[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.