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Monkey yarn came to life for son of Lost Digger

Raymond Renner could remember his father telling him about a monkey in World War I.

And in his father's belongings from his time as a Digger on the Western Front there was a photo of a monkey.

But Mr Renner was completely unprepared for what he would see when he thumbed through a copy of the book The Lost Diggers, by journalist Ross Coulhart.

There was a photo of the 52nd Battalion. It was his father's original battalion.

And standing there among the Diggers photographed was a soldier with a monkey on his shoulder.

His dad, James Davie Renner.


James Davie Renner

Mr Renner said his father had enlisted in the 52nd and had sailed for the war in November 1915.

He saw action on the Western Front and had become a dispatch rider with the 4th Battalion.

During his time in France he had gone to Vignacourt, north-west of Paris, along with many other Diggers.

It was there that French couple Louis and Antoinette Thuillier took their photographs to send home as souvenirs.

They were among almost 4000 glass negatives depicting Diggers, other soldiers and French civilians.

A photo of a monkey which was among the possessions of James Davie Renner.

The negatives were found in the attic of the Thuilliers' farmhouse by Channel 7's Sunday Night program in 2011.

More than 800 of the glass plates were bought by WA businessman Kerry Stokes for the Australian War Memorial.

A selection of prints from the negatives went into the exhibition Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, which is on a national tour.

In the Thuillier collection is a photograph of James Renner on a motorcycle.

So it was a special moment for Ray Renner when he met a group of teenagers from Vignacourt last week.

The teens are part of an association of volunteers which has worked to create cultural events in their town based on the Anzac legacy.

They have been on a tour of Australia during which time they have interviewed a number of descendants of the Diggers in the Thuillier collection as part of a documentary.

Ray Renner said it had been an emotional meeting.

"You don't think about these things a lot, but when it's brought to you, it is amazing," he said.

Other descendants of the Lost Diggers, Kathleen Malta and Reg Holland, 93-year-old twin children of Digger Jim Holland, and Nick Bertram, a great-grandson of Digger Robert Charles, also met the Vignacourt group.

The groups shared lunch and stories after a tour of Mr Stokes' private collection.

Teophile Bourgeois, 19, of Vignacourt, said it had been moving to meet Mr Renner and share his stories of the life of his father.

"We learnt a lot of things aside from the war," Mr Bourgeois said.