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November 11, 2004

Ghosts of the Great War, 2004
Posted by Teresa at 11:59 PM * 42 comments

“We’re not making a sacrifice. Jesus, you’ve seen this war.
We are the sacrifice.” Ulster regiment, marching toward the Somme
Eleven eleven has come round again, when we remember what used to optimistically be referred to as the last great imperialist war. Many of my links are repeated (with adjustments for link rot) from last year. What the hell; they’re still relevant. Maybe more so.

World War I was what got me started reading history. I was at home with pneumonia, and somehow picked up a copy of a Penguin illustrated history of World War I. I was horrified: They did what? Then amazed and horrified: And then they did it again? And finally plunged into a profound mystery: And they kept doing it, again and again, for years? In some ways, all my reading of history thereafter has been an attempt to understand the information in that one small book.

In memory of the men who fought, a jolly contemporary folksong: Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.

Have a look at Tony Novosel’s two pages of spooky, evocative photos of Great War memorials:

Painting: Menin Gate: The Ghosts of Ypres

The actual Menin Gate, on which are carved the names of the 54,000 Missing from the Battle of Ypres.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. There are 73,350 names on its panels.

Kathe Kollwitz’ Grieving Parents, near the site where her son and his comrades are buried.

The Silent Sentinels, Langemarck German cemetery in Belgium.

The Sentinels again.

Watching over the German graves at Langemarck.

Le Mort Homme (The Dead Man), Verdun.

Another view. “ILS N’ONT PAS PASSÉ” means “They did not pass”.

The Guardians of Verdun.

Views of the war: John Singer Sargent does one of each.

Wilfred Owen’s grave.

Not pictures: A pertinent selection of Wilfred Owen’s poems. And a bit of Philip Larkin.

The Lost Poets of the Great War website, with its calculation of total casualties.

One of whom was young Umberto Boccioni, Italian Futurist artist. This is his “States of Mind” series: The Farewells. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. There aren’t many paintings by Boccioni. This is a piece called Unique form of continuity in space. There is even less sculpture by him.

If there are universes with multiple branching timelines, there are thousands of them very much like ours, except that in them no one’s ever heard of J. R. R. Tolkien. The destruction, the toll of the dead, is as difficult to comprehend as the Black Death.

At one point I looked up the history of Tolkien’s unit, the Lancashire Fusiliers. First they significantly distinguished themselves at Gallipoli. Then they significantly distinguished themselves at the Somme. Here they are, about to be killed. No wonder Tolkien came back from the war saying, “Everyone I know is dead.”

An account of the Newfoundlanders.

Bad place to make a landing, Gallipoli. A few words from the last surviving ANZAC. And the other last surviving ANZAC.

There is great generosity in the monument to the dead of both sides at Kabatepe Ariburun Beach, inscribed with the speech Ataturk made in 1934 to the first ANZACs and Brits who came back to visit:
Those heroes that shed their blood And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well
An affecting, low-key page about New Zealand public memorials: Lest We Forget: War Memorials of the First World War.
The New Zealand war memorials of the First World War have become part of the common fabric of our lives, like stop signs or lamp-posts. Virtually every township in the country has one, usually in the main street. Excluding the many honours boards and plaques in schools and churches throughout the country, there are well over five hundred public memorials to the soldiers of the Great War. Despite their numbers, the memorials are not boring or stereotypical. This was because New Zealanders showed much inventiveness in remembering the dead of the Great War. By the time the war ended, over 100,000 young New Zealanders had served overseas and some 18,000 had lost their lives. Sacrifice of this magnitude engendered enormous emotions.
One of my two favorites is the Kaitaia memorial, in Maori and English. The other is the annual ceremony at Piha. Every year there, at low tide on Anzac Day, they process out across the sand to lay their wreaths on Lion Rock ; and then the tide comes in and carries the wreaths away.

Addenda, 2004

The Gardener, a short story by Rudyard Kipling.

Gassed, John Singer Sargent.

