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March 22, 2017

These Vintage Snapshots of Naked World War II Soldiers Show the Intimate Side of War

Every harrowing day for a serviceman during World War II was potentially his last. To help bolster troops against the horrors of combat, commanders encouraged them to form tight “buddy” relationships for emotional support. Many war buddies, together every moment, and depending on each other to survive, formed intimate friendships. When they weren’t fighting side by side, they relaxed together, discharging tension in boisterous—sometimes naked—play. The full extent of nude horseplay among men during World War II can’t be known, as cameras were rare and film hard to process, but some men did document this unprecedented male bonding in small, anonymous photos mostly kept hidden away until their deaths.

In My Buddy: World War II Laid Bare, a fascinating book available from Taschen, editor Dian Hanson assembles images of Allied soldiers and sailors at their most unguarded. These personal snapshots—of World War II soldiers bathing, swimming, and posing naked—are selected from the collection of Michael Stokes, who has amassed over 400 such photographs by combing through estate sales, flea markets, and eBay. His collection includes soldiers and sailors from Australia, England, France, Italy, Poland, Russia, and the USA, cavorting on the sand in the South Pacific, shivering in the snow of Eastern Europe, posing solo in the barracks, and in great happy groups just about everywhere. These images show men barely out of boyhood, at their physical peak, responding to the reality of battle by living each day to the fullest—a side of the war never before made public.

(Images: Michael Stokes Collection/TASCHEN)



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