A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
Earlier in this blog I wrote about an extraordinary WWI news service photograph from a collection here of German prisoners on display, ca. autumn, 1918. (There's a description along with tighter, detailed images of the individual faces of the prisoners here.) In the great wide world of serendipity, where everything is possible, and nothing seems to be in the place you'd expect it to be, I found another photograph of that same group of POWs.
The original photo--truly a fine and remarkable image:
And the newly-uncovered photograph, showing this group either approaching or leaving the side of the cinema where their group portrait was made:
And the detail:
And one of the details from the original post:
There's a lot of surrounding British soldiers and Irish Tommies, and commotion, and mud, and happy/confused/and something else in the faces of the victors as they paraded this end-of-the-war group of soldiers in the muck. In the original group portrait the soldiers are bookended by what I see as two extremes of soldiers in the war--the boy on the left, experienced with god-knows-what under his camouflaged and hardened baby fat:
and the guy on the right, who seems so much like a Durer-Death/apocalypse image itself, a thousnad-yard-stare man, a soldier of deep experience, and worn to the nub:
He seems to have the same expression in each picture:
Maybe he was just bone-tired, though he definitely gives the impression of you-can't-hurt-me, and perhaps underneath it all he was happy to have made it through the war alive, and hadn't become one of the 40 million casualties. In a few months, the war would be over, and perhaps most of the men in this picture got to go home.
In January, 1915, in the pre-Luistania/post beginning of WWI (by six months) days, Scientific American declared an interest in the state of the United States military and found it lacking. It posted this very strong statement to advertise a coming special issue investigating the status of the armed services.
Perhaps the most telling image in that special issue (of 5 February 1915) was an image of soldiers scaling a fortress wall--that's pretty much the polar opposite of what training should have been happening, what with trench warfare and all. There is also a photograph of practicing cavalry--and not a hint of a tank. There was little or no attention being paid to the developments in aerial/gas/tank/trench warfare, the armaments and munitions of war were ancient-esque, and the standing army numbered around 100,000 (plus 120k in National Guard), which was hardly anything at all compared to the fact the French Army on a single day (August 22, 1914) in the Alsace-Lorraine region lost 27,000 dead and 40,000 wounded, and that there were already 3 million dead/wounded in the European theater. There would be readiness factions and peace factions at work for the heart and mind of the U.S., but that wouldn't really start for another month or two. In the meantime, though, Scientific American took stock of the military situation, and found that the U.S. was militarily-prepared for almost nothing, so far as global war was concerned.
"I am the first woman to make a flight across London, in one of His Majesty's war machines; I am the first woman who has been presented by the War Office with a view of Hyde Park from an altitude of almost eight thousand feet."--Jane Anderson (1916)
I was somewhat surprised to see that this pamphlet was co-written by a woman—my experience with WWI pamphlets is that it is vastly dominated by male writers, and I would have expected it to stay so especially for this subject matter. Jane Anderson was an interesting writer with a free style, and I can tell that she had a good time with her experiences. She starts with this, and tells an unusual story in an easy way:
“Seven thousand feet above Hyde Park, an American Girl looked straight ahead and saw "the roof of the Sky" from England's finest Warplane.” An example of her writing on the sub:"When I looked at her lying with her exposed tubes shining in the sunlight and her bulkheads in strips of rusty iron, it seemed incredible that she had been under the coast guns of the enemy, that she could have made in her damaged condition a journey of three hundred miles, returning to a safe harbour with the information she had been sent to obtain. And, added to this, was the fact that she had made the voyage in a high sea, that for twenty hours, defenceless, she evaded the enemy patrols....” The pamphlet really is worth a read, and it is available here for free via the Internet Archive. The second part of this story is not so great--checking Ms. Anderson's biography
reveals an ugly twist and deep turn to the far and distant fascist/Nazi right. She was certainly an adventurer, and at some point she winds up marrying nobility in Spain and covers the Spanish Civil War--but she goes from journalism to propaganda and begins to write and broadcast for the Fascist government. Her good works there come to the attention of the Nazis, who pursue their interest in her. Anderson responds, and goes to work in service of Adolf Hitler. She writes propaganda, and then is given her own radio show. She seems to have been useful for a time, and then perhaps wasn't, but she stayed in Germany until the end of the war, arrested after flight finally in 1947 in Austria. She was charged with treason, but released for lack of evidence. She survived herself, went to Spain, and lived to be 84, dying in 1972.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1328 (from 2011, revised)
.003% That's what I reckon this column of soldiers would represent of the total casualties of WWI.
