"Active Service in the First World War" photo collection 1914-1918

During the First World War, the Swiss army drafted in photographers to perform their active service in the geographical and archive section of the army staff. Their remit was to compile a photographic record of the service. The result is over 5,100 photographs that have now been digitised and made accessible on Wikimedia Commons.

Focus of the collection

The historical photographs offer an insight into numerous aspects of active service and the Swiss army from 1914 to 1918, but they also include contemporary views of places, historical personalities and landscapes. Many of them depict activities during the active service period: the construction of military installations and trenches, combat exercises involving various army units, and military equipment such as weapons, motor vehicles and aircraft.

Digitised glass plate negatives

The originals consist of glass plate negatives which are archived in the thematically indexed fonds "Landesverteidigung 1848-1950" ("National Defence 1848-1950", E27). A few years ago, the Federal Archives digitised this collection, creating high-resolution digital images from the negatives as well as an initial edited preview.

Brieftauben werden freigelassen (WW1 Kollektion, Wikimedia)

Accessing and using the photo collection

The photo collection can be searched at www.swiss-archives.ch (filter for "Images available online" in the further search options). Please note that the preview images displayed are very small files that are not suitable for reproduction.

In 2013, Micha L. Rieser joined the SFA as Wikipedian in Residence thanks to a collaboration between the SFA and Wikimedia CH. One result of this is the publication of these photographs - both the "original" negative and the edited preview - have been made freely available on Wikimedia Commons, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014. 

The SFA have also made the previews of the photo collection and their metadata accessible via the opendata.swiss portal. The four dossiers can be downloaded as ZIP files, each also containing the metadata with a link to the corresponding high-resolution original scan of each photograph at Wikimedia Commons.

Further information


Swiss Federal Archives

Archivstrasse 24
3003 Bern

+41 58 462 89 89


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Tu-Th, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Swiss Federal Archives

Archivstrasse 24
3003 Bern

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Print contact