Selected by Geoff Browell, Senior Archives Services Manager

This is a selection of photographs from an album compiled by Major General Charles Foulkes in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of war. They depict blasted buildings, ruined landscapes and the skeletal remains of abandoned equipment.

Foulkes was an accomplished photographer with a particular genius for capturing vivid and telling detail – unsurprising as he had pioneered survey photography during the Boer War and had devised and organised the photographic reconnaissance section of the British Army, the precursor of the Army Film and Photographic Unit. These images are from a time when the Western Front was just beginning to become a place of pilgrimage for the mournful and the curious. An emptiness and unnatural quiet pervade these scenes, but is this the intention of the photographer, with urban bustle and noise actually just out of lens-shot? Crumpled church buildings attest to the sacrifice of art to the bomb – their bells lie silent. Their depiction makes me wonder how many surviving soldiers and civilians had also sacrificed their faith during this long and unyielding conflict. A tank and an aircraft are wrecked and awaiting salvage or will they be allowed to decay gradually into the mud and become the stuff of archaeology? 

Ref: Foulkes 6/95

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