Marseille 1915-2015: gateway to the remembrance trails

International conference

Aix-Marseille University – Marseille Archives

Marseille 1915-2015: gateway to the remembrance trails

Marseille 1915-2015 : portail des chemins de mémoire

Thursday 9 April, Marseille Archives (Amphitheatre)

8:45 Opening address: Sylvie Clair (Director, Marseille Archives)

Chair: Gilles Teulié (Aix-Marseille)

9:00 Jean-Marie Guillon (Aix-Marseille), “Marseille porte de la France et de la Méditerranée.”

9:40 Marco Caccavo (EIPACA) “La Légion garibaldienne : les Italiens qui servirent la France pendant la Grande Guerre.”

10:20 Matthew Graves (Aix-Marseille) “‘Nos Alliés à Marseille’ : histoires croisées, mémoires partagées ?”

11:00 Coffee break

Chair: Martine Piquet (Paris-Dauphine/ ICT Paris-Diderot)

11:20 Gilles Teulié (Aix-Marseille), “L’Empire britannique à Marseille : les cartes postales, vecteur du premier cercle de la mémoire.”

12:00 Thierry Di Costanzo (Strasbourg) “L’Empire britannique des Indes et la Première Guerre Mondiale : une approche historiographique et mémorielle.”

12:40 Lunch

Chair: Matthew Graves (Aix-Marseille)

14:20 Cherie Prosser (Australian War Memorial) “Colonial forces and national identity in First World War French and British propaganda.”

15:00 Martine Piquet (Paris-Dauphine) “Charles E.W. Bean’s account of the Australian arrival in France.”

15:40 Deirdre Gilfedder (Paris-Dauphine) “The Invention of Anzac Day in Queensland.”

16:00 Coffee break

Chair: Deirdre Gilfedder (Paris-Dauphine/ ICT Paris-Diderot)

16:20 Ben Wellings (Monash) “Nation and Rejuvenation: youth and the politics of Great War commemoration in Australia.”

17:00 Andy Mycock (Huddersfield) “The First World War centenary and the post-imperial politics of commemoration.”

17:40-18:00 Summing-up

Conference dinner


Friday 10 April, Marseille Archives (Seminar room)

9:00 Round table: “Politics of the Past: the Centenary Effect.”

Chair: Andy Mycock (Huddersfield)

Discussion paper: Romain Fathi (Brisbane), “The (re)discovery of 1914-18.”

10:30 Coffee break

11:00 Workshop: “The Wider War” (“Nation, Memory and War Commemoration, vol.2”, Presses Universitaires de Provence – Liverpool University Press)

Chair: Ben Wellings (Monash)

Discussion paper: Elizabeth Rechniewki (Sydney), “Resénégalisation in World War I.”

12:30 Lunch

14:00 Guided visit of the exhibition “Marseillais fais ton devoir !” (Marseille Archives)

15:00 Conclusion















Matthew Graves & Gilles Teulié (AMU/LERMA)

Centre for the Study of the Anglophone World, Aix-Marseille University


Scientific committee

Matthew Graves (Aix-Marseille University/LERMA/CREDO)

Jean-Marie Guillon (Aix-Marseille University/TELEMME)

Andy Mycock (Huddersfield University)

Martine Piquet (Paris-Dauphine University/ ICT Paris-Diderot)

Elizabeth Rechniewski (University of Sydney)

Shanti Sumartojo (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University)

Gilles Teulié (Aix-Marseille University/LERMA)

Ben Wellings (Monash University)



Australian War Memorial, City of Marseille, Huddersfield University, International Research Network for War Commemoration, Marseille Archives, Monash University, Paris-Dauphine University, RMIT University, University of Sydney.


“Mission du Centenaire 14-18”


Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration (Peter Lang, 2014)


‘Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration: Mobilizing the Past in Europe, Australia and New Zealand’, edited by IRNWC co-founders Shanti Sumartojo and Ben Wellings, is now in print and available to order from the publisher Peter Lang:

Released to coincide with the beginning of the 2014-18 Great War centenary, this innovative volume combines the research of 16 members of the IRNWC who provide an international, multidisciplinary and comparative approach to the national commemorations of the First World War and the internationalization of the politics of the past. The studies range across Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific and illuminate the continuities, tensions and contradictions in the complex interrelations between nation, history, and memory in Great War commemoration.


Andrew Mycock/Shanti Sumartojo/Ben Wellings: ‘The centenary to end all centenaries’: The Great War, Nation and Commemoration – John Hutchinson: National Commemoration after the ‘Second Thirty Years’ War’ – Ben Wellings: Lest You Forget: Memory and Australian Nationalism in a Global Era – Roger Hillman: From No Man’s Land to Transnational Spaces: The Representation of Great War Memory in Film – Frank Bongiorno: Anzac and the Politics of Inclusion – Andrew Mycock: The Politics of the Great War Centenary in the United Kingdom – James W. McAuley: Divergent Memories: Remembering and Forgetting the Great War in Loyalist and Nationalist Ireland – Laurence van Ypersele: The Great War in Belgian Memories: From Unanimity to Divergence – Mark McKenna: Keeping in Step: The Anzac ‘Resurgence’ and ‘Military Heritage’ in Australia and New Zealand – Matthew Graves: Memorial Diplomacy in Franco-Australian Relations – Elizabeth Rechniewski: Contested Sites of Memory: Commemorating Wars and Warriors in New Caledonia – Matthew Stibbe: Remembering, Commemorating and (Re)fighting the Great War in Germany from 1919 to the Present Day – Sarah Christie: The Sinking of the Marquette: Gender, Nationalism and New Zealand’s Great War Remembrance – Guy Hansen: Museums and the Great War: A Curator’s Perspective on the History of Anzac – Christine Cadot: Wars Afterwards: The Repression of the Great War in European Collective Memory – Romain Fathi: ‘A Piece of Australia in France’: Australian Authorities and the Commemoration of Anzac Day at Villers-Bretonneux in the Last Decade – Shanti Sumartojo: Anzac Kinship and National Identity on the Australian Remembrance Trail.

Planning for First World War commemoration in Australia and the UK

Media reports in Australia and the UK are beginning to reveal official plans for First World War commemorative activities in both countries. In Australia, the new conservative coalition government, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbot, is committed to a widespread program developed by its Labour predecessor. Abbot recently  flagged the possibility of a new ‘Arlington-style’ war cemetery in the Australian capital, Canberra. A report on the proposal is available at–national-war-cemetery-for-act-20131018-2vrvm.html.

This proposal apparently came as a surprise to other officials involved in shaping the national agenda for the ‘Anzac Centenary’, including the Director of the Australian War Memorial (AWM). The AWM is refurbishing its First World War gallery and organising other projects for the 2014-1018 period, as described in detail on A more complete description of Australia-wide government-supported activity is available here:

FxCam_1345641290622-1Meanwhile, other commentators have coined the phrase ‘Anzackery’ to describe the ‘obsession with Anzac myth and legend’ on both sides of politics. This more critical perspective, one that is relatively recent in mainstream discussion of the Anzac myth, holds open the possibility of a more complex and nuanced discussion of the role of the Anzac narrative in shaping contemporary Australian politics and society. See Paul Daley’s thoughtful discussion in the Australian edition of The Guardian

A similarly critical approach seems to be taking place in the UK, with the BBC recently announcing its approach to the 2014-18 period. The senior executive in charge of this material stressed that during the centenary period, the BBC ‘would explore the impact of the conflict on Britain’s economy, its class system and its place in the world.’ Read more at

We’d love to hear more about what is being planned in other countries.

