Previously unknown “Diggers” potentially identified through NEC’s World Leading Facial Recognition Technology

NEC Australia and the Australian War Memorial have combined in a successful trial of facial recognition technology to unlock the mystery of “lost diggers” from the Western Front in World War I.

NEC, at the invitation of the Australian War Memorial (AWM), has conducted two days of testing of images supplied by the AWM of “unknown” soldiers photographed in 1916 by a husband and wife duo, the Thuillier family, in their home village of Vignacourt, just behind the Western Front battle lines in Northern France.

The images on glass negatives were part of almost 4,000 uncovered in a wooden chest in the attic of the Thuillier’s former farmhouse almost a century after the photos were taken at the height of the “Great War”.

A sizeable amount of the images that made up what is known as the “Vignacourt” or “Thuillier” Collection were purchased by a known Australian philanthropist and generously donated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Unfortunately however, none of the people in the photos was able to be identified at the time of the Vignacourt Collection’s discovery.

A national roadshow of the images entitled “Remember Me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt” uncovered a handful of potential identifications.

However, in just two days of supervised testing by NEC Australia of images from the Vignacourt collection against other identified images from two other AWM-held photographic collections, the “Darge” and “E Series”, scores of potential matches were uncovered.

The first of these was of a Pte. Robert Deegan, a young soldier who was photographed by the Thuilliers in Vignacourt in 1916 and a year earlier at a recruitment station in country Victoria. The resemblance was undeniable.

NEC Australia’s team used NeoFace Watch to test the Vignacourt collection (718 images) against two other War Memorial photographic databases. From this exercise, 1,388 candidates (matches) were found. Out of these results, the War Memorial investigated and identified those with a similarity score of 80% and above.

This produced many exciting potential matches.

“NEC was honoured to be invited to join the AWM in this really worthwhile project,” said David Borean, Executive General Manager of NEC’s Brand and Customer Experience Division.

“All Australians are aware of our nation’s proud military past, in particular our service in World War I and to be able to successfully uncover diggers whose identities remained a mystery for almost a century was not only exciting, but a great privilege.

“The dedicated research team at the AWM has spent many hours working to manually identify Diggers from the Vignacourt collection over almost a decade against other collections it had in its archives.

“So to be able to help them identify previously unknown soldiers in a matter of hours was a thrill for us as an organisation and a testament to what NEC’s modern solutions can do, potentially in the national interest,” David Borean said.

NEC was yet again recently recognised as producing the world’s most accurate Facial Recognition algorithm by the leading authority on the sector, the US Department of Commerce’s NIST testing division.

The trial of the NEC facial recognition technology using the AWM’s image collection has now concluded.

Learn more on the project and NEC's technology

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