Many WWII veterans still carry the scars of war’s untold horrors alongside memories of mateship, emotional homecomings and a difficult return to civilian life.
Those who are still with us, are now aged in their late 90s or even older, so the need to preserve these memories for future generations has become quite urgent.
Albany Creek-based filmmaker Jeff Hughes and his business partner Rachel Dutton started a charity called This Story last year, interviewing veterans and creating videos that bring their memories together with photos, wartime music and historic records of their service.
They’ve recorded 16 videos so far, and of those, five veterans have since passed away. Jeff says there’s an urgency to record these stories before we lose any more.
Jeff and his cameraman usually spend a couple of hours with a veteran, but each interview is different – some take longer, if the veteran has more to say.
The interviews are relaxed, not scripted and might start after a cup of tea.
“Often they will tell us more than they’ve told their family. We make them comfortable,” he explains.
“I think it’s a combination of showing respect that someone is there, and they want to listen to everything. I think that takes down some of the boundaries and borders (that can get in the way),” he says.
Often veterans have intentionally shielded their families from these stories and the pain that goes with them.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to listen. It’s a privilege,” Jeff says.
The result is a keepsake for families, but also an important historical resource.
The videos will be gifted to the John Oxley Library’s WWII collection, under the umbrella of the Queensland State Library, and will be available to the public. You will be able to search for a veteran by their name or the conflict they were involved in.
“We want these veterans’ words and stories to be heard,” Jeff says.
The This Story team hopes to record stories across Queensland and eventually in other states, in partnership with libraries in those jurisdictions. They have more than 20 they would like to film this year in Queensland alone.
“We want to create the largest collection of WWII interviews in Australia and have them housed in libraries that people can access,” Jeff says.
In July, 2019, Jeff interviewed Caboolture WWII veteran Arthur (Artie) James McClure who joined the war effort as a topographer in response to the threat of Japanese invasion.
Artie travelled to Darwin straight after the bombing and also served in Borneo. Jeff says Artie’s memories of experiences in Borneo were raw and horrific.
“Artie’s is probably the most emotional we’ve done,” he says.
“He was quite happy to leave the past in the past. As he talked to us, things came up that he struggled with.”
In his video, Artie who is 102 this year, shares memories of a childhood growing up on a farm in Caboolture, his war service and his service to the community upon his return.
If you know a veteran who should be featured, Jeff and the team want to hear from you.
They also desperately need donations to continue their work, with each video costing $3500-$4000 to create. Jeff hopes the general public and corporations will get behind them.
“Every dollar helps. Forgo that $5 cup of coffee this week,” he says.
Businesses and corporations can even sponsor a veteran’s video.
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The Arana Hills Library is seeking a local community group to run a coffee cart or van to feed library visitors. Find out how to apply here …