Art from the First World War: 100 paintings from international collections, loaned to mark the 80th anniversary of the Armistice.

Aftermath: When the Boys Came Home, dedicated to the aftermath(s) of the war. A blunt, bitter, cocky site that just keeps accreting material.

The Heritage of the Great War, a broad and deep site that, like Aftermath, just keeps accreting great material. Its photo essays are especially good. Some segments:
Five Souls.

Origins and causes of the war.

99 Quotes from the Great War.

The war in color photography.

Bloody picnic: forbidden photos of the war.

German war photos.

Panoramic photos, 1919.

Another calculation of the casualties.

Children who fought in the war.

Shot at Dawn: Executions of deserters.

An Unforeseen Epidemic of Shell Shock.

Belgium’s inadvertent stockpiles of poison gas.

The Americans Are Coming!

Why America Should Have Stayed Out: a 1936 interview with Winston Churchill.

Tolkien: Frodo in the marshes of the Great War.

Hemingway’s natural history of the dead.

Conquering Baghdad: the real problems always come afterward.
Comments on Ghosts of the Great War, 2004:
#1 ::: Jena Snyder ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 03:11 AM:

Re your link on the Newfoundlanders: many Canadians know them as the "Blue Puttees." You might like Great Big Sea's version, "The Recruiting Sergeant." Can't find a link to the mp3, but the lyrics and story are at http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/04/recruit.htm

#2 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 03:52 AM:

Theresa, I always feel a surge of joy when you include Australian references, as i the two "last Anzacs" here. Anzac Day, 25 April, is a public holiday in Australia commemorating the landing of our troops at Gallipoli. There is a march, and recently there has been a renewal of attnetion to the day, as something close to a religious observance, large numbers of young people actually turning up at Gallipoli for the dawn service there, in spite of travel advisories warning of possible terrorist threat.

But one of the finest developments has been the participation in the Anzac Day march of the descendants of Turkish soldiers who fought at Gallipoli. Here's a link to a young Turkish woman's account of what that participation has meant to her.

#3 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 03:54 AM:

Aargh. I misspelled your name! Teresa Teresa Teresa.

#4 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 04:37 AM:

The British Library has audio recordings of WW1 Poets reading their work. Here's Binyon's 'For the Fallen

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 06:51 AM:

Thank you all, especially for the links. I see now that my annual Great War site has an accretional nature, like its large 24/7/365 relatives.

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 07:53 AM:

Perhaps you might get killed, lads, but never mind that there,
You will die with honor, then be free from care.
Forget your wives and children, for they'll soon be forgotten,
What's wives and children to you when you are dead and rotten?


#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 08:07 AM:

As I was walking down the road,
A-feeling fine and larky, oh,
A recruiting sergeant came up to me,
Says he, you'd look fine in khaki, oh;
For the King he is in need of men,
Come read this proclamation, oh,
A life in Flanders for you then,
Would be a fine vacation now.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 08:12 AM:

If you want to find the Colonel,
I know where he is.

#9 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 09:12 AM:

At Teresa's about to be killed link, you can see a white cross commemerating the taking of Beaumont Hamel on November the 13th, 1916.

At 4 am on the 14th, nearby, H.H. Munro aka "Saki" was shot dead by a German sniper. His last words:

"Put that bloody cigarette out!"

#10 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 09:24 AM:

The last episode of "Blackadder Goes Forth" got it right. It would be a bit of a spoiler to say more.

#11 ::: plover ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 09:29 AM:

Finished with the War
A Soldier's Declaration

I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance
of military authority, because I believe that the war is
being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power
to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of
soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered
as a war of defense and liberation, has now become
a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the
purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered
upon this war should have been so clearly stated as
to have made it impossible to change them, and that,
had this been done, the objects which actuated us would
now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and
I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for
ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but
against the political errors and insincerities for which the
fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this
protest against the deception which is being practiced
on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the
callous complacence with which the majority of those at
home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not
share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to
realize.

