Friday 25 February 2011 by Peter Burness. 29 comments
News

Vignacourt is an old rural village in France, larger than most, 12 kilometres north of the city of Amiens. During the First World War it stood behind the front-line of the Somme fighting, although the action was never far away and soldiers were always present.  For much of the time it was a forward rest area where troops arrived to recover from recent battle and prepare for the next. Men were billeted in the houses, lofts, stables and barns, and mixed freely with the villagers.

A photo from the Memorial's collection of an unidentified Australian soldier standing in a street in Vignacourt in 1919. A photo from the Memorial's collection of an unidentified Australian soldier standing in a street in Vignacourt in 1919. E05280

The comings and goings of the troops, British, Indian, French, Australians, and Americans, and even some of the Chinese Labour Corps, was recorded by a local photographer, Louis Thuillier and his wife. Throughout much of the war they photographed the fighting men who came to their humble outdoor studio in the courtyard of their house. Thousands of their photographs must have found their way to homes around the world, including Australia.

Remarkably the Thuilliers’ glass plate negatives still exist, sitting almost undisturbed for nearly a century.  They have recently been located by investigators from Australia’s Channel 7.   An unknown number of the photographs show Australian diggers, but they must number in the hundreds.

Research at the Australian War Memorial indicates that the Australian photographs were mostly taken in November 1916 and during November-December 1918.  Among the latter are scenes of celebration on the day the war ended, 11 November 1918. A study of the soldiers’ faces shows men pleased to be away from the dangers of the front-line, although many also show the strain of recent heavy action or that accumulated over years of fighting.

The first Australian troops in Vignacourt were men of the 1st Division who were billeted there only days before facing the horror of the fighting at Pozieres on 23 July 1916.  A few months later the survivors of the battles of Fromelles and Pozieres moved into the Somme trenches where they would face the misery of the wet and frozen trenches in an ordeal some found worse than heavy battle. Some of the exhausted brigades went to Vignacourt to recover.

The history of the 5th Australian Battalion records its move to Vignacourt:

The Australian regiment was weary, untidy, and muddy to the last degree ... their despondency was noticeable, though not to be wondered at, when one remembers the misery of the preceding days in the mud. The Fifth underwent a rigid course of training in Vignacourt.  New clothes were issued, and the men were refitted generally.  Five hours daily of hard work soon had its effect, and the Regiment rapidly regained its physical and mental fitness.

The Vignacourt photographs are a record of Australian troops in France and their interaction with French civilians, and present unique evidence of the life and experiences of men following battle. The story of the amazing photographs and their discovery airs on Sunday Night at 6.30pm on the Seven Network.

Update: There is also a Facebook page called Lost diggers with more photos, video, and details about who to contact if you think you can identify any of the soldiers.

Comments

malcolm simpson

where was the 5th Bn originally from ?

Joan Cannon

It is a wonder after all these years that they still keep on finding things from so many years ago, but I suppose in some way they have been protected. Hope they keep up there good work. Regards, Joan

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Lenore Frost

Really fantastic news. Will we be seeing these photos on the AWM website anytime soon?

Chris Woods

What a wonderful resource. They need to be preserved, no matter the monetary cost. There needs to be a Preservation Fund set up, I'm sure there'll be many donations.

Emma

Great find - does that mean that Channel 7 now owns them though? Or have they donated them to AWM?

Heather Smith

How can we help bring this priceless collection 'home' to Australia? It needs to be brought, the photographs developed and presented to the children and citizens of Australia via a travelling exhibition. The centenary of WW1 is only 3 years away - it would be a wonderful addition to Australia's rememberance of our WW1 history and sacrifice.

bruce

Priceless find, so precious for the AWM and for all. A must keep for the AWM.

