Through the eyes of the Anzac

Friday, 24 April 2020

Today we are relentlessly exposed to the sights and sounds of conflict and the battlefield. From jerky, unnerving helmet-cam recordings to the surreal gaming landscape that is drone footage, not much is really left to the imagination.

But in 1915, when chaotic livestreams of gun battles were inconceivable, three diggers used the humble camera to document their ’adventure of a lifetime’.

In September 1914, three mates from Sydney, George Downes, Arthur Cook and Henry Low, signed up for the war. George and Arthur were railway clerks and Henry was a porter who also worked for New South Wales Government Railways.

By July 1915, the trio, who were part of the First Railway Supply Detachment, 11th AASC, found themselves at Gallipoli. All three then went on to serve in France, England and the Middle East before returning to Australia.

Protecting an artistic work

After returning home, George, Arthur and Henry selected the best images of their time at Gallipoli and compiled a small album of photographs.

Before the introduction of the Copyright Act 1968, people wanting to copyright an artistic work had to submit an application to the Australian Government along with a copy of the work. If satisfied, the Registrar of Copyrights would issue a certificate of copyright registration.

These files and the accompanying artistic works – numbering around 9400 – are now safely held by the National Archives. Nestled within them is the With the Camera at Anzac album submitted by George, Arthur and Henry 101 years ago.

A powerful record

Their compelling sepia-toned images depict the bleak horror of war: barbed wire, hospital tents, captured Turkish soldiers and makeshift cemeteries. They also portray life in the dug-outs and the military exactness of the planning and organisation behind the Anzac campaign.

In a 1919 letter supporting the copyright application, George explained that the three soldiers ‘...worked together with three cameras while on the Gallipoli Peninsula...The photos were actually taken at various dates between 1st July 15 and 17th Dec 15.’

George’s letter goes on to state why only he and Arthur signed the official paperwork accompanying the application for copyright: ‘Mr Lowes would have signed the statutory declaration also but unfortunately he has been held up in Melbourne owing to the influenza epidemic.’

So while some things have radically changed since 1915 – including how we record, document and preserve the war experience – some things have not changed at all.

View With the Camera at Anzac on Flickr