Each ANZAC, we remember those who served or lost lives through military service. Yet for many people during wartime, remembering soldiers was also very much a part of daily life.
Portraiture was an important reminder of loved ones stationed far from home, so an essential task prior to departure for service was to have a professional portrait taken by a photographer. These photos could then be left with loved ones back home, or given as a gift to be remembered by.
In 2017, a rare collection of glass plate negatives was found under an Ashburton shed that was being demolished. The property owner rescued the fragile plates and delivered them to Ashburton Museum. Over the past months, staff have worked to rescue these images, carefully prising each fragile plate apart, cleaning, scanning and documenting them. The plates are now known as the Halma Collection, after the Ashburton studio where they were made.
While working on the glass plate negative project, museum staff have been struck by how many soldiers are portrayed in the collection, which includes the period during, and around, World War One.
World War One soldiers were the first corps to be comprehensively photographed. By 1914 photography was relatively widespread, and wartime photography in the field was common, not only on the battlefield or when on furlough but also, particularly, through portraiture.
While many of the portraits in the Halma Collection are unnamed, they still speak to the importance of soldier’s portraiture during this time. The Halma Collection is currently on display at the museum, and we hope that visitors will spot family members and help us identify these soldiers.
As well as portraits of individual soldiers in the collection, there are groups, families, brothers and friends.
While there is no way of knowing if these men returned from war, it is easy to see the what they would leave behind, and what they hoped to be returning to. There are young men photographed in uniform alongside new brides, and with young wives and children. Others are photographed alongside mothers and sisters. There are also groups of siblings.
Photography was also used to create reproductions of portraits. One image shows two soldiers – possibly brothers, cousins or friends – that appears to have been taken from an existing printed image.
In another, a young woman is seated alongside a framed portrait of her soldier. While the story behind this is unclear, the sentiment is clear.
These practices of remembrance were as important at the time they were made as they are today. Lest We Forget.
- A young soldier with his new bride.
- Soldier with young wife and child.
- Two soldiers, possibly mates, brothers or cousins. Possibly a photographic reproduction taken from an existing image.
- A classic World War One soldier’s seated portrait, showing details of uniform.
- A young woman seated alongside a framed portrait of her soldier.
- A soldier wearing the red cross insignia of the ambulance corp, possibly with his mother
- A group of siblings alongside their soldier brother
- Soldiers were also present in photographs in other ways. The young woman in the centre of this images wears a sweetheart badge – a small version of the insignia worn by her soldier.
- An image labelled ‘Tully’ – it is unknown if this pair are a couple or siblings.
- This young pair standing close together are probably a couple.
- A young looking soldier standing for his portrait.
- A young soldier – possibly with his sister.