Audacity: Stories of heroic Australians in wartime

Audacity: Stories of heroic Australians in wartime cover

This commemorative publication is a part of the series; a Century of Service. It's aimed at upper primary and lower secondary school students. It explores some of the extraordinary stories of bravery and courage of men and women in Australian wartime history. The publication contain educational questions and historical facts to encourage discussion. 

ISBN: 978-1-877007-93-4
Series: Century of Service
Access a designed version to download or print

In the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra there are 15 stained-glass windows. Each shows a figure dressed in military uniform, and under each figure is a word which describes a quality displayed by Australians during wartime. One window features a light horseman. He represents all servicemen and women who have displayed extraordinary courage or boldness during wartime.

Note to the reader:

Most of these stories take place during wartime. You may feel sad after reading some of them. Teachers may wish to be sensitive to those students who have parents serving overseas in war zones. Readers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent should be aware that this book contains images of deceased Indigenous ex-servicemen.


Audacity means extraordinary boldness or courage. This book tells the stories of just some of the Australian men and women who have shown audacity during wartime from 1899 to today. Serving with the Australian Army, Royal Australian Navy or Royal Australian Air Force, each proved that they could be bold and courageous.

Whether it is the story of Sister Claire Trestrail, who dodged enemy shell-fire to protect her patients; Henry Stoker, who captained a submarine through the mine-ridden Dardanelles; Vance Drummond, who endured the challenges of life as a prisoner of war; Ray Simpson, who risked his own life to protect his friends and comrades; or Harry Jarvie, who crossed dangerous ground in an attempt to save a life – each story demonstrates bravery and loyalty to their job, their mates, and their country.

As you read their stories, you will discover that these individuals share many qualities. Time and time again, you will read the words gallant, courageous, calm, selfless, skilled, inspirational, daring, and determined, to describe their actions. Though the era and conflict in each story may change, their subject's actions and the qualities they demonstrate remain the same.

You will also see lots of medals in this book. The military awards medals to recognise participation in wars and operations – and anyone who served in these wars receives these medals. Medals for servicemen and women who show gallantry and bravery in wars are much rarer, and have to be recommended by other members of the armed forces who witnessed their gallantry.

While most of the people in these stories were decorated for their bravery, like many service personnel over the years not all received gallantry medals. Perhaps this book will inspire you to investigate the stories of other Australians who have shown themselves to be bold and courageous.

A stain glass window with a soldier standing in uniform.

In the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra there are 15 stained-glass windows. Each shows a figure dressed in military uniform, and under each figure is a word which describes a quality displayed by Australians during wartime. One window features a light horseman. He represents all servicemen and women who have displayed extraordinary courage or boldness during wartime.

This window bears the word Audacity.

Male soldiers bearing stretchers standing in rubble if front of a tank.

A group of unidentified Australian stretcher bearers, some carrying rolled up stretchers, leaving a tank hole and relay post near Clapham Junction. The soldier on the far right is wearing a Red Cross armband. Note the derelict tank (a Mk IV, as defined by the shape of the central machine gun position and the unditching rails) in the background. The tank appears to havve lost its forward cupola. AWM E04680

A sign on a sign post with the words 'TO FRONTLINE'written on it with a arrow.

Improvised sign constructed from a piece of painted tin affixed to an iron post. The sign is painted white and is stencilled with black letters ' TO FRONT LINE' and a large black arrow pointing to the right. The white paint flaked off in places and the sign has been bent at one end. AWM RELAWM00548

Outstanding and gallant service: Major General Sir Neville Howse

Bullets flew fiercely overhead outside the South African village of Vredefort, and the wind whipped the sand into a frenzy. Through the dust, Lieutenant Neville Howse noticed a trumpeter suddenly slump forward and tumble from his horse, wounded. Neville knew that without immediate medical treatment he would have little chance of survival. Somehow, he had to get the young man to safety.

Neville Reginald Howse, born in Somerset, England on 26 October 1863, was the second of Dr Alfred and Lucy Howse's ten children. Like his father, Neville studied medicine at London Hospital and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

As a young man, Neville suffered ill health and was advised to move to Australia for the milder climate. He became a respected and highly regarded doctor at Taree in the colony of New South Wales, and was greatly missed when he travelled back to London in 1895 to extend his training. Neville returned two years later, this time settling in the bustling town of Orange in western New South Wales.

While Neville was working at Orange Hospital in 1899, men were being urged to join the forces being sent to the Boer War in South Africa. Always keen for a challenge, Neville enlisted in the New South Wales Army Medical Corps as a lieutenant. Boarding the Surrey in January 1900, he and his fellow volunteers were farewelled by cheering crowds. After a month at sea, they arrived in Cape Town. It would be another two months, however, before Neville could begin treating soldiers, as he became ill.

After rejoining his unit, Neville risked his own life on 24 July 1900 to save a wounded man under heavy fire.

Noticing a trumpeter fall, Neville leapt onto a nearby horse, and dodging bullets, galloped toward the wounded man. Reaching his side, Neville bandaged the man's wound. Then, as shell-fire intensified, he heaved the man onto his back and hurried to a makeshift hospital in the safety of his own lines. Despite his severe wounds, the young trumpeter survived. Neville was awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery in the field. Surgeon General William Williams, who witnessed the action, claimed that “no man, more worthily earned distinction, throughout the campaign” than Neville Howse.1

A studio portrait of a male soldier standing to attention in uniform.

Neville in 1902, when he was a member of the New South Wales Army Medical Corps. AWM A02711

Next to his VC, Neville wears the ribbon for the Queen's South Africa Medal. Research this medal.

Why would Neville have received it?

The Boer War 1899–1902

Australia was not yet a nation when the war broke out in 1899. The various colonies each sent troops – more than 16,000 in total – to fight alongside the British forces in South Africa in their struggle against Dutch-Afrikaner settlers known as the Boers.

During the war, Australians served in mounted units, and conditions for both soldiers and horses were harsh. During the day, the heat was often unbearable, while at night it was freezing cold.

By the end of the war in 1902, approximately 600 Australians had lost their lives: around 280 had been killed in action, some 280 others had died from disease, and almost 40 had died from unknown causes.

A metal world war one horse bridle.

British Universal Pattern 1885 curb horse bit with single link curb chain, mouth piece with low port, and 'S' shaped cheek pieces secured at the lower end by a curved bar. Each side of the bit bears an ornamental brass boss showing Queen Victoria's cypher within a garter with the words 'HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE'. The front of the bit is stamped on one side of the port with 'J. NOAKE & SON' and a broad arrow acceptance mark, and on the other side 'C&M 1900'. AWM RELAWM14444

A painting depicting a world war one battle scene where an injured male soldier is being carried by another male soldier wearing a red cross armband.

William Dargie, The incident for which Captain Neville Howse was awarded the VC, Vredefort, July 1900 (c. 1968, oil on paper on board, 25.5 x 35.5 cm. AWM ART29246)

The Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for bravery in battle which is awarded to British and Commonwealth forces during wartime.

Instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856, the Victoria Cross was to be a highly prized medal awarded to officers and men who had performed a significant act of valour or devotion. In all, 99 Australians have been awarded the Victoria Cross or the Victoria Cross for Australia, which replaced the Imperial award in 1991.

 A Victoria Cross medal with a lion in the centre of the medal standing upon the Royal Crown. The words "For valour" are inscribed below. The Victoria Cross is suspended from a crimson ribbon.

Victoria Cross. AWM REL/18815.

Promoted to captain, Neville returned to Australia in 1901. Later that year, at a ceremony at Victoria Barracks in Sydney, Lieutenant-Governor Sir Frederick Darley pinned the Victoria Cross to his uniform.

After the war, Neville married Evelyn Pilcher. He became involved in local politics, and was elected mayor of Orange.

In 1914, Neville enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) for service in the First World War. He was now 50 years old. When he landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, he began to bring order to the chaotic medical arrangements. In September 1915 he was made Director of Medical Services for the AIF. He was responsible for organising the medical resources wherever Australians were fighting – France, Belgium, Egypt, and Palestine. At the end of the war Neville, now knighted and a major general, assisted with the repatriation of troops to Australia.

Neville spent his later life involved in politics, eventually becoming Minister for Defence. He died in England in September 1930, aged 66.

Despite his extraordinary act of bravery during the Boer War, Neville always felt he was just doing his duty and was surprised by all the attention. When he was asked to relate the action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, a cheeky smile crossed his face:

It appears that a shell had fallen close to me. My horse reared, and I was thrown on my head. Suffering from concussion, and knowing not what I was doing, I had performed this tremendous deed of valour while suffering from temporary insanity.

Major General Sir Neville Reginald Howse was the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross, and he remains the only Australian medical officer to have received the award.

A band at a ceremony playing in front in a crowd.

The awards ceremony at Victoria Barracks, Sydney, 1901, at which Neville received his Victoria Cross. AWM A03759

Why did so many people attend this event? 

White cotton hemmed brassard with applied red cotton Geneva Cross, formed from two rectangles of red cotton twill, all hand stitched. Adjacent to the cross, inscribed in black ink is, 'N.R.Howse, Col., A.D.M.S., Australian Division'. The cotton displays staining.

The medical brassard worn by Neville as Assistant Director of Medical Services for the 1st Australian Division. AWM RELAWM06037.002

Two male soldiers standing in front of tents in the desert.

Neville (right) with Private Charles Duke of the 4th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, in Mena, Egypt, 1914. AWM H15678

 Of the two, who is wearing a more appropriate uniform for desert training in Eqypt?

A row of military medals attached to ribbons.

Medals awarded to Neville Howse during his military service include (left to right) the Victoria Cross, Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps, 1914–15 Star, British War Medal 1914–20, and Victory Medal. AWM RELAWM16317A

Did you know?

Trumpeters and buglers

During the Boer War, trumpeters were used to sound the signal for battle. They were often very young, as boys could enlist as trumpeters from the age of 16. Trumpeters served in the artillery or cavalry; in the infantry, those who served in this role were called buglers.

The Boer War was one of the last times trumpeters accompanied soldiers onto the field of battle.

Bravery under fire: Sister Claire Trestrail

The streets of Antwerp were ablaze, and enemy shells exploded on the roof of the hospital. Sister Trestrail struggled under the weight of a patient she had on her shoulders as she tried desperately to get down the stairs to the cellars. With more than 100 patients and very little time, Claire and her fellow nurses knew that somehow they had to get them to safety.

Born in Clare, South Australia on 10 December 1887, Evelyn Claire Trestrail, or Claire as she was known, was the oldest of Henry and Constancy's five children. Having always respected her mother's commitment to nursing, she decided at the age of 18 to become a nurse herself.

