Darwin war history
Written by Norman Cramp, Director of Darwin Military Museum.
I'm pleased to introduce you to ‘Private Havachatt’ (SERN 6723, 9th Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Force), who arrived at the Darwin Military Museum recently after returning from the Western Front. His task there was to deliver water to his mates serving on the front lines and to do this he dragged the water tank, alongside which he stands, from the rear echelons.
The tank Havachatt transported to the front was manufactured by John Furphy of Shepparton, Victoria. An experienced blacksmith and wheelwright, Furphy manufactured the tank by shrinking an iron band around the body of the tank and the end castings to produce a water-tight seal.
In the late 1800s, Furphy water tank and cart arrangements were common features in Australian towns and camps that had no reticulated water supply. Following the outbreak of the Great War hundreds of ‘Furphy tanks’ were shipped overseas by the Australian government to deliver water to the front line or rear echelon areas that lacked suitable, or adequate, water supplies. As you would imagine, the soldiers who drove the carts and delivered the water were a source of gossip and ‘news’ as they had come from the rear echelons and had heard all the news of what was going on and what was going to happen!
As the soldier moved from camp to camp to deliver the precious load, the ‘news’ he carried spread accordingly. Often some (most) of the information (news) that was delivered at the Furphy tank was wrong, hence, the term ‘that’s a Furphy’ became the common expression regarding information of doubtful truth. One can only wonder what ‘news’ Private Havachatt is delivering today?
John Furphy was a religious man with high ideals. He added the words ‘Good, better best – never let it rest – till your good is better – and your better best’ to the tank end plates to encourage his customers, and members of the public, to strive for the very best in everything. In 1920, his son William added the Pitman shorthand message that read, ‘Water is the gift of God, but beer is a concoction of the devil, don’t drink beer’. He later changed the wording to read, ‘Water is the gift of God, but beer and whiskey are the concoctions of the devil, so have a drink of water’.
The tanks remained popular throughout WW2, but were mounted on trucks rather than being horse-drawn.
Darwin Military Museum
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Darwin Military Museum