IN THE 13TH century, if you wanted to kill a man your best bet was using a battle axe. By the 16th century, swords and daggers had given way to muskets. During World War I, hand grenades were a standard part of every British soldier’s inventory. And today? Soldiers carry iPads alongside their rifles.
Photographer Thom Atkinson documents the battle kits of British soldiers over the course of 1,000 years. “The fact that certain objects recur is more fascinating than the ones that evolve,” he says, alluding to the point that there’s a spoon in every picture and a helmet in most. Also interesting is looking at the sheer loads of stuff soldiers had to bring with them.
Looking at Atkinson’s photos is like watching history fast forward and rewind. The objects tell the narrative of war and how it combat changed over the centuries, but also highlight just how big a role design has played in warfare. As we’ve developed new ways of killing, we’ve had to develop new ways of armoring the men and women we send forth to fight.
This collection is from the Battle of Hastings in 1066. You notice how few objects soldiers had compared to now–that’s because of weight.
Here are the basics for a mounted knight during the siege of Jerusalem in 1244. Among them, a shield, crescent axe and glaive, a broken sword that was welded to a piece of wood–it was considered a new form of weaponry at the time.
Pictured here are the items a solider from Battle of Agincourt in 1415 would carry. You’ll notice that there’s a helmet and a spoon in nearly all of the photos
A man at arms in the Battle of Bosworth (1485) would use a poleax, an axe-like weapon that’s mounted to a pole. The goal was to break through the barrier of armor used in medieval battle. There are also more standard goods like daggers.
This kit is from 1588, is the first in the series with a gun. Along with it comes the accessories: lead balls, a ramrod and a fire-lighting kit. Oh, and there’s also some playing cards in there.
Atkinson says the bold colours are meant to prevent soldiers from shooting one of their own. Note the decreased size of the blades.
The kit for the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 included a fife, a flute-like instrument that was played at the head of the company. It was used alongside drums to stave off boredom but also for calls for many parts of a soldier’s day. The kit also includes a pocket watch, wool socks and a brass compass.
During the 1854 Battle of Alma, a soldier in the rifle brigade would carry little weaponry other than said rifle. There’s also a pipe, a candle and some matches
AS weapons became more accurate, the need for camouflage increased. Note the earth tones from the 1916 Battle of the Somme.
A lance corporal in the parachute brigade (WWII) would carry grenades, and anti-gas masks. For food they’d have a ration kit consisting of a tin of corn beef, boiled sweets and a big chunk of chocolate.
During the 1982 Falklands conflict, soldiers began carrying decontamination kits as well as black nuclear biological chemical (NBC) protective over boots to protect from chemicals. Soldiers also carried sand bags to fill with dirt for fortification and dog tags.