Now It's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' - World War One in Life and Literature
'All Quiet on the Western Front' - Picardy, France - a Typical, Peaceful, Rural, Agricultural Scene - May 2011
The Western Front
In 1914, as a result of various causes but triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the First World War ~ otherwise known as 'The Great War' or 'The War to End All Wars' ~ broke out.
Britain's entry into the conflict resulted from Germany's decision to illegally enter Belgium, in order to allow for their invasion of France, before France invaded Germany, which was what they apparently believed to be about to happen. Britain claimed to be protecting Belgium's neutrality. No doubt, in reality, matters were even more complex than this.
The theatre of conflict during the years 1914 to 1918 / 19 covered much of Europe ~ and spread into its seas.
The 'Western Front' was one of the large battle zones of World War One. The line of battlefields making up this 'front' stretched from Belgium, through northern France, almost to the Swiss border.
Of course there were changes to the Western Front as the war progressed.
It witnessed horrendous suffering and unbelievable numbers of deaths. Shells whizzed overhead. Young men fought bravely. And the war, which should have ended 'by Christmas', went on and on.
Nowadays, it is hard to believe, when one travels peacefully through Belgium and Northern France, just how much pain and misery were endured there ~ until one notices the myriad of military cemeteries, dotted throughout the landscape.
* * * * *
For information on other fighting fronts of World War One, see:
The Western Front 1918
Poppies in France 2011
Zooming Past - Military Cemetery From the Motorway
Northen France 2011
Silent as the Grave
Some of the quietest spots currently on what was 'the Western Front' are the military graveyards.
They are easily recognisable by their military precision. Those young men are still very smartly lined up ~ though they lost their lives decades ago.
Amongst these memorials to 'the fallen', there are French, British & Commonwealth, American and of course German ones.
Youngsters, once so full of enthusiasm, excitement, pride, bravery and patriotism, mown down ~ many say as 'fodder'. Did they even know what they were fighting for ~ those boys and young men, on both sides of the lines?
The fact that some played football and sang carols together during that first Christmas of the war ~ 'The Christmas Truce' ~ shows that, for the most part, the English and German boys did not hate each other, or see each other as natural enemies.
Propaganda, and punishment for fraternizing, had to be set in place to ensure that friendship was replaced by suspicion and hatred.
And some really were only boys ~ children even ~ only perhaps 14 years old! Some were groups of school friends, or brothers, who enrolled together ~ the 'Pals' regiments.
They must have been chatty and lively once. Now they lie silent. If they were killed together, then whole families ~ whole villages ~ would have been destroyed by grief!
Tommies in Trenches - Soap Ad
Preparing for War?
Poppies and Other Wild Flowers - France 2011
"All Quiet on the Western Front"
'All Quiet on the Western Front'
'All Quiet on the Western Front' is a novel written in 1929 by Erich Maria Remarque.
It tells of life as a soldier on the Western Front ~ from the German perspective.
The story was made into an American war film in 1930.
On the front cover of my copy of the book it states: 'Largest sale of any war novel'.
On the back cover it claims that it is 'the finest novel to emerge on either side from the First World War'.
Quote from the 'Spark Notes':
"Paul and his friends have realized that the ideals of nationalism and patriotism for which they enlisted are simply empty clichés.
"They no longer believe that war is glorious or honorable, and they live in constant physical terror."
Picardy, France - a Typical, Peaceful, Rural, Agricultural Scene - But With Military Cemetery - June 2011
Poppies - France 2011
The Modern Scene
When travelling through Northern France, nowadays, one is aware of the open fields ~ the agriculture, or agro-industry.
Fields are full of crops, bordered by wild flowers, including poppies ~ that flower, so reminiscent of First World War Battles.
Agricultural Scene - Northern France - June 2011
John McCrae. 1872-1918
Isaac Rosenberg. 1890 – 1918
Poppies and Military Cemeteries
The area known as Flanders ~ on the 'Western Front' ~ includes parts of Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
'In Flanders Fields' is a poem by John McCrae, which describes this area ~ but could equally describe much of the Western Front, where poppies sprang up, as they do, on disturbed soil.
The military graves stood 'row on row' even then.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae (Canadian) 1919.
McCrae was a Lieutenant Colonel and a surgeon. He died of pneumonia in 1918.
Extracts from: Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Poppies whose roots are in men's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
Isaac Rosenberg 1916
Poppies at Vic Sur Aisne
My World War One Hubs
Vic Sur Aisne (2011) - Poppies
Recent Visits to Northern France
My family and I visit France regularly, and we have recently returned from a brief holiday in the North of the country (May/June 2011). We caught the ferry to Calais and then drove to Vic Sur Aisne.