S. Sassoon
July 1917


Though now, four score and seven years on, those who insist the Great War remains a necessity have arranged for "the conduct of the war" to become one of "the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed".

#12 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 10:15 AM:

And yet, certain persons in this country dare to impugn the courage, conviction, will, spirit, and obstinancy of French soldiers.

The mind simply boggles. I'm reading The Wizard War, and every third page there's something to the effect of "This wouldn't have been possible except for the completely insane and unbelievable efforts of the French (sometimes Belgian) resistance and informers".

#13 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 10:21 AM:

For those interested, The Wizard War was apparently retitled (and is currently in print) as Most Secret War. I'd strongly recommend it.

#14 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 10:45 AM:

The Kabatepe Ariburun Beach Memorial page seems to have moved; I found a current site.

What each mention of Gallipoli invokes in me, a Turkish woman---pain, absurdity, pointlessness, more pain, and yet a small nugget of delight that across the years and miles, after sharing the pointless painful absurdity, we now seem to share an understanding with Australian and New Zealanders.

When I first heard Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" I cried so hard.

But I quoted "The Green Fields of France" yesterday, because as your links upon links demonstrate, there was so much more pain spread over a full continent and more, for much more than just those months in 1915:

    Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
    The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
    For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
    And again, and again, and again, and again.
#15 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 11:20 AM:

Michael, by E.F. Benson, is a short novel that gave me a new perspective on the War. It tells the story of two young men, one German, one British, who meet and befriend each other in London, shortly before war breaks out.

The revelation for me was that at one time Germany was considered a really cool, sophisticated, intellectual place. When you thought, "Germany," you thought music and philosophy, instead of concentration camps. The characters in the novel admire Wagner wholeheartedly, with no unfortunate reminders of Hitler creeping in, and many of them act as though it is inconceivable for the Germans to do anything so uncivilized as to start a war.

I was somewhat aware of this before, but there's an innocence in the book that is really startling and saddening.

#16 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Since it's what caused most of *my* interest in WWI, I should mention Anthony Price's novel _Other Paths to Glory_; a "contemporary" (1970s) high-brow thriller, which is woven around a WWI mystery. Highly recommended (and not impossible as an entry point to the series, all of which is wonderful). I was put onto them by John M. Ford.

#17 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 01:50 PM:

For me, Veterans Day always reminds me of the song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya.

#18 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 02:50 PM:

No consideration of war is complete without reference to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem which juxtaposes the classic Requiem Mass with the poetry of Wilfred Owen (op. cit.) to astounding effect. Britten wrote this work for the re-dedication of Coevntry Cathedral, bombed during the Battle of Britten.

"The War Requiem was not meant to be a pro-British piece or a glorification of British soldiers, but a public statement of Britten's anti-war convictions. It was a denunciation of the wickedness of war, not of other men. The fact that Britten wrote the piece for three specific soloists -- a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), and a British tenor (Peter Pears) -- demonstrated that he had more than the losses of his own country in mind, and symbolized the importance of reconciliation."

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

#19 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 02:52 PM:

My apologies - I don't know why my a href tag didn't work. The Britten URL is http://www.its.caltech.edu/~tan/Britten/britwar.html.

#20 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 03:14 PM:

Sargent's "Gassed" has always been one of my favorite paintings. It's so deceptively simple (as opposed to Napoleonic era paintings of cavalry charges on masses of frothing horses), and so emotionally devastating.

#21 ::: plover ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 06:10 PM:

Pat Barker's trilogy Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road is quite amazing. Many of the characters are historical figures, the central one being a remarkable neurologist and anthropologist named William Rivers. The first volume is set at a Royal Army psychiatric hospital during the period in which Rivers was treating both Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen (the book opens with Sassoon's protest letter that I posted above).

#22 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 07:22 PM:

A BBC re-creation documentary: take a bunch of people and put them into a WW1 trench for a couple of weeks.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/programmes/trench/index.shtml

There's also a book.

My father says it let him connect together all sorts of odd little things my Grandfather said.

