When I was researching for and planning 1915, I realised that a famous photo which I had looked at many times was, in fact, of the 11th Battalion of the AIF and, as such, would form a perfect starting point for my book. Stanley, my main character, is a member of the 11th and,as such, would have been in that photo (were he, of course, not fictional).
So, a photo that I had already loved become even more treasured as I wrote. The photo is of the 11th in front of, and on, the Cheops Pyramid, in January 1915, a few months before they landed at Gallipoli. It’s an amazing photo because it features over 700 men, and although it is a formal shot, the poses of the men, their faces, and the items they are holding give a glimpse into the many different personalities of the men.
Last week, I took my son to the Curtin University Open Day and, when he went off with some friends, I found myself wandering a little aimlessly. Something called me into the John Curtin Gallery. I thought perhaps I might see some art. But what I saw as I walked through the door took my breath away. There was my photo – the Cheops photo – blown up to almost lifesize proportions on a wall. I burst into tears and then smiled, amazed at what I was seeing.
The reason the photo was there was because in this, the centenary of the year it was taken and the men pictured in it fought in the Great War, a project is underway to identify the men in the photo. Anyone who has a family member who might be in the photo is encouraged to try to identify them within the photo. You can find out more about this project here or contact WAGS
I sat in front of the photo for ages, amazed at just how much more can be seen with it enlarged. The clarity is amazing. I chatted to other viewers, and had a wonderful conversation with a young boy who pointed out an Aboriginal soldier related to a class mate, and told me both how proud he was of him, but also his sorrow at the difficulties faced by Aboriginal soldiers on their return to civilian life.
Afterwards, I sat at a nearby table and made a red felt poppy, which I placed with others in front of the picture. I hope nobody minds that I dedicated mine to Stanley, who is very very real to me.