When Able Seaman William George Vincent Williams' name is projected in letters one-metre high on the tower of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra at 5.30pm on Monday it will mark the beginning of a special commemoration to honour all of Australia's WWI dead.
Williams, the first Australian serviceman to be killed by enemy action, was shot during the Australian attack on Rabaul on September 11, 1914.
Our first military operation of WWI, the assault claimed seven Australian lives at the Battle of Bita Paka.
The second serviceman, and the first Australian officer, to fall was Captain Brian Pockley, a medical officer.
Their names are the first of the 62,000 Australian WWI war dead who will take centre stage in a special commemoration conceived by the Australian War Memorial’s director, Brendan Nelson, just over a year ago.
One of Dr Nelson’s first decisions on being appointed director in late 2012 was to have images projected on to the memorial building in Canberra for the Dawn Service on Anzac Day last year.
That proved highly successful and Darren Noack, the AWM’s Centenary of Anzac project manager, said by the time he came on board last July it had been decided to project the name of each serviceman or woman up to eight times a year for the four years from August 2014 to November 2018.
This is expected to reach 1440 names a night in mid-winter or just over 10,000 names a week.
Williams and Pockley are the only two individuals whose names are being projected in chronological order; a special computer program has been used to randomise the names from that point on.
“The thinking was that we are all equal in death,” Mr Noack said.
The real challenge was ascertaining when each specific name would be broadcast and linking that to the electronic Roll of Honour on the memorial’s website.
If you know the name of a relative who fought and died in WWI just click on their Roll of Honour entry and the dates and times will appear.
Mr Noack said trial runs had been carried out “in the dead of night” and it was possible to get excellent photographs of the names from the front of the memorial.
Depending on eyesight and the prevailing weather conditions it should be possible to read individual names from the southern end of Anzac Parade.
Mr Noack said there had already been strong positive feedback to the honour roll projection plan, with many people planning family pilgrimages to Canberra to be present when their ancestor’s name came up. Each name will be projected for 30 seconds at a time.
“It seems likely we are going to see large numbers of people out the front of the memorial at very unusual times,” Mr Noack said.
He said the cost of the projections was only a small part of the overall centenary of Anzac budget and, because it was touching so many people across the country, was excellent value.
The AWM has bought the projector, mounted on the south-western side of the building, that will be displaying the names. It would not have been economic to have hired a piece of equipment for such a long time.
Mr Noack said that while he did not have ancestors with a direct link to the Australian forces in WWI he was keenly aware of the importance of the AWM and the Roll of Honour to those who did.
“This project has come together very well,” he said. “It has been just over a year from the concept to the reality. I am delighted to have been involved on such an exciting challenge.