#23 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2004, 07:44 PM:

Another info source, for the awards of campaign medals in the British forces. For many soldiers of WW1, these are the only official records that survived.

http://www.documentsonline.nationalarchives.gov.uk/medals.asp

And this looks to be my Grandfather's record...

http://www.documentsonline.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details-result.asp?Edoc_Id=1391607&queryType=1&resultcount=21

#24 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2004, 03:25 AM:

Sometime before next Anzac Day I will try to write the [short] piece on Australian War Memorials (in every small & larger town, in school halls, town halls, banks, post offices, railway workshops, department stores) I have in mind to put some flesh on the casualty figures, but here is an unofficial site about the local memorials.

The official site about the official memorials is www.awm.gov.au, which has some excellent resources, such as searchable databases of documents & photos. (Earlier posts.)

Thank you Teresa, & the others who've contributed here.

#25 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2004, 09:03 PM:

Oh dear. We should have taken you to the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. I think it is the only WW1 monument in the USA, and it has a museum.

#26 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2004, 03:55 AM:

Should we consider the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC to be part of the World War III Memorial? World War III started as World War II ended, and had three major phases: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the overarching multipronged Cold War. In total US uniformed personnel deaths, World War III as so defined falls in between World War I and World War II.

World War IV was the short-lived First Persian Gulf War, qualifying because of the tonnage of materiel and the size of the coalition. We are now increasingly engaged in World War V, a.k.a. "The War on Terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Axis of Evil, and in Sudan, Morocco, Spain, Indonesia, Philippines, and anything else that God tells Emperor Bush II to go after."

World War IV was over quickly, in some sense too quickly, and the profits for rebuilding Kuwait were carved up just before the first shots on Baghdad were fired, with the top 2 profiteers being Bechtel (60%) and Fluor-Daniels (40%).

Hence World War V has been planned to last far longer, about the length of World War III, for sustained cash flow, to Halliburton et al.

This time, there are weapon systems being rolled out in the greater than $100 Billion range: Joint Tactical Fighter, hypersonic cruise missile, "Star Wars" that we know doesn't work but is being deployed for grotesque politico-economic reasons.

The War on Poverty, War on Cancer, and the like? Sorry, not enough money left now. The War on Drugs, okay, as that involves Narcoterrorists, which are an isotope of Terrorists. This also allows the War on the Bill of Rights to continue, with the Ashcroft-Gonzales Brigades now occupying a significant percentage, despite pockets of stiff resistance in some of the Blue States. Say, can't they just be defined as part of the Extended Axis of If You're Not With Us You're Against Us? Coming Soon: the War for the Supreme Court. Save a seat for Ghengis Khan!

"Mission Accomplished!"

*cough* *cough* sorry, just got hit with a wisp of Cynicism Gas. In Total War, there are no innocent bystanders.

#27 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2004, 04:38 AM:

"World War I was what got me started reading history. I was at home with pneumonia, and somehow picked up a copy of a Penguin illustrated history of World War I. I was horrified: They did what? Then amazed and horrified: And then they did it again? And finally plunged into a profound mystery: And they kept doing it, again and again, for years?"

May I suggest, of all things, a fiction text? I, too, had the utmost difficulty in understanding how people could do these things over and over, and not be clinically insane. Then I read C. S. Forester's "The General". As a exposition of what they were and how they got there, I found it profoundly enlightening, and I recommend it.

#28 ::: Michael J. Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 12:47 AM:

My own interest . . .fascination? with The Great War was seeing a photograph. My memory says it was taken by my great uncle, who went to Canada to enlist so as to go Europe to fight the Boche. The photgraph shows Pershing on a small wooden box addressing a gathering of soldiers. This according to my memory of what my mother told me.

After the Worldcon at the Hague I traveled to Verdun and the beaches of Normandy. The landscape of Verdun is still unsafe, a pockmarked landscape long overgrown with green.

As for Normandy, one can only stand there in wonder.

