WWI hero’s photographs taken on the battlefields of Ypres are revealed

WWI hero’s incredible photographs taken on the battlefields of Ypres are revealed for the first time to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice

  • Capt Robert Bennett used his Vest Pocket Kodak to document life on front line from Oct 1914 to Jan 1915 
  • He left for France at start of conflict aged 25; was machine gunner in 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry
  • Photos include muddy, snowy and flooded fields endured by soldiers – as well as his comrades building fortifications and using anti-aircraft guns 

A remarkable set of photographs taken by a First World War hero has been revealed for the first time – 104 years after he brought his camera to the battlefields of Ypres.

Captain Robert Bennett, known as Bob, used his Vest Pocket Kodak to document life on the front line from October 1914 to January 1915.

He embarked for France at the very beginning of the conflict aged 25, serving as a machine gunner in 1st Battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry.

Capt Bennett photographed the muddy, snowy and flooded fields endured by soldiers, as well as his fellow men building fortifications and using anti-aircraft guns.

Scroll down for video 

A remarkable set of photographs taken by WWI hero Captain Robert Bennett has been revealed for the first time – 104 years after he brought his camera to the battlefields of Ypres. (Pictured, British soldiers with an anti-aircraft gun near the front line)

Captain Bennett, known as Bob, used his Vest Pocket Kodak to document life on the front line from October 1914 to January 1915. He is pictured (left) with comrades at his battalion’s makeshift headquarters in Ploegsteert Wood – a sector of the Western Front in Flanders

Soldiers build breastworks – a temporary fortification, often an earthwork, thrown up to breast height – in the woods. Capt Bennett had left for France at the very beginning of the conflict aged 25, serving as a machine gunner in 1st Battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry

The scrapbook, along with Capt Bennett’s camera, were found by his family in the attic of his home in Otterton, Devon, decades after the war

Capt Bennett (above) camera was nicknamed the Soldier’s Kodak. He is standing outside his battalion’s HQ in Ploegsteert Wood. The soldiers called the area ‘Plugstreet Wood’ – and the ramshackle building was christened Somerset House to give it a London connection


The captain’s son, Tony Bennett (left), 82, who himself served as a lieutenant colonel in the Somerset Light Infantry, said: ‘He went right at the beginning of war and he brought his camera with him. It was a Vest Pocket Kodak [also pictured]. Quite a few of them were taken out by people in the Army. There are about 30 pictures or so in the scrapbook’

His camera, nicknamed the Soldier’s Kodak, captured images of Capt Bennett with comrades as well as at his battalion’s makeshift headquarters in Ploegsteert Wood.

One poignant image depicts the grave of Capt Charles Carus Maud, a friend of Capt Bennett who was killed while fighting on December 19, 1914.


  • Theresa May lays wreathes of poppies on the graves of the…


    Aged by the horrors of war: Shocking images show how WWI’s…


    Ghosts of the Great War: Incredible images reveal how…

Share this article

Capt Maud’s body lay between the trenches until Christmas Day when German and British officers agreed they could retrieve their dead.

Photographs of his final resting place – now part of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery – are captioned ‘Maud’s Grave’ in Capt Bennett’s scrapbook.

The scrapbook, along with Capt Bennett’s camera, were found by his family in the attic of his home in Otterton, Devon, decades after the war.

One of the captain’s photographs of Ypres burning. The first battle of Ypres took place on the Western Front in Flanders from October to November 1914. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) suffered more than 58,000 killed, wounded and missing. German losses are estimated to have been more than 120,000

Capt Bennett (right) was commissioned into the Army in 1908 and joined the Somerset Light Infantry at Crownhill, Plymouth. By 1914, he was serving as a machine gunner in the 1st Battalion and left for France on August 22. He fought in the Battle of Mons and took up position in Ploegsteert Wood in October, where he was appointed adjutant


One poignant image depicts the grave of Capt Charles Carus Maud, a friend of Capt Bennett who was killed while fighting on December 19, 1914. Capt Maud’s body lay between the trenches until Christmas Day when German and British officers agreed they could retrieve their dead. Photographs of his final resting place (right) – now part of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery – are captioned ‘Maud’s Grave’ in Capt Bennett’s scrapbook

Vest Pocket Kodak: The soldier’s camera

The Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) was a camera marketed to soldiers during the First World War.

It was a foldable camera, which measured no bigger than a smartphone, and could fit easily in a uniform pocket.

On sale from 1912 until 1926, the VPK was the first camera to use the smaller 127 film reels.

The Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) was a camera marketed to soldiers during WWI

The foldable camera could fit easily in a uniform pocket

It had to be loaded through the top with both film spools at once.

The basic VPK was fitted with a two-speed ball bearing shutter – 1/25 and 1/50 sec – and a fixed-focus lens.

The camera was favoured by soldiers due to its size – when folded, it measured no bigger than 2.5 inches by 4.75 inches.

More than two million were sold before it was discontinued in 1926, and it is believed that they retailed for about 30 shillings.

The camera was favoured by soldiers due to its size – when folded, it measured no bigger than 2.5in by 4.75in

His son, Tony Bennett, 82, who himself served as a lieutenant colonel in the Somerset Light Infantry, said: ‘He went right at the beginning of war and he brought his camera with him.

‘It was a Vest Pocket Kodak. Quite a few of them were taken out by people in the Army. 

There are about 30 pictures or so in the scrapbook.

‘He never talked about the war. I have so many questions I would like to have asked him. I don’t think I knew about the photographs before he died.’

