Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Broadmeadows Camp, a city of tents

Australian Expeditionary Force at Broadmeadows. A city of tents. From a stereographic slide by Geo. Rose. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

This amazingly detailed photograph brings to life the tent city at Broadmeadows. In the right of the foreground is a soldier in a slouch hat, arms crossed, gazing directly at the photographer. I’d love to know what he is thinking! Behind him are two soldiers. The one on the left has a rifle slung over his shoulder, tin mug in one hand and a document, which he is reading, in the other. I can’t help wondering what is in the document. To his right is another soldier wearing a cap with chin strap. Each man has on different headwear, but I don’t have the expertise to know what the different hats mean, if anything. Maybe someone out there can help?

To this group’s left is a group of three civilians. The man (back to photographer) is wearing a black suit and bowler hat and holds an umbrella in his hands which are clasped behind his back. He’s in conversation with two women, one of whom is glancing over her shoulder in the direction of the photographer, although she seems to have other things on her mind. 

The figures are all casting longish shadows, so I’m guessing that it’s reasonably late in the afternoon. From the way the trees are bending in the background of the photo, we know that it is a blustery day, but there are no overcoats and the women are dressed in between seasons outfits, so my guess is that the image was taken in Spring, perhaps at the end of the long march made by the first contingent from the city through Royal Park and Coburg to Broadmeadows in late August 1914.

To the left of the three civilians are two lots of rifles stacked in threes and some very new looking blankets. In the far left is a soldier lying back on the ground, propped up on one arm near another soldier who is looking at the camera, a young woman (or so it seems) examining an object she is holding in both hands and another woman who is taking a peek inside the tent. (She's a bit too dark to make out in this photo.)

Behind the figures to the right of the foreground is a line of soldiers posing casually for the camera. One is reading a newspaper, a group of three have their arms around each other’s shoulders and further along one man is leaning on another’s shoulder. There is a boy wearing a slouched hat towards the middle of the group and I wonder whether he served in the war at a later time, and if he did, whether he came home again.

We know that most of these men were destined to fight on the Gallipoli Peninsula and that many of them died or were wounded there. We also know that some of them went on to die on the Western Front. As I look at them here, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness, knowing something they don’t know yet: the war won’t be over by Christmas and there are terrible times ahead.

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