I have been researching and making photographs in response to the letters and photographs of Robert Perceval-Maxwell a Colonel in the 36th Ulster Division in WW1.

His letters from the trenches refer, not primarily to the conflict, but to the administration and daily practical tasks concerning the farm estate in County Down, even though they are obviously written under the most harrowing and traumatic conditions of the British Expeditionary Force in France’s Western Front. One can begin to perceive parallels between life as an officer in the British army and life as a landowner and estate manager in Ireland.

The photographic images in this research have been made as an inquiry into Maxwell’s geographical and mental displacement. I chose not to show the obvious relics and artifacts of the conflict but wanted to make photographs which echoed the simplicity and almost lyrical quality of the narratives revealed in the letters and diaries.

The earliest work was made in the Finnebrogue estate in Ireland over a period of almost one year and in early 2012 I made photographs in Northern France. As the land has healed and obscured the scars of conflict Thiepval Wood has now grown to become very similar to the forests of the Finnebrogue estate and the rolling landscape is not unlike parts of Co. Down. The images of both Ireland and France are purposely untitled so that the visual clues become ambiguous.

I want my photographs to occupy a space, between documentation and narrative, and between overt expression and that which is left unsaid.

The photographs in this work were made in the Somme and Thiepval areas of France and on the Finnebrogue Estate and the surrounding location in Ireland. The texts are from Perceval-Maxwell’s letters, the Finnebrogue Estate Manager’s journal, War Diaries of 13th RIR and a personal account by Rifleman Willie McIlroy from Annesborough.





My darling
Just a line to keep you informed. Well everything is very quiet and no news worth or possible to mention. I hope you are getting on well with the farm and garden. So glad to hear the trees are planted and that the greenhouses are coming on.

Letter to Edith from R.D. Perceval-Maxwell


The men had hot tea for breakfast and a rum ration before they got out to the attack at about 6.30am. They paraded and filed up to the three gaps in our parapet.

Colonel Savage, Commander – 13th Royal Irish Rifles Saturday July 1st July 1916 – Thiepval Wood


You are quite right to send away the bullock he should be pretty fat now and fetch a fair price. I am glad you got two nice calves but I suspect you had to pay for them. I am glad that the hens are doing their duty at last and that you are selling plenty of butter.

Letter to Edith from R.D. Perceval-Maxwell


I stood on the parapet between the two centre exits to wish them luck.They got going without delay; no fuss, no shouting, no running, everything solid and thorough, just like the men themselves, here and there a boy waved his hand to me as I shouted good luck to them.And all had a cheery face.

General Ricardo, Commander – 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Saturday July 1st July 1916 – Thiepval Wood


Very Wet Day.
Carting manure from StockYard to Fort Hill. Turned out so very wet – Had to stop. All hands went to other jobs of work in the Farm Yard
1 Fagot man, 1 man in Dairy Byre.
1 sheep 48lbs – less Head. 13lbs mutton

Manager’s Journal
Saturday July 1st July 1916 – Finnebrogue Estate, Ireland


The night was quiet except fairly heavy shelling. Men kept coming in, wounded men and others so tired, that they lay down, just where they were.

Colonel Savage, Commander 13th Royal Irish Rifles Saturday July 1st July 1916 – Thiepval Wood






If you can’t put the whole of Ringmore in spuds put the balance in turnips.They don’t go in till May or June so you can put in all the spuds you can and then put roots in the remainder. I expect you will find most of the Arran Chief potatoes have two sprouts and if they have you must cut them when it comes to seedtime.

Letter to Edith from R.D. Perceval-Maxwell






My darling
I got two lovely letters from you yesterday – all your letters are delightful and I love you consulting me about things you must not think that it bothers me a bit it only makes me feel that we are nearer together and writing every day just as one talks makes things much nicer.

Letter to Edith from R.D. Perceval-Maxwell






I am holding the end of a communication trench in ‘A’ line with a few bombers and a Lewis gun. We cannot hold much longer. We are being messed on all sides and ammunition almost finished.

Captain Davidson – 108th Brigade Machine Gun Company Saturday July 1st July 1916 Schwaben Redoubt


Today is a nice day and it was fine enough to have church out of doors this morning.We have nothing on this afternoon so I am going to take a ride through some woods here with the C.O. It does him good to get out and I have never been through the woods. It should be a nice ride.

Letter to Edith from R.D. Perceval-Maxwell


He put his head up once too often, you see, they were shooting over his head a sort of decoy but he put his head up once too often and he just got a bullet right there. Dead as a door nail.

Rifleman William McIlroy – ‘C’ Company, 13th Royal Irish Rifles Saturday July 1st July 1916 – Schwaben Redoubt


Directly the start was made the German machine guns could be heard firing at once.
From this time I received no messages and the Companies were lost

Colonel Savage Commander – 13th Royal Irish Rifles Saturday July 1st July 1916


I do remember our old Colonel, Colonel Savage was standing at this corner wishing us all luck and he was crying.

Rifleman William McIlroy – ‘C’ Company, 13th Royal Irish Rifles


Fine Day.
1 man mowing – All hands at hay on Bean Hill and the Bog.
1 Fagot man, 1 man in Dairy Byre.
No sheep killed this week.

Manager’s Journal Finnebrogue Estate, Ireland












Colonel Bob’s Photographs and Letters:



Robert David Perceval-Maxwell after WW1



Letter to Edith, 10 June 1916



Gordon Castle, Thiepval Wood, France 1916



RD Perceval-Maxwell and officers



Martinsart Wood, France 1916



Martinsart Wood, France 1916