Archive for November 12th, 2004

November 12th, 2004

11/11 Teresa Nielsenhayden on the Great War

Ghosts of the Great War, 2004


“We’re not making a sacrifice.

Jesus, you’ve seen this war.

We are the sacrifice.”

Ulster regiment, marching toward the Somme

Eleven eleven has come round again, when we remember what used to optimistically be referred to as the last great imperialist war. Many of my links are repeated (with adjustments for link rot) from last year. What the hell; they’re still relevant. Maybe more so.

World War I was what got me started reading history. I was at home with pneumonia, and somehow picked up a copy of a Penguin illustrated history of World War I. I was horrified: They did what? Then amazed and horrified: And then they did it again? And finally plunged into a profound mystery: And they kept doing it, again and again, for years? In some ways, all my reading of history thereafter has been an attempt to understand the information in that one small book.

In memory of the men who fought, a jolly contemporary folksong: Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.

Have a look at Tony Novosel’s two pages of spooky, evocative photos of Great War memorials:

Painting: Menin Gate: The Ghosts of Ypres

The actual Menin Gate, on which are carved the names of the 54,000 Missing from the Battle of Ypres.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. There are 73,350 names on its panels.

Kathe Kollwitz’ Grieving Parents, near the site where her son and his comrades are buried.

The Silent Sentinels, Langemarck German cemetery in Belgium.

The Sentinels again.

Watching over the German graves at Langemarck.

Le Mort Homme (The Dead Man), Verdun.

Another view. “ILS N’ONT PAS PASSÉ” means “They did not pass”.

The Guardians of Verdun.

Views of the war: John Singer Sargent does one of each.

Wilfred Owen’s grave.

Not pictures: A pertinent selection of Wilfred Owen’s poems. And a bit of Philip Larkin.

The Lost Poets of the Great War website, with its calculation of total casualties.

One of whom was young Umberto Boccioni, Italian Futurist artist. This is his “States of Mind” series: The Farewells. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. There aren’t many paintings by Boccioni. This is a piece called Unique form of continuity in space. There is even less sculpture by him.

If there are universes with multiple branching timelines, there are thousands of them very much like ours, except that in them no one’s ever heard of J. R. R. Tolkien. The destruction, the toll of the dead, is as difficult to comprehend as the Black Death.

At one point I looked up the history of Tolkien’s unit, the Lancashire Fusiliers. First they significantly distinguished themselves at Gallipoli. Then they significantly distinguished themselves at the Somme. Here they are, about to be killed. No wonder Tolkien came back from the war saying, “Everyone I know is dead.”

An account of the Newfoundlanders.

Bad place to make a landing, Gallipoli. A few words from the last surviving ANZAC. And the other last surviving ANZAC.

There is great generosity in the monument to the dead of both sides at Kabatepe Ariburun Beach, inscribed with the speech Ataturk made in 1934 to the first ANZACs and Brits who came back to visit:


Those heroes that shed their blood

And lost their lives…

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours…

You, the mothers,

Who sent their sons front far away countries

Wipe away your tears,

Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace

After having lost their lives on this land

They have become our sons as well

An affecting, low-key page about New Zealand public memorials: Lest We Forget: War Memorials of the First World War.

The New Zealand war memorials of the First World War have become part of the common fabric of our lives, like stop signs or lamp-posts. Virtually every township in the country has one, usually in the main street. Excluding the many honours boards and plaques in schools and churches throughout the country, there are well over five hundred public memorials to the soldiers of the Great War.

Despite their numbers, the memorials are not boring or stereotypical. This was because New Zealanders showed much inventiveness in remembering the dead of the Great War. By the time the war ended, over 100,000 young New Zealanders had served overseas and some 18,000 had lost their lives. Sacrifice of this magnitude engendered enormous emotions.

One of my two favorites is the Kaitaia memorial, in Maori and English. The other is the annual ceremony at Piha. Every year there, at low tide on Anzac Day, they process out across the sand to lay their wreaths on Lion Rock ; and then the tide comes in and carries the wreaths away.

Addenda, 2004

The Gardener, a short story by Rudyard Kipling.

Gassed, John Singer Sargent.

Art from the First World War: 100 paintings from international collections, loaned to mark the 80th anniversary of the Armistice.

Aftermath: When the Boys Came Home, dedicated to the aftermath(s) of the war. A blunt, bitter, cocky site that just keeps accreting material.

The Heritage of the Great War, a broad and deep site that, like Aftermath, just keeps accreting great material. Its photo essays are especially good. Some segments:


Five Souls.

Origins and causes of the war.

99 Quotes from the Great War.

The war in color photography.

Bloody picnic: forbidden photos of the war.

German war photos.

Panoramic photos, 1919.

Another calculation of the casualties.

Children who fought in the war.

Shot at Dawn: Executions of deserters.

An Unforeseen Epidemic of Shell Shock.

Belgium’s inadvertent stockpiles of poison gas.

The Americans Are Coming!

Why America Should Have Stayed Out: a 1936 interview with Winston Churchill.

Tolkien: Frodo in the marshes of the Great War.

Hemingway’s natural history of the dead.

Conquering Baghdad: the real problems always come afterward.