Treasure Trove of Photos of Aussie Soldiers in World War I Unearthed in France

A treasure trove of photographs of Australian diggers taken during the First World War have been discovered in an attic in France, in a major find hailed as ”one of the most important discoveries from World War I” by military historians.

More than 3000 pictures of Australian and other allied troops, unearthed from a dilapidated farmhouse in the Somme valley, include previously unseen images of Australian troops at war, including diggers boxing and often larrikin poses by anonymous diggers with bottles of wine and French girls on their laps.

The discovery is to be detailed on tonight’s ‘Sunday Night’ program on Channel Seven at 6.30pm.

Australian War Memorial historian and First World War expert Peter Burness was present when the fragile glass photographic negative plates were uncovered in the attic of a house if the village of Vignacourt, just two hours north of Paris.

Mr Burness said that, unlike the Gallipoli campaign where many Australian soldiers had personal cameras, no cameras were allowed on the Western Front in France and Belgium outside the official photographers, who were mainly British and often censored.

This meant that, until now, there was a huge hole in the official photographic records of the war.

The collection, dubbed ”The Thuillier collection” after the photographers – local farmer Louis Thuillier and his wife Antoinette – was almost lost to history because the farmhouse where they were stored is likely to be sold in coming months and Mr Thuillier’s descendants had no idea of the historical significance of the plates.

In 1916, Louis Thuillier had returned to his Vignacourt farmhouse from two years of military service in the French army when Australian soldiers began arriving in the town from Gallipoli as the Australian forces poured into the Western Front from the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. He and his wife saw an opportunity to make extra money by offering to take photographs of passing soldiers.

The soldiers were often billeted with local families and some of the pictures show local children and girls posing with the Diggers and other soldiers.

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,” Mr Burness said.

”In all likelihood these images are the last photographs taken of these young men before they died.”

View the photos
You can view the photos on their website, or their Facebook page.

Can you identify anyone in them?
Can you help to identify these ‘Lost Diggers’ from World War , if so, note the photograph number, and write to Sunday Night through their website.

26 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Shirley says:

    My grandmothers brother Robert John Christie service number 402 left Australia for Gallipoli then onto France where after all the fighting he was killed in action on the very last day of action of his unit C Company 28th Battalion 4 October 1918 before the war ended in 1918. His body was not found or recovered.
    It would be marvellous if any photographs could be found of him.

  2. [...] I read the following story with interest on the Gould Genealogy webpage -http://www.gouldgenealogy.com/2011/02/treasure-trove-of-photos-of-aussie-soldiers-in-world-war-i-une…). [...]

  3. [...] Treasure Trove of Photos of Aussie Soldiers in World War I … Feb 27, 2011 … More than 3000 photographs of Australian Diggers taken during the WWI has been discovered in France. [...]

  4. Judy Holman-Crook says:

    How wonderful, to bring these men back to life through these photographs for their families and our nation. I will have to now go through my family photographs to see if I can find a likeness. My grandfather fought in France in the English Army was gassed and ill all through his short life so I can feel for these men.

  5. Claire says:

    It’s marvelous to find these photos. I am a Belgian historian and I am writing an article about the WW1 Duggers in the Charleroi’s area. I am interested by all documents as photos, letters, war diaries of WW1 Australian soldiers for my research. Thank you so much.

  6. Alona Tester says:

    Claire, thanks for your comments. If you’re after any info relating to Aussie soldiers, as well as photos, letters etc … can I suggest you contact a company called Regimental Books, who are not only a bookseller but also researchers, as well as knowing all there is to know about Australian military history. http://regimental-books.com.au/

    If you happen to be on Facebook, you may like to make mention of your quest for info on The Lost Diggers page (http://www.facebook.com/lostdiggers) and also the Discover a Digger page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/Discoveradigger?sk=wall)

    I guarantee that you’ll get some help.

  7. Anne Morrisson ( nee Mulvihill ) says:

    Looking for photos of my late grandfather Lawrence Rupert MULVIHILL. He was KIA WW1 in France. thanks Annie M

  8. my father was posted to france, we have no photographs of him.
    regiment no 51640. pte 39 batallion.
    hospitalized in france 03/12/1918
    returned to australia on euripides ?? 19/19
    beverly mccarney nee mcrostie

  9. Alona Tester says:

    Hi John, you’d be best to submit your details direct to the people at ‘Sunday Night’ program, which you can do here:http://au.news.yahoo.com/sunday-night/contact/lost-digger/
    or on their Facebook page:
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/lostdiggers?sk=wall

  10. Gordon Macleod says:

    What’s going to happen to the original plates? Are all 3000 available to view, and if not, are they to become available at some point? Regards, Gordon.

  11. Have just found these photo’s and story. It is now almost 12 months since this show what has our Great Prime Minister done about getting all these memories back to us. Nothing I suspect.Elaine Webster

  12. Alona Tester says:

    Hi Elaine, thanks for your comments. The good news is that the photo collection DID in fact make it to Australia. You can read more about it here: http://www.lonetester.com/2011/11/identifying-the-thuillier-collection-australias-lost-diggers-project/

  13. Lavonna Garbutt says:

    Great timing. As you know, I recently re-joined the ranks and haven’t had a chance to do much; bio, background, etc.

  14. Quincy says:

    I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone
    to do it for you? Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thanks

  15. Would be interesting to hear other side on this story. Otherwise
    this would be even more scandalous than a joke.

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  17. Kristine Briggs says:

    I have a photo/postcard of a WW1 Soldier .

    Details on card are
    Bertie Thomas Smith
    No 15736
    Have researched a little bit. I have a copy of Australian Imperial Force Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad

  18. Kristine Briggs says:

    More Information on
    Bertie Thomas Smith
    Service No. No 15736
    Wife Emily
    Lived at 4 Rochester Street Homebush
    Occupation listed as Master Plumber

    Other Information Bert Smith had a Hardware store at 4 Rochester Street Homebush it was listed in the Homebush Boys High School Magazine

  19. Treasure Trove of Photos of Aussie Soldiers in World War I Unearthed in France…

    More than 3000 photographs of Australian Diggers taken during the WWI has been discovered in France. It…

  20. Estelle Rashleigh says:

    I am trying to view a photo I seen when photos were first published.It is my belief my Father was in one of them.Can anyone advise me how to view the photos found in attic in France.The photo was of 2 boys sparing with a soldier standing watching.I am sure it is my Father Ronald Patterson as he told my Mother many years ago such a photo was taken.He was just 17 when he went to France.

  21. Alona Tester says:

    Hi Estelle, you can find links to the Lost Diggers photos on the SundayNight wbesite, as well as on their Facebook page. You can find the links to them on the bottom of this original article.

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  24. Gwen Butler says:

    My Grandfather George Francis Bushell was a gunner in ww1 and thats all I know, I have only one photo of him when he was old and would love a photo of him in earlier years.

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