More unseen photographs from the First World War

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A treasure trove of pictures showing the unknown soldiers of the Somme caused a sensation when it was published here last May. But that was only the beginning of the story...

A year ago this month, the haunting faces of unknown British and Commonwealth soldiers of the Somme emerged from the mists of time and battle to gaze from the pages of The Independent Magazine. The lost Somme photographs – 400 glass negatives of Tommies, Aussies and Canadians of the period 1915-16 rescued from a rubbish heap in northern France – generated extraordinary interest all over the world. The images were by far the most visited item on The Independent website in 2009 – and over the past 12 months, these "unknown soldiers" have been viewed online more than 1,700,000 times.

France's First World War graveyards, and the many "memorials to the missing", contain a legion of names without faces. By contrast, the Somme photographs presented us with scores of faces without names.

The Independent article was followed up by local newspapers and television channels in France. As a result, people in the Somme département have now come forward with more old photographic plates, this time mostly of Scottish and English Tommies. A selection of these new images is published here for the first time: a second "lost platoon" of nameless British soldiers snapped as individuals, or in groups, by an unknown French photographer. Hundreds of other images have been located and are awaiting collection, scanning and processing.

All the images – the 40-odd new discoveries and the original 400 – can be seen here. The new exclusive images can be launched from the photograph above and the original 400 are at Exclusive: The unseen photographs that throw new light on the First World War. They present a poignant snapshot of the British and Empire army on the eve of, or during, the horrific Somme conflict of July-November 1916. The pictures capture an army at a time of transition. The regular and territorial soldiers, who fought in the terrible battles of 1914 and 1915, have almost all vanished. They have been replaced by Lord Kitchener's amateur volunteers – the "Pals" and "Chums" – who fought for the first time, and died in their tens of thousands, in the Somme offensive.

There are one or two hatched-faced, walrus-moustached soldiers of the old school with faces that could have fitted into the ranks at Inkerman or Waterloo. But the great majority of the soldiers seem heart-wrenchingly young and startlingly modern. They look like the kind of people you could meet on the street, or in a pub, in 2010.

Look at the two teenaged first lieutenants – "warts" to the older officers – who pose self-consciously with their cigarettes (above). They can be scarcely more than 18, and probably straight from public school. Look at the young Scotsman, little more than a boy, with a pistol several sizes too big for him (maybe a German "souvenir"). Look at the kilted Scottish soldiers, jauntily wearing their gas-mask holders where their sporrans should be.

Michael Stedman, a historian of the 1914-18 war and an expert on the Somme, believes the new images come from a slightly later period than the first batch published here last year: possibly from towards the end of the battle in October-November 1916.

"This is suggested by the presence of troops from the Royal Naval Division, which was not in the area until October onwards," he said. "Underfoot conditions look wet which would support this thesis of the images being taken during October-December 1916.

"There are men from the Machine Gun Corps and many other Corps and units, often mixed together... I suspect there is a medical unit present in the area and many of these men may be recovering from light wounds – but that is only conjecture. That idea seems to be supported by the complete absence of 'kit', apart from the rather odd posed image of the Scots private with a possibly non-standard pistol and holster which looks very strange – possibly captured."

The historical value of the plates, as a record of the British army during the most murderous battle in its history, was first grasped by two local men: Bernard Gardin, a photography enthusiast, and Dominique Zanardi, proprietor of the "Tommy" café in Pozières in the heart of the Somme battlefields.

A local amateur photographer is believed to have taken the first pictures between the autumn of 1915, after the British army relieved the French on the Somme, and the autumn of 1916, when the "Big Push" ended in a muddy, and bloody, stalemate. The unknown photographer presumably made a little money by charging British, Australian and Canadian soldiers a few francs for a snap which they could send home to their loved ones.

The original cache of photographs, preserved on 9x12cm glass plates, lay undisturbed for nine decades in the attic of a ramshackle barn at Warloy-Baillon, 10 miles behind the battlelines of 1916. When the barn was restored in 2007, the photographic plates were thrown into a rubbish skip. Passers-by rescued some of them. Others were lost – until now.

