War and the Politics of Representation
The CWRO photographs held at the British Library were deposited under Colonial Copyright Law, constituting 1,772 photographs of a total 4,500 accessioned between 1895 and 1924. Within this collection there are other photographs relating to the First World War that are not produced by the Office but instead originated in Canada. Many of these were produced by photographers commissioned to produce portraits of individuals, companies, and battalions about to be transported for service, but there are various other images associated with the war included. The construction of war materiel, humorous propaganda postcards, and, most notably, images of First Nations ‘supporters’ of the war were also deposited between 1914 and 1918.
The photographs of the Colonial Copyright Collection are an opportunity to view this messiness and also question Canada’s growing international role. The value of photographs as a particular kind of historical artefact is relevant here. In Memory, Media and the First World War, Williams (2009) argues that photographs have an ability to circumvent time and pull us back into the past, as a result of the poignant details that are held in the frame. Such an argument is similar to that put forth by Barthes (2009) in his Camera Lucida; here details of photographs act as ‘punctums’, that which punctures, to pull the viewer into highly emotive and challenging pasts. Barthes’ argument is one based on family photographs and lived experience but that does not mean it is invalid for a historian’s use. Instead the photograph and its details act as something that punctures any dispassion, connecting us to the past, and, perhaps most importantly, can puncture previous and prevailing assumptions, providing a more holistic view of well-discussed conflicts. This emotive reminder is the role played by the photographs discussed above but there are others which move to directly challenge historians and previous historical arguments.
With regard to problematizing the nation-building argument, two groups of photographs related to the war stand out in particular: those of Canada’s First Peoples people and those of Canada’s internment camps that sprung up during the war. There were many people from First Peoples groups who saw service in the First World War, including Tom
Longboat and even the great-great-grandson of Joseph Grant. The history here is long and complicated, as illustrated by Winegard’s For King and Kanata, which illustrates the connection many First Peoples people felt to the British Crown, as opposed to the Canadian state; the various roles First Peoples people performed, from fighting to financially supporting the war; and the attempts of the Canadian government to use to war to assimilate First Peoples soldiers into Canadian society (Winegard 2012). The photographs shown here of the ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs’ were copyrighted by R.R. Mumford in 1915 as part of a broader effort to create positive propaganda for the war by showing the support for it even amongst Canada’s First Peoples groups (see Figure 5.1 and Figure 5.2).
Here Mumford is photographing members of the Mosquito First Nation and the composition is striking; individuals are posed in a car, the height of modernity, with a Union Flag draped across the bonnet. The photograph is a long way removed from the ‘noble savage’ depictions of someone like Edward Curtis, whose imagination of the American Indian often attempted to ignore the role of modernity in his sitters’ lives. Instead, Mumford’s photograph situates them in modernity, in terms of both their position in the car and their affiliation to the British Crown in a modern war. Superficially this makes sense within the scope of relations
Figure 5.1 ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs ’, R.R. Mumford.
Source: Copyright Number 30605.
Figure 5.2 ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs |4]’, R.R. Mumford.
Source: Copyright Number 30608.
between the First Peoples and the war’s combatants at the time: in the South African War, many from First Peoples groups offered to serve the Crown (although these requests were blocked by Canadian administrators) and the First World War saw the same enthusiasm. However, the other photographs in the series complicate this picture.
The other three photographs show a larger group posing under a Union Flag at full mast. The images are poor, suggesting Mumford was not completely comfortable with the equipment, but more importantly they provide insight into who is organizing the production of these images. Here we see Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian government officials, the field agents of the Department of Indian Affairs, in short, acting as representatives of the Canadian state many First Peoples groups had a poor relationship with. These individuals and the groups they represent are, to First Peoples groups, very far removed from the British Crown they are aligned with and so the photographs can be read less as freely expressed patriotism and more as contrived, state sponsored poses with the trappings of patriotism and imperial affiliation. As a result, the photograph illustrates the complex internal politics involved in Canada’s war.
