ANZAC Flag Mystery Solved

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The mystery of the ANZAC- emblazoned flag hanging in St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane has been solved, thanks to the work of historian Denzil Scrivens.

The last flag flown at Gallipoli, as displayed in St John's Cathedral.

Mr Scrivens was researching the history of the Cathedral for a book about significant war memorials housed within the building when he made the discovery.

Over the years, the story of the flag hanging in the south transept of the Cathedral had been lost. But during his search, Mr Scrivens uncovered an old newspaper article that revealed it was the last flag flown at the evacuation of the ANZACs from Gallipoli on December 19, 1915.

Book launched 103 years to the day

To honour this date, Mr Scrivens’ book was launched at St John’s Cathedral on December 19, 2018 – 103 years to the day since it was the last flag flown at Gallipoli.

The flag was flown by Alexander Maxwell, an Anglican padre and hospital ship chaplain. Maxwell was ashore at ANZAC Cove on Sunday, December 19, 1915. It was the last full day of the evacuation, and all remaining Australian and New Zealand troops would be withdrawn by 4.10am the following morning.

Maxwell carried a Union Jack flag with him to the war to use during his chaplaincy duties. On December 19, he went ashore to visit Hell Spit cemetery and record the names of the dead. When Maxwell returned from the cemetery at about 1.30pm carrying the flag, he was shot at three times by ‘Beachy Bill’.

Beachy Bill was a battery of Turkish guns that fired at will on ANZAC Cove throughout the campaign, inflicting over 1000 ANZAC casualties. Fortunately, the shells fired at Maxwell and the flag missed their mark.

ANZAC Commander signs flag

After the war, Maxwell was invited to show the flag to former ANZAC Commander, General William Birdwood, who was visiting Brisbane. Birdwood expressed great interest in the flag, signing his name on its top right-   hand corner. In 1929, Maxwell presented the flag to the Cathedral and told The Courier-Mail it was the last flag flying at the evacuation.

The Cathedral received a grant from the Queensland Government to publish a booklet on the flag and other memorials housed in the building. Copies will be provided to Brisbane secondary schools, and all Queensland schools will be able to access the booklet online.

It is hoped that over time the Cathedral will become a place of pilgrimage for young people and others interested in the ANZAC legend and the last Australian flag flown at Gallipoli.

Book details memorials

The book, titled St John’s Cathedral and the Anzac Legend, is beautifully illustrated, with photographs from the Australian War Memorial, the Imperial War Museum and local photographers. It details memorials that commemorate:

  • The ANZAC campaigns at Gallipoli, Palestine and the Western Front during WWI
  • The Battles of Britain and El Alamein, and the gruelling campaign in Papua and New Guinea, during WWII
  • The peacetime HMAS Voyager disaster of 1964
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Cathedral’s regimental colours, including those of 9 RQR and 6 RAR

The experience of civilians in war is also recognised, particularly that of WWI nurses and women on the home front in Brisbane during WWII.