Friday, 11 March 2011

A Mystery of the Grande Guerre

The day before yesterday, the postman staggered up the steps to the house to deliver two very large parcels. Smothered with 'fragile' stickers, they contained dozens of glass plate negatives that show life in, I believe, the Loiret, France between 1910 and 1920. There are some staggering images of townsfolk in costume for some sort of festival, a collection of fascinating full length portraits of young girls in their first Communion dresses - more about these in later posts.

There are also a large number of full-length portraits of soldiers of the Grande Guerre (Great War) dated 1915. I share three of these here:

What I noticed from the individual portraits was that uniforms were very ill-fitting. While I am an expert in British military uniform, I have little knowledge of French uniforms. The first image is causing me some angst. Are these soldiers or young men posing as soldiers? Most of them look quite young, especially the Sergeant  behind the priest. Indeed, the priest looks very young, too. Could this be a post war shot of youths wearing their father's uniforms for some sort of re-enactment? The bearded man, front left, is remarkable in having such young, smooth facial skin. Let me know what you think, please?

Here are two soldiers playing cards with a group of women. If the women weren't quite so mature, I would imagine it to have be taken to be the subject of a souvenir postcard. Any ideas?

This image is sadder. Dated 1920, it shows a veteran who makes wooden souvenirs from what I take to be a nearby battlefield. It reads Souvenir de ma campagne du bois de valamoy 1915 - 1916, but when I put the details in Google there was nothing that matched. Note the names and inscriptions carved in the wood of the souvenirs.


  1. So many questions...

    How do you find glass negatives to buy. I love old photographs and pick them up from time-to-time in the antique shops. I try to find those with names and reunite them with family.

  2. Love the clarity of these. Was there information included? Did you tip your postman for his trouble?

  3. Bearded man is wearing a false beards. Maybe they are real soldiers? My grandfather joined the RFC in 1916 and he was 18. Great photos.

  4. Hi Gale, Keeping my nose to the ground and I find them in the most unexpected places. Recently, I acquired some really unusual photographs of a Pennsylvania farming family. All the males have strange faces - not quite Deliverance, but close!

    TAL, I hope to get some info soon - one of the negs has what I think is the photographer'sname written on the edge of the glass.

    Rosie, thanks for confirming the existence of the false beard! Royal Flying Corps? Fantastic! Was he a flyer?