In late 1913, Claire set sail for England with nursing friends Catherine Tully and Myrtle Wilson. Claire joined the Scottish Women's Hospital and all three women were still in England in 1914 when war broke out. Nurses were needed immediately, and Claire and her friends joined the privately funded Auxiliary Hospital Unit. Its organiser, Mrs St Clair Stobart, was experienced in military medicine, having established a military field hospital during an earlier conflict. Within a month, Claire and 11 other nurses set off on a stomach-churning sea journey towards the front line in Belgium.

The group took over a concert hall in the city of Antwerp, which they quickly transformed into a 120-bed hospital. The building was soon overflowing with more than 170 badly wounded French and Belgian soldiers. Claire remembered that “some of the men had been lying for hours in the dirt and cold until the blood was dry on them, and they were hungry and exhausted”.¹

The Germans were advancing from the south, and the hospital came into the direct line of fire. One October night Claire and her friends were roused from their sleep as shells flew over the building. The city was under attack. The nurses rushed to the hall and, using all their strength, they carried their patients, one by one, to the cellars below. Mrs Stobart reported:

Slight, frail nurses carried heavy men on their shoulders ... Shells were bursting all round, but never once did I see anyone taking the slightest notice of them. The nurses' coolness was marvellous.²

Portrait of Sister Claire Evelyn Trestrail, of Clare, SA, dressed in a Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) uniform with voided 'R'Colonial Reserve badge.

Claire wearing a Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) uniform, 1916. AWM P08673.003

The siege of Antwerp 1914

On 4 August 1914, at the beginning of the First World War, Germany invaded Belgium. The city of Antwerp was heavily fortified and well defended and seen as a safe place where civilians could shelter. Even the Belgian King, Albert I, moved to the city.

Less than two months later, the fighting turned towards Antwerp. After suffering numerous defeats to the Germans, the Belgian Army had withdrawn into the city, where it planned to hold until relieved by its European allies. Despite being a largely defensive battle for the Belgians, they also launched several attacks on the besieging German Army, forcing their High Command to commit forces away from the advance into France.

After holding out for 12 days, the city fell on 10 October.

A colour poster of a zeppelin above a town that is being subjected to bombing with people either fleeing or being hurt and killed.

William Seghers, Antwerp bombed by a Zeppelin: on the night of 24–25 August 1914 (1914, lithograph printed in colour, 62 x 42 cm, AWM ARTV04868)

A poster depicting the first bombing of Antwerp on the night of 24 August 1914. The shelling experienced by Claire and her fellow nurses in October occurred six weeks later, during the third battle of Antwerp.

1914 Star and clasp

The 1914 Star was awarded to the 400,000 British Empire troops who served in France and Belgium during the first months of the war, 5 August to 22 November 1914.

A clasp is engraved with the dates or names of campaigns in which an individual has served. The clasp on Claire's medal was awarded in 1919 to those who came under enemy fire during those months. Very few Australians received this medal and clasp. Claire was one of them.

Claire's medals include (left to right) the 1914 Star with August to November 1914 clasp, British War Medal 1914–20, and Victory Medal.

The 1914 Star is a campaign medal, not a medal for bravery. Claire did not receive a bravery medal for her actions: does this make her actions any less heroic? Why or why not? Are only those who have medals brave?

A row of three military medals attached to ribbons.

The 1914 Star is a campaign medal, not a medal for bravery.  AWM REL40943.001–003

Claire did not receive a bravery medal for her actions: does this make her actions any less heroic? Why or why not? Are only those who have medals brave?

When the women emerged the next morning, the city was on fire and eerily quiet. Spotting trucks nearby, they loaded their patients on board to be transported out of the city. By late afternoon, only members of the hospital staff remained, unable to escape. Claire had almost given up hope of getting away when Mrs Stobart saw three buses, carrying ammunition, hurrying along the main road. Stepping out in front of them, she convinced the drivers to take her staff. The group were bundled on board, and began a hair-raising journey through burning streets and falling shells. The vehicles managed to cross the bridge leading out of the city just moments before it was blown up.

Back in England, news of the nurses' bravery spread quickly. Generous donations helped them replace the equipment they had been forced to leave behind. Within a month, the Auxiliary Hospital Unit was fully operational again.

Claire returned to the front in 1915 with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR), then saw out the final years of the war serving in private hospitals in France. She returned to Australia in 1921. While working in Queensland, she met returned serviceman Sidney Percival Swan. The pair married the following year and had three children. During the Second World War Claire used her experience to train women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. She died in September 1960, aged 72.

Claire never forgot their courageous escape from Antwerp, and later wrote: “The burning city behind us and the burning oil tanks ahead. It was a scene that we will remember to the end of our lives”

Remember that the women who desire to serve their country are not ... the women who neglect [the home], they are ... the women who would defend their homes ... But they now regard “home” in the larger sense of Country and of Empire ...

Mrs St. Clair Stobart, War and women, 1913, p. 239

Mrs Stobart was an active promoter of women in the field of military medicine.

What do you think she meant by these words? Why would she have felt it necessary to say this in 1913?

At the beginning of the war, women who joined QAIMNSR had to be over 25 years old and unmarried. Why?

A male patient in a hospital bed with medical staff surounding him including two female nurses.

Claire (seated) with a ward assistant and nine of their patients at the Auxiliary Hospital Unit in Antwerp, 1914. AWM P08673.002

Why did they volunteer for this work? Would the men they cared for have said the nurses were brave?


A medal with a large voided 'R'in the centre, with king's crown on top, surrounded by the words 'QUEEN ALEXANDRA'S IMPERIAL MILITARY NURSING SERVICE RESERVE'. The badge has a suspension ring attached to the crown bearing a piece of frayed red ribbon with a dark blue central stripe and dark blue/ white/ dark blue side stripes.

Qualification badge for the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. AWM REL35881

 At the beginning of the war, women who joined QAIMNSR had to be over 25 years old and unmarried. Why?

Printed paper receipt for 1914 Star, issue number 3499, dated 6 June 1919, issued to Miss C Trestrail, 120 Harrow Rd, London, for her work with Mrs Stobart's Hospital, signed with name stamp of Charles Walker, Accountant-General of the Navy and issued by the Admiralty.

Receipt for Claire's 1914 Star and clasp. AWM REL40943.004

Claire was initially classed "ineligible" for the 1914 Star and clasp as she had not served with an authorised nursing unit. Fortunately, this attitude changed the following year and her medal and clasp were issued on 6 June 1919.

Coolness and courage: Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker

Searchlights swept over the surface of the water and the crew fell nervously silent. Captain Henry Stoker slowly guided the submerged AE2 through the narrow Dardanelles. Rows of mines bobbed on the surface of the water, and the heavy chains which held them in place rattled against the hull as the submarine passed. The lives of the crew were in Henry's hands. One wrong move could be deadly.

Henry Hugh Gordon Dacre Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland on 2 February 1885. At the age of 12, Henry surprised his family when he announced he wanted to join the navy. Three years later he was accepted as a naval recruit. He went on to study at the Naval College in Greenwich, England, and as a young lieutenant took command of the Royal Australian Navy's new submarine, the AE2. In 1914 he successfully sailed the submarine to Australia. The AE2 and its sister submarine the AE1 were the first submarines to have travelled such a distance.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the AE2 took part in a mission to German New Guinea, then set off back to Europe to patrol the entrance to the Dardanelles. Attempts by British and French battleships and submarines to get through the Dardanelles had been unsuccessful, with the loss of several hundred men. Yet Lieutenant Commander Stoker was convinced he could succeed.

At 2.30 am on 25 April 1915, just before the dawn landings on Gallipoli, Henry and the AE2 set out through the Dardanelles. They planned to travel on the surface as far as possible to save the limited power of the sub's batteries, and then dive below the surface at daylight to avoid being spotted. For two hours, everything went to plan. Then, suddenly, searchlights found the submarine and it was forced to dive. With just a compass, watch and limited use of his periscope, Henry had to navigate through the Turkish minefields. One crew member reported hearing 18 mine chains scrape the side of the submarine during their journey and twice something louder hit the side, possibly mines that failed to explode.

Despite running aground and narrowly escaping further enemy attacks, Henry's crew slowly guided the submarine further into the Dardanelles. The crew faced a long, tense day together, sitting in darkness and silence. When they finally surfaced, the cabin stank of diesel fumes and stale air. The crew took turns standing on the deck, breathing in the fresh night air.

A male sailor in uniform in a group portrait.

Henry in England before his voyage to Australia, February 1914. AWM P01075.045 (detail)

The Gallipoli campaign 1915

In 1915 Turkey was part of the Ottoman Empire, which was allied to Germany. The capital of the Ottoman Empire was Constantinople (now known as Istanbul), and to reach it, ships had to sail through a narrow strait of water called the Dardanelles. The Turks protected this strait with artillery, forts, and mines.

In early 1915 British and French battleships tried to force their way through the Dardanelles. Their aim was to bombard Constantinople, gain control of the Dardanelles and cut off Germany's access to the Black Sea ports. They failed, after running into fierce resistance from the Turkish defences.

It was decided to land infantry to attack the forts from the other side of the peninsula. At dawn on 25 April 1915, the Australian Imperial Force landed at Anzac Cove and was joined by New Zealand troops. Another, bigger force of British and Indian soldiers landed at the tip of the peninsula, and a French force landed on the opposite side of the Dardanelles.

In all places the advance was held up by a strong Turkish defence and a stalemate quickly developed. After eight months of fighting, Britain and her allies had made little progress. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was evacuated in December 1915.

A world war one flag with the British English flags together.

White ensign with Union Jack in the canton and the red Cross of St George in the centre. Each piece of the jack and the flag are made from separate sections of wool bunting sewn together. Threaded through the hoist is a length of hemp rope with a brass Inglefield clip attached to each end. AWM REL32717

This painting shows the Australian submarine 'AE2'on patrol in the Sea of Marmora. The 'AE2'was the first allied submarine to penetrate the Narrows of the Dardanelles. The artist has painted 'AE2'on the bow of the boat to indicate that it is Australian.

Charles Bryant, AE2 in the Sea of Marmora, April 1915 (1925, oil on canvas, 122.6 x 183 cm, AWM ART09016)

Distinguished Service Order

Instituted in 1886, the Distinguished Service Order was awarded to officers who had performed distinguished or meritorious service during wartime. It was usually awarded for service in actual combat with the enemy. These awards were announced in the London Gazette.

A medal with a white cross including a wreath and crown in the middle attached to a blue and red striped ribbon.

Distinguished Service Order. AWM REL25341.001.

One of the sailors wrote in his diary:

During all this time, the Captain remained extremely cool for all depended on him at this stage. It is due to his coolness that I am now writing this account. Nobody knew what a terrible strain it is on the nerves to undergo anything like this, especially the Captain as it all depends on him.

On discovering they were very close to the Sea of Marmora, Henry sent a message back to the fleet. News of their success reached the commanders of the Gallipoli operation. For several days the AE2 harassed any enemy ships it could find, but by then its supply of torpedoes was running low.

