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Newly discovered pictures reveal aftermath of war

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 29, 2014

By JEFF WELLS

  • Peter Berry Ottaway, top, found his grandfather's pictures in a rusty tin box in his loft

  • Hubert Berry Ottaway's pictures give a glimpse into life during the First World War

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wdnews@b-nm.co.uk

An astonishing collection of never-before seen photographs taken at the end of the First World War have been discovered in a rusty metal box – 95 years after they were taken.

Peter Berry Ottaway, 71, found the undeveloped black and white negatives in the attic of the home of his late grandfather, Hubert Berry Ottaway.

With the help of a friend who specialised in historic photography, Peter spent four years trying to get the images developed.

After painstaking work, 40 of the 50 pictures were salvaged along with Hubert's diary which provide a unique glimpse of life on the Western Front in the final 18 months of the Great War.

Hubert was a sapper in the Territorial Army and was tasked with upgrading trenches and establishing communications and supply routes across France and Belgium in 1917.

He used a box Brownie camera to capture the destruction to buildings, homes, churches, shell-shattered trees and derailed trains.

Some of the pictures include extremely rare shots of members of the Chinese Labour Corp who were recruited by Britain to help with the war effort.

Around 150,000 Chinese men and boys, some as young as 14, were recruited from the provinces and shipped to the front line from 1915 to provide a labour force for the British Army.

Other pictures show thousands of villagers whose homes had been destroyed along the Western Front carrying their possessions on their backs.

The final set of images show battlefield memorials left behind by soldiers who wished to respect their fallen comrades and friends including helmets and rifles.

One poignant photograph shows a British soldier posing with local on the Belgium/France border beneath a sign which read 'This is Souchez'.

The small village, near Arras, was initially held by the Germans before being taken by the French in 1915 before being handed to Commonwealth forces in 1916.

During the ferocious fighting the village was razed to the ground leaving just a mound of rubble and the sign which was erected by the soldiers.

Hubert's diary was also discovered next to the dozens of undeveloped pictures at the family home in Ashford in Kent.

On June 25, 1918, he wrote: "Wild flowers growing amongst the corn both numerous and beautiful. Well worth a visit from Blighty in peacetime.

"Cornflowers – blue. Poppy – red, purple."

Poignantly, just four days later on June 29, 1918 he wrote: "Havrincourt. Track. Lt Savage killed, Cpl Jarvis wounded both by shell fire."

Hubert joined the Volunteer First Battalion of the East Kent Regiment in 1900 before moving on to the Royal Engineers on the formation of the Territorial Army in 1908.

It was as a "Sapper" (combat engineer) Territorial that he entered the First World War in 1914 at the age of 35 and with 14 years of military experience behind him.

He was tasked with trench design and the establishment of communications and supply routes, he also had to transport ammunition, food and bodies.

Hubert spent his time in Flanders, Belgium and Arras in France with the light railway companies until May 1919, when he returned to Britain.

Grandfather-of-two Peter and his friend, Jack Tait, 79, have put Hubert's photographs into a book which has just been published called A Sapper In Flanders.

Peter, who lives in Hereford, said: "The images are fascinating and I am incredibly excited by them, there has been a lot of research which has gone into these images and it is great to see my grandfather in them too.

"Being a bit of a military historian myself, it is great to see these images, especially as they have never been seen before.

"I personally did not think we would be able to recover them due to their age, although along with my friend Jack, we have.

"I believe my grandfather was an artist, which is why the pictures are very artistic.

"The negatives give a real insight into what it was like back in the First World War and my family are thrilled that they can see them.

"They were just sitting in a loft all this time and we simply had no idea about them, they have been up there for almost a century and no one had mentioned them.

"We decided to put them in a book so the public could share what we have seen and hopefully enjoy them.

"My grandfather went into the Army as a volunteer, but spent most of his time as a sergeant throughout his career."

Tragically, Hubert never got to see the undeveloped film after he suffered a shell blast during the war which left him almost completely blind by the early 1920s.

He went on to raise a family and died in 1962 at the age of 84.

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