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War Languages Memories of WW1. Vesa Matteo Piludu. University of Helsinki Department of Art Research. Oral history vs. official propagandistic history. If media and arts are often full of propagandistic or mythological elements, how it is possible to analyze realistic documents on war?

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war languages memories of ww1

War LanguagesMemories of WW1

Vesa Matteo Piludu

University of Helsinki

Department of Art Research

oral history vs official propagandistic history
Oral history vs. official propagandistic history
  • If media and arts are often full of propagandistic or mythological elements, how it is possible to analyze realistic documents on war?
  • Probably, reading and/or watching:
  • the memories and letters of the soldiers and civilians who wrote about their personal experience of war
  • Journalistic, historical and film reports strongly based on these first hand sources
  • Oral history
  • Often the point of view of common soldiers and civilians is completely different from the official propaganda
  • Case study: memories of WW1
two good sources
Two good sources
  • The Imperial War Museum Book of the First World War
  • by Malcolm Brown, 1991
  • The Great War and Modern Memory
  • By Paul Fussel, 1975
ww1 28 july 1914 11 november 1918 the beginnings
WW1 (28 July 1914–11 November 1918)The beginnings
  • Austria–Hungary during the Bosnian crisis of 1908-1909 annected the former Ottoman territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Gavrilo Princip killed the heir to the Austro–Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Wanting to end Serbian interference in Bosnia conclusively, Austria–Hungary delivered the July Ultimatum to Serbia
  • When Serbia acceded to only eight of the ten demands levied against it in the ultimatum, Austria–Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914
  • Russia supported Serbia, Germany supported Austria
  • Germany declared war against Russia
ww1 the beginning
WW1: the beginning
  • France declared war against Germany to have back Alsace-Lorraine
  • Austria should fight vs. Russia and Serbia
  • Germany tried to advance on the western front in order to to converge on Paris
  • England supported France
  • The French-British halted the German advance east of Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (5 September–12 September).
  • Italy declare war to Austria in order to conquer South Tyrol and Dalmatia
  • Various fronts in Africa, Asia,Oceania
trench war
Trench war
  • Centrality of western front (Belgium), constant for most of 4 years
  • Old military theories failed completely with the advances in technology
  • The trench were and impressive defense system
  • Artillery was extremely lethal, joined with massive use of machine guns
  • Use of poison gases, a symbol for the horrors of this war
  • Introduction of tanks and submarines (U-boats) in the last part of the war
  • High level of civilian victims: Zeppelins were the first purveyors of destruction from the sky, bombers appeared soon later
  • Huge casualties in action: The entire Somme offensive cost the British Army almost half a million men, Italy suffered a quarter of a million casualties in the Isonzo front.
  • More than 15 million people were killed in the whole war
old nationalism and modern propaganda
Old nationalism and modern propaganda
  • Old XIX century nationalism embraced modern propaganda in a deadly embrace
  • Was propaganda successful? Extremely.
  • Robert Saunders, September 1914:
  • “(in London) Everywhere you see flags flying, appeals to enlist, men in khaki … photographs and war telegrams in shop windows and recruiting stations” (Brown, p. 23)
school chaplains and war propaganda
School chaplains and war propaganda
  • Even school chaplains were doing propaganda sermons in British schools.
  • Reverend Victor Tanner, January 1915 (Brown, p. 20):
  • “Every day you hear of great deeds being done and of young life cheerfully sacrificed in the cause of righteousness and freedom.
  • You must look on your school routine in the light of a preparation for the time when your country will need you.
