MV Blog


Diggers in Birmingham

by Emily Woolley
Publish date
30 November 2012
Comments (2)

Emily is a third-year History of Art student at the University of Birmingham. She worked at MV after winning a Global Challenge award which gives students opportunities to work overseas.

In August and September I spent six weeks in Museum Victoria's Humanities Department helping to plan for the Centenary of World War I exhibition, which will be held at the museum in 2014. My main focus was on a collection of magazines named Aussie published for soldiers during and after WWI.

At the end of my placement I came away eager to contribute more, however small, and link up Melbourne Museum's WWI centenary commemorations with those that will happen in the Birmingham. I set out to find any connections between Australia and the University of Birmingham relating to WWI.

Australian and New Zealand soldiers came to Birmingham in 1914 to be treated at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall, then called the 1st Southern General Hospital (and it is where I will be graduating next summer). Looking through the university’s collections, I came across an embroidered quilt that was produced by convalescing soldiers. Made up of nine panels, it includes an Australian panel depicting a crown with ‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’ written on a scroll underneath and a New Zealand panel featuring an intricate fern with ‘NZ’ over the top.

white stitching on cloth Australian Servicemen embroidery detail on Matron Kathleen Lloyd's linen cloth.
Source: BIRRC-H0013, Research & Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham

stitched fern pattern on cloth New Zealand Regiment embroidery detail embroidery detail on Matron Kathleen Lloyd's linen cloth.
Source: BIRRC-H0013, Research & Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham

I also found photos at the Birmingham Archives and Heritage collections, with wounded soldiers from Australia and Scotland posing with nurses in the grounds of the hospital. Museum Victoria also holds many photographs taken and postcards purchased by soldiers from their time in England during WWI.

group of soldiers Australian soldiers with nurses at the 1st Southern General Hospital, now the University of Birmingham's Great Hall.
Source: Birmingham Archives & Heritage: Misc Photos/WW1/Hospitals/1st Southern Gen (89/1863)

In addition, in the university’s collections there is an interesting article in The Mermaid magazine, entitled A Trip to Gallipoli’ by Percival M. Chadwick. He was a Civil Engineering Lecturer at the University of Birmingham who left in 1915 to go and fight in Gallipoli for twelve months, only to return to Birmingham again to be treated at the university in the 1st Southern General Hospital. He was attached to the New Zealand Engineers working with Australian and New Zealand Infantry and Cavalry regiments including a Maori contingent. He states:

The officers with whom I worked gave me a homely welcome, and I speedily felt quite at ease among them.

I could reiterate what Percival M. Chadwick said about Australians, about my colleagues at Melbourne Museum. It was a pleasure working there and one of the most enjoyable work experiences I have had. I very much look forward to seeing what Melbourne Museum puts on in its centenary exhibition in 2014 and I hope it is a success for everyone.


Percival M. Chadwick, R.E, ‘A Trip to Gallipoli’, The Mermaid, issue 13, p121, 1916-17, University of Birmingham Research and Cultural collections.


University of Birmingham collections

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.