Bought at the Market last week is this evocative photograph of two British ‘tommies’ during the Great War. Bought by a fellow dealer, Michael Burroughs of Anything Military, he was also kind enough to give us his informed view of what we can learn from this century old primary source.
The ‘Carte Postale’ on the reverse tells us it was taken in a French studio with standard props of a chair, backdrop and unlit cigarette. It’s possible that the two are related, even brothers, and the fact that their uniform pockets are bulging and that they have uncleaned boots might well mean that the pair were taking advantage of a break from the front line when this was taken. Also significant perhaps: neither of them are smiling.
The characteristic snake belt both men are wearing was part of the 1914 leather pattern equipment issued to early Territorial’s and Kitchener battalions. The standing soldier’s cap bears the badge of the Ulster Rifles along with pioneer collar badges of crossed pick and rifle. It’s therefore most likely that he was a member of the regiment’s 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd County Down) (Pioneers). They landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as pioneer battalion for the 36th (Ulster) Division in October 1915 for service on the Western Front.
His seated companion is wearing a cap badge of the Finsbury Rifles along with the typical black buttons of a rifle regiment. An educated guess would be that he quite probably belonged to the 2/11th battalion of that unit which moved to France in February 1917 where they served on the western front for the duration of the war.
Next week, we’ll have a look at a similar photograph from the Great War, also taken in France but featuring two soldiers from the other side of No Mans’ Lead.