Behind the camera: John Warwick Brooke
Where: Boezinge is a village north of the city of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium
Photo Summary: Seven British soldiers struggle carrying a wounded man on a stretcher during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, World War I
IWM Code: IWM Q 5935
Picture Taken: August 1, 1917
“I died in hell – they called it Passchendaele”World War I poet soldier Siegfried Sassoon
During the First World War the Battle of Pilckem Ridge was the opening slavo for the Third Battle of Ypres also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. By the summer of 1917 the war had been going on for three years. Behind the front lines war photographer Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke took this iconic photo of the total destruction, mud and horror that hampered the Allied effort.
Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke
Before the war photographer Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke had worked at the Topical Press Agency a British media company that had opened in 1903. At its peak, the company had hundreds of photographers that would take and sell photos to newspapers and consumers of stock photography.
Brooke had been sent to the Western Front in 1916 as an official photographer. During his stay on various battlefronts, he took over 4,000 photos of the British war effort on the Western Front. His mission was to take as many, with as much variety as he could. Covering an army of over 2 million he took some of the most iconic and memorable photos of WWI.
Battle of Pilckem Ridge
On July 31, 1917, the Battle of Pilckem Ridge started with a symphony of artillery that laid waste to German trenches, and supply lines. Starting early in the morning British soldiers streamed into no man’s land where the British guns had pounded the German defences. Then the barrage began to creep forward at 90 metres a minute, to which the Allied soldiers would cautiously follow. The Allies meet most of their objectives, took thousands of German prisoners and advanced almost 3 kilometres at a cost of 31,850 casualties. The Generals at the time thought it was a huge success.
Hoping to build on the momentum of the advance the British planned further attacks but these quickly bogged down as the region became a victim of the weather. Huge rains drenched the flat, cratered, and broken landscape turning the area into a moonscape of mud and shell holes that would swallow men, horses and equipment.