First of all, apologies for the brief absence on the blog front. I’ve been rather busy lately with the exception of an uncharacteristic migraine which waited until Otago’s regional holiday before ambushing me and rendering me useless, but I can’t complain, at least I’m not off to war like these guys…
I came across this snapshot in a secondhand bookshop and fell in love with it. It appeals to me for a number of reasons. First of all, if any of my friends were sent off to war then this is exactly the kind of Facebook profile photo that I’d expect to see show up within 24 hours of their first gas mask drill – it screams “social media profile shot”. Similarly, if Instagram was around in 1941 then I like to think that this would be the kind of image that would’ve been uploaded. It is a photograph I can relate to.
It also reminds me of my first foray into collecting militaria. At the age of about 14 I bought an original WW2 ‘Brodie’ helmet as seen in this photo. I found it in a local antique shop and thought it incredible that my paper-run pay could purchase a genuine (not to mention wearable) antique from the Second World War.
A few months later in an army surplus store I found an even more appealing piece of military head-ware – a gas mask circa 1970’s/80’s. Fortunately it was never called upon to protect its owner during times of war or apocalypse, but it proved its worth merely for its entertainment value at dress-up parties and on at least one occasion at the dinner table after a sibling engaged in a particularly offensive flatulence campaign directed at yours truly. The gas mask was faulty and did little to improve the quality of the air but it was an extremely effective way to make a protest at the use of such an inhumane weapon.
In my opinion the sight of adults dressed up in full anti-gas kit in the middle of the desert is always going to be amusing. If you enjoy this snapshot then I can recommend the movie Jarhead. My favourite scenes in that movie combine the comic gold that is military desert camps and gas-masks.
The message on the back of the photo suggests that the photographer was also amused by the scene, unless “Ready for the Party” was meant as a euphemism for “Going to War” in which case it is a little bit depressing.
I like to think that there was humour behind this comment but even if it was a euphemism then there is at least solace in knowing that while the use of gas was feared by many it didn’t repeat the horrific role that it had played on the battlefields of the previous world war.
The two soldiers are likely members of the 2NZEF and the photograph was taken somewhere in the Western Desert in 1941. It was a busy year in the Mediterranean; the New Zealanders saw action in Greece, Crete, Egypt and Libya. Some time in-between all that fighting two soldiers dressed up in gas-masks and had their photo taken. Seventy-three years on and even if it is a little wrong, I can’t help but be amused at the sight. What do you reckon?
© Lemuel Lyes