During World War I soldier’s ration biscuits were notoriously hard and many soldiers made a joke of sending them as letters. Sergeant James Williams wrote this to his “Darling Wifie” as he sailed for France in 1917. 

    Photo Credit: AWM REL/11968

    On leave in Britain during the World War I the distinctive slouch hat and easy manners of the Australian soldier made quite an impression on the local girls. 

    Photo Credit: AWM/ART40941

    London artist Gladys Blaiberg made a pair of sculptures which comments on the whirlwind nature of many of the relationships between Aussies soldiers and English girls.  

    Photo Credit: AWM/ART40962

    Perspex recovered from damaged aircraft was a popular medium for WWII jewellery makers. Signalman John Lovatt sent this from New Guinea to his wife, Jean. They had married in 1943.

    Photo Credit: AWM/REL38043

    Robert Towers made this two-part sweetheart piece for his girlfriend, Lois Henricksen, before he left for service overseas. She wore the central brooch and he carried the outer pendant. 

    Photo Credit: AWM/REL27148.002

    This is the inner part of a two-part piece of jewellery made by serviceman Robert Towers for his girlfriend Lois Henricksen during World War II. They were never reunited. Robert died as a prisoner of war in November 1943. He kept the pendant until the end and it was sent home to his mother at the end of the war. She gave it to Lois in remembrance of her lost sweetheart.

    Photo Credit: AWM/REL27148.002

    Even in the depths of war, romance and humour win through. This ‘love controller’ card plays on the rationing that was a part of wartime life. 

    Photo Credit: AWM/RC08136

    Clive Oliver carried a photograph of his wife, Rita, with him while labouring on the Burma-Thai Railway (also known as the Death Railway) as a POW during WWII. A friend used the image to carve this cameo from a beetlenut for Clive. 

    Photo Credit: AWM/REL33445

    Phoebe Duncan was issued a ‘Female Relative’s Badge’ by the Australian government, to signify she had a husband serving in the WWI. She added a small ‘sweetheart’ badge in the colours of her husband’s battalion. Duncan, of the 29th Battalion, was killed in action on the 25 October 1916.

    Photo Credit: AWM REL/02893.002

    A love token from Australian convict Thomas Burbury, 1832 to his sweetheart. Thomas lived in Coventry in the English Midlands before his transportation to Australia. He was freed after seven years and became a prosperous landowner. His family continued to flourish after his death in 1870. In 1973, his descendent Sir Stanley Burbury became the first Australian-born governor of Tasmania.

    Photo Credit: Courtesy National Museum of Australia/Lannon Harley

    Many women waiting at home during the second World War received a small token, or piece of jewellery from their sweetheart or husband serving overseas. They were often handmade from pieces of Perspex and metal from damaged aircraft or other war-related material. This brooch, made on the Island of Tarakan, was found in a charity shop. The identity of Beryl or the man who sent it to her, are unknown.

    Photo Credit: AWM/REL23908.001

    Love tokens or ‘leaden hearts’ – generally fashioned from copper cartwheel pennies, 3.6cm in diameter, inscribed with one final, heartfelt goodbye – were popular among departing convicts.

    Photo Credit: Courtesy National Museum of Australia/Lannon Harley

    Coin tokens were very popular as sailors’ farewells during the 1700s. They were decorated with rhymes and verses derived from popular songs, and sentences such as: “When this you see, think on me”. Convict love tokens, in comparison, often included more wistful phrases, such as: “Until I gain my liberty”, or “May we live to meet again”. 

    Photo Credit: Courtesy National Museum of Australia/Lannon Harley

    During the WWI, many Australian soldiers eagerly purchased silk postcards, embroidered by French women. Combining gift and message they were treasured by the recipients as both a decorative item as well as a token from a loved one far away. 

    Photo Credit: AWM/RC00007

    This letter was also found in a charity shop, and the identity of the Australian soldier who received it is unknown. We do know that the author, a young French woman called Marthe Gylbert, had fallen deeply in love with this mystery man, her ‘Darling little sweetheart’. We also know that Marthe never married. Whether her Australian sweetheart was killed or simply didn’t return her love, we may never know. 

    Photo Credit: AWM/PR03970

Gallery: Love tokens from Aussie convicts and soldiers

By AG STAFF | February 7, 2014

We think of Australia’s penal settlement and its wars as times of great turmoil for many, of events that changed things on a national and global scale. Yet, it is important to remember that amongst these events were people just like us. The Australian War Memorial and the National Museum hold an immense collection of material tracing the nation’s history and wars. In-between the battle plans and the official histories are many small gems which remind us of the resilience of the human spirit and the necessity of love. Most images and captions are courtesy of Rebecca Britt, a curator at the Australian War Memorial and author of the book, Stories of Love and War.