Ronald Swan Purssey

Dear Sir/Madam ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. I have in my possession a superb photograph of our father which is virtually a reverse image of your image No 5 of 73. By that I mean the motor cycle is pointing to the left. The background is clearly similar. The only real differences between the two photos is that our father is wearing a wet weather jacket and the other Despatch Rider has a pair of goggles on his cap. Our photo is signed "Roy France '18". I have our father's complete Military History from both wars (and the other members of our family including us). He survived 6 months on the Western Front in 1918. May I repeat, absolutely incredible. Yours sincerely Ronald Swan Purssey retired Architect Dr Brian Swan Purssey retired Surgeon bpurssey@bigpond.net.au

Ronald Swan Purssey

See above for comments, thank you.

Tricia Mack

How wonderful to see these long lost photographs and to think that some day they will find their families. I would be wonderful if the Australian Government could acquire all these photographs. It would be wonderful also if a joint venture between Australia and France could obtain the farm that these photographs were found in and made into a museum.

Lorayne Branch

It is possible that a family member by the name of Major George Matson Nicholas could have been photographed, George was killed at Flers on the 14 November 1916. I was wondering how I can see the whole collection to look for a photo of him. He would be identifiable by his uniform as he was a Major and there is family photo's of him to compare images.

Christine Horrocks

I have looked at the photos posted on the Sunday Night website and the ones shown on Facebook. Unfortunately none of those are my grandfather or his brother. Both fought at Fromelles in 1916 and could possibly be on some of the other glass negatives. Both were in the 56bn which fought at Fromelles and Polygon Wood. I understand my grandfather from time to time between 1916-1918 would have had some R & R especially recuperating from wounds or illness at the front. He returned to Australia, spoke little about the war to my father and of course I have never met him. I became extremely interested after my father died and have purchased the war records etc. I was able to get hold of a book about 56bn so have read some of their history. My grandfather and his brother both get a mention in the book. My grandfather was Reginald Jack Elliott and his brother was Lionel Frank Elliott. Both signed up at Paddington. I hope somehow you are able to take possession of the glass negatives - it is a wonderful legacy for all Australians and very important to the relatives.

Marilyn

Fantastic photos, I believe I may have identified my Grandfather in one of the photos. I am now trying to trace his movements through his War Service Records but it is a difficult situation to be absolutely sure it is him. He was in Field Artillery and is in a photo with a Light Trench Mortar Unit who look like they had been playing sport. My Grandfather was very into sports . He was an Officer at that time and in the photo the person is an Officer. I will keep researching to try and confirm it is him. Looking forward to seeing the rest at some stage and hope the Govt or a generous Benefactor realises the enormous historical value of these photos. Maybe Ch 7 could start a fund to raise money to buy them.

Anthony Perkins

I have a collection of ww1 photo postcards and several of them stand out from the others, i now know why. I always thought there was a story behind them and now i can stop wondering. What a great find, lets hope the glass negatives end up in Australia for all Australians.

Stuart Curry

G-Day Peter Burness Great Documentary on Sunday night Five of my family members fought at the Western Front 1916-1918 I sent an email to your Research Centre showing my ideas for the Great War Collage Please investigate my WW1 Research Websites Curryww1.com (especially Photo Gallery) Dontforgetthediggers.com.au

Andrew

I watched the programme on sunday night....really well put together....Ross Coulthart is a first class journalist. I hope we can see them all sometime soon..the clarity is quite incredible...and if it weren't for the fact they were monochrome, you'd think they were taken yesterday. I find it sad though that it took the determination of a dedicated Frenchman to sidestep the indifference and lazyness of the Australian Embassy in France...Whoever they were...poor show.

Steve Bloxham

Its amazing after so long that these photos have been discovered and made available to the public, well done to all involved!. I, like many others hope that the rest of the collection will also be published over time...It's a great unofficial record of those diggers who had been able to rest after serving & surviving in the front lines and enduring so much in those grim conditions. It is such a fascinating and unforgettable view of those times....Thanks again...

