The image above is my favourite from a WWI album with photos by NZ soldier Herbert (Bert) Green. The group seems just perfectly composed. There is also the sense of it being two photographs somehow layered together, with another scene unfolding quite independently behind the soldiers. The way the hat of the man at right veers towards more pixie than lemon squeezer also adds a certain touch. (Note the folding camera over the shoulder of the man in front. This is the sort of camera often taken to war by soldiers then due to its compact design.)
Green’s soldier photographs are a cut above the average. This is not surprising, as he was a photographer for the Lyttelton Times before enlisting. When the war ended he was appointed to the War Records Section in London. I’m not clear if he was employed in the photographic department there, but he apparently visited Europe as an official photographer to cover the 1919 Peace Parade. His friend Lawrence Hahn – who worked for the Christchurch photographic studio Steffano Webb before the war – definitely was in the photographic department, and the two of them went on to found the long-running Christchurch photographic firm of Green and Hahn in the mid-1920s. That may be Hahn at left in this group of soldiers, as he looks like his later self in a staff photo in the Green and Hahn link. You can spot him in a couple of shots further below as well. It is just possible that the album from which these photos are drawn actually belonged to Hahn too, as it has a contemporary copy of his pay sheet pasted in.
The photographs in Green’s album are all taken after the war ended – either in London, France, or on the return voyage (and its Capetown stop-over) to New Zealand. Green seems to have made a particular effort to take photographs that conveyed London life of the time.
In the photograph above the girl is selling French and possibly Belgian flags besides British ones, suggesting that the occasion was the Peace Day celebrations of mid-1919.
Here are a couple of photographs near Hyde Park, probably taken from the top story of a double-decker bus. The vantage point gives a real sense of being in among the traffic.
I don’t know much about the story behind the photograph below of senior military men sitting under a tree – maybe there is a war historian out there who can comment. But I like the close-in informal and intimate feeling of this moment in what looks like such an idyllic spot. This was taken when Green visited France and Belgium during 1919 and photographed destroyed towns and buildings and sites for memorials. General Chaytor, seated at rear, and Major Westmacott, at right, were both NZers. Westmacott was in the War Records Section.
Here we see Green’s mates on the wharf at Torquay, south-west England, getting ready to board the Ruahine on 3 November 1919 for their return to New Zealand.
Ever the documenter, Green didn’t stop at the level of the personal snapshot though, but found a spot where he could get an overview photograph of the event as well.
This is part of a month-long series of blogs commenting on the start of World War I in August 1914.
– Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography