Cameras were banned at the Western Front when the Anzacs arrived in 1916. Only official photographers were permitted to take propaganda pictures. Fearing the Anzacs would be ignored, correspondent Charles Bean continually argued for Australia to have a dedicated photographer. He was eventually assigned an enigmatic polar explorer—George Hubert Wilkins.
Within weeks of arriving at the front Wilkins’ exploits were legendary. He did what no photographer had previously dared to do. He went ‘over the top’ with the troops and ran forward to photograph the actual fighting. He led soldiers into battle, captured German prisoners, was wounded repeatedly and twice awarded the Military Cross—all while he refused to carry a gun and only armed himself with a bulky, glass-plate camera. Wilkins ultimately produced the most detailed and accurate collection of World War I photographs in the world, which is now held at the Australian War Memorial.
After the war Wilkins returned to exploring and, over the next forty years, his life became shrouded in secrecy. His work at the Western Front was forgotten as others claimed credit for his photographs. Throughout his life Wilkins wrote detailed diaries and letters, but when he died in 1958 these documents were locked away. Many were only discovered in 2013. Jeff Maynard follows a trail of myth and misinformation to locate Wilkins’ lost records and reveal the remarkable true story of Australia’s greatest war photographer.
Jeff Maynard is an Australian author and documentary maker. His books include Niagara's Gold, Divers in Time and The Letterbox War of Kamarooka Street.
Jeff has written widely for television and contributed articles to magazines around the world. He is a former editor of Australian Motorcycle News and retains an interest in classic motorcycles. He is a keen scuba diver and a former field-editor for Australasian Scuba Diver. He is President of the Historical Diving Society: South East Asia, Pacific and a Member of the Explorers Club.
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