Lost Anzac digger portraits uncovered

By AAP with AG staff 7 November 2011
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Ahead of Rememberance Day, 500 images of lost Anzac diggers have been gifted to Australia from London.

HUNDREDS OF PHOTOS DEPICTING Australian soldiers before their departure for the battlefields of World War I have been discovered in a London museum.

The more than 500 portraits have been gifted to Australia and soon will be linked to online records already available through the National Archives of Australia.

The crisp black and white images show young men in uniform, hair done and beards shaven, ready for battle.

Personal stories of fallen Anzacs

Veterans Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon told his own story of using the archives to discover information about relatives who volunteered for war.

“I had grand-uncles at Gallipoli … I wasn’t aware of it until this year,” he told reporters at the archives in Canberra.

The archives offer a connection to stories of the past, for family to remember those who died in battle and was buried in a foreign land.
“I think it’s very emotional,” the minister said. “It was a common practice during the First World War for many Australian troops to visit a photographic house in London before heading to the Western Front; the plan was to send their portraits back home to their families.

“Sadly for some, they never made it back to collect the photos, and their families may never have known they existed,” he said.

Tragic stories of Anzac heroes revealed

The photos were discovered by archives staff member Courtney Page-Allen at London’s Imperial War Museum and form part of a collection of 16,000 WWI images.

“Until now, this collection has been inaccessible to most Australians, but we are now able to link the portraits to the online records and help bring the stories of these men to life,” Brendan O’Connor, The Minister for Freedom of Information, said in a statement.

One of the records pieced together tells the story of Lieutenant William Allen (pictured above).

He joined the army in August 1914 and fought with 4th Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli before being killed in action in February 1917 at Holly Ridge in France, at age 24.

Included in the collection is a letter from Allen’s mother written to the Army Records Office in the wake of her son’s death.

“I was his widowed mother and he was my only child,” Mrs Allen wrote. “My late husband his father died when he was an infant, three weeks old.”

It is just one tragic story from a war filled with them.

More portraits and accompanying stories are available at www.mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au.