colonial forces and family history research guide’; it’s got an excellent amount of information in it. Some of the material that I’ve spoken about before is referenced in this particular research guide, which I think is launched today.
Staying with the Napoleonic Wars for a moment gives me the opportunity to mention that we have a copy of Naval courts martial, 1793–1815, edited by John D Byrn; a rather large book of 800 pages covering both social and naval crimes for this period which covers the Napoleonic Wars. And the interesting thing is that this provides minutes and accounts of proceedings which is rather unusual.
There are over 60 other books covering military law and courts martial.
[On screen shows slide of a page from the State Library of Victoria website. Black and white heading on a white background: Australian Colonial Forces and family history. Also featured on the page is a black and photograph of three soldiers sitting in a row holding rifles, with another four soldiers standing at the back also holding rifles. Below the photograph with black lettering on white background: Royal Victorian Artillery, Collingwood Company, early 60s.]
Steven: Eight reels of microfilmed Judge Advocate General’s Office registers of British courts martial published through the AJCP microfilm, and together with a broad collection of journals and newspapers that sometimes cover courts martial, these materials open an interesting window on a less discussed area of military history. The Judge Advocate General’s registers are fascinating but they’re very, very brief. They’ll list the person’s name, their rank, the date of the courts martial, what they were charged with, and what punishment they got or whether they were acquitted.
The issue of discipline and morale amongst troops is of course briefly covered by the various official histories of the 20th-century wars. And while the Australian War Memorial has digitised the complete set of volumes for the First World War, the official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918 as well as the 22 volumes of Australia in the war of 1939–1945, the Library holds these in print together with sets of the British, French, Canadian, New Zealand and German histories of the Great War and the British and American official histories of World War Two; I think the War Memorial has in fact digitised those as well.
The most recent official history acquired by the Library is for the Falklands campaign in 1982 and that was only published in 2005. I cannot emphasise how much information these official histories hold, especially in the breadth if not always in depth and all military services are well covered with individual volumes. The Australian official history covering World War Two has two volumes on the navy, four on the RAAF and four volumes on medical services during the war, as well as a surprising amount of statistical information and material on the home front.
Having said this, however, we need to keep in mind that some of the better and more recent revisionist histories of the war will quite often provide both new information and new interpretations that will colour our reading of these histories. Just perhaps mention something like the issue of Bletchley Park, some of you may know what Bletchley Park was during the Second World War, it was the code and cipher establishment in Britain. This of course was kept completely under the Official Secrets Act and there was no mention of it until I think at the very earliest the 1970s and certainly there wasn’t much written before the 1980s and ‘90s. So we didn’t know about Enigma and how they’d broken the codes, and all that sort of stuff. So we’ve got at least 30 books covering all of this now and you could read those and then check back with the official histories.
References in the official histories to many less well-known episodes in the wars to decorated soldiers, generals and military equipment can also be found in the range of military dictionaries and encyclopedias held by the Library, many of them multi-volume sets giving substantial information and occasionally lists of further reading.
The two world wars are very well covered by these publications, as are the other 20th-century wars. But this collection is very broad and includes for example the Encyclopedia of war journalism 1807–2010 by Mitchell P Roth and the Encyclopedia of war movies by Robert Davenport.
As we have already mentioned the Battle of Agincourt, I will also mention that we have the Encyclopedia of the 100 Years’ War by John Wagner, and the medieval period is well covered by the three-volume set of the Oxford encyclopedia of medieval warfare and military technology. These works cover an enormous range of history and detail, and a quick, rough search on the catalogue will pull up a hundred other encyclopedia titles dealing with military history.
While encyclopedias are broad and slightly impersonal, diaries or personal accounts are generally more intimate, recording the thoughts or experiences of individuals. As you would imagine the Library has a good collection of personal accounts of war service and we’ve collected fairly broadly. Some is essentially raw material presented with little editing, often from personal diaries or immediate responses to war, while other accounts were written years later and some of the material based on real experience has been rewritten as fiction. The Middle parts of fortune by Frederic Manning is a good example of the latter as is All quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque; both were published in the late 1920s by authors who were veterans and these books are now considered classics of war literature, as is The cruel sea by Nicholas Monsarrat published in 1951.
A quick search of the Library catalogue under ‘war personal narratives’ brings up more than 4,000 items, it’s closer to 5,000, including collections of stories by veterans, oral histories, and accounts of war experiences from civilians caught in war zones or occupied countries.
