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The 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme--the bloodiest engagement of WWI--was commemorated in northern France on 2 July this year. A crowd of 10,000 massed at the British War Memorial at Thiepval. On the first day of the conflict, 1 July 1916, nearly 20,000 British soldiers were killed and 40,000 wounded.

At the end of the battle, on November 18 that year, the Allies had advanced a mere 10 km, at the cost of 125,000 Empire troops and 40,000 French soldiers. The Germans lost 160,000 men. This was the first major British anniversary that had no British veterans of the battle in attendance. None survives today--although a

110-year-old man who served in the Royal Naval Air Service at the time, Henry Allingham, made the trip. Only eight British servicemen from the 1914-1918 conflicts are alive today. No Australians survive. France is believed to have six survivors and Germany has no records. From 23 July 1916, soldiers of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Divisions of the First AIF fought two tours of duty at Pozieres. In just six weeks, they made 19 attacks on the German fortified lines. They suffered 23,000 casualties, including 6750 deaths. (The Canberra Times, 3 July 2006).

Air Chief Marshal Sir Neville McNamara joined the RAAF in 1940 and went on the become Chief of the ADF. He volunteered for RAAF service in the early stages of WWII, was trained as a pilot, served with American bomber squadrons in the Pacific and then managed to transfer to fighter-pilot training, flying Kittyhawks on ground-attack missions against the Japanese. Nine years later, he was once again in combat, flying Meteor jet fighters in the Korean War. He was still serving as a senior officer of the RAAF when the Vietnam War started. Towards its end, he was promoted to Air Commodore and took over command of RAAF forces in Vietnam. He decided to train on helicopters, to understand what the squadrons under his command were being put through. He flew 200 hours in Vietnam. (The Quiet Man, (autobiography) Sir Neville McNamara, Air Power Development Centre, 245pp, $40--extracted from a review by Dr Thomas A Lewis, The Canberra Times, 15 April 2006).

Joe says: I'm no RAAF historian, but I'm told that the method of allocation of RAAF service numbers during WWII can be very confusing. The only information that can be gleaned from them is the State of enlistment? An article by Len Barton of the NSW Military Historical Society, published in their journal Despatch some years ago, gives much detail of the numbers issued by various States, the blocks of numbers used for officers and other ranks etc. If any member has an interest, let our Editor know and I will send a copy to you..

Visitors to New Zealand are required to answer an entry-form question: "Have you ever been a member of a terrorist organization?" Ong Boon Hua, a Chinese visitor, recently asked to see a senior officer when he produced his form. He said, "I once led a guerrilla army, but I have never admitted to being a terrorist". After discussion, he was allowed entry. In the High Court of Malaysia, this year, Mr Ong and other Chinese are seeking a declaration that they have the right of entry and residence in Malaysia. Mr Ong, now 82, is better known to history as Chin Peng, Secretary-General of the Malayan Communist Party. After the long Communist struggle to offer Singapore and what is now Malaysia an alternative Marxist-Leninist future, which began in 1948 and eventually faded away in 1989, Chin Peng retired to obscurity in Southern Thailand. The High Court has asked him to prove his Malayan/Malaysian citizenship before it considers his application. (Anthony Paul, former editor-at-large of Fortune magazine and now living in Brisbane, in The Canberra Times, 26 August 2006).

In the June 2006 issue of Sabretache, Joe commented on increasing interest by collectors in Memorial Plaques, more commonly known as Death Plaques. The "Encyclopaedia" section of the website of the Australian War Memorial contains details of this 1914-1918 Memorial Plaque--a bronze plaque about 150mm in diameter, which, together with a scroll was sent to the next-of-kin (NOK) of Australian servicemen and women whose deaths were attributable to WWI. The plaques, of which about 60,000 were issued in Australia, were designed, and produced in Britain for issue to all entitled British and Commonwealth next-of-kin. The Geelong Branch has issued some interesting details about the plaque and its production that may be of interest to collecting members. The first plaque with a casualty's name was that produced for Lord Kitchener, and was dispatched to his NOK in December 1919. About 10 plaques with Kitchener's name appear to have been produced as "display item". The plaque is unique in that is probably the first mass-produced bronze item which carries the individual's name as part of the casting, rather than a later engraving. This caused many manufacturing problems and in many cases, families received their scroll months and sometimes years before their plaque. The plaque carried only the name of the deceased, without rank or honours, to show the equality of sacrifice of those who had lost their lives. The accompanying scroll carried full (handwritten) details. The plaque and scroll were given to every soldier and sailor who died, or was killed, between 4 August 1914 and 10 January 1920 (the date of ratification of the Treaty of Peace with Germany). This included death by any means, including natural causes. Later, a final qualifying date of 20 April 1920 was set. Plaques could be issued to the NOK of those whose death was proved to have occurred as a direct result of war service up to seven years after the qualifying date, though many plaques were not issued because the authorities were not informed of the person's death and the entitlement was not widely advertised. The first plaques were cast at Acton, West London, but production was halted there in 1921, when about 250,000 plaques had been produced, and transferred to Woolwich Arsenal. Joe says: There are a number of ways to determine which factory produced a particular plaque--ask the Geelong Branch for details, if you are interested. (In The Trenches, Newsletter of the Geelong Branch, June 2006).

And, some interesting snippets from the Victorian Branch:

* Some men of the British Army Territorial Force from about 1912 wore the badge or tablet--a bar with the words "Imperial Service" surmounted by a crown on the right breast above the pocket. It was awarded to those who volunteered to be drafted overseas to an operational unit if required. The distinction seems to have been discontinued during WWI.

* On his first visit to Turkey, our Governor-General conferred an honorary OAM on Tolga Ornek, the highly regarded filmmaker of the acclaimed documentary "Gallipoli", launched last year.

* Need to know about Dutch military records? Write to the Ministry of Defence, Bureau of Registration and Information Discharged Personnel, Kosterbeemden 45, Postbus 7000, 6460, NC, Kerkrade, Holland.

(Despatches, Quarterly Newsletter of the Victorian Branch, September 2006)

Robin Droogleever is researching and writing a regimental history of the 3rd and 4th Victorian Contingents to the Boer War in South Africa in 1900. They were commonly known as the Bushmen Contingents. Most of the major locations where records are stored have been tackled and Robin is now looking for primary material--letter, photos, diaries that may be held by families or other historians. Robin has published a number of books on military history, one of which was Banjo Paterson's Despatches from South Africa, titled "From the Front". Recruiting for the 3rd and 4th Victorian contingents looked for men who did not necessarily have any militia experience but who could ride well, shoot reasonably well and were able to live off the land. Having landed at the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, they worked their way across to Rhodesia and later operated in the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State. There were 276 men in the 3rd Contingent and 605 in the 4th Contingent. Seventeen men died in the 3rd and 23 in the 4th. Members who are interested in that conflict or these contingents and who have material or sources to offer or who may wish to share material should contact Robin at PO Box 42, Bulleen, Vic 3105; telephone 03 9891 6032 or email jerwfd@optusnet.com.au (Tarrangoer Times, Victoria, 12 May 2006).

Alice Baker, believed to be the last female WWI British service veteran, died in March 2006 in the UK. She served in WWI repairing British aircraft at what is now RAF Coltishall, located at Norwich in Norfolk. She was 107 years old and RAF Coltishall had maintained regular links with her, including diverting training flights to fly-past her home on both her 100th and 107th birthdays. (UK MOD Press Release, 9 March 2006, courtesy of Anthony Staunton).

Ten per cent of soldiers in the British Army are foreign nationals. By the end of last year, there were 6,460 foreign nations in the Army, compared with fewer than 300 eight years ago. This new "foreign legion" is drawn from 54 countries, mainly in the Commonwealth. The Army has a further 3,000 Gurkhas recruited in Nepal, bringing the total number of foreigners to almost 10,000, from a strength of 101,140 in January 2006. Fiji is the single biggest source of overseas troops, with 1,965 Fijians currently serving. The influx of Fijians is believed to date from a visit by a contingent to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 1998, when the Fijians were so impressed by the Scottish soldiers they met that many joined the British Army and encouraged their countrymen to follow suit. The tiny Caribbean island of St Lucia, which has a population of 150,000, provides 220 troops. These include Pte Johnson Beharry, who was born in Grenada and joined the 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2005 after risking his life to save colleagues during terrorist ambushes in Iraq. The "top ten" countries and their contributions are: Fiji, 1965; Jamaica, 975; South Africa, 650; Ghana, 585; Zimbabwe, 565; St Vincent, 285; St Lucia, 220; Republic of Ireland, 210; Australia, 75; Gambia, 70; Trinidad and Tobago, 70. (The Telegraph (UK), 13 April 2006).

A manuscript found in the East German archives in 2000 by a Canadian academic, Tim Travers (see his book Gallipoli 1915) contains an interesting story of a "sting" by a captured British officer, which, in 1915, led the Turkish leadership to place its major strength at Bulair on the narrowest section of the Gallipoli peninsula, prior to the Anzac Cove landing (Bus travellers to the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) battlefield will see the village, now spelt as Bulayir, about ten minutes before reaching the town of Gallipoli (Gelibolu)).

