My trip to the Western Front was planned for 2011.
In preparation for this trip I researched my great uncle’s records from
the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial. I knew my great
uncle very well and spent a lot of time
with him until his death aged 90 in 1972 when I was 16.
At that stage
I had no idea about his military history only that he served in the war
and my interest only grew as I got older. I found out that he was awarded the Military Medal
and Mentioned in Despatches but no-one in our family knew where his
I went to Northern France and Belgium in 2011 and
retraced my great uncle’s footsteps through the war diaries on the Australian War
Memorial website. I visited the Windmill site at Pozieres. Located at
the memorial site in a glass information box
was a photo of four unidentified gunners with a rundown of what
occurred during July-August 1916.
I was stunned when I saw this photo
as the gunner (2nd from right) looked the image of my great
uncle. He would have been 34 at the time the photo
was taken and located in the area. There were no known photos of my
great uncle during the time he served in the army and the only picture I had
of him was an old photo when he was aged 70. I took a photo of the
information box at the Pozieres site containing
the photo and continued my trip.
When I returned home I set out to prove that this man in the photo was my great uncle.
After much investigation, and with the assistance
from staff from the Commonwealth War Graves/Memorials and the
Australian War Memorial, the same photo was located on the AWM website
in the photo collection. It was identified as C00450
with the citation below. I told my story to the AWM but they said
they couldn’t change the citation under the photo acknowledging the name
of my great uncle without actual proof.
portrait of four unidentified gunners with one of the battery of 8 inch
(French) mortar guns that used to fire on the Pozieres windmill. (From
the collection of 704 Driver
Ernest Charles Barnes who served with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade,
21st Howitzer Brigade and 2nd Field Artillery Brigade.)
Over the next six months I came across his war
medals during a clean out of a relative’s house after they had passed
away, the medals had been missing for around 40 years. I already had my
great uncle’s name tag, two rising suns from his
uniform and return soldier’s badge which my father had in his
I took the medals and other items along with the
photo above (which I purchased on CD from the AWM) and the only photo I
had of my great uncle in his 70s to Recherché Specialty Picture Framing in Northcote as I
wanted to get the items in a display frame
but I also really wanted to get photographic comparisons done to show that
the gunner was indeed my great uncle.
The folk at Recherché arranged for
their specialist photographer Alan Lesheim to undertake a process of identification.
This is the good news we received
We were all so thrilled to have this
outcome. My next goal was to get the citation under the photo on the AWM
website changed to include my great uncle’s
I then contacted the AWM sending on the
backup documentation around the photo identification process. and later
received the following response:
Driver Pidoto’s service record, official war diaries and your family
of him in later years, the best we can say is that the man in AWM
photograph is possibly him. I think I’ve explained the stringent
requirements we require before we add an identification to an AWM group
However in this case we have decided to
modify the caption so that it will read:
portrait of four Australian artillery men with one of the battery of 8
inch (French) mortar guns that used to fire on the Pozieres windmill.
the collection of 704 Driver Ernest Charles Barnes who served with the
1st Field Artillery Brigade, 21st Howitzer Brigade and 2nd Field
Artillery Brigade.) The smiling man, second from right, is possibly
10781 Driver (Dvr) John Pidoto MM, 6th Field Artillery
Brigade. Dvr Pidoto was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in
laying signal wire under enemy artillery fire near Ecoust, France in
So after a long process I achieved my goal of
having my great uncle identified in the photo at Pozieres memorial site
and the citation under the photo (AWM C00450) on the Australian Memorial
website changed. I only hope that the other
three gunners can be identified in the not too distant future.
FOOTNOTE FROM THE FRAMER
Identifying World War I photographs for framing
our work is interesting but this job was particularly engaging! Our
customer Anne discovered at the Windmill site in Pozieres, a photograph that
she believed was an image of her relative
operating a trench mortar on the Western Front during World War I. To
compare the photograph of the soldier with the image of this gent as an
older man, we explored a variety of facial recognition techniques. Finally however, with
the assistance of our photographic restorer and
his "old school skills", it was indeed possible to verify this identification! We have now been able to combine this
eloquent image from the Western Front in a framed display together with the soldier's original medals and badges. Another
very happy customer and what a story this has turned out to be.