The Yanks are coming, WW1 Weekend

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_van_nooij, May 13, 2012.

  1. The last weekend of April, our little WW1 re-enactment group was invited to the '14-'18 Weekend in Oost-Vleteren (Belgium).
    Normally this weekend would be held at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele in Zonnebeke, but because of renovations it was moved to another location.
    Vleteren was one of the last safe stop-over points before the troops of the Entente were fed into the front lines during the 3rd Battle for Ypres in the summer and fall of 1917. The scene of the most horrible fighting conditions of the whole war. The battle lasted 6 months and casualties on both sides combined rose to over 500.000. Photos from the battle of Passchendaele were not published until after the war for fear of public outcry. No wonder that town was nicknamed "Passiondale" by the troops: The valley if suffering
    The weekend was our first outing as an official WW1 American Expeditionary Force living history workgroup. With about 75 other re-enactors from all over the globe (as far away as New Zealand and the USA) set up displays around 'De Sceure' municipal building in Oost-Vleteren. There were Poilus, Frontschweinen, Tommies, Jocks, Doughboys and some civilians in period dress. The weather on Saturday mirrored that summer of 1917. We got caught in several down poors. But luckily on Sunday the weather was dry and in the afternoon the sun broke through the clouds.
    Besides all my WW1 kit I had brought two period cameras. A Kodak No.2 Box Brownie (Ilford FP4+ film) and an Autographic Vest Pocket Kodak (Efke 100 film).
    On Saturday between the rain storms our group did a little photoshoot.
    We depict a squad from the 121st Machine gun battalion of the 32nd "Red Arrows" Infantry Division. Fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918 they earned their French nickname "Les Terribles"
    The negatives were scanned at 2400 dpi as generic color film in Vuescan and desaturated in CS2. Levels were slightly corrected and contrast boosted a little bit before resizing and sharpening for the web.
    The light machine gunners, no.2s and security detail
    The Mle 1918 Chauchat (produced under license for the US Army) and M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle gunners.
    The Chauchat's modification to fire the American .30-06 cartridge worsened the weapon's already poor reliability under front line conditions. (Ours is a replica made of wood)
    The BAR was only used sparingly in the final month of the war for fear that it would fall into enemy hands.
    Taking a prisoner
    Pvt Ben, carrying an M1917 Enfield. The rifle is a re-chambered copy of the British P-14 design that was already in mass production in the US. It was adopted by the fast-growing US Army when it became clear production of the M1903 Springfield rifles would be insufficient to meet the demand.
    The photos from the VPK were rather under exposed and suffered some center sharpness issues (Camera shake?).
    Hot coffee was in constant demand
    A French nurse
    ANZAC and British soldiers.
    Despite the cold and wet we had a good time. I'm sure the evenings in the local pub had something to do with that too. It was good to see our Belgian friends again and we made a few new friends as well.
    To finish off the weekend; On the way back home we stopped at Flanders Field US Cemetery in Waregem, where my friend bugled 'The Last Post'
    Hopefully we'll be back at the MMP in Zonnebeke next year.
    Thanks for looking,
  2. I like your pictures in subdued light; it must be quite a job to get all that vintage gear and project the tableau. Congratulations to your team and self. sp.
  3. Thanks SP,
    WW1 Living History isn't such a big thing as WW2 re-enactment is (yet). So there aren't many manufacturers out there making reproduction uniforms and equipment. So both the original stuff and the reproductions can be quite expensive.
  4. I always enjoy your pictures of the re-enactments.
    WW1 must have been the ultimate act of stupidity of Western Civilization.
  5. Is that Flanders, or is it another WWI field?
  6. John, this is indeed a part of Flanders, the so called Westhoek. The area around Ypres was the only part of Belgium that did not fall into German hand during the Great War.
    Flanders itself is the North-Western half of Belgium, The Flemish speaking part.
    I agree Bill,
    The really sad part about the 3rd Battle of Ypres is all the ground gained in those 6 months was lost in a week when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive in 1918....At the cost of another half a million men.
