WANT a one-on-one conversation with a World War I veteran — and a 24/7 world-first experience on a device you can carry in your pocket?
Now you can use Facebook Messenger to talk to a chatbot that provides fascinating news and conversation from the Western Front, at any place, at any time.
The team behind the award-winning AnzacLive have taken one of their real-life characters, Australian soldier and raconteur Archie Barwick, and programmed his extensive diary entries into a bot that answers questions and sends out updates from the battlefield — test it here.
The project is a first for News Corp Australia — at a time when media organisations are just starting to recognise the potential of chatbots.
AnzacLive made headlines last year when it marked the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli by bringing Archie and nine other real veterans to life on social media, using their journals to post as if in real time across the century.
Now, in July 2016, the characters are in France. The horrific disaster at Fromelles has just occurred and the grim slaughter at Pozieres is just days away.
Archie — a Tassie-born country boy who moved to NSW — is in the First Battalion waiting to join the assault on the coveted strategic high point.
His extensive journals cover everything from his thoughts on the fear and impending battle (“This may be the last entry I write”) and the enemy “I reckon you are justified in shooting the dogs on sight”) to less warlike matters like food, booze, sport and of course his beloved home.
When he goes over the top on July 22, his description of the carnage and the brutal fighting will become entirely gripping — including how Australians use bayonets and smoke bombs to “hunt the Huns like rats from the ruins.”
To join him, for free, go to http://m.me/anzaclivearchie/, search Facebook Messenger for Archie Barwick or scan the code on the embedded image below.
Click the option to follow his diary entries — but please also chat to him. Ask him questions about the war, the Germans and life in the trenches. He may not answer perfectly, but keep trying — we are training the bot and each question you ask helps us train it more effectively.
The answers are taken from Archie’s journals, as were his entries for the original Archie Barwick Facebook page.
The bot has been created by News Corp Australia and software company Wizeline, using Wit.ai language technology.
Archie’s granddaughter Elizabeth Barwick, a great supporter of the AnzacLive project, urged people to engage.
“Pozieres is a very significant part of Pa Archie’s story for me,” she said.
“One of my favourite stories of his comes from this time — when he impersonated an officer and got away with it.”
She said AnzacLive and the bot offer other people a chance to discover more about our shared history.
“I feel so blessed and lucky to get to read his diaries. But many other people had ancestors who had such similar experiences but never wrote them down. This is a good way to share those stories.”
Earlier this month, AnzacLive won a Mumbrella award for best Social Media Idea of Year, with judges calling the initiative a “truly elegant fusion of historical research, great journalism, traditional print media and social channels”. Last year it won two News Awards, for innovation and design.