Here we are in the centenary of World War One. There have been many ceremonies, many articles on the price paid by those who fought in the trenches.
I recently read one on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand – the trigger that led to over four years carnage, and I’m sure I’ll be reading more as we hit the various milestones of terror that form the history of those years.
We think of those times and tend to get swallowed up by the epic nature of the events – the battles, the espionage, the life and death moments of individual soldiers, frightened and alone while breathing their last lungful of cordite-tainted air.
It’s all pretty dramatic stuff, but during and after those fateful days, there were more mundane things happening, too…and some less than impressive foot soldiers of history.
I came across these images quite a while ago. They are mugshots, published courtesy of the British Transport Police’s History Group, of crooks – caught stealing luggage mostly – at train stations in the early part of the 20th Century.
I never wrote about them at the time because I wasn’t sure what could be said. What I like about the images is the level of character that comes through on their faces. One of them (John Yates) I have even included in a new novel that I am writing.
Their crimes, committed, around and about 1920, are unimpressive – pathetic in the case of Jack Graham-Parker – but here’s the thing… it is people just like these who made the history of the Great War.
They were the soldiers and the nurses, the cogs in the wheel that made history turn. It was these people and many others who entered that hellish cauldron and managed to emerge years later, scraping together some semblance of a life in the aftermath of the horror.
I look at their faces now and try to imagine what they saw of the Great War and what scars they took with them when they finally left the front line.
Every picture tells a story… think of the ones you could write from a few forgotten mugshots.