Wednesday, 14 May 2014

These Amazing Shadows: World War I on Film Part 1

Canadian Soldiers being silly: you're going to need a bigger tank
For the rest of the year, I will try to post a topic or issue on World War I (The Great War) as 2014 is the 100 anniversary of the beginning of the war.

This first entry is on the first hand footage available. Thanks to the Internet, there exists a huge amount of accessible newsreels, stills and archival footage from the war 

The reason was not to be fascinated by the dead bodies, but to learn about a conflict that kicked off how we think of war, how we go to war, and how we use technology in war, which I'll argue in a future blog post.

It also cements in my mind that these are images of people who died in the war, who had families and loved ones, or who lived to be old men with the memories of war staying with them. I wonder if politicians watched more of these films if they would be so quick to send men to their deaths?

Personally, my great-grandfather and his brother fought in the war as a recent immigrant to Canada. He also fought in the South African war previously for the British. These archives gives me some sense of what he went though and what he had to do.
From Canadian War Museum, two nurses near the front in France, enjoying a nice day out?
The top five resources I found:

European Film Gateway has a primer on the war, some great links, and a good list of archival footage from around the world and includes both sides. Germany, Spain, Netherlands and British film archives are all listed here with easy to access links. Newsreels, feature films, propaganda, and archival footage are all there.

British Pathe holds an amazing collection of British archival footage, with some material focused on the Germans, Turkish and other nationalities involved in the war. Most are really short clips and you can purchase them if you need to for a course or lecture. My current favourite is actually after the war. The Greatest Pilgrimage 1928 is film of British Legionaries and family members visiting battlefields of France and Flanders. The look on some of these men's faces is of pure desolation.

National Film Board of Canada has released their collection of footage for the centennial. Almost all the films are of Canadian forces, with the bulk of the films covering the actual war. They also have films on training, and times before and after the war back in Canada. A highlight is the tons of fragmentary films of Canadian troops on the Western Front during the Battle of Arras, April 1917. Amid the explosions are so many great moments of warmth and camaraderie of the men in these films.

The Library of Congress researchers have complied a Web Guide to World War I materials, which includes films. This site takes a lot to get through as really it's just a list of their resources, but it's worth the time to go through their archives. My brain felt full afterwards which was awesome.

The CBC Digital Archives of World War I is impressive with clips from film and radio for you to listen to. Most of them have been packaged into actual programs to provide more context for you to watch.

One Extra...

RMS Olympic in Dazzle paint. Not a zebra but an idea for ship camo in WWI

BBC Online has made available interviews with British veterans and civilians about the first World War. These were conducted in the 1960s, and all 13 interviews are amazing first hand accounts, including women who were involved in some way in the war effort, which is a rare thing in archives I've found. One interview made me cry: Katie Morter lost her husband in the war. However - these are only uploadable if you live in the UK but some of them ended up on youtube.

Next time I'll talk about the top five most accurate but also good to watch documentaries on the war. Till then, I leave you with the song my grandma use to sing. She said she learned it as a kid during the war: "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag"

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