World War I six-foot long panoramic photograph of the Plymouth 12th Infantry Division dated December 3, 1918. Panoramics of this period are not uncommon, but this example is extraordinary. The photographer captured an entire infantry division — approximately 10,000 soldiers — yet the print is so clear that a closer view reveals almost every face in recognizable detail. Captured in a single image, modern warfare transforms these individual men into a shapeless, unfathomable mass.
The training of the the 12th was interrupted by the Armistice ending World War I and these soldiers were lucky to never cross the Atlantic to join their comrades on the killing fields of Europe. But although the 12th Division was spared the horrors of trench warfare and would be disbanded by early 1919 without deployment, many of the soldiers at Camp Devens would still become casualties of the global conflict — despite never leaving their home state.
With hundreds of thousands of men moving and massing across the globe, the Great War created an enemy beyond human control, a foe which knew no allies nor Armistice. The 1918 "Spanish Flu" influenza pandemic would take twice as many lives in 1918 as four years of world war. Camp Devens became a locus of the pandemic, and of the 50,000 soldiers stationed at army training facility over 10,000 fell ill. Contemporary accounts describe scores of sickened soldiers lined up in the rain awaiting entry to the overflowing army hospital, cots of stricken men filling hallways and even porches, and doctors stepping over piles of corpses to go about their duties. Influenza would cut down thousands of soldiers at Camp Devens, the virus borne as much by the air as by military mandate.
And so they lined up elbow to elbow on a barren December hillside to pose for a photograph, keeping still for their officers rather than the cameraman, the unnatural silence of the multitude interrupted by the occasional deadly cough.
The photograph retains its original black frame and glass. Available.