Larissa Nicholson August 10, 2012
They had their photographs taken and sent them as postcards back home.
Smiling and relaxed, enjoying a brief respite from the horrors of the front line, this is how young Australian soldiers wanted their loved ones to see them.
But we now know many of those who posed in 1916 would die on the battlefields of Europe or return to Australia with injuries, and today while their images have been miraculously preserved, most of their names have been lost to history.
Researchers for the Seven Network caused a sensation when they found 800 glass-plate negatives of Australians who fought on the Somme in World War I packed away in the attic of a farmhouse in Vignacourt, France, last year.
The photographs were taken by French photographer Louis Thuillier and his wife Antoinette, and depict soldiers recovering from a stint on the front line or preparing to go into battle.
Since the discovery, a television and social media campaign has been running to identify the young soldiers, with people who think they recognise the men urged to come forward, but putting names to the faces is no easy task and those involved with the negatives estimate less than 10 per cent had been named.
Media proprietor Kerry Stokes presented the glass plates to the Australian War Memorial yesterday, and staff will make prints from the negatives for an exhibition, Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, which opens on November 2.
Exhibition curator Janda Gooding hoped descendents of World War I Diggers who went to see the exhibition would help identify their relatives, but in order to be certain about who the men were, another photo of them was required to make comparisons. ''Lots of connections to these men of course have passed, grandchildren might still be around, memories are fragile things as well, so it's very difficult to identify them,'' she said.
Dr Gooding said she was thrilled to be working with the slides.
''These are taken very close to the battle site, they're very informal photos, so you see Australian soldiers having fun, mucking about, you see them tired, you see them exhausted, you see them with their mates,'' she said.