Histories of Forgetting

Now in print, the latest issue of E-rea, Aix-Marseille University’s electronic journal of anglophone studies, takes as its theme Histories of Forgetting in the English and French-speaking Worlds, 20th-21st centuries:
Co-edited by Matthew Graves (LERMA/APMC) and Valérie André (LERMA), issue 10.1 brings together researchers from France, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland who explore, from a transdisciplinary social and human sciences perspective, the lacunae in collective memory and the lost, concealed or censored episodes of the national past; those ‘forgotten’ histories that persist in counterpoint to canonical histories and conventional narratives of identity or which, once reconverted, may be used to underwrite them.

Histories of ‘forgotten’ conflicts feature prominently, with case studies drawn from the First and Second World Wars, including the struggle for the recognition of Australia’s aboriginal veterans, as well as the strategic forgetting of colonial pasts in Africa and Ireland.

“What is interesting about the latest issue of the online journal E-rea is how it redirects our attention towards European fields of memory which are less familiar than the French or German – the Northern Irish for instance – while also looking beyond Europe at Australia’s collective memory which has long been scarred by the strategic forgetting of the aboriginal past.” Emmanuel Laurentin, La Fabrique de l’Histoire, France Culture, 11/01/2013

General editor: Prof. Sylvie Mathé (LERMA/AMU)


Editors: Matthew Graves & Valérie André (AMU)

Introduction:  Histories of Forgetting in the English and French-speaking Worlds, 20th-21st centuries.

I. The Colonial Past, between Forgetting and Re-appropriation

Robert Aldrich (USYD), Commemorating Colonialism in a Post-Colonial World.

Virginie Bernard (CREDO/EHESS), The Forgotten : exemple de réappropriation aborigène de lhistoire officielle australienne.

II. War Memory, from Erasure to Remembrance

Deirdre Gilfedder (Paris XI), The Imperial Nature of the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Ciaran Wallace  (UCD), Between Remembering and Forgetting: Ireland and the Boer War.

Elizabeth Rechniewski (USYD), Forgetting and Remembering the Darwin Bombings.

III. Difficult Pasts and Reconciliation

Stanislas Hommet (UCaen), Enseigner les passes douloureux en Europe: entre oubli et hypermnésie, quelle place pour lenseignement? Présentation dun projet européen de recherche.

Karine Bigand (AMU), Peace in History and Heritage. Some thoughts on Northern Ireland.

Fabrice Mourlon (Paris XIII), Official responses to dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

IV. Rewriting History in the Era of Commemoration

Catherine Delmas (Grenoble III), Remembering place, revisiting the past.

( …)


In Flanders Fields Declaration

By Laurence van Ypersele and Ben Wellings

The “In Flanders Fields Draft Declaration’ was tabled for discussion by the government of Flanders in the summer of 2010.

The politics surrounding this Draft Declaration illustrate some of the difficulties in commemorating the Great War in Belgium.   They also make an interesting contrast with the politics of remembrance in the United Kingdom, where – outside of Northern Ireland – the Centenary commemorations will be used to emphasise (British) commonality rather than national distinctiveness.

Belgium is currently divided into three major political and administrative regions: Flanders; Wallonia; and Brussels.  As a federation organised along consociational, linguistic lines, each of these regions is highly autonomous.  In this political context it was possible for the government of Flanders to draft a Declaration for discussion amongst the 50 foreign governments participating in the planning of Centenary activities in Belgium.  However, the government of Flanders sent this Draft Declaration neither to the government of Wallonia nor to the federal (Belgian) level of government.  Objections were raised from amongst the 50 foreign governments that this was inappropriate and that the diplomatic services of those foreign governments would only deal with the federal level of government in Belgium in equal government-to-government discussions.

So, when the government of Flanders, under pressure from foreign ambassadors, gave its ‘In Flanders Fields’ declaration to the federal level of government, thus making it a ‘national’ declaration, changes to the wording and meaning were proposed.

The government of Wallonia immediately suggested using the word ‘Belgium’ in place of ‘Flanders’ in the text.  It also called for recognition of the rights of minorities, explicit recognition of the involvement of soldiers and civilians in the name of freedom and democracy, and mention of the Second World War as well as the First. All of these suggestions were in some ways pointed reminders of historical divisions rather than grounds for Belgian unity, where Flemish and Walloon collective memories of twentieth century conflict diverged.

However, a political compromise was reached on October 2, 2012. After two years of political discussion, the word ‘Belgium’ can be found in the text, along with reference to the people who defended democracy and mention of the respect for ‘diversity’ (in place of ‘minorities’).  The rest of the declaration didn’t much change from the Draft.

Coverage of the Declaration announcement can be read here.

Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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Great War Seminars in Paris

For those living in or visiting Paris at the moment, two research seminars on the Great War are particularly indicated.

Both have been running for several years and both are public and free.  I have had the chance to attend to both and each environment provides a valuable framework in which to study various aspects of the Great War. Up-to-date academic works are presented and discussed for history is in the making in these seminars.

The first one is placed under the aegis of the EHESS (Paris).


The second one is organised by the DMPA (ministry for defence, Paris):

For your convenience, I have attached both programs.

prog2012-2013 EHESS

programme- grande guerre aujourd’hui

The Pilgrimage to the IJsertoren: Flemish nationalism and Great War commemoration

By Laurence van Ypersele and Ben Wellings

This year, as every year since 1922, the Yser Pilgrimage took place on the last Sunday of August.

This annual ceremony, that remembers and commemorates Flemish sacrifice and loss during the Great War, is organised by a Flemish nationalist committee at the IJsertoren (Yser Tower), Dixmuide.  It has also traditionally been the moment to express Flemish claims against the Belgian State.

Until the 1970s, this ceremony involved participants in their thousands.  But after the political re-organisation of Belgium into a federal state, fewer and fewer people attended.  In order to change this situation, for the first time this year, the organising Committee invited the family of Amé Fievez and the mayor of the village where he lived (Calonne, now part of Antoing in the region of Hainaut).  Fievez was a Walloon soldier who was killed alongside the Van Raemdonck brothers in 1917.  These brothers, Frans and Edward, have long been an important symbol of Flemish victimhood, combining an image of fraternal love with the long-standing sense that Walloon officers were indifferent to the casualties in the Flemish ranks.

Of course, the truth is more complicated than the employment of history in this way allows.  The grave of the brothers Van Raemdonck and Amé Fievez rests under the Yser Tower. But the Fievez’s family had to wait until the 1960s to see the names of Walloon soldiers written on the grave.  And this year, for the first time, some Walloons were invited on the Yser Pilgrimage.  The French speaking authorities of the Walloon government sent flowers, but didn’t attend because they weren’t invited. Neither were the federal authorities, nor the major Flemish political figures.  As usual, the speeches demanded more autonomy for Flanders and a  ‘Belgian Confederation’ (although in reality that means independence) so that the Flemish can finally live in peace with the Walloon community, represented on this occasion by the family of Amé Fievez and mayor of his village.

Despite this cross-communal innovation, the broader public was not particularly engaged and did not attend in large numbers.  Following the failure of this initiative the President of the Committee announced that the following year, the ceremony would take place on 11 November, billed as a “return to the origins” of the ceremony.  However, this ceremony had never taken place on Armistice Day at all.  Flemish historians as well as other Belgians immediately denounced this decision and the reasons given for it.  The reaction to that announcement demonstrated that many Flemish people who profess love Flanders don’t desire the end of Belgium. The Flemish secessionists are aware of that sentiment too, which is why they now always speak about and argue for confederation rather than full independence.

Thus we can clearly link the shift of commemorative date to an overt nationalist political project.  Armistice Day – itself suffering from waning public attendances in Blegium – will be used by Flemish nationalists in an attempt to re-legitimise and popularise their political program.  Here again we see an example of how contemporary politics shape our understanding of the Great War.

Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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The Great War archive online (“Europeana collections 1914-1918”)

The “Europeana Collections 1914-1918” program  is an online corpus dedicated to the Great War. Europeana Collections 1914-1918 will create by 2014 – the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War – a substantial digital collection of material from national library collections of ten libraries and other partners in eight countries that found themselves on different sides of the historic conflict.

Here is an article (in French) by Sylvie Lisiecki  about this new archive tool by the French National Library magazine (Chroniques de la BNF, n°64).

The website can be consulted here:


UK Government announces Centenary plans

In a speech at the Imperial War Museum on 11 October 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK government’s plans for the Centenary commemorations.  Given that the Olympics have somewhat delayed preparations and that such preparations take place in the context of on-going austerity and public sector cuts, it is interesting that the three main dates selected for commemoration are the what the Telegraph calls the outbreak of the fighting (4 August 2014 in the case of the British), the first day of the Somme (1 July 2016) and Armistice Day (11 November 2018).

Although battles such as Gallipoli, Jutland and Third Ypres will be commemorated the timing of the ‘big three’ commemorations is nicely spaced to minimise ‘commemoration fatigue’, a known after effect of ‘commemorativitis’.  It also allows time for the commemoration of VE and VJ Day in 2015 as well as the Battle of Waterloo in the same year (although how this will be commemorated in France remains to be seen).

At the same time, the new think tank British Future is calling on the UK government to make 11 November 2014 a ‘special’ day where Britain’s two favourite pastimes – shopping and football – would be suspended for the day, citing public support for this initiative (even though the 11 November 2014 is not the one hundredth anniversary of any particular moment of import).

It is also interesting to contextualise these commemorations in light of the broader politics of nationalism within the United Kingdom.  On Monday 15 October, British Prime Minister David Cameron signed an agreement to hold a referendum on Scottish independence by the end of 2104 with Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and currently Scotland’s First Minister.

It s most likely that this referendum will be held in the autumn of 2014.  Twenty-fourteen is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (remember ‘Braveheart’s happy ending).  I expect that holding the referendum on or near the anniversary of Bannockburn will be too obvious, but I also think that the pro-Union campaign ‘Better Off Together’ (i.e. those in favour of a united Kingdom) would be happy if the August commemorations preceded the referendum.  Although I expect that “politics” will be left explicitly out of the commemoration, the message will be clear that Britain was ‘better off together’ in 1914 and is so today.

The Telegraph (London) has a good report on Cameron’s speech that allows readers to see the wider political context (although the referendum agreement came after this announcement), particularly the vision of Conservatism outlined by Cameron the day before the Centenary speech.


Ben Wellings

Ben Wellings is Lecturer of European Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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The Politics of Forgetting and Remembering Indigenous Fighters

Discussion paper

To begin with a couple of telling anecdotes…

• In the small town of Koné on the north-west coast of New Caledonia there stood for many years a war memorial with a statue representing a ‘poilu’[1] – a French soldier of the First World War. Early in 2010 the statue was vandalised and taken away for repair.[2] Faced with holding the commemoration ceremony of May 8, the mayor, Joseph Goromido,  decided to erect a temporary replacement, a large wooden sculpture representing a warrior.  After all, many Kanak had fought in WWI, indeed as many Kanak went to fight as French citizens from New Caledonia.[3] The ceremony went off without problem but a few days later the sculpture was daubed with red, blue and white paint, the colours of the French flag and also therefore the symbol of those opposed to the independence of New Caledonia. The following night, a Kanak flag was draped over the statue – at this point the mayor decided that what he had hoped would symbolise the unity of the communities had become the symbol of division and the statue had to be taken down.

• In May 2009, a memorial (a statue of a horse’s head) was inaugurated in the Sculpture Garden of the Australian War Memorial to honour the role that animals have played in war. The Sculpture Garden includes a statue of Simpson and his donkey and also a walkway lined with plaques to various services, specific units and historical events.  In bushland some ten minutes walk behind the War Memorial, not in the grounds, the Sculpture Garden nor on Anzac parade,  is a plaque to the service of Aborigines in war, paid for by private donors and dedicated in 1993. The disparity between the treatment of the role of animals and Aborigines in war is rather stark: the only monumental presence of Aborigines at the Memorial are the gargoyles of the faces of an Aboriginal man and woman, included amongst representations of ‘Australian Native Fauna’ on the walls of the Roll of Honour cloisters.


Teasing out the significance of these events brings into focus issues of national identity and citizenship, the ‘History wars’ over the nature of settler/indigenous relations, and the on-going political resonance of the commemoration in Australia and New Caledonia of indigenous service in European wars.  Britain and France brought troops from many parts of their empires to fight in the world wars; however only in the Dominions, in the case of Britain, and in Algeria and New Caledonia (colonies de peuplement) in the case of France, did the indigenous soldiers return to their place within a settler colonial framework after the war, with all that that implies in terms of social, economic and political inequality.

This paper offers a reflection in two stages: from a brief evocation of the issues of forgetting and remembering indigenous service in WWI, it moves to a consideration of the remembrance of indigenous/settler conflict, and tries to show the relationship between the representation and commemoration of these two forms of combat. To explore the remembrance of indigenous fighters rather than indigenous soldiers is to overcome the ideologically contentious division of warfare into external wars officially sanctioned by colonial authorities and internal ‘conflict’ involving indigenous rebellion. This approach allows for a more nuanced account of what is politically at stake in the practices of remembrance and commemoration both of these soldiers and these fighters, in the colonial and neo-colonial contexts of 20th century Australia and New Caledonia.

The paper’s theoretical starting point is that both forgetting and remembering are profoundly political acts that can only be fully understood as responses to the complex demands of their contemporary contexts. It recognises the dangers of generalisation and over-simplification: forgetting and remembering are processes that are unevenly distributed across society: ‘collective amnesia’ is as unlikely to occur as the much-criticised concept of ‘collective memory’. And it pays particular attention to the ‘mechanisms of forgetting’, an expression borrowed from a text by Freud[4] that is here intended to apply to the social processes involved in forgetting, whether deliberate or unintentional. Paul Connerton (2008) identified seven types of forgetting (and argued that not all types were unhelpful to society or the individual). The forgetting of the participation of indigenous soldiers in WWI might most closely be classified in Connerton’s terms as ‘repressive erasure’; and yet this forgetting was less the result, I would argue, of deliberate erasure but rather the confluence of a number of factors: institutional amnesia; strategic forgetting; ideological dissonance; conflict over material interests – all underpinned by inequality of social, economic and political power between the Europeans and the indigenous peoples.

Mechanisms of forgetting

The ability to determine what is to be remembered and what excluded from official memory is vested in modern societies in a set of powerful institutions that may act in concert or according to different agendas. Ashplant et al, who develop a powerful framework for the analysis of the articulation of war memories, identify the key role played by these ‘agencies of articulation’: ‘institutions through which social actors seek to promote and secure recognition for their war memories’ (2004: 17). They range from the official bodies of the nation state, its ministries and departments of veterans’ affairs, and the national systems under its control such as the education system, to institutions of civil society such as associations of war veterans. However the role of the State in promoting or neglecting the memory of events is crucial – its intervention ranges along a scale of intensity, from highly directed, coercive forms, to those that involve merely the organisation of symbolic gestures. At one end of the scale of State intervention in forgetting we might identify imposed or forced forgetting, Connerton’s ‘repressive erasure’, the suppression of memory that results from the censorship of ‘inconvenient truths’ and perhaps the persecution of those that bear those memories. In less extreme forms of forced forgetting, governments play a key role in what we might term strategic forgetting. This may involve intervention in the school curriculum to support particular versions of national history and its narratives or in the forms of national commemoration. Abundant examples might be cited from the interventions of the Howard government in education and commemoration. Indigenous veterans generally lack the access to the Federal and State-controlled institutions to impose their presence on official memory and the institutions of civil society may be similarly closed to their influence, as the notable example of the RSSILA in Australia demonstrates. Memory of indigenous war service survived in vernacular memory (Bodnar 1992), ‘communities of memory’ sought to commemorate their dead[5] in the face of institutional amnesia.

