The Somewhere in France project began in 2012 as a joint project between the University of Melbourne School of Languages and Linguistics and the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA).
Each year French students from the School are taught about the experience of Australian soldiers on the Western Front in World War One and then undertake a session exploring the University of Melbourne Archives related collections. The students choose a topic to focus on for their final assessment and the outcome is published on the Somewhere in France blog.
The themes have been developed as they have emerged out of the students’ own investigations. The stories reveal the personal and intimate experiences of the soldiers whose documents are housed at UMA.
About the University of Melbourne Archives
The University of Melbourne Archives was established in 1960 and to date holds some 18 kilometres of records, making it one of the largest non-government collections in Australia. UMA collects, manages and provides access to the historical records of the University, Victorian business, trade unions and other labour organisations, community and cultural organisations, as well as the personal papers of many individuals prominent within them.
Our records relating to World War 1 are extensive. The official University records document the University’s involvement in the war, through research, mobilisations and public relations. Other collections of significance include that of Sir Percival Edgar Dean, (one of) Billy Hughes’ private secretary from November 1916, and the war diaries of John Neville Fraser, the father of Malcolm Fraser. The large collection of trade union records document the campaign against conscription in Australia.
In relation to the experience of Australian soldiers in France, UMA holds an interesting range of documents. They include the diaries and correspondence of University students’ and staff, some of whom did not return. UMA also holds photographs, medals, publications and other memorabilia gathered by Australian soldiers during the war.
A couple of examples of our collections that will be used by the students are:
Ray Jones – Ray Jones was a signaller in the 19th Battalion of the AIF. He enlisted on 17 February 1915, aged 25, and saw service in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium before being assigned to permanent base work because of an ear problem in July 1917. He saw out the war in France and then returned to England. He corresponded regularly with his family in
NSW and his sister who was a missionary in China from 1915 to 1919. The surviving letters contained in this collection (a total of 428 to and from Jones) document the war time experiences of a family. Ray Jones’ own letters describe the harsh conditions and monotony of trench warfare. They also contain comments on issues such as the conscription debates, the behaviour of the recruits, and descriptions of the armistice celebrations. The letters from Jones’ family
describe the situation at home.
AR Chisholm – Chisholm was born in Bathurst in 1888 and educated at Sydney University and the Paris Institute. He was appointed lecturer-in-charge of French at the University of Melourne 1921-1937 and enjoyed a distinguished career as Professor of French from 1938 until retirement in 1957. He enlisted with the AIF on 22 December 1915 and served on the Western Front 1917-1918 at forward posts intercepting enemy communications. The UMA collection contains a diary, correspondence and sketches that were drawn by Chisholm. Another interesting document in this collection is a list of the books he read whilst in the trenches, including many French and German literary classics.