Foot-slogging in the desertApril 22nd, 2014
Pocket cameras are all the vogue
During the First World War, new and innovative cameras came on the market, allowing soldiers to take snapshot photos of the like never seen before. These were the ‘vest pocket’ cameras that could fit inside a soldier’s pocket and were sometimes advertised as being “no bigger than a box of matches.”
Advertisement for Soldiers' Cameras. Ref: Evening Post, 20 December 1916, Page 10.
Thanks to these cameras, a vast amount of photography was created during the war, and saved in books like the Pepperell album.
The Pepperell album
Often we think of photo albums as bound books containing carefully-mounted photographs. The Pepperell album is a bit unusual.
The Pepperell album. Ref: PA1-o-414.
It’s a blank paged school exercise book, containing both photos and other items relating to the war. Of special interest are the many photos showing the human interest aspect of everyday life.
Postcards and photos inside the album. Pages 6 & 7.
Take a camera to the front
As well as group photos and some formal portrait photos in the album, the album includes many snapshots of everyday life in the army and camps.
The snapshots are only 6 1/2 cm x 4cm, and were most likely taken using a soldiers’ vest camera. Although the authorities frowned upon the use of these cameras, soldiers had plenty of motivation to take photographs, from being able to stay connected with their families to more lucrative reasons:
Offer for soldiers taking photographs. Ref: Evening Post, 11 June, 1925, Page 4.
The snapshot photos in the Pepperell Album include a haircut, soldiers lining up for dinner and church service in the desert, clothes being fumigated, and soldiers fooling around. Pepperell also took unique photos on the troopship HMAS Berrima in Sydney, in cook houses, and of soldiers on gunner duty, digging trenches, and participating in parades and inspections.
New Zealand rifle brigade march over the Rimutakas. Page 53.
A haircut in the desert, Egypt. Page 7.
Meal time in the desert, Egypt. Page 7.
Fumigation of clothes, Egypt. Page 7.
Leslie Robert Pepperell
Corporal Leslie Robert Pepperell (1883 -1963) was a telegraph linesman from Waitara. He served in Egypt, Gallipoli and the Western front in the First World War, finishing service in April 1919. He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on 31 October 1917, a few weeks after the Passchendaele assault, and to Corporal shortly after that. He was in the infantry, who were known as “foot-sloggers”.
Contents of the Pepperell album
The Pepperell album came out of copyright status in 2014 and will be digitised for online research. It contains 111 original photos, including those sent back from training service in New Zealand, Egypt, Gallipoli, and the Western front.
Other items in the album relating to the war include a ticket for next of kin to view the departure of the Eighteenth Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces, a Returned Soldiers’ second class railway ticket, newspaper cuttings, and a New Zealand Expeditionary Forces Certificate of Discharge in Corporal Pepperell’s name.
Returned Soldiers’ railway ticket, a ticket for next of kin to view the departure of New Zealand Expeditionary Forces and postcards. Page 12.
The album also contains seven silk embroidered postcards. Silk embroidered postcards, a wartime industry, were initially made by French and Belgium women to sell to soldiers on the Western Front from 1914 -1918. As the demand increased, French factories manufactured the postcards.
Silk embroidered postcards from France. Pages 56 & 57.
More First World War photo albums
These personal photos in the Pepperell Album give a glimpse of life during The Great War. The Alexander Turnbull Library also holds photo albums of people who served elsewhere, portraying similar experiences thanks to their own vest pocket cameras. Albums collated by Ernest Field-Dodgson, James Hutchison, and W. W. Martin all include fascinating snapshots.
The Library also holds the official New Zealand World War 1914-1918 albums, donated by the RSA.
Interested in seeing more? Our guide to researching the First World War has many excellent starting points, including a lot of digitised images you can access online.