In 1919 an Australian Red Ensign was bought to Australia by Sergeant Norman Bignell, who served with the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Now a prized item in the Bega Pioneers’ Museum, the flag is believed to have flown at Gallipoli and in France.
Norman Bignell of Bellerive, Tasmania, enlisted in June 1915 and was attached to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station. He arrived at Gallipoli on 30 October 1915, where he worked assisting medical staff in the care of the wounded and sick. After the heavy fighting of the August Offensive there were fewer men wounded, but the strain of illnesses, appalling living conditions, and the onset of heavy snowfalls in the winter ensured significant casualties. The unit’s War Diary for 19 December 1915 indicates that 37,100 Allied soldiers had been evacuated to Mudros sick and wounded since the landing on 25 April 1915.
Private Bignell left Gallipoli in the withdrawal of all Australian troops on the night of 19–20 December 1915 and his unit transferred to the Western Front in early 1916.
During the Second World War, Norman Bignell, now a public servant, was the Manpower Officer for the Bega area, controlling employment and liaising with military authorities. Prior to his death he gave the flag to the Gowing family, who subsequently donated it to the museum.
How the flag had come into his possession is unknown, but it is possible that he would have had contact with merchant navy ships as a shipping clerk prior to his enlistment, and may have taken the flag with him when he left Australia.
During the war Australians fought under the British Union Flag and both the Australian Blue and Red Ensigns. The Blue Ensign was intended for official and Royal Australian Navy purposes, while the Red Ensign was the official flag for Australian registered merchant ships. Historically, the Red Ensign was also used by civilians on land and was taken onto battlefields by soldiers. Confusion over the use of the flags was resolved with the Flags Act 1953, which proclaimed the Blue Ensign as the Australian National Flag.
It’s an Honour – other Australian Flags: https://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/symbols/otherflag.cfm
‘Letters to the Editor: Portrait Confirmed’, Bega News, 9 April 2009: http://www.begadistrictnews.com.au/story/1076747/letters-to-the-editor/
Service Record for Private Norman Fraser Bignell, No. 2291: http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/Imagine.asp?B=3081888
War Diary, 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, AWM4 26/62/11 PART 2, December 1915: http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/bundled/RCDIG1013822.pdf
Plugge's Plateau Cemetery: http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/2visiting/graves/g_plugges.html
Bega Valley Regional Gallery
Council Chambers, Zingel Place
Bega NSW, 2550
Phone: 02 6499 2202