Continuing from part one of the highlights of the Australian War Memorial...
In the same hall is G for George, a World War 2 Lancaster bomber that saw and survived 90 combat missions over Europe – most did not manage ten. With a creative use of light, sound and film, G for George is the centrepiece of a short multimedia presentation that gives an impression of the experiences and discomfort that townsfolk on both sides must have felt during bombing missions. There has been some controversy over the use of such modern means to capture the feelings and mood of the time but I personally enjoyed the display believing that it adds to the reality of the time. Photos of the airmen, most barely out of school forever captures the horrors of war and the demands that the world do a better job in avoiding this approach to national conflict.
Using a similar multimedia approach, an Iriquois helicopter packed with troops enact an assault and a medical evacuation in Vietnam, one of 100s of missions flown by this actual helicopter. Strong fans rustle the thick grass and emulate the rotor blades as troops dive out before the chopper has even landed.
Off on another wing of the memorial, the largest display has visitors walking the bridge of the HMAS Brisbane. Serving in Vietnam and the first Iraqi conflict, the excellent display captures radio transmissions as orders are issued and obeyed. Somewhat eerily, the reflections of the young naval personnel are reflected in the ship’s windows, the reddish and green lights of the metres and radars providing the only lighting on deck.
Uplifting spirits is the central room exhibiting a gallery of around 60 of the 97 Victoria Crosses (the largest public display of such medals) won by Australians, the highest individual award available to a British or Commonwealth member of the armed forces for exceptional individual valour and conspicuous bravery “in the face of the enemy”. Most striking are the ordinary lives associated with such men, most barely in their twenties who have won these medals with a plain crimson ribbon and dark bronze cross – among them boilermakers, railway workers, carpenters, farmhands and blacksmiths. While many were awarded posthumously, others returned to normal civilian life, most around them unaware of their most prestigious award.
Next to the Hall of Valour is what I consider the memorial’s the most moving single display. In a darkened room to the faint music of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, is the haunting Menin Gate at Midnight. Reputedly painted in one sitting by a mournful Will Longfellow, the painting captures the famed gates that tens of thousands of soldiers passed heading to the Western Front. Today, the walls of the gate list 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave, only a small percentage of the quarter of a million lives lost in this area of battle during World War One. The painting eerily captures the artist’s vision of thousands of spirits of the dead rising and marching towards the battlefields.
The highlights of the Australian War Memorial continues to its final chapter.