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Does the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ tell us what all soldiers thought of the war?. Evidence for soldiers’ attitudes to the First World War from poetry, letters, diaries, memoirs & photographs. Why did soldiers write poetry?.

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does the film all quiet on the western front tell us what all soldiers thought of the war

Does the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ tell us what all soldiers thought of the war?

Evidence for soldiers’ attitudes to the First World War from poetry, letters, diaries, memoirs & photographs

why did soldiers write poetry
Why did soldiers write poetry?
  • A good way to describe and understand your emotions and experiences.
  • A way of passing the time, like telling jokes or making up songs – it could also cheer up or encourage others – good for morale
  • Can be done almost anywhere – only need a notebook.
  • Many of the officers were well-educated (public schools) – they simply believed this was a good thing for a civilised man to do.
the soldier rupert brooke a british officer 1914
The Soldier, Rupert Brooke – a British Officer (1914)

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

dulce et decorum est wilfred owen a british officer 1918
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…

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly 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 floundering like a man in fire or lime

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…

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs…

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

That old lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

(It is sweet & right to die for your country.)

Dulce et Decorum est, Wilfred Owen – a British Officer (1918)
slide5
‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,

And folded up the letter that she’d read.

‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke

In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.

She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud

Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.

He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies

That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.

For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes

Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,

Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,

Had panicked down the trench that night the mine

Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried

To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,

Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care

Except that lonely woman with white hair.

(Letters were written to the families of all soldiers who were killed in action, explaining how they died. They almost always said the soldier died fighting bravely and was killed instantly.)

The Hero, Siegfried Sassoon (A British officer - he received the Military Cross for the bravery he showed in battle)
in flanders fields john maccrae an army doctor 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.

This poem was published during the war and was the main reason why the poppy later became the symbol of remembrance for the soldiers of the First World War.

In Flanders Fields, John MacCrae – an army doctor (1915)
letter written by will a private soldier august 1915
Letter written by Will, a private soldier, August 1915

Dear Mr and Mrs Dean and the girls,

Just a line to thank you very much for your splendid parcel. It came at the most opportune moment as we have now moved up to the line again. As you may guess it is not exactly a health resort…Some of the chaps are in houses but another chap and myself discovered a very decent dugout in which we have got a bed, 2 tables and several chairs...The houses are badly knocked about. The Germans gave us quite a long edition of hate this morning but I don’t think they managed to hit anybody…Our artillery retaliated by dropping about twice as many as we had received into their trenches…We are going to have a high tea with the contents of the parcel and then I shall be on guard tonight watching the fireworks…

Well I think this is all. Thanking you for the parcel and good wishes. I remain,

Your sincere friend

Will

letter written by jesse spicer september 1915
Letter written by Jesse Spicer, September 1915

We were told on Friday last, September 24, when we were still in billets about 8 miles from the firing line that we were to take part in a great advance, which was to start next morning at dawn.

Even then we could hear the guns firing a very heavy bombardment. Naturally everybody was somewhat excited and very delighted. What actually happened I am afraid, did not come up to expectations. That Friday we marched most of the night, bivouacked about 3 or 4 a.m., lay there till about 7 a.m., hung about till noon, when we pushed on and got pretty close up. We could now see and speak to some of the wounded…, the advance having already started, and we heard glowing accounts of what had happened…We were due to make an attack of some kind at 11 a.m.…What exactly happened after that I don’t know…I spent my day collecting small bodies of men, putting them into trenches, getting them out again, generally because we were shelled out of them and losing the men I had already collected and then collecting fresh pushes.

extract from jesse spicer s personal diary september 1915
Extract from Jesse Spicer’s personal diary, September 1915

The Battle of Loos was my first experience of action and I shall never forget it. It fell to my lot to have to go over the battlefield of the day before; dead and wounded were lying everywhere. Many called out for help (some had been there for 24 hours); I went to one man, but then realised that if I was to respond to all cries for help I should never do my job, so heartlessly I had to press on…Officers and men were streaming back from the front line and I was told to take my platoon and stop them drifting back and keep them in a trench…it seemed to me that these men were retreating without reason or orders. The Loos battle was a fiasco.

extract from the jesse spicer s memoirs written in 1979
Extract from the Jesse Spicer’s memoirs written in 1979

After only about two weeks in France we took part in the Battle of Loos, an ill-managed affair, in which our role was not particularly distinguished. It was our first experience of “shot and shell” and therefore memorable, but even more not to be forgotten was the sight of the dead and dying, lying in large numbers on the open battlefield. That was a sight and experience sufficiently harrowing to make one respect the ideals of the pacifist.

three accounts of the battle of passchendaele 1917
Three accounts of the Battle of Passchendaele (1917)

The blow has been struck as surely and with results as decisive, as any of the former blows…The story is the same story I have told so many times, the story of an attack pushed with perfect determination and gallantry to final and complete success.

