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Amazing tribute to our WWII veterans

Tuesday, 16th May, 2017

The late Clifford Brice was a Rat of Tobruk and fought at the bloody Battles of El Alamein which saw more than 6000 Australian casualties. Mr Brice kept a secret day by day diary of his experiences at the front. He died last year aged 98 shortly after this photograph was taken. Born on Anzac Day 1920 in Kingswood South Australia, Clifford enlisted on the Australian Army on July 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography. (AIPP)

THEY walk past us in the street, faces lined with time, leaning on walking canes or frames - and we barely give them a glance.

They sit in nursing homes with their memories or dangle great great grandchildren on their laps. Sadly, day by day, some die.

But while time may have wearied them, it has not diminished the extent of the service they once gave to their country.

They are our World War II heroes - men and women, now in their 90s and 100s, who three quarters of a century ago went to war on land and sea and in the air to preserve freedom and our way of life.

An extraordinary project - the largest photographic project in Australian history - has recorded images of these survivors.

Reflections - Honouring our World War II Veterans features photographs of more than 6500 men and women from across the country taken by 450-plus photographers from the Australian Institute of Professional Photography who, over two years, volunteered their time to produce this amazing record.

The project was born here in 2015 following a similar undertaking in New Zealand that recorded the images of 3000 WWII service veterans there.

National co-ordinator Louise Bagger, who took photographs of more than 200 South Australian veterans, said that in the beginning they had no idea how they would get in touch with all the potential subjects. It was believed there were some 14,000 WWII veterans in Australia.

A publicity campaign soon saw nominations from ex-service people and their families.

After two years, 6500 images had been captured in time for this year's Anzac Day commemorations. It was a humbling experience for many of the photographers, who had to travel to veterans's homes as many could not travel, or where possible arranged a group shot at an RSL or nursing home.

"I photographed a Rat of Tobruk, a gentleman who went without food for 13 days on the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea and a Lancaster bomber pilot who was shot over Germany, but managed to get his plane to safety," said Louise, who served 15 years in the Royal Australian Navy.

"For me, to give an hour of my life is no big deal compared to these people who were prepared to give their lives for our country.
"These people walk among us every day and we don't know."

Louise said some veterans never opened up about their experiences to their families, but it was etched into "their faces, in their characters and in their eyes".

Some of those photographed died within days, weeks or months of their sitting. "These photographs were important to them. It was like we were providing an honour for them; an assurance that we hadn't forgotten them," Louise said.

Project manager John de Rooy described Reflections as a compelling pictorial record. "It was a now or never project - time was running out for these veterans. A sensitive portrayal of their elderly state will provide a cognisant comparison to wartime footage of young active men and women photographed in their youth."

Everyone who took part received a copy of their photograph.

The project is now closed and in August the photographic record will be gifted to the National War Memorial.

Every veteran has a story to tell. Like 101-year-old Paul, one of the last survivors of the famous Great Escape; Bamia, 95, who enlisted with the Torres Strait Light Infantry in 1942 and at the time he was photographed was one of only three remaining members of his battalion; 95-year-old Kelly, a pivotal part of the 1942 dam busters operation; and William, who spent three years as a prisoner in Changi, Ohasi and Hakadate, and meticulously kept a hidden diary.

Details of the project and stories of some of the subjects - www.aipp.com.au (click on Reflections, Their Stories).

The entire photographic collection is at aippreflections.fotomerchant.com/veteran-photos


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