Museum Collection, Stories From Within

November 27, 2013

Private Algernon Benjamin Sanders of the 6th Australian Field Ambulance, AAMC was born in Melbourne to Lewis and Miriam Sanders in 1884. The family moved from England arriving in Melbourne in 1862 where with business partner, Lewis Levy, they established Leviathan Stores, a popular and well-known outfitter.

We believe Algie (as he was known to his family and friends) lived for a short while with his family in the shop premises at one point and we believe he also worked there prior to World War I. He had ten brothers and sisters, and we know at least one of his brothers also fought in the Great War as we have his picture (Frederick Sanders) but we don’t know what happened to him after the war.

Algernon in uniform, c. 1915 Donated by Margaret Clark, 6382

Algernon was awarded the military medal for bravery in the field at the battle of Polygon Wood, which saw the loss of 5,770 Australian servicemen. His citation reads as follows:

On 27/9/1917 at Polygon Wood, this man went out and brought in three wounded men, dressed them [wounds] and got them to a place of safety … This was done under heavy shell and M.G. [machine gun] fire.

Instituted in 1914, the military medal was the highest honour to be awarded after the Victoria Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal. Algernon however, survived the war, and upon returning to Melbourne, he took up where he began his career, working alongside his father in the family store. Algie became the managing director of the company after his father passed away, where he worked until his own death in 1938.

There is an interesting story which a family member told our curatorial staff, about how whilst serving, Algie apparently produced a new design for an army neck-tie. We do not know if this design was ever taken up as the official neck-tie for the Australian forces, but we’d love to know more. If so, it seems Algie never really left his work behind him!

Algernon Sanders WWI medals, c.1919 Donated by Margaret Clark, 6425

Some of these items may form part of an upcoming exhibition the Museum curatorial team is developing to mark the centenary of World War I. The show will explore the significant contribution of Australian Jews to the war effort, as well as the impact of the war on Jewish communities at home and abroad. Most people are aware of the impact that World War II had on the Jewish people but far fewer are aware of the lasting and widespread impact of World War I, and specifically, the important role that Australian Jews played in the conflict. The War had a significant impact on world Jewry and these shock-waves had a profound effect on Australian Jewish families, especially given the disproportionately large numbers of men who signed up to fight – 14% of Jewish men compared to 9% of the total Australian male population.

Working in partnership with the Australian Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) and the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (VAJEX) we are working together to research, develop and deliver the exhibition, along with an educational resource and public program. The Museum curatorial team will also use this as an opportunity to explore the depth of its WWI collection, undertaking new research, revealing new stories and making connections with other organisations and individuals holding related material.

Postcard, soldiers in fancy dress c.1915 Donated by Margaret Clark, 6394

Algie is the one on the far left dressed as the ‘village smithy’. The other characters (who are in fact, his fellow soldiers) include ‘Monsieur Le Froggier’, ‘Texas Jim’ and the ‘ladies’ at the front are ‘Mrs Grundy’ and ‘La Grande Fille’.