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For other persons named Ernest Brooks, see Ernest Brooks
Wounded soldiers heading to the rear during the Battle of the Somme, 1916; one of Brooks' most famous pictures

Ernest Brooks (23 February 1878 – ?) was a British photographer, best known for his pictures from the First World War, several of which have become iconic.



Born on 23 February 1878,[1] he grew up near Windsor, Berkshire and later claimed that one of his first jobs was to look after a mule given to Queen Victoria by Lord Kitchener.[2] He worked as a professional photographer for the Daily Mirror,[3] and for the Royal Family.[1] In 1914, he described himself as the Official Photographer to the King and Queen, with an address on Buckingham Palace Road in central London.[4]

After the outbreak of the First World War he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, enlisting on 25 January 1915.[1] When the Gallipoli landings were being prepared, Winston Churchill, who had himself been a war correspondent, arranged for there to be journalists and photographers accompanying the expeditionary force. Brooks, as a professional photographer already in uniform, was appointed as the Admiralty official photographer.[5] In March 1916, he was transferred from the Admiralty to the War Office, given the honorary rank of second lieutenant and appointed the official photographer for the Western Front.[6] In 1917 he was appointed a Chevalier of the Belgian Order of the Crown.[7] In 1918, he covered the Italian campaign and naval activity.[8] The same year, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.[9]

After joining the military, he is described simply as a "photographer", no longer with a royal connection.[10] However, he later returned to royal service, accompanying the Prince of Wales on his tour of Australia in 1920 as the official photographer, and by the following year had also been appointed official photographer to the King and Queen.[11] However, his appointment was cancelled in 1925, for undisclosed reasons.[12] His appointment as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and his British Empire Medal (BEM) were also "cancelled and annulled".[13]

Photographic work

Five soldiers silhouetted against the sky. Rays of sun burst through dark clouds to create a dramatic and atmospheric shot. They are all wearing steel helmets, and three of them are clearly carrying rifles and backpacks.
Image taken by Brooks during the Battle of Broodseinde

Much of his wartime work, though technically proficient and consistent,[14] was rather conventional, often involving posed photographs rather than more candid impromptu shots of his subjects.[15] His work was noted as being characterised by a "conscious seeking after a publishable photograph",[16] and it was recorded that he occasionally persuaded soldiers to pose for staged pictures of routine activity in the trenches.[17] However, he was insistent that combat photographs were never faked – "we have strict instructions not to do – we have never done it".[18] He had a fondness for a dramatic use of silhouette, with images composed to show soldiers walking along a ridge against the light. These images, where individual men were not easily recognisable, often were used to illustrate the "anonymous heroes" of the war.[19]

Brooks was the first and the longest-serving of the British war photographers, and took more than 4,400 images.[20] This was the most of any individual photographer, and represented more than 10% of all the official photographs.[21] A large collection of his photographs is now held by the Imperial War Museum, and a second collection is held by the National Library of Scotland as part of Earl Haig's papers; both have been digitised. One of his photographs, a formal royal portrait, is held by the National Portrait Gallery.[22]


  1. ^ a b c "Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve: Records of Service, WW1—Image details—Brooks, Ernest". DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 7 August 2009.  
  2. ^ Article in the Strand magazine, quoted in The Argus, 1 October 1921. Online copy
  3. ^ Carmichael, p. 36
  4. ^ London telephone directory for January 1914, p. 131; 1915, p. 101
  5. ^ Carmichael, p. 36
  6. ^ Carmichael, p. 48
  7. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30302, p. 9862, 21 September 1917.
  8. ^ Bourne, p. 40; Carmichael, p. 66
  9. ^ London Gazette: no. 30568, p. 3095, 8 March 1918.
  10. ^ London telephone directory for October 1916, p. 110; 1919, p. 140
  11. ^ The Times, 1 September 1921, p. 5
  12. ^ The Times, 6 May, 1925; p. 19
  13. ^ London Gazette: no. 33044, p. 3025, 5 May 1925.
  14. ^ Carmichael, p. 39
  15. ^ Carmichael, pp. 61-63
  16. ^ Carmichael, p. 39
  17. ^ Carmichael, p. 52
  18. ^ Fraser
  19. ^ Carmichael, p. 63
  20. ^ Bourne, p.40
  21. ^ Carmichael, p. 142
  22. ^ A photograph of Prince Arthur of Connaught and Princess Alexandra, taken at their wedding in 1913; see digital copy.


  • Bourne, J.M. (2001). Who's who in World War One. Routledge. ISBN 0415141796.  
  • Carmichael, Jane (1989). First World War photographers. Routledge. ISBN 0415010098.  

External links



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