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Our Global Neighbours: Saving lives in war and peace

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 07 May 2014

A cup of coffee before going to war.

Major Reuter Roth

 © Public domain

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.

Router Emerich Roth (1858–1924) was a well-travelled physician and military officer - Brigadier General - and an enthusiastic promoter of education, public health, hygiene, swimming and physical activity.

Roth was a founder of the St John Ambulance in Sydney (1890) and the Royal Life Saving Society (1904) as well as a member of the British Red Cross Society and the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a Trustee of the Australian Museum (1906-1921). Between 1897 and 1924 he donated over 250 artefacts to the Australian Museum from Europe, Africa, Middle East, India, China, Southeast Asia, Papua and the Pacific islands.

Documents reflecting his role as a Trustee are not numerous. They are often hand written notes informing the Secretary of the Australian Museum about his movements, such as ‘departing for Europe this Friday’.

One hundred years ago in May 1914 he donated a Turkish coffee cup and coffee grinder brought back from his 1913 visit to the Middle East. He must have enjoyed a coffee, drinking of which was common in Turkey but Australia’s coffee habits were only to be widely adopted with the influx of Italian migrants in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Parting with his coffee cup in 1914 Roth did not know that in twelve months he would be landing in Gallipoli with the Australian Imperial Forces in command of the 5th Field Ambulance Australian Army Medical Corps. He would witness one of the most atrocious and vicious military campaigns of that time. He survived Gallipoli and continued his deployment in Egypt and in France. Wounded in the battle of Fromelles, Roth returned to Australia in 1917.

It is comforting to reflect that our own trustee – an unsung hero - entangled in the Boer War (1899–1902) and the First World War (194-1918) was actually saving lives and his little coffee cup is perhaps a fitting tribute to his humanitarian work.

Explanation:

The Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science was established in 1888. In 1902 it launched the Mueller Medal, in recognition of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller - government botanist of Victoria and a remarkable collector of plants. The Association published its own journal with its name as the title.