'Fake' WW1 photo contains kernel of truth

30 April 2021
What was claimed

An image shows a battalion of the Cameron Highlanders in 1914, prior to being despatched to the front line, the next image is the same battalion upon their return in 1918 after the armistice.

Our verdict

The 1914 image is real, but the 1918 image appears to have been constructed to reflect the casualties suffered by the battalion in the first months of the war.

An image shared on social media claims to show a photo of a battalion of the Cameron Highlanders in 1914, prior to being deployed in the First World War, and a photo of the battalion after returning in 1918, much depleted.

This isn't the first time the image has gone viral on social media:

The 1918 photo appears not to be real but to have been constructed from the first image to reflect the real casualties suffered by one of the battalions. 

A copy of the original 1914 photograph appears to have been displayed in Kildonan Museum on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides as recently as 2015. 

The caption reads:

“This photograph of 27 officers and 1,000 men of the 1st Battalion 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders was taken at Edinburgh Castle prior to their departure for France on 12 August 1914. They landed in France on 14 August.

“The 1st Camerons sustained heavy losses in the early months of the war with the result that by Christmas 1914, all but one officer and 27 men were killed or wounded of the 27 officers and 1,000 men whose tartans had swung down the Lawnmarket from Edinburgh Castle on 12 August.”

It appears that this was the inspiration for the “1918 photo” which shows 28 men in total, presumably the one officer and 27 men mentioned in the caption at Kildonan Museum.

The reconstruction appears to also be displayed in the museum (you can see the bottom of it at the top of this photo). 

It would be incorrect to suggest that all but 28 men from this battalion died, as not all of those casualties suffered in 1914 may have been fatal. We also don’t know the fate of soldiers in the battalion after Christmas 1914. 

There are some clues which indicate that the “1918” photo is probably not real. For one, the shadows are inconsistent. While the “officer” at the front of the image has a shadow which stretches to the right of the image, none of the other soldiers have such prominent shadows.

Also the trees on the right of the image look remarkably similar. Over a period of four years, you would expect the leaves to have changed between the 1914 photo and the “1918 photo”.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because while the 1914 image is real, the 1918 image is probably a reconstruction showing an impression of the casualties suffered by the battalion in its initial engagements during the First World War.

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