Although this church has been irreparably damaged by shellfire, traces of its former glory can still be seen in the ruined remains. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the original caption to suggest where on the Western Front this church stood. It is one of countless thousands of French and Belgian buildings that were devastated during the war. In France alone it is estimated that around 300,000 houses and over 1,000 churches were destroyed.
It is thought this photograph was taken by the British official photographer, John Warwick Brooke. During his time at the Western Front, between 1916 and 1918, Warwick Brooke captured much of the devastation caused to the towns and villages lining the Front.
[Original reads: ‘BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH FROM THE WESTERN FRONT. A shell stricken church.’]
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This atmospheric and moving photograph is thought to have been taken by the official war photographer, John Warwick Brooke. The sun is shining down on this scene of wanton destruction. The older and more sculpted parts of the church are still in situ, which only underlines the lost grandeur and beauty.
The slang British term used here for German, ‘Hun, gained popular usage after Kaiser Wilhelm II urged his troops to ‘behave like Huns’ to win the war. The damage in Peronne was eventually so bad, that King George V visited himself: both to inspect the ruins and to boost morale.
[Original reads: ‘OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN ON THE FRONT IN FRANCE. Ruins of the church in Peronne after the Huns had done with it.’]
The remains of a ruined church. Devastated by shellfire, all that remains is a figure of Christ. The photographer, most likely John Warwick Brooke, has chosen the statue as the central focus of the photograph, as seen through a shell hole. It is a carefully composed and intentionally thought-provoking, if not contrived, shot.
It is possible that this image would have been used as propaganda by the Government and Military, with the intention of offending people’s religious sensibilities. Associating the destruction of a place of worship with the German Army, it was hoped, would further fuel a collective hatred of the enemy.
[Original reads: ‘OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT. THE BATTLE OF BROODSEYNDE [Broodseinde]. Seen through a shell hole. What German guns did to Breelen church. Note figure of Christ intact.’]