World War One Centenary

With the centenary of the First World War, we have categorised our content into key themes to aide your research. All images and archive footage available for licensing.

A trailer showcasing the main categories of our WWI footage content

A trailer showcasing the main categories of our WWI footage content

 

Collections represented by Bridgeman include the National Army Museum and Imperial War Museum in London and Peter Newark Military Pictures. Photographs, paintings, maps, portraits, drawings and archive footage can all be sourced. 

For a more indepth search please visit our browse category for World War I and World War II.

Unable to find what you are looking for? Please contact one of our expert researchers who will probably be able to access it from our extensive archive offline. Email nysales@bridgemanimages.com

Red Cross men in the trenches attending to a wounded man, 1916 (sepia photo) by English Photographer/ The Stapleton Collection
Red Cross men in the trenches attending to a wounded man, 1916 (sepia photo) by English Photographer/ The Stapleton Collection

Life in the Trenches

Daily life varied greatly in the trenches; some troops were subjected to frequent attacks while others had a relatively calm experience. With observation balloons and snipers active during the day, it was generally safer to move around at night.

Trenches were a breeding pit for head lice, vermin and for disease - one of the war's greatest killers. If men were lucky enough to avoid infection, they were still susceptible to exposure when temperatures plummeted below freezing in the winter.

Search images and footage of trenches in WW1

Prisoners of War

In 1915 the Germans constructed a system of camps to house prisoners captured in battle. Governments created laws that soldiers were required to treat their prisoners humanely and that all their personal belongings except weapons, horses and military papers remained their own.

With so many individuals in close confines, hygiene and disease became major problems. For some, the signing of the Armistice in 1918 meant not only the end of war, but of four years in captivity.

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Prisoners of War, World War One, 1917 (b/w photo), Jacques Moreau, (b.1887) / Archives Larousse, Paris, France / Giraudon
Prisoners of War, World War One, 1917 (b/w photo), Jacques Moreau, (b.1887) / Archives Larousse, Paris, France / Giraudon

 

 

 

 
Stretcher bearers on the Western Front (w/c over pencil), 'Gunner' F. J. Mears (c.1890-1929) / Private Collection

Stretcher bearers on the Western Front (w/c over pencil), 'Gunner' F. J. Mears (c.1890-1929) / Private Collection

 

Injuries and Medical Treatment

Not only were injuries a result of the massive use of artillery, but illnesses were a prominent threat in the trenches. Full of water and vermin, disease spread quickly. Soldiers fell victim to Trench Foot, Trench Mouth, cholera, and influenza.

Physical injuries caused by bullets and explosions were dealt with in hospitals; doctors and nurses had never dealt with wounds on this scale before. Plastic surgery and skin grafting were developed in this period as a result of the unprecedented trauma. Along with physical scars, soldiers suffered psychologically. Symptoms of what we now recognise as shell-shock or post-traumatic stress disorder included agitation, flashbacks, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

See more images of the casualties of war

Able to fire a steady stream of bullets, the Maxim-A machine gun used by many armies, from 'The Illustrated War News' (litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Able to fire a steady stream of bullets, the Maxim-A machine gun used by many armies, from 'The Illustrated War News' (litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection

Artillery

Artillery was the reason for the success in battles of the war. The range of weapons helped troops gain land and influenced strategies of attack, operations, and tactics. Guns fired at longer distances, explosions were larger, and trajectories of weapons were able to reach further.

Machine guns were the most deadly weapon. The British thought the machine gun was an overrated weapon but realized its destructive capabilities in the Battle of the Somme when 60,000 men were killed, most from machine gun fire.

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Fashion and Uniforms

The jobs where women replaced men required uniforms or trousers and women’s fashion developed to reflect these alterations in society. With the production of military uniforms, fashion itself took on a more structured military look. Tones were muted, designs simple, and gender based dress codes relaxed.

Men’s fashion adapted to the environments of war and constant improvements were made for the practicality of life in the trenches. British soldiers wore a thick woollen tunic and trousers dyed khaki colours.

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'The prettiest fashion...because kind hearted nurses of all countries have adopted it', illustration from 'La Baionnette', 21st October 1915 (colour litho), Leo Fontan, (1884-1965) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet
'The prettiest fashion...because kind hearted nurses of all countries have adopted it', illustration from 'La Baionnette', 21st October 1915 (colour litho), Leo Fontan, (1884-1965) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet
'Save food and defeat frightfulness', poster advocating the sparing use of food, printed by The Strobridge Co., Cincinnati & New York, 1917-18, (colour litho), Herbert Paus, (1880-1946) / Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany / © DHM
'Save food and defeat frightfulness', poster advocating the sparing use of food, printed by The Strobridge Co., Cincinnati & New York, 1917-18, (colour litho), Herbert Paus, (1880-1946) / Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany / © DHM

Rationing

Food shortages were not an issue in Britain until 1917. Germany declared unrestricted U-Boat access and many of the ships coming from America and Canada with food and supplies were sunk, imperilling Britain's vital supply route.

