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TO have been on the River Somme, in France, in the summer of 1916, and to be in uniform, and carrying a gun, was perhaps the worst place to be in the whole of World War I. More than one million soldiers were killed or wounded in that time, with millions more engaged. It was impossible.
This photograph tells part of the story. It was released September 27, 1918, by Underwood and Underwood, a news photo service agency that distributed sanctioned photographs of war action to newspapers and other periodicals.
The photograph was accompanied by a caption supplied by U & U (bottom) and tells the story of these captured German soldiers--dazed, starving, frightened, hungry, thirsty, and were part of a group of more than 100,000. They were offered water from a trough, and in spite of it all, they were so thirsty that they were desperate for whatever they could get.
For whatever reason, the entire trough was not filled with water--only limited sections were. The soldiers were holding their place in line with their hands on the empty trough, inching slowly forward. In my collection of these photographs it is rare to see faces in despair or pain like this, and these faces are definitely telling stories. (This is another example of the unusual display of emotion in WWI news service photographs.)
JF Ptak Science Books An earlier post (#1308) expanded
If I was in a time machine, stepping back through a wormhole and into another segment of another reality, one of the places I'd least want to step into would be a cramped, cold, wet, dirty and dangerous place. Like this American soldier, waiting for a German attack to begin so that he could launch a warning flare to the rest of the soldiers, hunkered down in a cold wet place in the front line along the Lorraine section in France, mid-way through 1918 and almost all-the-way-through WWI.
And even though this soldier looks far too clean, and his uniform far too spotless and pressed-ish, and his calf-skin gloves too calf-skinny, and his duffle too unmarred, and his helmet chinstrap too perfect for this man to actually have been fighting, the sensation of cold/bad/dangerous still gets through the whitewash.
There are of course much worse places to be, but I think if I limited my time travel to include what I would be on the other end--a U.S. soldier--one of the places at te top of te list would be a generic trench in the front line of a battle late in the fighting in WWI. Sitting there, watchful, waiting for the advance of thousands of German troops, charging over a ruined and sulfurous landscape, waiting for the ruination to begin as it churned its way through No Man's Land. Of course it could be worse--one could be going "over the top", charging across the Desolate Place towards a line of thousands of entrenched soldiers all of whom were trying to kill. you.
Or of course you could be in a blue coat marching in a straight line towards a series of long lines of men in red coats, everyone getting ready to get close enough to discharge an 69-calibre (or thereabouts) ball across an open plane of hundreds of feet into the ranks of the opponent. Or being in a Marine uniform in Tarawa, in the Gilberts, in November 1943. Or being in Butternut, crossing the Emmitsburg Road on the way up Cemetery Ridge on 3 July, or being in any uniform whatsoever at Antietam.
The places and times get worse I think once you allow yourself to be any other solider in any other uniform. A French soldier, for example, sitting in a similar spot in the same battle along a front line as our American Doughboy, above, would've been worse. A Belgian soldier virtually anywhere also would have fared worse, statistically, than just about anyone else in WWI. Being a newly-minted soldier wearing the uniform of the Soviet Socialist Republics in the Summer of 1941 would probably have been half-a-death-sentence. Of course the list goes on, and on.
Perhaps one of the worst inventions in the history of warfare was The Trench. Millions of men were wounded or met their ends while defending one, or attacking one, or being in-between two of them. Hundreds of thousands of troops spent months charging back and forth between opposing lines, the ground over which they fought made uninhabitable for almost any form of life. Cold, wet, bad.
Here's another original photograph made by the Western Newspaper Union Photo Service, as a "British Official Photograph" (with the "British" part penciled out and replaced by an unknown hand, "Italian"), The photo agency supplied a caption for the image (that was supposed to have been used by the newspaper or magazine that published the picture) as follows:
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the series on World War I
This wonderful, contemplative, lonely, sad, and ultimately draining photograph depicts a camouflaged road somewhere on the Western Front. That's rather a prosaic term for that atrocious line of battle that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland, where hundreds/thousands of miles of trenches were dug and filled and fought over, where millions of shells were shot and exploded, and millions of soldiers and civilians killed and wounded.
The "Western Front" really doesn't quite do as a descriptor.
But here we are, just the same. And so the image above, with the man on a bicycle on a well-used road--he's moving along under a long canopy of netting designed to obscure/hide the road from telescopic viewing or eyes-in-the-sky. When this photo was made for the Western Newspaper Union, mid-1918, the war was nearly over. But still there was the fighting, and the supply lines for the millions of troops, right to the bitter end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
And the full version:
The photograph itself is one from a collection of hundreds here from news photo service agencies, images made of the War from a pool of photographers who covered the action for American newspapers and magazines, and whose work was necessarily censored. The photographs would be selected/ordered by a news agency, and the caption of explanation would be provided by the news photo service (as seen above).
