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Description

Surely some of the most powerful photographs of The Great War to be found anywhere, the Museum is the fortunate home of a group of images taken of the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment in the trenches.

Fortunately, we know quite a lot about the photographs. They were taken by Captain Evelyn Byrde in April 1915 while 2nd Mons was serving in the trenches near Le Bizet. This town is in north west Belgium, very near the French border and about eleven miles south of Ypres, the town famously immortalised by the British Tommies as Wipers. As part of Flanders, it was the scene of fierce fighting during the War and many British and New Zealand regiments saw action there.

Byrde probably took the images on a simple Kodak number 2 Box Brownie or similar camera. The Brownie was small and easy to conceal, two qualities that would have recommended themselves to Byrde, as only official War photographers, sanctioned by the War Office, were allowed in the trenches to take images. Had he been caught, Byrde would probably have been subject to a courts martial.

We should be grateful Captain Byrde took the risk however, as the quality of the images and the detail they contain are both remarkable. The album of images was donated to the Museum by a descendant of Captain Byrde in 1995.

This particular photograph was obviously taken during a break. One of the men seated at the front has just finished a tin of something (possibly Maconochie beef and vegetable stew), two glazed stoneware jars can be seen that probably contained the daily rum ration and another man rolls a cigarette.

The soldier standing prominently at the centre of this image is wearing a Territorial Force Imperial Service badge on the flap of his right pocket. It was awarded to those members of the British Territorial Forces (TF who were prepared to serve outside the United Kingdom in defence of the Empire, in the event of national emergency (the 2nd Mons was a territorial battalion). The conditions of enlistment for the TF laid down at their creation in 1908 did not allow for soldiers to be sent for service overseas against their will, as the TF was intended for home defence. However, any man could volunteer for the Imperial Service Section and serve abroad in times of war, which entitled him to wear this badge.

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