George Hackney, pictured in Poulainville, Picardy, Northern France / National Museums Northern Ireland/George Hackney

Experts believe hundreds more photos by Hackney could yet emerge

An incredible collection of photos revealing previously unseen moments from World War One has been released.

Although it was highly illegal to take unofficial photographs in the trenches, keen amateur photographer George Hackney smuggled a small, concealable camera with him when he was called to fight on the Western Front.

While many of the men featured in the poignant shots did not survive the bloody conflict in which over 37 million people died, Hackney, who was from Belfast, lived into his late 80s and shared his photos with the loved ones of his subjects.

In 1977, his collection was donated to the Ulster Museum before his death, but was left unseen by the public for over three decades until a curator handed them over to a filmmaker two years ago.

Experts believe that on top of the initial 300 images, there could be as many as 200 more to be found.

Tonight, a documentary entitled 'The Man Who Shot the Great' on BBC One Northern Ireland will showcase Hackney’s images to the wider public for the first time ever, and bring the photographer’s story to life. The arrestingly candid photos show both familiar scenes, such as a Sergeant atop his horse holding a rifle, to intimate moments where a man writes a letter or a diary entry while his comrade is in a deep sleep in the bed next to him.

One unnerving image taken onboard a paddle steamer travelling from England to France shows a Batallion piled together asleep, resembling dead bodies.

Brian Henry Martin, who directed the documentary, told BBC News that a series of lucky coincidences led him to uncover the photographer behind the intimate collection.

“Unofficial photography was banned on the Western Front, so who took these photos, how did they manage it and why have we not seen them?” he said.

To find the answer, he consulted the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum in Belfast city centre, and hoped that the 36th (Ulster) Division's war diary could offer some clues.

“When I got there, someone else was looking at the diary so we ended up jostling over it and passing it back and forth - we ended up chatting and it turns out that the guy was Mark Scott, whose great-grandfather was Hackney's sergeant,” he said.

He explained that three of the photographs were of Sergeant James Scott, who was killed in the Battle of Messines in Belgian West Flanders in May 1917, and they were held by his family. He soon realised that Hackney was handing photos of his colleagues back to their families, “many of who didn’t come back”.

“I think in a way, the George Hackney story is only beginning and he will become the definitive photographer of World War One in Ireland,” Mr Martin added.

Franky Bostyn of the Belgian Ministry Of Defence says in the documentary: "I think you made the photographical World War One discovery of the century."

The album will be on public show in the new Modern History gallery at the Ulster Museum in Belfast from 26th November. Visitors to the Ulster Museum will be able to view a selection of images from the album via an interactive audio visual presentation. 

The Man Who Shot The Great War airs on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, November 17 at 9.00pm.