Ross Coulthard’s astonishing new publication, THE LOST DIGGERS reveals previously unseen images of Australian soldiers from the Western Front, not at war, but at relative ease, in the French town of Vignacourt, controlled by the Allies as a rest centre throughout World War 1.
Thousands of glass plate images of Australian diggers and their allies had been taken by Vignacourt resident photographers, Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in their Vignacourt studio, sold “snaps” for soldiers to send home to their loved ones.
Ross Coulthart and his Channel 7 team discovered the plates early in 2011. They had been kept inside a farmhouse attic for almost 100 years.
Most were in almost perfect condition and as the cliche confirms, a picture tells a thousand words.
We see the pain, fear, exhaustion, stress, bewilderment, resignation and occasionally a sense of fun on the Diggers’ faces.
Following a ‘Lost Diggers’ television documentary, Coulthart and his team posted hundreds of Thuillier images on the Channel 7 website.
Hundreds of thousands of viewers from across the country and overseas responded by writing emotional and passionate accounts of their response to the faces of the diggers.
The appalling backdrop to these reasonably placid images is that in the four years of World War 1, 416,809 of Australia’s four million population enlisted – 40 per cent of all men between the ages of 18 and 45.
Two thirds of those men became casualties; by war’s end nearly 60,000 were dead, 166,811 were wounded and many thousands more suffered ‘shell shock’ or what we know today as post traumatic stress disorder.
It may have been Gallipoli that saw the birth of the Anzac myth, but it was the Western Front that scarred future generations of Australians and made them realise that war is in no sense, glorious.
In July 2011 with the generous support of Channel 7 Chairman, Kerry Stokes, the entire Thuillier collection of around 4000 glass plates was purchased and brought to Australia.