A mysterious photograph album containing 86 black and white images of Australia’s World War 1 presence in Palestine has been in the collections of the State Library of Queensland for decades.
There is no accompanying donor information, no inscription and no captions.
As part of the Q ANZAC project I was asked to begin the research into these puzzling images.
My heart sank as I turned the pages. Nameless snapshots of desert landscapes, troop encampments, horse lines, captured enemy soldiers and field graves. Also unidentified walled Ottoman villages, ancient springs and archaeological scatterings.
Who was this person that 100 years ago carefully slip-mounted these images? Images intentionally selected to record and perhaps explain the desert experience.
I began by searching databases of other Australian institutions in the hope of finding similar images. At the Australian War Memorial I found a match. A photograph of Lieutenant Colonel David Gifford CroIl, commander of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance, the outfit that provided medical aid to the 2nd Light Horse Regiment.
The album continues in the same vein, an alchemy of Middle Eastern antiquity and Light Horse action. Amphitheatres and classical colonnades inextricably entwined in horse lines and encampments.
Perhaps the album’s owner carried the popular Vest Pocket Kodak in his kit? After all, this was the first war where cameras were small enough for soldiers to create a visual record of their own observations.
However as so much of the album is duplicated in collections of other Australian institutions, it is likely that the photographs were purchased when the soldier was on leave in Cairo. World War 1 diaries from the Middle East also in the collections of the SLQ refer to this practice.
Curated through the eyes of one Queensland soldier, this photograph album was perhaps intended as a personal explanation of the experience of fighting in an ancient country during an unimaginable war.
One hundred years later the album has great value to researchers in contributing to the accumulating visual record of the Light Horse as well as containing some of the last images of the old Ottoman Empire before 20th century development and future conflicts and destruction altered this ancient world forever.
- World War Photography. British Library
- International Encyclopedia of the First World War
- National Media Museum: The Vest Pocket Kodak Was the Soldier’s Camera
- National Library of New Zealand, First World War
- Forbidden Cameras, State Library of Queensland Blog. Marg Powell
- The Soldier's Kodak. The Telegraph 21 July 1915, p7