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 medals were.
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.
Group 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 possession.
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.
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 name.
I then contacted the AWM sending on the backup documentation around the photo identification process. and later received the following response:
After examining Driver Pidoto’s service record, official war diaries and your family photograph 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 portrait.
However in this case we have decided to modify the caption so that it will read:
"Group 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. (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.) 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 April 1917"
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.
Identifying World War I photographs for framing
By: Recherché Specialty Picture Framing 22-Jan-2014
All 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.