Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Forgotten stories: forgotten images

Men of the Great War typically had their images captured by camera. The fashion had taken root much earlier, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, but during the First World War the number of photographic studios operating at home and abroad must have been phenomenal. When first in uniform, soldiers, sailors and airmen rushed to have their pictures taken, their purpose perhaps to put on record their willingness to serve, pride in their service. Multiple copies were made for distribution. There is a distinct difference between those images taken at home, and those from overseas. While clean cut faces and spotless (though not always fitting) uniforms – often with swagger sticks – scream 'home'; images taken closer to the frontline show men with respirator cases, battered caps, and mud on their boots. These men also generally have confidence written across their faces. They are no longer apprehensive.  Many bear the scars of war, with wounding stripes proudly worn on the left forearm of their uniform. But there is another story. Avidly collected by Great War enthusiasts, these images are found in any collection of postcards. But few are named. Where have they come from? What happened to these men? We might never know. But if we do know - we should feel duty bound to lightly pencil in their names - so that future generations might remember.

George Sydney Daniel (also known as Sydney George Daniel) of Sheffield pictured next to an unknown sailor in a studio somewhere in Britain, c.1918. Who was the sailor, and why he and my grandfather got their photograph taken together, we might never know. It is so important to record all details.

Peter Doyle's book British Postcards of the First World War (Shire) is available here.

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