Photographs unite countries
Reginald Holland and Kathleen Malta with a WWI photograph of their father James Holland. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

The legacy of visit to a small French town by World War I Diggers has reached down the years to bring together communities across Australia with a group of young people from the town.

The Diggers had visited Vignacourt, north-west of Paris, where Frenchman Louis Thuillier and his wife Antoinette took photographs of soldiers for them to send home as souvenirs as they passed through on the way to or from the front lines.

The images were among almost 4000 glass plate negatives depicting British, French, Australian, US and Indian soldiers, Chinese labour corps and French civilians.

The negatives were stored in the attic of the Thuilliers' farmhouse until they were rediscovered by Channel 7's Sunday Night program in 2011.

More than 800 of the original glass plate negatives were bought by WA businessman Kerry Stokes to donate to the Australian War Memorial.

A selection of the photos went into an exhibition, Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, which is in Brisbane as part of a national tour.

Vignacourt took the Thuillier collection to heart as well and an association of volunteers has worked tirelessly to create cultural events and displays based around the Anzac legacy.

Their work has included an exhibition of Thuillier images in the town, known as the Maison des Australiens (House of Australians), and staging concerts in the lead up to Anzac Day.

And the link between the town and the country of the Diggers will be cemented even further this month when a group of volunteers from Vignacourt visits Australia as part of a national tour which will include Perth.

Lucile Werkin, the chair-woman of Association Maison des Australiens, along with nine teenagers, accompanied by documentary videographers from Paris, will visit the exhibition, give presentations to schools, meet dignitaries and interview descendants of the Lost Diggers for their project. Mr Stokes and Australian Capital Equity provided personal support for the visit with a donation of $6000 to cover a funding shortfall.

The group will also have a private tour of the Stokes collection in Perth.

Among the descendants of the Lost Diggers the visitors hope to meet in Perth are Kathleen Malta and Reg Holland, 93-year-old twin children of Digger Jim Holland, whose photo appears on the cover of journalist Ross Coulthart's book about the Thuillier collection.

Mr Holland told _The Weekend West _ his father was a "good bloke and a good soldier". Mrs Malta said that though her father had not talked much about his war experience, he had been a machine-gunner and been buried alive a number of times in fighting. After the war, he worked as a farmer, then with the Main Roads Department.

He enjoyed playing lawn bowls well into his later years.

Mrs Malta said it had been "magical" to see the photo of her father among the Lost Diggers collection.

Ms Werkin said Vignacourt had "entered a new era" since the photos were rediscovered, which had opened in the town a "window to the world".

She said the town planned to repair the barn at the Thuillier farm where the photos had been discovered and set it up as a museum and permanent home for the collection.

The West Australian

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