Identifying the Thuillier Collection – Australia’s Lost Diggers Project

The Lost Diggers Project has been well reported on Channel 7’s Sunday Night TV show, through the Lost Diggers Facebook page, and on their blog. But just in case you missed it, here’s a brief (trust me, this is brief) background to it …

So it all starts 95 years ago, in a small French village, not far from the allied frontlines, Louis Thuillier and his wife Antoinette began a unique historical record of the First World War which has stayed hidden – until now. The Sunday Night team followed up on rumours of a secret collection of photographic glass plates taken during the First World War which eminent historians are now hailing as ‘priceless’ and as one of the most important ever historical discoveries from that conflict, which has now been dubbed ‘The Thuillier Collection’.

It was in the attic of a dilapidated farmhouse in the small town of Vignacourt, two hours drive north of Paris, near Amiens that they found over 4,000 fragile photographic glass plate negatives. Earlier this year 500 of the plates were donated by a relative of the photographers, and were brought back to Australia, with the subsequent plates purchased by Kerry Stokes, and donated to the Australian War Memorial.

All of the images are never-seen-before candid and often delightfully informal shots of Australian, British, American, Canadian and other allied soldiers enjoying time in the village, which was used during the war as a rest centre for soldiers who had recently survived the carnage of battles on the Somme and Flanders.

For many, the photo shoots were a brief, happy lull before they went on to be slaughtered in subsequent battles between 1916 and November 1918, when the war finally ended. Many of the photographs are taken of Australian soldiers from the 1st and 5th Division in November and December of 1916, just after they survived the carnage of battles at Pozieres and Fromelles. At Pozieres alone, in just four days, 5285 Australian soldiers were killed or wounded.

Nearly two-thirds of the young men who came through Vignacourt would have gone on to be killed or wounded, and in all likelihood these images are the last photographs taken of these young men before they died.

So that is the background to this remarkable, fabulous, world famous collection of World War I photos, and I along with many thousands of others are wondering (actually crossing fingers and toes) that a relative of might be among them. For me it is my great grandpa, Otto Rafael Winter. Born in Finland, he because a seaman so he didn’t have to partake of the required service with the Russian Army. He jumped ship in Australia, became naturalised and proudly fought with the Australian Army as part of the 50th Battalion, and later the 1st Tunnellers Company.

Now that the photos are in Australia, the Sunday Night team are undertaking the ambitious task of identifying the men in the Lost Diggers photos. Melbourne facial recognition security software experts COMPUTRONICS, has agreed to assist Sunday Night using their high-end program to cross-match the thousands of Lost Digger images, together with portrait images from a range of different collections such as those held by the National Library of Australia, and the Australian War Memorial, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs. But trust me YOUR help is still needed, and here’s what you can do …

Here’s How You Can Help …
1. First up, take some time (actually allow a whole afternoon as you’ll be totally engrossed with these photos) to browse through all the photos that have been scanned and uploaded on the The Lost Diggers Facebook page. If you’re not a Facebooker, find someone who is, and log in through them, trust me it’s worth it. Here’s the link.

2. If you recognise anyone in there, you can send details to the Sunday Night team. Just note the photograph number, and send it in with your details. Here’s their contact details.

3. If you don’t recognise anyone, but do think that a relative might have been there are the time, scan a photo of your reli, and post it on to the Facebook wall, together with details about them (name, age, and regiment or battalion etc). They are also using facial recognition software to try and find matches, which may help in cases like this. Here’s the link to their Facebook page.

So let’s help the Project by spreading the word, and doing our bit to help identify a Lost Digger or two.

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