Aussie film identity theft 'a mistake'

Australian historian Charles Bean would not have been deliberately misleading over the identity of Anzac soldiers in rare film of action in the trenches at Gallipoli, says Australian War Memorial historian Ashley Ekins.

Research has revealed that soldiers previously identified by Bean as Australians were in fact New Zealanders and Irishmen.

New Zealand military historian Chris Pugsley, a lecturer at Britain's Sandhurst Military Academy, said the discovery highlighted New Zealanders' contributions to the dangerous frontline campaign and restored their rightful place in the Anzac story.

"It forces us to totally re-evaluate what we're looking at in this one very important historic film," Dr Pugsley said.

The film was shot by British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett in 1915 and edited by Bean in 1919.

Bean's film was thought to be the only one to survive until new material was discovered in a compilation film also held by Australian War Memorial.

A comparison of the two films revealed extended sequences and scenes not included in Bean's edit.

Dr Pugsley said the wrong identification of the soldiers in Bean's edit of the film had been deliberate.

He said it was driven by the need to show an Australian narrative.

"Gallipoli had become the iconic centrepiece of the Australian achievements in the First World War, and so he looked at all these images and assessed how he could tell the Australian story with them," he said.

"He didn't want to clutter up his story line by referring to New Zealanders in the frontline because really, when you look at it, there's far more footage of New Zealanders in the frontline than there is of Australians. That would blur the story too much, so they became Australian."

Bean addressed the lack of action shots featuring Australian soldiers by using the footage of the Irish soldiers at Suvla Bay, Dr Pugsley said.

But Ekins has defended Bean, calling him "a stickler for painstaking accuracy" who "went for the dull, unvarnished truth, always".

The soldiers shown at Quinn's Post were New Zealanders, but Bean was not trying to mislead audiences who would have known from the uniforms they were wearing that they were not Australians, he told the Melbourne Age newspaper.

"He was trying to give a narrative to an Australian audience and to keep it simple because people had to read these titles in a silent movie cinema."

On the possibility that another scene showed Irish and not Australian troops, Ekins said he was unsure if Bean was wrong.

"If it is true, it hasn't aroused a ripple before, and it was probably because Bean was mistaken."

Dr Pugsley plans to publish a paper on his research this year.


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