A few years ago I became interested in family history, and in the course of finding out as much as I could, I came across a series of letters which my grandfather (known as "Gargoo") had written to his sister during World War One. Mum also had a couple of those beautiful, embroidered postcards which he had sent his mother from France. I had always admired them when I was a child.
I decided that the story my grandad had to "tell" (he had been dead for nearly 40 years) may be quite interesting, and decided to find out as much as I could, mainly so I could write it up for Mum. Like so many of his comrades he chose not to talk about his experiences on his return, other than to denounce war and say he hoped no-one ever had to go through a similar experience.
What especially struck me was that many of the histories of the war concentrate on the battles from the point of view of infantry soldiers - and that's great. But Gargoo was a Light Horseman, and then an Artillery Driver. Many of the histories and guides to battlefields provide very good information about the sites of infantry battles; I set out to discover as much as I can about the wagon lines and artillery positions.
First, I discovered that his personal war service record was available via the War Memorial Archives, so I sent away for that. We knew his regiment and regimental number, so that was easy.
These days the Australian War Memorial has one of the most extraordinarily comprehensive websites of any comparable institution, and it is an absolutely essential resource for anyone undertaking this kind of research.
Once I knew which units Gargoo had served in, I made a trip to the Research Centre at the War Memorial to read the unit diaries. . . they gave a complete picture of where he was on a day to day basis. These records are now rapidly appearing on the AWM website.
The search function on the AWM website led me to the personal diary of another soldier in his unit ,"Gunner Day", which complemented the personal, but limited view I had gained from Gargoo's letters.
While all this was going on, I read, and read, and read. . . voraciously. I stumbled across early editions of C.E.W. Bean's Official History of the AIF in 1916 and 1917, as well as the photographic volume, in a second hand bookshop, complete with the original cardboard casings!
In 2003 we made a family trip which included several days in the Somme area. I had already visited Gallipoli a couple of times in the early 1990s. Then in 2005, I again found myself in the Somme, this time witnessing the Anzac Day commemorations at Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt. I have included many photos from these trips, as well as some family photos.
In other places I have provided links to the War Memorial and its paintings and photo collection, because I have not sought permission to use them on the site (as yet).
I've chosen the blog format, because I already know how to use it, and it means as I continue my adventures in Gargoo's story, I can update and change it.