Official memory is conveyed in ‘narratives of articulation’ (Ashplant et al 17), the stories that are developed around the war events that structure and give meaning to individual and collective memory and may play a role in the construction of national or racial identity. The dominant, hegemonic narratives that structured the mindset of colonial Australia and New Caledonia – those concerning national and racial identity and citizenship – were inimical to the recognition of indigenous war service. We might describe these contradictions as founded in ideological dissonance, when aspects of the past are ‘forgotten’ or obscured because they are at odds not only with the official hegemonic narratives but with the dominant belief systems of a society. One of those systems was of course the belief in racial hierarchy and the superiority of Europeans – the basis of the theory and practices of White Australia. The accounts of WWI exploits by the ANZACS were marshalled in support of the ‘right’ of the colonisers to own the land and determine its future (Bean 1918).  And despite France’s supposed commitment to her role of bringing enlightenment and progress to her colonies, racialist and eugenicist ideas were as deeply entrenched in New Caledonia as in Australia: the Kanak were the object of a racism that cancelled out their very existence: ‘un racisme d’anéantissement’(Bensa 1995: 116)[6]. The Kanak were sometimes compared to the Australian Aborigines – both ‘stagnated’ at the lowest level of human development, so backward indeed that improvement appeared impossible. Both were widely considered, in the inter-war period and beyond, to be ‘a dying race’ (Merle 1995: 401). It is not that the indigenous were invisible, nor even that ‘a great silence’ hung over them, but in Foucault’s terms a discourse was constructed around them, a ‘science’, a set of ‘knowledges’ and practices that defined how they should be seen and spoken of.

Strategies of Remembering

It is beyond the scope of this discussion paper to trace the social, political and ideological changes that have led, over the past 20 or so years, to greater recognition of the service of indigenous soldiers in both Australia and New Caledonia. The commemoration of formerly excluded groups is never however, I would suggest, an apolitical restoration of justice and balance but reflects the evolution in social relationships that allows certain groups to claim greater recognition; it may also be the result of political calculation, a stratagem that accords symbolic recognition where other forms of recognition and inclusion are lacking; it may involve a kind of internal memorial diplomacy towards the reconciliation of formerly antagonistic groups.  In a period when the ‘black armband’ view of history was being condemned, during the Howard era, the inclusion of Aboriginal soldiers in the commemorative framework of the World Wars offers a pacified representation of a nation united in a common struggle. It obscures the long history of inequality of treatment and could thus be seen as an ideological and political move; even if such recognition does not result from a conscious strategy, it accords with the revised dominant narratives of national identity. In the case of New Caledonia, as it searches for a national identity with the trappings of currency, flag and anthem, war service, in which both Kanak and Caldoches took part, has been marshalled in the quest for symbols and narratives of a common history (Muckle 1326).

There is a saying in France, developed from a warning sign posted at level crossings: ‘un train peut en cacher un autre’ – ‘one train may hide another’. So it is I would suggest with commemoration: one form of commemoration obscures and conceals others – what we might call ‘the displacement of memory’. What has been displaced or obscured by the current surge in commemoration of indigenous service? Largely ignored in both Australia and New Caledonia is the role of indigenous  fighters in their wars against European invasion.

In Australia, this issue has occasionally been aired in relation to the wars commemorated at the Australian War Memorial: what room, if any, is there in the Memorial for an exhibition about the conflict between Aborigines and white settlers? The very fact that raising this question strikes most people as odd, even inappropriate, suggests the extent to which the Memorial is associated with a particular perspective on the nation and national identity. There is little doubt that the War Memorial offered throughout the 20th century a perspective on Australian national identity and nation-building that was closely aligned with a British heritage. Set up by Charles Bean, its collections developed in the inter-war period (it was opened in 1941), it reflects the emphases he wished to give to war memory and the assumptions and prejudices of the time, as the gargoyles of aborigines  demonstrate. Despite being challenged on the issue by writers and historians over the years, [7] the War Memorial has always refused to extend its scope to include settler/Aborigine conflict, citing its mission as that of representing participation in wars, fought by Australians, overseas. Each term is however open to question and re-interpretation. The word ‘Australian’ might for example, as the War Memorial at one time argued, confine commemoration to post-Federation conflicts, and even more specifically to those where Australia had a national force engaged in external conflict, on the formation of the [first]AIF in August 1914. But recent additions to the galleries, with the inclusion of the Boer War, have pushed the story of Australia’s wars back into the 19th century and to participation in British colonial wars.[8] And the issue of whether conflicts between settlers and Aborigines were wars is in itself an ideological issue, and one that has become a stake in the History Wars. [9]  It is a question of naming, a political as much as a historical question, and one that is open to challenge and revision. McKenna notes that ‘black wars’ were identified as such in many 19th century accounts but ‘forgotten’ between the 1920s – 1970s (McKenna 2002: 30).

In so far as there has been commemoration of these wars, it seems that the memorials record the Aborigines as the victims of massacre, rather than as fighters. Consultation of the list of memorials with indigenous relevance shown at[10] reveals that a large majority of the 25 identified concern massacres of Aborigines: these are mostly very recent memorials: the Myall Creek Memorial 2001; the Aboriginal Massacres Monument, Port Fairy, Victoria, dedicated in March 2011; the Appin massacre, dedicated in 2007.  Only a handful of the memorials refer to ‘battles’, while memorials remain to those white settlers and pioneers who conducted the massacres (Angus McMillan at Warragul, Bartrop 2004: 201) and to whites killed by Aborigines.

In New Caledonia, the question of whether and how to remember the armed conflict of Kanak against Europeans is also a contemporary political issue. To return to the incident recounted at the beginning of this paper, Koné was one of the centres of a Kanak rebellion in 1917, a rebellion that was in part provoked by causes linked to the war, notably forced recruitment and the consequent depopulation of the villages, though there were certainly other factors at work, including the requisitioning of land by Governor Feillet in the decades before the war (Muckle 2008: 1336) . Chief Noel, one of the leaders of the rebellion, called on Kanak to fight the French at home as ably as they were fighting the Germans abroad. Conflict and repression by French troops continued for seven months and led to the devastation and dispersal of the indigenous population mainly from the west coast towards the east; the troops sent to quell the rebellion included men who were on leave from the front and also indigenous auxiliaries recruited to fight the rebels (Muckle 1332). 200 Kanak, including Chief Noel, and 11 French died in the uprising. The question of whether the Kanak rebellion was a ‘war’ is an issue of contemporary historiography, opposing the views of Sylvette Boubin-Boyer and Adrian Muckle. But it is also an issue that remains alive in the relations between different Kanak clans, between ‘loyalists’ traditionally closer to France and those who rebelled in 1917, and it thus impacts on the contemporary political debate over the future of the territory.

Since WWII, the political situation has evolved in a dramatically different direction to that of Australia. The Kanak, who remained the largest ethnic group (without constituting an absolute majority), were in a position to demand a series of concessions from France, leading towards greater autonomy; but this has not satisfied all the Kanak parties and New Caledonia is now on a path to independence, though the terms of the endpoint of this process are still a cause of bitter division. Armed clashes continued into the late 1980s both between whites and Kanak (the events at Ouvéa in 1988) and between rival Kanak groups (the assassination of Jean-Marie Tjibaou in 1989 by a rival Kanak leader). The administrative division of the colony in 1999 into three regions has given control over the northern and eastern regions (the Loyalty Islands) to the Kanak – the mayor of Koné, which is the administrative capital of the Northern province, is a Kanak.  In commemorative terms this means that the wars fought by the Kanak against the occupiers have been commemorated in those regions. Such a memorial stands near Koné: a large rock with a plaque to the memory of the action of Chief Noel.

