Looking into the eyes of World War One soldiers, many of whom were killed on the battlefield in France within weeks of their photo being taken, was a poignant experience for Lieutenant Commander Ian Lumsden when he visited the exhibition ‘Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt’ on display at the Australian War Memorial earlier this week.
LCDR Lumsden is a Naval Reserve Officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) with a background in both photography and cinematography. He is one of a number of specialists employed by Defence, who together with the Imagery Specialist branch, capture Defence personnel in their various roles including key strategic missions.
LCDR Lumsden has been a cinematographer since 1996 and became a Reservist for the RAN in 2004 where he works as a Public Affairs Officer. A veteran of a memorable deployment to Baghdad, LCDR Lumsden said that the work of photographers in earlier wars was as important as those of today.
“It really brings home just how brave these men were in the service of their country. It’s possible for a historian to describe what service in World War One was like, but to look into the young soldiers’ eyes lends a totally different dimension to the story.
“The historical impact of being a military photographer or cinematographer was really brought home when one of my images from Baghdad made it to the front page of ‘The Weekend Australian’,” he said.
“It really showed just how important it was for the people back home to see Australian troops, in this case, 3RAR infantry, doing their job to protect Australia’s interests.
“We operate with some of the best image capture technology in the world - I can’t imagine how difficult the same job would have been like in the Great War, carting a pack full of glass plates around with a heavy wooden tripod and camera.” LCDR Lumsen said
Captured on glass, printed into postcards and posted home, the photographs made by the Thuillier family during World War One in the small French village of Vignacourt, enabled Australian some soldiers to maintain a fragile link with loved ones in Australia leaving behind an enduring legacy that is now being shared through the Australian War Memorial.
For nearly a century this unique, precious trove of Australian history lay hidden and neglected amongst decades of dust and cobwebs in an attic of a disused French barn.
The photographic glass plates depict Australian and other allied soldiers who have taken brief respite from their time on the front line during the First World War. Some are obviously mates having a laugh, others bear the battle weary look of young men old beyond their years recently returned from the field.
Eminent historians are now hailing the glass plates as ‘priceless’, and as one of the most important ever historical discoveries from that conflict. The exhibition is on display until 31 July at the Australian War Memorial.
Further information is available on the Australian War Memorial website at https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/remember-me