Rene Vincent, Verdun, France © Steve Pyke
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. The inimitable Steve Pyke completed his series of WWI veterans' portraits in 1993, by which time of course many of their fellow vets had died. He photographed British, French, German and American veterans, usually in their homes in their respective countries.
"The war had always gripped me. As a child I met and spoke openly to the old timers who had fought, including my grandfather Arthur Pyke who served as a cabin boy at the naval battle of Jutland in 1916. I realised that by chance of birth had I been born in the late 19th century, then undoubtedly I would have served.
There was one veteran in Leicester where I grew up that I got to know well. Bert Mundy had served in Flanders, he lost an eye and was mustard gassed there. We used to play chess together and he would be continually dabbing his weeping eyes whilst lecturing me on various chess moves.
The series now rests in the permanent collection of The Imperial War Museum in London. It's fitting to view these portraits again 20+ years after I made them, and on the 100th anniversary of the Great War."
Steve Pyke, MBE.
Emile Richard, Verdun, France
Humbert Monaco, Long Island, USA
Fritz Strubling, Rostock, Germany
Len Griffiths, London, UK
Joseph F. Billicki, Long Island, USA
Bruno Lange, Berlin, Germany
All images © Steve Pyke
At school in England, we learned about the Great War by reading the poetry written by young men in the trenches.
"Attack" by Siegfried Sassoon.
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!