Early on the morning of 30 April, the AE2 dived to avoid being seen by a Turkish torpedo boat – but something went wrong. The submarine lurched out of control, rising rapidly, breaking the surface then plunging deep beneath the water again. As the sub resurfaced for the final time, the vessel was hit by shells from an enemy gunboat and Henry knew they were doomed. He ordered the crew to abandon ship, and left only when the last man had escaped.

They were rescued from the water by the Turkish crew of the Sultan Hissar, and spent the next three-and-a-half years as prisoners of war, being forced to build a railway through rugged mountainous country. They suffered from overwork, disease, and the brutality of guards, and four of the sailors died.

Henry survived captivity and returned to England in 1918, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his courageous actions. He was promoted to commander in 1919, but retired the following year. He married actress Dorothie “Peg” Pidcock in 1925, and when the Second World War broke out Henry returned to duty at the age of 54.

Henry always remembered the actions of the AE2 and one of his crew remembered him saying:

No Captain has been more proud of the men under his command than I was while commanding that Australian submarine. Good comrades, loyal servants, and brave men. AWM 3DRL/6226

Male sailors grouped on the deck.

The crew of AE2, photographed before its action in the Dardanelles. Avoiding Turkish mines and patrols in the strait, AE2 engaged enemy shipping, torpedoed the gunboat Peykisevket, and withstood heavy fire from shore batteries. However, it was eventually shelled in the Sea of Marmara by the Sultan Hissar on 30 April, 1915, and had to be abandoned. No sailors were lost in the sinking, but four died in captivity before the end of the war. (AWM H18370)

Did you know?

If you are in the Royal Australian Navy, Lieutenant is pronounced “loo-tenant”. However, if you are in the Australian Army or the Royal Australian Air Force, it is pronounced “leff-tenant”.

Group portrait of prisoners of war in a Turkish camp during the first world war.

After abandoning ship on 30 April 1915, Henry and his crew were captured and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. They were released and taken to Egypt in 1918 by hospital ship HMAT Kanowna. AWM P00371.001

Imagine you are a family member of one of the men in this photograph. Write a letter or diary entry describing how you would feel after you heard they were finally on their way home.


A model of British Royal Navy submarine E29 with the starboard side removed to show details of the interior.

A cut-away model of a British E-class submarine, like the AE2. AWM H12299

 These submarines were around 55 metres long and carried a crew of 35. What jobs would the sailors have had to do on board the AE2?

The Australian Navy Submarine AE2. This vessel operated firstly in New Guinea waters in 1914 and then transferred to support the Gallipoli landing in 1915.

A combination of technical difficulties and action by Turkish forces sank the AE2 in April 1915. AWM H10720

Submarines were relatively new technology in 1915. Given the dangers, how would you have felt about volunteering to serve aboard a submarine in a war zone? Paint, draw, or write your answer.

Corporal Ernest Corey

Trudging across a Western Front battlefield under enemy gunfire, Private Ernest Corey struggled forward. Supporting a wounded soldier with one hand and carrying a medical bag with the other, he concentrated on just one thing: to avoid being wounded so he could get this man to safety.

Ernest Albert Corey, known as Ernie, had not planned to go to war. Born on 20 December 1892 in Numeralla, near Cooma, New South Wales, Ernie left school early to work as a labourer. Hard at work when the First World War broke out in August 1914, he did not immediately enlist. For the next year, however, like many other Australians, Ernie was engrossed by news from the front.

Tales of heroic Australians serving on Gallipoli were fresh in Ernie's mind when the “Men from Snowy River” recruitment march passed through his local district in January 1916. Ernie enlisted at Nimmitabel on 13 January, and joined the march for the final leg of their journey to Goulburn. He was assigned to the 55th Battalion and left Australia with the 4th Reinforcements on board Port Sydney. As Ernie bid farewell to his parents, Thomas and Ellen, and his brothers and sisters, he must have wondered what lay ahead.

Ernie joined his battalion on the Western Front in April 1917. France was just then recovering from the coldest winter it had seen in more than 30 years, and Ernie was grateful for the spring sunshine.

The next month, during an enemy attack near the French village of Queant, the 55th and 56th battalions suffered heavy casualties. A call went out for volunteers to help collect wounded soldiers. Ernie raised his hand. For 17 hours straight he worked, bringing in soldiers from no-man's-land to receive medical treatment. Ernie's courage and devotion to duty were rewarded with a Military Medal.

Studio portrait of 2143 Private (Pte) Ernest Albert Corey, 55th Battalion, of Cooma, NSW. Corey was born in Numeralla, NSW, in 1891.

Ernie after enlisting in 1916. AWM P10990.001

Why do you think Ernie kept risking his life to save the wounded? 

The Western Front 1916–18

After the Gallipoli campaign, the Australian Imperial Force was reorganised to include the large numbers of new recruits coming from Australia. Most of these men were sent to the Western Front to fight the German army.

The Western Front was a 750-kilometre line of trenches that ran through France and Belgium, from Belgium's North Sea coast to the Swiss border.

Of the more than 330,000 Australians who served overseas during the First World War, the majority served on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918.

The conditions in France and Belgium were devastating. Australians faced the challenges of gas, heavy artillery, mortars, and machine-guns that could fire up to 500 bullets per minute. At the end of 1916, soldiers experienced the coldest winter Europe had seen in 30 years and suffered many cold-related illnesses, including pneumonia and trench foot.

More than 61,000 Australians lost their lives in the First World War. Of these, more than 46,000 died on the Western Front.

An old battered world war one metal bottle.

Australian army issue 1903 Pattern water bottle. The kidney shaped bottle of blue enamelled iron with a cylindrical neck and tapered cork stopper with a drilled eye bolt which would have had a piece of string to secure it the stopper. The seam on the base is rusted and the bottle retains mud from the battlefield. The back of the proper left shoulder of the bottle has a shrapnel entry hole; a lead shrapnel ball is loose within the bottle. The bottle is missing its khaki cloth cover and webbing carrier. AWM RELAWM00539

Australian stretcher bearers with casualty on stretcher preparing to leave the battlefield, and another soldier attending to a second casualty.

Septimus Power, Stretcher bearers (1922, oil on canvas, 69 x 94 cm, AWM ART03645)

 What difficulties would stretcher bearers have faced on the battlefield?

The Military Medal

The Military Medal was a British medal introduced in 1916, during the First World War. It was awarded for bravery and devotion to duty under fire, and was given to military personnel who were not officers.

In 1993, the Military Medal was discontinued under the UK Honours and Awards system. The Military Cross, which was originally awarded only to officers, is now awarded to personnel of all ranks.

A medal attached to a ribbon with two red and two white stripes.

The Military Medal AWM RELAWM06315.006

Ernie became a regular stretcher bearer for his battaltion, and it was not long before he was again in the thick of it: this time at Polygon Wood in Belgium. Ernie worked tirelessly, risking his own life to ensure the safety of others. For this, he was awarded a second Military Medal. Part of the citation for his award reads:

The greatest danger did not deter this man from doing his duty when his services were required ... he tended the wounded and carried them to places of safety continuously ... often under very heavy artillery and machine gun fire ... he set a fine example of bravery and coolness to all ranks.

But Ernie was not done yet. During heavy fighting at the village of Péronne, in September 1918, Ernie was commended for “saving the lives of many”² soldiers and was yet again awarded a Military Medal.

Ernie was promoted to corporal and placed in command of his battalion's stretcher bearers. During a battle north of Bellicourt, two German stretcher bearers approached him carrying a wounded Australian soldier, Corporal Ron Randall. Ernie lifted Ron into a shell hole for protection while he finished dressing other wounded soldiers. Two hours later, as he was preparing to bring in an officer he had bandaged earlier, a burst of machine-gun fire rang out, and Ernie was hit in the thigh. Applying a bandage to his own wound, Ernie crawled 300 metres before he was picked up and evacuated. After two operations, Ernie was discharged from the army in 1919. For his courage under fire, he was awarded a fourth Military Medal.

After a celebrated military career, and further service in the Second World War, Ernie returned to a normal life back in Australia. In an interview he gave in 1971, a year before his death, Ernie said that he was most proud of his Military Medals because he had been awarded “every one of them for saving life, not taking it”.

Corporal Ernie Corey is the only British Commonwealth soldier to have been awarded the Military Medal four times.

Did you know?

... “and Bar”

If an individual is awarded a medal more than once, they receive a bar to add to their medal, rather than receive that medal again. It is described, for example, as Military Medal and Bar. In Ernie's case, the Military Medal and three bars.

Australian steel helmet, complete with leather chin strap, but without liner. The outside of the helmet has been decorated in red, white, black, orange, brown and green paint.

Ernie Corey's helmet, which he wore during the First World War and decorated himself. AWM REL/04728

There are ten flags on Ernie's helmet. Which countries do they belong to? What would they have represented to Ernie? 

A row of military medals attached to ribbons.

Ernie's medals include (left to right) the Military Medal with three bars, British War Medal 1914–20, Victory Medal, British War Medal 1939–45, and Australia Service Medal. AWM REL/04727.001

Informal portrait of veteran Mr Ernest Corey in a Queanbeyan Nursing Home, with Sister Mary Hawkins.

A nurse from Queanbeyan Nursing Home pins Ernie's medals onto his chest, May 1971. AWM SHO/71/0167/HQ

A banner made from a large British red ensign hanging from a horizontal hoist.

'Men from Snowy River'recruiting banner. AWM REL/15959

Men who have joined the Snowy River recruiting march, crossing the Queen's bridge led by a piper and drummer in front of the banner reading "THE MEN FROM SNOWY RIVER".

The Men from Snowy River recruiting march cross the Queen's Bridge, Queanbeyan, New South Wales, in January 1916. AWM P01095.001

Why would children have joined these marches? How might the marches impact their families?

Daring conduct: Ensign Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake felt the rush of wind across her face as she parachuted towards the trees in the grassy fields of central France. Nancy's job was to help supply the French Resistance fighters with the equipment they needed to resist the enemy. Somehow she had to make it happen.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand on 30 August 1912, but grew up in Sydney, Australia. Being much younger than her five siblings, Nancy spent a lot of time by herself, reading and dreaming of adventure like the heroine of her favourite book, Anne of Green Gables.

At 16, Nancy left home, and worked for two years as a nurse near Mudgee in central-west New South Wales. She then travelled to England and studied journalism, before being offered a job as a journalist in Paris, France.

Nancy fitted seamlessly into Paris's café culture. She and her new friends discussed the political and social events of the day, particularly the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Curious to see the impact of this man and his Nazi regime, Nancy visited Berlin in 1935. There she witnessed the mistreatment of Jewish people and vowed to fight against it.

Returning to Paris, Nancy met Henri Fiocca, a wealthy French businessman, whom she married in 1939 just after war broke out. Soon afterwards, Henri was called up to serve in the French Army and Nancy joined the voluntary ambulance corps.

