Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The War Diary of Albert K. Dawson (1915)

In 2011, authors Ron van Dopperen and Cooper C. Graham published an article for Film History journal on cameraman Albert K. Dawson. The paper examines Dawson's experiences during World War I based on excerpts from his published diary and other documentary sources, as well as portions of his films recently discovered in the Library of Congress's John E. Allen collection.

Albert K. Dawson in camp before Przemyśl, May 1915. Photo reproduced from the collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

Extraordinary Research Opportunity

Our discovery of Dawson's war diary was an extraordinary opportunity. We knew he kept a notebook on his film adventures during World War I. And just when we thought we would never find it, parts of his diary were located in the magazine Deutsch-Amerika. In a series of five weekly articles the magazine ran a feature story on Dawson's experiences as a cameraman, following the trail of the German and Austro-Hungarian army in the summer of 1915. The decision by the editor to publish parts of his war diary is something to be grateful for because it provides us with a unique source for World War I film history. It also gives us the opportunity to witness a major military campaign on the Eastern Front, as seen through the lens of an American camera correspondent.

Dawson when he was a Captain in the U.S. Signal Corps laboratory in Washington, D.C. (November 1917)

The historical significance of Dawson's war diary is confirmed by Oswald Denkmayr in his study Kurbelmann in Kriegsdienst (2012) on the Austrian World War I cinematographers of the KuK Kriegspressequartier. According to Denkmayr, Dawson's notebook is the only first-hand account that he could find and that has survived of a World War I film cameraman who accompanied the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. Denkmayr's study was written while we were researching Dawson and has a number of references to our article for Film History journal.

Here is a download link to Denkmayr's excellent thesis for the University of Vienna in 2012. 

Albert Dawson inspecting the battlefields around Przemyśl, June 1915

The Road to Ivangorod (1915)

In his diary Dawson describes how he gained access to the frontline in the summer of 1915 and covered the attack on Ivangorod in Russian Poland. All photographs with an asterisk in this magazine were taken by Dawson. His original notes were translated into German for this publication.

Because of its unique and historical value we have scanned and uploaded all five articles by Dawson from his war diary. You are free to read and download his own story here.

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