About the Aerial Photograph Collection

WWI Trench Maps & Aerial Photographs

Aerial Photograph Collection Provenance

Beginning in the early 1970s, McMaster University Library made several large purchases of books and related material from British booksellers like Bertram Rota. Amongst the items purchased were several hundred World War I maps and aerial photographs. Over the following decades donations, both small and large, were added to this original core of a collection resulting in a total of approximately 460 maps and 580 photos by the time this website was first launched in 2003.

Aerial Photograph Collection Content


Almost all of the aerial photographs were produced by the [British] Royal Flying Corps (renamed Royal Air Force when it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1918). However, a few French and German examples exist within the collection.

Temporal Coverage:

The bulk of the collection is from the latter part of the war in the years 1917 and 1918 when the technology of aerial photography had improved dramatically.

Geographic Coverage:

Coverage is scattered over much of the British sector in northeastern France and Belgium but there is a higher concentration of photography in areas around Ypres, Meteren, Messines, Lille and  Wytschaete with some coverage around areas such as Albert, Cambrai, the Hindenburg line, Canal du Nord and Cuinchy brick stacks.


The vast majority of photographs were taken from a vertical perspective with only about 90 taken at oblique angles.

Unique Details:

Approximately 350 photographs in the collection have hand annotations ranging from simple circles indicating the location of important features on the recto to full, textual descriptions on the verso.

Approximately 90 additional photographs are mounted in an Album acquired from the University of Alberta.