The Most Powerful Images Of World War I

Friday 1 July 2016 marks the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, the biggest conflict seen on the Western Front during World War I. Here are some of the most arresting photos from the war. Contains graphic images.

The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July 1916 to 18 November the same year. Following 18 months of trench deadlock in World War I, the battle was a joint operation between British and French forces hoping to achieve a final victory over the Germans on the Western Front.

A bombardment of over 1.5 million shells was fired at German lines in the seven days preceding the battle, with the aim of destroying enemy trench defences.

However, the Germans suffered less damage than expected from this tactic. This allowed German machine-gunners to confront the advancing British line, resulting in the deaths of 19,240 British soldiers on the first day. In the weeks that followed, there were over a million casualties from both sides. Here are some of the pictures from the conflict, followed by some of the most arresting images from World War I.

Handout / Reuters

The wounded are dressed in a trench during the Courcelette operation of the Battle of the Somme, France, on 15 September 1916.

Handout . / Reuters

Canadian stretcher bearers carry the dead from a battlefield during the Battle of the Somme.

Handout . / Reuters

Canadians return victorious carrying war trophies from Courcelette during the Battle of the Somme, France.

Handout . / Reuters

Shrapnel bursts over a reserve trench in Canadian lines during the Battle of the Somme.

Handout . / Reuters

A gunnery officer writes a Christmas message on a Canadian heavy howitzer during the Battle of the Somme.

General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

Gas-masked men of the British Machine Gun Corps with a Vickers machine gun during the first Battle of the Somme.

Handout / Reuters

Dead German soldiers lie after a Canadian charge during the Battle of the Somme.

2. A British soldier pays his respects at the grave of a colleague near Cape Helles, where the Gallipoli landings took place in 1915.

PA Photos/PA Archive/Press Association Images

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Letf: A regimental mascot pet, sitting on top of a very well-kept horse. Behind the horse two officers are steadying both animals. Right: A soldier of the Royal Scots Regiment holding a black goat kid.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: A young British soldier transporting shells, Messines, Belgium, 1917. Right: A young soldier surrounded by icicles, France.

5. A soldier’s comrades watching him as he sleeps, Thievpal, France.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: British soldiers enjoy possession of a newly captured German trench, pointing to a sign that says “Old Hun Line”. Right: Two soldiers standing in the middle of a ruined village. They are surrounded by bricks and debris. One of them holds an umbrella he has found. Behind them is a brick wall, all that remains of the building that once stood there.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: A controlled explosion taking place on the Somme, set up by the Royal Engineers to clear the way for an advance. Right: A sergeant, wrapped in his greatcoat against the cold, reading a notice nailed to a tree. It reads: “Kindness to animals. 500 horses lamed weekly by nails dropped on roads and horse lines by cookers carrying firewood with nails left in. Please remove nails.”

8. Christmas Day calm.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

 

Left: British soldiers in a trench in France make merry with paper hats from Christmas crackers while a sentry uses a mirror to keep watch on no man’s land, 1916. A year earlier, tensions thawed when both sides came together for a rare temporary truce and enjoyed a football kick-around.

9. German troops playing football behind the lines, 1915.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

10. Portraits of German prisoners.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

11. Curling for Britain.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: Two officers curling on a frozen canal with ice blocks. Right: Soldiers laughing as they peer through a shell hole in a brick wall on the Western Front.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: A cavalry officer casually smoking a pipe as his horse picks its way down the steep slope of a mine crater.

13. War rations.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: A smiling soldier sitting in the mud near the Western Front, eating a spoonful of hot food. This would appear to be one of a series of official photographs showing the soldiers’ rations, possibly intended to reassure their families at home. Right: Two soldiers with a rum jar.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: Soldiers keeping warm while waiting for lunch. Right: British soldiers in a dugout.

15. French troops throw rocks at advancing German troops from their hillside trench in the Vosges, 1916.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

16. Off-duty relaxation.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: Labour Corps, Western Front. The picture appears to show members of the South African Native Labour Contingent. Right: Recovering soldiers playing basketball.

