Remembering and commemorating

Update: 6 May 2011. Sadly Claude Stanley Choules passed away on 5 May. See article in the  Sydney Morning Herald for more detail.

ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day provide a focus point for the commemoration of the service of war veterans. Both days date back to World War 1. The original Anzacs have now all passed away and there remain only two surviving veterans from the Great War, Claude Stanley Choules, a British citizen living in Australia, and Florence Beatrice Green (née Patterson) a British citizen living in England.

Fob watch used to time ‘Zero Hour’ (the time of commencement of a battle) during the Third Battle of Ypres on the 4th October, 1917. Caulfield RSL.

As time passes and we lose our veterans, collection objects and archives will become increasingly important as sources of knowledge in our understanding of the wars and conflicts of the twentieth century.

A standard issue ‘dog biscuit’ from World War 1. This one was so tough its owner turned it into a postcard in 1916. Caulfield RSL.

World War 1 was said to be the first truly technological war (see this page in the Australian War Memorial website). Technological developments continued to boom through the twentieth century. The establishment of audio, visual and digital technologies have had a huge impact on the scope of what we collect, and how we collect. For example, the State Film Centre was established in Victoria in 1946. Its subsequent transition into ACMI was constituted in 2001 (as contextual background, this date falls between the Gulf War and the Iraq War).

Model created by South Australia model maker Greg Goodridge. Red Cliffs Military Museum.

Audio visual technology is used for official and unofficial recording of events. We all know about the impact that sites like YouTube have had on enabling ‘citizen journalism’ and the creation of user-generated content. What this technology – and more specifically general access to the devices on which it is created – allows for is the capturing of ‘personal voice’ in mediums beyond that previously ubiquitous format – the diary.

It’s this approach, where veterans and their family members speak directly about their experiences of war and its effects, that we have taken in recent stories added to Culture Victoria.

In Geelong Voices , Roy Kyle talks about Gallipoli, Trevor Edwards and Adam Muir talk about their fathers’, Bill Edwards and Leo Maxwell Muir. These men were Aboriginal returned servicemen who served in WW2 and Vietnam. Betty Cornford and Mirth Jamieson relate their experiences as Australian Army Nurses, including at Changi.

Leo Maxwell Muir, photographed in uniform during (or prior to) his Tour of Duty in Vietnam.

Documenting personal stories gives us an intimate sense of experience, such as Aunty Iris talking about her relatives who served in World War 1 and World War 2, the songs they sang to farewell their men, as well as the effect on missions that soldier settlement had. Another project presenting veterans’ experiences, is In Our Words, a Digital Storytelling Project run by ACMI, the Shrine of Remembrance and the Veterans Unit of the Department of Planning and Community Development.

We recently worked with the Caulfield RSL to produce Among Mates and Red Cliffs-Irymple RSL to create Memories from a Soldier Settlement. These stories highlight RSL collection objects and tell the history of these clubs and their members.

These more personal audio-visual records have become part of the historical record to sit in our collections alongside ‘official’ representations of the war effort, such as the beautiful photos of Jim Fitzpatrick, engaged by the Department of Information as part of a publicity campaign documenting Drouin in the 1940s.

While reviewing these stories in Culture Victoria, I was struck by the relationships that have been built during times of hardship: between men brought together under trying circumstances, such as that related by Jim Simpson in Jim Simpson’s Knitted Trophy; between people from different countries and through the generations, such as Robert Wolfe talking about his father, Ernie Wolfe Order of Australia; between the memories of the old country and the new country, talked about by Cuc Lamb. Relationships are of course also forged between nations. In the French town of Villers-Bretonneux , a school was rebuilt following World War 1 through the efforts of the Victorian Department of Education and the school children of Victoria. The inauguration of the new school occurred on Anzac Day, 1927, when the school was re-named Victoria College. N’oublions jamais l’Australie (Never forget Australia) is inscribed in the school hall. Wood carvings on the pillars in the hall depict Australian flora and fauna.

And so it is, through our collections, our archives, and often through our families, that we remember, acknowledge and commemorate the war service of Australians, and the experiences of Australians.

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