This week for Throwback Thursday I thought I’d share a very old photo. In fact, this photo is over 100 years old.
It’s a photo that, like many other Australians, I’ve seen many many times., I knew that this was a photo of Australian troops taken in Egypt during WW1, but when I began my research for my book 1915, this photo became for a me a starting point.
The photo was taken in January 1915, and features the men of the 11th Battalion of the AIF who were in Egypt preparing to join the war. They didn’t know it then, but in April those men would land at Gallipoli. Many of them would never leave.
As I researched WW1, looking for a place to start my story, I realised that if my character was from Western Australia (which he was) then he would have been in the 11th and, therefore, in this photo. So, at the start of 1915 I have my character, Stanley, climbing the pyramid with his mates, ready to have their photo taken.
Writing that scene was both a joy and a torment. A Joy because I knew that young men like Stanley were excited to be off on an adventure, seeing the sights of Egypt, climbing pyramids, being outside of Australia for the first times in their lives, excited about having their photo taken. But a torment, because while Stanley was fictional, the harsh realities of what later befell those very real young men in the photograph was something they could never have predicted, but which I, with 100 years of separation, knew and could hardly bear.
I have a copy of this photo which I take with me when I go to speak about 1915. Like me, people young and old are fascinated by the quality of photography from a century ago, and fascinated by the many details they can see – the looks on faces, the poses of the men, the things they are holding and wearing. And, like me, when they realise the future these men faced, their emotions are mixed.
This photo, and stories like 1915, remind us of the past in the hopes we can make a better future.