17. Mine craters at St Eloi, near Ypres, Belgium.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: A captured German aeroplane. Right: Soldiers and locals outside a graffitied German building. The door of the building is daubed with “Gott strafe England”, i.e. “God punish England”.

19. A Japanese soldier attempts in vain to rouse his dead comrade.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

20. War dogs.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: British messenger dogs with their handler, France. Right: Perched on top of what looks like a howitzer, this pet dog was the regimental mascot of the artillery gunners.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: Stunter, the clever mascot of the Tank Corps, who, owing to his experience gained by riding about in tanks, could balance himself on the bars of a motorcycle. Left: RAF squadron’s fox mascot, France.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: Soldiers standing in mud, France. Right: A West Indian regiment in their camp, France.

23. British soldiers negotiate a shell-cratered winter landscape along the Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

24. Civilians and soldiers of the Royal Army Medical Corps distribute refreshments to British wounded in France, 1916.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

25. A British soldier gazes out of a dugout with the body of a dead German soldier nearby at Flers, during the battle of the Somme, 1916.

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

 

Left: Brigadier-General J.V. Campbell (on bridge) congratulates soldiers of the 46th (North Midland) Division at Riqueval after their successful crossing of the St Quentin Canal. Right: Massed German prisoners of war at a clearing station after the successful Allied offensive near Amiens in Northern France, which began on 8 August 1918. General Ludendorff called it “The Black Day of the German Army”.

27. The 1st battalion of the 4th Ghurkha Rifles line up for kit inspection.

Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood / Crown Copyright

In front of each soldier is a pile of kit that includes a water bottle, bedding roll, and mess tin.

28. Over the top.

Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood / Crown Copyright / Via bl.uk

“We can see a small group of soldiers coming out of a trench, over the protective sandbag wall. They have their bayonets fixed, ready for an attack. It is not clear whether this is a staged photo or not. The works of official photographer Charles Hilton DeWitt form an important record, [but] their documentary value must be assessed with caution. Girdwood’s was an explicitly propagandist role on behalf of the war effort in general and the India Office in particular.” – The British Library

The British Library / Via bl.uk

A group of soldiers at a signal station for the Dehra Dun Brigade in 1915. The two men in the centre of the picture are on field telephones, taking messages.

30. Attending church.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

A large group of soldiers attend a church service in a field. The priest can be seen in the middle of the picture towards the back.

Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood / Crown Copyright

 

Left: An officer in his hut, which is dug into the side of a trench. The walls are reinforced with sandbags and hay bales to protect against shell attacks. Right: Indian soldiers digging trenches, 1915.

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

National Library of Scotland / Flickr: nlscotland

 

Left: A German soldier poses in a cast-iron bath in a desolated wood on the Western Front. Right: A derelict train with soldiers standing in it, France.

REX USA/Underwood Archives / UIG / Rex

REX USA/Associated Newspapers / Rex

 

Left: A strongman in the French army lifting a cannon overhead along with three of his comrades astride it, 1917. Right: Women hauling coal, possibly for a gas company.

REX USA/Underwood Archives / UIG / Rex

The 9th British Lancers charging German artillery in France, 1916.

REX USA

REX USA

 

Left: Bombarding of Saint-Bertin church, 1916. Right: German troops wearing gas masks and throwing hand grenades, 23 April 1916.

REX USA/Mondadori Portfolio / UIG / Rex

REX USA

 

Left: A wounded Austrian soldier. Right: A combat engineer listens to German movement near Verdun, 1915.

37. World War I was the first war in which manufactured poison gas was used as a weapon on a large scale.

Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood / Crown Copyright

A group of armed Indian soldiers in a trench, wearing gas masks.

38. American infantryman suffocating on the Western Front.

REX USA/Mondadori Collection / UIG / Rex

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Matt Tucker is the UK picture editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
 
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