The 1914/18 war was always in monochrome; and film footage always depicted armies marching in double time, gesticulating like robots. But all that has changed, thanks to the modern technology Peter Jackson has deployed to shocking effect. I cannot imagine the reality of blood and guts in the trenches when the whole picture is revealed. Lest we forget? After this we never will.
20 thoughts on “Full-colour horror story”
There were also British internees in Germany during the First World War. Though they were spared the horrors of the trenches, their living conditions were not pleasant. My friend Margie Mellis and her co-author Doreen Black have just published their book “The Crew that Time Forgot: from Rubislaw to Ruhleben” about the crew of the merchant ship Rubislaw which was interned in Hamburg harbour for the duration. These men were finally kept at Ruhleben, a race course at Spandau. Short of food they started growing their own vegetables and eventually got in touch with the Royal Horticultural Society which sent them seeds.
The authors are both descendants of crew members and are keen to get in touch with the descendants of any others. The camp of course had many other activities, such as amateur dramatics, with the internees contributing their talents. It is interesting to read the list of prisoners, rounded up and interned by the German authorities.
I must admit I wasn’t sure about this project at first- meddling with history, trampling over the graves of brave men and all that, but having seen some of the trailers I am converted. I think, in particular, that the film will do much to raise the awareness and interest of the young generations who might otherwise be deterred by the grainy, sepia reels with which we are all familiar.
One question, though. Why only one night in the cinemas? Surely after all that dedicated work the film deserves a much wider and longer lasting run. It wouldn’t surprise me either if a few BAFTA and Oscar nominations weren’t in the offing.
Given a bit of thought to this one.
I have to agree with you Janus that it is very difficult for the present generation (and that includes me and thee!) to identify with grainy, stilted black and white images… I even have trouble identifying with black and white images of myself! And certainly the clever transformation of black and white films in the advertisement to colour to bring a greater reality to the images.
I’m not a great lover of ‘idealising’ war and the clips that advertise the “Great War” – just what was so Great about it – are of tanks, men riding or marching through a landscape untroubled by mines, and men smiling and joking with their mates.
I don’t think it was like that – one bit. And I would hope that Peter Jackson (who re-wrote the Lord of the Rings so atrociously) has not done the same with his 100 year old film footage of WW1 – and used only images of laughing, joking soldiers.
I have no problem with presenting the modern generation with ‘real’ images of the horrors of that war – so that they can really respect those who so happily set off to fight a war that ‘would be all over by Christmas’. They were conned, just as people were in 1939 – I think that the present generation are far too wise to be conned in the same way.
We have to remember that wars are not fought that way anymore. No one will have to spend months in such insanitary and dangerous conditions simply to gain a few yards of enemy soil – and it is important to remind later generations that war was different then.
I can see that Peter Jackson (which also happens to be the name of a cigarette brand here!) has used the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 to showcase new technology – but I wish someone would also show some of the lesser acknowledged aspects of that war.
Sheona has pointed to an aspect of war that is all too often overlooked: the plight of internees and others, not in the front line, but who were also affected by the ‘Great War’.
As I said on another post, South Australia was a ‘Free State’ and many Germans settled there from the 1840s onwards. It is not generally known that South Australians of German descent were interned during WW1 – and not always in the best of conditions.
All too often forgotten are those men who were kept in institutions for the rest of their lives because they never, ever overcame the trauma of their experiences. They are definitely ‘The Forgotten’.
How many people are aware that thousands of UK Soldier’s Records were destroyed so that the full extent of casualties would never be known? If you check, you will see that large numbers of these records were (somehow) ‘burnt’.
Boadicea, I was interested to read in a list of internees in Germany that some young men of German descent but living in Australia were interned while visiting relatives in Germany.
Visits to the battlefields of WW1 are very worthwhile for schoolchildren, I think. The size of some of the cemeteries and the long list of names of those whose bodies were never found on monuments such as Thiepval cause the pupils to think about the tragedy of war.
Sorry Sheona, but I beg to disagree.
