The late, great Professor Richard Holmes often pointed out that if you could see people in a photograph purporting to come from action it was probably staged – if bullets were flying about soldiers would be on their belly or under cover. This is as true of the First World War as any other, and it somewhat undermines this book.
- Bob Carruthers
The book is simple, it comprises around 120 photographs of the Kaiser’s armies, each of which has a brief two line caption. There is a brief introduction of a couple of hundred words and that is it. The pictures are in more or less chronological order, the overwhelming majority being from the Western Front.
The majority of the pictures are posed, either individual soldiers or small groups, mostly taken out of the line and all taken out of contact. There are around ten of life at the front, be it de-lousing or troops going about their daily routines. About the same number are of battlefields, almost all post fighting and usually a group of prisoners. A very few are taken in action. They are all black and white and a couple appear to have been over-exposed or deteriorated in the century since they were first taken. None of them are remarkable or striking.
And that’s it. My overwhelming sensation is one of disappointment. I learned a little more about the evolution of German army head gear from field cap / Pickelhelm to steel helmet, a process that mirrored the parallel developments in Allied armies. But I learned nothing more about the war, the conditions endured by soldiers or even the contrast of German experience to Allied ones. Given that the author is an Emmy Award winning film maker, producing series such as Battlefield and Weapons of War for the BBC, Channel 4 and Discovery I had expected more. These pictures are not worth a thousand words, of the £14.99 price tag.