ITEM: original photograph, 8x6 inches, printed 1918. Good condition. SOLD
Verticals and Anticipation after Four Grueling Years
In developing a history of vertical lines I thought that I would look at single image of a collection of 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.