The War of the Nations

Highlights from a 1919 collection of World War I imagery in the New York Times.

The War of the Nations

New York Times

In 1919, soon after the end of the First World War, The New York Times published The War of the Nations, a “portfolio in rotogravure etchings” compiled from their Mid-Week Pictorial series. This 500-page wonder is an amazingly comprehensive series of images that provides a broad view of the war, from the armies and nations involved, the weapons and technologies that were used and the destruction to soul and soil that took place.

This is just a highlight of some of the images that stood out to me but I highly encourage you to browse through the series and try to imagine what life would have been like during that time.

The War of the Nations

Click here for the 500-page pdf (~160 MB), compiled from the Library of Congress images.

General John J. Pershing

Born seven months before the start of the Civil War, and later a veteran of the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Philippine-American War, General John J. Pershing would go on to serve as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in the First World War.

Pershing

Franklin D. Roosevelt

In March 1913, future president and then 31-year old Franklin D. Roosevelt was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a role his distant cousin Teddy had also served in only sixteen years prior. A year after he was appointed, the First World War had begun and Roosevelt would serve as Assistant Secretary throughout the entire duration of the war.

Roosevelt

Grigori Rasputin

The mythical Grigori Rasputin makes a rare photogenic appearance in a list of “powerful figures” involved in events that would eventually result in the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Rasputin

General von Mackensen

Field Marshal August von Mackensen was a cavalry and infantry commander in the German Empire during the war. He was also likely voted Best Hat of the War.

von Mackensen

War of the Races

This is what a world war looks like.

War of the Races

Old French Farmer

An old French farmer taking his cap off to a group of French dragoons, a type of mounted infantry. Assuming the farmer, a veteran himself according to the caption, was about 60-years old at that time, he could very well have been a soldier in the French army during the Franco-Prussian wars of 1870.

Old French Farmer

Cavalry Warfare

Hungarian Honvéd cavalry racing across the Russian steppes and an American mounted convoy at rest.

Cavalry Warfare American Cavalry

Fortifications

In many wars, World War I was very much a war of fortifications and the war machines used to destroy them.

Fortifications Mortar

Carrier Pigeons

You mighty brave soul, tutting around the front in a motor bus full of pigeons through machine gun fire, toxic gas and mortar explosions.

The War of the Nations

Aviation

Aviation’s role in warfare wasn’t fully realized until World War II, playing only a limited part in the First World War. But the fact that it played any role at all is mind-boggling when you consider the fact that the Wright Brothers had only just slipped the surly bonds of Earth for the first time a mere thirteen years before the war began.

Aviation Great American Armies

Women at War

The role of women in World War I seems to lack an iconic representative like Rosie the Riveter, retconned as she may be, which makes images like these all the more important to the memory of the First World War. But for all of their crucial work during the war, women still wouldn’t have the right to vote in the United States until two years after the armistice, following the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18th 1920. At the time, women in the United Kingdom had the right to vote (albeit with an age restriction), but importantly the country swiftly passed an Act of Parliament, only one week after the war ended, guaranteeing women over the age of 21 years old the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament.

Women at Work

A Bone of Contention

The concept of destruction in World War II typically evokes images of the atomic devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to a lesser extent (although at a greater overall cost) the ashes of conflagration that resulted from the fire bombings at Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden. But images of the wastelands in the First World War in some ways seem to feel more visceral and personal. This may have to do with the notion that psychological effects of warfare are relative to the distance of the action. Whereas strategic bombing in World War II was far removed (vertically) from the battlefield, the devastation in the First World War was primarily inflicted at ground level, at a more human level, by land-based artillery.

Aerial Photograph Utter Desolation Ypres

Since researching my great grand-uncle’s service in the Great War, I often find myself thinking of these words of his, having marched through the aftermath of the “bone of contention” that had been the Battle of Verdun:

Bone of Contention

American Troops in London

Scenes of the American doughboys marching through London feel surreal, with King George VI looking on next to his mother, the Danish-born Queen Mother Alexandria and great-grandmother to the current Queen of England Elizabeth II.

Westminster Bridge Echoes to the Tread

The American Fleet

Recently having the opportunity to see the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the New York Harbor, I can only imagine what it would have felt like to see an armada of battleships and dreadnaughts, with their billowy clouds of black smoke, in those same waters.

The American Fleet The War of the Nations

Armistice

The First World War officially ended with the signing of the armistice on November 11th 1918. New York City, albeit prematurely, rejoiced in celebration.

New York City