Media release: Thursday, 8 November 2012
Personal stories of World War I, preserved in the hearts and minds of soldiers' families, are being shared across the nation through the National Archives' Mapping our Anzacs website, http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au.
The website, which enables people to search for World War I service men and women online by their name, or place of birth or enlistment, has a scrapbook component where relatives and others can post photographs and other tributes to their loved ones.
One moving story tells of Elvas Elliott Jenkins who landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1914. Less than two weeks later, a shell exploded next to the young soldier, lobbing a heavy ball of shrapnel into his chest. It was on target to pierce his heart but, for Elvas, it was his lucky day. The bible he carried in his shirt pocket trapped the shrapnel bullet within its pages, saving the young man's life.
'It's stories like these that show the reality of war, the experiences of individual humans, which sometimes become lost in the mire of statistics,' says Zoe D'Arcy, Director of Digital and Online Access at the National Archives. 'We feel privileged that so many Australians are using the Mapping our Anzacs website as a forum to share their stories and so create a richer tapestry of national history.'
Posted by his great-nephew Brian Sims of Perth, the story of Elvas reveals far more than his escape from death that day. Although Elvas was safely evacuated from Gallipoli, his luck eventually ran out. He was shot by a sniper as he led a reconnaissance party to find the location of German trenches on the Western Front in France. One of the first Australian casualties in the battle of the Somme, Elvas died from his wounds on 20 July 1916.
Elvas, from Melbourne, was one of three brothers who enlisted to serve in World War I. Initially training as a printer at the age of 15, he had become ordained as a Methodist minister shortly before he enlisted. When he departed to fight in Europe, his fiancée Jeanie Read waited for him back in Melbourne. He never returned but bequeathed to Jeanie his books, which included the bible that had saved his life at Gallipoli. Jeanie's family subsequently donated it to the Bible Society.
'This is only one of the many moving stories people have shared on Mapping our Anzacs,' said Zoe D'Arcy. 'With Remembrance Day coming up, I'm sure there are many other Australians who would like to view individual service records – and add their own tributes to the scrapbook'.