Last Post: Remembering the First World War

Throughout the world researchers, writers, bloggers and family members are becoming familiar with “Field Post” cards. For many years official histories and formal records dictated much of the content of #WW1 history. With the passing of the Great War generation, often the men first and then their partners, more and more First World War post cards are becoming available.

Be this via opening your grandparents musty box of letters or finding a card from the Great War at a market, early postcards are growing in popularity as a low-cost method for collectors, students and writers to get up close and personal with #WW1. Unlike war sites being reclaimed by nature, post cards are had written – a piece of history actually handled by the soldier, the nurse, the veterinarian on the front line.

Often the Field Post cards will have a last portrait or show the ruins of Europe, but you often get the sense of fore boding: you can sense the “she’ll be right mate” attitude of Aussie Diggers as they face an uncertain and often deadly future. Now with the advent of online websites like eBay, cards posted from Field Post Offices are cheap and readily accessible to all.

The unexpected twist is when the enemy post cards appear and you see that not only the fresh face youth of the British Empire which was marched to muddy hell, but also the proud young German men, writing home to their mothers, sisters and girls-friends. Field Post Offices provided an amazing service in so many ways.

While technology brings us close to accessing WWI messages, the world faces losing much of the modern-day message from the battle field: email and social media is quick, easy and instantaneous – yet go back through your emails and you may find they are slowly disappearing. 9-11 for example: the emotion, heart-break and agony of that day would have been once on paper or post card. Look back through your emails and see if you have any from September 11th, 2011.

I know my email service provided does not retain anything that old now. Fortunately, a little old-fashioned I know, I printed out the key emails of the time. I am glad I did, because a great bulk of that electronic ‘field post’ for this century, email, does not have a life span of the documents handled by the Great Field Post Offices of the War to End All Wars.

The British Postal Museum & Archive blog

The First World War was a major turning point in the history of the Post Office. To mark the year of the centenary, our First World War exhibition, Last Post, is now open at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums group.

The exhibition explores the contribution of millions of people to wartime communication and the far reaching role of thePost Office on both the battlefield and the home front.

Field Post Office Field Post Office

An Oxo tin among other things

Demonstrating the huge variety of items that could be sent through the post in wartime, you can see on display an OXO tin posted home from the fighting front by William Cox, a former Post Office worker. He posted the OXO tin back to his brother and sister, containing a button from the tunic of a fallen soldier and a piece of shrapnel.

Cox's OXO Tin OXO tin sent…

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Australian Indigenous Response to World War One

Book Review: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One (Second Edition 2012)
Author: Philippa Scarlett


Private Harry Avery with an unidentified Aboriginal soldier (previously thought to be Douglas Grant) and an unknown British soldier, c 1918, courtesy of Rebecca Lamb.

I first came across Philippa Scarlett’s name as part of my research into World War One Australian Aboriginal soldier Douglas Grant. Philippa was a guest on an ABC Radio program with two other researchers, Garth O’Connell and David Huggonson. Garth and David had led the way some years earlier by documenting the neglected area of Australia’s Indigenous war service record.

The radio program had the well known portrait of a WWI Aboriginal soldier, standing next to Private Harry Avery and an unknown British soldier, as a prominent image on it’s website for the interview. This photo, said to be of Aboriginal WWI soldier Douglas Grant, is a key element of my own research – as I do not believe it is Douglas Grant, but another unidentified Indigenous serviceman. About a year later, David Huggonson put me into contact with Philippa, who he said had just completed the most recent published book on the subject, had reviewed many photographs and was applying a solid analytical approach to her research.

After several discussions and emails, Philippa agreed to take a more detailed look at the photo in question and became the first independent researcher in the area to agree with my hypothesis: the Aboriginal soldier standing next to Private Harry Avery in the WWI portrait is not Douglas Grant, 13th Battalion, Atherton Queensland. Unfortunately, this particular tale is yet to be resolved, the Aboriginal companion of Private Avery is still yet to be identified.

While Philippa documents this question about the mis-identification of Douglas Grant (page 50 and page 155), this instance is only one in a multitude of issues, only one face and one name amoung hundreds of WWI Indigenous Diggers who served this nation. The Douglas Grant example is symbolic of the complexities involved in historical research in this area and demonstrates the importance of referenced rolls like that in “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF”.

Just ahead of the Centenary of ANZAC and WWI, Philippa’s work ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers of the AIF’ provides a wonderful resource for future generations of Australians.

Adding newly discovered soliders to the honour roll, and refining the works of earlier historians, the book represents the most current and comprehensive referenced list of over 800 men of Indigenous heritage who volunteered for service in WWI.

The accompanying notes include comments on locating Indigenous men in service records, reasons for volunteering and the growth of interest in Indigenous service since the 1930s. The discussion of Indigenous involvement in World War One uses the words of Aboriginal soldiers and community members, contemporary non-Indigenous commentators and newspaper reports. There are 84 illustrations, 79 of which are individual and group portraits of Indigenous servicemen.

HOW TO OBTAIN COPIES

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF: the Indigenous response to World War One is published by Indigenous Histories, price $30 plus $10 postage, $20 international postage (Australian Dollars).

For more information contact:

Indigenous Histories
PO 686 Jamison Centre Macquarie
ACT Australia 2614

Email: indigenous.histories@netspeed.com.au; Twitter: @ww1scarett
National Library of Australia Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37036090

Other works by Philippa include How Soon They Forget