History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. ~Winston Churchill

03 May, 2015

The Crosses, Row on Row

One hundred years ago yesterday, a young Canadian soldier named Alexis Helmer was killed at the guns during the Second Battle of Ypres. One hundred years ago today, his good friend, a Canadian doctor named John McCrae, was moved to set down those evocative lines, "In Flanders fields, the poppies blow...." 

As McCrae himself wrote of the battle, afterwards: 

"The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds, and it was sticking to our utmost by a weak line all but ready to break, knowing nothing of what was going on, and depressed by reports of anxious infantry."*

McCrae was situated at an advanced dressing station, called Essex Farm, the first point of care for wounded soldiers, just behind the front line. Since many men sadly did not make it further, advanced dressing stations were usually joined by hastily constructed cemeteries, Like most front line cemeteries, the crosses were makeshift, the layouts haphazard. After the war, the crosses were gradually replaced by the carved headstones in place today. McCrae's "crosses, row on row" exist only in photographs. 

For the centenary of a poem that's struck a chord like few others, a collection of those photographs of wartime cemeteries, in Flanders fields. 

* John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields and Other Poems." 1919. Online


© IWM (Q 17851)

Cemetery at the Hospice Notre Dame, Ypres. Source




© IWM (Q 17852)

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Source




© IWM (Q 9042)

A British officer and his dog at Wavans War Cemetery (which includes the grave of top British ace James McCudden), 1918. Source




© IWM (Q 87887)

French military cemetery, March 1918. Source




© IWM (Q 17847)

Hooge Crater Cemetery. Source




© IWM (Q 87883)

Graves of British soldiers in a German military cemetery. Source




© (IWM Q 60487)

Cemetery at Mont St. Eloi, 1916. Source





Two soldiers at the the cemetery in Vlamertinghe, October 3, 1917. Source



© IWM (Q 17858)

The caption sites this at Boeschepe, on the road to Poperinghe, stating it has "20, 000 graves"; no Belgian WWI cemeteries have near that many (Tyne Cot, near Passchendaele, is the largest, with 12,000 graves), and there aren't any cemeteries right at Boeschepe. The largest in the area is Reninghelst New Military Cemetery, with 800. Source




© IWM (Q 1541)

A makeshift cemetery at Bernefay Wood, 1916. Source




© IWM (Q 17867)

A British Cemetery on the Ploegsteert Rd, Messines. Source



© IWM (Q 17849)

A British Cemetery near Zillebeke (there are many options in the area). Source





Puchevilliers cemetey, 1916-1923. Source




© IWM (Q 5875)

A Canadian military funeral at Poperinghe, 1917. Source




© IWM (Q 17850)

Menin Road South Cemetery, Ypres. Source




© IWM (E(AUS) 166)

Two Australian soldiers in a graveyard at Becordel-Becourt, near Albert.  Source




© IWM (Q 678)

Fleurbaix, 1916. Source





Essex Farm Cemetery, beside the dressing station where McCrae was stationed while writing "In Flanders Fields." Source





An Australian laying flowers on the grave of a friend, Franvilliers, 1918-1923. Source

28 April, 2015

Postcards from Southern California

Regular blog readers might be aware of my April tradition of making a blog post for my sister's birthday. Now, regular blog readers are probably also aware that I haven't been particularly with it post-wise lately (honestly, the only reason I got the San Francisco Earthquake one together was that I'd been sitting on the pictures for months until the right date, and only realized it was that date that morning!). So, well, this birthday post is a bit late. But I'll admit....so was her actual present!

Since the sister looks in Southern California, for this year I took a dive into one of my all-time favourite collections, the Boston Public Library's collection of linen postcards from 1930s-40s America, to present this set of wonderfully colourful, semi-photographic postcards from the land of sunshine. 

Enjoy, sister, and all!


Boston Public Library

Long Beach, back when it apparently had a cool roller coaster. Source




Boston Public Library

Oranges and snow (well, a little bit). Source




Boston Public Library

A world premier at the Cathay Circle Theatre, LA. Source

18 April, 2015

The San Francisco Earthquake, Tinted

The devastation of the great San Francisco Earthquake, on this day in 1906, is extensively photographically documented. There are thousands of monochrome photographs, some of which I've shared before, printed in newspapers or mass-produced as postcards. There are even a few true colour photographs, made with a rare early process. 

The images in this post are stereoviews of post-earthquake scenes, photographs translated into low-quality half-tones, and then hand-tinted for commercial sale. I find them fascinating as an insight into the desires of early 20th century consumers of photography--even in documentary photographs, and even for photographs of a tragedy, applied colour was a selling point. 



New York Public Library

Workmen taking down unstable walls. Source




New York Public Library

A cracked Van Ness Avenue. Source




New York Public Library

The wrecked synagogue, Powell and Sutter Streets. Source

07 April, 2015

Wartime Kangaroos

A special edition of the wartime pets series! As we've seen in past posts, soldiers are very, very fond of keeping pets and mascots of all kinds, from the expected dogs and cats to pigs, goats, and foxes. Out of all the unusual pets, perhaps the most surprisingly popular was the kangaroo (or wallaby). Australian soldiers played with them at home, then took them along on journeys to far-off fronts. Foreign troops stationed in Australia were also keen to seize their chance of kangaroo adoption. I don't know if they do make good pets, but these fellows certainly seem thought so!




An Australian soldier with a pet kangaroo near the Pyramids, Egypt, about 1915. Source





Soldiers with a kangaroo in Malaysa, 1941. Source





A soldier with "Joey" the kangaroo in Malaya, 1941. According to the caption, he was smuggled in a box labelled "Medical Supplies." Source

03 April, 2015

Friends Being Ridiculous, 1897

A quick, fun set! I don't have a tremendous amount of context for these photographs, which come from what appear to be two sets, in a collection held by a small Ontario museum. In one set, a bunch of male and female friends play around with bicycles, bonnets, and occasional musical instruments. In the other, a group of five fellows adopt silly poses in swimsuits, some of which are women's suits. All are taken in 1897, in Huron County, Ontario, by a professional photographer. What, exactly, is the story? Who knows, but they're great. 


Huron County Museum

Bicycles, instruments, bonnets... Source




Huron County Museum

Posing on Lake Huron. Source



Huron County Museum

A pile of friends and instruments in the park. Source

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