A box of postcards has unlocked a new world for history teacher Mark Snedden.
The Kotara High principal spent decades teaching his students about World War I and travelled to Gallipoli and the Western Front, knowing that his great grandfather George Thompson and his great granduncle Charles had served, but unaware of any further details.
Three years after receiving the box, Mr Snedden and his own brother are now considering writing a book about the Thompsons, who survived Gallipoli and the Western Front and brought the legacy of war back to the Hunter 100 years ago, but rarely spoke about their service again.
"It's been massive," Mr Snedden said of his research into the brothers.
"It empowers you to know where you came from, to have an understanding of your origins.
"I have the utmost respect for them and not only for their service to our country, but also what they were involved in - such significant historical events.
"I think often about what they saw and had to endure during war, and how this must have totally reshaped their world view and every life decision they must have made after these experiences.
"I really wish I could have learnt from them, just how their war experiences changed them, physically, mentally and emotionally."
Watch the 2019 Newcastle dawn service at Nobbys Beach
Mr Snedden's paternal grandmother Kathleen was George's oldest daughter.
He received the 34 postcards through Greg, the son of George's oldest son, Arthur.
George had sent most of the cards to his wife Katherine, mother, mother-in-law and daughters.
But there were also some from Charles in Gallipoli to George at home in the now-vanished Rhondda, near Teralba, hoping to meet up while serving.
Some were well wishes from friends in Rhondda.
"That's when things started to change," Mr Snedden said.
"I'd studied history and always had that interest, but that spurred me on.
"The information we got from the postcards was unbelievable.
"But they served up a lot more questions than answers.
"In almost every postcard George signs off 'Son' - even to his brother.
"George's youngest son Jack is 94 and told me it was because he was very funny, a practical joker and always doing something stupid."
Mr Snedden started to meet with relatives - George's youngest daughter, Muriel, 93, and Charles' youngest son, Ian, 93, and grandson Chris Lock - and searched the National Archives.
"Their war records show where they enlisted, their next of kin, their medical record and everything they did," he said.
"If you know a battalion you can go to the Australian War Memorial and find out what they did day to day.
"I've used the war records as a blueprint to dig further.
"You've got to dig and dig and dig and things start to come out."
George and Charles moved as children from Canberra to Cardiff after their father, also named George, became station master at Cardiff railway station.
George had trained as an engineer at Dick Brothers, Hamilton, and was living in Rhondda when he enlisted aged 28 on August 1, 1915.
He was assigned to the 12th Light Horse Regiment and arrived in Cairo for training on March 3, 1916.
He was transferred around December that year to the No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, which became known as 67 (Australian) Squadron.
Anzac Day 2019: Your guide to services and marches in Newcastle and the Hunter
"He'd spent four months training with the Lighthorse Brigade and had started to move into the desert towards Palestine," Mr Snedden said.
"67 men had turned up from Victoria for the airforce, saw George was an engineer and said 'You're coming with us'."
George was sent to Southampton on January 30, 1917 to be trained as a mechanic.
"He was a founding member of the Australian Airforce," Mr Snedden said.
"It was the first time aircraft had been used in wartime.
"The idea was reconnaissance and to support the infantry on the ground.
"They were moving to where the major battles were.
"But by the end of the war they were giving anyone a rifle, the men in the airforce were being thrown into the trenches and that's where he was gassed, on the Western Front."
George returned home in 1919 and resumed his role as chief engineer at Rhondda Colliery.
"He brought home a biplane propeller, which he fashioned into a photo frame, and a belt with badges of the different regiments he served with while overseas.
"We don't know if he swapped them or bought them from them," he said.
"Knowing what we do now brings those artefacts to life."
George was in a severe motorcycle crash on Teralba Road in 1927 in which his daughter Alfreda, 7, died.
"Dealing with all of that [post war] and the death of a child is just a horrendous, harrowing story."
George died aged 55, following complications with pneumonia.
Charles was a locomotive engineer living in Maitland when he enlisted aged 25 on September 8, 1914.
From the archives: Dawn service at Nobbys Beach in 2018
He was assigned to the 13th Australian Infantry Battalion and was part of the Gallipoli landing.
He injured his right arm on May 1, 1915 and was hospitalised.
He returned to Gallipoli on July 21 but was wounded again on September 9.
"During the campaign many soldiers would keep their mess kit with knives and forks in their leg bindings," Mr Snedden said.
"When Charles was shot in the leg the bullet pushed the head of the fork into his leg.
"Infection that developed after the wound caused him to have his leg removed just below the knee, in Malta."
Charles returned to Australia on the ship Themistocles on December 4, 1915 and was discharged.
He returned to the railways and worked in the workshop, before taking up a role as a train driver after his colleagues felt endangered by anti-war groups protesting against the transportation of supplies for the troops to the docks.
"He drove with a revolver, thinking 'If I have to shoot someone I will'," Mr Snedden said.
"He knew what they were dealing with over there.
"He wanted to make sure the men were getting what they needed because they were living in hell.
"There were thousands of men dying. Everyone was supposed to be home by Christmas 1914 and men saw it as a big adventure, but they were there for four years. They were just cannon fodder."
Mr Snedden said he would have loved to have been alive at the same time as the brothers and to have asked about their service, but knows they were unlikely to have wanted to discuss it.
"They were amazing men, but when the men came back from WWI they didn't speak about it," he said.
"It was taboo - all the emotions came out when they talked about it.
"You'd ask questions and get a clip over the ear.
"All the anguish and pain they carried with them all their lives was absolutely frightening."
Mr Snedden said he "implored" his students to ask their older relatives about their lives.
"Kathleen died in 1986 when I was 12, but I had not asked questions," he said.
"When I talk to students I say go and find the oldest person in your family and just talk to them.
"Speak to them before they go, because that social and personal history will be gone forever."
Mr Snedden will attend the Speers Point dawn service on Thursday to see his daughter sing.
"Anzac Day is about paying respect to people who have sacrificed themselves for this country and for us never to forget the realities of war and what that ultimate sacrifice actually was," he said.
"This doesn't change how I feel about it, but it personalises it a bit more. It means a hell of a lot more.
"Nothing comes close to having that connection. It also puts life into perspective.
"I don't sweat the small stuff - look at what these guys went through.
"After a hard day at work I still get to go home, but look at their hard day at work."
Mr Snedden is now researching the lives of other relatives who served.
"I don't think it ever ends, I think the uncovering has just begun."