Ninety-three-year-old Ian Prior stands proudly in his suit and medals looking straight at the camera.
He was an 18-year-old mechanic from Victoria when he enlisted in 1943, and went on to serve in New Guinea, Morotai, the Philippines, and Borneo.
“You had two choices really,” he said of that time. “You either joined up, or you got called up, take your pick. So I joined the Air Force. I wanted to join the Navy, but they said I was too small. The Air Force didn’t object, so I became a flight mechanic.”
Prior is one of 6,500 Second World War veterans who were photographed by more than 450 professional photographers from around the country as part of the Reflections: honouring our WWII veterans project by the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP).
The largest photographic project ever undertaken in Australia, Reflections started in 2015 and took two years to complete. The portraits have been donated to the Australian War Memorial to be displayed as part of a special photography installation in the Second World War galleries.
Memorial Director Brendan Nelson said that looking into the faces of this remarkable generation of Australians was an emotional experience.
“This is the best generation this country has ever produced,” he said.
“These men and women were born in the aftermath of the war that was. They came to their adult lives through the Great Depression under the shadows of the war that was coming and they mobilised … to defend our vital interests.
“Six years later we emerged from the Second World War with 40,000 dead and an indeterminate number bearing deep and psychological wounds for their service and then they set about the economic reconstruction of our country.
“It’s actually very powerful and extremely moving to hear the descriptions of the photographers and their own experiences of photographing these men and women; the stories of veterans well into their nineties wanting to have their photograph taken with a mate they hadn’t seen for 50 years; of families wanting to be very much a part of the photograph; and the lengths the photographers went to.
“One of the Torres Strait Islander veterans … his son simply saying I broke down and cried seeing my father’s photograph being taken, it meant so much to him.”