Miscellany — From the June 2014 issue

Stop Time

Remembering World War I’s executed deserters

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It’s unmissable, the memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval. It can be seen from a distance, across the rolling fields, and if there were any doubt of the power converging on and emanating from this place, a sign reminds visitors that they stand on hallowed ground. The Great War cemeteries in France and Belgium too, even ones with only a dozen graves, exert a hold on the land that surrounds them. Places where time has stood its ground, they allow whatever lies outside the low cordon of walls to return to purpose: for fields to be plowed, fruit to be grown, crops to be farmed, lives to be lived. When no grave or memorial is in view, one still understands — one feels — that this is more than just a conventionally pleasing landscape, even if the particulars of what has happened remain unknown. History has taken root here.

Each of these photographs by Chloe Dewe Mathews is of a place where something happened, enormous and terrible in itself, but easily, perhaps deliberately, overlooked in the context of the larger cataclysm of the First World War. They are part of a series called Shot at Dawn, for which Dewe Mathews visited sites where soldiers were executed for cowardice or desertion in the face of the enemy. All were taken as close to the time of execution as possible — either at dawn or, in two instances, at dusk — and at pretty much the same time of year. The weather may be different, but within the larger, planetary scheme of things the light is as it was.

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is a photographer based in London. She is represented by Panos Pictures.

 

’s most recent book, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H. W. Bush, was published last month by Pantheon. His article “A Brief Period of Rejoicing” appeared in the November 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

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