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September 16, 2014

Rare and Interesting Vintage Photos of the British Western Front in France, ca. 1918

Interior of an ambulance-train ward, France, during World War I. This image is very striking due to the lighting and the tunnel effect of the train carriage, which is emphasised by the parallel lines of the wooden panelling on the roof. Two nurses are busy tending the wounded while two officers survey the scene from the top of the carriage.

Signallers working at the headquarters of R.E.S.S. in France, during World War I. Just like a team of operators working at a busy telephone switchboard, this image shows the network of communications at company HQ that was required to co-ordinate an armys activities. The object immediately in front of the signaller on the right looks like a mouthpiece, which suggests that they are using wireless sets or field telephones to communicate.

Attack on Hindenburg line. Tanks and Troops advancing. With 'land battleships (tanks) in the background, this image shows infantry advancing during the attack on the famous Hindenburg Line. As the Hindenburg Line was finally overrun by the Allies in the autumn of 1918, it seems highly likely that this is when this photograph was taken.

German General's Headquarters' dug-out being used by the British. The concrete on the tops is 10 feet deep. This photograph shows how well-engineered some of the German trenches were. The caption notes that there was 10 feet of concrete on top and the image shows a great depth of concrete and sod below the corrugated iron roof. Drain pipes and even porches can be seen in the dugout.

Members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, playing hockey, France. This action photograph is believed to be the work of David McLellan. McLellan was one of five official war propaganda photographers to be commissioned for the Western Front. The first two were Ernest Brooks and John Warwick Brooke. This may have been a personal moment for both McLellan and the players, which has now been caught in time and survives for posterity.

This image shows two entertainers on a stage, apparently in the middle of a stand-up comic turn. Both are in dark suits. One has a red clown's nose and a bowler hat. He is wearing dancing shoes, so probably did some sort of dance routine as part of the act. There is a painted landscape as a backdrop.

Soldiers struggling to pull a big gun through mud. The gun has been placed on a track created for a light railway. The soldiers are pushing a device, attached to the gun, that possibly slots into the tracks. Some of the men are in a ditch that runs alongside the track, the rest are on the track itself. A makeshift caterpillar tread has been fitted to the wheels of the gun, in an attempt to aid its movement through the mud. The surrounding landscape is bleak and desolate, with only a few trucks visible in the distance.

Soldiers in kilts, possibly from a Highland Regiment, working in a wooded area. They appear to be wearing a protective covering or 'apron' over their kilts. The two men in the foreground are carrying a long and narrow tree between them. Some of the men in the background are using axes to fell more trees. The ground is covered with branches and leaves.

Derelict train with soldiers standing in it, France, during World War I. The camera is face-on to the end of a blown out train carriage which is still sitting on its lines. The ground around the train is littered with branches and bark. The metal structure of the train is still intact but the wooden sides have little holes as well as big missing chunks. Seven soldiers are standing inside the carriage and looking out through these large gaps. They all appear to be quite relaxed and smiling.

A German graveyard at Beaumont-Hamel, France, with makeshift wooden crosses marking the graves.

Some soldiers are jammed in the brick door way of a dugout while one man stands outside smoking. The two clearly visible soldiers look cocky and are wearing big grins. The dugout itself is half derelict with the structure clearly showing. The ground is very muddy and uneven. It is littered with equipment and debris. There is a sign leaning up against the wall which says 'ye corner house'.

Women cooks at the Front, during World War I. Six flues from a group of Agas, which are arranged in a square in the middle of a wooden shed. On top of the Agas are big square metal tins with food piled over the edge of the dishes. The women all have implements sunk into the food like they are chopping it up. There are two soldiers standing in the kitchen with the women. One is uniformed and the other is dressed very informally. The four women are all shiny faced with their hair tucked up into 'mob- caps'. The are wearing big collared overalls on top of their clothes.

Five relatively young soldiers are lying in beds on a gravel path. The beds are made from pieces of metal tubing and look fairly compact. Each man has a number of pillows to prop him up and is holding a bamboo parasol. They are all sitting at different angles although it is unclear whether this is for medical reasons or just personal preference. The gravel path is marked with boulders which have been painted white. It skirts more wooden huts . The hut behind the soldiers has the number seven on it and a fire bucket is also visible.

