My first article for Macfilos about six years ago featured my late father’s camera and some of his photographs. He bought that camera in January 1940 just after his twenty-fourth birthday and not long after the start of World War II. He had other cameras before that and took some interesting photos just before the outbreak of hostilities.
The first set of photographs below was taken on the eleventh and twelfth of August 1939 at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Dublin Horse Show. Military teams from Ireland, Britain, Germany and France and other countries competed against one another at the show, as was the norm in those days. Just over three weeks later, some of those countries were at war.
My father, Anthony Fagan, took the following three photos on that August twelfth and they are now in the RDS Archive. The first shows the French team in the foreground. The man in the top hat behind the French Team was a Father O’Reilly from Roscommon who competed in the same event. The second image is of Rittmeister Brinckmann, riding for Germany on Oberst II (Colonel II)
Below, we see Captain Chevallier riding for France on Jacynthe, the duo which came second in the competition.
The image below was taken professionally the day before at the Aga Khan (Nations) Cup and shows the Irish Army Team, led by Captain Dan Corry on Red Hugh, which came second to France in the major competition. The competition is still held at the Dublin Horse Show every year.
Here is a contemporary Pathé News Bulletin showing some highlights of the 1939 Dublin Horse Show.
A little over a month earlier, my father paid a visit to Paris, on the twenty-ninth of June 1939 to be precise. He was returning from a pilgrimage in Lourdes in the south of France, and he seems to have stopped in Paris for a day to see the sights. This was slightly less than twelve months before the invasion of Paris in June 1940.
Here is a small selection from the many photographs he took on that day.
The final picture here is one of my favourites of those taken by my father. It depicts the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, but what really makes this for me is the group of three people at the head of the tomb, two women and a young boy. One of the women has her arm around the boy, while she explains the meaning of the tomb/monument and the eternal flame. What I find most poignant is that this monument was erected in memory of the fallen of World War I and, just over two months later, World War II commenced. I cannot avoid wondering how the war went for that boy.
I still wonder whether my father was just taking a photograph of the tomb or whether he saw the significance of the group at the head of the tomb. Either way, I find the resulting picture most affecting.
My father was just twenty-three when he took these photographs, which show two countries on the eve of World War II. The thing that strikes me most about the images is that life was going on as normal, despite the impending doom.
I do not know what camera my father used, but I am fairly certain that it was a larger format than the Balda 35mm camera he acquired early the following year. No matter what camera was used, these moments in time were recorded by him, and the images are still there today to show me some of the things my father was doing in that fateful year.