I don't often see graphical displays of quantitative data utilizing quite so many images of shells, even when the image is comparing ammunition production. This striking example is found in The Illustrated London News for July 15, 1917.
In this stereographic photograph of a group of 3,000 U.S. soldiers (prepared to fight in Europe in WWI, ca. 1917/1918), there is a smaller contingent in two rows, in front, consierably removed from the rest of the formation. This is difficult to see in the first image. However, with a more concentrated view and deeper scan, this is a little more evident, below:
This view still shows the first row of soldiers; that more-distant third row differentiation is much more defined here--the depth of the mass of the formation is starting to really come into focus. The next image shows the heads of the men in the second row, but mostly concentrates on that third row, and beyond:
The final view is just above the heads of the sldiers in the third rank, and more clearly shows the those men in the rear of the formation, including that final rank, which is a profile of men marching. This enlargement represents a section in the original photograph that measures less than 10x6mm--60 square millimeters of great density, complexity, insight, and beauty.
This single-sheet infographic sheet was published seven months after the end of the war, in June 1919, in the Illustrated London News. "Great Britain's High Place in the Allied Roll of Honor: the Testimony of Figures" is exactly that, a very significant, visual testimony. The images speak for themselves.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of Zoomology Series
In a moment of levity at the end of WWI, these sailors from America and the U.K. and France got together for a bit, and turned their little doggie mascot into a small attraction of sorts, entertaining themselves and the small curious crowd surrounding tthem. The photograph was made anonymously by the Western Newspaper Union and is stamped "British Official Photograph", and published on 10 October 1918.
Which is a delightful detail from this:
And this intriguing woman, who appears in the upper right corner:
This image shows one of the happy moments during the First World War--rather, a happy moment right before the end of the war, just a few days after the Armistice (11-11-1918, on the 11th minute of the 11th hour). The image shows the British army being welcomed into the city of Lille on October 17, 1918--the city had been occupied by the Germans right at the beginning of the war in the middle of October, 1914, and was severely punished for a deception perpetrated in its defense, with the German army burning down an entire section of the ancient city in revenge.
The picture was published on 15 November 1918, a few days after the end of the war. In the detail of this photo is revealed a small and unexpected kindness:
I recall, I think, that this was the largest photograph of war printed during World War I, looking to be something on the order of 8x16 feet or so. This photo of the photo was printed by Underwood & Underwood, and stamped "British Official Photograph", printed sometime in 1918. It seems that this is an actual battle scene, which was a very uncommon thing among war photographs for the Great War--more so for this group of photographs(News Photo Service) produced by pool photographers for equal distribution among subscribing newspapers and periodicals. Actual combat photos distributed by the News Photo Service agencies were not a high priority, unless they depicted routed or retreating or being-defeated Germans--it was not a popularly-disributed subject, mainly for propagandist purposes. (The original photo is available for purchase here.)
A bit of calm, or at least a bit of a place that could not be reached by shells or bullets, was found bellow ground in the cellars of Douaumont Fort, in Verdun. These images were made at the very end of 1916, and published in The Illustrated London News for 13 January 1917. These images show another side of that battle, of soldiers meeting for religious services and for medical attention in the cellars ("...the subterranean, vaulted, stone-built casements, deep underground beyond possibility of penetration by the heaviest bomb") of one of the barrier-forts surrounding Verdun, Douaumont.
The Care of the Dead, published by Eyre and Spottiswoode in London in 1916, is a quiet, spare pamphlet, on what was happening to the fallen British soldier in France and Belgium. It is a big topic--physically the little paper-wrapper work seems barely strong enough to support the implications and heaviness of its title--and I'm sure the issue would've been the most important questions in the minds of the families of the hundreds of thousands of dead British soldiers*--the pamphlet really does seem to be feather-light under the solidity of its title.
Reading though this work gave me an insight into the depth of what millions of war dead means--and an insight I think that I've never had before. The anonymous author writes about touring the battlefields of France in 1915 and 1916, driving in an automobile, "the eye of the traveler along the roads is struck by many low crosses sticking out o the ground--in the fields, in cottage gardens, in corners of farm yards and orchards, even on roadside strips of grass."
