The Australian War Memorial treasures writers

The Australian War Memorial treasures writers


Memorial writers of all kinds, whether trained or just there recording what they witness, are valued scribes of history, according to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.


Tour of Z Special Forces’ items


Note books from Borneo campaign


Operation Grass Snake notes at AWM

Known locally as ‘the War Memorial’, the Australian War Memorial (the Memorial) is the centre of national commemoration to assist Australians to remember, interpret, and understand the Australian experience of war.

According to its literature, the Memorial is an: archive and museum containing a rich array of materials collectively portraying the important human dimension of the individual servicemen and women and the people who support them.


Monographs of Australian military history at AWM

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Assistant Director of the Public Programs Section of the Memorial, Anne Bennie, talked about the work of in-house journalists within the Memorial. From what she said, it’s clear that visitors can traverse the Memorial’s operations and uncovered through research, acquisitions into the National Collection, ceremonies, or public enquiry. Important and significant news and stories are shared – every week and every day.

Ms Bennie says this is undertaken through the Memorial’s website, social media and with the mainstream broadcast media.

The Memorial listed in an advertisement seeking a contract journalist that “these stories whilst steeped in Australian military history have important links to, and often illustrate the personal challenges through, adversity and the cost of war. Through further research and expert writing, these stories and in-depth articles are shared with the Australian public.”


Survey map for Operation Angus 3

Additionally, the Memorial wrote in its job advertisement for a writer that it seeks to “…further contribute through research and writing on the personal history and connections of those who served and died.”


East Borneo map

The Last Post ceremony is delivered daily at the Memorial. Within each ceremony, every day, the story of just one of those listed on the Roll of Honour is told. These stories are researched and investigated across broad information sources – but principally through the Research Centre and the Public Programs Section.

Today, on ANZAC Day, the Australian Governor General, Peter Cosgrove, sent a message to all Australians from Papua New Guinea. He was near the Kokoda Trail which was a major conflict area as part of the Second World War. General Cosgrove made an enlightened speech which spoke movingly of humanity, suffering and determination during times of conflict.


Cabinets for survey maps and note books


Important advice was documented and kept

Last month, to follow-up on a subject close to this writer’s family, a preview tour of the ‘Z’ Special Forces archives was attended to view records and ephemera listed for inclusion in a special exhibition at the Memorial on ‘Z’ Special Forces in the next financial year.

Basic notes taken during the tour within the War Memorial were difficult to record on a portable electronic device: the concreting and firewalling of information within the building is significant. However, one I-Phone did manage to save information while in the War Memorial which are listed here:

  • Operation Semit 3: Z special unit.
  • Services Reconnaissance Deployment person: special operations.
  • Documented military history is rare and highly collectible.
  • Military of the Commonwealth is a specialist topic for historians.
  • Snake boats were used extensively in Borneo.
  • Parachute training manuals were found on location.
  • ‘The World Within’ by (temp. Maj.) Tom Harrisson (1911-1976), Cresset Press, London 1959 (see National Library of Australia’s entry: This is a personal narrative of the Underground movement in Borneo (1939-1945). The book mentions Sarawak and also provides details on the Kelabit people (Malaysian people and their customs). He has been referred to as an historian and amateur anthropologist. (See AWM entry:
  • Corporal Roland Griffiths-Marsh‘s book “The Borneo Diaries” describes the environment (see the AWM entry at
  • Double-layered records of photocopying of their own diaries and then annotating the photocopies with extra information were ways to store information.
  • Private records in the Memorial’s collection indicated that the fighting continued after the surrender.
  • Head-hunting: the Dutch and the English outlawed this. But in deep-set cultures the payment of heads ($5 Dutch guilders) encouraged a resurgence of head-hunting.
  • The Americans blocked supply so no food was available = no trade.
  • Wireless training was mandatory before commencing duty.
  • Non-uniform soldiers = spies.
  • Alan Ward’s ‘History of Z Special Unit’ was never finished as he died before completing the book.
  • Kempeitai (憲兵隊, Kenpeitai) = Japan’s Military Police Corp or Secret Government Police was created in 1910 to control populations in occupied Korea. Kempai officers were active in countries invaded by Japan, notably in Southeast Asia until 1945.


Written by Fiona Rothchilds with thanks to the Australian War Memorial for written material and interview information.
Uploaded 25 April 2017.
Photograph images copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2017.

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