Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Ken Moses - wallet

In December 2014 I wrote a post about some of the possessions that my father had when he served in the Australian Army during the Second World War. One of these possessions was a leather wallet with a Rising Sun Badge attached to the front. An assignment for the unit, Place, Image, Object, part of the Family History course at the University of Tasmania required students to prepare an object biography. I decided to do some further research and use Dad's wallet for this assignment. Since the original post I have received a request asking if I have additional information soan ammended version of the assignment is included below.
My special object is this brown leather document wallet that belonged to my father.
Wallet measurements:  15 cm (width when folded) x 22.5 cm (height) with a depth of 1 cm
Materials: leather, cardboard, thread, glue, metal press stud, silk fabric, [celluloid sheet – missing]

The dark brown leather bifold wallet was possibly manufactured at the end of the 1930s as it was one of Dad’s possessions during the Second World War. He left Sydney to travel with the 2/4th Battalion to Egypt in January 1940. Unfortunately there is no maker’s mark on the wallet though a label may have become detached. The wallet is machine sewn and there is a side strap with a press stud to fasten it. The corners of the wallet are rounded.

The wallet is made from split leather. Once the hide of an animal has been washed and put through the fleshing machine it is vegetable tanned (bark tanned). The hide is then washed and pressed smooth before being put through a machine to split it into various thicknesses.  To finish the leather each piece is rubbed with oil or soap to make it soft and pliable. The leather used for wallets was often from the bottom section of the hide so after being died an embossing plate would be used making the finished product resemble full-grain leather. [1]

The cover of the wallet is stiff so the leather has been glued to thick cardboard, before assembly.  The wallet is lined with dark brown silk. The front edge of the leather is folded as a seam inside the wallet when stitched. 
The leather inserts inside the wallet are cut from thicker split leather than that used on the cover and have been coloured and finished in the same way as the cover leather. The main pocket is the height of the wallet and has two pockets, possibly for cards, stitched on the lower section plus another insert which would probably have had a celluloid window for a larger card or photo. On the right section a piece of leather is attached to the wallet to hold a notebook or map in place. A small leather loop in the centre plus a small leather pocket attached to the bottom of the wallet would have held a pencil or pen.  West describes the method of construction of a similar wallet design.[2]
Attached to the top right hand corner of the wallet is a Rising Sun Badge (General Service Badge) worn by Australian soldiers during World War I and World War II. This is the third version of the Australian Army badge in use from 1904 until 1949.[3] According to Cossum there were more than ‘thirty different variations of hat badges … and more than fifty different variations of collar badges.[4]  Festberg describes the choice of design for the badge.[5]

The wallet badge is brass and measures 2.6 cm (width) x 1.5 cm (height). The design at the top of the badge represents the rays of the rising sun. A crown in a semicircle is above the words AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH MILITARY FORCES inscribed on three scrolls. The badge is attached to the wallet with two metal prongs placed through cuts in the leather and folded inwards to secure. As the back of the badge cannot be seen it is not possible to see if there is a maker’s mark. I do not know when the badge was attached to the wallet.

I searched online to locate information about other wallets like Dad’s wallet. The Australian War Memorial website[6] produced the best results. A search for ‘wallets’, on the Collection page of the website, located examples of document wallets.  These included wallets with ‘Good luck from the Red Cross Society’ stamped on them plus wallets with printed inscriptions showing they were presented to departing soldiers by local councils. One trifold wallet also had a Rising Sun Badge on the front cover[7]. The Victorian Collections website[8] also has examples of soldiers’ wallets. I suspect that there were many wallets decorated with Army badges during the Second World War but they have not survived or are not in collections.

Dad served in the Middle East from 1940 until 1942. When the 2/4th Battalion returned to Australia on the way to New Guinea Dad was discharged as medically unfit.

I do not know what documents Dad kept in the wallet during the war. A work colleague interested in military history has confirmed that it was usual for soldiers to carry wallets with identification and other documents along with papers (and photographs) important to them - often memories of home.

At home my father kept the wallet and its contents, with associated papers, in a filing cabinet. Items relating to Dad’s time in the Army included leave passes on scraps of paper, a program and ticket for an Australian Military Band concert in Haifa, a Manly Life Saving Club membership card for the duration of the war, instructions to proceed to Haifa for Life Saving duty and a certificate that he was medically unfit for service. There were also a series of telegrams to his mother announcing he was back in Australia, a discharge letter plus a letter regarding his pension. The wallet also contained other documents important to my father including his passport, a receipt for the hotel where my parents spent their honeymoon, papers relating to the purchase of their war service home, letters of sympathy received when his father died and an invitation to his brother’s wedding.

Since I have had the wallet it has been kept in a cupboard with other family history material. The wallet is wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.  A copy of the object biography will be stored with the wallet. Individual letters and ephemera are now in polyethylene sleeves and all items relating to the wallet and the Second World War will be stored in a suitable box in the cupboard.

This wallet contained documents and memories important to my father. For my family, the wallet and its contents now provide special memories of my father. They are also important items relating to my father’s contribution to our family story.

[1]  Raymond Cherry, Leathercrafting: Procedures and Projects (Bloomington: McKnight Publishing Co.), 2-3; R M Williams, The Bushman’s Handcrafts (Netley: Griffin Press) 9-34
[2] Geoffrey West, Leatherwork: A Manual of Techniques (Ramsbury: Crowood Press) 98-107
[4] J K Cossum, Australian Army Badges The Rising Sun Badge (Sunbury: Cossum) 3
[5]  Alfred N Festberg, Hat Badges of the Australian Army 1903-1930 (Melbourne: Silverleaf Publishing) 11-23
[7] Australian War Memorial ’Leather Wallet’,
Cherry, Raymond. Leathercrafting: Procedures and Projects, 5th ed., Bloomington: McKnight Publishing Company, 1979
Cossum, J K. Australian Army Badges ‘The Rising Sun Badge’, Sunbury: J K Cossum, 1986
Festberg, Alfred N. Hat Badges of the Australian Army 1903-1930, Melbourne: Silverleaf Publishing, 1981
West, Geoffrey. Leatherwork: A Manual of Techniques, Ramsbury: Crowood Press, 1998
Williams, R M. The Bushman’s Handicrafts, Netley: Griffin Press, 1943
White Over Green: the 2/4th Infantry Battalion, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963

Army, ‘Rising Sun Badge’ Accessed 3 August 2016
Australian War Memorial, ‘2/4th Australian Infantry Battalion’, Accessed 3 August 2016,
Australian War Memorial, ‘2/4th Battalion Plaque Australian War Memorial’, Accessed 3 August 2016,
Australian War Memorial, ‘Collection’, Accessed 3 August 2016,
Digger History, ‘Rising Sun Badge’, Accessed 3 August 2016,
Slideshare, ‘Leather Processing’, Accessed 3 August 2016,
Victorian Collections, ‘Wallets’, Accessed 3 August 2016,

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