Auctions | October 27, 2023

Photo of WW1 Soldiers Leaving for War in 1915 with Trench Diary to Auction


The 1915 photo and WW1 diary

A never-before-seen photo of soldiers leaving Northern Ireland to fight in World War One and a serviceman’s diary from the trenches will go under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers’ WW1 Auction on November 7.

The poignant image shows uniformed soldiers as far as the eye can see walking along a country lane with kit bags on their shoulders. They’re surrounded by women folk, children and well wishers bidding them farewell.
The photo is marked with an X to indicate Sapper Robert (Bob) Phillips and bears a note, ‘Bob leaving Ireland for war’. It was found among his personal collection of WW1 memorabilia.

Robert, of Newtownards, County Down, was born in 1896. He enlisted for service on January 13, 1915 aged 19. He joined the 36th Division Signalling Company Royal Engineers and went on to win the Military Medal for bravery in the 1914-1918 conflict.

Matt Crowson, Head of Militaria at Hansons, said: “The image of troops leaving for war is original. It marks the start of their journey into the unknown more than a century ago. It reminds me of the WW1 song ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’, which was written the same year this photo was taken. I’ve seen similar photos before of other regiments but this one is likely unique. A local photographer was probably hired to cover the event and mementos of the occasion might have been purchased by the families. The inked ‘X’ on the photo highlights our man, Robert, as he leaves for the front, along with a girl."

Thanks to the discovery of Robert’s diary we know what happened to him in the years that followed. It documents his movements through Europe from October 1915 to November 11, 1918. On that day he poignantly wrote, ‘Armistice accepted 11/11/18 at 11 o’clock’.

Also included is a touching letter written by Robert’s friend and brother in arms Bertie Jackson.
 Bertie wrote to Mrs Phillips, Robert’s mother in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He movingly revealed to her how he lost his brother during operations, and how Robert’s companionship in the Signal Company had kept him from sinking under his loss. Bertie wrote:

Just at the opening of the last offensive operations I lost a brother who was very dear to me, and we had soldiered together ever since the formation of the signal coy. I feel it was Bob’s companionship kept me from sinking under my loss, and inspired me to carry on, although I never told him myself. I felt that although I had lost a brother I had still a good friend left in him. Bob and I have been very close companions for a long time, and I will tell you frankly Mrs Phillips, he is a son which any mother should be proud of. I can’t speak of him too highly, and I congratulate myself upon having such a pal.

“Spr Phillips' personal account of a life as a serviceman in World War One is a poignant piece of military history," said Matt Crowson. "His diary doubles up as an address and notebook of sorts, with details of the names and addresses of friends and relatives, handwritten Morse code translation and even a French phrase section."

The WW1 diary and images have an estimate of £100-£150.