Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Life Must Go On


This week Sepia Saturday had a posed picture of three men drinking and playing cards in an alcove. One of the players is practising deception and possibly planning to cheat by hiding a card. This prompted a search amongst my own old photos for something in a similar vein. I was able to find pictures of three men, most definitely posed, but not a card game in sight and no evidence of sleight of hand!


The above picture comes from the National Library of Scotland archive and dates from the First World War. The description tells us that the men are using a wooden crate as a table and are seated beside a sandbag dugout or hideout. There is a bottle on the ground, a jug on the table, and they each have a metal beaker, but there the similarity with the original picture ends. There seems to be no hint of cheating going on this picture. The men are having a well-earned break from battle duty and the description reads; “Taken on the British Western Front, Battle of Menin Road. In the few spare moments when not pounding the Boche, our gunners settle down to a game of cards.” The official war photographer was John Warwick Brooke, who was tasked with taking as many photos, and covering as wide a variety, as possible. The Government was keen to convey to the civilian population back home that ‘life went on’. As we now know, much of the true horror of the war was covered up under a blanket of propaganda.


The second picture, from the same source, is by Tom Aitken, a newspaper reporter from Glasgow and is titled: “The Fight of the Woods Near Rheims. Two British Tommies have an impromptu game of Nap among the ruins of a shattered town.” I wasn’t as convinced that this picture wasn’t staged. The strange juxtapostion of the two battle-weary men playing cards, whilst surrounded by broken furniture and shells of buildings, doesn’t ring quite as true as the subjects of the first picture, who seemed oblivious to the cameraman. We know that a life of sorts did go on and perhaps these men were relieving the tedium of war and trying to bring some sort of normality into a situation of unbelievable horror.

At approximately the same time as the above photographs were taken, my own grandfather, he of ‘Wedding Day Delay’, was also serving in the war, and no doubt engaging in the odd card game with his comrades when duties allowed. At the age of sixteen he had enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) 2/7th Robin Hoods Battalion, which in 1917 took part in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, and later was in Cambrai, in France. So my own ‘Three Men’ picture has my grandfather Sydney, his father William Joseph, and standing behind them, my great-uncle Albert. There will be more stories to tell about these three in later posts, but as far as I know they were honest and upright citizens; there is no hint that any of them ever cheated, at cards or anything else, and not a whiff of scandal. A bit disappointing really!

18 comments:

  1. The picture of your grandfather and Uncle is beautiful, they look to young to be going off to war:(

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  2. Young indeed, that was my first thought as I read this as Tracie has commented. Also I had just become aware of the propaganda of the war after reading Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. A great post as usual Little Nell. Thanks for stopping by my neck of the woods.
    QMM

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  3. I was struck by the sad wistfulness in your Great-grandfather's face under his look of fatherly pride, while the boys have that gaze of the innocent and naive. Something they no doubt soon lost.

    I recommend a book I read recently.
    Sapper Martin: The Secret Great War Diary of Jack Martin
    by Richard Van Emden. Very good first person narrative about a soldier's experience in the Great War.

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  4. I suppose the soldiers did play cards, but the photos seem to make war look like a big game.

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  5. It doesn't matter how often there are similar stories, it's still shocking to hear of a sixteen-year-old going off to war. It must have been bad enough then but we now know what it was like.

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  6. ...among the ruins of a shattered town.. wow Very interesting post.

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  7. Very interesting images. Remind me of some of the seen following the big San Francisco earthquake of 1906. People getting on with life surrounded by ruins.

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  8. Your grandfather and his brother look so very young. Knowledge of WWI hasn't been one of my strengths but I've recently been reading a series of books about that time period and just after. What an awful war. It seems like half a generation of men were destroyed.

    I agree, the impromptu game amidst the destroyed town just doesn't ring true to me, either.

    Will look forward to more about your grandfather.

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  9. That particular arrangement of the three men in the first photograph was so typical of photographs of the time - I have one or two of my own family from the same period with similar poses. Your other images stress that important quality of life going on. Fascinating.

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  10. An upside down table in rubble - what an image to underline the desolation.

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  11. I was hooked the moment I saw the first photo. Then your post ahd the twist at the end when we found out who the men where. Pictures from WWI are seldom pleasant, posed or not. But the propogandists stil exist today.

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  12. I love the first picture, a proper family heirloom

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  13. The first photo is wonderful and touching, especially since it's painful to think of baby-faced Great Uncle Albert going off to war. For that matter, Sydney looks to young too.

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  14. of course staging these photos was important, to make the whole idea tolerable. otherwise, there would have been uprising, much like during the viet nam war, when people started to think by themselves instead of trusting blindly the government. now we have CNN and such to sell us on the idea of war...
    :/~
    HUGZ

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  15. A rather haunting post. The superimposition of order over the chaos of war is fascinating. I love the photo of your family especially--their expressions are wonderful.

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  16. Great post. Most British families have a picture or two of young men signing up to be slaughtered in France and Belgium in WW1. My family's tally - 1 dead, July 4th 1916, Somme front; 1 (my Dad) badly wounded by a shell burst at Arras while carrying tea "up the line" - his 3 mates killed outright.
    "War is a game, which, were their subjects wise, Kings could not play at."

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  17. Oh my what an excellent read, I enjoyed it all and the photos as well...especially where the two are sitting with all that rubble around them...amazing stuff back then in the day!

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  18. How Strange.A Testament The Power Of Gambling I Suppose.To Be Playing Games Of Chance In The Middle Of WW1 Trenches! A True Test Of Someones Poker-Face !

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