Other monuments in Koné attest to the official memory. The war memorial erected in Koné with its statue of the ‘poilu’ is emblematic of the memory of WWI that was to be promoted, that of the metropolitan ‘Français de souche’. As such it was unrepresentative of the soldiers who went from New Caledonia to fight in the war and particularly unrepresentative of the fighters from that region of New Caledonia, where the majority of soldiers would probably have been Kanak (the whites were concentrated in the capital and the south of the Grande Terre)[11]: 23 names figure on the monument in Koné, 15 from WWI and 8 from WWII, and of the 15 from WWI, it appears that 8 or 9 are Kanak[12].  On this memorial at least the names of the indigenous soldiers were inscribed on the monument. However until 2001 in Noumea, the principal war memorial (also represented by the ubiquitous ‘poilu’) carried the names of the European soldiers and only the numbers of soldiers from each tribe.  In that year two new stèles were added carrying the names of the individual indigenous soldiers (Frémeaux 331).

As in Australia, there has been increasing recognition of the role of Kanak soldiers in commemoration, publications and school curricula (since 1991), paralleling the trend in metropolitan France towards recognition of the participation of soldiers from her colonies in both world wars. In the case of New Caledonia however, the issue carries a particular resonance because of the still recent armed conflict and the contested moves towards independence. The Kanak warrior on the Koné monument thus carries a heavily symbolic but conflicted meaning to the local community: as soldier for France, as ruthless and savage rebel, and as fighter for independence. In each of these roles he is diversely appreciated by the black and white populations of the area and by the pro- and anti-independentists. The incident of the statue reveals the ambiguities and the challenges involved in attempting to enrol past symbols to unify the present in a neo-colonial context, the risks involved in mobilising ‘an archaeology of memory in the service of a refashioned national narrative’ (Ashplant et al 35), as the mayor had hoped to do. It illustrates too the importance of studying the differential reception of commemorative activity, the ambiguous nature of symbols and the multiple and even conflicting interpretations to which they lend themselves in different contexts and to different audiences.[13]

Finally, some thoughts on the significance of representation and naming in both reflecting and perpetuating exclusion. The representations of war that became enshrined between the wars, not only in discourse but in monumental and symbolic forms of commemoration, tended to militate against remembrance of indigenous service. The field of war memory was filled with hegemonic images, narratives and heroes that ‘stood for’ the whole: the iconic figures of soldiers as ‘diggers’ and ‘poilus’ are imperialist metonyms, imperialist in both the literal and metaphorical sense, that by representing the part, obscure the whole. Not only the material but the imaginary national landscape was colonised by such representations, while distorted even grotesque images perpetuated the denigration of the indigenous peoples (the gargoyles and the association of Aborigines with native fauna; the ‘cannibal Kanak’ exhibited in the ‘human zoo’ at the Paris Exhibition in 1931 (Dauphiné) contributing to their symbolic and representational exclusion from war memory.

The second result of these representations of European war and warriors – that included the iconic reports of the sacrificial attack ‘over the top’ of the trenches, the heroic frontal assaults, the holding of territory at all cost – was to obscure and displace the naming of indigenous engagement in warfare. The Aborigines and the Kanak tended to avoid ‘battlefield’ confrontations where the whites’ superior weapons and numbers would be lethal; they resorted to guerrilla-style tactics: surprise raids, ambushes, tactics that were seen as evidence not of innovative and adaptive strategy (as Connor argues, 2002: 21) but of their cunning and deceitful nature. Muckle argues that the historian Sylvette Boyer continues this representation of Kanak warfare in her account of 1917 (Muckle 1326). The use of the term ‘the Events’ for the conflict in the period 1981-9 is similarly the subject of controversy, the historian Oliver Houdan arguing for the term ‘civil war’.[14]

Serge Moscovici identified the creative power of ‘objectification’ in conjuring up, through the simple act of naming, a coherent and unitary entity that can in turn be ‘anchored’ to a series of supposedly similar events (1984: 43). Ashplant recognises the political significance of this power: ‘the willingness or refusal of the state to recognise and name particular kinds of violence as ‘a war’ in the first place together with its bestowal of names upon particular wars, are fundamental to the construction (and contestation) of the national narrative and official memory’ (2004: 53)

The landscapes of Australia and New Caledonia are crowded with monuments that we unproblematically refer to as ‘war memorials’ and yet nothing is less evident than what constitutes a ‘war’, or what distinguishes a soldier from a fighter; and nothing is more controversial than whose wars we should commemorate and why.




Ashplant, T., Dawson, G., & Roper, M. (2004) ‘The Politics of War Memory’ in Timothy Ashplant, Graham Dawson, Michael Roper (eds) Commemorating War, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

The Australian Abo Call: the voice of Aborigines: six issues, each of four pages and priced at 3d appeared each month between April and September 1938. The issues were accessed via the NLA Trove digitised archives on 8 March 2012.

Bartrop, P. ( 2004)  ‘Punitive Expeditions and Massacres: Gippsland, Colorado and the Question of Genocide’ in Moses, D.(ed) Genocide And Settler Society: Frontier Violence And Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History, Bergahn Books.

Bean, C.E.W. (1918) In Your Hands, Australians, Melbourne: Cassell and Company.

Blunt, A. (1994) Writing women and space: colonial and postcolonial geographies, New York: Guilford Press.

Bodnar, J. (1992) Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century, Princeton N/J: Princeton University Press

Calédoniens dans la Grande Guerre, Musée de la ville de Nouméa, 2008.

Chesterman, J. & Galligan, B. (1997) Citizens without Rights: Aborigines and Australian Citizenship, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press.

Connerton, P. (2008) ‘Seven types of forgetting’, Memory Studies, 1, 59-71.

Connor, J. (2010) ‘The Frontier war that never was’ in Craig Stockings (ed), Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, University of New South Wales Press, 10-28.

Connor, J.  (2002) The Australian Frontier Wars, 1788-1838, University of New South Wales Press.

Curthoys, A. (2004) ‘National narratives, war commemoration and racial exclusion in a settler society’,  in Ashplant et al, 128-144.

Dauphiné, J. (1998) Canaques de la Nouvelle-Calédonie à Paris en 1931. De la case au zoo. Paris: L’Harmattan.

Day, D. (2005) Claiming a Continent: A New History of Australia, 4th edn, Sydney: Harper Perennial.

Frémeaux,  J. (2006). Les colonies dans la Grande Guerre: combats et épreuves des peuples d’outre mer, Edns 14/18, SOTECA.

Garton, S. (2004) ‘Longing for War: Nostalgia and Australian Returned Soldiers after the First World War’ in Ashplant et al, 222-239.

Goodall, H. (1992) ‘A History of Aboriginal Communities in New South Wales, 1909-1939’ University of Sydney PhD thesis.

Goodall,  H. (2001) ‘Mourning, Remembrance and the Politics of Place’ in Changi to Cabramatta: Places and Personality, The Public History Review, 9: 72-96

Goodall, H. (2008) Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1992, Sydney University Press.

Guiart, J. (2004). Ca plait ou ça ne plait pas II: Eléments de bibliographie critique, Edns du Rocher-à -la-Voile, Noumea.

Hage, G. (1998) White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Pluto Press.

Hall, R. A. (1989) The Black Diggers: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War Allen & Unwin.

Huggonson, D. (1992) ‘Aborigines and the Aftermath of the Great War’, in Australian Aboriginal Studies, no 1.

Inglis, K. (2008). Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd Edn, Melbourne University Press.