When France fell in 1940, two-thirds of the country immediately came under German rule. Some French civilians were disgusted with what they saw as a shameful surrender. Like them, Nancy vowed to resist German occupation, and joined the underground Resistance movement.

Supported by Henri, who had returned from military service, Nancy took on the dangerous task of organising safe houses and manning the escape routes through France. She helped many Allied soldiers and airmen, and Jewish refugees, to safely flee the country.

Studio portrait of woman in army uniform.

Nancy in 1945, while working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). AWM P00885.001

War in Europe 1939–45

The Second World War began when Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Britain and France, who had pledged to help Poland if it was invaded, declared war on Germany.

In May 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France. France quickly surrendered, and by 1942 the entire country was occupied by German forces.

Some French civilians swore to oppose German occupation and joined the underground Resistance movement. The Allies eventually invaded occupied Europe in June 1944, and Paris was liberated in August. On 8 May 1945 Germany surrendered, and the war in Europe was over.

A French Second World War poster published by Charles De Gaulle from his headquarters in London.

A tous les Francais (1939–45, lithograph on paper, 76.4 x 50.8 cm, AWM ARTV02236) A British wartime poster appealing to French civilians and Resistance members to continue to fight against German occupation. "Vive la France" in English means "Long live France".

A British wartime poster appealing to French civilians and Resistance members to continue to fight against German occupation. "Vive la France" in English means "Long live France". What impact would those words have had on French civilians wanting to resist German occupation of their country? 

George Medal

Introduced on 24 September 1940, the George Medal is a British medal awarded for great acts of bravery performed by civilians and members of the armed services in circumstances of extreme danger not involving combat. It is the second highest decoration awarded to civilians, after the George Cross. Of the 118 Australians who have received the George Medal, almost half have been civilians.

By 1943, Nancy's work had come to the attention of the Gestapo. They endeavoured to track her down, but each time they thought they had her cornered, she seemed to disappear. Code-named “the White Mouse”, Nancy became one of the most wanted Resistance members in France. Now it was her turn to escape. Agreeing to meet Henri in England, Nancy fled using one of the same escape routes she had previously manned herself.

Once in England, Nancy awaited Henri's arrival. He never came.

Nancy trained to be a professional spy, and began working in the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was working with the Resistance.

The Resistance fighters hiding in the mountains needed equipment, and after parachuting into France on 31 March 1944, Nancy set about organising parachute drops of much-needed weapons. Nancy once made a 400-kilometre round trip on a pushbike, through enemy lines, to send a message, after her friend Denden had destroyed their radio codes and buried their radio when he thought they were about to be overrun by the Germans.

In September 1944, during the liberation of Vichy, Nancy heard the shocking news that Henri had been captured, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo the year before.

After the war, Nancy was awarded the George Medal for her exceptional bravery. Her citation read, in part:

Ensign Wake's organising ability, endurance, courage and complete disregard for her own safety earned her the respect and admiration of all with whom she came in contact.

Nancy returned to Paris in 1945 but lived alternately in Australia and England over the next 66 years, even trying her hand unsuccessfully in Australian politics. Nancy married her second husband, John Forward, an RAF officer and former prisoner of war, in England in 1957. She died in 2011, aged 98.

Nancy was once asked why she had risked her life doing such a dangerous job, and she replied:

Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work I used to think that it didn't matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living.

London - an r.a.f. pilot making a parachute landing after his plane has been disabled.

Parchute landing. AWM 005143

What immediate dangers would Nancy have faced when she parachuted into France in 1944?  

The inside of the identity card identifies him as Albert Charles Favro of Corsica.

A false identity card for Flight Lieutenant Noel Stirling Eliot of the Royal Australian Air Force, while he was hiding in a safe house in France during the Second World War. AWM P02614.023

Members of the Resistance movement often organised false papers for the Allied servicemen and families they were hiding.
Why would this have been necessary?


A row of military medals attached to ribbons.

Nancy Wake's medals include (left to right) the George Medal, 1939–45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, British War Medal 1939–45, French Officer of the Legion of Honour, Frenchv Croix de Guerre, United States Medal of Freedom, and French Medaille de la Resistance. AWM REL22576.001–009

 Why do you think Nancy was referred to as "the White Mouse" by the Germans?

Forest of Freteval, France. c. July 1944. Some of the escapers near their tents set up in the forest.

Members of the underground Resistance movement ensured the safe escape of Allied servicemen and families from France. In 1944 some Allied escapees were forced to hide in the forest, when the escape routes were judged too dangerous to use. AWM P02614.001

Refusal to admit defeat: Sergeant Thomas Derrick

Sergeant Tom Derrick struggled through dense jungle as he scaled the mountain towards the village of Sattelberg. Dodging machine-gun fire and grenades, he led his platoon up the sheer cliff face. Tom knew this was their last chance to reach their objective, and he was determined to prove it could be done.

Born in Adelaide on 20 March 1914, Thomas Currie Derrick was the eldest son in a large family. They did not have a lot of money, and Tom and his brothers and sisters would often walk barefoot to school. When the Great Depression hit Australia, Tom left school to earn money working odd jobs – he was only 14.

Nicknamed “Diver” by his mates after diving out of his boat to retrieve a lost oar, Tom was always keen for adventure. He married his long-time sweetheart, Beryl Leslie, in 1939, and the following year enlisted for service in the Second World War. Posted to the 2/48th Battalion, he set sail for the Middle East. After a promotion to corporal during the siege of Tobruk in 1941, Tom's battalion was sent to El Alamein to reinforce the British Eighth Army. During an attack on the Germans at Tel el Eisa, Tom demonstrated inspirational leadership and courage, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Returning to Australia in 1943, Tom began jungle training in preparation for the war against Japan in New Guinea. All too soon, Tom and his men were facing the challenges of jungle warfare at Sattelberg. Tom's battalion, the 2/48th, began the attack on Sattelberg on 22 November. With a landslide preventing the use of tanks, the final assault on 24 November was left to the infantry. For two hours, Tom and his mates struggled up the muddy cliff face against thick vegetation and hidden machine-guns in an attempt to achieve their objective. Time and again, they were met with intense machine-gun fire and grenades, which forced them back. Finally, at dusk, they were ordered to withdraw.

However, Tom was certain they could reach their objective by attacking the position one last time. Without waiting for permission, he returned to the action with his platoon. Tom scrambled ahead of his men, scaling a cliff face that would challenge even a professional climber and, hurling grenades, singlehandedly destroyed an enemy post.

A male soldier sitting outdoors with his rifle.

Tom at Sattelberg, New Guinea, November 1943. AWM 067887

The capture of Sattelberg 1943

The capture of Sattelberg was part of the Battle of Finschhafen, fought on the east coast of New Guinea between September and December 1943.

The Allies had been given orders to capture Finschhafen from the Japanese. There they intended to build airfields and a port to support a further advance.

The village of Sattelberg was of great strategic importance because it was on high ground overlooking Finschhafen. Until Sattelberg was captured the Allied hold on Finschhafen would not be secure.

In November 1943, the Australian Army fought a fierce battle against the Japanese to capture Sattelberg. Although facing an almost vertical cliff, thick jungle conditions, and heavy rain, the Australian 2/48th Battalion captured the village on 25 November.

A brown slouch hat with a badge and ribbon.

Australia Army slouch hat with badge AWM REL/07652

A painting depicting the attack of the 2/48th Australian Infantry Battalion, supported by tanks, attacking at Sattelberg, New Guinea.

George Browning, Action at Sattelberg (1969, oil on canvas, 152.5 x 276 cm, AWM ART27627)


Paint or draw a scene showing Tom in action in one of the places he fought: North Africa, New Guinea or Borneo. You will need to read his story carefully and research the places he fought to make sure the environment and details are accurate.

Seeing that some of his men had come under heavy fire, Tom pushed forward, throwing more grenades, until the enemy fled. As the rain poured down, Tom fought on, destroying another three enemy posts. The rest of the battalion captured Sattelberg the following morning. For his actions, Tom was awarded the Victoria Cross. Part of his citation read:

Undoubtedly Sergeant Derrick's fine leadership and refusal to admit defeat in the face of a seemingly impossible situation resulted in the capture of Sattelberg. His outstanding gallantry, thoroughness and devotion to duty were an inspiration.

Tom returned to Australia to undertake officer training and was commissioned as a lieutenant. In 1945 his battalion was again called to duty, this time in Borneo. He landed on Tarakan on 1 May, and was soon involved in action against a heavily defended position. As night fell on 22 May, Tom and his men dug in to the thick jungle floor where they awaited the next attack. It came early the following morning, when machine-gun fire was sprayed into the Australian position. Just as Tom sat up to check on his men, there was another burst of fire, and five bullets struck him across his body. Despite his own injuries, Tom insisted that the other wounded be attended to first. He died the next day.

For his action at Sattelberg in 1943, Tom had received a lot of attention, which afterwards amused him greatly. The day after the action, on 25 November, he wrote in his diary:

The colonel had great praise for the splendid work of the platoon and insisted I hoist the flag on the hard fought for town – the next three hours I was pestered by war correspondents and photographers – just like being King for a day and all through disobeying an order.

Portrait of a soldier from the 2/48th Australian Infantry Battalion; SX7964 Sergeant Thomas Currie Derrick, VC, DCM, 2/48th Btn AIF.

Ivor Hele, Sergeant Thomas ("Diver") Derrick (1944, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 76.4 cm, AWM ART24071)

After Tom's death, his mother's greatest wish was to see this painting of him hanging at the Australian War Memorial.
Why would this have been so important to her?

Take me over the Ocean, back to the tall straight gums Back to the heart of the bushland, where the busy saw mill hums, Or drop me off in the city midst the sound of horn and bell. Take me back to Australia and the sounds I love so well.

Tom Derrick, 26 August 1941

While in the army, Tom wrote poems and many letters to his wife. He also collected butterflies from the different countries he fought in.

What does this add to your understanding of Tom?

A male soldier on a flagpole raising a flag.

Sattelberg falls. In one of the most famous images of the war, Sergeant Tom ‘Diver' Derrick hoists an Australian flag on a tree at Sattelberg on 25 November 1943. The previous day he had single-handedly destroyed ten enemy posts on the precipitous slopes below this summit. This feat earned him not only the honour of raising the flag, but also the Victoria Cross. AWM 016246

Group of more than 20 men in military uniforms standing or kneeling beside a recently dug grave with a white wooden cross that reads 'TC Derrick' in large letters

The burial of Lieutenant Tom 'Diver' Derrick VC DCM, 2/48th Battalion, who died of wounds on Tarakan on 24 May 1945. Derrick, who had served through Tobruk and El Alamein in North Africa and the Huon Peninsula campaign in New Guinea – for which he had been decorated with the Victoria Cross – had been mortally wounded the previous night in the fight for the hill code-named Freda. AWM 044970

A row of military medals attached to ribbons.