There are also over 700 books of war letters in the collections by all sorts of people that again give a surprising and often intimate insight into life during wartime. I’m pleased to say that we have over 50 diaries, collections of stories, and personal accounts by nurses during the two big wars, including this title by Yvonne Fitzroy first published in 1918.
[On screen shows slide an open book; left hand page shows a sepia photograph of a woman standing alongside a building. On the right hand page shown with black lettering on a sepia background: With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania by Yvonne Fitzroy. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania by Yvonne Fitzroy, 1918.]
Steven: With the Scottish nurses in Roumania. Yes, there was a Front in Romania.
There are also accounts from all over the world including Evelyn Waugh’s account of the Italo-Ethiopia War in 1936 through to an account of the civil war in Nigeria in the years 1967 to 1970; some of you may remember this as the Biafran War.
We also have a book covering eyewitness accounts of the 30 Years War in the years 1618 to 1649 that was recently published in 2002.
This collection can be hard work but it can often often add an enormous amount of texture and colour to history, and would often be of great use to researchers, novelists, students and family historians. As is often quoted, ‘war is made up of interminable boredom interspersed with moments of terror’ but these personal works by veterans of the wars help fill many of the rich details of life that are usually missing from the military histories.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the session, military history also covers the home front, the history of how and why war began, and the aftermath of war in both its happiness and survival and its sadness of the loss and fragmentation of life in the personal, communal and cultural spheres. I personally find this part of the collection of particular interest as it has provided context and has filled in some details for some of my parents’ comments and conversations as I was growing up.
A book title that offers a sharp and pertinent point about the big 20th century wars is Marion Yass’s This is your war: home front propaganda in the Second World War. And this issue of the war at home is picked up in a completely different way in a novel such as Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. People probably remember having read that or perhaps seen the film which came out I think in the 1980s. Helen Hanff, the American author in search of titles difficult to acquire in New York, begins a correspondence in 1949, well after the war ending in 1945, with an antiquarian book store in London. As the relationship develops between the correspondents, food parcels are organised to help out the staff at the bookshop, as rationing in Britain continued for some foods up to 1954.
The Library has a good selection of books covering life on the home front and extends to specialist titles, such as A child’s war: growing up on the home front 1939–1945 by Mike Brown. Virginia Nicholson’s post-war history Singled out, about how two million women survived without men after the First World War and the important interwar period, is also well represented with titles like We danced all night: a social history of Britain between the wars by Martin Pugh. In all, the collection covers the Australian home front very well and includes major works on Britain, the United States and occupied Europe and occupied Asia.
I have a couple of items from our digitised picture collection.
[On screen shows slide of a sepia photograph of three children, the boy and girl lying on their stomachs holding guns aiming off to the right, with another girl sitting in the middle behind a tricycle adapted to look like a tank. White lettering on sepia background reads: Preparing for the Germans. Inset is another photo in a round frame of a boy with the same adapted tricycle; the title with white lettering on a sepia background: Bringing down an aeroplane. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: Preparing for the Germans (postcard, World War 1.]
Steven: This is a postcard from the First World War. This one from the Second World War.
[On screen shows slide of a black and white photograph of about ten children, crouching down into trenches; some are eating apples, and they’re all smiling. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: Brisbane Daylight Air Raid Drill. … [picture].]
Steven: And this is coming up next.
[On screen shows slide of a black and white photograph of women working machines in a munitions factory. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: Australian women in the munitions and aircraft construction industries, World War II.]
Steven: The other home front focus is the wars industries that kept the wars going, and to some degree dictated victory or defeat. The official history certainly covered this topic with individual volumes on the home front industry and civilians, and the Library also has the 12-volume set of the History of the Ministry of Munitions that covers all aspects of the munitions industry during the Great War, including labour supply, wages and conditions. An interesting history that gives a good coverage of many social, gender and political issues is Angela Woolacott’s On her their lives depend: munitions workers in the Great War.
The food industry is also well represented with titles such as The front line of freedom: British farming in the Second World War, edited by Brian Short and Wartime agriculture in Australia and New Zealand 1939–1950 by JG Crawford.
[On screen shows slide of a black and white photograph of one man flanked by two women. They are smiling and proudly showing off two huge cabbages. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: Man and two women in uniform: Cpl. D. Murrowood, Cpl. N. Lothian and Pte. R Herry with cabbages grown at Army farm in Northern Territory, brought to Melbourne for an exhibition.]
Steven: Thought that was a rather good one.
[On screen shows the same slide with close up of photograph only.]
