CENTENARY OF ARMISTICE 1918-2018 OUR STORIES KEEP
JULY 1916: NAOURS, FRANCE JUNE 1940: FROMELLES, FRANCE APRIL 2018: NAOURS, FRANCE
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.