Tom Derrick's medals include (left to right) the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1939–45 Star, Africa Star with clasp, Pacific Star, Defence Medal, British War Medal 1939–45, and Australia Service Medal. AWM REL/11417.001–008

Captain Reginald Walter Saunders

Reg Saunders, born near the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve in Purnim, Victoria in 1920, came from a long line of soldiers. His uncle, Reginald Rawlings, after whom he was named, received a Military Medal for his actions in France during the First World War, and died of wounds in 1918. Reg's younger brother, Harry, served during the Second World War; he was killed in Papua in 1942. Reg fought on many fronts in the Second World War and went on to serve as an officer in the Korean War, commanding C Company, 3RAR. He led his men through fierce fighting, including the battle at Kapyong in April 1951, for which they were awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation.

Reg was the first known Indigenous Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army. He left the army in 1954 and was awarded an MBE in 1971. He died in 1990, aged 70.

Two smiling men in military jackets and slouch felt hats shake hands in front of a canvas military tent and corrugated iron building

Reg Saunders and Tom Derrick congratulate each other after graduating from the Officer Cadet Training Unit at Seymour, Victoria, on 25 November 1944. Reg wept when he heard the news of Tom's death in May 1945. AWM 083166

Leadership and courage: Wing Commander Peter Isaacson

As Pilot Officer Peter Isaacson tried to stop his Lancaster bomber from plunging through the air, he heard an explosion. The aircraft's top turret was blown out by machine-gun fire and his mid-upper gunner was wounded. The aircraft dived out of control. Plummeting downwards and with searchlights following their every move, Peter had just minutes to save his crew.

Peter Stuart Isaacson was born in London on 31 July 1920, and moved to Australia with his family at the age of six. Growing up in Melbourne, Peter joined the cadet corps, and gained a reputation at school as a daredevil. After leaving school at 16, Peter worked as a messenger for The Age newspaper, where his mother, Caroline, worked as a journalist.

When the Second World War broke out, Peter enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), following in the footsteps of his father, Arnold, and two uncles who had served in the First World War. Having seen the effects of Germany's treatment of Jewish people through Caroline's charity work with refugees, Peter was keen to support the war effort.

Peter completed his initial flying training, and was sent to Canada for advanced training under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS). Receiving his wings in September 1941, Peter was posted to Britain. There he joined No. 460 Squadron, RAAF, which would come to be regarded as the most efficient Australian squadron of Bomber Command.

Flying heavy bombers over Germany, Peter's skill saw him accurately bomb his targets, manoeuvre his way out of search lights, dodge anti-aircraft fire, and escape enemy planes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal on 6 November 1942 for leadership and courage in many successful operations against the enemy.¹

In 1943, Peter moved to No. 156 Squadron in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). This squadron was part of the Pathfinder Force, in which the best and most experienced crews would fly ahead of the bombers and identify their targets, allowing the bombers to hit them with greater accuracy.

A studio portrait of a male soldier.

Photograph taken by the Herald newspaper showing Peter in uniform, 1943. AWM 138686

Peter, like other members of Bomber Command, was very young when he enlisted. Why do you think young men were so keen to volunteer for a dangerous job like this?

Air war over Europe 1939–45

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the British government realised that they lacked safe training facilities for their aircrews as Britain was under frequent German air attack. They decided to train aircrew elsewhere in the British Empire: in Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Canada. The scheme was known as the Empire Air Training Scheme.

More than 27,000 members of the RAAF, most of them trained by EATS, served in Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. Approximately 10,000 of these served as aircrew with Bomber Command, which was responsible for bombing targets in enemy-controlled Europe.

Bomber Command had one of the highest loss rates of any Allied service during the Second World War – one in three. Of the 10,000 Australians who served with Bomber Command more than 4,000 lost their lives.

RAAF blue wool barathea forage cap, lined in brown polished cotton twill, with a brown velveteen sweatband.

Forage cap. AWM REL34353

A Lancaster Bomber visible at a lower level than a camera aircraft during an air raid.

A night raid on the German city of Hamburg. One of the Pathfinder pilot's tasks was to take a flash photograph of the site once the bombs had fallen. These photographs determined whether all targets had been destroyed or if Bomber Command would have to return to the area the next night to continue bombing. AWM 044855

 Peter and his mates had competitions to see who could get closest to the action to get the best photograph. What challenges would crew members have faced doing this, and what does it say about their attitude to war?

Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Flying Medal

Established by King George V in 1918, the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) were awarded for exceptional valour, courage, or devotion to duty while flying on active operations against the enemy. The DFC was reserved for officers only, and the DFM was for noncommissioned officers and other ranks. When the DFM was discontinued in 1993, the DFC was made available to all ranks.

A metal ellipse with a head and an inscription attached to a puple and white striped ribbon.

Distinguished Flying Cross Cross. AWM REL/18521.001

A metal cross attached to a puple and white striped ribbon.

Distinguished Flying Medal. AWM REL/21714.001

Many dangerous raids followed for Peter and his crew, but perhaps the most eventful was that on Berlin on 1 March 1943. During this, their last raid on the city, their Lancaster was severely damaged by anti-aircraft gun fire. With a wounded crew member, and battling constant gun fire and persistent searchlights, Peter, with the help of his crew, managed to regain control of the aircraft just in time, and bring the bomber home. For his calmness and skill, Peter was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Soon afterwards, Peter was selected to fly a brand new Lancaster, “Q for Queenie”, on the first westward flight from England to Australia. Once home, he flew the first direct flights between Melbourne and New Zealand. For these flights Peter was awarded the Air Force Cross.

While in Australia, Peter made a series of exhibition flights to promote war bonds. During one flight, Peter flew his Lancaster under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Although threatened with a court martial for this illegal act, he was never officially punished. “Q for Queenie” remains the largest aircraft to have flown under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In January 1946, just before he left the RAAF, Peter proposed to his girlfriend, Anne McIntyre. Sadly, just one week later, she developed polio and was bedridden for nearly five years. On 21 December 1950, when Anne was finally well enough, Peter carried her into the Melbourne Registry Office and they were married. The pair had two sons, Tony and Tim.

Peter's later life was dedicated to the publishing industry, for which he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1991. He lives today in Melbourne, where he is a Life Governor of the Shrine of Remembrance.

Despite Peter's dangerous missions over Germany during the Second World War, he always believed that he would return home. In an interview in 2013, he said:



“My worst situation I ever had was over Berlin, but we got home in one piece. I never thought I wouldn't survive, I felt I was going to be a great survivor. I was lucky.”


A family with a male soldier, a man and two females dressed in civilian clothing standing in front a crowd.

Peter with his family (left to right): Arnold, Peter, Caroline, and Joan (sister). All members of the Isaacson family served in the Second World War. Caroline and Joan joined the Australian Women's Land Army in July 1942, Caroline as a public relations officer and Joan as a photographer. Arnold, at 60 years of age, was too old for active service, and instead served as a sergeant in the Volunteer Defence Corps. AWM 139009

An aircrew inside a club reading newspapers and gathered together in conversation.

Members of the RAAF often spent their leave time at the Boomerang Club in London. AWM UK1049

Why would it have been called the Boomerang Club?
What would they have been reading?

A metal winged badge.

Pathfinder's badge AWM REL/13795.008

A male airman wearing a battle-dress blouse, and a Pathfinder badge below his medal ribbon bar.

Harold Freedman, Flight Lieutenant Peter Isaacson (c. 1946, oil on canvas, 50.4 x 43.2 cm, AWM ART27645) 

Members of the Pathfinder Force did not receive their permanent Pathfinder's badge until they had completed their full tour of duty. The dangers associated with the job meant this was very difficult to do, so receiving it was like being awarded a special medal. What animal is on the Pathfinder's badge? Why would this animal have been chosen? 

An all-Australian "Pathfinder" crew of the first Lancaster bomber to be flown from the UK to Australia and New Zealand.

Peter (fifth from right) and the rest of his Pathfinder crew beside "Q for Queenie", in 1943 in Wellington, after making the first direct flights between Melbourne and New Zealand. AWM SUK10978

Serving in Bomber Command was full of risks, and as the war raged on, crews only had a 10 per cent chance of surviving a full 30-mission tour of operations.
Would you take the risk? Why or why not?

Determination and skill: Wing Commander Vance Drummond

The night was bitterly cold, but Pilot Officer Vance Drummond knew that if they wanted to escape the North Korean prison camp, it was now or never. As Vance and his four mates slipped through the barbed-wire fence, they knew they were taking a big risk. They hoped it would be worth it.

Vance Drummond was born in Hamilton, New Zealand on 22 February 1927. He and his three brothers were all interested in flying. During the Second World War Vance's eldest brother, Frederick, enlisted in the RAAF at 18, but lost his life less than a year later. Vance joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in 1944. By the time he finished training, the war was nearing its end, and he was demobilised. In March 1946 Vance enlisted in the New Zealand Army and served in Japan as a member of “J” Force. This was New Zealand's contribution to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, helping to maintain law and order and rebuild Japan.

Moving to Australia, Vance joined the RAAF. In August 1951 he was posted to No. 77 Squadron in Korea. Despite having received only limited training in air combat, he was awarded the US Air Medal for his “courage, aggressiveness and tactical skill” during aerial combat missions.

On 1 December, Vance's Gloster Meteor Jet was one of three shot down by enemy MiG-15 fighter jets. He and Flying Officer Bruce Thomson ejected from their aircraft safely and parachuted into North Korea. The third pilot was killed. Vance and Thomson were captured, held in a nearby town, and interrogated for six days. They were then sent to Pinchon-ni prisoner of war camp, where they were relieved to see the familiar faces of fellow Australians Flight Lieutenant Gordon Harvey and Flying Officer Ron Guthrie. Vance's family did not hear of him becoming a prisoner until months later.

Life in the camp was difficult. The prisoners were treated brutally by the guards, received inadequate food, medical treatment, and clothing, and were forced to do heavy labour. They faced extreme cold, with temperatures dropping to minus 20 degrees Celsius at night.

Photo of RAAR pilots Drummond and Thomson still wearing their blue prisoner of war uniforms

Panmunjom, Korea, 1 September 1953. RAAF Pilot Officers Vance Drummond (left) and Bruce Thomson (right) at Freedom Village after their release from captivity. They are still wearing their blue prisoner of war uniforms. [AWM JK0863]

 Unused brevet, in its original box of issue

Sterling silver RAAF pilot's brevet with King's crown and pin brooch mounting.

Korean War 1950–1953

The Korean War began on 25 June 1950 when North Korean forces invaded South Korea. As part of the United Nations (UN) force, Australia supported South Korea against the Communist forces of North Korea.

