What we know of history has been confirmed by the victors - the generals and the politicians who give only their perspective. The stories told by soldiers are rarely heard but are among the most poignant and compelling witnesses of life and death. Their revelations are terrifying, violent and filled with doom. Yet beneath the war-hardened exterior there lies a glimmer of faith and hope for a better world.
The following are among the most striking and unforgettable photographs taken of soldiers in World War 1 and World War 2. This is intended to be an unbiased documentation of soldiers from both the Allied and Axis forces, containing brief excerpts and quotations about war and their personal experiences. But it is their faces which tell the stories that words cannot adequately express.
|WW2 Battle Weary Soldier|
Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means of peace. Ulysses S. Grant
|WW2 Soldier Courage in the face of fear|
War is hell. William Tecumseh Sherman
|Salvation Army worker writes letter for wounded soldier WWII|
No one ever goes into battle thinking God is on the other side.
|World War One - Soldiers in the Trenches|
"Our trenches were shortly filled with them crowding in from out left. They were mostly blind and choking to death, and as fast as they died were just heaved behind the trench." Canadian Lieutenant Colonel Ian Sinclair
Dawn of Chemical Warfare (re: chlorine gas attack on April 22, 1915)
|WW2 British Soldiers of 5th Battalion-Coldstream Guards- French town of Arras- early September 1944|
"They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind." British Air Marshal "Bomber" Harris
|WW2 Italian Side Gunner Inner view of Italian bomber Savoia-Marchetti S-79_Sparviero|
The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living. General Omar Bradley
|WW2 Polish Troops firing at German plane September 1st 1939 early morning|
"We got the order and we started to fight back. The cruiser then sailed into the channel and started to fire shell after shell at us. I saw huge trees being snapped in two.".....The Germans saw that their attacks weren't working so they used flame-throwers to try and overcome us with flames. By the sixth day we were barely managing to survive because we were cold, hungry, dirty, and we hadn't slept. We were struggling, Ignacy Skowron
Source: ("Watching the Start of WW2 / BBC News) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8225093.stm
|WW2 Canadian commander 8th Princess Louise's New Brunswick Hussars-Sherman tank- giving orders to his gunner during firing exercise Italy March 2nd 1944|
"Today we are crushed by the sheer weight of the mechanized forces hurled against us, but we can still look to the future in which even greater mechanized forces will bring us victory. Therein lies the destiny of the world." Charles de Gaulle
|WW2 Danish Anti aircraft gun with crew|
The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
|WW2 U-S Marine after 2 days and nights of hell on beach of Eniwetok in Marshall Islands- Feb 1944|
"The casualty rate was enormous. It was ghastly. Iwo [Jima] was a volcanic island with very little concealment ... Few trees. No grass. It was almost like a piece of the moon that had dropped down to earth. I don't think there's been any place with more dismemberment, more bodies cut to pieces." Ted Allenby
|WW2 soldiers on Belorussian Front take a break|
"While we were running across the bridge – and, man, it may have been only 250 yards but it seemed like 250 miles to us – I spotted this lieutenant, standing out there completely exposed to the machine gun fire that was pretty heavy by this time...He was cutting wires and kicking the German demolition charges off the bridge with his feet! Boy that took plenty of guts. He's the one who saved the bridge and made the whole thing possible – the kinda guy I'd like to know."
(story told by Sgt. Alexander A. Drabik talking about Lt. John W. Mitchell of Pittsburgh)
Source: Capturing the Bridge at Remagen 1945 http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/remagen.htm
|WW2 French Soldier Battle of Britain 1940|
Then aircraft started dropping parachute flares. We saw them hanging all about us in the night, like young moons. The sound of the firing and the bombing was with us always, growing steadily louder as we got nearer and nearer. The flames grew, too. From a glow they rose up to enormous plumes of fire that roared high into the everlasting pall of smoke. As we approached Dunkirk there was an air attack on the destroyers and for a little the night was brilliant with bursting bombs and the fountain sprays of tracer bullets.
