In 1918, once the Great War had ended, those countries that survived began the slow healing process that defined the period between the wars (1919–1939). During this critical time, one sentiment bubbled to the surface: the Great War was a complete and utter travesty for all those involved. It ruined Germany’s economy (which would lay the groundwork for WW2); 10 million soldiers died and some 7 million innocent civilians were murdered; and finally the worldwide movement of troops and relative lack of resources spurred on the ravages of the Spanish Flu, which killed as many people (17.4 million, per a 2018 study) as the war itself (and possibly as many as 100 million, according to a 2002 study*).

One notable example of this antiwar sentiment was the publication of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, a book that was made into one of the most memorable antiwar films of all time just two years after the relatively ambiguous Wings.

Decades later would see the release of Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, the title of which comes from Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen

We’ll be exploring both the poem and these two films in this, the fourth and final module.

In 1918, once the Great War had ended, those countries that survived began the slow healing process that defined the period between the wars (1919–1939). During this critical time, one sentiment bubbled to the surface: the Great War was a complete and utter travesty for all those involved. It ruined Germany’s economy (which would lay the groundwork for WW2); 10 million soldiers died and some 7 million innocent civilians were murdered; and finally the worldwide movement of troops and relative lack of resources spurred on the ravages of the Spanish Flu, which killed as many people (17.4 million, per a 2018 study) as the war itself (and possibly as many as 100 million, according to a 2002 study*).

One notable example of this antiwar sentiment was the publication of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, a book that was made into one of the most memorable antiwar films of all time just two years after the relatively ambiguous Wings.

Decades later would see the release of Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, the title of which comes from Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen

We’ll be exploring both the poem and these two films in this, the fourth and final module.

The Reading

In Module 3, I included a stanza from Thomas Gray’s poem entitled Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), from which the novel and subsequent film Paths of Glory each got their title. As homage to this poem, G. K. Chesterton authored the following poem in 1922, four years after the war.

Elegy in a Country Courtyard (1922) by G. K. Chesterton

The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And birds and bees of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,

In stately conclave met,

Alas, alas for England

They have no graves as yet.

(Source: The Ballad of St. Barbara and Other Poems (1922))

And then another poem by Siegfried Sassoon, again very different than his poem Absolution (in Module 2):

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An early draft of Siegfried Sassoon’s The General

The General (1917) by Siegfried Sassoon

“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He's a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Note the rhythmic structure of this poem. Rather than employing the iambic pentameter common in English poetry since at least the 15th century, this poem is written in anapests. An anapest (or anapaest, if you’re British) is a three syllable metric structure made of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. An easy way to remember this is to look at the word ‘anapest’ itself, for it is also an a-na-PEST. It’s a similar rhythmic structure to the waltz, with is its 3/4 time signature.

Pay attention to the meter here and how it relates to the tone and meaning of the poem.

Dulce Et Decorum Est (posth. 1920) by Wilfred Owen

Lastly, read, watch, and listen to Dulce Et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen. To begin, read the text of the poem to yourself:

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 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 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,
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.

Owen wrote this poem while recuperating from shell-shock at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, and it stands as likely the most famous of poems ever written about WWI. The title actually comes from a stanza from an ancient poem written by the Roman poet Horace:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo.

– from Ode III.2.13

The translation (my own) is as follows:

It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country
Death follows he who flees
It spares not the backs and limbs
of young soldiers.

See, in the Roman mind, the only true path to amassing and maintaining an empire was to be completely unafraid in the face of the enemy. Show no fear and the battle will already have been won. This attitude is precisely why the Roman army was the most organized and most feared military force in world for nearly a century. It’s the same attitude that the German, French, and British military commanders and government officials – all raised on the classic literature of the Greco-Roman world – had during WWI. That these same individuals weren’t required to fight on the front lines, and likely never visited the front themselves, makes this attitude understandable. But given that the young soldiers sent to the front in WWI had to face devastating weapons that never existed in the Roman world, such as machine guns and mustard gas, it was also despicable.

Now watch this reading of Dulce et Decorum est by Christopher Eccleston:

The Watching

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Lewis Milestone

Note: the following two movies can be found in the LEH 353 - WWI in Film library on Plex.

MV5BMzg2MWQ4MDEtOGZlNi00MTg0LWIwMjQtYWY5NTQwYmUzMWNmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzg2MzE2OTE. V1 Based on the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, this film really represents the first shot in a lengthy volley of films that were critical of the Great War and the military command who pushed for four agonizing years. It is one of the most important war films ever made, and has influenced many great films in the genre. When it was released internationally in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front was met with (nearly) universal praise. I say nearly, because there were places in the world where the film was banned… and I’ll give you one guess where.

If you said Germany, bravo!

Controlled by a nationalist party espousing war and the takeover of Europe (and presumably the whole world), Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and other members of the Nazi Party (1920 – 1945), took great umbrage with All Quiet on the Western Front, claiming it was anti-German, anti-war, and a Judenfilm, or Jewish film. Milestone was indeed Jewish by heritage, but let’s be real here: the Nazi’s blamed the Jews for ALL the evils of the world, so their antisemitic rants must always be taken for what they were: baseless fascist ramblings. Regardless, this film was also banned in Australia, Italy, and, perhaps not surprisingly, France.

Lastly, pay careful attention to the very first scene: there will be a question about it in the survey below.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) by Peter Jackson

they shall not grow old posterThis technical masterpiece by Peter Jackson was produced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day (what we call Veterens Day here in the States). It provides an unprecedented and eye-opening look at archival footage of WWI, expertly woven with interview audio from the soldiers who fought in the war. To make this film, Jackson and his team first poured over 600 hours of archival footage and audio at the BBC and Imperial War Museum,   Then Jackson's technical team meticulously cleaned up, sharpened, colorized, and used a technique called ‘frame blending’ to take 13 fps (frames per second) footage – rather choppy by today’s standards – and interpolate extra frames into these films to create realistic and, at times, eerily lifelike motion.

As I mention at the beginning of this module, the title of this film comes, by way of a common misquote, from the fourth stanza of Binyon’s famous poem:

For the Fallen (1914) by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

menin gate

The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

This fourth and most famous stanza is also known as the "Ode of Remembrance,” and it is read out each day as part of the Last Post ceremony, performed at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, where many Allied soldiers first set out for the front during the war.

The Questions