Jackomos, A. & Powell, D. (eds) (1993). Forgotten heroes: Aborigines at War, Melbourne: Victoria Press.

Lake, M & Reynolds, H. (2008). Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality, Melbourne University Press.

McKenna, M. (2002). Looking for Blackfellas’ Point: an Australian History of Place, University of New South Wales Press.

Meaney, N. (2009) Australia and World Crisis 1914-1923, Sydney University Press.

Merle, I. (1995) Expériences coloniales: La Nouvelle-Calédonie, 1853-1920. Paris: Edns Belin.

Moscovici, S. ‘The Phenomenon of social representations’, in Robert Farr and Serge Moscovici(eds), Social Representations, Cambridge University Press, 1984,

Muckle, A., (2004) ‘Spectres of Violence in a Colonial Context: The Wars at Koné, Hienghène and

Tipindjé – New Caledonia, 1917’, PhD thesis (Australian National University).

Muckle, A. (2008) ‘Kanak Experiences of WWI: New Caledonia’s Tirailleurs, Auxiliaries and ‘Rebels’,’ History Compass 6/5: 1325–1345.

Petersen, N. & Sanders, W. (1998), Citizenship and Indigenous Australians: Changing Conceptions and Possibilities, Cambridge University Press.

Poignant, R. (2004) Professional Savages: Captive Lives and Western Spectacle, Yale University Press.

Stanley, P. (2008)  Invading Australia: Japan and the battle for Australia, 1942, Viking.

Stanner, W. E. H. (2009), The Dreaming and Other Essays, Black Inc Agenda, Collingwood, Vic.

Thomas, M. (2005). The French Empire between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Thompson, E. (1994). Fair Enough: Egalitarianism in Australia, University of New South Wales Press.

Wineguard, T. (2012) Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[1] Meaning, literally, hairy one, the origin of the term is the subject of some debate. Although the term is widely used for the French infantry of WWI, it was in use in the 19th Century and therefore does not originate from the unkempt appearance of soldiers in the trenches.

[3] New Caledonia ‘supplied 2160 soldiers of whom 1137 were colonial infantrymen. 541 New Caledonian troops were killed of whom 374 were indigènes’ (Thomas 2005: 23).

[4] Freud, S. (1898). The Psychical Mechanism of Forgetfulness.

[5] The Sydney Morning Herald carried an article in 1935 about the mission at Caroona which mentions the initiative of the Aboriginals in erecting their own memorial to their veterans, the Gate of Memory. ‘The Gate of Memory: Raised by Coloured Folk’, by A. E. F., Sydney Morning Herald, 17 August 1935, 11.

[6] ‘Dans l’imaginaire des coloniaux, les Kanak ont été d’emblée exclus avant d’être dominés, gommés de l’avenir avant d’être asservis, voués au néant et à la mort avant d’être exploités’, A. Bensa, Chroniques Kanak. Visages de la colonisation, ethnies-document vol. 10, 1995, 116.

[7] The issue has been raised on several occasions by Ken Inglis: on the launch of his book Sacred Places in 1998 and again on publication of the 3rd edition in 2008. In 2009  a discussion took place on the ABC between John Coates, Aboriginal academic Gordon Briscoe, Geoffrey Blainey, Ken Inglis and Peter Stanley on the one side, and RSL president Bill Crews on the other, that raised a number of the issues addressed here:

[8] In the Boer War a detachment was sent from Australia in October 1899, known as The Australian, an infantry unit, made up mainly of volunteers from the Colonies of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. A number of Aboriginal trackers took part in the campaign.

[9] See for example John Connor, ‘The Frontier war that never was’ in Craig Stockings (ed), Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, University of New South Wales Press, 2010, 10-28.

[11] The current population of Koné (6416 inhabitatants) is approx 60% Kanak; 20% whites; 8,5% métis. (

[12] The list can be consulted at : Biographical details are supplied for some of the soldiers. It is however difficult to be certain of their ethnic origin since the missionaries gave ‘Christian names’ to the Kanak, under which they enrolled. However some of the military fiches give the tribal origin or place of birth of the fighters.

[13] Such attempts continue however: at Bourail the leading group on the local council has proposed a monument to commemorate all the victims of the ‘Events’ at Ouvéa: Kanak, Caldoches and gendarmes. ‘Un mémorial commun aux victimes des Evénements’ Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes, 27 Jan 2012.

[14] ‘Un mémorial commun aux victimes des Evénements’ Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes, 27 Jan 2012.

La Grande Guerre à l’Australian War Memorial ou l’élaboration d’un mythe national.

L’Australian War Memorial (AWM) de Canberra est le musée d’histoire le plus visité d’Australie. Plus qu’une institution muséale, il est devenu le temple de ce que l’historien australien Kenneth Inglis appelle la « religion civile » australienne, c’est-à-dire le culte des Anzacs et des valeurs qui leur sont associées.

              À la suite de la déclaration de guerre du Royaume-Uni à l’Allemagne le 4 août 1914, l’Australie se retrouve engagée dans le premier conflit mondial. 416 809 Australiens s’enrôlent, près de 324 000 quittent l’Australie. À la fin de la guerre, 61 000 sont morts, 154 000 blessés et 4000, prisonniers.[1] Alors que le conflit fait rage, certains Australiens, dont le correspondant de Guerre C.E.W. Bean, comprennent l’opportunité formidable qui se présente à la toute jeune Australie, fédérée en 1901, de fonder un récit national. Début 1917, à Londres, une Australian War Records Section est créée.[2] Elle est chargée de collecter les traces matérielles de l’engagement australien. L’entreprise est considérable et les « reliques », comme elles sont déjà appelées, sont envoyées par bateaux en Australie. La guerre finie, des expositions temporaires sont organisées à Melbourne, puis à Sydney avant que le projet d’Australian War Memorial soit définitivement arrêté par le Gouvernement.[3] L’AWM est construit à Canberra, la capitale fédérale. Il ouvre ses portes en 1941. Sa localisation symbolique atteste l’importance qui lui est accordée par les pouvoirs publics. Le Parlement, l’ancien Parlement et le Mémorial sont parfaitement alignés le long de l’imposante Anzac Parade, seulement interrompue par le lac Burley Griffin (Illustration 1). Cette topographie témoigne du lien entre le Parlement qui émane du peuple et se consacre à l’avenir de la nation toute entière, et ceux qui se sont battus pour que cette dernière soit pérenne et libre. C’est l’hommage ultime rendu par l’Australie à ses soldats. Ceux qui sont morts pour l’Australie ne sont pas oubliés mais mis en valeur par une patrie reconnaissante de leur sacrifice et consciente que sa marche vers l’avant n’aurait pu se faire sans eux. Une telle architecture peut être vue comme un axe de légitimité : les soldats commémorés à l’AWM ont permis et permettent encore à la nation – incarnée dans le Parlement – d’exister tandis que cette même nation légitime leurs actions et en organise la commémoration (F. Virgili)[4]. Placé sous l’égide du Department of Veterans’ Affairs, l’AWM est doté de statuts légaux clairs mais peu flexibles. Le musée a pour mission de « commémorer le sacrifice des Australiens morts à la guerre » et se doit d’assister les Australiens à se souvenir, interpréter et comprendre les engagements militaires australiens.[5] Dès lors, à l’AWM, l’histoire australienne se confond avec l’histoire militaire du pays.

