P.E.I. photographer's secret documentation of WW I goes on display

A photo exhibit which opens at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery on Remembrance Day displays the work of P.E.I. soldier and photographer Jack Turner. who was determined to tell the story of WW I, despite army rules forbidding cameras.

P.E.I. soldier disobeyed orders but left a treasure trove of photos

O'Leary, P.E.I.'s Jack Turner smuggled a camera into the battle lines of the First World War. (CBC)

A photo exhibit which opens at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery on Remembrance Day displays the work of a P.E.I. soldier and photographer, determined to tell the story of WW I against all odds.

Despite strict army rules forbidding cameras, Jack Turner a soldier from O'Leary, couldn't put aside his passion for photography.

"Even though a general order had come out saying you're not allowed to take a camera with you, he decided he would smuggle his Kodak in a pocket he sewed in his jacket, and smuggled it overseas with him," explained Boyde Beck, the curator for the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation.

So it's an exhibit that shouldn't exist, photos that should never have been taken. Turner captured the every day life of WW I, snapping endless photos, many of his fellow soldiers, and some of them Islanders as well.

Turner's photos captured everyday life for WW I soldiers. (CBC)

"He would get his people back home, his parents, to send him film," Beck revealed. "His shorthand was, if I asked for cigarettes, send me a roll of film."

"Some of these images, some of the original negatives were developed in the corner of the cellar of the bombed-out building where he happened to be living, where the battery was stationed in 1917."

Photos scattered around Island

Soldiers pull a large gun by hand, as seen in one of Jack Turner's photographs (CBC)

After the war, Turner returned to P.E.I. along with his photos and rolls of film. He waited years, until his retirement in the 1970s to develop some of them.

Eventually, collections of his work were scattered about the Island, handed over to such places as the Summerside Legion, the public archives, the P.E.I. Regiment Museum and the Confederation Centre.

Turner died in 1989, and now for the first time, his various collections are being showcased in one exhibit. The Regiment Museum's curator, Greg Gallant, is thrilled to see it.

"It's a remarkable collection, to think how he was able to smuggle film, to get it overseas, to be able to take the photos, to develop them and then how he got them home," said Gallant.

"And in later years, how they've been protected and preserved and passed down to the museums, all too often these things disappear, they're gone from P.E.I. and we never see them again."

Life in the trenches

Soldiers fight the ongoing battle against lice in this photo. (CBC)

Gallant is amazed by the details Turner was able to document. "Some of the photos of life in the trenches, and de-licing their uniforms and some of the victories and the prisoners being marched around, it's his stories through a lens," he said.

Beck believes the photos survived because people recognized the importance of keeping them.

"What this exhibit I think and I hope does, is remind us that these were ordinary people going through that extraordinary time," he said.

Turner's work will be on public display at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery until May.


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