I read that Google was going to archive 10-millions Life Magazine photos from the 1860’s to the present. I clicked on the link and found an astounding number of photos already in a categorized collection.
I sifted through some from the Civil War and into the 1880’s, but then the 1910 category caught my attention and I remembered that my Uncle Jack fought in World War One with a Canadian infantry regiment.
I don’t know much about him accept he was a stepbrother of my Father. He was ten years older and certainly a great influence on my Father. I never met Jack; I just heard stories about him.
The picture above was taken in April 1917 and is a photo of Canadian troops climbing out of their trenches and “going over the top” during World War One.
Notice the artillery shells bursting in air over the trench. The soldiers are carrying British Lee-Enfield rifles, which were issued to virtually all British Commonwealth soldiers on the Western Front. The Lee-Enfield, with its ten-cartridge magazine, was well suited to rapid fire; a soldier could expect to fire twelve shots a minute.
It is possible my Uncle Jack is in this picture. I don’t know, but I can imagine he had similar experiences. Jack survived the war, but like too many of our returning combat veterans from the Gulf and Afghanistan Wars, he could not survive coming home. He committed suicide sometime after the war ended.
War does things to those who are asked to fight it. Perhaps it’s because it is an unnatural condition in which to live. Some make it through OK and go on to lead productive lives. Others like my Uncle Jack could not let go of the pain, the fog, and the psychological wounds of battle with images of dead buddies and slain bodies and no bandages to heal for the future.
I am going back to look at the picture again and wonder about the Uncle I never met, and I’ll also wonder why we haven’t learned very much in nearly a hundred years.