Remarkable scrapbook images
AREMARKABLE set of photographs taken by a First World War hero have 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.
His camera, nicknamed the Soldier’s Kodak, captured images of Capt Bennett with comrades as well as at his battalion’s makeshift head- quarters 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. 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. His son, Tony Bennett, 82, who himself served as a lieutenant colo- nel 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
He never talked about the war. I have so many questions I would like to have asked him
Captain Robert Bennett, who photographed life on the front line; above right, soldiers with an antiaircraft gun; below right, Captain Bennett with friends in Ploegsteert Wood; far right, headquarters mess staff
Above, an album containing photographs taken by Captain Robert Bennett; right, Tony Bennett holds his father’s compact Vest Pocket Kodak camera, also known as the VPK or ‘Soldier’s Kodak’