Australian War Stories: WWI veteran Archie Barwick helped inspire Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli


Forty years on from the Hollywood blockbuster, the Australian soldier who helped inspire a key scene can finally be revealed.

Exclusive: It was arguably the most famous clip in the haunting war film Gallipoli.

And 40 years on from the Hollywood blockbuster, starring Mel Gibson, the Australian soldier who helped inspire the scene can finally be revealed.

Archie Barwick, a 24-year-old Tasmanian working on a cattle farm in NSW, was the digger who fortuitously dodged enemy fire on the shores of Turkey.

“It was a scorching hot day in July, 1915 and he was down in Anzac Cove (in Turkey) having a swim, he got out and started to dry himself,” his granddaughter Elizabeth Barwick said.

“The next thing he knows, there’s a huge bang and he’s lying back in the water half dazed, he scrambles out of the water and he realises a shell has landed just where he and a few of his mates were drying themselves.

“The men he was standing with had been killed … he doesn’t know how he survived that.”

Mr Barwick’s close call is recounted in extensive detail in his diary, which has been unearthed as part of a new online family history project championing the stories of more than 330,000 first world war troops.

Elizabeth Heffernan, a historian on the Australian War Stories by Memories project, said many Australian soldiers were acutely aware they could be “shot and killed” when taking a dip — but frequently chanced it.

“Swimming offered an escape from the heat of the peninsula, and for many was a chance to soak their filthy uniforms and kill off the lice that had burrowed inside,” she said.

“But swimming was also necessary simply as a moment of joy seized amidst the horrors of war, giving young men like Archie Barwick a few precious minutes to be boys again.”

War historian Meleah Hampton said many letters that were sent home from men in the trenches have been kept “both in archives and in homes”, which has allowed such detail to be known about their experiences.

“Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli is apparently based on a few sentences in Bean’s official histories about the Harper brothers,” she said.

“However, lots of pieces of the film have come from firsthand accounts like Archie’s.”

Mr Barwick joined the war effort in October, 1914, setting sail from Albany, Western Australia, on the first departing convoy, in search of an adventure.

He spent four years on the frontline in Gallipoli, before being posted to France and Belgium where he earned the Belgian Croix de Guerre for bravery.

“When they realised they were going to leave Gallipoli, they were quite downhearted, they didn’t want to leave their mates,” Mrs Barwick said.

“The Australians set up the trip devices so that the Turks would think that the Anzacs were still there. They also left notes for the Turks asking them to look after the graves of their soldiers.

“The Turks fulfilled that and more. He (Archie) spoke very highly of the Turks over and over again.”

By April 1918, a chest injury ended Mr Barwick’s campaign.

“He met my grandmother and they got married and had three children and bought a property east of Armidale, NSW, where he remained for the rest of his life as a farmer,” Mrs Barwick said.

“He was an incredibly tough and brave man, and the family are so incredibly proud of Archie.”

To discover your ANZAC hero and receive a FREE online memorial visit: australianwarstories.com.au

Explore an extended Memories memorial on the wartime journey of Archie Barwick

Originally published as Australian War Stories: Veteran Archie Barwick helped inspire Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli

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