Steven: This must have been a reasonably common sight, I suspect. The Library also has an excellent collection on the merchant marine and the struggle to bring convoys across the world with food and supplies, and the enormous losses suffered in shipping during both world wars. We have at least two dozen books covering the Battle of the Atlantic, and the convoy systems, and works on the merchant marine.
[On screen shows slide of a black and white photograph of a man surrounded by white hens. He is bare chested and wears a hat, long shorts and boots. He is carrying a steel bucket. A corrugated iron hen house is in the background of the dirt yard. Printed on top of the photo in red text on white background: Pte. D.W. Young (Dandenong Ranges, Vic.) feeding chickens on poultry farm in Northern Australia.]
Steven: There are many more, less well-known, areas of military history that have not been mentioned and I haven’t even started on the great collection of material we have on the ancient wars, including the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans; the wars in Mesoamerica, China and ancient India. We do have many translations of the Iliad by Homer, of course the Trojan War …
[On screen shows slide of a black and white photograph of the bow of a warship at sea. Soldiers line the bow of the ship and look out towards five warships that are on the horizon. The ships are in a convoy and all headed in the same direction. Printed on top of the photo in red text on white background: Convoy shipping off the Australia coast.]
Steven: … and our literature collection will have copies of most of the great epic poems of the ancient civilisations including the Shahnama by Firdausi that you may have seen referenced to in the State Library’s Love and Devotion exhibition last year, showing illuminated Persian manuscripts from Oxford University.
As you can imagine, the collection we have on ancient history and war is well rounded and we have a number of works on Alexander the Great and his conquests in the East, as far as India, as well as books and pamphlets covering the art of war in ancient India. I suspect, however, that many of you are probably more interested in the fact that we have a rather good collection on the more recent history of India, that of the British Raj and the period prior to 1858 under the East India Company. A recent acquisition by the Library to fill in some gaps …
[On screen shows slide of a black and white photograph of a box/trunk/sarcophagus with elaborate carving. Printed on top of the article in red on white background: Marble sarcophagus with bas relief carving depicting Alexander the Great defeating the Persians.]
Steven: … in the British Raj collection was the nine-volume set Frontier and overseas expeditions from India. This was a set put together in the early 20th century and the volumes cover expeditions to Burma, Africa, Afghanistan and many other places including some from as early as 1801, during the Napoleonic Wars. The reports are actually quite interesting but are very, very brief and to the point.
[On screen shows slide of a coloured postcard. A bearded Indian man dressed in a gold tunic and turban sits astride a brown horse. On foot is a second bearded man in navy blue tunic and turban who stands, with hand on hip, looking in the same direction. Each displays a flag on a long pole. Printed on top of the article in red text on white background: 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers. 3rd Skinner’s Horse. 1910, postcard.]
Steven: But names are often mentioned, and details are given of many minor and less discussed military episodes. The British Raj collection at the State Library is also extremely large and there are directories, there are reports from the different provinces in India, we have military lists; there’s a great range of material on the British in India.
I’ll finish off by mentioning briefly that the Library now has a subscription to the British National Archives. They have been busily digitising parts of their enormous collection including material from the war office.
[On screen shows slide of a screen grab of the homepage from The National Archives website.]
Steven: I’ve just captured that particular page. As you can see, there are sections on medals, RAF combat reports, Royal Marine service records, Royal Navy service records. Here you can find a personal military service record including this enormous amount of material. My understanding is that only about five or six per cent of the enormous collection has been digitised so far. I’ve done a little bit of searching myself and I’ve certainly found some materials and I’ll say that we’ve subscribed to Discovery, and if you have a registration card, a library card from the State Library of Victoria, and you live in Victoria, you can certainly access this material from home.
[Steven turns to face projector screen and presses button]
Steven: That’s it. Thank you very much.
[On screen slide displays white logos for the State Library of Victoria and State Government of Victoria against a black background.]
' I can still be surprised by the richness of the general collection and by the depth of the military history collection available within the broader Library.'
- Steven Kafkarisos
About this video
Watch this lecture about the State Library of Victoria's military history collection, by Steven Kafkarisos.
As Steven notes, in the State Library of Victoria's annual report for 1915 it was stated that: ‘The trustees are making a special collection of books on the European war and they have already obtained several hundred volumes and pamphlets. The section devoted to the war will doubtless be one of the largest in the Library.’
This comment has been well borne out; the amount of World War I material collected by the Library was extraordinary.
This talk was presented at Family History Feast 2013.
Steven Kafkarisos is a librarian at the State Library of Victoria, and has worked mostly in the humanities and social sciences area at the Library.