There were no comfort breaks for Major Steve Muir on a flight from Perth to Sydney with a collection of Victoria Crosses in his possession.
CAPTION: Corporal Stacey Kitcher from Army History Unit places a Victoria Cross and medal set into the display case at the Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton. Story and photos by Corporal Melina Young.
The precious cargo made it through airport security without any interrogation, but the museum manager was prepared to be questioned.
“Most people don’t recognise what they are, so when they saw them on the scanner, they either didn’t realise, or they probably thought they were replicas,” Major Muir said.
“Every VC is accurately tracked so you can’t sell them even if you stole them.”
The four sets of medals were transferred from the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia to the airport under military police escort and completed their journey at the Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton.
Along with three VCs sourced from the Australian Army Museum of NSW, they were the centrepiece of an exhibition boasting the largest Australian display of VCs outside the Australian War Memorial.
The exhibit also featured photographs and stories on the history of each award and the actions in which they were earned.
CAPTION: A collection of Victoria Crosses sourced from the Australian Army Museum of West Australia and Australian Army Museum of New South Wales on display at the Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton
A select few had the opportunity for a close, gloved hands-on look at the VCs and medal sets before they were placed inside a sealed display cabinet.
Of the seven VCs on show, four belonged to Australian soldiers – Privates Martin O’Meara from World War 1, Percy Gratwick and Lesie Starcevich from World War 2, and Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell who, at just 22, became the second most highly decorated Australian from World War 1.
The others belonged to British soldiers Lieutenant Lucien Chase, who fought in the second Afghan War, Henry Jones, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour while a lieutenant with the 7th Royal Fusiliers at the Siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War, and Ensign Alfred Heathcote, who fought in the Siege of Delhi.
Paul Mitrovich, from the Australian Army History Unit, said it was a privilege to tell their stories and illuminate experiences behind the medals.
“The Victoria Cross really is symbolic of the individual worth of a soldier,” Mr Mitrovich said.
“When the cross was first awarded after the Crimean War it was unique, and still is in the sense that it showed the egalitarianism of valour, and I suppose to a modern generation of soldiers it shows the burden of close combat.
“This infantry corps, unlike other corps, has the privilege and the burden of earning the most Victoria Crosses in the Army and it will probably always be that way.”
Head of the history unit Tim Gellel hoped the exhibition shifted thinking about the VC away from being an intangible concept – something most people only read about – to the very tangible experience of seeing the medals and meeting a recipient.
“Trainees from the School of Infantry have gone on to do absolutely amazing things on the battlefield,” he said.
“You just don’t know; there could be someone sitting next to you in your class who could be doing something similar in the near future.”
Corporal Mark Donaldson, VC, who was a special guest at the event, said he felt overwhelmed to be surrounded by names like Maxwell and O’Meara – the men he’d read about since receiving his own medal.
“Hearing about the characters that go with the medal was huge and I think it’s really great that they could be here on display for the next generation to be able to see, touch and hear about,” Corporal Donaldson said.
“What is actually special and personal about the award is it brings life to an individual, a team, or a moment in history, in particular infantry history, and these stories can be passed on and shared for that next generation.”
The medals were on display from October 20-22 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Infantry corps, the 50th anniversary of the School of Infrantry being located at Singleton and the 25th anniversary of the Australian Army History Unit.
CAPTION: School of Infantry students view the collection of Victoria Crosses at the Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton.