A Mask to Hide the Horror
The number of soldiers killed on both sides, often for the sake of only a few feet of ground, is staggering. But the number of soldiers who were wounded is even higher. Many of these survivors suffered irreversible, disfiguring injuries. While plastic surgery made great strides during the War as surgeons learned new techniques to repair broken bodies, many soldiers were injured beyond repair. There were so many whose faces were hideously deformed by bullets or blasts that they had to wear masks in order to go out in public.
Here a French veteran of the World War is being fitted with a mask at a shop specializing in prosthetic faces. The mask is oddly cheerful and dapper, in contrast to the sad war weary eyes of the soldier.
French Artillery – Western Front
A French artillery unit struggles to emplace their gun in the soft mud of the Western front. Note the very deep ruts around the gun crew where the cannons have sunk into the mud and been dragged.
British Gun Crew
Photo of a British gun crew struggling to get their artillery piece out of the mud during the Battle of the Somme, 1914. Notice the man on the far right busy doing nothing while the rest of the men push and pull the artillery.
A group of French soldiers, guns by their side, rest on a straw bedding laid down on the floor of the church. meanwhile a group of parishioners kneel and pray facing the altar.
Although all of the combatants were majority Christian nations, churches became focal points of fighting and were often commandeered to serve as bases, barracks, and field hospitals. The sturdy stone construction of churches and cathedrals meant that they made good strong points, and so they were often fortified and used as forts. Also their steeples served as good observation posts. As a result churches suffered terrible damage from artillery and infantry fighting, and were desecrated by both sides in the war.
French Soldiers Resting in a Deep Underground Shelter
As the war developed into a relative stalemate, each side dug extensive networks of trenches. Initially the trenches were just crude ditches, but as time went on they became permanent living quarters as well as defensive positions. Deep underground shelters were dug to provide protection to troops from enemy artillery. Sometimes the trenches ran through areas of naturally occurring cave systems and soldiers took advantage of the existing formations and became cave dwellers.
Here in the damp darkness the men could rest, write letters and enjoy a little respite from the horrors on the surface. This photo shows French soldiers resting an underground cave. Most of them are sleeping or lying down on cots lining the walls of the cave; one of the men is writing a letter home by the dim light of this cave. As bleak as this home was at least it afforded relative safety.