History case study: The Baily Flag

The story of one amazing Tasmanian


On 14 September 1915, Tasmania’s Seventh Field Ambulance C Section relieved the New Zealanders who were in charge of the dressing station under Hill 971, to the left of the Australian position at Gallipoli’s Chailak Dere. The worst of the fighting was finished, the British having nearly conceded defeat. Even so, although a Red Cross flag flew over the station, it was often a target for shrapnel, explosives, and stray bullets. This persistent danger led the commanding officers to order the move to Mule Gully on 14 November.

theflag_th

Maker unknown
‘The Baily flag’ 1914
wool bunting, cotton, cellulose
148 x 156 cm
Purchased with the assistance of the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 2001
S2001.56

One member of C Section was Harry Baily, a young mechanic from Huonville. Just before the move, a piece of shrapnel lodged in Baily’s left hip and his friend, Bill Mawby, from New Town, removed it. Baily, like most other men at Gallipoli during November, suffered from dysentery and rheumatic pains caused by the cold and damp. During the evacuation, he and Mawby were the last to leave. Baily was so weak that he did not think he could walk the distance, so Mawby wrapped the Red Cross flag, made of fine Australian wool, around his back for warmth and support.

From 16 November until 3 December, when Baily boarded a hospital ship, the flag kept him warm as he and others sheltered in a leaky dugout from a huge thunderstorm, followed by a blizzard. The flag stayed with Baily for the duration of the war, returning to Australia in August 1919 on board the Ceramic. Baily asked his ‘mates’, mostly service personnel, to sign it, collecting over five hundred signatures.

After the war, Baily kept the flag in his wife’s linen press, not discussing it with his family because he thought that only Gallipoli veterans could understand its significance. All that he told his youngest daughter, Suzanne (Sue), was that the flag was ‘very precious’ because the signatories were his ‘cobbers’.

In old age, when Baily moved to the Freemasons Homes, he ordered her to ‘keep that flag safe’. He hoped that after he died, she would donate it to the Australian War Memorial. They refused it, as did numerous other organisations. Frustrated by her inability to give the flag away, Suzanne put it in the hands of the auctioneers, Andrew Wright, who advertised it on their website. A Turkish Museum offered to buy it but Suzanne refused.

Eventually the former Premier of Tasmania, Mr Jim Bacon, learned about the flag and suggested that TMAG would be interested in acquiring the flag as part of the State collection. They bought it for $15 000 with the assistance of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, along with other memorabilia, including Baily’s diaries, service medals, letters, postcards, photographs, and the piece of shrapnel that wounded him. The family also donated additional material such as the ring Baily made for his wife.

 


Research and writing undertaken by Dr Caroline Evans, School of History and Classics, University of Tasmania.

This research was assisted by funding from the Tasmanian Community Fund through a grant supported by the Returned Services League (Tasmanian Branch). We also acknowledge assistance from the families of signatories, and we would welcome further information on the Flag.