& the cemeteries, & the Verdun Ossuary...

At the JHU Press I've occasionally suggested books for reprinting. One that was accepted was Lyn Macdonald's 1915: The Death of Innocence.

& yes, it's incredible to think they did it again, again, and again.

#29 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 01:28 AM:

The Imperial War Museum in London has, as part of their World War I gallery, an exhibit giving you the smallest flavor of the trench experience (nobody shoots at you, no gas attacks, etc). (There's also a Blitz Experience in the WWII gallery.)

Note that the IWM London is housed in what was the central portion of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, known as "Bedlam"...dedicated to the care of the insane.

#31 ::: Ken Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 08:37 AM:

"The sun was pretty low as I came back, and far off across that desolation, here and there they showed - just formless squarish, cornerless masses erected by man against the infernal Storm that sweeps for ever, night and day, day and night, across that most atrocious Plain of Destruction. My God! talk about a Lost World, talk about the end of the world; talk about The Night Land - it is all here, not more than two hundred miles off from where you sit infinitely remote. And the infinite, monstrous, dreadful, pathos of the things one sees - the great shell-hole with over thirty crosses sticking up in it; some just up out of the water - and the dead below them, submerged . . . If I live and come out of this (and certainly, please God, I shall and hope to) what a book I shall write if my old ability with the pen has not forsaken me."

...from a letter by William Hope Hodgson. He did not "live and come out of this".

#32 ::: genibee ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 11:47 AM:

Barbara Tuchman's _The Guns of August_ boggled me. I ended up with a mild case of depression for about a week after reading it because it was so hard to comprehend. I'm also slowly working through the memoir of the war written by Dorothy L. Sayers' friend, the title of which I'm blanking out on entirely. Bleak, very bleak.

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 12:09 PM:

Mark D: You may or may not be aware that Peter Pears was Benjamin Britten's lover; they were together for thirty-odd years, until Britten's death.

As I've said elsewhere, I prefer Owen's "Abraham and Isaac" for the current day...it's the Biblical story at first, but then Abraham builds not an altar, but trenches and parapets. And when the angel tells him to kill the ram instead, it's called the Ram of Pride. The poem ends

But the old man would not so, but slew his son
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

#34 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 02:11 PM:

Has anyone mentioned this, a review of six recent books that talks about the challenge of remembering the Great War

#35 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2004, 02:54 PM:

[depression warning]
I don't feel much connection to WW I. It's not something that was taught or discussed much in school. My impression of it, in school, was a lot of white men in funny helmets shooting each other. I remember watching All Quiet on the Western Front and becoming depressed. But it's never felt real to me.
WW II is real to me. My parents' generation lived through it, died during it. (Actually, my father, having been born in 1905, managed to be too young to fight in WWI and too old in WWII).
I think that's typicla for Filipinos -- our impression of war in history is that it goes straight from the Philippine Revolution (aka Spanish-American war) to WW II.
Vietnam only became real to me when, as an adult, I got to meet some refugees.
I suppose it's a very insular point of view.
Fallujah feels very real to me, right now. My tax dollars at work, blowing up children.
[/depression warning]

#36 ::: genibee ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2004, 03:09 PM:

I'm not sure - I was born in Manila, and most of my mother's family still lives there. A great-uncle was shot by the Japanese before the family could escape the city. But WWII doesn't feel any more "real" to me than WWI - for me, they're both impossibly distant and at the same time too recent. All through _The Guns of August_, I had the entirely unreasonable feeling that we were supposed to *know better* by that point in time, and why didn't anybody realize that?

#37 ::: Steve Gillett ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2004, 09:47 PM:

Re: "Hanging on the Barbed Wire:" I've often felt that the reason that the Big Nuclear Exchange never occurred is that the politicians on both sides realized they'd be among the first casualties, rather than the last.

I second the recommendation for C. S. Forester's "The General" (same author as the Hornblower novels, btw.)

