Monday, August 1, 2016

Edwin Weigle's Experiences on the Belgian Battlefields

In September 1914, Edwin F. Weigle - staff photographer of the Chicago Tribune - went to Belgium to film the invasion of this country by the German Army. Weigle was the Tribune's star cameraman who had just before the outbreak of the Great War filmed the U.S. Marines attack on Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Left: Belgian machine gun squad, photographed by Weigle. Right: Weigle's war film On Belgian Battlefields, advertised in the Chicago Tribune,  14 November 1914

Weigle's war films have been described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War. He wrote a personal account on his film work in Europe, My Experiences on the Belgian Battlefields, that was published in late 1914 shortly after Weigle had returned to the United States. In this book Weigle related how he managed to get access to the firing line in Belgium, filmed the German siege of Antwerp in October 1914 and survived the artillery attack on Antwerp in an underground basement together with some fellow American war correspondents.

Edwin Weigle, filming in the ruined city of Aerschot, Belgium

On Belgian Battlefields (USA, 1914)

Weigle's account relates an exciting story. It also provides an interesting case story on how neutral correspondents back in 1914 at the start of World War I covered the military conflict with their movie camera. Weigle's film was released in America in November 1914 under the title On Belgian Battlefields. It opened at the elegant Studebaker Theatre in Chicago and was a huge success. The movie was released when public sentiments in the United States on Belgium's fate were running high. The country had been brutally overrun by the Germans, and there was a lot of sympathy for the suffering of the Belgian people. Weigle's film as well as his personal story also is of special interest because of the 'authentic touch'. Although Weigle worked for a pro-German newspaper and didn't mention any atrocities committed by the German Army in Belgium, his book does provide us with a rare opportunity to witness the Great War as seen through the lens of an American film correspondent.

Weigle's 60 page book on his experiences in Belgium is hard to locate nowadays. But we found an original 1914 edition and uploaded the book on this weblog.

To read and download Weigle's book My Experiences on the Belgian Battlefields  (1914) click this link.

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