06 November 2012
The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt
On Sunday, we went to the much anticipated The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt exhibition at the Australian War Memorial. We were thoroughly impressed with the incredible images - taken by Louis & Antoinette Thuillier - of Australian soldiers during WWI in France.
The images were rediscovered last year, on silver gelatin negatives entombed in an attic trunk, in Vignacourt France. They were about to be tossed out . Luckily their historical value was realised & they were acquired by Kerry Stokes (head of Australia's Channel 7 & a keen war artefact collector.) Each negative was carefully printed via the original method, framed & donated to the Australian War Memorial.
There are almost 100 photographs on display, mainly Australian soldiers, however, French, American, English, French & Gurkhas are included + some of the 100 000 Chinese who worked making uniforms & equipment for the front line allied troops. I had no idea!!
These are examples of the original photographs & soldiers would have carried them as keep sakes. It's a quaint farm village where many of the French girls married soldiers during the war too. Some of the lucky troops who survived the Western Front, stayed in France to raise families.
There are fantastic descriptions with each photo, where they have painstakingly worked out who is in the image or what they are doing. Here is a young Australian doctor with an Army chaplain, both survived the war.
This is an Australian soldier playing dress ups in a German uniform.
This is a heart breaking account of one woman's family sacrifice for war . . . in 1947, aged 74, she donated her eldest son's uniform & records from WWI - he was killed at Villers-Bretonneux. The boots still had mud from the fields he fought in. She was a young widow when her two sons went off to WWI. Her other son was killed in Gallipoli.
Can you imagine the incredibly lonely life she had, without her husband or sons, how do you recover from that??
This is the photo on the way out of the exhibition. I mentioned to my husband how these soldiers looked like boys . . . he said "you should see how young the soldiers sent to Afghanistan are." Just brings tears to your eyes.
Finally, the incredible chest where all these negatives & photos were hiding for almost a century.
You really must visit these amazing photos & trip down to Canberra, it's the most amazing record of a very different side to WWI - battle weary soldiers taking some time off between battles. Love Posie
EDIT: we spent our honeymoon travelling all over Europe, however, the week we spent in the north of France, visiting all the cemeteries & battle sites, with my new husband - a handsome soldier - i cried every day. The respect for Australians is incredible, the sprigs of wattle, flags, kangaroo toys & immaculate memorials . . . head stones & lawn cemeteries shows exactly how much the French appreciate the Australian effort. Many towns up in the Somme (Ypres, Villers-Brettoneux) celebrate Australia Day each year too. I'm sure there are many Australian descendants there too.