    And here we are nearly a century on and the only thing we got better at is ways to kill each other.. :(
  7. Rick, if you visit the UK you may occasionally come across a village that calls itself one of the 'Thankful Villages'. There aren't many of them, maybe 40 or 50. These are the villages which lost no one in the 1914-1918 war. All the rest - thousands of towns and villages across the UK - lost huge numbers of men. WWI occurred at a time when politics, technology and social conditions conspired to produce a war that was the ultimate slug-fest. So in the UK it is not something we like to remember much. We have made national myths out WWII. The Battle of Britain, Dunkirk, the Spirit of the Blitz etc. We tend to want to forget WWI and only remember it in such things as the final scene from the last Blackadder series. Here is the stunning final scene from what was a very funny comedy series :
  8. There's a fine gritty authenticity to your images, Rick, very sombre in the dull light. It brings home the madness of it all. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
  9. Colin,
    It is the ending scenes from movies like The Trench and Passchendaele that really stick with me. Movies like Regeneration (or 'Behind the lines') or 'All the King's men' (1999) are also very good in showing what went on in the minds of these men or their families back home.
    The Great War follows another sort of remembrance like you said: everyone remembers the horror and stupidity of men walking into machine guns. But I have been to Tyne Cot, I have seen the tour busses with schoolchildren and students. Unlike WW2 there are no great victories to recall or glorify, the only thing left is to honor and remember the fallen.
  10. Very nice. I like the 'grittiness' of them. The chiaroscuro adds a feeling of realism to the pictures.
  11. Hi Rick,
    there was a series on Uk TV a couple of years back 'Finding the Fallen' which attempted to identify some of the many WWI human remains which are continually ploughed up or discovered on building sites in the western front area. I initially thought this might be a bit much as TV, but it turned out to be a really moving series which illustrated the lives and deaths of those who went through the trenches. If the remains could be identified they notified any descendants. Perhaps the most moving was the identification of the remains of a German Jew who fought in the same unit alongside the young Adolf Hitler. They identified him and traced his family but the family line stopped during WWII as they had all disappeared into concentration camps and none came out.
  12. Nice series, Rick. I always enjoy photos of your weekend jaunts. Thanks for posting.
  13. Thanks for all the comments guys.
    I've heard of the series but never saw it.
    So many remain missing and will probably never be found. It is said that wherever you go on the Verdun battlefield you will be within 5 yards of human remains.
    The Ossuary at Douaumont is another grim reminder of the follies of war.
  14. Counting up my great-uncles on both my mother's and father's side I reckon I might have had 5 or 6 forebears involved on the western front and Gallipoli. At least one did not come back. At least one was a conscientious objector who volunteered for the dangerous work of frontline stretcher bearer. Two of my great-uncles had emigrated to Australia in about the 1900's and then joined the ANZACs. Family legend says they survived Gallipoli though as their name was Smith it is now hard to tell. So your last photo maybe approximates to their experience.
  15. ANZAC units sent to France after Gallipoli came through Vignacourt, where many of them were photographed by Louis Thuillier and his wife. Last year some 3000 of their glass plate negatives were discovered:
    The Lost Diggers
    Some really beautiful portraits amongst them. But kind of chilling to think 2/3rds of them would be dead, wounded or captured within a year.
  16. My father, who then spelled his first name Karl, was in the US Navy in WWI, but never got off the Great Lakes. His uncle commanded a German commerce raider that operated in the South Pacific.
    I don't know for a fact that people with Germanic names were assigned somewhere to the East of the Atlantic, but I do know that my brother Max did get assigned to the Pacific in WWII. The 第442連隊戦闘団 and other Japanese American units, however, saw action only in the ETO, and not by chance.
  17. Most of these photos are so authentic looking I'd have assumed they were taken during WW I. The photos of the soldier getting coffee and the nurse seem very much of that period.
  18. My Father Born in 1876 was too old to be drafted.
    But like many other americans he enlisted as an
    Amulance driver. the organization was USSAAC's.
