Commonwealth & World

2017 World War I commemorations continue

Australia Post has released the fourth issue in its five-year programme marking Australia’s involvement in the key events of World War I. The five $1 stamps in this lastest set, issued on 18 April, focus on themes from the war in 2017.

The Australian Flying Corps entered the skies above the Western Front in late 1917. The corps had its origins when Australia’s only military aviation base, the Central Flying School, was equipped with two flying instructors and five training aircraft in 1914. It went on to become the only British dominion to set up a flying corps in World War I. While its No 1 Squadron went to the middle east, Squadrons 2, 3 and 4 arrived in England from December 2016 and were sent to the front in France after eight months training. The photograph used for the stamp, taken by Oswald Hillam Coulson, shows two Bristol Fighters of the Corps in flight.

The Third Battle of Ypres was an attempt to break through the German defences enclosing the Ypres salient (a bulge in the British front line) and reach the Belgian coast. Lasting from July until November 1917, with Australian infantry joining the fighting in September, this offensive would become known as the Battle of Passchendaele. As the weather turned wet and the drainage system of the lowlands was damaged, conditions for the men became wretched, with thick mud clogging guns and immobilising tanks. Heavy losses were felt on both sides – in eight weeks of fighting Australian forces incurred 38,000 casualties. The offensive ended with the capture of Passchendaele village, but this merely widened the Ypres salient by a few kilometres. The photograph on the stamp was taken by celebrated photographer Frank Hurley.

The Australian home front continued to support the troops throughout 1917. The next stamp shows women Red Cross volunteers in the Ballroom at Federal Government House, Melbourne, sorting and packing items to be sent to soldiers. Also shown is an Australian Red Cross Christmas box from 1917. 50,000 of these boxes were distributed in 1917 across hospitals, casualty clearing stations and command depots in France and Great Britain. The boxes were usually packed in Australia and contained a pipe, tobacco, cigarettes, chocolate, playing cards, match-box, handkerchief and a greetings card. Unfortunately, a strike of waterside and railway workers meant there were long delays in transporting the 1917 boxes overseas. Therefore, the organisation arranged for 30,000 boxes to be packed and distributed from London; these boxes lacked the Australian native flowers decoration.

The Sinai-Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire continued in 1917. After a withdrawal from Gallipoli, a reorganisation of the ANZAC forces saw the formation of the ANZAC Mounted Division, which included three brigades of the Australian Light Horse. Their hat was topped with an emu plume jokingly called ‘kangaroo feathers’. After securing the Suez Canal and fighting at Romani, in 1917 the Mounted Division advanced into Palestine where they fought at Gaza, Beersheba and Jerusalem. The photograph used on this stamp is another taken by Frank Hurley and shows the 2nd Light Horse Brigade passing over sand hills at Esdud on the Philistine Plain.

The final stamp shows war correspondent Charles Bean. Although he had a non-combatant role, Bean played a vital part in Australia’s war effort. He left for war in November 1914 with the first contingent of the Australian Imperial Force. From then on, the war would dominate his life. As well as writing dispatches from the front during the war, afterwards he wrote the multi-volume official history of Australia’s part in the war, commenced Australia’s WWI collection, and conceived the Australian War Memorial as a place to house the country’s national military heritage. The photograph on the stamp was taken by Herbert Baldwin on 26 February 1917 and shows Bean watching the Australian advance near Martinpuich, France.

To find out more, see the latest GSM.

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