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November 19, 2017

Lost Tommies Portraits of the Somme: The Unseen “Selfies” of 1916

For much of the First World War, the small French village of Vignacourt was always behind the front lines – as a staging point, casualty clearing station and recreation area for troops of all nationalities moving up to and then back from the battlefields on the Somme. Here, one enterprising photographer took the opportunity of offering portrait photographs. A century later, his stunning images were discovered, abandoned, in a farm house.

Captured on glass, printed into postcards and posted home, the photographs enabled soldiers to maintain a fragile link with loved ones at home. Just like the selfies of today, the portraits were a mixture of the good and the indifferent, the in-focus and the out-of-focus. The images showed British and a few Australian soldiers, in formal or informal poses, during or just before the most murderous battle in the history of the British Empire.

This collection covers many of the significant aspects of British involvement on the Western Front, from military life to the friendships and bonds formed between the soldiers and civilians. With servicemen from around the world these faces are gathered together for what would become the front line of the Battle of the Somme. Beautifully reproduced, it is a unique collection and a magnificent memorial.


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