Source: Evacuation at Dunkirk 1940 http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/dunkirk.htm
References: This account appears in: Commager, Henry Steele, The Story of the Second World War (1945); Devine A.D. Dunkirk (1948); Wernick, Robert Blitzkrieg (1976).
|WW2 German boy soldier|
War can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun. Mao Zedong
|WW2 Soviet Soldiers|
We make war that we may live in peace. Aristotle
|WW2 Sikh soldiers in tank in Libya|
|WW2 Canadian Medic gives water to injured German soldier|
|WW2 Turkish machine gunners|
|WW2 Russian soldiers Battle for Stalingrad|
In war there is no substitute for victory. General Douglas MacArthur
|WW2 Albanian soldiers Zogist soldiers|
We are not retreating - we are advancing in another direction.
|WW2 German boy soldier in tears|
It is only the dead who have seen the end of war. Plato
|WW2 Japanese Soldier Kamakazee|
"Continue in the task till all your ammunition is expended. If your hands are broken, fight with your feet. If your hands and feet are broken, fight with your teeth. If there is no breath left in your body, fight with your spirit. Lack of weapons is no excuse for defeat."
Japanese General giving the Order of the day to his troops
Japanese General giving the Order of the day to his troops
|WW2 Soviet soldier leading a charge|
|American howitzers shell German forces retreating near Carentan France. July 11-1944|
Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war. Ernest Miller Hemmingway
|Japanese soldiers use live Chinese soldiers captured in Xuzhou area for bayonet practice-May 1938|
“… now they are starting to throw kamikazes at us. They came in and you could hit them, but even if you hit them, they are still coming with momentum… .” David Hardy U.S. Navy Pacific Theater
|WW2 Hitler Youth soldiers|
Veni, Vedi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) Julius Caesar
|Sgt. H.E. Cooper, 48th Highlanders of Canada. August 11, 1943, Sicily (www.canadaatwar.ca)|
|WW2 D-Day Invasion - British soldiers on the way to battle|
In from the beach were high hills which we had to climb. We crawled most of the way up. As we filed by those awful scenes going up the hill and moving inland, I prayed hard for those suffering men, scattered here and there and seemingly everywhere. Capt. John G. Burkhalter (D Day landings on Omaha Beach)
|WW2 Australian troops in Burma|
|WW2 Soviet Sniper Julia Petrovna. Killed 80 Germans|
|WW2 Maori Battalion training exercise in Egypt|
The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other bastard die for his. George Patton
|US. Marine cradles baby-the only survivor from hundreds dead Japanese in Siapan cave -summer of 1944|
“… at night when we were in the jungle, it was so dark you couldn’t see anything, from here to you. So the Japanese would sneak right up and stab you in the back right in your own foxhole.” Donald Moore
|Polish Sniper WW2|
|WW1-Battle of the Somme - allied soldier wounded at the start of the battle. He was dead within half a hour.|
"We were walking on dead soldiers ... I saw poor fellows trying to
bandage their wounds... bombs, heavy shells were falling all
over them ... it is the worst sight that a man ever wants to see." Canadian soldier Frank Maheux
(source: Le Canada: A Peoples History-Horror on the Battlefield (WW1)
|Finnish Soldiers WW2 Winter War|
"Men were thrown headlong at Finnish guns. Tanks and their crews were shelled and burned, whole regiments of infantry encircled. Entire battalions of troops, the spearhead of the Red Army, were cut off from their reinforcements and supplies."
