from a letter by Wilfred Owen, dated 29 October 1918. (via bassington)
Living up to the first part of his surname.(via one-great-war)
|—||Vera Brittain to Roland Leighton, 26 May 1915. (via one-great-war)|
General Sir John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps (among other commands) during the First World War
Monash is remembered among several other excellent Australian officers during the war. He’s memorialized in a number of ways in Australia, notably as the name of one of their higher ranked universities.
I just love bitching about this movie, because it is wrong in so very many ways.
The film is made in Canada, depicting an important battle in the First World War which Canada takes pride in being a part of. The Canadian divisions from the British Army held themselves to be professional and competent, and it’s an important part of Canada’s desire to eventually become independent.
But this film was bloody horrible.
The first scene put me off from the start. A small skirmish in a French village, the protagonist of the film leads his men a little too heroically to dislodge the Germans. The fight just doesn’t look like the First World War. In the end he approaches the last survivor… and jams his bayonet into the man’s forehead and pulls it out cleanly.
This is unnecessarily brutal… and also rather unrealistic. Soldiers in the war reported that they learned to stab with the bayonet into the belly, because stabbing into the chest would tend to get the bayonet stuck in the other man’s ribs. Trying to pull it out is unnecessarily cruel to the man being stabbed, and also dangerous since while you’re trying to pull it out, you’re vulnerable.
So… I think it goes without saying that a stab to the forehead isn’t something someone would do… and it’s also unnecessarily graphic to show it.
The film then spends the vast majority of the film in that-period Calgary. Which is dull. It follows the protagonist having to deal with returning from war as a conscientious objector, and a young man disqualified due to his German heritage and desperate to prove himself a real soldier.
Both of them are a pain to watch. The soldier is dull and uninteresting, and it’s hard to really know what traumatized him in particular. The young man is endlessly whiny, disrespectful, and not at all endearing. He even takes to defacing graves of German immigrants to Canada in his whiny frustration at his own heritage.
The young man eventually manages to get enlisted, and the other soldier gets over his trauma to go look after him, just in time for the several-battles of Passchendaele, famous for its mud and horrible fighting conditions.
There’s an excessively cheesy scene which went on too long, of the older soldier and a nurse making love under the light of flares and artillery explosions at night. I think it’s supposed to be romantic, but it’s just so cheesy it’s ridiculous.
And in an attack, at some point the older soldier literally carries a crucifix across no man’s land on his back. The Jesus reference was incredibly puzzling, not to mention totally unnecessary as well.
Many of the participating European countries of the war had battles which resounded in their cultural memories for decades. The British had the Somme, the French Verdun, the Australians and New Zealanders Gallipoli, the Italians Caporetto, and so on.
Canada had Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, but watching that film I see nothing for them to be proud of. It so wanted to be a patriotic Canadian film, but it just failed horribly.
And I enjoyed it. There are some inaccuracies, which were famous when it released. Most importantly the apparent coldness of British officers over the Australians. While Australia had a few excellent generals, most armies of the first world war famously had generals and officers who saw little flexibility outside of massing a lot of men and charging them into withering machine guns and artillery.
But the film is about Australia, so a little inaccuracy for the purpose of patriotism is, oddly, acceptable. Films like this can tell you a lot about a culture, because they tend to portray what people find important. Gallipoli is a film about a battle that, while unsuccessful, resonated deeply into Australian pride, and separated them from the rest of the British empire and commonwealth.
In this, it reminded me a lot of Passchendaele, which i saw first. I’m pretty sure it took a lot of its inspiration from Gallipoli. But while Gallipoli also spent quite a lot of time on screen off of the battlefield, it had interesting characters who were engaging, and time was spent regarding training and bonding while in Egypt. You get to see them race to the pyramids and even climb them. It’s better scenery than old Calgary, which is all you see in Passchendaele, with two main characters who were boring and annoyingly whiny, respectively. The main characters in Gallipoli embody what Australians like about themselves and take pride in: independence, self-reliance, an optimistic nature, strong spirit, stuff like that. I didn’t see anything for Canadians to be proud about in their national culture in Passchendaele.
