One of the most important discoveries from First World War

One of the most important discoveries from First World War

Robert Tanitch reviews an amazing war book

THE LOST TOMMIES by Ross Coulthart (William Collins £40)

Ross Coulthart, an investigative Australian journalist, discovers over 4,000 photographic plates of World War 1 soldiers in a chest in an abandoned farmhouse in France. The story of the discovery is gripping.

The photographs were taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier, amateur photographers who lived in Vignacourt, a small village, which was a sanctuary for the army from the grim realities of the front line.

The formal photographs were uploaded not long ago on a specially created Facebook page. They became a global phenomenon.

Now they are in this very special book. There are no battle scenes, no images of the dead; just a silent confrontation of faces from the distant past, a potent reproach one hundred years on for the wastage of life.

The photographs, single and group shots, are a vivid and immensely moving record: a poignant tribute to the flower of youth who so eagerly joined up and were doomed to be traumatised and shell-shocked lambs to the slaughter.

Who now believes the old lie: dulce et decorum prop patria mori?

Most of the photographs are unidentified. So the archive becomes a solemn and haunting war memorial to the Unknown Soldier. The faces are haggard, war-worn and grimy. Smiles are rare. There is nothing to smile about. The soldiers know their chances of surviving the war are slim. The only light relief are the Concert Party photos.

The text gives facts, anecdotes, quotes, history, and horrific details. The overwhelming losses are appalling. Over a million were killed and wounded at The Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle in history.

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