    I believe he was in the 76th division.
    He was mustard gassed and blinded. Later, In 1937 this developed into Lukemia and he passed away in august 1942 at age 56 of related complications. I was barely 6 years old and do not remember much.
    But I am told Veterans do not like talking much about their experiences.
    I wonder how different my life would have been if he had lived 20 more years
    My brother does not talk about his silver star.
  19. I have heard of Mustard Gas being used as chemotherapy against leukemia in the 1940s, with temporary results, but I was not aware it could cause leukemia as well, But I would imagine anything messing with your blood count cannot be good.
    With living history we meet many WW2 veterans and those from other conflicts. And I've often heard afterwards from their familie members that the veterans would tell us more then they ever told their families. I would imagine they would want to spare them the horrors they went through.
    The History Channel airs "The Last Voices from World War I" from time to time. It shows interviews with the last surviving service men and women in the UK from around 2000. At the end of every episode they showed the dates of when these interviewees passed away. Rather touching.
  20. Rick, I remember that 'Last Voices' series. A while ago now I got to know a UK World War I veteran who was a resident in an old peoples home I visited. On occasions such as Armistice Day he would wear his medals. I once remarked to him that I could not imagine the courage it took to get out of the trench and walk out across no-man's land. He replied that it wasn't that difficult as when you got out of the trench you had at least a chance of surviving the German bullets but if you stayed in it you had the certainty of being shot by your own officers.
  21. Rick, your photos are excellent and the attention to detail from the Re-Enactors is commendable. However, for just the same reasons that Colin Carron has described, the awful business of pointless deaths of so many young guys in the mud of Flanders during that So-Called 'Great War' (which was anything but) always sets my teeth on edge. What a truly, truly STUPID war it was, and so avoidable if a few wiser heads had only got around a table before the shooting started. But they didn't and so many lives were lost just for the sake of a bit of flag-waving.
    Colin has mentioned the last scene from the WW1 Blackadder series. There also a movie called 'Oh, What A Lovely War' which finishes with an especially poignant view of a dead soldier's family around his grave, where the camera slowly pans backwards and more and more graves come into view, until it seems neverending with thousands and thousands of them all around.
    The Imperial War Museum in London had a very effective 'sound and light' reconstruction of a typical trench scene, complete with the smell of smoke. A friend of mine made the succinct comment that the one thing it really needed to complete the sense of reality, was for visitors to have to tramp through wet mud while viewing it all.
    (Pete In Perth)
  22. duplicate post
  23. Following up on Pete's comments the Imperial War Museum in London regularly gets voted by visitors to London, the Most Unexpectedly Interesting venue or something like that. It is well worth a visit. It was set up really as a way of saying 'Never Again' after the 'War to End Wars'. Didn't work too well on that count but has some amazing stuff in it. My favourite bits are the paintings by British War Artists. Britain has this slightly quaint thing about sending War Artists (as well as photographers) to interpret any war we are involved in. Perhaps some of the most powerful art from WWI is by Paul Nash who worked as a War Artist in both WWI and WWII. Here is a link to some of his work showing the utter devastation of the Western Front :
    Below is a shot of a 1914-1918 war memorial for the tiny rural parish of Lacock , Wiltshire, UK. There are 30 names on the memorial and the current poipulation of Lacock is about 350. The population has not changed much for a long time as the whole village belongs to the National Trust so has not been developed. As Pete so rightly says - truly STUPID.
  24. The Tyne Cot photo is my favorite, simply because it imparts some of the gravity and meaningfullness of the subject.
    My maternal grandfather was an American soldier in the Great War. He was a cavalryman. Can you imagine riding a horse into battle against the entrenched machine guns? He did not get shot but he apparently did get gassed at one point. He never regained full health after the war, although he did father three kids, but he passed away from lung illness in 1935. My Mom has old photos of him astride his horse, getting ready to ship out for France. Thanks, Rick, for these photos, which help me to imagine what he may have seen and experienced while "over there".

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