A few weeks ago I espied a small black and white poster in a shop window. It was more of a photograph than a poster. The subject was of a young man posing proudly in his new uniform. Like countless thousands of his contempories he had attended a local photographic studio in the weeks before he marched off to what would become the blood soaked ground of the Somme, his ephemeral image left balanced on the family mantelpiece.
These black and white or sepia toned portrait photgraphs are instantly recognisable. Their style evinces so many emotions. Pride yes but also diffidence. With the benefit of the intervening century we can see the naievity that sheltered these youths and young men as they followed the fife and drum on the march that so many would not return from.
The poster was advertising an exhibition of Great War artefacts. I went along to the official opening last night. It was well put together and well lit. I found one exhibit particularly poignant. It was a letter from the War Office to a Mrs Wilson who resided at Wapping Lane, Londonderry. Her sergeant husband had been killed at Arras. She was being sent arrears of pay and allowances together with a gratuity. The pay and allowances amounted to £3-16-6. The gratuity was for the magnificent sum of £4 -0-0. Another photograph showed the survivors of C Company of the Royal Irish Rifles after the Battle of the Somme. Four men.