  • England needs men who are big enough to sacrifice their interests to the interest of the whole; me who are imbued with the spirit of self sacrifice and who have a great sense of duty.
  • Above all, make Christ your example and the Captain of your soul.
enthusiasm before the horrors
Enthusiasm before the horrors
  • F.L. Cassel, memories of 1924 about the English feelings in 1914 (Brown, p.20):
  • ”We had no idea what horrors, what suffering was ahead of us. There was Enthusiasmus, and conviction of victory, in spite of the fact that we had no vision of war, of the adversaries, their weapons. Nobody had heard grenades burst or bullets whistle. There were no casualty list.”
  • Holcombe Ingleby (Brown, p.18):
  • ”It is curious that, thought a modern battle is a perfect inferno, one asks for nothing better than to be in it”.
war psychosis in london and berlin
War psychosis in London and Berlin
  • In London many shops bearing German-sounding names were ransacked; anyone with a hint of German-sounding names were was open to any kind of victimization
  • F.L. Cassel (Brown, p.23):
  • “(In Berlin) I experienced the sensation of a beginning of a war psychosis, the chase of suspected spies … had been issued. Coffee houses were destroyed, e.g. the English café at the Wittenberg Platz, ostensibly because it was alleged that enemy hymns had been played by foreign musicians”
  • Even a five-group of English vocalist, banjoist and dancers known as the Royal Brewsters were under the risk of being accused to be “Russian spies, Russian dogs” in Germany (Brown, p.28)
short illusions and the brutal realities of sergent robert scott macfie
Short illusions and the brutal realities ofSergent Robert Scott Macfie
  • Sergent Robert Scott Macfie, Veteran territorial of Liverpool Scottish Regiment, 1914(Brown, page 35):
  • ”Today we have been instructed to hold ourselves in readiness to go abroad … we have damaged riffles, many men are short of clothing and equipment.
  • Head quarter is in confusion, lots of us are recruits and the rest are imperfectly trained.
  • I never saw so incompetent a set of officers or such a pathetic waste of good material
  • In the boat for France the soldiers found themselves ”packed thigher than proverbial sardines”
  • On 16 November the Regiment moved in a village ”where there are remnants of several regiments which have been almost wiped out” … ”a sea of mud, ankle deep, and the roads are like rivers with yellow soup.”
the first world war war without end 1 6
The First World War - War Without End 1/6
  • The First World War - War Without End 1/6
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_1VsxhqqU
f l cassel a german view on the first campaign
F.L. Cassel: a German view on the first campaign
  • F.L. Cassel (Brown pp. 40-41) about the first campaigns:
  • ”No talk of rest! For days we marched, fist towards St. Quentin, then Ham, then northwards uncertain where to.”
  • ”We were moved over dark meadows in zigzag … without seeing more than the man in front of you. We heard overhead the buzzing and whizzing of shells … of riffle projectiles and far behind the explosion of grenades”
  • ”there was an uninterrupted rifle and machine gun fire, a few star shells already,”
  • ”We were ordered to attack. We advanced in zigzag trough trenches hardly a foot deep, past English soldiers who where lying terribly mutilated amongst our own comrades, with bayonets fixed.”
f l cassel wounded two times
F.L. Cassel: wounded two times
  • ”Out of the trenches, across a meadow towards with a little forest – the notorious Hill 60’ – without looking back, without seeing anything, but ”Forwards”. I cannot remember to have any feeling of fear, once we have started to move.”
  • ”I threw myself on the ground and started firing … then I felt a strike on my hand, blood runs hot down from it”
  • ”While crossing the alley I feel another strike, this time in my thigh … I let fall everything, knapsack, coat, bread sack, to get away quicker … 100 meters further there is the German line. As the grenades and machine gun could not do any harm to me, I ran right up to it.”