I have driven through the poppy fields in northern France, and like most of us I was given furiously to think, as Poirot/Agatha might have said. But I knew people who had fought there and survived to tell the tale, and to learn from them how their attitudes had changed over the next 50-60 years of their lives.
Contemporary millennials are, in my limited experience, mostly unaffected by yet another historical monument to the oldies’ past; it means nothing to them, they have no referents. Oh yeah, whatever. Colourized war films are just another, even less convincing, film in the Marvel Universe. When’s the game being released on Android?
Sad maybe, but pragmatic, I fear. 😢
I was referring to school children I accompanied on trips to the Somme, the Lochnagar crater, Vimy and Beaumont Hamel, but this was last century. The girls were studying the First World War as part of the GCSE syllabus and were often very much affected by these monuments. The most shocking thing for many of them was the age of the soldiers as recorded on the gravestones, which often was only a couple of years older than they were.
I’m not sure what exactly “millennials” are, but the reactions you describe, Bearsy, are not those of my pupils.
Millennials = Alternative label for “Gen Y”. The web will tell you more . . .
My brood are all Millennials. I think the teens all treat the Great War as part of their history course – like the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War. They will be fascinated to have access to colour records like this – which they can’t have for earlier conflicts.
Sorry Janus, a lot of people, not just Millennials, think that Hollywood films like Braveheart are ‘films’ of the events they purport to portray.
Boa, that possibility doesn’t impair the value of the WWI footage for serious students.
I’m one of the older members of Gen-Y. I remember my great-grandmother, the last member of the family to have lived through the First World War, faintly. She died in 1994 when I was 8 and she was 89. For those even 5-6 years younger than me there is precious little, if any, contact with those who lived through that time. The Second World War is far more person and familiar as we spent a lot of time in our youths with grandparents and sometimes great-parents who experienced it, who remember it. I still know a number of people who grew up during those years, whose parents fought. I met many who fought in the Second World War. It isn’t that we’re all daft, it’s that we don’t have a personal connexion to that time — and many of us lack the attention span that the good lord promised a gnat. It’s not much different in concept, though, to Baby Boomers and the Boer Wars or the Silent Generation and the Crimean War.
Yes, CD, family connections are important. All my grandparents were born in 1878/80. By 1914 my grandfathers were young enough to serve in the armed forces but both were in ‘protected’ employment; one was a coal-miner, the other a tanner , manufacturing essential parts for vehicles and armaments in the pre-plastic era. My mother’s brothers all served in the immediate post-war period, with one becoming a regular officer whose service stretched into the ’50s. Both my parents were children during the Great War and preferred not to discuss it.
Christopher – your point is very well made. Relevancy is all.
I also remember my great-grandmother, 1868-1952. I wish I had spent more time with her – but I find it quite fascinating that in 2018 I have in my head ‘memories’ of what it was like to be a child of four walking to school in Lincolnshire around 150 years ago – and how hard it was to read by a kerosene lamp.
Likewise, I wish I had talked more to my grandmother (1898-1990) who drove ambulances in the latter years of WW1. But we also have to remember that those who lived through WW1 were far more reticent about their experiences than later generations have been.
I didn’t have to ask my mother – she made sure we all knew what Britain, and more specifically she, suffered in WW2! And I saw the effects of the bombing all around me in London as I grew up – no doubt Janus also saw the effects in Coventry (have I got that right?) in his childhood. So WW2 was relevant – even if we don’t remember much of it.
As you say, the connection between later generations and WW2 are closer, more personal and better documented, if we discount Hollywood’s attempt to show that it only began in 1941!
My grandchildren have no connection with even WW2, and, while I agree with Janus, that the colourisation of WW1’s films will be of value to serious students – to most people they will mean very little.
Yes, Boa, Coventry. I clearly recall bombed buildings at the end of our road, the bombed city centre and cathedral and my Mum’s palpable fear of propeller aircraft noise. In 1940 a stick of bombs had fallen down the centre of the road, having missed the two factories half-a-mile and a mile away. At home my Dad’s black great coat, ARP helmet and gas mask were hanging under the stairs for some time after 1945.
