A Tumblr on reading, writing and watching World War I, curated someone who likes history, costume dramas and Australia. Those are her great grandparents on the left.
A round-up of recommended reading and watching.
Highlights: • Reviews of pop culture about WWI
• War poetry
• Photos from then
• Aussies at War
Have a question or comment? Ask me anything!
During [the 1913] school year [Robert Graves] won an Exhibition (a minor award) to Oxford but in the following term he was forced to resign from [Charterhouse school paper] ‘The Cartusian’ after publishing some highly critical remarks about the school in the guise of a parody letter. According to later report, Graves declared at this stage in his life only poetry and ‘Peter’ Johnstone, the object of his affections, really mattered. However, over the Easter holidays in 1914 he won plaudits for his prowess at boxing, and spent ten days climbing in Snowdonia with George Mallory. His final term at Charterhouse ended, perhaps characteristically, in a flurry of fighting (literally and metaphorically), a near-scandal, and continuing discord.
Helen McPhail and Philip Guest, “On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War: Graves and Sassoon” Oh, Robert, you little shit. (via lord-kitschener)
Helen McPhail and Philip Guest, “On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War: Graves and Sassoon”
Oh, Robert, you little shit.
I noticed ‘The Essays of Lionel Johnson’ lying on the table. It was the first book I had seen in France (except my own Keats and Blake) that was neither a military textbook nor a rubbishy novel. I stole a look at the fly-leaf, and the name was Siegfried Sassoon. Then I looked around to see who could possibly be called Siegfried Sassoon and bring ‘Lionel Johnson’ with him to the First Battalion. The answer being obvious, I got into conversation with him, and a few minutes later we set out for Béthune, being off duty until dusk, and talked about poetry.
Robert Graves in ‘Goodbye to all That’, on his first meeting with Siegfried Sassoon.
You and I have walked together
In the starving winter weather.
We’ve been glad because we knew
Time’s too short and friends are few.
We’ve been sad because we missed
One whose yellow head was kissed
By the gods, who thought about him
Till they couldn’t do without him.
Now he’s here again; I’ve been
Soldier David dressed in green,
Standing in a wood that swings
To the madrigal he sings.
He’s come back, all mirth and glory,
Like the prince in a fairy story.
Winter called him far away;
Blossoms bring him home with May.
From “A Letter Home (To Robert Graves)”, Siegfried Sassoon. This stanza (and others) references the death of David Cuthbert Thomas, Sassoon’s and Graves’ mutual friend, who died in 1916. (Source: poemhunter.com)
In November came the Armistice. I heard at the same time of the deaths of Frank Jones-Bateman, who had gone back again just before the end, and Wilfred Owen, who often used to send me poems from France. Armistice-night hysteria did not touch our camp much, though some of the Canadians stationed there went down to Rhyl to celebrate in true overseas style. The news sent me out walking alone […] cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead.
Siegfried’s famous poem celebrating the Armistice began:
‘Everybody suddenly burst out singing,
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom…’
But ‘everybody’ did not include me.
Robert Graves on the Armistice. He was stationed in Wales at the time.
It is now roughly a year since I developed a mad obsession with World War I. Since October 2011, I have got through eighteen books and thirteen film/TV costume dramas, so I thought I would do a round-up of my recommended reading and watching on World War I!
Note that I have mostly focused on creative expression; it is worth digging up a good history of the war to hang all this on, but as a time-poor easily distracted person, I mostly got my history from The First World War (which I just realised I never reviewed here) and various trips to Wikipedia.
Testament of Youth. A thousand times. If you only read one book about the war, read this one. Then watch the adaptation, and read Letters from a Lost Generation. Also, it looks like there’s a film coming in 2013, so go and see that too.
All Quiet on the Western Front - it’s a classic. I didn’t like it so much when I read it, but I keep coming back to it as the yardstick against which I measure books like Undertones of War, Somme Mud and Her Privates We.
Birdsong and Regeneration. I didn’t like either of these books, but lots of people do, and if they are a gateway to other work such as Beneath Hill 60, and the poetry of Sassoon, Graves and Owen, I am prepared to be pragmatic.
Somme Mud - probably only for devotees - a more non-fictionish All Quiet, from the POV of an AIF soldier. You’d need to know a bit of the shape of the war to get through this one, but it is well worth the effort.
Good-bye to all that - I like Robert Graves’ war poetry better than this memoir, and I think it’s probably one to read a bit later in a WWI reading odyssey, as Graves does tell a few porkies. But it’s a classic for a reason.
This is a shorter list because generally I’ve found that most costume dramas are either ludicrously cliché (WAR HORSE), a bit dry (Beneath Hill 60) or a bit boring (Birdsong) - consequently it is hard to think of many that would be enjoyed by or of interest to people who aren’t WWI anoraks.
ANZACs is excellent, but hard to get outside Australia. IMO it is worth hunting down. Good lengthy drama that covers the whole war, and generally considered to be quite historically accurate. Has a better-than-usual token female as well.
Journey’s End a play by R. C. Sherriff. Excellent play, very heartbreaking. Link goes to where a 1988 BBC adaptation (starring Jeremy Northam) has been uploaded to YouTube.
Testament of Youth is, as discussed above, a good adaptation of an excellent memoir.
The Last 30 minutes of Passchendaele. Most of this film is completely ridiculous, but the last 30 minutes is one of the best sequences of trench warfare/”over the top” I’ve seen. Always nice to see the Canadian Corps representin’ too.
The Awakening. Set in the 1920s, but I LOVED this film. The first half is better than the end, and Rebecca Hall and Dominic West OWN the screen.
Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen. In my opinion, the best poem written about the war, although generally I like Graves’ poetry a little better than Owen’s. Also, for completeness, Dulce and Decorum Est, Owen’s other most famous poem, and The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, because Owen did know how to build up to a killer ending (slightly ghoulish pun there…).
Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon are my poetry BroTP, so I love Two Fusiliers by Robert Graves. I also particularly love the poetry occasioned by the death of their mutual friend David Cuthbert Thomas - Enemies by Sassoon; and Not Dead and Goliath and David by Graves. I also like The Dug-Out by Sassoon.
Here dead we lie by A. E. Houseman. I love this poem because it is very short and yet it seems to distil into a few lines all the feelings you get about the war from other writers.
Obviously this list is not exhaustive, and others may have views about books/movies/TV/poems they would have included (please share via reblogs/ask box! I might find something else I will enjoy!), but it’s probably the list I would give to any of my friends who were interested. Along with my copy of ANZACs so they can actually watch it. ;)
Walking through trees to cool my heat and pain,
I know that David’s with me here again.
All that is simple, happy, strong, he is.
Caressingly I stroke
Rough bark of the friendly oak.
A brook goes bubbling by: the voice is his.
Turf burns with pleasant smoke;
I laugh at chaffinch and at primroses.
All that is simple, happy, strong, he is.
Over the whole wood in a little while
Breaks his slow smile.
“Not Dead”, Robert Graves. About David Cuthbert Thomas, a great friend of Graves and Sassoon, who was killed in 1916, aged 20. Graves also wrote a poem called “Goliath and David” about Thomas’ death, while Sassoon wrote several poems about him. Both men also memorialised Thomas in their memoirs.