During World War I, many military men wanted to do what Pvt. 1st Class H. James Moses did. They didn’t do it, though, because they didn’t want to get caught.
Stationed under French command with Ambulance Unit # SSU 633 at Camp de Châlons (near Reims), Mr. Moses’s tour of duty as a Ford Model T ambulance driver was something of a double life. One could figuratively say that, by day, he was saving the lives of countless young servicemen. But James Moses also was documenting the war — illegally.
“By studying the dimensions of the photos, I suspected that a Kodak No. 3A camera was used, and then I actually saw the case in some of the photographs.,” said Shawn Moses, an Idaho high school teacher who now owns his grandfather’s WWI photo library.
“World War I was the first time that cameras became small and cheap enough that they were easy for a common soldier to carry,” Shawn Moses explained.
However, some militaries expressly prohibited carrying cameras. Photographs of dead bodies (including some of the photos you will see below if you continue scrolling) were absolutely forbidden
Jim Moses took the risk of somewhat clandestinely documenting the war. For the rest of his life, he also hid the secret photos in his home in a quiet Midwestern town on the wind-kissed shores of Lake Erie.
But the pictures — which show gas attacks and executions — still very vividly attest to the horrors of the wars that men fight.
The fact that the photos were hidden in a basement for 100 years and survived is unusual; rendering the Moses collection a true historical treasure.
Fallen soldiers, those that go onto live with scars so deep that lives are forever spiritually, physically and mentally altered; these are the lessons of the Moses Family WWI photo library.
In these pictures, modern readers get to go back in time to a Europe that has not yet heard of Adolf Hitler. The photos document a European culture not yet changed by the Second World War — and for that reason it is difficult to overlook even the most mundane of the photos.
After extensive restoration, the picture library is being dedicated to the memory of James Moses. He received the Croix de Guerre with a silver star after enduring numerous injuries in the rescue of countless French servicemen.
In addition to permanent shrapnel injuries, Mr. Moses’s lungs were destroyed by one of the very gas attacks that he photographed in the war. “Mustard and phosgene gas attacks are devastating to human lung tissue & the effects are irreversible,” says Allen Feldman, a retired respiratory therapist.
The pictures have been a great inspiration to Shawn Moses (James’s grandson), who first became aware of the pictures after his grandfather passed away.
Through extensive research, Shawn Moses has located approximately 70 of the locations pictured in the photographs. He hopes to surprise the current property owners with the pictures and document the changes after his grandfather left. He will be touring France by bicycle.
As the free world celebrates the birth of a great nation, let us look upon these photos with reverence for some of the men who paid the price for our freedom and for our modern world.
Jason Jellison is an academic and a practicing Buddhist who currently lives in Thailand.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.