Sunday 24 May 2009

Unknown Soldiers

An article in The Independent Magazine this weekend (23/05/09) caught my eye, particularly due to my own interest in the digital (as well as traditional) restoration of old photos. Also because the photographs themselves are excellent. The article describes how around 400 glass plates were recently discovered. They originated from a barn at Warloy-Baillon, 10 miles from the site of the front line of the Somme. Some are in perfect condition, some badly damaged. They have been collected and then printed, scanned and digitally restored by Bernard Gardin, "a photography enthusiast", and Domonique Zanardi "proprietor of the 'Tommy' café at Pozières, a village in the heart of the Somme battlefields".

The photographs are now published for the first time in the Independent Magazine, and they are also available to view online - sadly not quite such good quality as the excellent edited selection in print, but there are many there. Click on 'the selection' rather than 'click to view the exclusive photographs' (see link below) if you don't want to look through them all, although I think it is the sheer number of soldiers who most likely were soon to meet their deaths that gives this collection its unusual poignancy and power. Included in both Magazine and the selection online is the photograph above, which shows men wearing sheepskins because in 1915 there was a desperate shortage of overcoats. Also amongst them, a rare photograph of a black soldier; although there are known to have been a substantial number of black soldiers who fought in the First World War, they were rarely acknowledged. There's also a Glasgow Highlander, other Scots soldiers, Australian soldiers, a soldier with a 1912 Zenith Grenua Motorbike, and more.

It is thought the glass plates were made by an amateur photographer who made prints from them and then stored them in the barn, forgotten for 90 years until newcomers threw the lot out, and some were rescued by passers-by.

It is thought there may be more glass-plates out there - and anyone who finds or knows of any or recognises any of the soldiers, or who knew of the photographer is asked to email:

You can read more and see the photographs at soldiers