Haunting photographs of the battlefields of the War to end all wars- Exhibition at Westminster Hall

Haunting photographs of the battlefields of the War to end all wars- Exhibition at Westminster Hall

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Soldier’s helmet left on the cross of the grave at the Chalons-en-Champagne, France battleground burial site memorial; in 1919, a plaque was also placed there by his father (2) Trenches and shell craters of WWI preserved at the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, France. (3) 1916 photo of British infantry positioned in a shallow trench in a war ravaged landscape during the Battle of Somme, France (4) The Allied forces dug 8,000 meters of tunnels and laid 21 mines containing over 600 tons of explosives under German lines at the Battle of Messines, Flanders, Belgium in 1916

The idealistic term ‘The war to end war’ for World War I had been first coined by the British author Herbert George Wells in August 1914 as he blamed the German led Central Powers for the devastation of the WWI and theorized that only the total defeat of the German military forces could result in an end to all the war. For the first time, an incredible collection of images of the WWI battlefields are on show in Britain. No one from the war alive to remember it as a hundred years has passed. Only witnesses to the episode that killed 21 million human beings are the landscapes. The sites from history books- the Passchendaele & the Ypres in Belgium, the Somme & the Verdun in France and many other battlegrounds along the western front have revived their former peace and tranquility. The www.dailymail.co.uk reports.

A soldier’s helmet, equipment and a plaque are left on his grave as a tribute from his father at the Chalons-en-Champagne, France battleground site. Photographer Michael St. Maur Shiel has won Word Press awards for his remarkable captures and 15 of his haunting WWI images would go on show recently between 5th to 14th November, 2013 in the street gallery exhibition titled ‘Fields of Battle Lands of Peace: 14-18’ at Westminster Hall after getting permission from Black Rod, the officer in House of Lords.

The photographs would be freestanding, each measuring 5 ft 10 inches by 4 ft and are the outcome of a 6 year long project that unveils the transformation of the battlegrounds of the 1914-1918 war in the modern European landscape. As part of the WWI centenary, the exhibition opens in central London in August 2014, after that it would tour across the major cities of UK and Ireland until the end of the centenary in 2018 according to the timeline of the WWI events.

Michael said that the collection of photographs would hopefully create a portal to the battlegrounds, inspire people to visit the places and create war awareness. Mike won his award for child trafficking photographs in West Africa in 2002. After visiting Battlefield of Dunkirk, France with his father, who served with the London Irish Rifles there in 1940, he began capturing the battle field photos. Michael said that it was odd that the image in which his father featured has become one of the most iconic one of the battle. Mike says that to him more surprising was the sharp memory his father still posses about the locations and war details. He further added that while visiting Ypres, Belgium his father had been fighting back tears as the men of WWI had largely seen the landscape getting torn apart.

Shiel’s photographs of the war fields stretches across over 600 km from the English Channel coasts, Belgium, Northern and eastern France as far as Swiss border.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE