Intimate, personal accounts of war contained in the State Library of NSW’s rich collection of some 1,100 WWI diaries, currently being digitised and transcribed, will be the centerpiece in a major new exhibition Life Interrupted: Personal Diaries from World War I.
Opening on 5 July 2014, Life Interrupted: Personal Diaries from WWI exposes the compelling tales of adventure,
heartache and bravery – with a dose of great Aussie humour – through the hand-written diaries and letters of individual soldiers, doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers, journalists and prisoners of war.
“The story of the First World War cannot be fully understood without reference to these very personal and moving first-hand accounts, which often provide the only link back to a life dramatically interrupted by the war,” says Elise Edmonds, the Library’s exhibition curator.
The diaries include accounts of the first battle in New Guinea and the naval battle between HMAS Sydney and the German raider the Emden in 1914, the Gallipoli campaign and the battle at Fromelles and Pozieres in France in 1916 and the Middle East Campaign.
“It is not just the story of battles,” says Ms Edmonds. “Soldiers and nurses also wrote about and collected souvenirs from their time ‘behind the lines’ while on leave. They explored Cairo, climbed the pyramids and rode camels before leaving for Gallipoli. In France they gloried in the beauty of the countryside, the food, wine and French locals – a respite from trench warfare.”
The exhibition also features iconic Frank Hurley images alongside evocative amateur photography captured on Kodak ‘vest pocket’ cameras by soldiers at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, along with rare maps, posters, postcards and objects souvenired from the frontlines and from Paris and the UK while on leave.
At the end of the war, in 1918, the State Library embarked on a collecting drive for soldier’s diaries, spearheaded by the forward thinking principal librarian William Ifould, who recognised their historic value for future generations. The State Library has been adding to this collection ever since with diaries, letters and related materials including maps, photographs, artworks, posters, books and objects.
From 2014 to 2018 the Library will commemorate Australia’s role in WWI by showcasing the personal and little-known aspects of its WWI collection through onsite and online exhibitions and displays, public events and regional outreach and education programs.
Visit the State Library’s website to connect with and contribute to your ancestor’s WWI diary, or learn more about the Library’s centenary program. www.sl.nsw.gov.au
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