Written by Norman Cramp, Director of Darwin Military Museum.
Between 1am and 2am on Sunday 24th June 2018, fire broke out and tore through the Darwin Returned and Services League (RSL) offices and club in Cavenagh Street, Darwin. The fire took hold of the upper storey of the building with devastating effect and by the time the fire was under control and finally extinguished, the upper section of the RSL was totally destroyed.
The Director of the Darwin Military Museum was notified of the fire and the anticipated damage at approximately 7:30am on Sunday 24th, at which time all/any assistance the Museum (DMM), and its parent company the Royal Australian Artillery Association NT (RAAA-NT), could lend would be forthcoming. Discussions were held regarding the form of the assistance and it was agreed that one of the most important matters was the rescue and, where necessary, refurbishment of the various artefacts on display in the lower section of the building and in the office area.
On Thursday 19th July, the call finally came advising the DMM Director that access had been approved for the purpose of removing whatever items were considered salvageable and to commence the general clean up. On Friday 20th, DMM staff attended site to meet with the RSL President, Mr. Bob Shewring, and to agree upon, and remove, those items that the RSL wished to have secured and maintained. In all, approximately 50 items were relocated to the DMM at East Point Darwin following which DMM volunteers commenced cleaning the items.
Some of the items relocated included; timber models of WW2 and more modern military aircraft, timber models of various firearms, WW2 helmets (Australian and Japanese), an Australian WW2 gas mask, a WW1 bayonet, flags, a flag stand, the wreath laid at the Cenotaph by the Prince of Wales on this recent visit to Darwin, a WW2 military issue shoulder bag, WW2 field telephones, ammunition boxes, a Gladstone bag and an artillery shell found at Gallipoli in 1919 and much, much more.
A ‘Gladstone bag’ is a small portmanteau-type leather suitcase that incorporated a rigid frame and often had two separate sections within. The bag was named after the four times former British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898). The Gladstone bag first appeared in the mid-1800s and was the male preferred carry all (and ‘fashion item’) until the late 1960s.
Another bag recovered from the fire-damaged building and restored was a WW2 issue, canvas shoulder bag shown below. The bag was badly water and mould damaged but has been restored to at least a presentable state.
One of the most significant recoveries, in our view at least, was the 8” artillery shell casing found at the Dardanelles in 1919.
As the DMM director said when interviewed by Channel 9 television on Friday 20th July, ‘The RSL and the Darwin Military Museum have been friends for nearly 50 years and in true Australian tradition when a friend is in a bit of strive your mates lend a hand’. That is what the DMM is doing!
Darwin Military Museum
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Click on Address: LOT 5434 Alec Fong Lim Dr, East Point NT 0820
Darwin Military Museum