They are rare images of life in the trenches, captured on an officer’s camera smuggled to the Western Front as Europe tore itself apart at war.

But rather than grim images of trench horrors, they show smiling officers with bushy moustaches giving a cheery ‘thumbs up’, playing tug-o’-war with a rival regiment and racing their horses across an open field. One focuses on a friendly local woman, arms sunk into a soap-filled tub, washing soldiers’ clothes, another is of an officer, arms cradling a basket of apples plucked from an orchard.

The images, among almost 200 pristine photographs packed into two albums which reveal sometimes surprising scenes of trench life, emerged in Edinburgh yesterday following a call from the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation for people to clear cupboards, drawers and attics in search of First World War memorabilia.

The hope had been to uncover hidden collections, including letters, medals and war souvenirs which could be scanned and added to a lasting national digital archive to mark the centenary of the end of WW1.

However, the albums of dozens of sepia images, captured by 2nd Lt Alexander Sloman of the Manchester Regiment, are thought to be of such national interest, that they could eventually become part of Scotland’s war collections.

The photographs were taken around 1915 at a number of locations including the trenches of the Somme and Ypres. They include scenes of war-battered officers away from the field of battle, relaxing, cooking food, washing and enjoying games together.

Robbie Mitchell of the National Library of Scotland, said: “They are a very special collection.

“They provide a real insight into what life was for these officers at the time. There are pictures that show them racing horses and relaxing, which are not the typical kind of images we think of when we imagine the First World War.

“They could easily be added to a national special collection.”

He added: "Cameras were not allowed on the frontline, so he must have smuggled it in his jacket or bag. It was probably some kind of box Brownie camera which he fitted in a jacket pocket. It would have been against the rules, but the result is a fascinating record of daily life that we might not otherwise have seen."

The albums were brought to the National Library of Scotland yesterday by Lt Sloman’s grand-daughter, Carol Sloman, of Barnton in Edinburgh, who had stored the albums, untouched for years, in a drawer.

“The family knew they were interesting, but we didn’t think they were so unusual,” she said. “They do show a side to the war that we don’t often think about.”

Sisters Mairi and Fiona Matheson, of Marchmont in Edinburgh, arrived with two Black Magic chocolate boxes stuffed with souvenirs from their father’s time serving in both the First and Second World Wars.

Inside one was a particular rarity – a fibreboard dog tag tied to a length of leather which their father, 2nd Lt Dugald Welsh McLeod Matheson, once wore around his neck.

Because of their relatively fragile nature, few of the fibreboard identity tags survived the war.

Their chocolate box collection of medals, notes and even a full size Blue Ensign flag, included a poignant metal identity bracelet which Lt Matheson, who served with the 3rd Border Regiment, had specially made – possibly to ensure he could be identified if the fibreboard tag was lost or destroyed.

The items were added to the digital collection, along with a battered ‘soldiers’ small book’, containing the service record of Martin Quinn, who served with the Irish Garrison, Royal Artillery, which was brought to the event by his grandson, George Quinn.

His collection included a framed photograph of his grandfather alongside his certificate of discharge and Great War postcard embroidered with the French and American flags and the deceptively cheery words “Souvenir from France”.

“It is important to keep these things, they remind us that these were real people," said Mr Quinn.

"My grandfather was shot, and while he was in hospital he asked the medics to save him the bullet - I've still got it at home. They did things like that back then, they were young and crazy."

The ‘Lest We Forget’ Edinburgh Digital Roadshow event, in partnership with Oxford University, is the first of four roadshows to be staged across the country.

The aim is to preserve Scottish memories of the Great War, by digitising the items and then making the stories attached to them available to the public through a large, free-to-use online database.

It will be launched in November to complement projects and events nationwide commemorating the centenary of the end of the war.

Previous similar events in England have thrown up unusual items, including an officer’s glove shrunken to almost mini size by poison gas, and an original Commonwealth War Graves Commission wooden cross, one of more than one million made but of which just only a handful survived.

The CWGC’s Archive Assistant, Michael Greet said: “Archives provide a vital link with the past and today’s event has revealed some extraordinary items that people hold in their private collections.”

Lest We Forget’s project director, Dr Stuart Lee, added: “As we are now approaching 100 years since the Armistice, the stories and objects of the First World War are in real danger of being lost.

“The incredible items collected today have now been saved for the future. These stories can tell us amazing new things, not only about the experiences of soldiers and nurses on the battlefront, but also about the daily lives of those at home, including factory workers, younger siblings, mothers, wives, and children.”