Albert Sutton’s Photograph Album
Albert Cecil Sutton, of Clontarf, Dublin, recently bequeathed his collection of militaria to the NMI, which included his personal photograph album recording his service in the Royal Air Force.
Albert Sutton was born in 1921 and had just left school as WWII broke out in Europe. He and his friends travelled to Belfast, without their parents’ knowledge, to enlist in the British Army (Ireland was technically neutral during WWII and did not participate in the war as a country, though an estimated 70,000 Irishmen and women served in armies fighting the Nazi regime).
He joined the Air Force as a Leading Aircraftsman, and trained to maintain aircraft. He served throughout the years of the war, though his album follows his journey in 1945, mapping the retreat of Nazi forces through Europe from Belgium to Denmark. It begins in Belgium in January 1945, after the defeat of the Nazi forces at the Battle of the Bulge. He continues through the Netherlands and the Lower Saxony region of Germany, and is finally posted to the Kastrup Airfield outside Copenhagen, Denmark, which had been a Luftwaffe Base until the surrender of German forces in Denmark on 5th May 1945.
The images depict daily life in the RAF, Sutton and his comrades working on various airplanes with views of airbases and temporary barracks, and activities on leave. They also depict life in European cities, scenic views of streets, some decimated by the war, some barely touched, with people continuing living life to try to regain some normality. The soldiers and airmen in the photographs also retain some humour, playing up for the camera as they pose at landmarks. Celebrations are captured in the photographs of Christmas parties and weddings as servicemen met the local populations.
There are also sudden glimpses into the horrors of war. One photograph taken in Belgium labelled ‘Collaborator’ shows a woman, shorn of her hair, under attack by the citizens. Battle scenes appear, barely visibly through the black smoke. Soldiers are buried in mass graves, while others are marched off as prisoners of war.
Most sobering of all is the page which shows views of the Nazi Concentration Camp at Bergen-Belsen in Lower Saxony. Sutton was one of the first of the Allied forces on site to liberate the camp on 15th April 1945, and witnessed the full horrors of the Holocaust there. He spent some time helping the survivors of the camp, which affected him for the rest of his life.
Sutton met his future wife Irene while posted in Copenhagen, and they spent the post-war years working in England before retiring home to Ireland. He spent his retirement years talking to school students about the Holocaust.
This album depicts not only this man’s wartime service and experience, but also cities returning to life after years of crisis, people enjoying life and love in their regained freedom, rebuilding lives and families, surviving atrocities and mourning the horrors of this conflict.
Read more about Albert Sutton's photograph album