An ashtray made from a shell casing and wood allegedly from the Red Baron’s plane has been unearthed in the local search for World War I heirlooms.
The artefact is part of an initial haul by Flinders University’s Dr Romain Fathi, as part of a six-month mission by the South Australians In France research team to collect the stories of objects that Australians retained from their time served on the Western Front in France, between 1916 and 1918.
South Australians in France is being conducted by researchers at Flinders University, in a joint project between France and Australia.
“It’s a magnificent example of trench art,” says Dr Fathi. “These objects are a valuable part of Australia’s heritage, and our efforts to find them and share their stories with the public underlines their significance, and why they should be retained.”
Dr Fathi is concerned such items as badges, diaries, pictures, coins, cards, calendars, postcards, letters, parts of uniforms and battlefield souvenirs are in danger of being thrown away as generations move and discard many old possessions.
“We want people to realise that these hundred-year-old items are historically significant and tell an important chapter in Australian history – especially its relationship with France,” says Dr Fathi.
The South Australians In France team aims to search through metropolitan and regional South Australia for war-era artefacts. South Australians In France has created a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SAinFrance/ presenting some of the fascinating finds that have already been catalogued, to prompt more people to make contact and present their family heirlooms from the French battlefields.
The most significant objects will be presented at a South Australians In France public event in Adelaide on 23 and 24 February 2018, being organised by Flinders University’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. It will reflect the style of an Antiques Roadshow event, enabling French scholars and Australian experts to interact with the public to tell the stories behind their families’ World War I relics.
“Talking about these items transforms history beyond the pages of text books into a personal understanding of how the war affected families,” says Dr Fathi. “It opens up the conversation about the relevance of the object, or help to reconstruct its story by uncovering its origin. It will bring this chapter of Australia’s to life for many families.”
This project has the support of SA Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Martin Hamilton-Smith.
“The Western Front, which stretched 750 kilometres from the Belgian coast, through France to the Swiss border, saw Australian soldiers, for the first time, engage the main army of the main enemy in the main theatre of war,” he says.
“Throughout the Western Front campaign more than 116,000 Australian service personnel were either killed or wounded.
“The fields of France, that 100 years ago, saw so much Australian blood and treasure lost, are a piece of Australia that we share with the people of France. It is a bond formed in war that now prevails in peace.”
South Australians in France has the financial support of the French Consulate in Adelaide, the City of Unley and Flinders University. The project is further supported by the Government of South Australia through the Office of the French Strategy in Department of the Premier and Cabinet and The Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith MP, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Anzac Day Commemoration Fund, Veterans SA. The Embassy of France to Australia, the Alliance Française d’Adélaïde and Creative France in South Australia have also supported the project.