During the course of the war, 30 Australians became prisoners. Most were kept in terrible conditions and one man, Private Horrace Madden, died in captivity.

Fighting in Korea ended when an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, but hostility continued to exist between North and South Korea. Even today, the situation remains unresolved, with a state of war still existing between the North and South.

By the end of the war, 340 Australians had lost their lives and more than 1,200 had been wounded.

A painting of the men and machines of 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force at Kimpo, outside of Seoul, South Korea.

Ivor Hele, Return of the Meteor jets, Kimpo, Korea (1953, oil on hardboard, 78.5 x 122 cm, AWM ART40304).

 Unable to get Sabre jets, the RAAF was forced to rely on Meteor jets in Korea. Unfortunately, they were no match for the faster, lighter enemy aircraft, the MiG-15. What different emotions are the men in this painting displaying?

Air Force Cross

Established in 1918, the Air Force Cross is awarded to officers for valour or devotion to duty. It is awarded to individuals who displayed these qualities while flying, but not during active operations against the enemy.

A metal cross attached to a red and white striped ribbon.

Air Force Cross. AWM REL/12295.001 (detail).

Eventually, Vance, Thomson, and three Americans decided to escape. Gathering emergency rations, compasses, and water bottles, they prepared for their break out. On the night of 11 April 1952, dressed as North Koreans, the group escaped the compound. For two nights they made good progress but were spotted and recaptured. The Australians were harshly punished, and all five were tried before a North Korean military court.

After nearly two years as a prisoner of war, Vance was repatriated to Australia in September 1953. A fellow Australian, Army officer Maurie Pears, spoke highly of those men who had been held as prisoners, saying that “while in captivity, [they] fought battles of their own with great honour and individual courage”

After the war, Vance married Margaret Buckham. Promoted to squadron leader, he took charge of No. 75 Squadron's “Black Diamonds” aerobatic display team. They performed around Australia, including at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth. For his service in the RAAF Vance was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Vance then served with the US Air Force for two years, including a combat tour of Vietnam. His leadership in the air and support of ground forces earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the South Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.

On 17 May 1967, during a training exercise off the New South Wales coast, Vance's aircraft went into a dive and crashed into the sea. He died instantly. The following year, Margaret took their nineyear- old son, David, to Government House to accept Vance's Distinguished Flying Cross.

Despite his mistreatment as a prisoner of war in Korea, Vance did not tell his family of his suffering. In a letter to them, after 14 months as a prisoner, he simply wrote:

Just a few lines to let you know I am in good health and to let you know you are constantly in my thoughts ... Hoping this finds you all well and praying we will soon be together again. AWM PR01371

Male prisoners of war eating apples.

In the winter of 1952, a Chinese interpreter took a propaganda photograph of UN prisoners of war eating apples. AWM P00305.001

Propaganda is information that is intended to influence by misleading or misinforming. How might this photograph have been used as propaganda?
Before Vance’s mate Ron Guthrie left the camp, he stole this photograph. Why do you think he wanted this image?

A row of medals attached to ribbons.

Vance Drummond's medals include (left to right) the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Cross, British War Medal 1939–45, New Zealand War Service Medal, Korea Medal, United Nations Service Medal for Korea, Vietnam Medal, United States Air Medal, and South Vietnam Campaign Medal. The South Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star is mounted separately. AWM REL/13196.001–009; AWM REL/13196.010

Design your own medal to award to students in your school. What might it be awarded for? What colours and shapes would you use? Why?


Sydney, 1953. Informal group portrait of all the raaf pilots who were shot down and captured in Korea, after their liberation.

Six RAAF pilots were prisoners of war in Korea, including (left to right) Flight Lieutenant Gordon Harvey, Pilot Officer Bruce Thomson, Sergeant Don Pinkstone, Pilot Officer Vance Drummond, Flight Lieutenant John Hannan, and Flying Officer Ronald Guthrie. They all flew home to Sydney together. AWM P00305.005

Vance's story is just one of six RAAF prisoner of war stories from the Korean War. Research the story of one of the other men in this photograph. What happened to him?

Did you know?

Martin-Baker ejection seats were installed in Meteor aircraft to save aircrew in an emergency. The seat would be propelled from the aircraft by an explosive charge, taking the pilot with it. Once clear of the aircraft, a parachute would open to allow the crewman to float safely to the ground.

Male airmen gathered around a test aircrafts cockpit with a male pilot inside.

Squadron Leader Ken Andrews of Bronte, NSW prepares to try out the Martin-Baker ejection seat in a dummy Meteor cockpit while his fellow airmen look on.

Inspirational leadership: Warrant Officer Class 2 Rayene Simpson

Amid a downpour, the sound of gun fire rang out through the South Vietnamese jungle. Warrant Officer Ray Simpson and his men had fought hard against the Viet Cong, and it was time to get out. Ordering his men back, he covered their withdrawal with smoke grenades while carrying a wounded mate. Ray refused to leave until the last of his men was safely away.

Rayene Stewart Simpson, or Ray, was born in Sydney on 16 February 1926. Separated from his siblings when his mother disappeared in 1931, Ray was placed in an orphanage. Having left school aged 12, Ray was working as a labourer outside Taree, New South Wales when the Second World War began in 1939. Too young to enlist, he waited five years, joining the army just four weeks after his 18th birthday.

Ray fitted well into army life, and fought on Morotai, Borneo, and New Guinea during the Second World War. He rejoined the army in 1951, serving with 3RAR in Korea, and was promoted several times, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant. During a rest period in Japan, Ray met Sakai Shoko, whom he married on 16 January 1953, less than a month after their first meeting.

Ray served two years in Malaya (now Malaysia) during the Malayan Emergency then returned to Australia to join 1 SAS Company. Selected for the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), Ray provided advice on the training and operations of South Vietnamese armed forces and accompanied units on field operations. He completed three tours to Vietnam, his final lasting from 1967 to 1970.

A studio portrait of a male soldier in uniform.

Ray in uniform, August 1969. AWM LES/69/0544/VN

On 16 September 1964, during his second operational tour in Vietnam, Ray was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions against the Viet Cong. Despite suffering a serious leg wound, Ray demonstrated inspirational leadership following the loss of the unit's commander. After recovering from his wounds, Ray returned to Australia in 1966 and chose to be discharged. However, missing the army “mob” and Shoko, who was in Japan, he paid his own way back to Saigon and re-enlisted in 1967.

Two years later, while commanding the 232nd Mobile Strike Force Company during a search-and-clear operation in South Vietnam, Ray saw one of his platoons come under heavy fire. Despite the danger, he went ahead of his troops in an assault on the enemy position, attracting enemy fire towards himself. As the troops moved forward, Warrant Officer Mike Gill was fatally wounded. Ray raced to his side, picked him up and carried him to a position of safety. Returning to the action, he crawled within ten metres of the enemy position and hurled grenades. As night fell, Ray ordered his men to pull back, and picking up his wounded mate, threw smoke grenades to cover their withdrawal.

Vietnam 1962–75

Australia became involved in the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of communism in Asia. Australia, allied with America and South Vietnam, fought against the Communist North Vietnam. The country had been divided in two, with a Soviet-backed Communist government in the North, and a Western-backed government in the South.

From 1962 to 1975 over 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam. More than 500 died there and around 3,000 were wounded. A limited initial commitment of 30 military advisers – the AATTV – grew to a task force of more than 7,000 in 1968.

The Royal Australian Air Force committed three squadrons plus additional personnel; while the Royal Australian Navy provided transportation, helicopters, and naval gun fire support along the coast of Vietnam.

In 1975, three years after the Australian Government withdrew its servicemen and women from Vietnam, the Communist North succeeded in conquering South Vietnam.

A pair of world war one issue boots.

Black leather general purpose (GP) boot with cotton laces and twelve pairs of riveted eyelets. The boots are reinforced down the back of the leg and ankle and have rubber soles. The soles are marked 'DUNLOP MADE IN AUSTRALIA 8/5 '. Inside the left boot is the marking '8/5, 81 1 87 R.B. T.'. The right boot is missing its lace and has the markings on the inside of 'M1 27 R.B.T 8/5'. AWM REL31631

Vietnam. 1966-11-28. A soldier of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), gets ready to fire his M79 grenade launcher in a brief flurry of action during Operation Ingham.

In South Vietnam, Australians served in villages, rubber plantations, swamps, open fields, and dense jungle. AWM CUN/66/0943/VN

What do you think would have been the most challenging aspects of serving in Vietnam? How would conditions have been different in a village compared with the jungle?

The Distinguished Conduct Medal

The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) was created in 1854 and was awarded for distinguished conduct in the field. Initially only members of the army could be awarded the DCM, but from 1942 members of the navy and air force were eligible. The medal was discontinued in 1993.


A military medal attached to a red ribbon with a blue stripe.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal. Leslie was one of 19 Chinese- Australians decorated for bravery during the First World War. AWM REL/06428

Five days later, Ray's battalion again came under heavy fire, resulting in many casualties. To cover their evacuation, Ray went forward alone and, positioning himself between the enemy fire and the wounded men, held the enemy back, allowing his men to withdraw.

For these actions, Ray was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation for his award concluded: “Warrant Officer Simpson's repeated acts of personal bravery in this operation were an inspiration to all ... who served with him.”

Ray left the army for the final time in May 1970, three days after receiving his Victoria Cross. Returning to Tokyo with Shoko, Ray took up work as an administrative officer at the Australian Embassy. He died in October 1978, at just 52.

Ray's dedication to the army was matched only by his devotion to his wife. In an article published in 1969, Ray explained his three tours to Vietnam:

I keep extending service because of my Japanese wife, Shoko. She has to stay in Japan at the moment because her mother has a bad heart. So being up here [Vietnam] I get extension leave every time I decide to stay on. That way I can see her for 30 days.

A male soldier in uniform carrying a rifle while crossing a bridge over water.

Following the inspection of a partly built bunker, Ray crosses a makeshift bridge in the Mekong Delta, September 1969. AWM LES/69/0610/VN

Warrant Officer (WO) Ray Simpson, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), of Sydney, NSW, is lifted on a stretcher.

In September 1964, Ray, though severely wounded in action, refused to be evacuated until the position had been secured and all his men were safe. Loaded on board an Iroquois helicopter he was eventually flown to a nearby hospital. Ray spent eight months recovering from his wound. AWM P02432.003

What impact would technology, including helicopters, have had on the survival rate of wounded soldiers in Vietnam?

In September 1964, Ray, though severely wounded in action, refused to be evacuated until the position had been secured and all his men were safe. Loaded on board an Iroquois helicopter he was eventually flown to a nearby hospital. Ray spent eight months recovering from his wound.

What impact would technology, including helicopters, have had on the survival rate of wounded soldiers in Vietnam?

Painting of man in a green army uniform with 3 ribbon bars on the shirt and a beret on his head
Joshua Smith, Warrant Officer Class II Ray Simpson VC (1971, oil on hardboard, 56.8 x 50.4cm, AWM ART27748)

 How does Ray look in this painting? What sense do you get of him as a soldier?

A row of medals attached to ribbons.

Ray Simpson's medals include (left to right) the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Pacific Star, British War Medal 1939–45, Korea Medal, United Nations Service Medal for Korea, General Service Medal 1918–1962, General Service Medal 1962, Vietnam Medal, Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, and South Vietnam Campaign Medal. AWM REL/06323.001–012

A male soldier standing close to his wife.

Ray attended the ceremony to receive his Victoria Cross in May 1970 with his beloved wife, Shoko. AWM PEA/70/0203/EC

Did you know?

Three other Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the Vietnam War: Warrant Officer Keith Payne, Major Peter Badcoe, and Warrant Officer Kevin “Dasher” Wheatley. All three were, like Ray, members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. Both Badcoe and Wheatley were awarded the medal for actions in which they lost their lives. This means their award was given posthumously.

Courage and calm: Lieutenant Colonel Harold Jarvie

An explosion rang out over the harsh Afghan landscape. A young boy lay motionless on the ground. Before Captain Harold Jarvie could get to him, he had to cross a minefield filled with dangerous unexploded material. Harold had to get there – but how?

Born in the small Western Australian town of Southern Cross on 21 April 1966, Harold James Jarvie was the youngest of eight children. Growing up near the Swan River in Perth, Harry and his mates spent many hours swimming and jumping off the Guildford Road Bridge, often trying to splash tourists taking cruises up the river.

As a young man, Harry worked as a labourer and bank worker before joining the army in 1986. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1987 and was appointed to the Royal Australian Engineers.

In late 1992, after many engineering exercises and various command and training positions, Harry was posted as a technical adviser to the UN Mine Clearance Training Team (UNMCTT) in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the ten years of fighting that followed, had left the country littered with more than ten million mines and other dangerous unexploded materials. Several million Afghans had been displaced, unable to return home from nearby Pakistan and Iran because of the threat of mines.

With many thousands of lives already lost to mines in Afghanistan, the UNMCTT, under Operation Salaam (which means “peace”), had many roles. They monitored mine-affected areas, and trained civilians in mine awareness and the basic procedures of mine clearance. UNMCTT members grew beards and dressed in local robes to gain the trust and respect of the locals. They taught demining courses, accompanied locals on training missions and, in Harry's case, assessed demining methods and surveyed minefields for later clearance.

A group portrait of five men with facial hair standing together.

Like the locals, Harry (third from left) grew a beard and often dressed in local robes known as salwar kameez. Photograph courtesy of Harry Jarvie

Why would Harry and other UNMCTT members have dressed like this? 

A woolen beige cap.

An Afghani pakul cap. These caps were worn by members of UNMCTT during their service in Afghanistan. AWM REL/22019.004

Peacekeeping 1947–today

Australians have been involved in international peacekeeping for more than 65 years, since the first mission to Indonesia in 1947. Since then, they have been involved in more than 60 peacekeeping operations worldwide, many of which have been conducted by the United Nations (UN).

Between 1989 and 1993 Australia participated in a UN mission in Pakistan and Afghanistan training Afghan refugees to recognise and clear mines as they returned to their war-torn country. From 1991 the Australians operated in Afghanistan itself, planning and supervising demining operations.

More than 30,000 Australians have worked in peacekeeping operations all over the world. Since 1947, 14 Australians have died while serving as peacekeepers.

A garment worn on the upper arm.

Khaki cotton drill brassard with elastic strap adjustment for sleeve and 48 mm button hole to accept shoulder strap. On the upper section of the brassard is a green rectangular machine embroidered cotton patch. The patch has a gold border, and shows a jumping kangaroo above the word 'Australia'. The centre of the brassard has an 85 mm circular hand-embroidered cloth patch in green cotton fabric on a green felt backing. This badge is edged with a double row of gold bullion wire, and shows the words 'UNITED NATIONS'and 'OPERATION SALAM'in silver wire around a group of Arabic characters, also embroidered in silver wire.AWM REL/22020.003

A male soldier observing men digging in a road.

Observed by members of UNMCTT, local Afghans practise placing charges alongside mines to detonate them. AWM P01728.061

Why would they have been trained to do this? What could happen if they didn't detonate the mines?

Distinguished Service Cross

The Distinguished Service Cross is the highest decoration for distinguished service in the Australian military honours and awards system, above the Distinguished Service Medal and Commendation for Distinguished Service. All three decorations were introduced in 1991, replacing a number of Imperial decorations. The Distinguished Service Cross recognises leadership and command in military action.

A metal cross attached to a red and white striped ribbon.

Distinguished Service Cross.

During one survey mission near a minefield on 23 August 1993, Harry and his colleague, Lieutenant Colonel Greg McDowall, heard a mine explode. Told that a young Afghan boy had been badly injured, the pair hurried to the area. Following a local guide along a goat track through an uncleared minefield, they reached the boy and did their best to ease his pain. While Greg organised his evacuation to a nearby medical facility, Harry applied first aid and helped lift him onto a stretcher.

Sadly, the boy did not survive. For his actions Harry was awarded a Land Commander's Commendation, which stated: “I commend you for your courage in entering the unsurveyed lane through the minefield, and for your calm and competent handling of a critical first aid situation.”

When Harry left Afghanistan in late 1993, the mine clearance program was well established. It was able to continue on a local level, with the help of external advisers and former UNMCTT members.

After returning to Australia, Harry married Helen Rankin in October 1998. The pair moved to Queenscliff, Victoria, where Harry attended Command and Staff College. They had their first son in 2000.

Their second son was born a year later, while Harry was deployed to East Timor. For his command of the Engineer Component of 4RAR Battalion Group Harry was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service. He went on to serve in Iraq, where he organised the training of new local Security Forces and served with Headquarters Land Command Engineers, for which he was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross.

In 2007, Harry commanded Reconstruction Task Force 2 (RTF2), which helped build medical centres, schools, and bridges in southern Afghanistan, despite constant threats and violence from the Taliban. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership in action in 2008.

Today, Harry lives with his family in northern New South Wales, and still serves in the Army Reserve at the Army's Combat Training Centre.

In 2013, Harry spoke of his service in Afghanistan:

I often reflect on the tragedy that is Afghanistan, particularly the devastation that the landmines and other explosive hazards have inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan, and the one young boy I attempted to help, who I will always remember

Did you know?

Australia's honours system

Australia developed its own honours and awards system progressively from 1975. The National Medal, the Order of Australia, and Australian Bravery Decorations were introduced in 1975, while most Australian military honours and awards – including the Victoria Cross for Australia – were introduced from 1991. Before the introduction of a distinctive Australian system of honours and awards, Australians received recognition under the British Imperial honours and awards system.

White cotton mine awareness silk printed with a tan coloured mine with the serial number 'TC-6'.

To help maintain the safety of Afghan men and women returning to mine-affected areas in Afghanistan, UNMCTT issued Mine Awareness Packs showing different types of explosive materials. AWM REL25398.011

Blue bag printed with arabic type text and a drawing depicting one man restraining another from picking up an object, by pulling on his shirt tail.

Blue cotton drawstring bag containing 15 mine awareness silks. AWM REL25398.001

Risalpur, Pakistan. 1992-05-25. An Afghan instructor revising the Italian 1E? series of anti tank mines with Pakistani and Afghan mine clearing personnel.

At the UN demining training camp, large tents served as lecture theatres. Members of UNMCTT instructed Afghan locals in first aid and mine clearance procedures. AWM P01728.057

Exceptional courage: Corporal Mark Donaldson

Under machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, Trooper Mark Donaldson raced across open ground. A seriously wounded Afghan interpreter attached to his patrol had fallen from a vehicle in their convoy, and Mark was determined not to leave him behind.

Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson was born in Newcastle, New South Wales on 2 April 1979. He moved with his parents, Bernadette and Greg, and older brother, Brent, to the small country town of Dorrigo in north-western New South Wales, where he spent his childhood years. Growing up, Mark enjoyed sport and going on fishing trips. After finishing high school he began studying at an art college in Sydney, but left soon afterwards to take on labouring jobs, before working in the snow fields in Australia and the United States (US). Having lost both parents in his teenage years, Mark began to look for a job that would give him a sense of purpose. Like his father, who had served in the Vietnam War, Mark joined the army. It was June 2002 and he was 22 years old.

In recruit training, Mark, or “Dono” as he came to be known, quickly proved himself a capable soldier and gained awards for his physical training and for being the best shot. By November, Mark had decided that he wanted to join the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), an elite special operations unit of the Australian Army. After successfully completing the SASR Selection Course in 2004, Mark, who was now a married man, was posted to 3 Squadron SASR. Over the next five years, he deployed many times to serve in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

On 2 September 2008, during his second operational tour of Afghanistan, Mark became involved in heavy fighting in Uruzgan province. As the allied convoy was returning to base following a morning patrol, Mark and his teammates suddenly heard a “crack” – the convoy came under machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades began to explode around the vehicles. Moving quickly, Mark returned fire as he looked around for his mates. Seeing that some of them had been hit, he stepped out and drew enemy fire towards himself, and away from the wounded, allowing them to be moved to safety.

On patrol in Afghanistan Mark would carry up to 20 kilograms of equipment.

Outdoor portrait of Trooper Mark Donaldson VC.

On patrol in Afghanistan Mark would carry up to 20 kilograms of equipment. AWM P09587.001

Image courtesy the Department of Defence 20100520_MMT1_3337a Commonwealth of Australia Copyright

What sort of equipment do you think he would need to carry? Why?

Afghanistan 2001–ongoing

Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001, then US President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror”.

Australia's alliance with the US saw Australian military personnel join US forces in Afghanistan to combat terrorism, help stabilise the country, and prevent it becoming a training ground for terrorist organisations such as al Qaeda.

The war in Afghanistan is one of the longest wars Australians have been involved in. Forty Australians have been killed in action and more than 260 have been wounded while serving in Afghanistan. In December 2013, the Prime Minister announced that the last Australian troops had left Uruzgan province. However, in 2014 some 400 Australian troops remain in Afghanistan in training and support roles.

A military vest jacket.

Nylon webbing harness with pouches. The right front of the webbing has four pouches for grenades sewn vertically on the chest. Another pouch with a snap fastened cover is sewn next to it. On the waist is a large pocket secured by a Fastex clip. The left front has a pouch with two magazines on the chest and a further two magazine pockets at the waist. The pockets are sealed with velcro strips. A nylon cord with movable knots has been added to this panel and is used to count off ammunition. On each side of the webbing is a large pocket for water bottles. One bottle sits in an aluminium cup which fits over an aluminium stove base. These pouches are fastened with Fastex clips and straps. The top of each pouch has an opening with a velcro fastened flap. On these pockets are smaller pouches for holding magazines. The back panel of the webbing has a long pouch with a zip running around both the top and centre. The lid of this pouch has an opening covered by a velcro fastened flap. Stored in the webbing are 10 30-round magazines for an M-4 rifle and a cleaning kit. REL30513.001

A convoy returning from a "Log Run" (logistics run) from Patrol Base (PB) Wali to Kamp Holland through the Dasht (desert plain).