               Dans le discours officiel national – et nationalisant – l’histoire véritablement australienne commence le 25 avril 1915, jour du débarquement de l’ANZAC [acronyme pour Australian and New-Zealand Army Corps] dans les Dardanelles [Gallipoli][6]. En termes de politique intérieure, cette affirmation est lourde de conséquences et se traduit dans le parcours muséographique de l’AWM. Dès l’entrée du musée, dans le hall d’accueil, une barque utilisée lors du débarquement à Gallipoli, avec des impacts de balles, trône dans la pénombre. Devant cette barque, un panneau, sur lequel il est écrit : « Prière de respecter ce bateau historique ». Puis, en caractères plus petits, il est demandé de ne pas y toucher. Seul de son espèce dans le musée, ce panneau fait passer cette barque pour un objet de dévotion qu’on ne pourrait toucher à l’inverse de bon nombre d’autres objets présentés par ailleurs. Une citation de William Morris Hughes, Premier ministre de 1915 à 1923, est reproduite juste derrière la barque et informe le visiteur que « l’Australie est née sur le rivage de Gallipoli ». La première salle est consacrée au débarquement des Dardanelles et donne accès aux autres salles dédiées à la Première Guerre mondiale. À l’AWM, l’histoire de la nation australienne commence, dans le parcours muséal, avec la Première Guerre mondiale. C’est en 1986 seulement qu’une galerie évoquant l’histoire militaire australienne d’avant 1914 a été ouverte à l’Australian War Memorial. Cette galerie s’appelle Soldiers of the Queen et traite de l’histoire militaire australienne jusqu’à la fin de la guerre des Boers. Difficile d’accès et hors du parcours muséal chronologique, elle attire très peu de visiteurs.

                L’AWM est composé de différents dispositifs commémoratifs comme le Hall of Memory, le Roll of Honour ou encore la Pool of Reflection (Illustration 2 et 3). Pourtant, ce sont les galeries du musée, par des représentations héroïques de la corporéité combattante, qui remplissent au mieux la fonction de commémoration telle qu’elle est organisée par le Mémorial et qui révèlent la perception officielle de la guerre de 14-18 en Australie.

Ce n’est pas l’histoire de la Première Guerre mondiale qui y est contée mais l’histoire d’Australiens dans des engagements militaires australiens. Le digger (soldat australien de la Première Guerre mondiale) y est omniprésent. Il est représenté par des statues, dans des tableaux ou encore par des dispositifs muséographiques, mais aussi par les objets qui lui ont appartenu. Cette omniprésence du digger tient sans doute au traumatisme vécu par la nation australienne : tous ses combattants de la Grande Guerre, si ce n’est le général Bridges et le soldat inconnu inhumé en 1993, ont été enterré en pays étrangers. L’absence de tombe en Australie, ainsi que les statuts légaux du musée, contribuent à expliquer l’hyper-représentation muséale de ces mêmes combattants. À travers les commandes du musée, il est possible d’analyser la part que prennent les représentations du corps des Anzacs dans la muséographie de l’AWM et dans la construction de la légende des Anzacs. Ceux-ci sont grands, forts, beaux et leur torse vaillant toujours exposé au danger, face à l’ennemi.

 À l’AWM, la Première Guerre mondiale est avant tout une affaire d’hommes, de muscles (Illustration 4 et 5). La modernité de la guerre, sa singularité même, est niée par des représentations archaïques et épiques du combat, héritées des nations européennes qui les ont elles-mêmes abandonnées avec la Grande Guerre. Le digger, littéralement celui qui creuse, surnom représentant de façon saisissante l’activité combattante de 14-18, au ras du sol, dans la boue, est systématiquement représenté debout.

 C’est en quelque sorte le paradoxe du « digger vertical » alors qu’à l’inverse, l’Historial de Péronne – pour ne citer que cet exemple –a choisi un mode d’exposition des corps à l’horizontal pour illustrer la nouvelle nature du combat et la fin du corps militaire redressé [7]. Par ailleurs, là où l’Historial choisit de montrer la souffrance des corps traumatisés, explosés et déshumanisés, ces types de représentations sont évacués de l’expérience de guerre des diggers à l’AWM. En effet, si le corps est le lieu de l’héroïsation et de la glorification du digger, alors celui-là ne peut être défiguré, démembré ou en proie au shell-shock. Par conséquent les morts représentées sont propres et les blessures, légères. À Canberra nous sommes face à une déréalisation des effets corporels de la guerre (Illustration 6 et 7).







Ces représentations erronées de l’activité combattante de 14-18 à l’AWM découlent souvent de la volonté de donner une tradition militaire à la jeune armée australienne, de l’anoblir en quelque sorte, par le sacrifice, présenté comme volontaire, et d’héroïser les Anzacs. C’est ce que révèle un dispositif muséographique du Mémorial : le diorama. Les dioramas de l’Australian War Memorial ont toujours été une de ses attractions phares. Ce sont des maquettes en trois dimensions avec un fond peint d’une taille imposante. Sortes d’arrêts sur image, ils sont censés projeter le spectateur dans la bataille. Selon l’un des pères fondateurs du Mémorial, C.E.W. Bean, il s’agissait de représenter le plus fidèlement possible certaines actions australiennes victorieuses et surtout de montrer la guerre à une population australienne aux antipodes de cette dernière.[8] Chaque diorama pourrait être soumis à une critique minutieuse, nous nous ne nous arrêterons ici que sur l’un d’entre eux : Magdhaba 1916 (Illustration 8).

La prise sans résistance d’un petit retranchement turc par de l’infanterie australienne montée (Light Horse), au cours d’une opération de plus grande envergure, devient, par le truchement du diorama, une charge de cavalerie glorieuse, héroïque et audacieuse. L’artiste, William Leslie Bowles, pourtant au fait de la réalité, s’en est volontairement émancipé. Ainsi, les détails les plus importants de la maquette sont historiquement faux. Ni les Turcs ni les Australiens n’avaient la baïonnette au canon ; aucun Australien n’a mis son fusil en joue ni utilisé sa baïonnette au moment de franchir la redoute ; la troupe qui ouvrait un feu de couverture a disparu de la scène.[9] Mais peu importe, ce qui compte ici c’est de placer ces hommes dans une tradition militaire équestre toujours valorisée dans les représentations des contemporains. Il s’agit également de montrer, que ces hommes, n’appartenant pas à la Cavalerie et par conséquent insuffisamment équipés, peuvent se battre à cheval. La guerre révèlerait des qualités ayant germées chez les Light Horsmen du fait même qu’ils soient des australiens du bush et donc d’excellents cavaliers dans l’imaginaire national. Les qualités des Anzacs, inscrites sous les vitraux les représentant dans le Hall of Memory (Illustration 9), sont corporifiées dans les représentations muséographiques du digger, transformant une certaine interprétation de cet imaginaire national en réalité physique – par des statues, sculptures, tableaux et autres expôts. Ces représentations muséales permettent d’identifier des caractéristiques et des valeurs présentées comme nationales, véritablement australiennes. L’avantage de la naturalisation de qualités, c’est qu’elle rejaillit par extension sur la nation toute entière, ce qu’ont bien compris certains gouvernements.

