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WWI RAN ditty box: W. J. McGuire: HMAS AUSTRALIA

Date: c 1914 - 1918
Dimensions:
Overall: 150 x 303 x 212 mm
Medium: Wood, metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Ditty box
Object No: 00051363
Related Place:Glasgow, North Sea,

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    Description
    A ditty box was part of a sailor’s kit designed to hold his personal possessions including letters, photographs, needle and thread etc. They were usually fairly plain and made from wood with a metal name plate affixed to the front. Most had a tray inside with various sized compartments for smaller objects that could be lifted out. Once adequate kit lockers were provided, ditty boxes were no longer used.

    The name plate on this box reads as 'W. J. McGuire' and hand carved into the front is 'HMAS AUSTRALIA', the nation's first flagship and battle cruiser which served in World War I. It is likely this box belonged to William Joseph McGuire who entered the RAN on 22 March 1916.
    SignificanceThis ditty box relates to the HMAS AUSTRALIA, the nation's first flagship, a battle cruiser, which signalled the arrival of the newly appointed Royal Australian Navy as an independent naval force. It is a personal possession from a serving RAN officer during World War I and the hand carvings onto the exterior of the box denote the importance of the vessel to its crew.
    HistoryThe name plate on this box reads as 'W. J. McGuire' and hand carved into the front is 'HMAS AUSTRALIA'. Dating from World War I, it is likely this box belonged to William Joseph McGuire who entered the RAN on 22 March 1916. His date of birth is stated on his record as 4 April 1901 and he was born in Ararat, Victoria. He served on the HMAS AUSTRALIA from 14 June 1917 to 1 September 1919. Unusually there are various hand carvings decorating the exterior of the box and if there was once a lift out tray it is no longer with the box.

    HMAS AUSTRALIA was the nation's first flagship, a battle cruiser, and signalled the arrival of the newly appointed Royal Australian Navy as an independent naval force. It was built by John Brown & Co Ltd in Glasgow, Scotland and arrived in Australia on 4 October 1913, entering Sydney Harbour with the new fleet unit including cruisers MELBOURNE, SYDNEY and ENCOUNTER, and destroyers WARREGO, PARRAMATTA and YARRA. The ship's badge featured the Federation Star overlaid by a naval crown with the motto 'Endeavour'. The stars hand carved into the lid of the box reflect this Federation Star.

    At the outbreak of World War I the ships of the Australian Fleet patrolled the Pacific waters against the German East Asiatic Squadron, a German naval fleet that had been stationed in the area since the 1870s. The new fleet and its allies vastly outnumbered and outgunned the German Fleet, successfully holding off attacks from the squadron and capturing some of its vessels.

    From early 1915 until the end of the war AUSTRALIA served as flagship in the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron under British command with sister ships HMS NEW ZEALAND and HMS INDEFATIGABLE, patrolling the North Sea. Following a collision with HMS NEW ZEALAND in April 1916, AUSTRALIA was undergoing repairs during the Battle of Jutland. A second collision occurred, this time with HMS REPULSE, on 12 December 1917 with repairs taking three weeks.

    HMAS AUSTRALIA continued patrolling the North Sea for the duration of the war. In the final year of the war the vessel was also the first to ever successfully launch small aircraft, a Sopwith Strutter, from a platform affixed to one of the 12 inch gun turrets. Following this success nearly all British capital ships carried a Strutter and a Sopwith Pup or Sopwith Camel.

    Following the signing of the Armistice, the Grand Fleet met with the German High Seas Fleet out on the North Sea. AUSTRALIA led the port line at the head of its squadron and was given charge to guard the German battle cruiser HINDENBURG. The Australian cruiser arrived back in Fremantle on 28 May 1919 for a four day visit. A proportion of the sailors requested the vessel stay in the port for longer to allow them to repay the hospitality of the locals. The captain demurred and when the order was given to 'let go aft' it was found the stokers had left the boiler rooms in protest. 12 men were arrested and charged with mutiny, though only five were court-martialled. W J McGuire, the probable owner of the ditty box, had been promoted to the position of stoker in April 1919, though his record does not mention if he was involved in the incident.

    AUSTRALIA resumed the role of flagship until she was paid off in December 1921. The ship was scuttled off the coast of Sydney on 12 April 1924 and is still fondly remembered in Australia, with relics of the ship held at the Powerhouse in Canberra and Parliament House, and several streets in newly developed suburbs taking the name of the first flagship of the RAN. McGuire went on to serve on various HMA Ships including: SYDNEY, MELBOURNE, CERBERUS, and ADELAIDE.

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