Lives of the First World War features thousands of photographs which help to enrich the stories of those who made a contribution to the war effort. From formal portraits and group photos to family snaps, images help us to reflect upon what people’s lives were like before, during and in many cases after the war.
In the first of this guest blog post series, Paul Bourton of the Unknown Soldier Military Archive & Soldier Research Service introduces his study of the stories revealed through a photograph taken shortly before the First World War.
I recently purchased a group photograph (above). I found it while rummaging through the contents of one of the darker and less explored recesses at the back of an antiques shop in the Gloucestershire town of Lechlade – the sort of recess where gems are hidden.
A small brass plaque at the bottom of the frame bears an inscription which points to the fact that the photograph once belonged to one of the men in the picture. The sepia image, held in a stout but beautifully gilded wooden frame, captures the pose of thirteen men arranged in a typically military formation of three ranks; unsurprising really, given that the men in the photograph are all soldiers.
The men are unsmiling at the instant the camera records a moment of the year 1913 for posterity. Instead of smiles they wear expressions of pride in achievement and of quiet satisfaction in a job well done. Placed on the ground in front of the men is the source of that pride and the purpose for the photograph; a shield contested on the playing fields of Ireland by the men of 27 Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery and won in the 1912/13 season by these thirteen men of 119 Battery.
- Advent of war
One year later, the men pictured in sepia would exchange the playing fields of Ireland for the battlefields of Flanders
One year later, the men pictured in sepia would exchange the playing fields of Ireland for the battlefields of Flanders as they marched off to war with the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914. Upon those fields they would face the ultimate test of their sporting prowess, athleticism and team spirit. 119 Battery Royal Field Artillery would enter the crucible of war at Mons where it was centre-stage in one of the most conspicuous acts to be played out during that epic battle. From that baptism of fire, the crucible would forge the Battery into a battle-hardened unit that was in the thick of the action throughout many of the major campaigns and actions of the war.
- Researching using Lives of the First World War
Over the next few months, the results of my research into the role of 119 Battery RFA in the First World War and the thirteen men of the photograph will reveal stories of courage, dedication and honours gained by ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances. These were men at their best and in the prime of their lives who were touched by the hand of war and whose achievements were tempered by tragedy, loss and sacrifice.
- Look out for future Lives of the First World War blog posts by Paul