This summer I had the amazing opportunity to fly out from the UK and spend 6 weeks in Australia working for Melbourne Museum – the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere and a fantastic place to work. This was only possible through The University of Birmingham’s brand new scheme ‘Global Challenge’ which gives students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to work in top companies around the world. So in a way I was their third year History of Art student guinea pig – but I wasn’t complaining!
I worked in the History and Technology department (or the recently re-named Humanities department), and chose to work on the fascinating and relevant project of planning for the public engagement in the Centenary of World War I exhibition, to be held at the museum in 2014. I conducted research, collection development and documentation relating to the on-going impact and legacy of World War I on Australia. I also attended and contributed to exhibition development meetings, wrote short essays and delivered a presentation on my findings to the department. My main focus was on a collection of magazines named ‘Aussie’ published for soldiers during and after World War I. These proved to be amusing, exciting, thought-provoking and sometimes a little shocking as I found out what life was like 100 years ago in the trenches of France and Gallipoli.
At the end of my placement I came away eager to contribute more, however small, and link up Melbourne Museum’s centenary with centenaries that will happen in the UK, in particular Birmingham. Acting upon this I set out to find any links I could with Australia and The University of Birmingham relating to World War I and I was surprised as to how many I found! Hopefully the links I have found will broaden the scope of Melbourne Museum’s centenary exhibition even more.
During World War I there were 100+ military hospitals in England, the number which treated Australians particularly is hard to establish, however some were treated in Birmingham. Australian and New Zealand soldier’s came to Birmingham in 1914 to be treated at our Great Hall, then called the 1st Southern General Hospital (and it is where I will be graduating next summer). In 1909 the hospital was equipped as a 520-bed hospital in the event of future war. It was complete by the arrival of the first 120 casualties on the 1st of September, 1914. By the spring of 1915 more buildings were converted around the university, adding 1000 more beds, and in 1916 another 570 beds were added. Various annexes and converted schools were added, in total providing beds for 2357 other ranks, and 130 officers. The soldiers were under the care of Kathleen Lloyd, the Matron of the hospital. For her work she was awarded the high honour of the Royal Red Cross (First Class) in 1916, as was Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War. Looking through the University’s Research and Cultural Collections, I came across a stunning embroidered cream coloured quilt, produced by convalescing soldiers– including Australian and New Zealand Servicemen. Lloyd suggested that the soldiers do needlework as a form of therapeutic care and in return the soldiers decided to make this quilt for her to show her their gratitude. Made up of nine panels, the central panel is dedicated to the Hospital and features the badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The other panels represent the different regiments and groups of servicemen in Lloyds care. The Australian panel depicts a crown with the writing ‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’ on a scroll underneath and New Zealand panel features an intricate fern with ‘NZ’ over the top.
Australian Servicemen embroidery detail, Matron Kathleen Lloyd Cloth, UoB Research and Cultural Collections BIRRC-H0013
New Zealand Regiment embroidery detail, Matron Kathleen Lloyd Cloth, UoB Research and Cultural Collections BIRRC-H0013
After these findings, I decided to dig deeper and do a little more research. I took a trip to the Birmingham Archives and Heritage collections and requested photos from the 1st Southern General Hospital. They had quite a few and I even found one with wounded soldiers from Australia and Scotland posing with VAD nurses in the grounds of the hospital.
UA10/i/4, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections
It is also worth noting Museum Victoria holds many photographs taken and postcards purchased by soldiers during their time in England during World War I. Some were convalescing; others were on leave, receiving training, awaiting movement or were based there in support of the military effort. I also managed to have a look through the university’s collections, in which I found not only photos but also magazines from the hospital and the students union – called The “Southern” Cross and The Mermaid. Among amusing articles such as the Australians seeing snow for the first time in their life at Birmingham, I found one very interesting article in The Mermaid which caught my eye as it was entitled ‘A Trip to Gallipoli’ by Percival M. Chadwick. He was a Civil Engineering Lecturer at The University of Birmingham who left in 1915 to go and fight in Gallipoli for twelve months, only to return to Birmingham again to be treated at the university in the 1st Southern General Hospital. He was attached to the New Zealand Engineers working with Australian and New Zealand Infantry and Cavalry regiments including Maori contingent. His fascinating account describes the traveling, the food, the landscape, the conditions (including frostbite in November) and the people. He talks about the Australian and New Zealanders and states;
While I was with the “Anzacs” I learnt much of the true worth and character of the colonial… The officers with whom I worked gave me a homely welcome, and I speedily felt quite at ease among them.
As Melbourne is getting ready for their Centenary events, Birmingham is also preparing theirs. I have already seen advertising of a play called ‘Wounded’ by Jenny Stephens; as soldiers from Afghanistan are returning to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in current times, it tells the stories of two soldiers, fighting a century apart but both coping with the aftermath of war. Informed by The University of Birmingham’s research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and medical practice in modern conflicts, it looks to be a really interesting play.
I could reiterate what Percival M. Chadwick said about Australians about my colleges in Melbourne Museum. It was a pleasure working there and one of the most enjoyable work experiences I have had. I very much look forward to seeing what Melbourne Museum puts on in there centenary exhibition in 2014 and I hope it is a success for everyone.
Read more about Emily’s experience in Melbourne on her own blog.
 Percival M. Chadwick, R.E, ‘A Trip to Gallipoli’, The Mermaid, issue 13, p121, 1916-17, University of Birmingham Research and Cultural collections.