CEN­TE­NARY OF ARMISTICE 1918-2018 OUR STO­RIES KEEP

JULY 1916: NAOURS, FRANCE JUNE 1940: FROMELLES, FRANCE APRIL 2018: NAOURS, FRANCE

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THIRTY me­tres un­der­ground, Arthur James Adams stretches up. Slowly, care­fully, and in ex­traor­di­nar­ily neat hand, he carves his nick­name into the cave’s stone wall: “Chips”.

Along­side, he tags his best mate, “Kala”, their unit and the date: July 18, 1916.

The graf­fiti will be­come an un­in­tended epi­taph.

Three weeks later, the Gal­lipoli vet­eran and friend of the leg­endary don­key-lead­ing Jack Simp­son will die in the car­nage of Pozieres – one of 23,000 Aus­tralian ca­su­al­ties in just 42 days – his story lost to his own fam­ily, his grave un­vis­ited and even the in­scrip­tion un­de­ci­phered for a cen­tury. Adolf Hitler sur­veys the bat­tle­ground at Fromelles.

Twenty-four years ear­lier, his unit of the Ger­man army was present as 5533 Aus­tralians were killed or maimed in one calami­tous night – our coun­try’s worst mil­i­tary dis­as­ter. Now a con­quer­ing dic­ta­tor, the world’s most evil man is on a tour of his World War I haunts. At Fromelles, he spends a par­tic­u­lar amount of time por­ing over one com­mand strong­point that over­looks the old Al­lied lines.

Ninety kilo­me­tres away, his ap­par­ently in­vin­ci­ble army is now us­ing the Naours caves, where Chips spent a day ex­plor­ing, as a hid­den ar­moury.

His troops are bil­leted in nearby Wargnies Chateau, where Arthur stayed and made friends with a lo­cal fam­ily. In the next four years of oc­cu­pa­tion, at least two mem­bers of that fam­ily will be slain by the Nazis as mem­bers of the Re­sis­tance – fight­ing, as Arthur did, for the free­dom of France.

A cen­tury and more af­ter Arthur vis­its Naours, bal­anc­ing in the same spot as he did, breath­ing the same cool sub­ter­ranean air, we feel an ex­tra­or­di­nary sen­sa­tion. Find­ing his sig­na­ture has been the cul­mi­na­tion of a jour­ney through time. A jour­ney that let us walk in the foot­steps of he­roes and stand in the shadow of evil; spawned friend­ships, cre­ated an on­line com­mu­nity of thou­sands and sparked at least one real-life ro­mance.

And it brought home, run­ning deeply un­der­neath it all, a bond be­tween Aus­tralia and France that does not just leap 100 years from 1918 to now, but flows through the dark days of World War II and still res­onates in the very at­mos­phere here, in this for­eign land so im­por­tant to the Aus­tralian na­tional char­ac­ter, where ev­ery cor­ner seems to carry a story.

WE FIRST first came to know Arthur four years ago, as we be­gan the award-win­ning AN­ZA­CLive project, telling the sto­ries of 10 real peo­ple from a cen­tury ago, in real time on Face­book, as if they were post­ing across the cen­tury. Peo­ple like lar­rikin Dig­ger Archie Bar­wick; nurse Alice Ross-King; the in­ge­nious Sir John Monash.

Com­pared with them, Bri­tish-born field medic Arthur was some­thing of an enigma. While his di­ary was archived by the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial ( the note­book handed, in the 28-year-old’s dy­ing mo­ments, to his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer – an act that made all the rest pos­si­ble) his fam­ily in the UK for­got all about him. It was only as we be­gan to delve into the tale of this quiet, up­right man, who loved car­pen­try (hence the nick­name), paint­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, that we were able to share it back with those rel­a­tives to­day, among them best-sell­ing crime nov­el­ist Sarah Hi­lary, and with the Aus­tralian pub­lic.

With AN­ZA­CLive we brought the peo­ple of Gal­lipoli and the Somme to 2015 and 2016. This year, as the cen­te­nary of World War I comes to a close, we wanted to do some­thing equally bold: Bring those ex­tra­or­di­nary bat­tle­fields – the places and the peo­ple – to 2018 and be­yond.

It was this AN­ZAC 360 project that let us fin­ish the story of Arthur and learn so much more.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and Grainger Films, we have cre­ated 360-de­gree, vir­tual re­al­ity films at key sites along Aus­tralia’s Trail of Re­mem­brance. Us­ing drone and ground-level sur­round footage, pe­riod im­agery, graph­ics

EPI­TAPH: Army medic Arthur James Adams carved his nick­name, “Chips’’, on a wall in the Naours caves, in France, weeks be­fore his death at Pozieres. Justin Lees with a shell cas­ing at Poly­gon Wood, and Amy Lees at the grave of Arthur James Adams.

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