Photograph of unidentified Australian and French colonial soldiers, Vignacourt, France



This photograph depicts a group of Australian and allied soldiers, likely French colonial Zouave troops. It was taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France, sometime during the period 1916 to 1918.


This photograph, taken behind the lines in France, illustrates the ways in which different allied groups interacted with each other. In this case, we see French and British colonial troops posing for a portrait together. Two soldiers in the front row have swapped hats, in a gesture that was common when different groups met each other. Soldiers from different countries often swapped buttons, unit insignia, or other small items of uniform when they met.
This was a form of collecting souvenirs or objects, which represented particular encounters or experiences. Soldier souveniring included: purchasing goods, such as silk postcards or small keepsakes from local people in the places to which they had travelled; and collecting items from the battlefield or from other troops. We cannot tell from this picture whether the soldiers who have swapped hats for the photograph kept the other’s headwear; however, many soldiers did keep items like this as souvenirs. These interactions – purchasing objects, swapping items with other soldiers, and so on – were sites of cultural exchange that help us to understand the multiplicity of interactions between different groups of soldiers, and between soldiers and civilians, both in and behind the lines.