World War One in Pictures

Guest post by Julian Jackson

August 2014 will be the 100th anniversary of one of the most destructive conflicts that has ever taken place: World War One, or the “Great War”, as it was named at the time. Although centered on Europe, battles took place all over the seas and nations as far apart as the USA and Japan were drawn into the war.

Global publications will be covering this in print, on TV and in new media. Here is a guide to useful sources of images and footage in Europe which may help US-based researchers track down material in varied collections.

Obviously the major libraries like Getty and Corbis have large holdings of relevant visual material.  Getty Images took over the Hulton Collection of historical photographs years ago and this is a good source. However there are other excellent collections, both commercial and non-commercial which have fantastic images of the conflict.

Obviously the big daddy is the Imperial War Museum, just down the road from me in London. Formerly Bedlam – a madhouse (appropriate for a war museum, you might say), it holds huge amounts of footage and still images.  The main site is  and from there you can access film sales and image sales.  Note that only a fraction of their huge collection is available online and you may need to contact them directly for further research. Its focus is the former British Empire so it has good coverage of Canadian, Australian, and other imperial contingents, including the Indians – large numbers of them fought in the trenches in France too…which must have been even more unpleasant for them than western soldiers, given the difference in climate.

Here is a list of UK archives of WW1 topics:

This covers a wide range of topics, from regimental archives to women at war. UK photo agencies which have good WW1 collections include TopFoto , Mary Evans including pictures of the battlefields and memorials revisited today and the Illustrated London News Picture Archive, and Bridgeman Art Library – which has a fine selection of the art, illustrations and posters of the period,

The Granger Collection has an unusual selection of very rare Autochromes – colour pictures of WW1.  This process was developed by the Lumiere Brothers – yes the pair who invented cinema. In 1907 the busy brothers released it commercially. The process uses a glass photographic plate, which when developed becomes a transparency which can be projected. Obviously the end product is quite fragile and so not many survive. Granger have over 100 images, see here for a selection . It includes a picture of Belleau Wood – scene of a very bloody battle in 1918 where US forces eventually prevailed.

Recently an unusual collection of images has surfaced of the german soldier’s view of the war. German officer Walter Koessler took almost 1000 photographs of german soldiers and the devastation caused by the war. Fortunately he survived the war, emigrated to America and became a successful Hollywood art director. His descendants preserved his picture albums, but they languished in a cupboard till rediscovered by his great grandson Dean Putney.

Another interesting collection is Europeana 1914-1918, which has details of collections and is a good portal to other sources, check out their network and partners menu.

There are many good sources for WW1 images and footage but the above covers most of the largest and most useful sources for people searching for images of what was a terrible and traumatic conflict. The motto on many war memorials is: “Lest We Forget”, and that is an important concept – we shouldn’t forget how damaging war is and how it should be the last resort.

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