Val Lehman starred as “Queen” Bea Smith in the Australian television show Prisoner, but to the award-winning actress, her grandfather was a star.
James Holland, who fought on Gallipoli and the Western Front during the First World War, is one of the “Lost Diggers of Vignacourt”, whose photographs were discovered lying undisturbed in the attic of a French farmhouse almost a century later.
“He never spoke about the war,” Lehman said.
“His son … asked him a lot, but … he’d just shake his head, as if to say, no, no, I’m not going there … so I don’t really know what effect it had on him or what his attitude to it was, but I’m sure he was very pleased to have survived it …
“He was a forward machine-gunner … He was buried alive twice, ended up with diabetes caused from shock, and actually lived until he was 81, so he did alright. He married three times, and outlived all of his wives.”
Lehman, who played the ultimate “top dog” in Prisoner in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was in Canberra to visit the National Film and Sound Archive to mark the 40th anniversary of the show going to air. She visited the Australian War Memorial to view photographs from Vignacourt and lay a wreath in memory of her grandfather and all those who served.
“They were so brave,” she said. “I can’t begin to imagine what it was like and what they lived through.”