There are _lots_ of WW I memorials in the US, btw. Check out most any county courthouse in a small town. There's also one that's a scale model of Stonehenge in Maryhill, WA, just north of the Columbia River.

I'm currently reading Jeff Shaara's WW I novel (To the Last Man), which I'd bought on the basis of his Civil War novels--

#38 ::: martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2004, 05:34 AM:

A news snippet on Belgian television which reported on the burial of 25 unidentified German soldiers killed in World War I stated that between 70,000 and 80,000 German soldiers are still thought to be lying undiscovered in Flanders alone.

That is a figure to give pause to anyone.

#39 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2004, 12:04 AM:

I stumbled across this site:

http://perso.wanadoo.fr/kah/index.htm

This web site is the result of a long and meticulous work of retouching on a timeworn pictures set printed during the First World War. The object was to recover the original atmosphere induced by the sepia tones.-BEWARE- Some war pictures displayed on this website may hurt children and emotional people.

The first I was aware of WWI would have been about 1961 or 1962 when I went on a Lord Peter Wimsey rampage (at the age of 10 or 11) while laid low with something or other--our neighbor, an Englishwoman, kindly made me free of her library (with pointers). Wimsey was blown up in the war.

#40 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2004, 12:29 AM:

And another one--I'm looking for particular images that have nothing to do with WWI but they keep popping up:

http://www.geh.org/fm/st07/htmlsrc/index.html

Underwood & Underwood WWI
George Eastman House
Still Photograph Archive
300 Selected Images

Summary Page 1 of 20

#41 ::: Tom S ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 06:14 PM:

My grandfather served on the Western Front from mid-October of 1914 until, oddly enough, he was captured on October 12, 1918. His war encompassed Loos, the Somme, and eventually the German offensive of 1918, starting the war as a twenty-five-year-old volunteer and ending it as a senior sargeant at 29, an "old man" commanding recruits as young as sixteen.

He served in the 170th Infantry Regiment (the old 6th or 7th Badisches Infanterie) as Vitzfeldwebel of a Machinegun Company.

It's due to him that I maintain a lifelong interest in the Great war -- not because he discussed it, but more from the silences between. He bore a resemblance to the German actor, Armin Mueller-Stahl; as a teenager, I asked him: how had he survived the war? He raised his hands over his head, a gesture of surrender; we both laughed, a bit.

"It was at the end," he said, "and there were few of us left who were the old men -- who had been at the front over two years. The ones we commanded were boys. They wanted to fight because they were boys; we didn't. This was in the Argonne. We had a very understrength company, only three guns, and half of them were damaged.

"We old ones decided to convince these kids to give up, if we came upon a larger force than we had. We hoped they would be Americans -- if it would be French, or English, they would probably not make prisoners of us -- because we were machine-gunners, and their infantry would just shoot us. They had lost a lot of people to our guns.

"We were lucky; we gave up to some Americans, and some of them spoke German." And he nodded, sitting in his South Dakota farmhouse, fifty-plus years later, having covered an unimaginable experience of fear, high explosives, rough wool and cold nights, poor food and worn-out boots. Of convincing others to give themselves up to people who might kill them out of hand, in a few sentences. "So -- here I am."

#42 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 02:10 PM:

David Jones' long prose-poem, "In Parenthesis," extract here.

Also Frank McGuinness' play, "Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme." It's strange how WWI is remembered in Ireland. There wasn't ever any conscription in Ireland for fear that it would provoke an uprising, but many young Irishmen signed up all the same. It caused a split in the main nationalist organization, the Irish Volunteers - the main body, under John Redmond, supported the war, and encouraged young men to enlist in the British army. A splinter group, headed by Eoin MacNeill, my great-grandfather, went the other way, and eventually came to dominate, going underground and becoming the nucleus of the IRA after the Easter Rising. In the Republic, the Redmondites and those who had enlisted for economic or other reasons passed out of historical memory - they didn't fit well in the nationalist mythology. In the North those who died at the Somme were venerated by the Protestants as near-martyrs. They were the sacrifice.

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