Report in The Times newspaper

Still the guns churned this treacherous slime. Everyday conditions got worse. What had once been difficult now became impossible…No battle in history was ever fought under such conditions.

General Gough’s Memoirs after the war

The slope was littered with dead, both theirs and ours. I got to one pillbox to find a mass of dead, and so I passed on to the one just ahead. Here I found about 50 men alive…Never have I seen such broken and demoralised men. They were huddled up close behind the box in the last stages of exhaustion and fear. Fritz had been sniping them off all day and accounted for 57 that day – the dead and the dying lay in piles.

An officer’s official report on the battle

interviews with former soldiers for people s century bbc 1999
Edward Smout (Australian) talking about joining the army in 1914:

“In Australia at that time we were part of the British Empire and very loyal to British and felt that it was our war…Apart from that if you stayed for a year or two longer you’d get a white feather from the girls. No, it was the thing to do.”

Cha Kunga (Indian) talking about joining the army in 1914:

“I wanted to take part in the British government’s war. I wanted to see western countries for myself. We were told they were healthy places.”

Walter Hare (British) talking about the first day of the Battle of the Somme (July 1916):

“We kept going to the German trench. I got to the barbed wire. I got through that alright and jumped into a German trench. We stayed there all day and all night, with no food and no water, getting short of ammunition…” [His battalion was then ordered to retreat.] “…I finished up where I’d started. I’d lost a lot of my pals which we needn’t have done. We never gained an inch of ground. I thought how stupid it was.”

Tela Burt (American) talking about joining the army in 1917:

“I’d never heard of democracy before. I never knew what the hell I was fighting for. All I knew was that I liked the uniform and wanted to be in the army.”

Albert Powis (American) talking about joining the army in 1917:

“I liked America. I guess I was patriotic because every time I heard the band playing a good marching song I’d have cold chills run up and down my back.”

Interviews with former soldiers for People’s Century (BBC), 1999
slide17
Assessment Assignment: Does the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ tell us what all soldiers thought of the war?
  • Explain what attitudes towards the war are shown in All Quiet on the Western Front.
  • Explain what other soldiers’ attitudes you have found in other sources (poems; letters; photographs; diary entries; TV interviews with old soldiers).
  • Explain why soldiers may have had different attitudes and why you may not able to trust completely All Quiet on the Western Front and other sources as evidence for what soldiers thought.
  • Write a conclusion which explains which answers the question and shows how useful you think the film is as evidence compared to other sources.
  • Due:
how will my work be marked
How will my work be marked?
  • This assignment is to be word-processed.
  • You will then EITHER print off your work and hand it in OR e-mail it to your teacher:
  • You will complete the assignment to a deadline set by your teacher.
  • Your teacher will comment on this work, giving you advice on how to improve it, so that you can raise the level you have reached. You will also have the opportunity to discuss ways of improving your first drafts with other students before writing your second draft.
  • You will amend the assignment to a deadline set by your teacher.
  • Your teacher will comment on this work and give you a level for it.
  • The level you are given will be based on the level descriptions on this site. Use them as a checklist while you are writing the assignment to see which level you are working towards.
level descriptions
Level Descriptions
  • Level 5

The answer includes some explanation of what All Quiet on the Western Front tells us about what soldiers thought about the war.

The answer may also compare what it says to other sources and use TANK or TANPLAK to discuss how trustworthy some sources are.

The answer is organised to produce a structured piece of work which uses appropriate background knowledge, dates and technical terms, such as propaganda, censorship, bias, euphemism or gallows humour.

  • Level 6

The answer is a detailed explanation of what All Quiet on the Western Front tells us about what soldiers thought about the war.

The answer also compares what it says to other sources and uses TANK or TANPLAK to discuss how trustworthy some sources are and to reach a convincing conclusion about how useful the film is as evidence.

The answer is organised to produce a structured piece of work which uses appropriate background knowledge, dates and technical terms, such as propaganda, censorship, bias, euphemism or gallows humour.

  • Level 7

The answer is a thorough explanation of what All Quiet on the Western Front tells us about what soldiers thought about the war.

The answer also compares what it says to other sources and uses TANPLAK to explain how trustworthy some sources are and to reach a convincing conclusion about how useful the film is as evidence.

The answer shows independent thinking which shows what the evidence is actually able to tell us has been considered. It is organised to produce a structured piece of work which makes considerable use of appropriate and relevant background knowledge, dates and technical terms, such as propaganda, censorship, bias, reliability, patriotism, euphemism and gallows humour.

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