'After the storm': Walter Kleinfeldt captions one of his images showing bodies strewn across the battlefield
By Hannah Ellis-Petersen
They lay forgotten in a dank cellar for almost a century. But these remarkable photos, published for the first time, give a rare and uncensored view of the horrors of the First World War from behind enemy lines.
They were taken by Walter Kleinfeldt who joined a German gun crew in 1915 and fought at the Somme aged just 16. As his haunting pictures, taken with a Contessa camera, make all too clear, life in the trenches was a harrowing experience. The images provide an insight into the epic machinery of war – and capture the darkest moments of battle, with bodies strewn among the rubble.
Carnage: Amid the appalling devastation and bodies of dead soldiers, a crucifix stands tall - miraculously preserved from the shell fire. The powerful image was captured after a bloody skirmish in 1917 - and Walter's son Volkmar says: 'This photograph is like an accusation - an accusation against war'
Returning home in 1918, Walter set up a photography shop in the town of Tubingen, where he worked until his death in 1945. Walter’s son Volkmar discovered the pictures three years ago.
They are now the focus of a new BBC documentary. Director Nick Maddocks said: ‘It is rare to find such good-quality, honest and often beautiful photos that show us war through the eyes of the soldier, particularly from one so young.’
Final moments: Walter was just 16 when he fought at the Somme but his photos soon took on dark tone. Here he captures a German army medic kneeling beside a dying colleague - but he can do no more than offer comfort
Young life: Walter Kleinfeldt, pictured carrying ammunition in a Somme trench, joined a German gun crew in 1915 and fought at the Somme aged just 16, taking pictures of life on the frontline with his Contessa camera
Calm before the storm: A 16year old Walter Kleinfeldt photographed in the German city of Ulm in 1915. Just a few weeks later, he was on the Somme.
Constantly under threat: Gas attacks were a frequent menace in the Somme during the war so this group wear masks as they load shells into their gun in 1916
Two worlds: A studio portrait of 16 year-old Walter Kleinfeldt, above, taken shortly after he volunteered in 1915, and the teenager, below, on the Somme in 1916
First day of horror: This photograph of members of Walter's gun crew was taken on the 1st of July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme
Happy moment: Kleinfeldt photographed his comrades washing in a river while away from the front