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Image Morning at Passchendaele, 1917

TLF ID R2924

This is a black-and-white composite photograph, taken by Frank Hurley on the morning after the first battle of Passchendaele during the First World War, showing Australian infantry survivors laying out and placing blankets over dead soldiers around a blockhouse near the site of Zonnebeke Railway Station in Belgium on 12 October 1917. In the background the sun's rays shine from behind a threatening cloud. The photograph measures 5 cm x 48.8 cm.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset is a scene taken after the Third Battle of Ypres on the Western Front following the Allies' attempt to take Passchendaele Ridge from the Germans - after heavy rains the ground was waterlogged, fighting took place in appalling mud, in which many men drowned or died when their internal organs were crushed as they were pulled out by rope; the name Passchendaele has become a synonym for mud and slaughter.
  • It shows a blockhouse - the Germans built a series of fortified blockhouses and pillboxes to defend their position along the Western Front, an S-shaped narrow stretch of land between Belgium and France, and running from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier.
  • It shows some of the estimated 4,000 Australians who were killed in the battle; there were 310,000 casualties in the whole British Expeditionary Force and 200,000 German casualties.
  • It is an example of the work of Frank Hurley (1885-1962), famous for his photographs of Antarctica, the First and the Second World Wars, New Guinea and Australia - this is one of many Hurley photographs that graphically portrayed the horrors of war; Hurley was serving as an official Australian war photographer in 1917.
  • It is a composite photograph - Hurley insisted that it was impossible to capture the scene of war accurately, and he used composites to achieve the effect he wanted; here he has added to the scene a moody sky and the sun breaking though the clouds, suggesting that the hell of the battle is over.
  • It was to cause bitter conflict - Charles Bean, the official Australian war correspondent, objected to the fact that the resulting images were not an accurate picture of the scene; Hurley threatened to resign, but a compromise was reached when Bean allowed Hurley to exhibit six of his composite photographs in London, although he ensured they were not seen in Australia.
  • It shows that military censorship of the media during war is not a new phenomenon - only official photographers were permitted on the Western Front and all other photography was forbidden in areas of fighting, as it was seen as a weapon for spies; but thousands of photos were taken by ordinary soldiers with the popular new Box Brownie cameras and they survive to this day.
Year level

8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • english;
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
Strand
  • English/Language
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: National Library of Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
    • Author
    • Date of contribution: 1917
    • Name: Frank Hurley
    • Remarks: photographer
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 30 Aug 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
    Access profile
    • Colour independence
    • Device independence
    • Hearing independence
    Learning resource type
    • Image
    Browsers
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
    • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
    Operating systems
    • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
    • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
    Rights
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements