I died in hell, they called it the quarter to eight news.

You could listen again to what Today had to say. The Guardian marks the anniversary of the start of the Third Ypres campaign. Not the battle of Passchendaele. And with a selection of 14 images, 7 of which you’ve seen before. That must have been difficult reporting, what with the emailing the Imperial War Museum for the most hackneyed images in their archive and all. Still, probably better than the BBC’s effort to replicate the success of last year’s Somme messageboard on the Today website. 3 responses? Looks like a year after the Diana-isation of the Somme, nobody’s actually that bothered. Still, interesting to compare the remembrance of the battle over twenty years, particularly with this BBC account from 1987.


7 Responses to I died in hell, they called it the quarter to eight news.

  1. Alan Allport says:

    Perhaps, with the centenary years now looming ominously in the distance, a period of relative obscurity for all things WWI-related wouldn’t be such a bad thing?

  2. Mark Bretherton says:

    Depressing really. How about this from The History Channel (Australia) for show about the Somme. The writer should be commended for getting so many myths and cliches into such a small amount of prose:

    “The Battle of the Somme is a turning point in history. A modern battle of such prehistoric brutality that its horror is hard to comprehend. Brave patriotic men eagerly volunteered to fight for what they saw as a great and honorable cause, only to find themselves used as cannon fodder by their military and political leaders. Warfare changed forever on this bright summer’s day, technology made possible a scale of killing hitherto unimaginable. Whole villages and communities marched to their deaths – the flower of a generation was wiped out in a single morning. Today memorials all over Europe bear testament to their sacrifice.
    The Somme follows a group of young men through that first day. The day when a whistle blow sent British and French soldiers over the top and towards an almost certain death.”

  3. trenchfever says:

    From my point of view, the main point of interest is which anniversaries get commemorated and which obscured. I’m wondering what will happen next year, I have to say. I can’t imagine that the centenaries will pass unnoticed, but I guess the key thing might be when the last British combatant dies.
    There’s probably a post in that itself, of course. As a historian of total war, I’d work on the basis that participation is to do with more than being a soldier on the front line. Shouldn’t there be more women who experienced the war still alive than men? Where are they in the commemorations – and how will they feel when the last ‘Tommy’ gets the state funeral?

  4. Alan Allport says:

    Even the definition of the ‘last British combatant’ seems unclear. Wikipedia notes four possible candidates, but two of them never served in the trenches as such, one still being in training at the time of the Armistice and the other joining the Army shortly afterwards. I wonder if they will ‘count’ if the order of their death places either of them last?

  5. Alan Allport says:

    Pressed the ‘submit’ key too early, as usual … in fact only one of the four (Harry Patch) fits the stereotypical picture of the WWI veteran at all, given that all the others were in the RN/RNAS. Henry Allingham, the oldest, was an aircraft mechanic and never saw combat (even though they count him technically as a ‘survivor of the Battle of Jutland.’)

  6. trenchfever says:

    I’ve suggested in a couple of forthcoming chapters about the 90th anniversary of the Somme that the need for a symbolic veteran at the centre of a ceremony overcomes the minor difficulty of not having anyone who actually ‘qualifies’ left alive. Last year, the BBC interviewed a Second World War veteran who was at the Thiepval ceremony about ‘what it must have been like’. He was captioned just ‘war veteran’.
    I guess Harry Patch is the last to meet the criteria of having been a front-line infantryman. I do find it remarkable, however, that women have been so excluded, given the encoding of the war as a mythical moment of ‘liberation’. Or did the effects of the fumes limit the life expectancy of all those munitionettes?

  7. Alan Allport says:

    The gender-bias in longevity being what it is, it must be certain that the last ‘all-inclusive’ WWI vet will be a woman … there is Gladys Powers, the last WRAF veteran (a canteen waitress) and the last veteran of WWI still living in Canada, though all the ‘real’ Canadian vets seem to have died (I wonder what they did about their state funeral?) Incidentally, there are three other British veterans who are listed in the Australian category because they emigrated there later in life (in some cases decades later) – I wonder if they are always being asked what it was like at ANZAC cove?

    This is definitely worth a post of its own!

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