(unknown Soviet Red Army soldier / Soviet-Finnish Winter War)
|WW2 Young Chinese Nationalist Soldier|
|Red Army Soldiers Armia Czerwona WW2|
That’s all the excitement you get in a tank because in a tank, when they hit with a bullet and your own ammunition inside start exploding, so no chance to get out. Pawel Lojko (Poland)
|WW2 Swedish Infantry|
There will one day spring from the brain of science a machine or force so fearful in its potentialities, so absolutely terrifying, that even man, the fighter, who will dare torture and death in order to inflict torture and death, will be appalled, and so abandon war forever. Thomas A. Edison
|WW2 Polish Army in Italy Monte Cassino Battle|
The main street was being bombed from somewhere in the center of town. It took us a long time to realise, a German Tiger Tank had been bricked up inside a house. Every so often, the shuttered windows would open, an 88mm gun poked out, blasted forth, withdrew, windows closed, and everyone said. “Where the hell did that come from?” (Narrative of Battle of Monte Cassino)
Militia Boys by Trevor Palmer (story about James Palmer)
Source: BBC WW2 Peoples War
|Private DB MacDonald-Royal Canadian Regiment-Oct 1943 Campobasso Italy-holding Bren gun|
"On our deck, the men stood silently, staring across the water, each overwhelmed by an incinerating rage. Gone were the exhaustion, the frustration and the monotony of six weeks at sea. We forgot the oppressive heat, the monotonous meals and the acute shortage of water. The irritation of these discomforts was replaced by a bitter urge to get back to sea, to exact terrible retribution. Standing there, side by side, there was little conversation, because for many, like me, speaking would have erupted like a sob." (Dec 8, 1941 Pearl Harbor)
|WW2 Soviet Union submarine commander Series XIV of the _Cruising K-21_Captain 2nd Rank Nikolai Lunin--45mm semiautomatic-notice the periscope|
Yeah, then the sharks came. Lured by the blood and the movement, they picked us off like cheese crackers on a party tray. We could see the lights of the rescue ship and we prayed. Lord God, we prayed. Some men tried to swim to the center, not to be on the outer ring of men, not to be pulled under and tossed up and chewed to hell. But the movement of their legs in the water just pulled the sharks closer. You could hear the screams. You could taste blood and vomit and sea water in your own mouth and you prayed God please get me out of here. And then the sharks came. Keith Rosenstiel - USS Maddox
(Excerpt from book "And then the sharks came")
|American officer at periscope of US submarine WW2|
|WW2 Belgian Soldier|
|WW2 Japanese Kamakazee Pilots|
"(The Japanese) just pulled their guns into the cliffs and mountains of Saipan, so when we came in it was like shooting ducks out there and we were the ducks!" George Miller- U.S. Marine Corps Pacific Theater
|WW2 Chinese soldier shot by Japanese ambush|
Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.
Otto Von Bismark
|WW2 Czech soldier pointing to the sky|
|WW2 Close-up of German paratrooper with MP40|
Source: article "War and Emerging Remembrance: German Veterans Begin to Add Narrative to
|WW2-Special Air Service troops pictured in the North African desert|
Every soldier must know, before he goes into battle, how the little battle he is to fight fits into the larger picture, and how the success of his fighting will influence the battle as a whole.
Bernard Law Montgomery
Bernard Law Montgomery
|WW2 Dutch Soldier|
|WW2 Hungarian arrow cross soldier|
|Greek Soldiers WW2-BrixiaMortar|
Be convinced that to be happy means to be free and that to be free means to be brave. Therefore do not take lightly the perils of war. Thucydides
|WW2 Soviet soldier shell shock|
"The terrifying scream of the dive-bombers reached me first, followed by the crashing explosion of a direct hit. There was a blinding flash and then a second explosion, much louder than the first. I was shaken by a weird blast of warm air. There was still another shock, but less severe, apparently a near miss. Then followed a startling quiet as the barking of guns suddenly ceased. I got up and looked at the sky. The enemy planes were already gone from sight."
Source: Battle of Midway 1942 http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/midway.htm
|WW2 Malayan soldiers ferocious charge to defend peninsula -Malay battle zone February 10, 1942|
|WW2 Italian army Father Intreccialagli-chaplain of the Legione Tagliamento|
|WW2 German prisoners captured during Allied raid on German-Italian position in Sened-Tunisia February 27 1943 - they look content|
"Germany must either be a world power or there will be no Germany" (from Hitler's Mein Kampf)
|WW2 US Marine Guadalcanal M1 Garand|
"A gigantic fleet amassed in Pearl Harbor. This fleet will be utterly crushed with one blow at the very beginning of hostilities. Heaven will bear witness to the righteousness of our struggle."
November 1941 Imperial Japanese Navy Rear-Admiral Ito
|WW2 Warsaw Uprising-female insurgents of Home Army|
The relentless, heavy German fire continued. Artillery shells, rockets and other assorted missiles were falling all around us. Particularly unpleasant were the heavy shells known to us as `cows' or `wardrobes' because their explosion was preceded by a noise like cattle lowing, or a heavy wardrobe being pushed about.