As food increased in price, rationing also began. The government in Britain took over millions of acres of farming land in order to control the production and distribution of food. Rationing cards were issued and food intake monitored. Although the strategy was essentially successful, butter and sugar remained rationed until 1920.

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Conscientious Objectors

Many people were morally opposed to war and refused to serve their country; they came to be termed conscientious objectors. Some found alternative ways of supporting the war effort, but many were arrested and sent to prison. The problem became particularly critical in 1916 when conscription laws were introduced.

Other waves of protest occurred during the war  and even after in relation to food rationing, women's rights, and the lack of support for demobilised soliders and their families.

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Conscientious Objectors usefully employed: Men of the N.C.C. on a military road, illustration from 'The Illustrated War News', 23rd August 1917 (sepia photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Conscientious Objectors usefully employed: Men of the N.C.C. on a military road, illustration from 'The Illustrated War News', 23rd August 1917 (sepia photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
German soldiers on the western front, in a training exercise to prepare for gas attacks, 1918 (b/w photo), German Photographer (20th Century) / © SZ Photo / Scherl
German soldiers on the western front, in a training exercise to prepare for gas attacks, 1918 (b/w photo), German Photographer (20th Century) / © SZ Photo / Scherl

Chemical Warfare

The First World War is referred to as the chemist’s war. Heavier than air, gas proved an effective weapon for targeting men in trenches. Different types of gas performed different tasks: tear gas could disable men, whilst mustard gas, phosgene, and chlorine were fatal.

Billowing clouds of gas have become one of the defining images of the war, but ultimately it was responsible for only four percent of the total death toll. Gas masks and efficient warning systems were developed to minimise casualities.

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Corn Poppies in Holm, 2004 (oil on canvas), Susanne Wind, (Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection

Corn Poppies in Holm, 2004 (oil on canvas), Susanne Wind, (Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection

 

Naik Shahamad Khan, with two others, holding his ground after his machine-gun had been knocked out by shell-fire (litho), W. Avis, (20th Century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Naik Shahamad Khan, with two others, holding his ground after his machine-gun had been knocked out by shell-fire (litho), W. Avis, (20th Century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection

Role of the Colonies

When Britain declared war, this declaration stood for Britain and its colonies, who contributed valuable military and financial support. The actions of colonies, such as Australia and New Zealand, had huge ramifications and proved a stepping stone on the way to independence for some of these nations.

Many of soldiers, especially those from Australia, not only served their empire, but most of them volunteered to fight. The role of the colonies in the war was honoured by Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1917 when imperial policy was reviewed.

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Animals in the War

'War horses' were heavily used in World War One but the use of machine guns in the battlefield reduced their force and increased their vulnerability. By 1917, Britain alone had over 1 million horses in service. 484,000 horses were lost over the course of the war.

Dogs in war, thanks to their speed and agility, played an important role as messengers between troops. Dogs, being man’s best friend, also served as a psychological comfort for soldiers in the trenches.

See more images and footage of animals in WW1

The Wanderer sprang towards his master with delight (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
The Wanderer sprang towards his master with delight (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Woman worker in a munitions factory in Britain during WWI (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Private Collection / Peter Newark Military Pictures
Woman worker in a munitions factory in Britain during WWI (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Private Collection / Peter Newark Military Pictures

 

Women's Roles

When men joined the army, women took over the civilian work force. Positions were available in the military as care givers, nurses, and even jobs in ammunition factories. Off shift, their contributions included knitting clothes and gathering supplies.

The war opened up a drastically wider range of occupations for women that surpassed domestic service. In Britain alone, about two million women took over for men in the work force from 1914 to 1918.

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War in the Skies

World War One was the first conflict to involve deployed aircraft on a large scale. Already used for reconnaissance, planes and zeppelins would play a key role in bombing enemy targets. Air combat was not common pre 1914, but became more prominent and sophisticated. Hand-held guns and grenades were replaced with more accurate mounted machine guns.

Zeppelins, a more advanced observation balloon, provided room for more ammunition to be carried. Most famously, however, they were used again London during the air raids.

