A rare collection of 21 glass plate negatives with stereo images of the First World War. The slides provide an interesting insight into the mobilisation of the French army in Nevers during the first weeks of the conflict.
The negatives are gelatin dry plates and have a size of 8x18cm. The slides are numbered and the numbers correspond to location, unit names and dates which are written on the original cardboard boxes. This makes the collection interesting from a historic point of view.
The slides are stored in two cardboard boxes numbered with the roman numbers XXX and XXXI. A total of 34 titles have been written on the covers of the boxes. The last 4 titles of box XXXI had a different theme and are probably not related to the war. Most photos were taken in August 1914 and a smaller number in September and October 1914. The first photo was taken on 9 August, only six days after Germany declared war on France.
24 negatives were offered separately on eBay, so the collection was no longer complete. Unfortunately, not all offered glass plates were acquired because of outbid on three negatives.
The name of the photographer of the photos is unknown. He probably was a professional photographer because the 8x18cm format required a large and expensive camera that was out of reach of the average amateur photographer.
All negatives are numbered and the details of the photos are accurately written on the boxes. The slides are separated by a slip sheet to protect the emulsion on the glass plates. The photographer took care of indexing and archiving his negatives. The seller offered more negatives from the same photographer, with a variety of themes and the photos are dated until the 1920s. All slides are in the same glass format and indexed and archived in the same way.
The fact that the photos were taken in tree different months may indicate that the photographer lived in Nevers. Many photos are staged, which indicates that the photographer had permission to take photographs. Perhaps the photos were intended for the newspaper or the photographer was hired by the French army to document the mobilisation, because the unit numbers of the troops are noted on the boxes. At the beginning of the war, the French army did not have its own photography section. La Section Photographique de l’Armée was established a year later, in May 1915.
It’s not obvious to photograph the event with a stereo camera. Stereoviews were primarily intended for entertainment and could only be viewed with a stereoscope. However, it’s possible that the photographer used half of the stereo negative for publication in a book or newspaper.
The city of Nevers is located in the department of Nièvre in central France. The station was an important hub for the French railways and there were workshops for the maintenance of locomotives. Many army units passed the station during the war.
Nevers’ industries were converted to aid in the war effort and there were camps for prisoners of war. The city received wounded soldiers in its main hospital and the many complementary hospitals that were operational for shorter or longer periods of time.
The 13th Infantry Regiment
The 13th Infantry Regiment (13e régiment d’infanterie or 13e de ligne) was stationed from 1883 in Nevers in the Pittié barracks, not far from the station. These barracks still exists and are located on Rue du 13e de Ligne. On 5 August 1914, the first soldiers of the regiment left the station of Nevers for Lorraine where they received their baptism of fire on 14 August 1914. The departure of another part of the regiment on 23 August 1914 is captured in photos 1, 2 and 3 from box XXXI.
The atmosphere on the station looks relaxed. The war was welcomed by many countries and every country thought to be victorious and all soldiers would be home by Christmas. Maybe the photographer thought so too. The boxes mention Guerre 1914-1915. At the time, no one could have suspected that the conflict would last until 1918.
A photo shows a caricature of the German emperor Wilhelm II and the text Guillaume Bandit. It reflects the sentiments of the first weeks of the war.
Four photos were taken in October 1914. Two images show German prisoners of war in a wagon, guarded by two French soldiers on the foreground. The German advance in France had come to a halt during the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. The Western Front turned into a horrible trench warfare that would last until November 1918.
Some images show soldiers of the Tirailleurs. This unit was part of the Troupes Coloniales (colonial troops). The soldiers of this unit were recruited from the French colonies in Northern and Western Africa. Due to the large losses in 1914 and 1915, the French army was forced to deploy more colonial troops later in the war. However, these photos show that these troops were already deployed in the first weeks of the war.
Due to its historical importance, digital scans of the images have been shared with the archives of the city of Nevers. In 2014, a monument was unveiled at the station, commemorating the mobilisation in 1914. It turned out that the city’s archives did not have any photos of the mobilisation. They are very pleased with the photos from this collection.