HERO DIGGERS FROZEN IN TIME
Hidden away for decades in the attic of a French farmhouse lay a time capsule of photographs of Australian troops enjoying treasured glimpses of normality before heading off to the killing fields in WWI. They shared the same hopes and fears as our modern day Diggers photographed 100 years later, writes Charles Miranda
THESE images may have been taken 100 years apart but there is nothing to differentiate what they represent. The theatre of conflict is very different, so too the uniforms, the weapons and the enemy but etched on these faces is the same sense of duty, dedication and mateship that has defined the Australian warrior for the last century.
And similar too is why they are there – to represent Australia, its values and freedoms and to ensure they can be enjoyed in the same way for generations to come.
The original images were taken by French husband and wife farmers Louis and Antoinette Thuillier around 1916 outside their Vignacourt farmhouse where, to earn a little bit of money, they took souvenir photographs of billeted Australian soldiers as they moved on and off the Western Front.
The posing was brief, casual and in front of a curiously painted backdrop. It involved mostly men from the 1st and 5th Divisions, survivors of the Fromelles battle at the end of 1916 who, if they survived, would go onto fight elsewhere on the bloody front until war’s end in November 1918.
Unlike many of the men photographed, who most likely died on that Western flank, the glass plate negatives survived after being forgotten in an attic of the French farmhouse.
The images were discovered in 2011 ahead of the property’s sale. The modern equivalent images were taken west of Kabul on the Camp Qargha plateau allied force outpost where Australian, New Zealand and British troops have been deployed as part of the ADF-led train and assist mandate of Afghan troops in the war-torn country.
Warrant Officer class 2 Adrian Ross from Townsville says everyone going to battle carried something as a charm, 100 years ago and today.
He carries a good luck pencil on a tin card that had been given to his grandfather when he was sent to France in 1917, then handed onto to his father who was deployed to Papua New Guinea in World War II. Adrian has carried the card to Timor in 1999, then Iraq for that war and now twice to Afghanistan.
“I trust my training, I trust my equipment, I trust my mates and I trust my commanders that everything we do keeps us safe so this isn’t giving me good luck for that. But I really see this as a good bit of luck for that random rocket that doesn’t hit you in your bedroom – the random incident that is outside your and everyone else’s control, so I keep it with me in my day bag wherever I go,” he says.
“I’m not a big believer in superstitions but hey it’s worked for four generations and everybody’s come back so I’d be crazy not to take it.”
Perth Private Tyler Lindberg, 23, from 3RAR is surprised to see the original “Lost Diggers” frames and the faces of the young men very similar to him.
“They just look like Aussie dudes who answered the call I suppose like us,” he says, as he gears up before moving out and toward danger outside the camp’s armed gates.
“We are the same but those boys had it a lot rougher I think than what we have today.”
Private Daniel de Klerk, 22, 3RAR from the Gold Coast knows the risk and the danger and imagines it was the same for those his age 100 years ago in a conflict zone.
“I have no idea what they would be thinking. The stuff those guys went through is just unreal.
“The things they would have seen compared with what we see these days (is) ridiculous I reckon,” he says.
“Would have been very hard for them. We have better equipment, better living, better everything pretty much. Back then it would have been awful the things they would have seen and done, unbelievable.
“But it would have been the same pride 100 years ago. Hundred per cent it is the same. Better equipment and all that but we’re briefed, know what to expect but we have the same pride in being in uniform for our country.
“Maybe other generations would look back on our images and hear what we did and how we reacted.”
Captain Jason Tuffley marvelled as he reviewed and was struck by one, Lieutenant Alexander Fullford Bechervaise who enlisted a few weeks short of his 20th birthday in 1915 and would go on to fight in Gallipoli and Amiens in France for which his heroics earned him the Military Cross.
“It’s amazing to see these young faces,” Capt Tuffley, 45, says.
“We know what we have to do, they (100 years ago) knew too and maybe the next generation that come after us will have that same spirit – for all the generations that have gone before them in uniform.”
WARRIORS: (Back left to right) Private Branden Forbes, 24, from Mittagong with private Tom Foster, 25, from Canberra. (Middle left to right) Private Nathan Prentice, 23, from Whorouly Victoria and private Gavin Trydgett, 26, from Brisbane. ( Front) LCPL Lachlan Davis, 26, from Wagga Wagga NSW. Picture (left) Gary Ramage. Warrant Officer class 2 Adrian Ross (below right) from Townsville and his family’s good luck charm; and a group of soldiers (right ) on a mission in World War I .