Author(s): Ross Coulthart
During the First World War, thousands of Aussie diggers and other Allied troops passed through the French town of Vignacourt, two hours north of Paris. Many had their photographs taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier as souvenirs while they enjoyed a brief respite from the carnage of the Western Front. For all too many, this was their last moment away from the lines before being sent to their deaths in battles that are now part of the mythology of Australian nationhood - Pozieres, Bullecourt, the Somme. The weariness and horror of battle is reflected in their eyes, but the photos also capture a sense of camaraderie, high spirits and even a soupcon of romance. The Lost Diggers is the riveting detective story of the hunt across northern France for a rumoured treasure trove of antique glass photographic plates that led investigative journalist Ross Coulthart to an ancient metal chest in a dusty attic in a small farmhouse. The nearly 4000 glass plates he and his team from Channel 7's Sunday Night discovered are being hailed by experts as one of the most important First World War discoveries ever made. But that was just the beginning. With meticulous research and the help of descendants, Ross Coulthart has been able to discover the stories behind many of the photos, of which more than 330 appear in the book. Part thriller, part family history and part national archive, The Lost Diggers brings together these wonderful images and the amazing stories behind them. The book will coincide with an exhibition of the photos at the Australian War Memorial, to run from 2 Nov 2012 to 31 July 2013. The AWM attracted more than 800,000 visitors during 2010-11.