Capturing the Front: The Australian WW1 Defence Minister’s photograph album

This World War 1 photograph was taken 3 months after the conclusion of the 1916 Battle of the Somme in which 125,000 British soldiers and nearly 7,000 Australian soldiers lost their lives.

Taken on 28th February, 1917, this image shows a shell burst close to one of the British batteries at Eaucourt l’Abbaye (Somme), France, where British artillery had just moved to new positions in support of the advancing Australians. The photograph is from an album gifted to George F. Pearce (Australian Minister of Defence 1914-1921) on October 20th, 1919, from Andrew Fisher (Australian Prime Minister 1914-1915). It was donated to the RHSV in the 1950s. It seems likely that the British compiled this album of 72 photos, relating to Australian Forces and taken by a British War photographer, to present as a gift to the Australian Government.

What I found interesting in this photograph was how it was taken right in the middle of the action, not before or after. I also found it interesting how this photo is filled with emotion and beauty and is of such high quality despite the many challenging conditions faced.

This article from The Sun, 1917, details the many feelings of the soldiers and the conditions they were faced with daily (both mentally and physically), “Trench warfare is grim enough at the best of times, and death always lurks behind the parapet; but trench warfare bears little comparison with the Somme. Here it is as if the grim god of war has been let loose in a very tempest of fury. The impression is one of devastation, desolation, and shrieking insanity.” This article makes you understand the significance of the shell burst photograph, because it provides a written example of how the soldiers fighting on the front line felt. It also makes you realise how much trust they had to place in their instincts because if they took one wrong step they could end up in a shell burst.


Emily Morley-Tusjak

Year 10 student, Huntingtower School, Mount Waverley