We travelled through vast agricultural areas, crossed rivers ~ including the Somme, scene of much WW1 devastation ~ and viewed churches and cathedrals, as we passed through villages, towns and cities.
The sun shone; the sky was blue; the poppies danced in the breeze ~ and all was quiet and peaceful.
It was not our first visit to the area. On earlier occasions, my family and I have visited the site of the signing of the Armistice and have explored the trenches and memorial at Vimy Ridge.
Quiet Rural Peace + Military Cemetery - France June 2nd 2011
The quiet little town of Vic Sur Aisne welcomes tourists
Vic Sur Aisne
During our recent visit (2011) ~ as on former occasions ~ we stayed in Vic Sur Aisne for a few days.
It is a lovely little place, despite being semi-industrial ~ ie. the fact that it is near a large sugar refinery.
Though relatively small, it has its own castle.
There are some nice restaurants. (We were impressed by 'Le Donjon') and it has an attractive campsite, so it welcomes tourists.
It also has its own military cemetery ~ relatively large; situated on the outskirts of the town.
Life and death ~ side by side. A memorial to interminable months of fighting; of attrition; of death, disease, slaughter.
Vic Sur Aisne - Military Cemetery
Vic Sur Aisne
US Memorial - Battle for Soissons
A Monument to the fallen of the US 1st Division, which was involved in the Battle for Soissons (2nd Battle of the Marne ~ 1918), can be found at Buzancy. (All US 1st Division memorial monuments are the same.)
There is a photo here:
US First Division Monument
Not too far from Vic is the larger town of Soissons.
The Battle of Soissons was fought between 18th and 22nd July 1918 ~ French and American troops fighting the Germans.
According to Wikipedia, there were 95,000 French casulaties, 13,000 British casualties, 12,000 American casualties ~ and 168,000 Germans casualties.
Soissons cathedral is worth a visit and contains some photos of the damage incurred as a result of World War One carnage.
Nearby are some large memorials. One is to the fallen French; the other recognises the British Commonwealth.
Eric Kennington's 'Monument to the Fallen' is between the River Aisne and the old abbey church and reconstructed cathedral. It was constructed, and is maintained by, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
According to Wikipedia, this Portland stone memorial lists nearly 4000 British soldiers, whose final resting places are unknown. They died nearby, during the 'Third Battle of the Aisne' or the 'Second Battle of the Marne'.
"Here are recorded the names of 3,987 officers and men of those divisions to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death."
The actual War Memorial of Soissons is nearby; between the old abbey church and the cathedral.
As a plaque in the cathedral reminds us, a million dead of the 'Empire' still lie dead on ~ or in ~ French soil.
Soissons: World War 1 ~ not all in English, but including photos:
Der Weltkrieg am 30. Mai 1918
Der Weltkrieg am 6. September 1918
Soissonnais : Cartes postales et photos anciennes
The Memorial to the US 1st Division
Photos du fonds Justin Hiriart
A Field of Poppies
First World War - Books and DVDs
Soissons Cathedral: To The Memory of One Million Dead of the British Empire - The Greater Part Rest in France
Soissons Memorial - To The Missing
Soissons: The War Memorial
Nampcel German Military Cemetery, France - Soldatenfriedhof
Chemin Des Dames
Nampcel - Example of a German Cemetery
Built by the French, in 1919, the German cemetery at Nampcel was originally mixed ~ French and German ~ but it now contains the remains of only German (11,424) and 'Austro-Hungarian' (3) soldiers. The change was implemented in 1922.
The Soldatenfriefhof website states that 'Of those buried in the cemetery 6,574 have their own graves (93 of them are unknown) whilst in the four mass graves there are 4,750 victims, of whom only 894 have actually been identified.'
Apparently, there was much violent activity in this area towards both the beginning and the end of the war, but the Soldatenfriefhof website notes that 'The majority of the graves though arise from the Kaiserschlacht in the spring and summer of 1918'.
Very close to Nampcel, is another, smaller, German cemetery ~ Moulin sous Touvent. There are 1,903 German soldiers buried at Moulin sous Touvent.
German Infantry 1914
French Bayonet Charge
Casualties of World War One
According to Wikipedia, there was a total of 16.5 million deaths, as a result of the First World War, plus 21 million wounded.
This included 9.7 million members of the military, plus around 6.8 million civilians.
Attitudes to War Changed
At the beginning of the First World War, there was a feeling almost of excitement ~ certainly of patriotism.
However, reality soon set in. War was not glamourous or exciting; it was hideous and deadly.