Generally images like this are a virtual image-host for me, a bucket of ice cold water thrown onto a sizzling summer sidewalk, all sorts of ideas steaming from it. But for photographs of Doughboys1 marching, especially assembling for parade, this one struck me a little more oddly than most, giving instant pause, making me concentrate on the haze, or dust, that allowed the columns of soldiers to blend into one another and fade, losing their boundaries with their mass receding into a dull blur.
The Western Newspaper Union was selling this image for insertion in newspaper or journal stories about the war, for a small use fee. There were a few American organizations like Western Newspaper that were created to photographically cover the war, using pools of photographers who would distribute their work anonymously and which was available for common, general use for a small charge. The photographs allowed out were certainly restricted and censored, though in my stash of these of objects (numbering about a thousand) I'd say that 10% of them look pretty edgy to my eyes. Most of the action of war was not covered, but then again this aspect was still fairly technically difficult in 1918. Images of pain were almost never allowed, and certainly not pain of Allied troops. Aid stations were almost never covered as well, as were dead bodies, or at least those again of Americans or Brits or French or Canadian. The imaging of the war was certainly under a fair amount of supervision and control. (The original is available for purchase through our blog bookstore. here.)
The image shows American troops assembling for a parade through the streets of London before being deployed. The mistiness of the composition looks like a statistic to me, these men standing for those who had come before and fallen.
The U.S. lost .13% of its population to casualties (125,000 killed and 205,000 wounded) during the war--a war which by the time America got here had already been visciously fought for three years, costing dozens of millions of lives. The figures for everyone else weren't nearly so "fortunate" as the U.S.: New Zealand's 18,000/41,312 killed/wounded amounted to 1.6% of its population. The U.K. lost 2.19% (964,000/1,663,000), Italy was 3.48% (650,000/953,000 plus 650,000 civilian casualties), while France suffered a 4.29% (1.4 million/4.27 mil) blow of its total population to war. Things were worse on the other side: Germany 3.82% (2 mil/2.4 mil plus 426,000 civilian deaths, and the Ottoman Empire 12% (400,000/771,000 plus 2.1 million civilian deaths. Worst of all was the Ally Serbia, suffering a catastrophic 16% loss of its population to war, including 275,000/725,000 plus 426,000 civilian casualties. As gruesome as the numbers were, the Americans felt only a small percentage of the total sting of war--by 11 November, more than 21 million soldiers would have been wounded, with 9.7 million soldiers and 6.8 million civilians killed. It was an enormous price.
And that's what I see in the mist of what may be something like 10,000 soldiers on display n this photograph. .003% That's two of these columns every day, twice a day, for the entire 1550 or so days of the war.
1. The origin of the term "Doughboy" is unclear, or varied, or rich, but it is at least pretty oldm beginning around the time of the Mexican American War in 1846-1848--evidently when the soldiers marched through dry, tough terrain they wound up being covered by earth with the color of dough. Doughboy.
The original of this photo is available on the blog's WWI Photography site; it is also available now as a 13x19 inch reproduction from a 1200 dpi scan.
This news photo service image--stamped "Hearst-Pathe News Agency" on the back--is frm the winter of 1917/1918 and shows a patriotic snow parade somewhere in the United States. The snow looks prodigious, judging from the piles in the foreground and also the accumulated snow on the windowsills, and I imagine that all of the snow floats were sculpted mainly out of exiting snow in the street. It is a delightful scene, to me, and hosts a variety of smaller, lovely images in vignette. For example:
The man in shadow and sleeping figure (boy) in the buggy complement the white-mustachioed bowler-wearing man to the left; the men looking on in the foreground are interesting, too--plus there's that laundry in the background. Given that the laundry is out (and wasn't just left out during the storm) and that no one seems to be particularly bundled up against cold, I'm going to guess that there was a break in the weather that pushed the temperature higher than normal, with almost everyone taking advantage of the warm snap, as people do everywhere, all the time. I also like the tiny American flag on the tall pole at left.
I'm not sure what this photo depicts specifically but in general it sends an image of exhaustion and wear. The caption for the image says that it shows "the condition of the Hun troops" and that the subject "Herr Professor" is learning "a good many things not hitheroto found in books". Maybe he was a teacher, maybe not. Machts nichts. His pants looks velour-like and his boots (if that's what his footware was) look very thin. He is ragged, his double-fold glasses look like they're at their limit, his face looks swollen behind his beard, and he just looks "done", in general.
[Original photograph available for purchase via the blog's WWI Photography site]
I'm not sure what he is doing, or where he is. He may be trying to figure out local currency to purchase whatever it is the vendor-woman has on the tray at her hip--she os holding out her hand, and looking at his. The soldier definitely has something there, and he looks basically too weary to comprehend it. the hand language is ambiguous to me. He may have received something already, some sort of food, and he is staring at it now, thinking perhaps how little of it there was. He's eating, and already has taken a bite of whatever bread-like thing is in his left hand. I'm not sure what attracted the attention of the boy in the center--perhaps it is simply the camera, and he wanted to be in the shot.
There's a shadow in the foreground-left of what looks like someone making a photograph of teh scene--probably not our photographer, but another, with a brownie or some such smaller camera.
At the end of years of fighting every general soldier deserves respect and, at least, some free food--I hope this guy got his.
And the accompanying text to the news photo service image, to be used if published:
Its a little difficult to think of Ellsworth Kelly, Jacques Villon, Grant Wood, Laslo Moholy-Nagy and Thomas Hart Benton as painters-for-war. But its true, and true for many of hundreds of other artists in the 1915-1918 era. Its not as though they were in the trenches gunning down the enemy or lobbing hand grenades into the swirling gunsmoke. They were camofleurs, camouflage1 experts, artists employed as magicians, Wartime Magi, employed/drafted to make ships and such disappear.
Ever since it was (sort of) first noticed in 1915 that designs odd to the environment, stark geometric patterns and such, were capable of fooling the eye, people with design capacity were pressed into service, rendering offensive and defensive instruments of war optically semi-impervious with variations of the then-five-year-old modern nonrepresentational art. That must've been a very odd position to wake up to every morning.
Of course the idea of camouflage in the animal world is probably 250 million years old--animals and insects have been blending into their environment for eons, and I'm sure too that early hominids did their fair share of walking behind brush. But the idea of hiding great amalgamations of very heavy metal with paint is really quite modern.
[The original photograph is available for purchase at the blog's bookstore, here.]
In this photograph the camouflage is more a more futuristic conception of art than the abstract and cubist approaches that were taken during the war, this looking more like assemblages of found material more than anything else. And, according to the text that accompanied the photograph (which comes from 1918, from the Underwood & Underwood news photo service agency), the camouflage--empty sandbags thrown on a barbed wire fence) successfully concealed a gunnery emplacement for months on end.
1. A fine bibliography on camouflage appears here, at Leonardo Online.
The definition of "camouflage" from the Oxford English Dictionary shows that it is a young word, in English:
"(n) The disguising of any objects used in war, such as camps, guns, ships, by means of paint, smoke-screens, shrubbery, etc., in such a way as to conceal it from the enemy; also, the disguise used in this way; freq. attrib.
1917 Daily Mail 25 May 4/4 The act of hiding anything from your enemy is termed ‘camouflage’.
1917 Daily Mail 16 July 5/3 The King paid a visit to what is called a camouflage factory.
1922 C. E. Montague Disenchantment viii. 108 A French aerodrome across which the French camouflage painters had simply painted a great white high-road.
This interesting and arresting images appears in Scientific American Supplement, October 23, 1915 (page 269). It is an excellent view of topside from 30' or so below. The article describes simple, compound, tele-objective, direct-reflected, panoramic, and periscopes with annular fields--sort of simple, but not really. In any event the panoramic periscope gave a view of a directed point-of-view as well as a slender (but versatile) 360o.
Here's another in a long line of images from my WWI news photo service photographs. So far as I can determine what we see here is a group of French soldiers engaged in redoubt or perhaps trenchwork construction. To the right we see a crudely-marked Red Cross, perahps for a not-front-line position. The photo is stamped "Committee on Public Information, Washington, Copyright 1917" and has a dated stamp for "Dec 21 1917". Fo rmore information on this series see the long threads on World War I and particularly World War I Photography (which is our sales site).
This is a detail from the following photograph made by the pool of photographers working for the Western Newspaper Union, and issued for public consumption (and passed by the censors) on October 14, 1918. It shows a goodwill mission of soldiers along with Mrs. Parker, the sister of Lord Kitchener, inspecting "comfort bags" for the troops at the front. Everyone here seems to be daintily inspecting the bags with fingertips, Mrs. Parker seeming to be the only one in conversation.
