In search of the unknown Anzacs


The photograph of Diggers not long before they headed for Gallipoli in World War I is one of the most iconic of all Australia’s war images.

It is a group portrait of original officers and men of the WA-raised 11th Battalion.

More than 700 soldiers are spread over many levels of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) near Mena camp, Egypt, on January 10, 1915.

A print of the photograph was given to the Western Australian Genealogical Society by the late Allan Ellam, who had in the 1980s, along with his wife, Raye, started a project to put names to the men’s faces.

WAGS decided to continue the project with the aim being to name as many of the men as possible before the centenary of the day the photo was taken.

The West Australian has joined WAGS in that mission, and today launches an appeal for the public to come forward to help.

WAGS webmaster, Chris Loudon said that the society thought the project was a good way to pay tribute to the men of the 11th Battalion.

He has divided a digital copy of the photograph into grids and numbered each man, thereby enabling their features to be enlarged and their position in the image to be easily identified.

WAGS has identified 150 men on its website, of which 58 have been verified and 92 are to be confirmed, with 44 known to have died as a result of their service, including 27 who died as a result of the Gallipoli campaign.

West Australians with photographs of family members who were members of the 11th Battalion are urged to come forward so that the image might be cross-checked against the men in the pyramid photo.

The WAGS website is also recording the individual stories of the men and is planning to hold a gathering of descendants on January 10, next year.

Chris Loudon of the WA Genealogical Society with the pyramid picture. Picture: Dione Davidson/The West Australian

According to the Australian War Memorial’s history, the 11th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF during WWI and the first battalion recruited in WA, becoming part of the 3rd Brigade, which was the covering force for the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

The 11th Battalion continued to serve at Anzac until the evacuation in December and in March 1916 sailed for France and the Western Front.

From then until 1918, the battalion took part in bloody trench warfare, and continued operations until late September 1918, the AWM says.

Mr Loudon said the photo had “taken on an iconic status” and that many of the men were killed when the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli or later on the Western France.

“It’s a very poignant part of WA history,” he said.

He liked to think it would be possible to name all the men in the photo but realised it would be a big task.

Some of those pictured might not even have had family in WA, so tracing them would be especially difficult.

But the website had already generated a lot of interest from WA and beyond, including for example, a woman in Scotland who believed she had a relative in the photo.