Over the coming weeks we are going to be looking at a small selection of stereoscope cards depicting military scenes from the Boer and Great Wars. The stereoscope was a hugely popular form of entertainment in the late Victorian and Edwardian era. By taking two photographs, aligned slightly apart, and viewing one with each eye the brain was tricked into combining the two images into one single image, with a 3-D effect in much the same way as a modern 3-D cinema film does. The craze for stereoscope cards led to many companies being set up to produce the images and a wide selection of cards were available to the general public. Whilst landscapes and views of the world were always popular, battlefield photography were also lucrative topics for the different card manufacturers. Actual battle scenes were almost impossible to capture with the technology available, however reconstructed scenes were always a way forward and images of soldiers resting or undertaking other, non-fighting roles, were a simpler option. The example we are looking at today is entitled “British Officers enjoying a brief rest at a rail head, East African Campaign” and was produced during World War I by Underwood and Underwood of London:
The East African campaign was very much a sideshow of World War One and was rather under-reported at the time due to the fighting in France and Belgium and has been all but forgotten about in the years since. Britain and her allies invaded the German colony of German East Africa and a sprawling war across the jungles and plains of Africa went on until 1917, with the German commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck gaining legendary status for his continued guerrilla campaign against the British. Railways were hugely important in getting men across vast distances of the African countryside and depositing them far closer to the action far quicker than could have been achieved on foot. Here officers have arrived at the end of the line and take a brief rest before continuing on foot the rest of the way:
Note the camp bed and metal trunk that are clearly visible in the foreground. The men all wear Wolseley helmets, some with KD service dress such as the officer above, and others wear shirts with the sleeves rolled up:
This being Africa and the 1910s, few officers would expect to go far without local servants to look after their needs and these natives can be seen standing in the background, curiously looking at the photographer. One is a clearly very cheerful African man:
And the other appears to be a woman dressed in a long dress, with one shoulder uncovered and carrying a serving dish with some sort of sustenance upon it:
The trip to Africa could be an interesting experience. George Wilby, an ambulance driver, wrote to his girlfriend in 1917 upon finding out he was to be shipped to East Africa:
I am bound for German East Africa this time sweetheart,- I have got my wish, haven’t I- I would much rather have this trip then France, as I have always wanted to see the world a bit, especially Africa…I don’t suppose I shall be in German East Africa very many months, as the campaign is almost finished there—the Germans are surrounded in a very small tract of country and can’t possibly hold out long.