In 2008, Gardin, a 62-year-old amateur photographic historian, was given a batch of 270 glass plates by someone who knew of his hobby. He approached 49-year-old Zanardi, who has a museum and a collection of First World War memorabilia at his café. (His most recent acquisitions include several packets of perfectly preserved, army-issue oatmeal biscuits, with an eat-by date of 1917, also found in a Somme barn. I heroically tasted one. What does a 94-year-old British military biscuit taste of? Nothing.)

When Gardin approached him in 2008, Zanardi already had 130 similar photographic plates which he had been given by other local people. The two men, at their own expense, scanned and digitalised and, in some cases, lovingly restored the combined batch of 400 images.

Exactly the same procedures have now been applied to the new plates which were offered up by local people after The Independent and subsequent French media stories. The donors told Zanardi that they had bought the plates at local car-boot and jumble sales in the last couple of years. Up to another 500 or so images are waiting to be collected and processed.

Gardin believes that the new batch, shown here, may be the work of the same unknown local photographer as the first collection published by The Independent Magazine a year ago. Zanardi, however, is convinced that they were taken by another photographer. "The backgrounds are different and, to me, the style is different," he told me.

Between them, the two men have combed the area around Warloy-Baillon, looking for the buildings glimpsed in the backgrounds of the images in the hope of tracing the photographer's descendents. "We have got nowhere," Zanardi reported. "That area was largely destroyed in the later battles of spring 1918. The buildings have probably vanished."

Are the two men surprised at the extraordinary interest that their work has provoked all around the globe? "I have been following the debate on The Independent website," Gardin said. "Here in the Somme, people have a sense of duty to remember the soldiers who came from so far to fight for France. It has been very moving to find that the same interest survives in the countries from which the soldiers came."

Last year, The Independent appealed for information from anyone who thought that they might be able to identify a relative in the first batch of images. After 93 years, that was the longest of long shots. All the same, two or three tentative identifications were made and there was one near-certain match.

A young artilleryman sitting on the far left of the front row of the group of gunners in one photograph has been positively identified by family members as Jim Mundell from Dumfriesshire, who arrived on the Somme with the Royal Regiment of Artillery in September 1916. He was 20 at the time. He survived the war to become a farmer and died in 1955.

The original Somme photographs attracted – and continue to attract – scores of comments from The Independent website readers from all over the world. They have generated two poems and an impolite argument over whether Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the British armies on the Western Front from December 1915 to November 1918, should still be honoured by an equestrian statue in Whitehall.

For many internauts, it was the sheer ordinariness of the soldiers – not posed stiffly, or lit heroically like many similar portraits taken in Britain – which was so compelling. "Countup" wrote: "I know them all. I can put the face of a friend, colleague, family member or person in our street in to almost any photo and they would not look out of place. Time distorts the horror of WWI but they are all just ordinary people like you."

Michael Stedman, the Somme historian, thinks that, overall, the two sets of images are a mix of medical orderlies, soldiers possibly recovering from light wounds and soldiers about to enter the slaughter a few miles to the east. Warloy-Baillon was the site of a clearance hospital, where troops were treated before being sent to Britain – or back into the line.

Mr Stedman said: "Prints from these plates would have been sent home to loved ones as a way of saying, 'Here, look at me, I am in France and I'm doing fine'."

The Somme was the most murderous single battle of the 1914-18 war. In a little less than five months, an estimated 1,000,000 British Empire, French and German soldiers were killed, captured or wounded. There were more than 400,000 British and Empire casualties, including 125,000 deaths – 27,000 on the first day alone.

For how long the nameless soldiers shown here were "doing fine" we may never know.

* If you have any information about the soldiers in the photographs, or about the identity of the photographer, please e-mail magazine@independent.co.uk

For anyone wishing to examine high resolution versions of the images published on this article, click on the links below to download three zip files containing them:

Right-click here and click "Save target/link as..." to download Folder 1

Right-click here and click "Save target/link as..." to download Folder 2

Right-click here and click "Save target/link as..." to download Folder 3

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain