#She Reviews for Anzac Day ‘Photos in the Attic’ by Donna Fiechtner

April 21, 2023

‘Lest We Forget’

One way to keep our memories alive is through a photograph and this is the premise for new book, Photos in the Attic. Written by Donna Fiechtner this story will soon be a major motion picture. With Anzac Day fast approaching it is a fitting tribute to many of our soldiers who fought so far from home. The work has been a labour of love and also a beautiful journey for the author and her family. 

This year Michael and Donna Fiechtner will fly from Brisbane to Vignacourt in France to continue a journey that began fifteen years ago. They will take part in a large number of special events on the Somme including the dawn commemoration in Villers Bretonneux. First in Paris, they will meet with artist, George Petrou, whose art works feature both Vignacourt and Naours soldiers. The artist will present a number of his works to honour our Australians lost during the war. 

In Vignacourt, the Fiechtner’s will attend a service at St Fermin’s Church featuring an Australian choir and French artist Bruno Sauty, who has penned a rousing song of remembrance – Terre de Combat. During the week will see the release of Donna Fiezchtner’s book, Photos In the Attic. The family will visit the grave of a family member who was lost during the fighting. They will also attend many commemorative events. 

Donna’s book, Photos in the Attic, tells the story of one war, two worlds and three people in love. It is based on her research of photos recovered in attics and the town hall in Vignacourt. These show brave, young soldiers from around the world, who had been snapped during the war by local French photographers, Louis and Antoinette Thuillier. Many of these photos were of Australian soldiers stationed in Vignacourt, which from 1916 – 18 was a place ‘ behind the lines ‘where soldiers would go to rest and recuperate. 

Thinking the story would make a great movie Donna and her husband wrote a screenplay which will soon be a film. The book Photos in the Attic has been adapted from their screenplay. The story begins with a young man named, Laurent who heads to Vignacourt at the behest of Australian businessman, Kerry Stokes, to research the photos. Here he finds a treasure trove of memories, some of which had been stored away in an attic for over a century. 

Cutting to the past we meet the inhabitants of Vignacourt, photographers Louis and Antoinette and their displaced family member, Rosie. Rosie is a nurse. Their lives intertwine with two Australian soldiers from Childers in Queensland, Bill and his best mate indigenous soldier, Jimmy. Bill is betrothed to the passionate Isabella whose Dad, Mick, owns the farm where Bill worked before signing on. Bill and Jimmy think they are off on a great adventure but soon after they arrive in France the realities of the battlefield take hold. 

The only sense of normality they find is ‘ behind the lines’ at Vignacourt, where they are shipped to when injured in battle. Here Bill tries to find news of his brother who has not been heard of since being shipped from Australia. They also make many friends, eat at cafes and find romance.

Nurse Rosie is smitten with Bill, but he remains true to Isabella, writing letters and sending photos. Unbeknownst to him Mick is intercepting the letters between the lovestruck pair and both Bill and Isabella fall further into despair with the silence and perceived lack of communication. Soon Bill is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. 

As time passes the affection between Bill and Rosie grows. Rosie is heartbroken when Bill makes the difficult decision to return to Australia, to Isabella. This decision devastates Rosie, who disappears to Paris. How will this love triangle end? Photos In the Attic is an empowering historical love story set amidst the backdrop of war on the western front in France. 

I was completely caught up in the romance and history of this story, so much so that we have added a trip to the battlefields in France when we visit there later this year. I warmed to the characters and the love triangle, which I can imagine would have happened quite easily during wartime. The setting from the heat of Childers to the battlefields of France was also a wonderful contrast. I hope this poignant and unique story is read by many, for it is only by learning from the past that we will inform our future. I applaud Donna and Michael Fiechtner for their tireless work in keeping this wartime story and mystery of the photos alive. 

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