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Blood and Iron: An Air-raid in the North, illustration from 'The Naval Front' by Gordon S. Maxwell, 1920 (colour litho), Donald Maxwell, (1877-1936) (after) / The Stapleton Collection
Blood and Iron: An Air-raid in the North, illustration from 'The Naval Front' by Gordon S. Maxwell, 1920 (colour litho), Donald Maxwell, (1877-1936) (after) / The Stapleton Collection
Footage. Sinking of the RMS Lusitania by German U-Boat, 1915. This directly led to the US's involvement in the Great War. Believed to be part-reenactment.
Footage. Sinking of the RMS Lusitania by German U-Boat, 1915. This directly led to the US's involvement in the Great War. Believed to be part-reenactment.

 

Battle at Sea

Being an island, Britain had the strongest naval fleet in the world and participated in an on-going naval arms race with Germany. Britain's firepower came from battleships and dreadnoughts, whereas Germany was better known for its submarines and U-Boats.

Submarines were increasingly useful, as they could approach boats out of the aim of weapons. Underwater mines, meanwhile, were placed around coastlines to prevent ships supporting a land attack. It was the sinking of the RMS Lusitania with its mostly civilian passengers that prompted America to join the war in 1917.

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Leaders of the War

From Tsar Nicholas II to Lloyd George, the leaders of World War One changed and fluctuated. Age, death, resignation, and assassination forced the rulers of countries and military leaders alike from their posts.

King George V, General Douglas Haig, President Woodrow Wilson - these are just some of the names and faces we recognise today,  made famous (or, in some cases infamous) by their conduct, competency, and deeds during wartime.

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Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, 1914-19 (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, 1914-19 (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
 
 
 
French, English and American WWI propaganda posters.

French, English and American WWI propaganda posters.

 

Propaganda Posters

Britain had no propaganda agencies when the war broke out in 1914, but it wasn’t long after that many began to form. The most popular medium were posters and each countries involved used them to convey a variety of messages to the public:

- British Propaganda Posters
- French Propaganda Posters
- German Propaganda Posters

Recruitment was a central idea with major themes of patriotism demanding the public to contribute all they could to the war. All countries freely manipulated emotional concepts, such as brotherhood, loyalty, and honour. Propaganda posters made war appear glorious, patriotic, and a bonding experience between allies. They omitted the horror, death, and terror of battle.

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President Woodrow Wilson ignores Uncle Sam bringing ashore victims of the sinking of the Lusitania on 7th May 1915 (colour litho), Louis Raemaekers, (1869-1956) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet
President Woodrow Wilson ignores Uncle Sam bringing ashore victims of the sinking of the Lusitania on 7th May 1915 (colour litho), Louis Raemaekers, (1869-1956) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet

Political Cartoons

Newspapers easily mass-produced information, documenting death tolls, advances in battle, equipment gained, and more. However, the government maintained careful control of the information that was dispersed to the public.

Political cartoons were also published in these newspapers. Full of symbolism and allegory, these cartoons could portray a sense of patriotism towards the war, but often evinced a cynical view of it, lambasting governments for the waste of life and resources.

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War Memorials

Following the unprecedented casualties of war, space was needed to grieve for the dead. Many monuments were constructed in the 1920s and 30s to preserve the memory of the fallen.

The Treaty of Versailles stated that each country was responsible for the maintenance of military graves within their borders. However, problems arose when some bodies were never repatriated and many others were unidentifiable, prompting the construction of many national monuments dedicated to an 'Unknown Soldier'.

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War memorial, 1918-20 (b/w photo), Hallam Ashley, (20th Century) / Grendon Underwood, Buckinghamshire, UK / © English Heritage. NMR
War memorial, 1918-20 (b/w photo), Hallam Ashley, (20th Century) / Grendon Underwood, Buckinghamshire, UK / © English Heritage. NMR
 

War Artists

Official war artists were a selected group, employed on a contract to produce images of the war. Britain employed around 20 artists between 1914 - 18. Their role was to sketch, draw and paint as many aspects of the war and their experience as possible.

Among the most famous of these artists were Paul Nash (sent to the front line in 1917), Eric Kennington, John Nash - younger brother of Paul - and Christopher Nevinson. Nevinson, a Bridgeman copyrighted artist, originally enlisted in the ambulance unit in 1914, but returned home due to illness where he produced his striking early work. He received his official commission on the back of these images.

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Gassed, an oil study, 1918-19 (oil on canvas), John Singer  Sargent (1856-1925) / Private Collection

Gassed, an oil study, 1918-19 (oil on canvas), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) / Private Collection


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