Stanislaw Likiernik. By Devil's Luck: A Tale of Resistance in Wartime Warsaw.Source: http://www.warsawuprising.com/witness/likiernik2.htm
|Brazilian soldiers of FEB in Porreta-Termi, Italy 1944-weapons 2 Grease guns and a Thompson|
We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
|WW2 American soldiers 16th Infantry Regiment injured storming Omaha Beach--waiting for evacuation to field hospital-Collville-sur-Mer- Normandy|
|WW2 soldier from Chad -Free French infantryman 1942|
Victory belongs to the most persevering. Napoleon Bonaparte
|WW1-Canadian soldiers in trenches|
Hundreds, after a dreadful fight for air, became unconscious and died where they lay - a death of hideous torture, with the frothing bubbles gurgling in their throats and the foul liquid welling up in their lungs. With blackened faces and twisted limbs one by one they drowned - only that which drowned them came from inside and not from out. (Anonymous) source: The German Gas Attack at Ypres, April 1915
|WW2 Italian aviators|
"The Mediterranean will be turned into an Italian lake." Mussolini
|WW2 Hungarian soldiers at Voronezh-Russia1942|
|WW2 Wounded Canadians captured during Dieppe Raid August 1942|
|WW2 Operation Chariot Private Tom McCormick suffered severe head wound. He died two weeks later.|
|WW2 Czech soldier in England-exercise-Bren light machine gun|
"The most scared I ever was, was when we were in camp outside of Paris and the Germans were sending over V-2 Rockets or "Buzz Bombs". They sounded like a freight train coming in. When they'd run out of fuel, they would light up in the air before they hit. One fell about 300 yards from my tent and exploded. That was the most scared I ever was." (excerpt from book by Grover C. Boone, "They have seen the elephant: Veteran's remembrances from WWII - For the 40th Anniversary of VE Day 1985)
|Private G-R_MacDonald-Toronto Scottish Regiment MG- giving first aid to injured French boy-Brionne France- Aug 25 1944|
The noise was continuous, day and night. The planes came over at night and so did the Germans. They launched flares in an attempt to locate us and then bomb our position.
Roméo Ouellet, régiment de la Chaudière (Riviere du Loup, Quebec)
|WW2 Chinese nationalist troops using small mortar 1943|
|WW2 Polish Division 307-Lwowskich Puchaczy-L-R- Lt Leon Michalski and Lt pilot Alfred Suskiewicz in Mosquito VI Nov1943|
I immediately found myself in a world alien to everything I had ever experienced. There were ME-109s and FW-190s leaping into existence from everywhere without warning. When they opened fire you saw sudden flashes of light winking at you from the distance. All at once there existed a canopy of cannon shells and bombs, aerial mines and rockets exploding everywhere. Each one was intent on hitting our pregnant bomb load and us. (Description of Black Thursday, The Schweinfurt Mission: Excerpt from article "Reality" by Wally Hoffman)
|German soldiers in house-Italy-WW2|
"You gasp for air, which doesn't come, you drag your legs upwards till they seem reduced to the strength of matchsticks, and all the time sweat is pouring off you."
Lt Sam Horner, of 2 Royal Norfolks
|WW2 Hungarian 37mm Bofors AA gun & crew|
|WWI--Irish Soldier with captured German Sappenpanzer-Pilkem Ridge 1917|
“All the lights went out – and the steel door to get out was jammed,” said Robert. “The ship was turning and the portholes were below the water line. It was like a sealed coffin. Someone shouted ‘we’re going’ and I thought we were headed to the bottom of the ocean. Then there was another explosion from the ammunition locker. That saved us – it blew the steel door open by 18 inches – just enough for us to squeeze out."
Quartermaster Robert Lang, on the SS Kingswood attacked by U-boat December 17, 1943Source: http://heroesreturn.org/2012/01/06/711/
|WW2 Soviet Soldiers|
|WW2 Chinese nationalist soldiers-NRA machinegunners|
Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.
George S. Patton
George S. Patton
|WW2 Hungarian Honveds with Panzerfaust_destroyed Russian T-34 in Budapest -battles ended February 11th 1945|
|WW2 Italian Bomber - Gunner|
|WW1 Royal Irish Rifles-in the trenches - Battle of Somme July 1916|
The ground in front of us was alive - a great crawling mass of black heads and khaki bodies, pushing and struggling, like maggots crowding about a rotting carcass.
Excerpt from THE DEVIL MY FRIEND BY Captain C. H. Trehane
|WW2 Leningrad Front Ivan Antonov Russian sniper|
In Memory of Private GERARD DORE
Fusilers Mont Royal (Montreal)
KIA in France on July 23, 1944.
He was only 16.
Video: WW2 Soldiers (00:02:08m)