The incredibly high number of deaths is reflected in the numerous war memorials and graveyards.
The change in attitude is / was reflected in literature ~ most famously in poetry.
More War Graves
Rupert Brooke. 1887 – 1915
Rupert Brooke's poetry is poignant, heroic, sentimental ~ and innocent of the true horrors of war.
The first few lines of his poem, 'The Soldier', illustrate this:
"IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. ......"
Rupert Brooke, one of the British solder-poets of 'World War One', was born in 1887 and died, on a French hospital ship, in April 1915. He was en route to battle at Gallipoli ~ another WW1 theatre of conflict.
Western Front 1918 - Detail
'The First World War' by John Keegan
'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen
The poem 'DULCE ET DECORUM EST' was written between October 1917 and March, 1918, by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). No poignant sentimentality here ~ this is the true horror of war. The title comes from Horace's Roman lyrical poetry. The full quote is; 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ' ~ or 'It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country'. But is it really 'sweet and fitting'? ~ No, Owen tells us ~ this is 'The old Lie'.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
British Troops - 55th Division - Casualties of Gas - 10 April 1918
Now, as then, Poppies thrive in disturbed soil - Picardy 2011
Vallee de la Somme. May 2011
We Crossed The Somme
As one whizzes along the French motorway, en route to holiday destinations, one is hardly aware of crossing one of the most famous rivers in WW1 history ~ the Somme ~ as it slowly meanders through the tranquil French countryside.
On our way to Vic Sur Aisne, we traversed the River Somme ~ by motorway bridge.
The river gives its name to the French Somme 'departement', which is in the Picardy (Picardie) region of Northern France.
Whizzing Over A Barely-Visible River Somme. May 2011
Peaceful Rural Scene Near the River Somme - 2011
Poignant Extracts from: 'Testament of Youth' by Vera Brittain
My diary for August 3rd, 1914, contains a most incongrous mixture of war and tennis:
"I do not know how we all managed to play tennis so calmly ... I suppose it is because we all know so little of the real meaning of war that we are so indifferent."
At the beginning of 1915 I was more deeply .. in love than I have ever been or am ever likely to be ...
Roland went to the front on March 31st, 1915
As Christmas Eve slipped into Christmas Day, I finished tying up the paper bags .... I felt wrought up to a high pitch of nervous emotion, that I ought to thank whatever God might exist for the supreme gift of Roland and the love that had arisen so swiftly between us.
When, by ten o'clock at night, no news had come, I concluded that the complications of telegraph and telephone on a combined Sunday and Christmas Day had made communication impossible.
The next morning ... the expected message came to say that I was wanted on the telephone. Believing that I was at last to hear the voice for which I had waited for twenty-four hours, I dashed joyously into the corridor. But the message was not from Roland ...; it was not to say that he had arrived home that morning, but that he had died of wounds ... on December 23rd.
Roland Aubrey Leighton was born in 1895 and died, age 20, in France, in 'The Great War', shortly before Christmas, 1915. His grave is in the military cemetery at Louvencourt, near Doullens ~ in the Somme region.
The Somme Offensive
The Battle of the Somme covered both banks of the River Somme and took place between 1st July and 18th November 1916 ~ French and British troops versus German troops.
According to Wikipedia;
'The opening day of the battle on 1 July 1916 saw the British Army suffer the worst one-day combat losses in its history, with nearly 60,000 casualties'.
Vera Brittain and Roland Leighton
Louvencourt Military Cemetery
'Louvencourt' is one of the Somme's military cemeteries. It is described on the site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
It is here that Roland Leighton lies ~ the unfortunate one-time fiancé of Vera Brittain, author of 'Testament of Youth' and 'Testament of Experience'.
According to the CWGC site: 'There are now 151 Commonwealth burials of the First World War in this cemetery and 76 French war graves dating from 1915. ...The cemetery, one of the first three Commission cemeteries to be built after the First World War, was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield'.
The Somme - July 1916 - The Royal Irish Rifles - Ration Party
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme - Plus Military Cemetery
Thiepval Memorial (Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens)
The enormous Thiepval memorial to the missing, records the names of 73,357 soldiers ~ British and South African ~ whose lives were lost at 'The Somme', but for whom there is no known grave.
The military cemetery, which is situated at the rear of this monument, contains the graves of 300 British and 300 French soldiers who died on the Somme.
According to the Commonwealth war Graves Commission, 'The Thiepval Memorial will be found on the D73, next to the village of Thiepval, off the main Bapaume to Albert road'.
The Thiepval Memorial is on the Bapaume to Albert Road ~ Somme
Vimy Ridge was important, strategically, precisely because it was a ridge ~ the troops that held the high ground held an advantage!
