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


  1. Hi,
    This is very interesting. I would certainly be able to translate the above, but I can't decipher the handwriting. German writing has changed since then and this is also very hard to make out.To demonstrate (from a German website) about German writing, have a look at this page:
    However, if you could try and let me have a clearer and larger copy of the above, I will try and get to the bottom of it or if I can't do it, I could try and contact one or two people in Germany who may be in the know.
    I would also think that there must be a German website that would be extremely interested in these documents, however, I'm very busy with work and other projects, so I can't get too deeply involved in this.
    Please have a look at my blogs too and let me know if you want my help with the writing on the back of the photo.

  2. I've just put this on the FB page of an old friend of mine. Maybe he'll be able to help. Will let you know!