Historians finally trace the mystery man in this iconic war photograph

Ever since this black-and-white photograph of a smiling Tommy preparing confidently for battle was taken, it has inspired thousands of people.

The iconic image was taken on August 22, 1914, the day before the Battle of Mons , the first engagement between British and German soldiers of the First World War.

All that was known about the soldier in question was that he was a Private Carter.

Officials in the Belgian city gave it pride of place in the local tourist information office, and it was used on the cover of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission leaflet.

But no one knew if he had survived the fierce fighting, and the years of trench warfare that followed.

Now – more than a century later – historians in the Belgian city have identified the man in the picture as Arthur Frederick Carter, a member of D Company, 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

He was 20 at the time.

They discovered that not only did he survive the whole four years of the war – a rare feat – he also served as an anti-aircraft gunner in north London in the Second World War between 1939 and 1945.

Last week Private Carter’s descendants were invited to Mons as locals paid tribute, on the anniversary of the date the photograph was taken.

They included two grandsons, several great-grandchildren and a great-great-granddaughter. Until recently, all were unaware of their ancestor’s importance in Mons.

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Belgian historian Marie Cappart spent months combing through birth and marriage records to track them down after locating Private Carter’s service records.

She and colleagues were also able to locate the soldier’s grave in Barkingside, Essex, where they left flowers as a gesture of thanks from the people of Mons.

During last week’s visit his descendants were also given a tour of the key battle sites around the city.

Mons is unique in history as the place where the first and last shots of the First World War were fired.

Great-grandson Simon Tipper, 47, of north London, said: “It was quite surreal to come here and see where he would have fought. I have been very impressed with the work they have done to trace his record and finding his family.

“By focusing on this one soldier they are showing thanks towards all of the British soldiers who were here. At the end of the day, Private Carter was just one man who happened to have his picture taken the day before the battle.

“It has been really worthwhile coming here. We realised what they all went through. It’s amazing to think that if he had made one wrong move none of us would be here today.”

Private Carter’s great-granddaughter Sara, 40, said: “It’s been a very moving experience. There were four generations here in Mons, and they put in such effort for us.”

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