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  • Crowds #1: And so it begins… Images from 1914 March 21, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback


    [students in Berlin, off to enlist]

    Beachcombing has recently become interested in crowd photography: large groups of people, preferably in rather strange or extreme situations. And as part of this ‘project’ he started collecting photographs from perhaps the dizziest month in western history: August 1914. The war is just beginning and young and not so young men are racing to enlist, most of them with smiles on their faces. They are – and this is something that comes through these pictures – not only supported by their nearest and dearest, but their nearest and dearest seem to be almost as happy as our imperial warriors.

    [Just joined up in Exeter]

    The sheer enthusiasm unsettled many of the leaders who were responsible for the world war that was to come. Lloyd George noted, while walking through ecstatic crowds, towards the House of Commons: ‘These people are very anxious to send our soldiers to face death‘… and so they were. Revenge didn’t come into it: at least not then. There was something about transcendence and the nation state: that Beachcombing can just get glimpses of in these jubilant faces.

    There may have been other wars where men were so happy to go off and kill and die for their country: but none jump to Beachcombing’s mind. The contrast with the Second World War is particularly striking. Then, the populations of even the most ‘enthusiastic’ nations gritted their teeth.

    [Goodbye at the Gare d’Est in Paris]

    The First World War may or may not have been worth fighting. But these images don’t give justified causes. In fact, the silly hats and the moustaches, so similar from nation to nation: give a tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum feel to the whole enterprise, as if Europe was about to war over Swift’s boiled eggs rather than Serbia and Belgium’s territorial integrity. Look, for example, at the essential similarity of these scenes in London (Buckingham Palace) and Berlin (with the Kaiser speaking to his people). Then just to underline what these moments did to people, look who crops up in this shot from Munich in the third image…. Back story here.

    Or what about Trafalgar Square against Unter den Linden?

    It is an incredibly puerile thought given how many millions were going to die: but, well, couldn’t they just have settled it all with a massive boater throwing competition?

    Beachcombing was set off on this hunt by the following image of French Heavy Cavalry leaving Paris: that’s right Captain, charge the two machine gun nests and then straight to Berlin!

    Heavy cavalry! WtH!! But from there he branched out into other shots of women saying goodbye to the boys.

    [German troops x 1]

    [German troops x 2]

    [French troops: a real frisson here]

    [New Zealand troops]

    And as a variation on theme, the sons wearing their fathers’ helmets as they go to leave their civilian clothes at home.

    Then just to round off with another kind of photo and another kind of hysteria, here is Kier Hardie, the grand old man of British labour, addressing a pacifist meeting in London. The hats are the same…

    Any other August 1914 pictures before the guns come out: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com