Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, December 29, 2023

Documentarian of the Soldier's Life: Lance Corporal George Hackney, 36th Ulster Division

Lance Corporal George Hackney

In 2014, a major discovery of World War One photographs was made in Northern Ireland.  Nearly 300 photos taken surreptitiously by Lance Corporal George Hackney of the 36th Ulster Division were found almost by accident. A documentary producer uncovered the images in the archives of the Ulster Museum. Hackney had contributed them just before his death in 1977.  He survived wounds received during the Battle of the Somme and served through the remainder of the war.

Standing Inspection During Training

Shipping Over

Sgt. Scott, a Friend Who Would Not Survive the War

The video The Man Who Shot the Great War, which was originally presented on BBC-Northern Ireland, is today only available in the U.S.—as far as I can tell—to subscribers of Acorn TV. We watched the documentary on Christmas Day and found it fascinating. Current ads for the video, tout the collection as "capturing the brutal realities of the front." I disagree with that characterization. First,  the original collection contains a minimal number of combat images, although three photos taken during the midst of the first day of the Somme are striking. Second, a major emphasis of the video is Hackney's life-long spiritual quest.  

A Lighthearted Introduction to the Gas Mask

Weapons at the Ready

Officer with "Plum Pudding" Mortar

Relaxing in the Trenches

Another Trench Scene

From the samples I've viewed, the collections greatest strength/value is that it  wonderfully captures the day-to-day existence of a Tommy at war. Here's a selection of the photos I've been able to find online. I've included one picture of the three Corporal Hackney took on 1 July 1916, when his division had a grim time of it on Thiepval Ridge.

German Prisoner Column, 1 July 1916

Queue of Soldiers with Facial Wounds

Winter Trench Scene


  1. I think that the photo labeled, “Officer with Plum Putting Mortar” should read “Officer with Plum Pudding Mortar”. In those days plum puddings were prepared in a way that lent them a somewhat spherical shape.