How much did your skills as an investigative journalist help you in your research?
“It was very important. One of the things we often have to check ourselves on in any investigation is ‘confirmation bias’ — where you might find yourself wishing that a story leads you in a particular direction because, to be blunt, it’s more interesting. We always have to check that bias and test our assumptions. In this investigation, it was tempting to conclude every viewer was right when they claimed a digger image as one of their relatives. We learned very early on that we had to be sceptical and that it was important, even if the person in the image looked like the person in a family picture, tobe able to confirm the identification through histories, service records and battalion diaries.
“I often find myself talking to the lost digger images I still haven’t been able to identify, reassuring them we will find them a name.I sincerely hope we can identify many more with the publication of this book.”
What’s your best tip for people wanting to write a history book of their own?
“Indulge your passion and act on a hunch. Don’t rush contacting people who might have information. Take the time to write a nice old-fashioned letter to families, and be sensitive when you ask what may still be painful personal questions about what happened to a loved antecedent a century ago. It is amazing how the pain of WWI still lurks in families. Also, don’t rely on the telephone as a research tool. Go and see people and break bread and have a cup of tea with them. Let them share your passion for a historical discovery. Be open and honest. Embrace the warm and collegiate bank of knowledge in academia and organisations such as the Memorial and National Archives, who are very willing to help and advise.
“It’s been a wonderful privilege to bring the stories of The Lost Diggers to publication and I hope readers share our excitement when they get the chance to read the stories of the men behind those iconic images.”
Click here to find out more about Ross Coulthart’s book The Lost Diggers (Harper Collins $70.00)
This story originally appeared in Issue 13, Nov-Dec 2012.
Other useful links:
Australian War Memorial, Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt – click here
Australian War Memorial, Record Search – Click here
Discovering Anzacs, National Archives of Australia – Click here
National Archives of Australia, Service Records – click here
The Lost Diggers, Sunday Night facebook – Click here
The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, AWM Traveling Exhibition – Click here