Friday 29 November 2013 by Craig Tibbitts. 3 comments
First World War Centenary, Exhibitions, ANZAC Voices, Personal Stories

ANZAC Voices is the Memorial’s new special exhibition on the First World War, which opened to the public today. It features treasures from the Memorial’s written archives; the voices of the ANZACs presented through their letters and diaries, and supported by a variety of other official documents, photographs, artworks and historical artefacts.

Theme image

The curators chose the above photo to be the exhibition’s theme image for obvious reasons, given it’s built around the written record.  We also thought it was a good strong image that could carry off the important exhibition ‘branding’ role.  Who knows what he’s writing – we might imagine it’s a letter home to the family, but it could just as easily be some routine administrative paperwork.

The photo’s original caption reads,

In billets at Flesselles. A member of the 2nd Battalion "carrying on" with his correspondence. The muddy state of the yard was not quite so bad as the trenches. Note the canvas action cover which protects the breech of his rifle.

Date made: 17-30 November 1916.

The soldier himself if quite anonymous and with no stripes on his sleeve, appears to be a private.  The 2nd Battalion’s war diaries reveal they were stationed at the little French village of Flesselles between 17-30 November 1916 for rest, refit and further training.  The battalion was between stints in the front line on the Somme during that dreadfully wet autumn, which in turn led to a bitterly cold winter.  Flesselles is only about 5 miles north of Amiens, and actually very close to Vignacourt, the focus of another of the Memorial’s recent special exhibitions.  In November 1916 the Australian sector of the front was around Le Sars, Gueudecourt and Le Transloy, about 20 miles east of Flesselles, so our writing man would have heard the guns booming in the distance.

The hat

Those familiar with Australian military uniform will probably notice this man has the brim of his hat turned up on the right-hand side, opposite to the norm.  At first we thought the image was simply reversed, but upon checking the negative it was clear the photo’s orientation is correct.  So perhaps this man was either a bit of a rebel, or he simply plonked it on his head the wrong way around as he sat down to write. 

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ANZAC Voices runs until Sunday, 30 November 2014.
 

 

 

Comments

I was at the war memorial sometime ago and heard one of your guides remarking on the difference between the Australian and New Zealand uniform the guide said the Australian one was better because it didn't stand out like that of the Australian one - this surprised me given that Australian light horse were identifiable by their plumes and within a few months of landing at Gallipoli the soldiers uniforms were fairly indistinguishable from each other... I have a number of photos of soldiers at Gallipoli with the same look

I think there was a real variety of uniforms even at the Gallipoli landing. Usually the head wear was the most immediately distinguishable from a distance and the Australians had a mix of peaked British caps, slouch hats and sun helmets. As you suggest, after a couple of weeks on the peninsula the uniforms were modified and cut down to the bare necessities until they probably all had more in common than not. On the Western Front you'd have to have been a remarkably observant German (even with binoculars) to pick an Australian from a New Zealander, from a Canadian to a Tommy. Notwithstanding a close-up inspection of uniform detail, they all looked pretty much the same. The Germans routinely called us all 'Tommies' or 'English.'

It looks like the sun was actually shining so maybe he turned his hat around while he was writing to keep it out of his eyes.

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