The West

Diggers picture-perfect village ready to shine
Angeline Loir, Virgil Seguin and Lucile Werkin, who are working on commemorative events in Vignacourt. Picture: Malcolm Quekett/The West Australian

Diggers looked out on to the streets from old black and white photos dotted around the small French town.

Australian flags fluttered from poles, balconies and above doorways, sometimes entwined with French flags.

Welcome to Anzac week at Vignacourt, less than two hours' drive north-west of Paris.

It is here that the discovery in 2011 of a treasure-trove of glass plate negatives renewed bonds between the village and the nation whose soldiers had visited Vignacourt and found some respite from the horrors of World War I.

Frenchman Louis Thuillier and his wife Antoinette took the photographs of soldiers for them to send home as souvenirs as they passed through the village on the way to or from the front lines.

The negatives were stored in the attic of the Thuilliers' farmhouse until they were rediscovered by Channel 7's Sunday Night program. More than 800 of the original glass plate negatives were bought by WA businessman Kerry Stokes to donate to the Australian War Memorial.

This week the village has welcomed visitors to the Thuilliers' old farmhouse. Inside the courtyard, Australian flags were strung above bales of hay, large images of Diggers hung from walls and local school students sold bags of Anzac biscuits.

At one side of the courtyard the association of local residents that runs a program designed around displaying the images had installed a replica of the backdrop the Thuilliers had used in many of the portraits they took.

In a building near the cathedral, the association ran screenings of a moving film about the war, links with the Diggers and the Thuillier images.

Perth Modern School students performed in the cathedral, and not far away, the Maison des Australiens displayed prints of the photos found in the attic. Shown over two floors, they featured not just Australian soldiers but other Allied soldiers as well as local residents captured for ever by the Thuilliers' camera.

Association Maison des Australiens chairwoman Lucile Werkin said students from Vignacourt had played a major role in running the program, including involvement in the film project.

She said the long-term plan was to upgrade the Thuilliers' house so it was suitable to house the prints, keeping the courtyard as close as possible to its original condition while making it safer.

She said interest in the Thuillier collection had brought the village into the region's WWI commemoration trail, which it had not previously been part of because it had not been the site of a major WWI battle.

Olivier Estran, a journalist for the Radio France network, who was reporting about the town's plan to build on the interest which had been created by the collection, said the project was a good idea.

Many museums in the region concentrated on just the military side of the war, Estran said.

"This is about people," he said.

The West Australian

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