Canada was not the only nation to be wrestling with such issues; indeed the politics of representation and the relationship between representation and politics were significant for the British Empire as a whole. Colonial politics and race relations were a significant factor in where troops from different parts of the Empire were deployed, with this influencing, e.g. the decision that Indian troops should largely fight against Turkish forces, as opposed to on the Western front (Das 2011). While these troops, like those originating from the West Indies, do have publications and images that record their presence and activities in the field the records are not as voluminous as those of colonial Australian and New Zealand troops, not to mention Canadian. This is particularly notable in the context of West Indian troops who not only participated in the war but preceding it possessed their own regiment, the British West India Regiment, with its own distinct history and documenting publications (Ellis 1885; Caulfield 1899). The British West India Regiment saw action in the war, predominantly in Africa, so it is notable that its heritage and history of published and pictorial representation did not manifest into a body of work during the conflict.
The whitening of Australia and New Zealand forces is notable too due to the absence of indigenous peoples from their literatures or the construction of particular imageries and roles for those depicted. Notable for both its content and its unique position as a publication about indigenous fighters from Australasia, The Maoris and the Great War serves as an illustration as to how race was perceived, depicted, and structured during the First World War (Cowan 1926). The first portrait in The Maoris and the Great War is not of the troops which formed the title but of the white Officers who led them. Such structures were in place in the forces of the British Empire prior to the First World War, with the British West India Regiment being an example where colonial troops were overseen by white, usually British members of the Officer class (Ellis 1885). The existence of a socially structured Officer class is significant of wider British values of the time with regard to status and leadership but it had a further role where race was involved; the primacy of white Officers was designed to defend the idea that people from other racial groups were somehow inferior to white men, requiring their leadership and oversight in order to successfully execute duties in the line of battle. Furthermore, the structure served to mediate fears about the training and arming of men who could, conceivably, become part of a later anti-colonial movement (Das 2011; Howe 2002).
The structure of The Maoris and the Great War is therefore assembled so as to placate such anxieties, depicting the effectiveness of Maori troops while also showing them to be led by the white Officer class and, therefore, maintaining a sense of the colonial order. When images of Maori soldiers do begin to appear in the book, 46 pages in and after various other portraits of white Officers, there is a single image of troops in front
Illustrating the Warriors of Empire 69 of a traditional Maori wharenui before moving on to images of the soldiers on duty in training, transport, and the field. What is notable from this point onwards is that, racial structuring aside, the book takes on a form typical of other publications in the genre of regimental histories from the war.6 Images are provided of transport, enthusiastic responses to letters from home, training, fields of battle, and wounded men stoically looking into the camera. The suggestion from the book’s visual style and the structuring of images around each other is that colonial peoples can be effective soldiers and members of the British Empire when provided with the guidance of the Officer class. Historical evidence suggests, as highlighted above, such structures existed more to soothe the anxieties of a British Empire fixated on race and that indigenous soldiers, when circumstances allowed, executed their duties with commendation (Win-egard 2011). Instead, then, what we see in The Maoris and the Great War is an attempt, similar to the photographs taken by R.R. Mumford, to use indigenous peoples from the Empire to burnish rhe cause of the British Empire, while setting up such visual depictions within racially structured hierarchies of control. As Das and others have argued, such constructions and hierarchies were not unusual, restricted to white, colonial societies such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, but are evident across fighting forces from India, the West Indies, and other locations as well. That being the case we can see images of soldiers at war as performing at least two functions, one which serves as positive propaganda for the war effort, illustrating heroic individuals taking the fight to the enemy, and another which serves to define the idea of a white colonial soldier. These soldiers exist within a racial hierarchy in which they are dominant and represent particularly hale and heroic versions of white masculinity, as illustrated in the very first depictions of Australia and New Zealand troops in The Anzac Book. As a result, we must understand the endeavours of men like Lord Beaverbrook and the CWRO as having impacts and a vision which went beyond the temporal and geographical limits of the First World War. These were attempts to visually articulate and define who white, colonial men were in a twentieth century where the Dominions from which they hailed were increasingly independent and operated on a world stage alongside Britain. The importance of this aim can be seen not just through the images themselves but how they were circulated, consumed, and, most importantly, archived during and after the war.