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Building a Visual Record

While records of the war were produced throughout the conflict, 1916 marks a notable point in the escalation of published and, importantly, visual records of the conflict being developed. The Gallipoli campaign, its horrors, and hardships led to the creation of The Anzac Book as a winter

Illustrating the Warriors of Empire 63 diversion for troops in the trenches and it, in turn, ‘became the finest “trench publication” produced during the Great War’ (Australian War Memorial 2016, npj.The frontispiece illustration of public edition of The Anzac Book, published in 1916 in London, New York, Toronto, and Melbourne, is illustrative of a genre of imagery that was to develop around colonial soldiers fighting in the First World War. The image shows an Australian and a New Zealand soldier, in uniform, armed, and flags borne aloft above the words ‘The Australian and New Zealand troops have proved themselves worthy sons of the Empire’, attributed to King George V.1 Amidst the horror and the death of the Gallipoli campaign, the opening image of the work is one of hope and heroism, while the rest of its contents mix this with varying degrees of self-deprecating humour, grim determination, and various stereotypical caricatures of enemy combatants. Predominantly though The Anzac Book began to define the image of stoic heroism that was attached to the Anzac forces, a narrative Sarah Midford has argued was underpinned by the landscape of the Gallipoli campaign. Midford argues that the location of the campaign in the Dardenelles links this imagery of heroism with other historic narratives attached to the area, not least Homer’s Iliad (Midford 2011). Another visual trope that The Anzac Book begins to develop, especially in the frontispiece image, is the idea that colonial troops were larger and fitter than their British counterparts, George V’s ‘sons of empire’ returning to the heartlands fully fledged.

The tropes articulated by The Anzac Book are significant to the visual representation of colonial troops in general and will be discussed throughout this chapter, but the most important achievement of the publication was commercial and popular success (Cook 2003b). The Anzac Book was so successful that it stimulated other colonial and military administrations to begin to think about the importance of developing mechanisms to promote the work of fighting troops. This was important in a number of ways: to demonstrate success to civilians on the home front, to encourage men and women to enlist in war-time occupations, and, crucially, to raise money for benevolent funds.2 The potential of a strong photographic record and its circulation in publications, public displays, and other formats was recognized by William Maxwell Aitken and led to him establishing the institution and methods of the CWRO.

Selection of Photographs From the ‘O’ Series Deposit

The CWRO operated in London from 1916 to 1919, when it was transferred to Ottawa. During this time the Office was involved in the creation, circulation, and promotion of a huge photographic record of Canadian involvement in rhe First World War. A microcosm of the work of the Office can be seen in a collection of photographs deposited at the British Museum, and now held at the British Library, as part of the now-defunct Colonial Copyright Deposit scheme (Hatfield 2018). Comprising 1,772 photographs from the ‘O Series’ of records, the album is a series of small photographic reproductions pasted onto paper sheets,3 with between four and six photographs arranged on a page, and, once, ring bound together.4 The album contains a cross-section of Canada’s role in the conflict: training camps, front line duty, grisly war trophies, memorial services, soldiers marching through a ruined Europe, and many more scenes are depicted through the lenses trained on the Canadian armed forces. What is notable in this collection of photographs is that great lengths have been gone to in order to achieve a suitably impressive record of Canadian efforts; shots are generally well composed and technically accomplished. The selection also presents a varied portrait of the war, conveying glory, tragedy, pathos, and banality, and wears its multiple photographers and extended time frame overtly, as subjects, styles, and foci differ and change.

All of this is bound together by the core objective that these photographs should be suitable for publication and public display in order to promote the Canadian war effort, maintain volunteer numbers, and, as the war ended, raise funds for veterans’ associations and memorials. While the photographs were received poorly by critics,5 they were popular with the public as publications containing the images sold well and exhibitions of the work saw large numbers of visitors as they toured the United Kingdom and Canada. Indeed, the photographs were so popular with viewers and produced in such substantial quantities that they became almost the default photographic view of British Empire experience of the war. The Anzac Book may have developed the public and official producers’ taste for visual records of the war but the CWRO doubled down and became such a significant source of visual records that one Manchester Guardian reporter commented after the war that it was ‘long open to doubt whether there was anybody but Canadians fighting in France’ (Cook 2003a, 292). Not only was this not the case but there was substantial documentary evidence to suggest otherwise. Searching the body of material made available by European institutions to the Europeana project, it is clear that Australian, New Zealand, and other fighting forces published significant amounts of material, often heavily illustrated, which depicted the work of their own fighting forces. As well as the various CWRO publications there are many accounts of the work of Australian fighting forces, New Zealand cycling corps, manuals of field activities, and even, as an example of how defined certain fighting cultures were becoming, publications such as dictionaries of ‘Digger Slang’ (Downing 1919). These publications worked in the vein established by The Anzac Book, mixing the serious and the humorous, the heroic with the banal, and crafting a distinct visual image of troops that was strong, active, and determined.

However, looking at the majority of this material, with the exception of a few New Zealand publications, you would be forgiven for doubting that there was anyone fighting in France who was not a white colonial settler (Cowan 1926). The Anzac Book gave viewers caricatures of racial-ized Others in the form of ‘The Turk’ but neither this, the works of the CWRO, or other publications provided the public with images of nonwhite troops from Australia, Canada, or New Zealand, be they indigenous peoples or peoples from elsewhere in the globe. This, of course, was far from the case and so we must question the politics of this omission, as well as the visual politics at play on the few occasions when indigenous peoples were photographed in order to support the war.

 
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