Mark was part of a convoy, like this one, returning to base, when they were ambushed. AWM P09831.093

It was only later, as the vehicles began to move off that Mark spotted the seriously wounded Afghan interpreter. With little thought for his own safety, Mark ran 80 metres to retrieve him under heavy gun fire. Back in the vehicles, Mark applied life-saving first aid. For these acts of bravery, Mark was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia. He was the first Australian in almost 40 years to receive a Victoria Cross. Part of his citation reads, “Donaldson's actions on this day displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril.”

Mark received his medal from the Governor-General at Government House, Canberra on 16 January 2009. His wife, Emma, his young daughter, some family and close friends from Dorrigo, and some of his SASR mates attended the ceremony. Upon receiving his award, Mark was given a salute by the then Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, as a mark of honour and respect. Soon afterwards, Mark lent his medals for display at the Australian War Memorial. Since 2009, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and Corporal Daniel Keighran have been awarded the Australian VC, and they too have lent their awards to the Memorial.

In 2010, Mark was promoted to corporal, and voted Young Australian of the Year for his exceptional courage and inspirational conduct since receiving the Victoria Cross for Australia. He has regularly supported charities that assist servicemen and women, and their families, who have been affected by war, including the Special Air Services Resources Fund, Legacy and Soldier On. Having mates who had been injured or had lost their lives on operations, and having been wounded on operations himself, Mark wanted to raise awareness of the sacrifices they and their families had made.

In a recent interview, Mark reflected on his Victoria Cross award:

One of the effects of the award that I'm very happy about is that I get a chance to speak to many young people, and encourage them to strive to excel at whatever they do. To be able to motivate and inspire Australian kids is pretty special.

Three male soldiers in uniform standing in a row with a man dressed in a suit with medals on his lapel.

Mark (left) at the Australian War Memorial on 17 April 2013. With him are Victoria Cross recipients (left to right) Keith Payne, Corporal Daniel Keighran, and Corporal Ben Roberts–Smith. AWM PAIU2013/053.11

Research the actions for which Keith Payne, Daniel Keighran, and Ben Roberts-Smith were awarded their Victoria Crosses. Why would they loan their awards to the Australian War Memorial?

Did you know?

The Victoria Cross for Australia

In 1991, Queen Elizabeth II introduced the Victoria Cross for Australia. Under the new Australian Honours and Awards system, Australians were no longer eligible for the British Imperial medal, the Victoria Cross, and needed their own version of the award. The medal itself is exactly the same and each award is still individually approved by the Queen.

Trooper Mark Donaldson was the first to receive the Victoria Cross for Australia in 2009.

A row of medals attached to ribbons.

Mark Donaldson's medals include (left to right) the Victoria Cross for Australia, Australian Active Service Medal with clasp, Afghanistan campaign medal, Australian Service Medal with clasp, Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal, Australian Defence Medal, and NATO Medal with clasp. AWM OL00596.001.

 Why is it important for charities to recognise and support the families of veterans and service personnel?

A male soldier in uniform standing next to a military vehicle.

Long range patrol vehicles, like this one on display at the Australian War Memorial, were used by members of the SASR during their service in Afghanistan. AWM PAIU2009/001.21

Compare Mark's actions which saw him awarded the Victoria Cross in 2009 with those of Neville Howse in 1900. Has the definition of bravery changed over the last 100 years? Why or why not?


Trained as an Explosive Detection Dog, Sarbi used her powerful sense of smell to sniff out Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other explosives in war zones. During her second tour to Afghanistan, Sarbi and her handler “Sergeant D” (for security reasons, his name has not been revealed) were involved in an ambush – the same action for which Mark Donaldson was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.

As bullets flew past them, “D” moved quickly around the vehicles, firing his weapon and avoiding enemy fire, when suddenly he heard a “boom”. Shrapnel from an exploding rocket-propelled grenade hit him in the back of the leg, breaking the metal clip attaching Sarbi to his body armour. Startled by a burst of machine-gun fire, Sarbi ran away. “D” searched for her for 10 days without success, and feared he might never see her again.

But 14 months later, in October 2009, Sarbi, now dirty and much heavier, was found by an American soldier and returned to the base in Tarin Kot. She was completely healthy and her presence back at the base lifted the morale of the servicemen and women immediately. Sarbi was reunited with “D” in Afghanistan in April 2010. The following year, she received the RSPCA Australian Purple Cross for exceptional courage and outstanding service to humans. Sarbi is now retired and living with “D” and his wife at their home.

A painting of dog sitting next to a male soldier on his haunches.

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, EDD Sarbi in Afghanistan (2010, oil on linen, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART94166)

Where did they serve overseas


allied When countries work together towards a common goal.
ambush A surprise attack made from a concealed position.
armistice A temporary suspension of fighting as agreed by the warring parties.
artillery Mounted guns that can be moveable or stationary; large-calibre weapons ranging from light to heavy pieces. Also refers to the units as a whole, such as “Royal Australian Artillery”.
Australian Women's Land An organisation established in 1942 to meet labour shortages in the farming sector in Australia
Army worked in rural areas and on farms.
AWM Australian War Memorial.
brassard A band, usually cloth, worn on the upper arm over the uniform. Used to temporarily denote unit, role, and/or rank.
casualties People listed as sick, wounded, missing or killed in action during war.
citation A brief official statement explaining why a medal was awarded, taken from a recommendation.
Communist A belief in Communism, which is a system of government based on the theory that all property belongs to the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.
convoy Vessels or vehicles travelling together, particularly for protection.
court martial A military court that tries people under military law.
demobilised To be taken out of active service.
discharged To be released from an obligation to serve.
displaced A person forced by war to leave their home.
Empire Air Training Scheme A program introduced in 1939 to train aircrews from nations of the British Commonwealth for service with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
gallant Courageous.
Gestapo The secret state police under the Nazi regime (1933–45).
Great Depression A period of worldwide extreme economic hardship and unemployment beginning after the stock market crash of 1929. Australia was most affected from 1929 to 1932, although full recovery took much longer.
IED Improvised Explosive Device. These devices are made from materials such as ammunition and explosives, or from chemicals and compounds. They are intended to destroy vehicles and kill, wound, or distract personnel, and are often hidden under or alongside roads, tracks, or paths.
ineligible Not entitled to be considered for a position or benefit.
infantry Soldiers or military units that are trained and equipped to fight on foot.
interrogated Thorough examination by questioning. Can be undertaken in an aggressive or forceful manner.
knighted To be awarded the title of “Sir” or “Dame” by a monarch in recognition of exemplary service.
labourer Someone who does physically demanding work, particularly outside, such as building.
London Gazette The official journal of record for the British government, which gives details of military awards.
MBE Member of the Order of the British Empire: a British honour given by the Queen.
Middle East A large geographical area bounded by the Black Sea in the north, the Red Sea in the south, the Iranian/Afghan frontier in the east, and the Egyptian/Libyan border in the west.
MiG-15 A high-performance, Soviet-built jet fighter used particularly during the Korean War.
mounted units Soldiers who ride to battle on horseback, such as cavalry or mounted infantry.
Nazi A member of the Nazi Party in Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. Nazism was a political ideology which imposed an oppressive and racist belief system on Germany that prevailed from 1933 to the end of the Second World War in 1945.
no–man's–land The unoccupied area of land between two opposing armies.
Order of Australia In the Australian Honours system the Order of Australia recognises the outstanding contribution of Australians.
polio A severe viral disease which can cause paralysis.
posthumously After death.
  Private Record, held as part of the Australian War Memorial's collection, usually taking the form of a letter, postcard, or diary.
Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve A military nursing service established in 1902 to provide nursing sisters to British Army hospitals.
RAR Royal Australian Regiment: the regiment to which Australian battalions have belonged since 1948.
recruitment The act of encouraging people to enlist in the military in times of peace or war.
REL Shortened form of “relic”, denoting an object from the Australian War Memorial's collection.
Repatriation The process of returning people to their home country.
Resistance movement A militant group of volunteer civilians who resisted the German occupation of Europe during the Second World War.
SAS Special Air Service. A special forces unit highly trained for combat, intelligence gathering and secret operations.
shrapnel Fragments of a bomb, shell, grenade, or landmine etc.
Soviet Referring to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a collection of countries with shared Communist beliefs, which existed from 1922 until 1991.
stalemate A situation between two opposing groups where further action or progress is extremely difficult or impossible.
US Presidential Unit Citation Established in 1942, awarded to units within the armed forces of the United States, or allied countries, for bravery in action against the enemy.
valour Exceptional bravery or courage.
Viet Cong A Communist-led guerrilla force which, supported by North Vietnam, fought to overthrow the South Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War.
Voluntary Aid Detachment A voluntary organisation that provided field nursing services, particularly in hospitals, during the First and Second World Wars.
war bonds A bond sold by the government to citizens within their country to help finance their military operations during wartime.
Western Front The central area of operations for Allied forces in Western Europe during the First World War. It ran from the English Channel in Belgium through France to Belfort on the Swiss border, a distance of some 750 kilometres.
wings A badge worn by a pilot which shows that they are qualified to fly an aircraft. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force who have other jobs, such as observers or navigators, wear a badge with only one wing.
Street sign constructed from two timber boards, bevelled on exterior edges and supported by batons at the reverse.

The sign 'Roo de Kanga'is an example of the Australian soldiers'sense of humour, transforming the word Kangaroo into a French sounding name (as the word 'street'is called a 'rue'in French). AWM RELAWM00969.

A studio portrait of a smiling male military officer in uniform.

Lieutenant Commander Leon Verdi Goldsworthy was the most highly decorated Australian naval officer of the Second World War. Leon was a mine disposal expert who served in both Europe and the Pacific, and was awarded the George Cross, George Medal, and Distinguished Service Cross for his courage and valour in defusing mines under fire. AWM 081383

To learn more about Leon Goldsworthy look out for the Audacity ePub, available from iTunes and Google Play

Victoria Cross recipients “are linked by a golden thread of extraordinary courage ... Beyond this gallant company of brave men there is a multitude who have served their country well in war. Some of them have performed unrecorded deeds of supreme merit for which they have no reward”.
Queen Elizabeth II, 1956 (Quoted in Lionel Wigmore & Bruce Harding, They dared mightily, Canberra, 1963)


Permission is given by the Commonwealth for this publication to be copied royalty free within Australia solely for educational purposes. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced for commercial purposes.


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