The Great War: A Photographic Narrative by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts
The Great War: A Photographic Narrative by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts (Knopf, $114)
One of the first images that you see when you open the impressively massive illustrated tome “The Great War: A Photographic Narrative” is the blood stained military tunic that was worn by Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Habsburg dynasty of Austria-Hungary on June 28, 1914, when he was assassinated by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip during a visit to Sarajevo.
As you glance closely at the light blue tunic stained by the Archduke’s blood, it’s hard to believe that this piece of military dress garb sparked a war that began in August of 1914 as a clash of empires, and ended up four years later as “the war to end all wars”, in which over 70 million men were mobilized into military service, and 45 million of them ended up as casualties; nine million of them fatally.
However, the fighting in this war (which during the period was dubbed “The Great War”) wasn’t only confined to the muddy trenches of France and Belgium. The battle lines extended to the jungles of East Africa, to the deserts of the Middle East, to the snow-covered Italian Alps, to the North Sea, to the Dardanelles region of Turkey, to the skies over western Europe, this conflict became the first true world war (hence the name World War I or the First World War after 1939).
As the centennial anniversary of its outbreak happens next year, the First World War is still remembered for its enormous loss of life and the new, destructive methods and weapons that were used to wage this war, not to mention how the map of Europe, the Middle East and Africa were forever redrawn as a result of those bloody four years of war. As well, a more serious effort was employed to visually record every aspect of this war, thanks to more portable cameras that allowed the average soldier to take their own snapshots of life on the front, as well as armies appointing skilled professional photographers, and more press photographers being assigned to give a more authentic view of this first ever global conflict.
Which is why “The Great War: A Photographic Narrative” is a book that gives an important visual record to what went on between the Allies and the Central Powers between 1914 and 1918 that mere words just can’t do any justice to.
Compiled with the help of the Imperial War Museum in London, the book contains 380 photographs that were taken by the average soldier and official photographers to cover – year by year — every aspect of the Great War from every major front where it was fought. We see the jubilation of well dressed soldiers (including top hatted Belgian troops) marching to the front for what they hoped would be a six-month war in 1914; we see the development of aspects of the conflict that came to forever identify it nearly 100 years later, from trenches, to gas attacks, to air raids, to iron clad tanks; we see the life of a soldier in the trenches and behind the lines; we see life on the home front (where it wasn’t uncommon to see workers in munitions plants die from accidents thanks to less than ideal working conditions); and above all, we see the terrifying, destructive effects of the first truly mechanized war (which is harrowingly represented by an aerial photo of the village of Passchendaele, before and after the terrible battle that occurred there in June of 1917).
Whether it be the Red Baron or Lawrence of Arabia, Ypres or the Somme, Gallipoli or Aqaba, “The Great War: A Photographic Narrative” shows how the camera became a permanent, tangible witness to the real face of total war, and the accompanying horrors that made the First World War not a terrible beauty, but just plain terrible for everyone involved, so that future generations can never forget the cost of nations going to war against each other.
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at email@example.com.