Likewise, Janus – there were boarded up bomb-sites all around the flats where I lived in the Oval / Kennington. I remember the military stretchers that were used to replace the old ironwork that had been cut away for the ‘War Effort” – I think I read somewhere that the ironwork was actually useless – but the people in those buildings thought they were contributing something of value!
I’d forgotten the gas masks – especially those for babies – which I found in a cupboard when I was exceedingly young and gave me nightmares for some time. Please don’t tell me that young children remember very little – I had nightmares about the Underground for years… and, of course, that was where I was taken on many occasions.
When I really think about it, WW2 had a tremendous influence on my life. For our generation both World Wars are relevant – we had close relatives involved in both and saw the effects for ourselves.
Our children have lived in a time of relative peace with only second-hand memories, but near enough to understand.
Our grandchildren know that any future major conflict will not require them to “Man the Trenches” or “Face the Enemy” personally. Indeed, it seems likely that no humans will be involved – only robots and the like.
I would wish that some film-maker would make a documentary about the effects of modern war-fare on civilian populations. Because that is the true horror of modern wars.
Boa, another vivid memory is the ration book, a constant reminder of war for my first ten years. My ‘big’ sister, born in ’41, was often entrusted with a few selected coupons and my hand (!) to visit the local grocer or butcher with a list.
I have the pilot’s brevets, uniform buttons and cap badges of my grandfather who flew in the Royal Flying Corps in the latter part of WWI and who then transferred to the Royal Air Force upon its formation in 1918. He died when I was only eight and I would have loved to talk to him now of his experiences and recollections. It is sobering to think he did it all in colour as only one colour photograph of him exists as far as anyone knows, taken with his siblings, my great aunt and uncles, at a family wedding in the early ’50s.
Janus – the magic ration book – what memories that invokes. We all knew just how important that little book was!
From the age of about six or seven I was constantly threatening to leave home… I always packed a small suit-case, demanding that my parents give me MY ration book – I knew it was important – and set off – I’m not sure whether I slammed the door behind me – but I probably did! I don’t think I was the easiest child – but, then, my parents weren’t exactly the easiest parents either!
Oz – you, like me, lost your connection to that past at too young an age to understand what you were missing. But, then, at eight, children don’t think about people dying. You can almost certainly find his military history.
Just finished watching ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’. It was superb.
In no particular order:-
1. The moment when it switches from jerky black and white footage to full screen and full colour is brilliant.
2. The lip sync is gut-wrenchingly effective. ‘Hello Mum’ and ‘We’re on the pictures’ did it for me.
3. Some of the scenes will stay with me for ever. As an example, the one where the cavalry column is shelled,
For context, my Grandad. who was a ploughman, joined up in 1914 – the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. He sailed with his regiment to Egypt. There they took his horse off him and told him that he was now an infantryman bound for Gallipoli to sort out Johnny Turk.
He made it back. 35 years later, I used to go down to the stables of the Buckhaven and Methil Co-operative Society to watch Grandad caring for their last working horse. RIP ‘Star’. He loved that horse as, I am sure, every cavalryman in that column loved theirs,
4. There are no false heroics and there is no glorification of war. Just ordinary men who joined up, went off to war, did what they felt they had to do and then came back to normality. They didn’t talk about it to people who had not shared their experience. Why should they?
5. The teeth! Truly dreadful – I’m guessing the white ones are false.
Moving on, the ‘Lions and Donkeys’ stuff is, in my opinion, utter keech, We went to war as a Nation to honour our treaty with Belgium. . As usual, we got it all a bit wrong to begin with, working to out of date manuals. But, as usual, we got it right eventually with tanks etc.
Boadicea, Good Evening. The thing about calling it the ‘Great War’? That’s because it was quite a biggish war, or even the biggest ever at the time. Not because it was utterly fab and groovy.
You probably knew that anyway.
JM, yes. I have commented on it in the ‘Lest We Forget’ post/comments.