There is a portrait of her brother in the background--he had been dead for more than two years at that point, drowned along with 600 others when the ship he was aboard, the HMS Hampshire, struck a German mine. No doubt that anything the Red Cross could muster for the battlefield troops was absolutely appreciated.
At this point, the war was nearly over, with less than a month of fighting to play out.
Overall, these soldiers look to be in pretty good spirits, even if they were perhaps told to be so, they still looked fairly genuine. And who wouldn't be, at least to some degree, being survivors? They were a few of the millions of soldiers who were wounded in WWI, which means at least that they were among the millions of the dead.
The caption that accompanies these News Photo Service image (made by the Central News Photo Service and dated May 11, 1917, says that they were enjoying the donated headsets--Electrophones--and represented a few of the hundreds that received them. This device was basically a telephone receiver, and years after Bell and Edison dreamed of social integration and advancement and wide-ranging culture, of delivery literature and music to people flung near and far, these soldiers were enjoying the benefit of limited concerts and other entertainments via telephone lines.
[This lovely photograph is available at the blog's bookstore, here.]
Here's a very good quote ont he electrophone from the highly interesting The Cat's Meat Shop, written by Lee Jackson, author of Dirty Old London, the Victorian Campaign Against Filth. (It is an interesting topic--filth and its control--because you really can't have an Industrial Revolution without lots of workers living close to their jobs, which means that lots of people live close together, and you can't have that unless you somehow control for good sanitary conditions, which means you've got to take care of filth.)
The story of the (very) long-range bombardment of Paris from points unknown is filled with questions in this article that appeared in the Scientific American on April 6, 1918. The writer hadn't an idea of the type of gun being used, the weight of the shell (yet), and just about all other details. The author did wonder about the reasons for such a gun--that the idea of a long-range indescrimient bombing from a great distance just seemed to be beyond the wanting capacity of the countries fighting Germany.
The big gun was The Big Gun, later identified as the Paris Gun--a mysterious entity during the war, and after the war as well. It turns out that when the Germany army retreated beginning in August that they also destroyed the weapon and just about anything connected to it.
The gun was extremely powerful. At 256 tons it launched a 236-pound shell to a height never before achieved by humans launching/propelling stuff into the air--it left the barrel of the gun at about 1 mile/second, traveled 75 overland miles, reached a height of 26 miles...and then came down, exploding, killing.
One very effective way of explaining the incredible height that the shell reached was measuring the zenith of its trajectory in terms of mountains:
Which is a detail from:
And to give a more local understanding of the range of the gun:
No doubt this map gave a true flavor and sense of dread to American readers on exactly what it meant to have to deal with a cannon whose reach was 75+ miles.
In developing a history of vertical lines I thought that I would look at single vertical lines, but having just stumbled across this in our WWI News Photo Service archive, I just could not resist. There is of course plenty of vertical arrangement here--just orders of magnitude more than what I was setting out to find. So it goes.
(The image is available from our blog bookstore, here.) And the detail:
I find this a soaring image, in its own odd way--this is a celebration scene, after,all, a decoration exercise, a military display of French forces that liberated the town of Reims, all taking place in front of the battered cathedral. Notre-Dame de Reims was the place of the coronation of French kings, and was a spectacular 13th century structure built on top of other buildings stretching back the site's inhabitation to at least the 5th century.
But German artillery shelling caught the cathedral right at the beginning of the war and very nearly wrecked it. The building was badly damaged by fire, a fire caused by the Germans, which spread along the scaffolding on the building which fed the wooden supports and superstructures, the flames finding its way throughout the building. The fire was hot enough to melt the lead in the roof, which poured down as molten rain and out of the mouth-spouts of the building's gargoyles.
As I brought out the further figures against the base of the cathedral one can clearly see the enormous stands of sandbags, the piles stacked up twenty feet or so behind the makeshift wooden fence. IT was some sort of protection for the building, but not muc.
This was yet another battle for the city, this one taking place 1550 years or so after the first, the Alemanni defending against the Romans; and then 104 years after the next major encounter, this between Napoleon and a Russian/Prussian force. The liberating battle (the Battle of Reims, or the Second Battle of the Marne) took place 15 July 1918 to 6 August 1918, and it was a major failure for the German army, and spelled the collapse of the Spring Offensive, opening the door to the end of the war. There were more than 135,000 Allies killed or wounded in this campaign (including 95,000 french troops), plus another 130,000 German troops.
The process of victory in front of the wounded church seems exhausting and exhilarating, but not without a good sense of anticipation.