Bayonet stolen from prominent ANZAC memorial returned after 33 years

It was a crime that devastated the community — two bronze bayonets stolen from an ANZAC statue one night in 1985.

Calls for the thief to come forward brought nothing and, as the years passed, the bayonets were replaced and the theft faded from memory.

Now, after 33 years, and in what some are calling miraculous circumstances, one of the missing bayonets has returned to the safe hands of the museum curator.

The desecration of a monument

The Desert Mounted Corps Memorial was undergoing conservation work when the two bayonets held by the soldiers were stolen.

Princess Royal Fortress Military Museum curator, David Theodore, has spent a lot of time researching the history of the statue.

“After five years discussing the conservation and protection of the statue, a team from the WA Museum was up there doing the conservation work,” he said.

“In May 1985 they finished and were about to take the scaffolding down.

“They went up there one day and found that the two bayonets from the statue had been taken.”

Mr Theodore said the Mayor of Albany at the time pleaded for their safe return.

“It fell on deaf ears and we heard nothing about them until last year,” he said.

A lucky coincidence

It just so happened that the most recent owner of one of the stolen bayonets, worked in the same organisation as Mr Theodore.

“The donor had just acquired the bayonet and didn’t know what it was except that it was bronze,” he said.

“As soon as he said that, I knew it was one of the stolen bayonets.

“He knew nothing of its history and the person who previously had it also knew nothing about it.

“It was great to actually make a discovery that is important to Albany and to the whole nation really.”

The most recent owner of the bayonet generously agreed to donate the item to the museum.

“We could try and work out what happened to it over the 33 years,” Mr Theodore said.

“We can trace it back six or seven years but from there we don’t know what happened.

“It would be good to know when it surfaced.”

Back where it belongs

Mr Theodore said he was dumbfounded when the stolen bayonet was returned to its rightful place.

“If the second one turned up, it would be just short of a miracle,” he said.

“It is good to have one back so that now we can tell the story of the desecration of a Military Memorial of National Significance.”

According to Mr Theodore, the Desert Mounted Corps statue is ingrained in Albany’s dawn service ceremony.

“It is the start of the Anzac pilgrimage and people always want to see where the statue is and the views of King George Sound,” he said.

“It is important to show the plight of the Desert Mounted Corps who were fighting hard in the desert while the horrors of the frontline were taking place.

“A lot of people whose fathers and grandfathers served in the Light Horse Brigade actually come to Albany specifically to see the statue and to see where their family members actually left from.”

Albany’s Anzac heritage

The south-west WA city is widely regarded as the birthplace of Australia’s Anzac Day dawn service tradition.

It was the place where 40,000 young men and women boarded 38 ships and departed for the front lines of the Great War.

As the last Australian port of call for many Anzac troops, Albany is home to a large collection of wartime memorabilia and hosts a number of significant commemorations each year.

In 1964, the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial statue was erected at the top of Mount Clarence, overlooking the coastline from which the First and Second fleets sailed.

This statue commemorates Australian and New Zealand soldiers, which included the Light Horse Brigade, which served in Egypt, Palestine and Syria during WWI.

It was built with granite blocks that came all the way from Egypt and still display visible bullet marks.

The Desert Mounted Corps Memorial has since become one of the main attractions of the Albany Heritage Park and is the place where more than 3,000 people gather each Anzac day at dawn.

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