If you kept an eye on Channel 7's Sunday Night program in 2012 you'll have caught the amazing story of the Lost Diggers, a collection of glass plate photographs uncovered in a French garret containing hundreds of images of Australian soldiers during the First World War.The pictures were taken almost one hundred years ago at the village of Vignacourt in France, a rest and recuperation point for soldiers serving far from home and either returning from or preparing for battle on the front lines. An enterprising local couple charged a small amount to take the photos, which were turned into postcards to be sent back to the soldiers' families in Australia. Several hundred of these images were recovered in 2012 in what was perhaps the most important discoveries in Australian military history, but while it's clear that the men in the photographs were Australian from their slouch hats and recognizable uniforms, the challenge presented by the amazing discovery was how to identify them all.
At last the Australian public is able to get up close to these images themselves. The Australian War Memorial has painstakingly developed the images by traditional darkroom methods and is showcasing 74 of the photos as part of the Lost Digger exhibition.
While it's possible to go online to see the photographs, it does not compare to being faced with the larger, clearer versions on display at the War Memorial. The significance of these century-old images hits hard when they are viewed up close and it is hard not to be overwhelmed at the thought of the sacrifice made by the young Australians staring confidently out of the pictures, so few of whom we know anything about.
"The friendships, strong and clean as new steel, forged in the desert sand or the Sommes mud, that will savour life for us to the very end" Albert William Keown, 5th Battalion, commenting after the war.
The overriding sentiment that comes from viewing the Lost Diggers collection is the one of mateship, of men brought together in extreme circumstances to form unbreakable bonds as they endured unthinkable hardships so far from home. They stand proudly with their mates, presenting brave and sometimes larrikin faces for their mothers and loved ones who are so desperately waiting back home.A select few of the Lost Diggers have now been identified thanks to the Australian public, and the War Memorial has been able to piece together information about who they were and what their role in the Great War was. It's fascinating to have this insight into the true stories of a handful of our war heroes, but so frustrating that so many of the other soldiers remain un-named and unknown.
To help with the identification process, a huge interactive screen has been set up, and visitors are encouraged to zoom right in on the images in the hope that more will be named over the months that the exhibition is on show in Canberra. It is only with the help of the descendants of these soldiers that the gallery will be able to put names to any more of the many faces captured by the French photographers.
A visit to the Australian War Memorial always brings up a range of emotions, and the Lost Diggers exhibition proves to be no exception. It is an amazing part of Australia's history and not to be missed if you are planning a trip to Canberra this summer.
Find out more about Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt and what else is on offer at The Australian War Memorial by visiting the website.
For more information on where to stay, what to do and what to see in Canberra, visit visitcanberra.com.au