Foot-slogging in the desert

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, declaring them to be all the vogue at present.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.

Cover of the Pepperell album, a standard Olympic school exercise book.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.

Inside the album, showing postcards and snapshot photos.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:

Item advertising prizes for snapshots from the front.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.

Snapshot of  the New Zealand rifle brigade march over the RimutakasNew Zealand rifle brigade march over the Rimutakas. Page 53.

Snapshot of a haircut in the desert, Egypt.A haircut in the desert, Egypt. Page 7.

Snapshot of meal time in the desert, showing soldiers lining up.Meal time in the desert, Egypt. Page 7.

Soliders standing as their clothes are fumigated.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.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.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.

By Amalaratna

Amalaratna is Acting Research Librarian Pictorial Specialist at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Post a Comment

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M Jones April 22nd at 2:41PM

Great article - very well researched and written.

Miranda Harcourt May 3rd at 11:27PM

Who put the photos in the album? Looks as though they have been removed from their original album and recompiled by a child in the 70s/80s

ray wong May 6th at 9:30AM

Hi , What a fantastic album.
Any chance of seeing the whole album, or do you have to come wellington to see it?

Warwick Dugdale May 6th at 9:46PM

I was a lad living in Waitara during WW II. I remember Les Pepperell and somewhere in the back of my mind I recall him possibly being a drover for the local freezing works. I may be wrong. He lived not far from where my family lived. It is always of interest to read of people from my home town of Waitara. My Grandfather lived there for most of his life as did my father.

Jay BuzenbergNational Library May 13th at 4:12PM

Hi Ray

We can send you some low resolution images while we're waiting for the whole album to be digitised. There are a lot of items to be digitised so I'm sorry we can't give you an exact timeframe for when it will be available.

Reuben SchraderNational Library May 16th at 10:06AM

Thanks for your question, Miranda. Unfortunately, we don't know who put the photographs in the album. The exercise book certainly looks more recent than the 1960s, which suggests it wasn't compiled by Corporal Pepperell himself (he died in 1963). The album was donated to the Library 30 years ago, in 1984, and it's possible the album was put together by the donor, perhaps in the early 1980s.

erica russ May 16th at 1:21PM

this is my grandfathers album and im very interested in it hoping to see it properly soon

Paul Ashton January 3rd at 12:44PM

I have recently had the privilege of viewing the Album at the Alexander Turnbull Library, it is an amazing collection that captures an important part of our national social history, something Les's descendants can be very proud of.
I agree that this appears to be a recent compilation, sadly a number of the photo's have been glued into the album, so we will never know if there are any notes on the back.