UK: Too close for comfort. A bomb detonates a few feet from the soldiers in the trenches. Mediadrumimages/BritishLibrary/CharlesGirdwood

By Alex Jones


HARROWING photos show the death and despair British soldiers faced every day whilst battling in the trenches of the First World War.

“Everything visible or audible or tangible to the sense – to touch, smell and perception – is ugly beyond imagination.”

So recalls war correspondent William Beach Thomas after spending five months in the bloody and battered Somme during the First World War.

UK: British troops take a well earned break in a shell wrecked house in a French village. Mediadrumimages/BritishLibrary/CharlesGirdwood

Remarkable photos, taken in 1915, show the brutal reality of a World War One soldier including bullet-ridden Tommies laying lifeless after attempting to assault a German trench, infantry men desperately pressing themselves against an embankment wall as a shell explodes just feet away, and Highlanders hunkering down in a trench to protect themselves from a hail of bullets.

The supposed ‘war to end all wars’ was a gruesome affair which saw over 8 million soldiers killed and 21 million injured in total. It was a conflict which necessitated the invention of blood banks and plastic surgery and was the first war which saw chemical weapons used.

UK: Indian Expedetion Force soldiers prepare for the next assault. Mediadrumimages/BritishLibrary/CharlesGirdwood

Modern technologies, such as tanks and planes, made the antiquated tactics of yesteryear wholly inadequate and led to an almost static frontline on the Western Front (until the final year of the war at least). The ‘war of attrition’  led to incredible losses on all sides and it’s estimated approximately 230 soldiers perished for every hour of fighting.

979,498 British and Empire soldiers are included amongst the fatalities with many more maimed or psychologically crippled by shell shock.

UK: Highlanders hunker down in the relative safety of a trench. A dog sits in with them, perhaps a mascot. Mediadrumimages/BritishLibrary/CharlesGirdwood

These haunting images were captured in 1915 by the Canadian-born photographer Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood.

In April 1915, Girdwood was commissioned by the Government to produce the official war record of allied and British troops on the Western Front in France and Belgium. These photos were used to promote the war effort in the UK.