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At the heart of this unique exhibition are its twenty-five, striking images. Each, is a seamless pairing of the artist own image of DOVO-SEDEE operations, and a historic image sourced from Australia’s national archives.

Six of the exhibition’s finished artworks and accompanying personal memoirs feature below.

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Recovered toxic ordinance is handled and dismantled by personnel wearing full biochemical protection suits. Although the recovered gas shells are now more than a century old, their contents have lost none of their toxicity; all such shells are destroyed under highly controlled conditions. In stark contrast, the Australian soldiers in this image are carrying box respirators, essential for survival in trench warfare.

“He was all out of order […] quite a different boy prior to enlisting”

Elsie Frank, speaking of her son Walter who returned home from the war in 1918

Artist Ian Alderman at the exhibition of Recovering The Past at the In Flanders Fields Museum Ypres, June 2017. Commissioned for display as a component of Belgium’s centenary commemorations, the work was viewed by over 40,000 people during this six month long display.

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The construction of new buildings and road developments carry a particularly high risk to building contractors. Construction sites in West Flanders will occasionally employ civilian contracted detection companies to identify and manage the inevitable unearthing of unexploded ammunition till its recovery by a DOVO-SEDEE team.

“When I go to bed at night, [….] if I allow myself to think of the war I’ll get no sleep for the rest of the night, thinking of the things ‘I should have done’ and what ‘I should not have done.’”

Dudley Jackson, 4th July 1967

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Crate number 143 of Great War vintage ammunition awaiting its destruction. Recovered from land once the battlefields of the Great War, it is a sobering indication of the scale of the problem.

”Australia’s greatest legacy is that left her by the soldiers who never returned – the dead soldiers fatherless children”

Mr P Board – chairman of the Soldiers Children’s Educational Board, August 1927

British Prime Minister Theresa May visiting Recovering The Past at the In Flanders Fields Museum, 31st July 2017. A significant occasion for the exhibition, providing artist Ian Alderman (left) an opportunity to discuss the work with a national leader.

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Farming practices in this seemingly innocuous landscape have unearthed this 8 inch British high-explosive shell weighing 90kg. Termed a ‘dud’, it is a shell that was fired but failed to explode.

“My mind is a blank – this will break my wife’s heart.”

Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Tas, Thursday 18th November 1920

Words on the note found with the revolver Evan Joseph Derby – of Canning Street, Melbourne – used to take his own life. Suffering from depression having been wounded and twice gassed in the war, Evan left a widow and four children.

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An 8” British high-explosive shell is recovered from drainage works being undertaken in the back garden of a house in modern day Passchendaele. For the residents of West Flanders, such find’s are commonplace.

In 1920, Julia Goulding of Brisbane, Queensland, wrote to the AIF headquarters in London:

‘I am writing to enquire of my son John Joseph GOULDING No555. B Company 31st Battalion AIF who was reported missing since July 19th 1916… I have waited patiently with an aching heart for news of him… I know he was not the only one by thousands, but he was my son, lent to me for 35 years… The suspense is what makes it so hard’

In March 2012, her son’s remains were discovered in a mass grave of allied soldiers near Fromelles, France.

Artist Ian Alderman in discussion with Belgium’s Princess Astrid and Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders, Recovering The Past exhibition, Palais Des Nations, Geneva, December 2015.

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Flanders seemingly conventional flat landscape gives clues to its more sinister nature after periods of rain. Through a combination of a landscape destroyed through bombardment and prolonged periods of heavy rain, countless men and mules drowned in the morass at Passchendaele. 

“She was quite mad, the awful sights had turned her brain.”

Matron Gertrude Moberly referring to an unnamed nurse of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)