Week 15: “The Faces of World War I”

I have owned this book, by Max Arthur, for a long while and scanned the photos now and then, but this is the first I’d ever read all the words. Not every photo is grim: A camera seems to bring out the clown in some people, especially when they are far from the Front. There’s a comic picture of a group of German soldiers before the war. One of them seems to be holding boots, until you look closer and see that he’s holding on his shoulders the feet of his buddy doing a handstand behind him. Everyone in the photo is having a good time.

Everyone in the final photo, some 200 pages later, is dead. It’s a row of Grimsby Chums, killed on Easter Monday 1917 (when the Canadians attacked Vimy Ridge, as it happens) and found in 2001, lying arm in arm.

As well as the photos, Arthur collected quotes, and here is Private Harry Patch of Cornwall’s Light Infantry — who died in 2009 at age 111, the last survivor of the trenches: “At Pilckem Ridge I can still see the bewilderment and fear on the men’s faces when we went over the top. All over the battlefield, the wounded were lying there — English and German, all asking for help. We weren’t like the Good Samaritan in the Bible — we were the robbers who passed by and left them.”

Some of the photos are familiar: the Australians landing at Gallipoli, the American soldier cracking up laughing at his gas mask, the skeletal remains of the German wearing his uniform and his gear, killed at the First Battle of the Marne. And there’s this:

Image

A newsboy sells the Evening News outside the White Star offices in Cockspur, London.

You’ve seen this kid before. Arthur IDs him as Ned Parfett. He enlisted in the Royal Artillery in 1916 and killed two weeks before the war ended. A full recounting of his life can be found at

http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-newspaper-boy.html

I own the original edition of “Faces,” which was a coffee table book that required a sturdy coffee table, but it has been rereleased in a smaller volume with a smaller price: $19.99.

Beautiful book. Sad, but beautiful.

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