That battle, and Vimy Ridge, are to Canada what Gallipoli was for Australia. The Canadians took pride in professionalism and their success where others failed. But you just don’t see it in the film. That movie won’t be half as remembered as Gallipoli has been.
And now - French soldiers in drag 1915.
On a French postcard dated 1915, eight soldiers pose for the camera in a theatrical presentation. Three are in female drag, the center one sporting a mustache. Two standing figures on the far right and left read from their scripts. The card’s translated caption reads: Our soldiers entertain themselves without care for tomorrow.
Sometimes I get the feeling that there was a time when it was funny and not purely associated with “gay.”
This picture really needs spreading to counter the long term effects of British propaganda portraying German soldiers impaling babies on their helmets.
That doesn’t pickel my haube.
Female soldiers of the 2nd Moscow Battalion of Death, 1910’s.
From Wikipedia about the 1st Moscow Women’s Battalion of Death:
Called into action against the Germans during the Kerensky Offensive, they were assigned to the 525th Kiuruk-Darinski Regiment and occupied an abandoned trench near Smorgon. The battalion pushed past three trenches into German territory, where the trailing Russian army discovered a hidden stash of vodka and became dangerously drunk. The newly-promoted Lieutenant Bochkareva ordered that any further stashes be destroyed. Outnumbered and unsupported, the battalion met stiff resistance from the Germans and were repelled. They returned to their original lines with two hundred prisoners and minimal casualties, six killed and thirty wounded.
Patriotic paintings always portray war as so much more smooth and virtuous than it actually is.
In the words of Terry Pratchett:
“Later when he began to participate in some of these (last stands and heroic charges) he realized the artist had inexcusably left the intestines out.”
Arditi & Bersaglieri
An adaptation of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
I love love love the black feathers on Bersaglieri.
If I’m not mistaken, these are the small grenade throwers that were used in trenches in the First World War.
In situations where the trenches between enemies were relatively close together, or during an attack the battle would stall in between communications trenches, soldiers would lob grenades in between, including using this little device and others like it.
Grenades were either made industrially, or hand-made by soldiers by sticking a small explosive in a canteen bottle, filling it with nails and rocks, and connecting a fuse. Turkish soldiers remarked about the Anzacs at Gallipoli that they were particularly good at catching and throwing back the grenades, because they were well-practiced at Cricket.
When they were really bored with no orders, they would collect the lice off their uniforms, fill them with empty food tins, and use the same mechanism to throw it into the other trench.
The ordinance fired by the “Paris Gun” was fired at such a high velocity that each shot wore a large amount of steel from the inside of the barrel. Each shell was numbered and had to be fired sequentially as each was a slightly larger size, and to fire them out of order could result in the shell lodging in the barrel and detonating. Further, the chamber of the gun was precisely measured to determine the difference in length every time a shell was rammed. This measurement was then used to determine the correct amount of propellant and charge. Due to the wear on the barrel, after 65 rounds the barrel would be sent back to Krupp and rebored…
British artillery piece pulled into position
It amazes me to know that even as far along as 1916 the British were still trusting to massive, long preliminary bombardments.
They’d shoot for hours and hours and hours, hoping to smash the barbed wire, the trench network and the Germans inside them. The Germans had well prepared deep concrete bunkers, and interlocking support trenches which allowed them to weather the British bombardments, then move back into their prepared positions to resist the British attacks. The Germans would know when to leave their shelters by the silence of the British guns.
The British even largely still used artillery either by eyeball or preparation. Either they planned ahead where to shoot and just shot away at it, or would target by sight.
Interestingly, the British never quite abandoned their doctrine of meticulous planning. Recognizing their weaknesses they would improve on them, but in a rather British way. British and Canadian artillery would plan rolling barrages, which timed exactly how long infantry would take to reach German trenches, even timing how long it should take from one trench line to the next.
I liked this documentary. There are inaccuracies, such as the rifles the British soldiers are holding: they’re rifles from the Second World War, not the First.
It’s naturally a little British heavy, but I appreciate that there are some limited accounts from French and German letters. There’s a lot of beauty in their written words, which only adds the tragedy of the war.
What’s most interesting is watching the differences in doctrine and strategy which so delineate the British, French and German approaches. They don’t focus on it, but it’s there.