Where the ground has changed hands a good deal in the course of a war, you may see, within a few hundred yards of each other, the gabled and eaved cross of the Germans, with "Hier ruht in Gott" and a name painted in white on a dark ground, the beaded wire wreath of the French, with its "Requiescat" or "Mort pour la France: and the plain-lined cross of the English, white or brown or just the unpainted wood, "In loving memory" of officers or men..." Now I'm sure I read any number of accounts of the views of battlefields from commanders' line and soldiers' views and the like; but I don't think I've had the perspective of an officer driving around a no-longer-a-contested-battlefield in a car and being struck by the appearance of the little white crosses, well, everywhere. I have a very crisp imagined image in my head, now, with this 92-year-old war memory described from the driver's seat of a car.
Looking at these pictures, the first thought about what silent bells sound like is pathetic nothingness, and that apart from any secular importance or significance. But when the Russians pulled out of Poland they took the bells of the churches with them, keeping them from the advancing German army, keeping them so that the Germans didn't melt them down to use in munitions. The bells disappeared too from many Russian cities, pulled back deeper inside Mother Russia, far from the advancing army.
[Source, above and next three images, from the Illustrated London News, 4 October 1915.]
Between 1914 and 1918 when many of the nations of the world were at war, Poland as a nation did not exist, though its nationalities and spirit and idea certainly did; and though it didn't exist as a country on the map Poland was the home to numerous battles of the Eastern Front, fought on Polish soil. Having been partitioned by the Germans, Russians and Austro-Hungarians, and having Germany and Austria-Hungary pitted against the Russia during the war meant particular hardships and brutalities as the Central Powers and Axis fought for land and the heart of minds of the people who lived on it.
This ad, which appeared in the Illustrated London News for 2 October 1915, was a display of combined sympathy and support for the Polish people in a particularly bad year, when it was occupied by Germany and retreated through by the once-friendly-notion of Russia (the retreat costing the country a lot in the process).
The advertisement--a public service announcement--was about 10.5 inches by 5 inches, and appeared a number of times in the magazine during 1915 and 1916. The ads seemed to disappear after that, though the usually-accompaniment of "Holricks Malted Milk" ads pressed on, unabated.
A fascinating aspect in modern technology and warfare is the reliance upon pigeons and dogs--and their achievements--for war services. Evidently several hundred thousand pigeons were used to relay messages between divisional headquarters and battlefield positions and such during WWI, with something like 90% of the messages being delivered successfully--a remarkable achievement, since it was not uncommon for the pigeons to fly dozens of miles to perform their task. The services worked so well in fact that the American carrier pigeon service training facility for the army was not closed until 1957.
Dogs were used as guards and ambulance litter carriers, but it seems they were mostly used for communication purposes, taking messages back and forth through the masses and intricacies of trenches.
The image below comes from The Illustrated London News for 2 October 1915:
Osman, Lt. Col. A.H., Pigeons in the Great War: A Complete History of the Carrier Pigeon Service during the Great War, 1914 to 1918 (London, 1928) Read more at Suite101. [All images below are available for purchase from our blog bookstore, here.]
I've written a number of times on this blog about WWI images, many of which are in my own collection of News Service Photo Group images, like the one just below, which can be found here. Many of them are remarkable, astonishing even--especially those relating to soldiers whose war has ended, finding them as prisoners of war. At least they weren't dead, like the dozens of millions of other soldiers.
(Original photograph available at our blog bookstore here.)
I uncovered another of these images, tonight, long misplaced.
There were over 8 million soldiers taken prisoner during WWI, that in addition to the 21 million who were wounded and the 9.7 million killed: 38 million. Plus 6.8 million civilians who were killed: 45 million. And the numbers for civilians wounded are just, well, not reliable, as they were not really collected, or collectible. At the end of it all, there were probably between 50 to 75 million soldiers and civilians killed or wounded or taken captive during the war...not including civilians who were killed by the hardships or starvation caused by the conflict. Big, big numbers.
Some of these soldiers were taken in entire armies, surrenders of hundreds of thousands; and some came in pairs, or singles, as in the photo above. There are two captured Germans here, the two men in the middle, who are flanked by a British soldier and (I think) a Canadian officer, with two locals in the background. The short man front-and-center was paraded no doubt for his propaganda value--certainly not five feet tall, slender, with a tiny, not-average face. The Tommy is certainly enjoying the situation, while the officer maintains composure.
I'm sure the photo could've been made by any photographer for any army at any time.
The photograph was made in 1918, a few months before the end of the war, but there was still fighting to be done, and the value of showing the the British and Allied publics the "face" of a now-wilting enemy must have been considerable. There was considerable control and tightness over the sort of images allowed to be produced and published coming from the front line, photographs being made by a "pool" of news photographers the contents of which were closely evaluated by military censors before being allowed to circulate to newspapers and magazines.