Archive for 1914-1918

1917

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2020 by xi'an

While in Chamonix, last week, I went to see a film for the first time in many months (as the latest installment of Star Wars does not count!).  As it happened, there was a English version of 1917 (and the theatre was full of English speaking spectators, in this most British of French Alpine towns!). I had no prior opinion about the film, for once, having missed my national public radio cinema critic show. The setting was rather impressive at the beginning with the crossing of the deserted “no-man’s-land” between bomb holes and decomposed cadavres, in a constant rush to save thousands from a planned massacre, but then the story stalls into an allegory that becomes almost cartoonesque, from the cut orchards to the plane running into their barn, to the eerie lighting of the ruins, to the episode with the refugee, to the fall in the river and the sad Wayfaring Stranger song (which made me think of the dwarven song in the Hobbit!) and to the anti-climactic reaction of Benedict Cumberbatch. By making the fate of so many depends on the unrealistic bravery of a single man, Mendes’ film may point out (rather cheaply) at the absurdity of it all. But it also contributes to perpetuate the myth of the hero, arriving against all odds (and then some) to save them all (if at the 13th hour). Granted, the film is effective and I was on the verge of tears by its ending, when the brother receives the bad news, but by focussing on the most unrepresentative soldier of the whole front, freely running in the (killing) fields rather than being stuck in the rotten mud for months, it missed the terrible fate of the overwhelming majority, condemned to die without redeeming heroic actions.

in memoriam

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , on November 11, 2018 by xi'an

Somme graves

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2016 by xi'an

As mentioned in a previous post, we ended up spending Easter break in the Somme, close to the part of the Western Front that opposed German and Franco-British armies  between 1914 and 1918, with horrendous human losses: the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 saw around 60,000 British casualties! For a final gain of less than 10 kilometres… And a total number of dead close to a million. Unsurprisingly, the area is speckled with war cemeteries and memorials. Including an Australian National Memorial which commemorates the 16,000 Australian dead during World War I, including 11,000 with unmarked graves.  As for the cemeteries near the D-day beaches, I am always deeply moved when visiting war cemeteries, uncomprehending the waste of innumerable live of young men by military stratèges unable to adapt to new forms of warfare and throwing waves of foot soldiers against impregnable machine gun nests.

When running this weekend in the quiet and green Somme countryside, surprising a young deer which fled across the immense plain, with only a few bare thickets here and there, I was also wondering at how hellish was the place a hundred years ago, at how unworldly it should have looked to the entrenched soldiers, and whether or not any of this region had kept anything in common with the pre-war era, since entire villages were more than flattened, as shown by the picture of Guillemont below…