When Belfast photographer George Hackney was called to fight in World War I in October of 1915, he brought his camera with him. He defied his chiefs and risked facing court martial to document life on the front line.
His incredible collection is a testimony to life behind the scenes in a war that saw over 37 million soldiers killed – where the men laugh, write letters home, huddle for warmth and read the newspaper.
But the Lance Corporal didn’t just capture the daily routine; he risked his life to document exact moments that have since been recorded in history books.
One of the photographs captures the 36th Ulster Division forcing German soldiers to surrender in the Battle of Somme, July 1916. He hid in the field and used a folding camera, slightly bigger than a phone.
Hackney lived into his 80s and shared the images with the loved ones of those photographed.
His friends urged Hackney to donate the collection to the Ulster Museum before his death, and they’ve now been published for the first time after a museum curator handed them to a filmmaker two years ago.
The public will be able to see the album in the new Modern History gallery at the Ulster Museum in Belfast starting November 26. Visitors will be able to view a selection of images from the album via an interactive audio-visual presentation.
Thiepval Wood, June 1916. Paul Pollock, standing, and smoking, was the son of the Presbyterian Minister at St Enoch's Church in Belfast, where George Hackney attended. He was killed on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His body was never found.
July/August 1916 at Ploegsteert Wood near Messines, Belgium. This is where the 14th Batallion were redeployed after the devastation of the Battle of the Somme.
Randalstown Camp, Co. Antrim, 1915. Hackney's friend John Ewing from Belfast writes in a diary or a letter home, while his comrade lies sleeping in his bunk. Ewing was later promoted to sergeant and won the Military Medal for bravery in the field.
Sgt. James Scott, photographed at Seaford, East Sussex at some point between July and October 1915.
The astonishing moment the 36th Ulster Division forced German soldiers to surrender in July 1916.
Randalstown Camp, County Antrim, 1915. The 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles moved to Randalstown from Finner Camp in January 1915, where they remained until moving to England in July. In Randalstown, they stayed in wooden huts, of which Hackney photographed the interior and exterior.
A photograph of George Hackney, taken at Poulainville, Picardy, Northern France, October 1915. Hackney was made a Lance Corporal the day before the Battalion left for France, along with his friend John Ewing. Before advancing to the Front, the men were billeted in a barn in the village of Poulainville.
The English Channel, October 4, 1915. The Battalion sailed from Southampton to Boulogne on the former Isle of Man paddle steamer Empress Queen. Some men are seen sleeping on the deck while others look overboard for the threat of German U-boats.
British scouts and snipers gather in a trench at a sentry post in Hamel, France.
*Originally published in November 2014