The distance from the Aegean to the Sea of Marmora is here barely 5 kilometres and its strategically vulnerable location has been recognised for 3,000 years. In 500 BC, the original settlers of the Hellespont region, the Chersonnese, built a wall right across the narrow neck to keep out the raiding Thracians. It was the rear echelon British base during the Crimean War and some of the original defence works still exist. On 17 April 1915, eight days before the landing, The British submarine E15 under the command of Lieutenant Commander T S Brodie, tried to run the straits into the Marmora. Driven ashore on Kefez Point (Depez Burnu) by the strong south-running current, she was fired on by the Dardanos battery. Brodie and six of his crew were killed instantly and the rest taken prisoner. (Brodie and the other dead are buried in the Consular Cemetery in Canakkale). Among the prisoners was a RNVR Lieutenant named Palmer, who details are difficult to trace, but who may be C F S Palmer, the former British Vice Consul at Kannakale serving on Admiral de Roebeck's staff as an Intelligence Officer and a volunteer crewmember of E15. The commander of the Inner Forts, Cevad Bey, extensively interrogated Palmer. Fluent in Turkish, Palmer persuaded his interrogator that the main British landing was to be at Bulair. This news agreed with the firm belief of the defenders and caused two Turkish divisions to remain at Bulair until three days after the landing, rather than moving south where they were urgently needed. Nothing much is known about Palmer, except that he was a prisoner in Turkey and is believed to have survived the war. There is no record of an award or recognition of his service and the story would probably never have been told but for Professor Travers' industrious work among the small amount, German archives which survived British bombing to be captured by the Russians. (Joe Crumlin, in a long article "Defeat at Gallipoli. Minority Report" in Despatch, Journal of the NSW Military Historical Society, January-March 2006).

Re the WWI digger's kit list (Sabretache, September 2006, p.44). Come on, INTREP; tell us about the "Belt, abdominal).

Britain's top military officers were told in 1945, never to reveal that the German Enigma code had been broken. On 18 April 1945, eleven days after the end of the war in Europe, the MI6 officer in charge of security for ULTRA, issued stem instructions to a select few. "Although it would be natural to think that the need for security had lessened or disappeared, this is not so, and for very good reasons", Group Captain Fred Winterbotham wrote, in a document just released at the UK National Archives. "Firstly, no possible excuse must be given to the Germans to explain away their complete defeat by force of arms. They will seize on any excuse to maintain that they were not well and fairly beaten, and the uncanny success of our intelligence would offer them just such an excuse". The letter went on to list three other reasons--the need to use ULTRA intelligence in post-war Europe, the continuing Pacific war against Japan and that possibility that "other enemies may arise in the future (who) would be on their guard lest the same thing befall them". (The Sydney Morning Herald, Weekend Edition, 24-25 June 2006, quoting The Telegraph, London). Joe says: Actually, I think it was (Army) Captain F W (Fred) Winterbotham. Strangely, the secrecy over ULTRA (and Bletchley Park) came to an end in the early 1970s, when Fred Winterbotham himself began to badger the British Government, arguing that Commonwealth countries had ceased to use the Enigma cipher and there was now nothing to be gained by concealing the fact that Britain had broken it. Reluctantly, the intelligence services agreed, and Winterbotham's book, The Ultra Secret, was published in the summer of 1974. It has been followed by scores of books about Enigma, ULTRA, and Bletchley Park. The most remarkable consequence of Winterbotham's 1974 revelations was that Marian Rejewski, a brilliant Polish mathematician who had first cracked the Enigma code in the 1930s and designed the machine called a bombe, which mechanised the process of decipherment of the code, became aware for the first time of the wartime activities of Bletchley Park. He had fled to France after the invasion of Poland, and then to Britain. However--for reasons unknown--he never became part of the British Enigma effort and spent the war tackling minor ciphers at a low-level intelligence unit in London. Until the publication of Winterbotham's book, Rejewski had no idea that his work had provided the foundation for the routine decipherment of Enigma throughout the war. (The Code Book, Simon Singh, Fourth Estate Ltd, London, 1999).

And some militaria from Neil Smith (Victorian Branch) at Mostly Unsung (03 95555401) Winter Catalogue 2006 (Item number at end of entry):

* Queen's South Africa medal with clasps Laing's Nek, Transvaal, Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights. To 650 Sergeant A R Torrens, Bethune's Mounted Infantry. Nephew of South Australian Premier Torrens and grandson of early Australian explorer Colonel Robert Torrens. $1200. (400)

* Middle East Light Horse Photographs. Lot of 5 with much annotation. Taken by James Taylor, 4th Light Horse Regiment and present at Charge of Beersheba. Wounded in action at Es Salt. With research. $33. (439)
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Author:Furphy, Joe
Publication:Sabretache
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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