Friday, 29 May 2015

Can you help put names to these WW1 German faces?

Above and below are photos belonging to an unknown
German soldier, that were found in a wallet on the
Western Front - can you identify them?
Can anyone help identify the faces in the photographs on this page? They show the family and friends of a German soldier of the First World War and were found in a black leather wallet on the Western Front by a British artilleryman, Arthur Youell, who kept them as a ‘souvenir’. Nothing is known about those pictured, nor the soldier to whom the photos belonged, and for the last 100 years they have lain unidentified in the keeping of Arthur Youell’s nephew, John Sherwood.

Mr Sherwood, who allowed me to use his uncle's letters in my book Letters from the Trenches has always been very keen to discover more about the photos, so I am hoping that readers may be able to shed light on them. Here is what we know so far ... 

Corporal Arthur Youell, a farmer's son from Malton in Yorkshire, arrived in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery in July 1916 – the earliest date the photographs could have been found.  He discovered them in a black leather wallet and the assumption is that Youell picked them up on the battlefield or in a captured German trench, and that their owner was already dead. It is not known exactly where on the Front they were found, but it was common for soldiers to send home 'souvenirs' of war.

The wallet contained 18 beautifully-kept photographs, among them were pictures of young boys posing proudly in military uniform, and a baby on a rug. Most were studio portraits but there were also pictures of soldiers in the field. One bore the postmark 'Feld-Art.-Regt. 27' and two had faint messages on the back (see below). Some were taken by studio photographers in the German town of Weinheim, and in March a story was published by the local Weinheim newspaper appealing for information, but sadly no answers were forthcoming. 

Arthur Youell wrote regularly to his family but there is no reference to the photographs in his letters. His correspondence was, however, full of vivid and well-observed description – ranging from the cacophony of battle to the everyday details of life as an artilleryman – and you can read extracts in my book Letters from theTrenches. Here, for example, he describes the awesome sight of Allied howitzers in action:

'Each time they flung their massive "iron rations" over the German lines we could see the projectile whirling away and growing smaller and smaller till it passed the culminating point and vanished from sight. These shells are so heavy that two men are required to lift one of them, so what enormous power must be concentrated in that small charge – power sufficient to throw one of those heavy missiles a distance of half a dozen miles and more.'

Corporal Youell, a gun layer with the 126 Siege Battery, survived the conflict and returned home at the end of the war to run his own farm. Like so many First World War veterans, he spoke little of his experiences on the battlefield, and certainly not about the mementoes he picked up.

So on Mr Sherwood’s behalf I am asking readers if they can help shed light on the photos, which obviously belonged to a soldier who came from a loving family. Sadly the soldier was probably dead when his wallet was found, but it's just possible that it fell from his pocket when he was alive and that he survived the war. To trace his family and discover what happened to him after 100 years would be wonderful, so please spread the word in any way you can - especially if you have contacts in Germany.

You can get in touch with me by leaving a message at the end of this post. Or via Twitter @soldiersletters. Or email me at
I look forward to hearing from you.

Above, a message on the back of one
of the photos (can anyone translate it?)
and, below, the postmark on another

Some of the photographs with the black leather
wallet in which they were found on the Western Front

Friday, 8 May 2015

'You can never be sure at what hour you will be blown to atoms'

A post-war photo of Stanley Goodhead, second right,
one of Kitchener's more mature volunteers 
It's easy to imagine Kitchener's Army as full of young men in their teens or early twenties, inexperienced and still 'wet behind the ears' - but that wasn't the whole story at all. A large number of volunteers were mature men with commitments at home (careers, relationships, young families) who had weighed up the pros and cons and felt it was their duty to go and fight.

One such servicemen was Stanley Goodhead, a railway engineer from Manchester who was 26 and courting his sweetheart when war broke out. He joined Manchester's 19th 'Pals' battalion and was sent to serve on the Western Front. His experiences are described in letters he wrote to his father, several of which feature in my book Letters from the Trenches. All are articulate, considered, and written by a man who was well aware of the risks of war.

In the spring of 1916 Private Goodhead was in France preparing for the Battle of the Somme. This was the first big offensive that would rely on Britain's volunteers rather than the regular army, and tension was evident in his letters:

8th May 1916

'Do not think I have any doubt about not seeing you all again, that is not so, but to tell the truth, the part of the line we now occupy is a death trap and you cannot be sure at what hour you will have a bullet in the brain or be blown to atoms by a shell or rifle grenade. I have a number of friends laid low these last few days and one cannot help thinking things.  All the same I am trying not to get down-hearted and it is a good thing indeed that we have plenty of work to do as it takes our mind off things.'

28th May 1916

'There is one thing I want to mention particularly to you, that is, very shortly now I am going into very dangerous work and, of course, anything can happen. I am just telling you so as I do not want you to be taken by surprise if anything happens.'

'Over the top' in the Battle of the Somme' - 'The line
we occupy is a death trap,' wrote Stanley Goodhead
28th June 1916

'Very soon now I along with many others will be going into very great danger and I am taking this opportunity of letting you know so that you will not be surprised at whatever may happen. You will understand Dad that I am not allowed to say too much so I must leave it to you to read between the lines and use your own discretion as to how you tell them at home. We are all in splendid condition and in good spirits and to see the lads you would hardly believe there was a cloud hanging over them. We are at present getting plenty of food and good rest and our hard training is at an end for the present.

'Everything is being done to make things a success and nothing is being left to chance and I am confident after what I have witnessed that good results will be obtained and the lads will not be found wanting when called on. Now Dad I have said as much as I dare in this line but I want to impress on you that anything may happen so don’t be surprised. I am not quite sure yet whether my work will be with the signallers or with the platoon but you may be quite sure that whatever I am told to do I will do it at once and cheerfully and my one hope is that my nerve will hold out that I may go on and not halt once till our objective is reached.

'I will bring my letter to a close now Dad reminding you that I am prepared for anything and fully aware of all the difficulties and dangers that are in front but full of hope for the best. I wish to thank you Dad for the way you have looked after me whilst our here also when at home and you have my very best wishes. If this should be my last letter you will find everything in order and it is my wish that Mother and Jinny [his sister] have every care and attention. Watch the papers.'

Three weeks after the offensive was launched, Goodhead wrote to his father on 28 July:

'I am very well and keeping up through all this turmoil and your letters cheer me up, however do not be alarmed if you do not hear from me for some time. Things are lively here and do not get alarmed at huge casualty lists.'

Belgian civilians celebrate liberation in 1918
The Battle of the Somme dragged on for five long months, but thankfully Goodhead survived - not just the battle but the war too. At some point during the conflict he was wounded and sent to Endell Street Military Hospital in Covent Garden, London, which was run and staffed soley by women and specialised in treating head injuries and femoral fractures. Later in the war Goodhead was transferred to the Royal Engineers, promoted to lance corporal, and was one of the first to enter newly-liberated Belgium in 1918. And here, a happier and more relaxed tone coloured the letters he wrote to his father:

 'I shall never forget the day we landed in Ostend from Calais, on our arrival the people went mad with joy, kissing us, shaking hands, hugging us, and in every manner possible they showered their thanks on the "English Gentlemen" as they called us.'

You can read more of Private Stanley Goodhead's letters from the Front, and those of his fellow volunteer soldiers, in my book Letters from the Trenches.

Copyright © 2015 Jacqueline Wadsworth and Barbara Rosser