Powell, J. 2020. Australian Army General Service Wagon Mark X: researching the historical context of a generic artefact. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 11: 75–92. https://doi.org/10.17082/j.2205-322.214.171.1240.2020-06
Wagon, Army General Service wagon, coachbuilding, First World War, German wagon
Many military artefacts are considered ‘generic artefacts’, the last remaining examples of standardised equipment produced en masse and used in their hundreds and thousands. It is rare to be able to attach a user’s name to a rifle, pick or tent. These items are interpreted as part of the background to a bigger picture of a battle or campaign. When Queensland Museum acquired a horse-drawn General Service wagon in 2013 it was to fill a niche within the Museum’s vehicle collection, adding an example of military applications to the multitude of roles performed by horses which are already represented in the collection held at the Museum’s Cobb+Co campus. The wagon was a generic representation. It is not known where this particular wagon was used in the First World War, much less who used it. The General Service wagon did not appear initially to be a promising place to start research on the early years of the Australian Army, or the ‘Homefront’ coachbuilding industry. Yet the simple question of why a wagon of English rather than local manufacture found its way into the Australian Army produced surprising insights. The story unfolded of a country ill prepared to send an army to a war overseas, and slow to comprehend the magnitude of that war. The investigation also revealed something of Australia’s role as part of the British Empire in the early years of the twentieth century.