The stories of Gallipoli and the Western Front are well-known and close to Australia’s hearts; but now this unmasking travelling exhibition shows the personal accounts of Royal Australian Navy (RAN) servicemen. Recounting the tales of bravery and sacrifice by diaries, mementos, ship’s logs and letters home alongside the toiling of patrolling, blockading and work on troopships.
More than 100 years ago, on 14 September 1914, AE1 vanished. No trace of the vessel or its 35 hands has ever been found to this day. The mystery of what happened to AE1 is explored alongside the story of Australia’s second submarine AE2, which became the first Allied vessel to breach the Dardanelles in Turkey.
The exhibition also includes medals posthumously awarded to Lieutenant Leopold Florence Scarlett lost with submarine AE1.
Highlighting the tragedy of the war and the loss of life, the exhibition features letters of condolences following the disappearance of AE1, including a letter from Winston Churchill to a grieving widow. Also on display are poignant artefacts such as sailor’s love tokens and grand commemorative medallions dedicated to Australia’s first major naval victory: the defeat of the seemingly invincible German raider SMS Emden by HMAS Sydney (I) in November 1914.
Guests can view rare archival footage of The Navy during WWI, experiencing a window into life in The Navy at the time; battleships, the troop transport ships that shifted soldiers around the globe and daily patrol. Many quotes are featured from Naval sailor’s diaries, forming a key part of the exhibition.
The Australian National Maritime Museum director Kevin Sumption reflected on the full narrative of Australia’s involvement in WW1, and the importance of the new exhibition.
“Australia’s involvement in the First World War was a defining moment in our nation’s history, helping form many of the ideas of national identity we still have today,” he said.
“The contribution of The Royal Australian Navy to the First World War, by a naval fleet formed less than a year before the outbreak of war, was significant, serving in all theatres of the war from the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Mediterranean and North Seas,” he said.
“It is our hope that this exhibition will give due recognition to the brave naval servicemen who sacrificed so much.”
The exhibition is currently on a national four-year tour, hoping to unveil to thousands of people across the country the intricacies and hidden stories behind Australia in 1914.
War at Sea – the Navy in WWI is on display at the Queensland Maritime Museum until April 2018.
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