The lost diggers by Ross coulthart

By now it seems like ages ago I went to Pozières in the Somme area to photograph the world war 1 trenches and stroll through the still visibly damaged woods for my series “Wounded Land”. 

It was there in November 2019 when I walked into Le Tommy, the must-visit bar when interested in anything ww1. The owner, Dominique Zanardi, has an extended collection ranging from shells to buttons, from outfits to utilities. I visited his private museum with a carefully decorated ‘life in the trench’ built in his garden. Very informative and interesting to see how items were put to use; makes the dry text from books come to life and movies on YouTube set to pause in order to be carefully examined. 

A view into the garden-museum of Le Tommy

When I walked back inside there’s this in between space with a few display cabinets. One of them contained a book. A book with a cover image that looked very familiar in style. And with photographs positioned around it. Wow, I thought… turned out to be about an enormous collection of glass plates, taken during the first years of ww1, have recently been discovered (2009) in a nearby village called Vignacourt. 

A view into the garden at Le Tommy with empty shells stacked up against the wall

They had been stored for 93 years on the attic of a house in Vignacourt where the couple Louis and Antoinette Thullier had lived and been taking these photos. The house was still within the family but they had been very reserved about making this collection public as France would probably have swallowed the plates without proper recognition nor compensation for the owners, as (apparently) has happened on several occasions before.

The cabinet which drew my attention

Long story short, the collection finally did become public, partially because of the overwhelming interest and also because of the good intentions of the people that were looking for this collection. And it’s a good thing!

I bought the book which came in yesterday; what a fantastic collection of historically relevant images, the faces of war so intriguing, and at the same time an ode to glass plate photography itself as the level of detail and sharpness are utterly amazing. Alongside the images is the background story combined with stories from relatives to form a huge insight into this particular part of ww1 history and of this particular area. It’s just fascinating and a great addition to my own research of this region concerning ww1. 

Dominique was so nice as to get the book out for me to have a closer look
A short doc about the book and how it came to be

Oh..and for those interested in buying it…I found it on tha Bay 🙂

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