Friday, March 28, 2014

Off Topic--UK Trash Collection Driver Finds 5,000 WWI Photos In The Course Of His Life Time

A former dustman has amassed one of the Britain's best collections of First World War photographs after spending decades rescuing them from rubbish tips and bins. Bob Smethurst spent 36 years working as a refuse collector and began saving the remarkable pictures during the 1970s. He believes as soldiers from the conflict grew old and passed away a lot of their remarkable pictures and memorabilia was often thrown out especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Over three decades Mr Smethurst made it his mission to try and save anything he spotted which otherwise could have been lost forever. 
Mr Smethurst, from Sussex, now has more than 5,000 photographs capturing everything from the horror of the trenches to haunting images of young friends smiling together before battle. As well as being an amazing national record of the 1914-18 conflict, his collection could also be worth thousands as just one picture can sell for as much as £30 to collectors.
Mr Smethurst, who considers himself a custodian of the collection, said the value for him was in saving something so important which could otherwise have never been seen again. "I found the majority of the photographs on the 'dust' during the 70s and 80s when those who fought in World War I were probably passing away. "Probably the boys working today will find them from World War II.
"In the early days we used to carry the bins on our shoulders. Therefore, when we emptied the bins you used to see the paperwork coming out, and the photographs.

"You didn't find them all the time because the only time you were aware of some was when they started to be mashed up.

"We had relatives that died in both the First and Second World War and of course it means something to keep these memories alive.

"There is nothing like being able to pick up and examine an object or picture, see it with your own eyes, understand how it works and was used. If everything is thrown away future generations will not be able to have this joy or knowledge.

"I've got photographs from the trenches, photographs from Commonwealth Indian regiments and pictures from the Germans.

"The German soldiers used the pictures almost like postcards, they would write their unit and even where they were and when. The British side weren't allowed to do that.

"I have not given a great deal of thought about what will happen to my collection, but I do have children and grandchildren. Not to mention several collecting friends who keep dropping hints
"The trouble is, if it is donated to a museum most things will never be seen again, just stored and forgotten and no joy to anyone."

Mr Smethurst said his collection also included memorabilia such as medals, letters and even a handkerchief with a bullet hole in it had been found in the rubbish.

He said: "I have a long photograph like the kind that would have been in a frame hanging on a wall of a complete squadron of the Royal Flying Corps - it was just lying on the landfill.

"In another there's some soldiers posing with a massive naval gun - it turned out the picture was actually taken by a photographer from near my home.

"I actually found some letters that were just with some papers in a bin. They were designs for the memorial plaques for medals killed in the war.

"Having been to auctions and postcard sales these kind of photographs used to go for 20 to 50p in the old days. Now if you have something like a picture of a tank or something else it can go for £30 each."

Mr Smethurst said the treasure of his collection was a series of photographs of the London Scottish regiment, which fought a battle at Messines in 1914. No other photos of the regiment were previously known to exist. When he discovered his first letter, Mr Smethurst said: "I looked at it, I thought it was interesting - this was the first world war. "Once I've undone it, I found out the chap was killed in action. This was his last letter. I thought well hang on a minute, you can't throw that sort of stuff away."

 Complete Text With The Photos at The Telegraph March 24 2014

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