by Jon Cooksey
Lewes, Eng.: Ammonite Press / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2017. Pp. 96.
Illus., chron., biblio., index. $12.95. ISBN: 1781452792
Snap Shots from the Front
British military historian Cooksey has written extensively on the Great War and other conflicts. In this slender volume, he opens with a capsule history of the relatively inexpensive Kodak “Vest Pocket” camera, which became available in April of 1912, just two years before the First World War broke out. As a result, in August of 1914, many British and some French and German troops, as well as a few civilians took their cameras with them to war. Although taking personal cameras to the Front was eventually banned by higher command in all armies, it was a ban that was often violated, particularly since images from the Front brought high prices from newspapers and magazines. So a surprising number of troops – albeit mostly officers – and some civilians took a lot of pictures of the war.
A remarkable number of these images survive, and Cooksey selected more than forty images for inclusion in this book. These are arranged chronologically; as most of them date from the first year of the war, the coverage is rather heavier for that period. For each image, Cooksey has provided a commentary on the scene depicted and some information about the photographer.
While most of the pictures are of commonplaces scenes of military life during the war – comrades departing for the Front, the “Christmas Truce”, the dead, ruined towns and buildings, trenches, camp life – a handful were actually taken in combat, and are thus among the rarest images from the war.
Perhaps the most moving image in the book was taken at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, from the ship River Clyde, off V Beach; It shows the Dublin Fusiliers taking sparse cover under fire ashore, while the bodies of their comrades litter the beach, the landing barges, and ship’s deck.
The principal flaw of the book is that it's too short; one would like to see much more. A volume in the “Camera in Conflict” series, The Vest Pocket Kodak and the First World War offers a very useful and moving look at the Great War for the historian and layman alike.