Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Feast at Bussy

4 February, 2010

AWM Souvenirs Collection – Menus, 13/4/12.

Last week I happened to find a menu from a special dinner held by the 56th Battalion in France among the Souvenirs Collection at the Australian War Memorial’s Research Centre.

On the evening of 11 June 1918 the 56th’s CO, Lieutenant Colonel Cameron, hosted a dinner at the battalion officers’ mess at Bussy-les-Daours.  Brigadier Stewart was the guest of honour and the COs of other units in the brigade also attended.  The menu includes signatures of all the officers who attended, as well as a list of songs played by the 14th Brigade Band.  The following includes my probably imperfect understanding of what the dishes were.  I wonder what the other ranks had for dinner that night… (more…)

Update – Nominal Roll

25 February, 2009
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A page from the battalion's nominal roll book. Near the top it lists the Heinecke brothers, George and Herbert, both of whom were killed in 1917.

It’s been a while since my last post, but work is still progressing steadily with research and writing of the book.  Alongside that, we’ve also continued to build the battalion’s nominal roll.  We’re hoping to make it as complete as possible (within reason), by using a variety of sources.

These include source records held by the Australian War Memorial such as nominal rolls, embarkation rolls, the Roll of Honour and personal service records (held by National Archives).  Of great help in crunching the numbers more efficiently has been assistance provided by Professor Peter Dennis and his AIF database (see Links), which brings the aforementioned sources together into one searchable database.

A lot of manual work has also gone into compiling this roll, including simply checking if names are on it when they are found in a variety of documents.  We’re also lucky to have a battalion nominal roll book in the Memorial’s collection which covers most of the battalion’s existence from about mid 1916 through to late 1918 (see image above).  I’ve actually employed my two teenage kids to go through copies of this roll and double check against what’s on our working roll (an Excel spreadsheet at this stage).

So far we’ve got almost 3,500 names and are confident that we’ve captured over 95% of the men who served in the battalion.  We’re trying to include everyone, no matter how brief their stay in the battalion was, so it’s a lot of extra work.  The men who joined the battalion late from another unit, and left it before the end of the war are the most difficult to find.  There are bound to be a few of these types that fall through the cracks but with all the sources and cross-checking I’m confident we won’t miss many at all. 

I reckon my eyes have now been over every single man’s name, to the point where if I see a name in a document, I can often say, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen him on the roll” and move on.  I really need to get a life…

Visit to the battlefields

14 November, 2008
Villers-Brettoneux Military Cemetery

Villers-Brettoneux Military Cemetery

A few weeks ago, Nick and I visited the Western Front battlefields and had the opportunity to see the places where the 56th had fought.  We were part of a joint Australian War Memorial – Imperial War Museum tour; about ten Brits and a similar number of us Aussies.  If you saw the 4 Corners program that aired on 10 November you would have seen our tour featured on that.

While Nick has been several times before, for me it was my first visit to the Western Front.  It was truly wonderful to visit all the sites I’ve been studying and writing about for years.  First we hit London for a couple of days, before taking the ferry over from Dover to Calais.  It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but boy did we ever pack a lot into those five days.  We were on the go from first thing in the morning until after dark every day.  We were so keen to see all these places and just explore as much as possible, that weariness was forgotten – that really hit hard after it was all over. We were also blessed with great weather and great company as the Brits were a good bunch.  We had many fun times discussing the battles over a pint or two…

Day one: Doullens, Bertangles (where Monash had his HQ and was knighted by the King in 1918), Corbie, Heilly, saw the Morlancourt Ridge, then back to Amiens where we were based in a hotel where Australian officers had billeted in 1918.

The AWM-IWM tour group at Bertangles. This chateau was Monash's HQ in 1918 and where he was knighted in the field by the King.

The AWM-IWM tour group at Bertangles

Day two: Adelaide Cemetery, Villers-Brettoneux, le Hamel, Peronne, Mont St Quentin, Riqueval, Bellicourt, Estrees and Montbrehain.

View from atop Mont St Quentin

View from atop Mont St Quentin

Day three: Serre, the Sunken Lane (Lancashire Fusiliers), Hawthorn Redoubt, Montauban, Trones Wood, Mametz, Fricourt, Albert, Lochnagar Crater, Ulster Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, Y Ravine, High Wood and Delville Wood, Martinpuich, Flers and then Pozieres, (drove past Mouquet Farm) and finished up at Thiepval.

The sunken road on the Somme

The sunken road on the Somme

Day four: Louverval (where I gave a talk on the 56th Bn), Noreuil, Bullecourt, Vimy Ridge, Fromelles (where we visited the site of the recently discovered bodies), then up to Ypres in the evening, just in time for the Last Post at Menin Gate.  Whew…

Me giving my talk on the 56th at Louverval

Me giving my talk on the 56th at Louverval

Day five: Ypres, Langemarck, St Julien (where Nick did his talk), Polygon Wood (where Lt Col Scott of the 56th is buried), Tyne Cot, Messines then back down into Ypres to visit the In Flanders Fields Museum.

Nick & I paying our respects at Lt Col Scott's grave

Nick & I at Lt Col Scott's grave at Polygon Wood

After the tour wound up in Ypres, we travelled back across the Channel on the ferry to the UK again.  I then stayed in London for another five days visiting musuems etc, and The National Archives at Kew. 

While in France and Belgium we naturally visited most of the main Australian memorials and cemeteries where we were able to contemplate the scale of the losses, remember the diggers and pay our respects.  I also got a lot out of visiting these sites from the point of view of writing about the battles; i.e. to walk the ground, see the lay of the land, gauge heights and distances etc.  When I write about these places and battles now, I do so with much greater insight and greater confidence.

Pozieres Windmill site

Pozieres Windmill site