HERO DIG­GERS FROZEN IN TIME

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - AGENDA -

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 .

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