Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Great War in Greyscale - German Sniper, 'Lover of the Dead' Inspired by the novel 'Three Day Road'

In Joseph Boyden's fine book 'Three Day Road', two young Cree indians from the forests of Northern Ontario volunteer alongside other Canadians to fight in France during the Great War. Once in Belgium the two men, having impressed their officers with their marksmanship and fieldcraft, are taken from the line and trained as snipers. Very deadly snipers.

Boyden's fictional Cree marksmen were inspired by a real First Nation's sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow, who was known in the Canadian trenches simply as 'Peggy'.

'Peggy', an Ojibwa from Ontario, became one of the highest ranking snipers in military history, being credited with 378 kills including over 300 captures. He was seriously wounded twice and was three times awarded the Military Medal for gallantry under fire. Pegahmagabow survived the war and later became chief of the Wasauksing First Nation. He remained an agitator and First Nations activist until his death in 1952.

One section of 'Three Day Road' describes a harrowing sniper duel which occurs in No Man's Land between the Cree marksmen and a notoriously successful German sniper. I don't want to give too much away from the book, but one chilling aspect of the German sniper's method is that he sets his firing position amidst the corpses between the lines - literally positioning cadavers around and over his body to provide camouflage and protection.

Can you imagine? Elijah asks, beginning to laugh. The intensity of such a man? He could lie there for hours among the dead and rotting. He lay there in that stink of death like death itself (...), a lover of the dead.

This vivid image from the book made an impression with me and so I decided to create a small vignette depicting the German sniper, laying in wait, set-up in his macabre firing position. 

The base is made up of a mixture of figures from Brigade, Great War and 1st Corps. I cut one of the casualty figures in half, repositioned and puttied it to allow it to properly drape over the sniper's body. I added a little surgical gauze around the sniper's rifle to mimic the camo scrim some marksmen used to reduce reflection. I bent some brass rod to resemble the barbed wire hangers that were common to the frontlines and then added some wire to give the impression that the sniper had cut the wire to lower the body over him.

I painted the sniper and groundwork in greyscale but chose to depict the dead in colour - a German Landser, a French Poilu and a Belgian Carabinier. 

Three Day Road

Joseph Boyden

Penquin Group

ISBN: 0143056956