Capt Bennett was commissioned into the Army in 1908 and joined the Somerset Light Infantry at Crownhill, Plymouth.

By 1914, he was serving as a machine gunner in the 1st Battalion and left for France on August 22.

He fought in the Battle of Mons and took up position in Ploegsteert Wood – known as Plugstreet Wood – in October, where he was appointed adjutant.

It was there that his friend Capt Maud, 39, was killed. Capt Maud’s body – along with 20 others – was recovered and buried on Christmas Day.

German soldiers handed Capt Maud’s body to his comrades, telling them he was a ‘very brave man’, war diaries show.

The battalion’s war diary detailed the Christmas truce.

‘A truce was mutually arranged by the men in the trenches,’ it read.

‘During the morning, Officers met the German Officers half way between the trenches and it was arranged that we should bring in our dead who were lying between the trenches.’

It continued: ‘Not a shot or a shell was fired by either side in our neighbourhood; and both sides walked about outside their trenches quite unconcernedly.’

Capt Bennett remained in Ploegsteert Wood until January 1915 and fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in April that year.

‘He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1915 and was given four days to get back to Buckingham Palace,’ Mr Bennett said.

‘He was later invalided back. We don’t know exactly why – it may have been shell shock, I know he was gassed.’

Capt Bennett was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and twice mentioned in Despatches.

In 1917, he returned to the front line and became the brigade major of 57 Brigade the following year.

After the war, he continued to serve with the Somerset Light Infantry, retiring in 1937.

Two years later, he joined the Royal Air Force and was mentioned in Despatches in 1942 for his work in Bomber Command, where he was promoted to squadron leader.

He finally retired in 1947 and lived in the Devon village of Otterton until his death in 1970 at the age of 81. His wife, Marion Bennett – known as Mollie – died in 1982. 

Pictured, the captain’s comrades. Capt Bennett remained in Ploegsteert Wood until January 1915 and fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in April that year. He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1915 and was given four days to get back to Buckingham Palace


Carole Arnold, the Royal British Legion’s community fundraiser for Devon, said: ‘The photographs provide a fascinating insight into what life in the trenches was like and the conditions the soldiers endured in the early days of the war.’ (Above, barren snowy landscape at Ypres)

A machine gun emplacement at Ploegsteert Wood. Capt Bennett was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and twice mentioned in Despatches. In 1917, he returned to the front line and became the brigade major of 57 Brigade the following year

After the war, Capt Bennett continued to serve with the Somerset Light Infantry, retiring in 1937. Two years later, he joined the RAF and was mentioned in Despatches in 1942 for his work in Bomber Command, where he was promoted to squadron leader. He finally retired in 1947 and lived in the Devon village of Otterton until his death in 1970 at the age of 81. His wife, Marion Bennett – known as Mollie – died in 1982. (Above, photos from the scrapbook)

After their deaths, Mr Bennett and his wife Jane inherited their house. Their seven grandchildren have all been shown their great-grandfather’s scrapbook and told of his service.

Earlier this year, Mr Bennett was one of thousands who took part in the Royal British Legion’s Great Pilgrimage.

This recreated a march 10 years after the First World War, in which 11,000 veterans and war widows visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres before marching to the Menin Gate.

‘We should continue to remember because so many people gave their lives,’ Mr Bennett said.

‘When you go around the battlefields, one’s mind baffles to see what the soldiers had to endure. They did that for our country.’

Carole Arnold, the Legion’s community fundraiser for Devon, said: ‘The photographs provide a fascinating insight into what life in the trenches was like and the conditions the soldiers endured in the early days of the war.

‘We all have a connection to the First World War and it’s amazing that links between the past and present such as this are still being discovered.’

The charity is asking the nation to say thank you to the First World War generation.

After their deaths, Tony Bennett and his wife Jane inherited their house. Their seven grandchildren have all been shown their great-grandfather’s scrapbook (one of the photos of soldiers at a dugout, above) and told of his service

Capt Bennett’s friend Capt Maud, 39, was killed at the Battle of Mons. Capt Maud’s body – along with 20 others – was recovered and buried on Christmas Day. German soldiers handed Capt Maud’s body to his comrades, telling them he was a ‘very brave man’, war diaries show

The battlefields of Ypres… and a brief Christmas Truce

The First Battle of Ypres took place on the Western Front in Flanders, Belgium from October to November 1914.

Strong German forces moving west clashed with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French units from Langemarck in the north-east through Zonnebeke, Gheluvelt, Zandvoorde, Wytschaete and Messines in the south.

Among the British Empire troops engaged in the desperate fighting were units of the Indian Army, recently arrived in Europe and put straight into action.

The enemies fought along the entire front in ever-worsening weather conditions until further German attacks were called off. 

Between October 14 and November 30, 1914, the BEF suffered more than 58,000 killed, wounded and missing. German losses are estimated to have been more than 120,000.

The Second Battle of Ypres took place from April to May 1915 – and was notable for the introduction of a new and deadly weapon by the German army on the Western Front: poison gas. 

In spite of this, the Allied line remained unbroken, due in no small part to the bravery of the Anglo-Canadian forces.

Among the Allied, 87,000 were killed, wounded, or missing; the Germans saw 35,000, killed, wounded, or missing. 

The Christmas Truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front in Flanders Fields around Christmas 1914.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides independently ventured into no man’s land, where they tentatively socialised to host joint burial ceremonies, several meetings and carol-singing.

Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another, in one of the truce’s most enduring images.

A German soldier giving a British soldier a light during a 1914 Christmas Truce in the First World War

Source: Read Full Article