Jeff Gusky is a doctor, artist and explorer. In 2012, while on a trip photographing the remnants of World War I along the Western Front in France, a historian showed him something incredible: a cavern in the Picardy Region of France that was covered in carvings made by soldiers during World War I.
Over the next several years, Jeff explored and photographed dozens of these underground spaces, many marked by carvings from American, French and German soldiers; click through below to view Jeff’s incredible photographs of these forgotten underground cities. For more stories like this one, subscribe to Mysterious Ways magazine.
The caverns had been largely forgotten after World War I, their existence known only to farmers along the Western Front who owned the land. With their help, Jeff came across entire cities, some with underground hospitals and spaces wired for lighting and telephones.
The men tried to maintain a sense of normalcy even amid the chaos of war, as seen in these carvings of baseball scores made by American soldiers.
In these dark, otherworldly caves, Jeff could feel the soldiers’ faith, the hope they clung to despite the devastation of the war.
Symbols of reverence and expressions of faith, like the one above, were intended to offer support to the soldiers.
"I’m reminded,” Jeff says, “that when the world is falling apart, people turn to God. To prayer. To what’s important.”
Next to a staircase that led aboveground, to where some of the heaviest fighting of the war occurred, Jeff found this chapel. Soldiers, face-to-face with their own mortality, would bow in prayer before battle, then mount the stairs, knowing they might not return.
One cavern had been used by, among others, the 370th Infantry. Soldiers in this regiment, one of the only all-African American combat units to fight in the war, called themselves the Black Devils. At the end of one of the cavern’s corridors, Jeff found a stunning carving of a cross. A historic find.
This small chapel was the only Jewish place of worship Jeff came across. Years before, when Jeff had first looked into buying a camera, his goal had been to visit German concentration camps in Europe, his way of getting in touch with his own Jewish heritage. He’d had no idea then where that journey would lead, that he would be the one to give voice to soldiers from a hundred years past.
“These soldiers left messages to the future,” Jeff says. “They wanted someone to know that they had lived. That their lives mattered.”
Go behind the scenes with Jeff Gusky in the video above, as he explores the underground cities of World War I.
You can find more of Jeff’s photography at jeffgusky.com, as well as at the “Artist Soldiers” exhibit at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. until November 11, 2018.
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