Trenches. By 1918 French aerial units were developing and printing as many as 10,000 photographs each night, during periods of intense activity

the trenches
The trenches
  • The Belgian trenches became the symbol of this war
  • ”entrenched posistions” have become a clisché to define any dispute not easy to resolve.
  • J.I. Cohen, 1915, (Brown, p. 50):
  • “Our trouble of course is drainage. This horrible country is made of mud, water and dead Germans.”
  • “Working parties are formed most of the night and in the day where is possible to repair or rebuilt the damaged parts (of the trenches) or make improvements … It is impossible to do much work by day.”
  • Huges-Hallets, 1916, (Brown, p. 54):
  • “Rats burrowing is the commonest; flies in a pool of water; and all the manner of weird and unexpected things.”
  • “(The sanitary man) must of course empty all latrines at night, wich he does in shell holes.”
passchendaele 1919 conditions of soldiers
Passchendaele 1919: conditions of soldiers

Captain Burcke, 1918, (Brown, p. 55):

  • ”There are no trenches in Passchendaele: only a series of holes wich had been reinforced with sandbags … A man … couldn’t wash. He got a petrol tin of tea given him. Now those tin were baked, boiled, everything was done to them; but when you put a hot substance in you got petrol oozing from the tin. And of course gave the men violent diarrhea”
  • “Many men got trench feet and trench fever … In many cases your toes nearly rotten off in your boots.”
  • “It was awful, awful. You didn’t know whether you were going towards the enemy”
no man s land
No Man’s Land
  • Space between two trench lines
  • Father J.B. Marshall, 1916, (Brown, p. 59):
  • ”It was a terrible scene of devastation. I looked at the twilight – a ground churned up with shell holes, littered with broken wire, and a piteous array of dead bodies.”
  • Major Stephenson, 1916, (Brown, p. 58):
  • ”You couldn’t raise your head more than a very little. All that was done has to be done lying flat.”
  • Major Pildich, 1918, (Brown, p. 59):
  • “The progress of our successive attacks could be clearly seen from the type of equipment on the skeletons, soft caps denoting the 1914 and early 1915, then respirators, then steel helmets marking the attacks in 1916.”
Félix Vallotton, Le plateau de Bolante (Bolante Plateau), 1917, oil on canvas, Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine - BDIC, Paris
one vast cemetery
One vast cemetery
  • Edward Chapman, 1916, (Brown, p. 69):
  • ”I hate this business from the bottom of my soul. It has turned a beautiful country into a desolate waste. All is area is a one vast cemetery”
  • ”By the way don’t swallow all the papers say about the ”great push” When you read of German battalions being decimated, don’t forget that English battalions get wiped out too.”
  • 1917
  • ”When we get home again we shall have the happiness of men who have seen terrible things, who have been in hell, and have come back to a blessed heaven of peace.”
john singer sargent a street in arras 1918 watercolour 39 x 52 cm imperial war museum london
John Singer Sargent, A Street in Arras, 1918, watercolour, 39 x 52 cm, Imperial War Museum, London
scott macfie commanders without common sense
Scott Macfie: commanders without common sense
  • ”The want of preparation, the vague orders, the ignorance of the objective and geography, the absurd haste … after two year of war it seems that our higher commanders are still without any common sense. In any well regulated organization a divisional commander would be shot for incompetence – here another regiment is ordered to attempt to the same task in the same muddling way.”
Eric Kennington, The Kensingtons at Laventie by Eric Henri Kennington RA. Imperial War Museum, Department of Art
gas symptoms
Gas symptoms
  • Normal health only after 5 years
  • Symptoms:
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Loss of voice
  • Inability to swallow
  • Weakness
  • High fever
  • Burns
  • Choching couth
  • Difficult breathing
eric kennington gassed and wounded 1918 oil on canvas 71 1 x 91 4 cm imperial war museum london
Eric Kennington, Gassed and Wounded, 1918, oil on canvas, 71.1 x 91.4 cm, Imperial War Museum, London
christmas truce 1914
Christmas truce 1914

Comradeship amongs English and Germans

Lieutenant Chapman, 1916, (Brown, p. 83):

”War is so very stupid when the people who do the fighting do not hate each other at all. War is the stupidest thing in the whole world. ”

zero hour
Zero Hour
  • Thomas Hudson (Brown, p. 63):
  • ”It is utterly impossible to describe one’s feelings during the hours waiting for ”zero” – the mind is full of wild thoughts and fancies etc which are beyond control. Recollection of friends and dears ones, places we have seen and known and different phases of life all seem to pass in review before one’s eyes and one is recalled to the bitter realities of the moment by officer’s voice: ”fifteen minutes to go, boys, get ready!”

Otto Dix, Flandern (Flanders) (after Le Feu by Henri Barbusse), 1934-6, oil and tempera on canvas, 200 x 250 cm, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

john lavery the cemetery etaples 1919 oil on canvas 59 x 90 cm imperial war museum london
John Lavery, The Cemetery, Etaples, 1919, oil on canvas, 59 x 90 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

William Orpen, To the Unknown British Soldier Killed in France, 1922-7, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 128.3 cm, Imperial War Museum, London (first version).

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