The following article consist of images that depict the WW1 battlefields after 100 years. The reality that was World War 1 and its indelible imprint on the conscience of mankind can never be questioned. For those who bore witness to the unfathomable period of destruction, sorrow, macabre and unforgiving nature of mankind as a whole, know for a fact that its memory can never be wiped out.
The war that trampled over Europe concluded on 11 November 1918 but what happened to those European soils that were riddled with blood, shells, bullets and human bodies? Photojournalist Michael St Maur Sheil re-visited the same lands for a project on which he spent 7 years working while trying to capture images of what those lands and places look today-more than 100 years after Earth witnessed the then greatest travesty of all time.
What the then-battlefields-now-landscapes look like
The project has been named as Fields of Battle—Lands of Peace 14-18 and consists of 60 of the most powerful images that represent the current status of those landscapes that were once ripped apart.
Below are some of the photographs that we have sampled which will take you down the memory lane.
The landscape of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, in Beaumont Hamel- you can see the land bearing trenches, shell crater and wire pickets.
One of the most iconic images from the album- this football was kicked by a British Regiment – The London Irish Rifles- across No Mans Land on Sept 25th 1915 as they attacked German trenches. This is the same field on which the battle took place.
The Lochnagar crater in France that was created after British forces detonated 24 tons of ammonal in a packed mine underneath German forces on July 1st, 1916. The crater runs 70-feet deep even to this day.
The St Symphorien Cemetery Hainaut, Belgium that contains both the German and British soldiers remains. It was created in August 1914 after the battle of Mons.
Shown below is the reconstructed gateway of the Chateau de Soupir in northern France that was destroyed in the war, mainly due to the Second Battle of the Aisne.
Chemin des Dames, where German soldiers took refuge in a limestone quarry from 1915, which they referred to as Dragon’s Cavern.
Below is the W Beach at Gallipoli, with a wreck of a British vessel. The Gallipoli campaign witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting between the British and French troops against the Turkish between April 1915 and January 1916.
Located outside of Passendale in Belgium, the Tyne Cot Cemetery serves as the resting place for 11,954 soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. This is also the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world and majority of the dead who are buried here are unknown.
Looking south over Hanebeek from German positions, an unexploded shell lies amidst the mud of Passchendaele.
About the Author: Michael St Maur Sheil
Michael St Maur Sheil studied Geography at Oxford, in the early 1970’s and started his career as a photo-journalist by covering “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, post which he became associated with the New York picture agency, Black Star with whom he is still working. He has served clients with the likes of BBC, Red Cross, New York Times, National Geographic and the European Commission in over 60 countries around the world.
He is a recipient of the 2002 World Press Photo Award.
This project came into existence after Michael re-visited Dunkirk with his father who served there in 1940 with the London Irish Rifles. As Michael recalls-
“we visited Ypres and I watched him as he stood erect at the Menin Gate, fighting back his tears: it was an emotion I had never been exposed to before and seven years ago, aware of the approaching centenary, I began to think about producing a book aboiut the landscapes of the First World War as they are today.”
According to the photojournalist, the war may have been forgotten by many of us but those fields and those lands still represent their tumultuous past and Michael wanted to document the transcendence of history by combining all the elements of past, present, light and land.
From August 2014 to November 2018, sixty pictures will be publicly displayed around the UK and then internationally.
You can find some of the publicly displayed pictures below: