This photograph shows soldiers from the 3rd Horse regiment taking on a group from the 18th Lancers in a football match in July 1915. It is interesting to observe this mixed group of Indian and white British soldiers playing together in a moment of respite. The game is watched by other soldiers in the background and by a group of children in the foreground.
The image belongs to a collection of several hundred photographs taken in 1915 by the Canadian-born photographer Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood (1878–1964). They document the role of soldiers from the Indian subcontinent in the British war effort. A photographer by trade, Girdwood founded the photo agency Realistic Travel in 1908, and he was a specialist in stereoscopic photography.
In April 1915, Girdwood was commissioned by the India Office in London to produce the official war record of Indian and British troops on the Western Front in France and Belgium. He was one of the few photographers given access to the Indian military hospitals on Britain’s southern coast, including Brighton and Bournemouth. He also made a number of ciné films which were released under the title, With the Empire’s fighters.
Although Girdwood’s photographs give an important insight into the experiences of Indian soldiers, they also need to be approached with caution. Girdwood was expressly commissioned to create war propaganda for the India Office. While some of the images on the Western Front seem to be spontaneous shots, others are posed images or recreations, especially evident in some of the fighting scenes. This could be due to the severity of the fighting at the time. In this sense the photographs need to be read less as documentary evidence, but instead to show the power of photography as propaganda during wartime.
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