Much reproduced, including on page 132 of my book, is the Imperial War Museum photo Q2641. On the morning of 31 July 1917, 11 DLI went forward to support the first day of the battles of Third Ypres. Their job was to build artillery tracks and other communications devices. They were transported from Elverdinghe by Decauville railway in the characteristic D class wagons. On their way up to the front, Lt Ernest Brooks captured several of the trucks in what has become an iconic image.
Among descendants of 11 DLI men I am not alone in searching along the line of cheering, waving men, searching for an ancestor, in my case Sergeant Thomas Bashforth. I have searched in vain, but maybe others have been more fortunate. There is something about this photograph, however, that is disturbing. We see the men in great spirits, seemingly unaware that they were part of what has become equally iconic – the dreadful quagmire leading to Passchendaele that for many sums up what the Great War meant. I am sure they were not entirely naive, battle-hardened as many were by this date, having survived months on the Somme and served a previous stint in the Ypres Salient. Friends and relatives will have been lost. But in this photograph we see the men respond to the sight of the photographer at the side of the line and momentarily forget what they are about to be involved in. It is that contrast that hits home for us today when we see this image.
August 1917 would see much less happy days and moments than this.