WW1 Photos Centenary Website: 2014-2018 By Paul Reed

Winter War: Tommy Dressed For Winter 1916

During the Great War the issue of cold weather gear for troops in the front line was limited. In the British Army soldiers had a leather jerkin and greatcoat but as the Northern French winters got colder – it dropped to more than -20 on the Somme during the winter of 1916/17 – a great deal of improvisation took place.

This photograph, dating from 1916, was taken in a French photographer’s studio in a back area on the Somme front. It shows a typical animal fur jacket worn by British troops; in this case with a separate over jacket and arm pieces. It was likely made from sheep or goat fur. While these were warm, they were also breeding grounds for body lice and while extensively used in the early war period, they were less common as the conflict progressed. The soldier also wears a British steel helmet, standard issue by this time, and the strap across his fur jacket is from the small haversack which contained his gas mask, likely to be a PH Helmet at this stage. His Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) Rifle has a cover over the main working parts to protect it from the elements. Images like this are rare, especially those taken in studios, and it gives as an insight into what British troops wore during some of the winter periods.

11 responses

  1. thehistoryvault

    I think I have something similar in my wardrobe. Very interesting post, as always.

    08/12/2012 at 08:20

    • sommecourt


      09/12/2012 at 17:54

  2. P mitchell Sydney Aus

    Are you sure he was British? My uncle looked just like him. He was with the 490 Aussies and he was Irish. Would love any feedback

    03/05/2013 at 02:49

    • sommecourt

      I hadn’t considered the possibility if him being in the AIF. Do you have a photo to compare?

      03/05/2013 at 06:19

  3. P Mitchell

    I am organising a ‘line up’ of the photos which I have. However, some are best seen on Australian war websites as the photos are very small as is yours when saved. a bit messy .

    03/05/2013 at 08:01

  4. Hi again!
    I have loaded your photo of a soldier in winter kit and my other photos of my great uncle on my website.

    03/05/2013 at 09:59

    • P Mitchell Sydney Aus

      Hi again! Thank you for your help. The Australian War Memorial is having a look at the photo of the Tommy for me. ow ever, it is not apparently from Vignacourt as I had thought. Would you know the origin of the photo …photographer/town?? Please? Kind regards

      13/08/2013 at 02:18

      • sommecourt

        No idea I’m afraid, except its in France.

        13/08/2013 at 15:29

  5. P Mitchell Sydney Aus

    Could you give me a bibliographic reference for the photo, please? The AWM is still interested if I can find the source.
    Many thanks

    14/08/2013 at 12:49

    • sommecourt

      All the images on this site are scans of originals held in my own private archives. I’ve been collecting them for over 30 years. I don’t scan images from books and post them, that would be dishonest. So I don’t have a bibliographical reference to give you as this image is a primary source in terms of historical study.

      14/08/2013 at 13:00

      • P Mitchell Sydney Aus

        Many thanks once again for your reply. I appreciate your help. I am trying to explore any avenue I can find to identify the soldier as I know it is important for many people and especially Charlie’s family. He ended up being a very lonely old man who lived in a series of old soldiers homes in Brisbane until he died in 1965. These days, his behaviour would be called PTSD but in the 50s he would appear in Sydney for a few days and leave again for Queensland. He was a loner. He had quite a brutally honest account of his military record written into a county archive in Ireland. Unfortunately, the anonymous writer included his failings but did not record any of his bravery and skills. He became a Lewis gunner and instructor and soldiered on all over the Western Front after he had been at Gallipoli from early May 1915 until the evacuation. He was then in Egypt and North Africa before going to Marseille and onto the front. My brother and I are trying to gather everything we can to rectify the glib report which is in the county archive. It would be a fitting tribute to him to have it done for the centenary. Given that the Australian War Memorial is prepared to help me identify Charlie in uniform and given that we have only one family photo in existence of him taken during the second Boer War and that identification is also a major aim behind the Vignacourt photos, I would like to try to have a chance to do him some honour. I am not challenging your honesty in any way. I have respect and admiration for all that you have done to honour the Diggers and bring Vignacourt to light. I am just trying to shine a beam on Charlie and his bravery. We also have one photo of his only other brother, Myles who went to WWI from Queenland. The enlisted a few weeks apart in different tows and both ended up in the 49th Battalion. Myles was killed at Broodseinde on 4 Oct 1917. He received the DCM for gallantry under fire on 25 August 1916 at Pozieres. We will donate this photo to the AWM and would like to be able to do the same for Charlie…..in uniform.
        Kind regards

        14/08/2013 at 14:25

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