Deb Miller

I have several Aussie Diggers in my family trees. How do I find out if their photos are amongst these photos in France, as I don't know what they looked like? I know their regimental numbers, unit details and battalion details. Come on Australian Government, step up to the plate! You are always going on about our Aussie Diggers.

Eunice Curran

Thank you Peter Burness for all your hard work which we learned last week on Sunday Night (channel7programme). The French are truly wonderful people and the couple who made such an effort in taking all of these men's photographs including other nationals are simply amazing and should be credited in France for their work.

Thorold Norton

Brilliant collection - bring them home for the decendants and public to further appreciate the A.I.F. efforts and sacrifices of the soliders, their family and friends. Best regards Thorold

Lp23

Yes! - to repeat the calls of those above, AWM, PLEASE purchase these if needs be, for storage and display at the AWM! Would be a great shame if they were to be split up, hidden away or worse - accidentally destroyed - where no future generations would be able to access them!

Mr. Mmmm

Wonder how long it will be before the truth is revealed about this commercialised subverting of a collective history by a rating's driven commercial television magazine show? How has the AWM allowed staff members and its good name to become involved in a less than transparent assault on the emotional well being and shameless tugging on the heart strings of the relatives and off-spring of the Diggers - all for a ratings lift for what is a lemon of a show. What chummy back-room deals have been cooked up between K.Stoke's ATN7 and the AWM? What does PM&C know about it? Did the French Government issue a license to export what are rightfully their cultural relics? Too many unanswered questions, but alas all will be revealed when the white knight rides in from Perth on the Sunday night before ANZAC day. London to a brick says so.

Maureen

All I have of grandfather(pop) is stored up in my memory,and have one old photo,taken when he was an older man, I would give anything to have anything that relates to him.Including including his war service(without the leg,lost in 1916 in France)during the second war as he volunteered to work on the home front payment office(Karrakatta) just so another able bodied male could go to service,and fight.I can recall his telling me very brief stories(happier ones)when he was serving in africa? before their move to the war in belgium.I also know from what little information I've gathered that he was injured in France during a battle held in November 1915.My hope lies with you,Thankyou

Eunice Curran

Albert John Horace Smith 4526 of 54th Battalion. Pamphletts of "Where The Australians Rest" was sent to my families relatives after notifying them of their sons deaths. Albert was killed on 19/20 July 1916 at Fromelles, he was sent from Cairo to France. I wondering if he would be in these photographs, I don't even know what he looks like. Albert's brother William Ernest Smith 2899 (my grandfather) served in France from December 1916-17, not sure either if he could be in these photographs. On my father's side of the family Alfred Ernest Callaghan 4405 served in France from May 1916 - August1916 with the 25th Battalion. Hurtle Patrick Joseph Hughes Machine Gun Company 11, Reinforcement 7 was killed in action 15 April 1918. Buried at Bonnay, France. We have a photograph of his grave, would he be in these photographs or any of these mens battalions.

Peter Lee

I believe I have seen a print of one of these photos I was shown it when I was twelve years. It was shown to me by a friend of my great uncle who served in the 1div 3bat who also moved through this area but this would of bein in April of 1917 Iam sure this photo is the same one I saw when I was child. he was KIA in June 1918 Lest we forget

Kevin Murrell

What a momentous find,the slides have to be brought home,personally the photos indirectly found my great grandfather who served with 5th tunnelling company. He died 6th august 1918 after being hit by a train behind the lines.After many coincedences in my life i have only just discovered his military record and with the help of ww1 lost boys now have a photo of him.Many thanks to all concerned it is a life changing moment

tony Stancombe

The 5th Battalion was formed in Melbourne and was known as the scottish battalion, of which my Grandfather was one, his name was William Talbot Malloch No: 166

Michael White

Are these the same ones the Independent paper in the UK reported in May 2009? See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/exclusive-the-unseen-photographs-that-throw-new-light-on-the-first-world-war-1688443.html