Two horses jumping fences during a show, one rider less. The picture is taken from below the height of the jump and the rest of the fences are visible in the background all at odd angles to each other. The first horse has just landed and there are dust clouds round his feet. His rump and the hand of his rider are disappearing of the left hand side off the picture. The hand is holding the leading rein of a rider less horse following them. This horse is just sailing over the fence although he is straining against the rein.

A few soldiers gather round an aeroplane. Three of them are looking at the cockpit, while three others perch near the tail. According to the original caption, these men are dismantling the plane. There are no wings attached which suggests they have either been removed or have suffered severe damage during combat. This photograph is bathed in a bright atmospheric light.

Three officers of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) are sitting around a table. The table is laid with a vase of flowers, plates and mugs, but there is no food visible. The bottle appears to be labelled, 'Dark Port.' This photograph, which is attributed to John Warwick Brooke, shows the easier conditions often enjoyed by the officers.

Royal Scots in No Man's Land, France, during World War I. This photograph shows a party of soldiers from the Royal Scots Regiment creeping along between a field and a hedge. The caption indicates they were advancing in 'No Man's Land', the ground between the Allied and German front line trenches.

A soldier wearing his uniform, a tin helmet and a few bits of equipment is standing in the middle of a criss-cross of barbed wire. He is holding a huge spiral of it up in front of him and is winding it off the stick it is wrapped around. He is standing in a ditch with a field on the other side of the fencing and a lush, huge bush behind him. He is quite intent on his work.

This view of the corner of a workshop for repairing army boots shows men using machines to mend calf-length boots. The machines have the logo and brand name of the American Singer Company, who produced both domestic sewing machines and larger industrial machines such as these, for sewing leather and canvas.

A crowd of onlookers at a sports day organised by the Black Watch Regiment. The spectators include some of the competitors, members of the Black Watch who were not taking part and a number of women and children, possibly from a nearby farm, town or village. A day such as this would have provided some light relief for those at the Front.

Messenger dog with its handler, in France, during World War I. This collie dog worked as a messenger in the front line under constant gunfire. A scrolled up message can be seen attached to the dogs collar. Dogs were also used in the trenches to kill rats and mice, thereby protecting food supplies. In addition to carrying out messenger duties and various other tasks, a regimental mascot also helped to maintain the troops morale.

Lone soldier surrounded by a mountain of empty shell cases, France. This lone British soldier up to his knees in spent shell cases, offers a striking impression of the destruction that took place on the Western Front. However, this picture only tells half the story, with the other part of the story being the damage that the shells from these cases inflicted upon the enemy. This photograph was taken by Tom Aitken, and may well have been used for propaganda purposes.

The wooden supports that were built to shield the altar at Amiens Cathedral from shell damage. In addition to these supporting planks, sandbags were also used to protect the interior furnishings and ornaments from bomb damage. Underneath the wooden support to the far left of the photograph, one can see some sandbags piled up on top of one another.

Triumphant dog sitting atop a gun surrounded by gunners, France, during World War I. Proudly perched on top of what looks like a howitzer, this pet dog was the regimental mascot of the artillery gunners also gathered round the gun. Despite the many dangers posed by life in and near the front line, many regiments kept pet dogs and cats. Keeping a regimental mascot also helped to maintain the troops morale.

British messenger dogs with their handler, France, during World War I. A British soldier holds three dogs which were trained to carry messages between the lines and command during World War I. Usually the dogs had been strays, so one particular breed of dog could be not preferred. Generally, however, traditional working breeds, such as collies, retrievers, or large terriers, were chosen for messenger work.

British cavalry passing the ruins of Albert cathedral, France, during World War I. World War I provided endless striking subjects for a photographer as skilled as Tom Aitken. There is something very funereal about the composition of this picture, with the procession of horses in the foreground trooping past the shell of a once-beautiful cathedral. The small town of Albert was badly damaged in fierce fighting during the Allied offensive of August 1918.

(via National Library of Scotland)



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