Monday 23 September 2013 by David Gist. 7 comments
Remember Me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt, First World War Centenary, Collection, Collection Highlights, Exhibitions

The glass-plate negatives from Vignacourt are significant because they offer insights into the reality of life on the Western Front. There are photos that show the laughter and the mateship among these soldiers, and the general feeling of life away from the line. Like any true portrait, many offer an insight into the character and mood of the subject. None of the soldiers in this post have been identified, but photographs created so close to the battlefields of the Somme means portrait subjects who have witnessed true horrors.




Far from the formal portraits taken at studios back in Australia, the expressions in many of these images tell a story very different to the optimism of life at home.  Features such as misshapen slouch hats and frayed colour patches suggest that these are men who have truly been ‘in the thick of it’. Other features such as the position of some of their hands together with a particular facial expression hint at war wounds that are beyond the physical.



 Now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the symptoms of ‘shell shock’, the term that emerged during the First World War to refer to the human reaction to trauma, would manifest in different ways. One was the expression on a soldier’s face, described as vacant and doleful. In later conflicts the term ‘Thousand Yard Stare’ emerged to describe this expression, and has come to be understood as the mind’s dissociation from traumatic events.




Sergeant Edgar Rule of the 14th Battalion provided a description of this condition on page 599 of Volume III of the Official History. He had seen the men of the 1st Division pass him on the road after they had been relieved at Pozieres:

‘Those who saw them will never forget it as long as they live. They looked like men who had been in Hell. Almost without exception each man looked drawn and haggard, and so dazed that they appeared to be walking in a dream, and their eyes looked glassy and starey.’




Vignacourt’s proximity to the fighting on the Somme gives this collection of images an honesty that many other photographs don’t possess, and it is this honesty that makes them significant. There are no polished studio portraits here, and no omissions courtesy of the censor’s pen. When viewing the faces of many of these men we can only imagine the horrors that they have witnessed and endured.

Many people have already looked at this collection of photographs on our website.

Look again.

You will always notice something you haven’t noticed before:






My grandfather was bertram adamson I think he was in the 14th and 7th battalions do you have any pics of those.

David Gist says:

Hi Rina Private Adamson's service record indicates that he embarked with the 14th Battalion and was then transferred to the 8th Battalion in October 1915. This unit was at St Vaast, a small village near Vignacourt, during November 1916. He may very well be in this collection of photographs and is not yet identified. I can suggest using the link above to the search the collection.

william tweedie

this is a treasure for us im so sad to see the faces of these lovely young men,as you state the 1000yd stare is so distressing on these men ,we must never forget the price they paid for us ,im so glad these photos are in your possesion ,thanks to mr stokes ,a great aussie,i also care about the families of these men,


My Mothers Uncle 5704 Michael Murphy killed in Belgium 6th October 1917 with No Known Grave but that's all we know

kim fawkes

Thank you for the collection and the work that has gone into their creation for all to see. In my meanderings around Australia I have often seen photos of WW1 soldiers, mostly on leave or recuperating from injuries in Australian hospitals. With attention focused on the Vignacourt soldiers do you think there would be room somewhere for displaying these photos? Thewy may not be of soldiers who served in France and later went 'missing' - something which will always attract interest - but gthey tell another story. Some years ago I decoded to record the story of the Australian soldiers buried in a small cemetery in England which was attached to a military hospital. I received a lot of help from the town's citizens and even donated a wreath to be laid there on Anzac Day. I researched some of the soldiers buried there and over time I developed good relationships with a man whose father had the only photographic shop in town. He sent me copies of many photos taken from glass plate negatives, much like what happened in this case. I have been in touch with the family recently and was surprised to hear they still have hundreds of these negatives which I hope to acquire so that another story can be told. I had two relatives in WW1 - one left to go to war in 1916 and another in 1917. Both returned to Australia which is how I am able to tell you this story. My own father served with Bomber Command on Lancasters (interestingly, he sent the AWM a story of his service life some years ago, only to not have this acknowledged which saddened him. My aunty was in the AWAS and my mother made FolBoats in a factory in Melbourne so there is another military connection there. Probbaly why I have this interest, cheers Kim

Bill Crowle

The availability of thes images on the AWM site, and elsewhere, will enable more people to appreciate the sacrifices made by our young ancestors. I had a Great Uncle, who served, and died on the Somme, and we are lucky to have much material available to remember and honour him.

Carol Frencham

These photos are priceless and should be shown every Anzac day in every RSL Club to remind people that these were the men that went through the devil's hole for us. Not the ones that were all pit and polished up. My heart bleeds for them. Carol PS. My dad fought in the middle east 1941.1942 and went through the same thing mentally.