Recent First World War discoveries at the WA Museum – Geraldton

Corporal James Davie Renner, 4th Divisional Signals Company, of Fremantle, Western Australia

Corporal James Davie Renner, 4th Divisional Signals Company, of Fremantle, Western Australia

Visitors to the Western Australian Museum – Geraldton will have the opportunity to view the Australian War Memorial’s extraordinary travelling exhibition Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt from 27 February 2016. 

WA Museum CEO Alec Coles said it was a privilege to display the unique First World War exhibition, an exquisite collection of black and white images printed from the original glass-plate negatives, as part of the Museum’s Centenary of Service commemorative calendar. 

“The photographs being exhibited represent one of the most important and recent discoveries of material from the First World War,” Mr Coles said. 

“This is such a significant exhibition we are especially pleased that not only was itdisplayed at our Perth site, it is also traveling to our regions to ensure the widest possible audience can experience it.” 

During the First World War, a total of 32,231 Western Australians enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and saw active service at Gallipoli, the Western Front and Sinai-Palestine – some 6,800 never came home. The State raised 28th and 44th Battalions and the 10th Light Horse Regiment and, along with South Australia and Tasmania, contributed troops to five other units. 

The 80 photographs featured in the exhibition are part of The Louis and Antoinette Thuillier Collection, re-discovered in 2011 after sitting undisturbed for nearly a century in the attic of a farmhouse in the French village of Vignacourt. The soldiers in them were photographed by an enterprising husband-and-wife team, Louis and Antoinette Thuillier, who had set up a makeshift studio in their stable yard, just off the main street of Vignacourt. 

WA Museum – Geraldton Regional Manager Catherine Belcher said the images were printed onto postcards the soldiers sent to loved ones back home.

“The postcards were a treasured link to family amidst the horrors of war, and the Australian War Memorial has added several photographs of Western Australian soldiers to the tour not previously displayed in any other exhibition outside of WA,” Ms Belcher said. 

“Since the exhibition’s tour in WA commenced, eight more confirmed identifications of Western Australian soldiers have occurred. We encourage the public to help identify these unknown soldiers who had their photographs taken to send home to their families as postcards, but did not have their names recorded against the original glass plates. We would be thrilled to make another discovery in Geraldton”. 

The exhibition photographs were hand printed in the Australian War Memorial’s darkrooms from the original glass-plate negatives. Objects from the battlefields revealing what the Australians experienced and endured are also on display, while the original postcards included in the exhibition allow these soldiers to speak to us in their own words. 

The exhibition features prints of 80 of the more than 800 glass-plate negatives which were generously donated to the War Memorial by Mr Kerry Stokes AC in 2012. 

Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, said the enduring appeal of the photographic portraits is that they enable us to imagine the personalities and life stories. 

“The exhibition gives a vivid and insightful account of life behind the front lines in the village of Vignacourt, but it also speaks universally about the wartime experience of soldiers. The exhibition will provide Australians with the opportunity to connect with these remarkable photographs and the personal stories of camaraderie, loss and courage, behind many of the faces,” Dr Nelson said.

Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt has been developed with the generous support of Mr Kerry Stokes AC, the Seven Network, Seven Group Holdings, and Wesfarmers. 

The exhibition is on display at the WA Museum – Geraldton from 27 February – 1 May 2016.