The Australian War Memorial
Dernière mise à jour : 12 janv. 2022
On Day 1 of our roadtrip, we venture into Canberra, Capital city of Australia, home of Parliament, it is also where the country honours its fighters.
Mr Bean and the origin of History
Captain Charles Edwin Woodrow (CEW) Bean was born in New South Wales in 1879, but brought up in England and studied classics and law at Oxford. He eventually got interested in journalism and became official correspondent to the Australian Imperial Forces. On April 25th 1915, he landed at Gallipoli (Turkey, see post on Holbrook's submarine), where he would make his mark as a war correpondant. At the end of the war, he would return to Gallipoli, leading a historical mission, before returning home to Australia to write a history of the Australian forces in WW1.
During his time in Europe, he already conceived the idea of a place to honour and remember the brave young individuals who fought in the War.
"Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made". C.E.W. Bean
It is with this vision from the trenches of Pozières (France) that the Australian War Memorial (AWM) came to life. Initially thought as a remembrance place of WW1 casualties, its construction was delayed until 1939, by which time it became clear that military history would unfortunately have more events to remember. It finally opened in 1941. A small pavillion at the entrance presents the construction's history and future, as building still continues to this day. We spent 15 minutes there waiting for our entrance time, and it was time well-spent (out of the sun). It gave us a better understanding of the long timeline around the AWM.
Plan your visit and take your time
The AWM is a big and very rich exhibition. It is fascinating for kids and adults alike. Some key points:
it is free (parking underground as well).
book ahead to get your ticket and entry time.
cameras are allowed.
the shelves of the shop's library are decked out.
Yes, there will be guns and other not-so-cool stuff, when one thinks of the big picture.
We spent almost 2 hours (we did not have more time, but that is also the allowance you get), and we skipped sooo many panels, maps, video and audio information. Actually we did not even take the audio guide. We felt like going with the (kids') flow. The entrance takes you into the Aircraft Hall, where various fighter planes of WW2 are hanging from the (high) ceiling): a real Japanese Mitsubishi "Zero", a P-51 Mustang, a MiG 15 from post WW2, etc.
We then moved to the WW1 wing, with multiple full 3D maps and interactive screens explaining some of the key battles in which Australian troops were involved. A large section is dedicating to the events at Gallipoli, of high significance to the Australians to this day.
The WW2 wing also presents a large collection of objects, weapons, uniforms and vehicles. But above all, there are countless stories of what happenened in and around the war.
The Central part - the Hall of Memory
The core of the AWM is the shrine of the Unknown Soldier, where the tomb of one fallen soldier embodies all the ones who sacrificed for something bigger than them.
I must admit that, whilst not being particularly attracted by many aspects of military celebration, the construction of the AWM leads to an almost climactic experience in this hall, sitting at the top of a beautiful courtyard.
What the AWM experience was to us
The four of us all had our personal perception and interest in the visit. The kids were thrilled and engaged throughout. Ok, they are 2 boys of 9 and 10 in the everlasting "gun-phase" of their life... But here is what they had to say:
Stanley: "it was much more impressive than I thought, because there were a lot more objects than I expected. All the memorabilia found in the wars, etc. I thought it was more a museum than a place to just remember the soldiers. I particularly liked seeing the uniforms, the maps. I took photos of guns and cannons, and the explanation of how things function, the mechanics of it all, was fascinating. It was enjoyable and there was so much to see".
Miles: "it was very interesting, a lot more stuff than I expected, I liked seeing how the guns were made. Nice to see what the old uniforms looked like, and how the Australian soldiers were dressed. I liked the planes a lot, especially one without propellers like the Russian MiG. I did not know they had planes that could fly like this at that time. I learnt about how the Germans and Italians were united at the start of the war. It was very well presented in the separate galleries of WW1 and 2, and I loved the architecture and organization of the various rooms. About the wars, I do not really understand what the point is. We did not have the time to see everything, and I would love to go back to see more".
Melissa: It was my first visit. The sentence in my mind is: "Lest we forget"...the courage and commitment of these young people for something over which they had no control. It gives you a greater understanding of their sacrifices. Fabulous presentation of the memorabilia, with a plethora of information, hard to filter and process. Definitely spend some time at the Unknown Soldier's Hall of Memory and reflect on the four pillars: wood, marble, metal and glass, which represent air (spirit and souls of the dead), earth (permanence and endurance), water (the flow of change and transfiguration and the souls of the living) and fire (energy and passion, patriotism and bravery), respectively".
Boris: it is always conflicting to visit a place where war and death is commemorated. But I guess it is part of our History and we should not ignore, nor forget the terrible events that happened in the past. Personally, it gave me an interesting perspective on the Great Wars, as seen and reported from a far-away part of the World. A perspective that we were never taught at school in Switzerland. The AWM is very well done and a real treasure trove for the curious ones.
Bottom line, if you visit Canberra on a trip, you should not miss the AWM and make sure you book your visit ahead.