As early as September 1914, German forces took Vimy Ridge and settled in. FirstWorldWar.com states that they 'constructed deep defensive positions comprising bunkers, caves, passages and artillery-proof trenches, heavily protected by concrete machine gun emplacements'.
From there, they attacked, and pretty much destroyed, the town of Arras.
The French attempted to dislodge them ~ incurring 150,000 casualties.
However, in April 1917, Canadian troops finally managed to overwhelm the entrenched Germans.
Firstworldwar.com notes: 'It did not come without cost however: 10,602 Canadians were wounded ... and 3,598 killed. The opposing German force suffered ... 20,000 casualties'.
Vimy Trenches - All Quiet and Peaceful Now!
Vimy Ridge - The Memorial Dedication 1936
Vimy Ridge Memorial (Designed by Walter Seymour Allward )
The huge memorial at Vimy bears many names, commemorating those Canadian soldiers, killed in France, but for whom no grave exists.
This overwhelmingly large memorial, plus the nearby 'restored' trenches, are also dedicated to the memory of all Canadian Expeditionary Force members, who were killed during World War One.
The whole area is very impressive. I can vouch for the fact that the size of the monument and the number of names inscribed is almost overwhelming.
Visitors can explore, and learn, throughout much of the area, but must avoid those parts where unexploded devices may still remain undiscovered.
Vimy Ridge and the Canadian Memorial
All Quiet in the Green and Pleasant Land
So, yes, for the most part it is, now, all quiet along the Western front as farmers get on with working the land; tourists drive through, or spend holidays there; fishermen sit patiently beside the Somme; birds sing and wild flowers, including the blood red poppies, grow along both country lanes and motorways.
The guns of war have been silent for decades now ~ even allowing for a Second World War, which erupted in 1939, despite the Great War being considered as 'the war to end all wars'.
It is hard to imagine just how much suffering was endured in this green and pleasant land.
Images of The First World War
By Siegfried Sassoon
Dreamers - By Siegfried Sassoon (Published New York, 1918)
Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
oldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
World War One Poetry
France Has Some Very Impressive War Memorials - 2011
Noyon War Memorial (May 2011)
Carlepont War Memorial - Outside the Church - (May 2011)
War Memorial and Memorial Garden - Berneuil Sur Aisne (May 2011)
Roses - Still Flowering in Picardy - May 2011
Roses of Picardy
The first two verses:
She is watching by the poplars
Colinette with the sea blue eyes
She is watching and longing and waiting
Where the long white roadway lies
And a song stirs in the silence
As the wind in the boughs above
She listens and starts and trembles
'Tis the first little song of love
Roses are shining in Picardy
In the hush of the silver dew
Roses are flowering in Picardy
But there's never a rose like you
And the roses will die with the summer time
And our roads may be far apart
But there's one rose that dies not in Picardy
'Tis the rose that I keep in my heart
Lyrics by Frederick E. Weatherley (A British army officer )
Music by Haydn Wood
According to Wikipedia, 'it was one of the most famous songs from World War One'.
Two versions can be accessed here:
Ernest Pike ~ 1917
John McCormack ~ 1919.
There are also French and German lyrics to this favourite war song.
Roses still flower in Picardy and, like the poppies, these flowers, too, are reminiscent of the long years of the First World War.
Picardy (Picardie) is a region of Northern France.
'Roses in Picardy' - John McCormack
'Over The Top' - Blackadder Goes Fo(u)rth - Final Scene
'Blackadder' is a British comedy series - indeed a series of series, concerning various periods in British history - starring Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tim McInnerny and others.
This final scene of the final series, covering World War One, where they go 'over the top' was unexpected in a comedy show ~ exceedingly impressive and very emotional.
There are, in my opinion, similarities between 'Blackadder Goes Fourth' and 'Journey's End', the play by M C Sherriff.
'Over The Top' - Blackadder Goes Fourth - Final Scene
Related Links, Sources, Etc:
- CWGC : Thiepval Cemetery Details
- CWGC : Louvencourt Cemetery Details
- Louvencourt Military Cemetery, Louvencourt, Somme, France
- German Military Cemeteries at Nampcel and Moulin sous Touvent
- Thiepval Memorial - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Battle of the Somme - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- WW1 Battlefields of the Western Front
- WW1 Timeline - A detailed history of the Great War 1914-1918
- World War I - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- History of the Great War - Principal Events Timeline - 1916
- First World War.com - Battles - The Eastern Front
- Wagon de l'Armistice - Wikipdia
- Siegfried Sassoon's Dreamers: a Study Guide
- Siegfried Sassoon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia