A Story of (Charles) Hilton DeWitt Girdwood


I guess I didn’t remember (or know) that Hilton DeWitt Girdwood was the Mayor of Bombay (Mumbai) India!  From The Evening Argus – Oct 17, 1906 (link)

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Original Story:

I was contacted by a gentleman from Georgia in 2013.  He wanted more information and pictures of (Charles) Hilton DeWitt Girdwood, b. 1878 in Oxford, Ontario, Canada.  This is the “half-brother-in-law” of my older living relative Marguerite Dean Girdwood, who turns 100 this year.  Hilton was a half-brother of my great-grandfather Laurence because they had different mothers.

Hilton lived in many places, including London England in 1939.  This is confirmed by this document.  The address is “real” and exists here at this link.  Hilton had identified with “London England” since at least 1900, when he graduated from Kalamazoo College [image] and listed that as his residence at least in 1902.  Let’s hear what else he was up to…

“I have been collecting stereo views of the First World War since the 1980’s.  I have been writing a series of articles for Stereo World magazine, the publication of the National Stereoscopic Association.  All of my articles have had to do with WW1, and the stereo views published during and after the war.  Realistic Travels published a set of war views.  The set grew over time, and the last one was a whopping 600 view set.  From what little I have found, Hilton DeWitt Girdwood was the president of the company, and one of the main photographers (reference).  He had a very distinctive name, so there can not be too many Hilton DeWitt Girdwoods out there.  He is also listed as being an official war photographer with the British army in WW1, although he was actually working for the Government of India at the time, so he is not listed with the British official photographers.  In the set of war views by Realistic Travels, are a number of views of the Gallipoli campaign that are unlike the majority of the views in the set.  I am hoping to find out if Girdwood was the photographer, or if he had staff photographers at Gallipoli, or who he acquired them from.”

“Girdwood also seems to have had something to do with some official films of the war made by the British government, and I have seen some criticism of Girdwood and others for ‘faking’ action footage.  A number the ‘action’ shots in the stereo views have also been criticized as being clearly staged, but that is not the focus of my article.  How anyone could get real action photos during a battle, and not be killed in the process, is a mystery to me.”

“So when I see any ‘action’ shot from WW1, I just assume that it is staged, and think no more of it.  The nature of the cameras in use at the time, and the relatively slow exposure time required by the film, did not allow for much spontaneity by the stereo photographer.  Girdwood was not alone in taking creative license.  The first set of war views by the Keystone View Co. was a set of 30 views sold in early 1915.  Every view in that set was taken prior to 1912, most were recycled from Boxer Rebellion views and given new captions to make them appear current.  What is unique about the Gallipoli photos in the Realistic Travel set, is their candid nature showing the reality of the war, and not the sanitized view that is typical for all the other commercial views of the time.  The only other stereo views that are as candid are the French official views, which were not intended to be made public, but an outcry by French veteran groups after the war forced the French government to release them.”

“I do not know if you have seen the WW1 stereo views published by Realistic Travels.  They are not common here in the USA.  The final set had 600 views in it.  The photos in that set run the range of amazing to boring, as one would image a group of 600 photos would be.  Two of the photos stand out as iconic images of WW1.  One is the imprint in the ground left by the commander of a zeppelin when he jumped out of his burning airship.  This photo could not be staged, and the event is well documented.  The other is a dead German soldier hanging on the barbed wire.  It is clearly a faked ‘action’ shot, as no photographer with a large bulky stereo camera on a tripod would have survived very long in the trenches, or be allowed access to the front lines.  Still, that image is striking due to how well composed it is, taken by a master photographer.  Both images clearly illustrate the human cost of the war.” (dead German soldier link here and the set link here)

“It was a common practice at the time to embellish stereo photographs with an interesting background story, with little regard for the literal truth.  It was an entertainment medium of the time, and not a historic record, as we tend to look at them today.   Not that things have changed that much with what passes for news today.”

There are two stereoviews of him on Flickr:
Direct Links [Here] and [Here]

“He seems to have been very influential in the early British films of WW1, although he has been criticized for staging scenes as actual war footage.  It should be noted that he was not allowed anywhere near the front lines by the military authorities, along with all journalists and photographers. It should also be noted that had he been allowed into the front lines, with a very large camera on a tall tripod, he probably would not have survived the trip.”

Here are some links (and some pictures)

Anything by “Realistic Travels” is by HD Girdwood (close cousin of Grandpa Laurence).  Below are some links to stereo-views that are by Realistic Travels and, in fact yes, from my Girdwood blood line.

Here is some info on Girdwood’s involvement in Realistic Travels. He probably also bought the Underwood stereo-views

This shows HD Girdwood(owner of Realistic Travels) with the Prince of Wales http://www.worldofstereoviews.com/wwpage91.htm#add0581

Finally, these links should take you to HD Girdwood (Realistic Travels) images focusing on Scotland

Here are some pictures




Author: John Girdwood

John Girdwood studies homelessness in Michigan and teaches sociology.

2 thoughts on “A Story of (Charles) Hilton DeWitt Girdwood”

  1. I’m french history teacher. I need your help about D.H. Girdwood during the first world war in north of France.
    I would like to sent You an email for explain my project of exhibition.
    Best regards.

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