From the Shores of Gallipoli to the New Museum

Article | Updated 3 months ago

In 2014, as Australia prepared for the Centenary of Service of the First World War, local historian Wendy Lugg made a remarkable discovery that started a campaign to bring this Red Cross Flag home to Western Australia.

Her research and a community-led campaign means this historically significant flag can go on display in the New Museum in 2020. It is being prepared for display in the Tianqi Lithium Australia Connections Gallery and will help to share the stories and experiences of local troops who served in the First World War and how those experiences connect Western Australia to global events.

The flag belonged to the 3rd Field Ambulance C Section, one of the first units ashore at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915.

The unit was led by Captain Douglas McWhae from Maylands with many of the personnel from Western Australia. Among them was one of Australia’s most well-known Anzacs, Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, made famous by stories of “Simpson and his donkey.”

The 3rd Field Ambulance C Section was responsible for casualty evacuation and manning the regimental aid posts. Just after dawn, the day of the landing, the medics and stretcher bearers of C Section scrambled ashore and raced across the sand to take cover. Their first encounter at Gallipoli was and savage machine-gun and rifle fire and hundreds of wounded men.

The unit quickly established a make-shift medical post and their flag was raised by flagbearer Private A.D. Kemp. It was the first documented Red Cross flag on the beach.

3rd Field Ambulance C Section.
Image copyright State Library of WA

A long journey

Throughout the First World War, Kemp looked after C Section’s Red Cross flag.  He eventually brought it back to Australia, and in 1918 sent it to his Captain, Douglas McWhae, as a memento of the war.

Captain McWhae kept the flag for many years. He was a keen swimmer and a regular at Beatty Park Swimming complex in North Perth. The flag was used at the complex for veteran gatherings.

In 1983 a young man was asked to clear out the roof space at Beatty Park. Upon finding the flag he asked if he could keep it. Not realising its significance, he was granted permission and the flag went with him when he immigrated to Canada. 

The flag disappeared for decades but resurfaced in 2014 and was purchased by Canadian military collector, Doug Buhler. Mr Buhler recognised the significance of the flag and organised for its story to be shared online.  

The flag comes home

By chance, Wendy Lugg from the Royal Western Australian Historical Society found the article while researching Captain McWhae for a display about Western Australians serving at Gallipoli. 

She contacted Mr Buhler to enquire about loaning the flag for a display during the Centenary of Service. Mr Buhler agreed to loan it to the Historical Society in 2015, with the view to sending the flag home to WA if funds were raised to cover the initial purchase cost.

Wendy Lugg and Doug Buhler holding the Red Cross Flag.
Image copyright Wendy Lugg, Royal Historical Society WA

A community-led campaign was organised by Museums Australia (WA) and the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. The WA Museum also contributed funds to the campaign.  Thanks to donations from local organisations and private donors, the flag was finally brought home and was officially accessioned into the State Collection on Remembrance Day 2016.

The 3rd Field Ambulance C Section Red Cross Flag is now being carefully prepared for display in New Museum.

Special thanks to:

  • Museums Australia (WA)
  • the Royal Western Australian Historical Society; and
  • Red Cross Flag donors including the Australian Cultural Fund, the Roscoe family, Cadoux Primary School and community, and private donors.