            Depuis une quinzaine d’année, l’AWM s’est considérablement politisé [10]. L’interprétation et la représentation de la Grande Guerre en Australie forment en réalité un enjeu identitaire. Le décalage entre l’historiographie universitaire et les représentations collectives demeure important. La fréquentation de l’Anzac Day (25 avril) qui n’a jamais été aussi importante que durant les dix dernières années l’atteste. Elizabeth Rechniewski, de l’Université de Sydney, a même qualifié ce phénomène « de réinvention de la tradition » [11]. L’inflation mémorielle est grandement liée à la politisation de la mémoire dans une quête pour définir l’identité nationale. Cependant, la mémoire officielle et nationale qui se déploie à l’AWM ne signifie pas qu’il n’y a pas de mémoires de la Première Guerre mondiale concurrentes. En effet, chaque État a son propre mémorial, parfois doté d’un musée et donc d’un discours propre. À l’Anzac Memorial de Sydney par exemple, l’interprétation de l’engagement australien est beaucoup plus doloriste et bien moins glorifiante. Ainsi, la mémoire de la Première Guerre mondiale et le culte des Anzacs comme pierre angulaire de l’identité australienne sont remis en question par d’autres récits nationaux qui identifient dans des événements différents la définition de cette identité nationale. Quoi qu’il en soit, l’Anzac Industry, selon les propos de l’historien Kenneth Inglis, semble avoir encore de beaux jours devant elle [12]. Elle s’accompagne également d’un tourisme de mémoire sur les champs de bataille australiens qui s’est fortement intensifié depuis près d’une décennie. Dans la Somme, à Villers-Bretonneux par exemple, la fréquentation du mémorial national australien lors de la cérémonie de l’Anzac Day bat des records. Enfin, à une trentaine de kilomètres de là, le Gouvernement australien devrait financer à hauteur de 10 millions de dollars un projet d’Australian Western Front Remembrance Trail c’est-à-dire un chemin du souvenir pour les Australiens, sur les lieux mêmes où leurs diggers se sont battus.

photographies prises par l’auteur / photos taken in situ by the author

[1] Données consultables sur le site de l’AWM:

[2] AWRS, Report on the work of the Australian War Records Section from May 1917 to September 1918, the Officier in Charge, London, 30th September 1918, p.1, AWM224. 

[3] McKERNAN Michael, Here is their Spirit, p. 84-85.

[4] VIRGILI Fabrice, « L’Australian War Memorial à Canberra » dans Vingtième siècle,  2009- 1 (n°101),  p. 197.

[5] Site internet de l’AWM:

[6] CROTTY Martin, « 25 April 1915 : Australians troops land at Gallipoli : trial, trauma and the ‘birth of the Nation’ » in Turning points in Australian history edited by CROTTY Martin & ANDREW ROBERTS David, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2009, p. 113.

[7] « Cahier des charges à l’attention du sculpteur George Lappas pour la conception d’une œuvre d’art contemporaine », Repérages, 5 avril 1991 voir « Horizontalité du front et verticalité de l’arrière »,  p. 7

[8] Voir Bean, lettre au Sénateur Pearce du 12 juin 1922, AWM38 6673 item 803.

[9] Se référer au dossier AWM93 13/1/28

[10] FATHI Romain, Représentations muséales du corps combattant de 14-18. L’Australian War Memorial de Canberra à travers le prisme de l’Historial de la Grande Guerre de Péronne, mémoire de recherche, bibliothèque de la FNSP, Paris, 2010. Consulter le Chapitre 4.

[11] RECHNIEWSKI Elizabeth, « Quand l’Australie invente et réinvente une tradition. L’exemple du débarquement de Gallipoli (avril 1915), Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’Histoire, n° 101, janvier-mars 2009, p. 123-132.

[12] INGLIS Ken, Sacred Places. War memorials in the Australian landscape, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, third edition of 2008 [1998], voir la section : « Epilogue : Toward the centenary of Anzac » p. 458-483.


Photo essay: the Australian Remembrance Trail


In its 2009-2010 budget, the Australian government allocated $10m to establish an Australian Remembrance Trail throughout the former Western Front. The trail identifies and improves visitor facilities at a series of battlefields on which Australians fought, including in Ypres, Ploegsteert and Zonnebeke in Belgium, and at Fromelles, Bullecourt, Pozières, Mont St Quentin and Villers-Bretonneux in France. Here is a link to Australian government’s information on the Trail, including the Australian Remembrance Trail brochure.

In August and September 2012, I visited these sites to see what this trail looked like, what the visitor experience might entail, and how the sites related to the larger landscape which contextualises them. Following the trail north from Villers-Bretonneux to Zonnebeke, I photographed each site, trying to capture how they related to their surroundings, and using photographs to help understand the experience of ‘being there’.

Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux
The Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux

I started at the primary commemorative site on the Trail, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. My immediate impression was the agricultural nature of the surrounding landscape. We visited at harvest time, and tractors and other machines were common on the rural roads. Small clouds of dusty earth were visible front the high ground on which many of the sites are located.

Villers-Bretonneux cemetery with tractors
The cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux with tractors working in the background.

This formed a particularly stark contrast at Le Hamel, where I spoke briefly with a farmer working only a few metres from the memorial. The new road, visitor facilities and signage feel as if they demarcate a space completely distinct from the surrounding farms. Intended to invoke both another place – Australia – and another time – the Great War – Le Hamel is surrounded by farmland which, as it changes throughout the year, would change the feel and experience of the site. When I was there the harvest had just been completed, and the earth was dusty and exposed. I could imagine a different context to the site at different times in the farming year.

Signage at Le Hamel
Signs explaining the history of the site, and Australian involvement, Le Hamel.

memorial at Le Hamel
The memorial at Le Hamel is surrounded by farmland.










Moving between the sites meant driving on rural roads, and we doubled back or took wrong turns many times. As with many trails, this one is not as coherent and clear on the ground as it is on the map or brochure. I was not able to photograph Mont St Quentin, but at Pozières, a small observation platform allowed perspective over the surrounding landscape, showing the abrupt distinction between the memorial space and its surroundings.

Poziere from high vantage point
The memorial at Pozieres.
explanatory signage at Poziere
New explanatory signage at Pozieres.

The Australian site at Bullecourt is in a memorial park just outside the village on the Rue des Australiens. Peter Corlett’s memorial sculptures also appear at the Australian cemetery at VC Corner near Fromelles, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. They are part of a visual vocabulary that reinforce the official Anzac narrative and link the sites together.

BUllecourt Digger
The ‘Bullecourt Digger’ by Peter Corlett (1993) in the Australian Memorial Park.
Fromelles Cobbers
Peter Corlett’s ‘Cobbers’ (1998) at the Fromelles memorial park.

There are three distinct sites in and near Fromelles: the memorial park (pictured above), the VC Corner Australian Cemetery, and the new cemetery in the village itself, opposite the church. The last site saw the reburial of the newly-discovered remains of Australian soldiers in 2010.

Vc Corner cemetery Fromelles
The VC Corner Cemetery near Fromelles.
New cemetery at Fromelles
The new cemetery at Fromelles, opposite the village church.

Along with many other imperial forces, Australians were killed and are commemorated at the Menin Gate, Ypres. The In Flanders Fields Museum, recently refurbished and reopened in June 2012, is in the centre of the town in the  medieval Cloth Hall which was meticulously rebuilt after the Great War.

Menin Gate, Ypres
The Menin Gate, in Ypres, Belgium.

Ploegsteert is close to Ypres, and the memorial is on the main road. Its imposing size and design is a surprise on an otherwise unremarkable road.

Ploegsteert memorial
The Ploegsteert memorial.

The British Hyde Park Corner cemetery opposite the rotunda contains the graves of three German soldiers, whose gravestones differ only slightly in design from the Commonwealth ones.


Hyde Park Corner, Ploegsteert
The British Hyde Park Corner cemetery, opposite the rotunda at Ploegsteert.
A German grave at Hyde Park Corner, Ploesteert
A German grave at the Hyde Park Corner British cemetery outside Ploegsteert.

The last place I visited was outside Zonnebeke, in Belgium, not far from Ypres. Like the sites in France, this one is surrounded by farmland.

Polygon Wood
Polygon Wood cemetery, near Zonnebeke.

The memorial to the 5th Australian Division looks out over the Buttes New British cemetery, over the road from the Polygon Wood site. The affectionate toy koalas and small Australian flags on the memorial are a gentle contrast to the straight rows of headstones they overlook.

The Buttes new british cemetery
The Buttes New British cemetery is overlooked by the 5th Australian Division memorial at Polygon Wood.
5th Australian Division memorial, Zonnebeke
5th Australian Division memorial, Polygon Wood.
koalas on 5th division memorial, Zonnebeke
5th Australian Division memorial.