When J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan first came out, grown men left the theatre sobbing. Not because it was rubbish and they’d been pulled away from an agreeable evening at the club to go and watch it with a wife they rarely saw, but because of the central theme. Peter’s merry band of boys weren’t all that merry. Like him, they’d never grown up because they lived in Neverland. They’d been sent to schools that ripped them away from their families. The part of them that would have grown in a family was lost forever. That part of them was dead.
Just a few years later the sons of these same men were sent to France to die in their hundreds of thousands. There was nothing metaphoric about their deaths. Twenty years later the survivors sent their own sons to be killed.
I found this picture in the effects of a Scottish soldier of the Second War. His daughter told me that he had had to shoot someone once and that it bothered him all the rest of his life. She told me too, that on his long trek from Normandy to Bremen they’d adopted a young German boy. I don’t know which of those two this boy was. I never will now. All I know is that his picture was taken in Ypres on 30th April 1943, the studio and the date stamped on the back.
I wanted to do something to remember not just him but all the boys like him, in every army, at any point in history. It doesn’t matter where you’re born or what uniform they make you wear. There is no difference in any of us.
Yes, I know perfectly well what uniform they’re wearing. I know what the flashes on their collars mean. And I know too that whatever badge they wore, or the shape of their hats, they didn’t want to end-up dead in a field in Belgium any more than anyone else ever did. The same way the girl standing like a small child, or the woman on the right or the sophisticated woman in the dark dress didn’t want to be bombed out of their house or raped by the Russian army.
It makes no difference. All of them are almost certainly dead. If you can know anything about Hans Hofmann that you didn’t get from Wikipedia (and no, this boy is not THAT Hans Hoffmann), if your name is Hofmann or you know anything else about these photos, please tell me and post it here. It might help somebody, somewhere.
It’s not much of a memorial, I know. But I’m going to use these photos for the production of my screenplay Janni Schenck. For all the lost boys, wherever they are then and now.