World War I poets on stage


This theatre video from England is called Pat Barker‘s Regeneration adapted by Nicholas Wright.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Anthem for souls in conflict

Thursday 18th September 2014

Peter Frost recommends Regeneration, a dark vision of the psychological horrors endured by soldiers in WWI

Regeneration, Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton

4/5

Novelist Pat Barker won a Booker prize for The Ghost Road, the third book in her Regeneration trilogy set in the first world war.

Now Nicholas Wright has adapted the novels for the stage and the result is thought-provoking and disturbing.

Virtually all the action takes place in the Craiglockhart war hospital in Scotland — a sombre asylum for officers with shell-shock — in 1917.

Soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (Tim Delap) has been sent there ostensibly because he is insane but in reality the War Office has put him away to discredit his anti-war poems and pronouncements.

Army psychiatrist Doctor William Rivers, beautifully played by Stephen Boxer, has the job of curing the shell-shocked officers, suffering from what is now understood to be post-traumatic stress disorder — or at least getting them fit enough to return to the trenches.

His sessions with Sassoon force him to consider the morality of what he is doing in the name of medicine. Some of the treatments employed are little short of torture.

We witness Sassoon and Wilfred Owen (Garmon Rhys) tussling over one of the latter’s poems — Anthem for Doomed Youth — before both men decide to return to the front.

Sassoon, Rivers and Owen are all drawn from history but the one individual who provides a more realistic view of the madness of war is the fictional character of grammar school boy Billy Prior (Jack Monaghan) from the “lower orders.”

A compelling look at the futility of war, the play is a reminder too that even in the horror of an asylum the officer class still get a round of golf in or take dinner at the Conservative club.

Sassoon, wounded by friendly fire, would live until the 1960s while Owen died exactly one week before the war ended.

His mother received the fateful telegram just as the church bells in her village started ringing out to celebrate victory.

A bitter irony, entirely in keeping with this commendable production.

Runs until September 20, box office: royalandderngate.co.uk, then tours nationwide.

Poem about World War I, by Attila the Stockbroker


This video is called Attila the Stockbroker – A Centenary War Poem For My Father Bill Baine, 1899 – 1968.

By poet Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

Cheers for proud Hull, punking about in Brussels and a poem

Saturday 13th September 2014

On the road with Attila the Stockbroker

LAST weekend I was on at the Freedom Festival in Hull, and what a wonderfully organised and vibrant event it was.

Set in the old streets of the historic port area and featuring loads of diverse bands, poets, dancers — you name it — all washed down with a fine selection of local beers and food from all over the world.

Hull is Britain’s City of Culture for 2017 and has had a vibrant scene for years. It also hosts my favourite venue the Adelphi, basically a hollowed-out terraced house next to a bomb site. It’s been presided over for 30 years by the indefatigable and inspirational Paul “Jacko” Jackson and spawned loads of household names in the independent music scene from the Housemartins to Pulp to Death by Milkfloat, to name but a few.

What d’you mean, you haven’t heard of Death by Milkfloat? Legends, comrades, legends.

Best T shirt of that weekend: “Welcome to Hull, European City of Culture 2017. We’re not shit any more.” You never were, Hull, you’re great.

This music video from Belgium is the song Nuit blanche, by the band Contingent.

I’ve just been playing bass in Brussels with Contingent, the punk band I joined there in 1979. They still gig occasionally — and incendiarally — and we’re supporting Sham 69 at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Magasin 4, the alternative venue set up by our late, great guitarist Eric Lemaitre. Belgian beer awaits in vats – and then I’m off with my wife for a week’s holiday in Marseille.

I wanted to use this poem in my column at the actual anniversary of the start of world War I, but so much was going on gig-wise then that I decided to hold it back for the relatively relaxed few weeks between the end of the festival season and the start of my autumn touring, where it could have pride of place.

It is a true and unusual story — and a poem from the heart.

A Centenary War Poem

For my father, Bill Baine

“What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
And so some lines to spike centenary prattle:
These words a sole survivor soldier’s son’s.

My father Bill, born in Victorian England:
The sixth of January, 1899.
His stock, loyal London. Proletarian doff-cap.
Aged seventeen, he went to join the line.

Not in a war to end all wars forever
Just in a ghastly slaughter at the Somme
A pointless feud, a royal family squabble
Fought by their proxy poor with gun and bomb.

My father saved. Pyrexia, unknown origin.
Front line battalion: he lay sick in bed.
His comrades formed their line, then came the whistle
And then the news that every one was dead.

In later life a polished comic poet
No words to us expressed that awful fear
Although we knew such things were not forgotten.
He dreamed Sassoon: he wrote Belloc and Lear.

When I was ten he died, but I remember,
Although just once, he’d hinted at the truth.
He put down Henry King and Jabberwocky
And read me Owen’s “Anthem For Doomed Youth”.

“What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
And so some lines to spike Gove’s mindless prattle:

These words a sole survivor soldier’s son’s.

Wars are madness, Pope Francis says


This video from Redipuglia in Italy on 6 July 2014 is about a concert ‘against all wars’. Music: Dies Irae by Giuseppe Verdi.

From Associated Press:

Pope urges world to shed apathy toward new threats

By COLLEEN BARRY and LUCA BRUNO

September 13, 2014

REDIPUGLIA, Italy — Pope Francis urged the world Saturday to shed its apathy in the face of what he characterizes as a third world war, intoning “war is madness” at the foot of a grandiose monument to soldiers killed in World War I.

Francis’ aim in recalling those who died in the Great War that broke out 100 years ago was to honor the victims of all wars, and it came at a time when his calls for peace have grown ever more urgent amid new threats in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Standing at an altar beneath the towering Redipuglia memorial entombing 100,000 Italian soldiers fallen in World War I, the pope said “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”

The visit was also infused with intensely personal meaning. The pope’s grandfather fought in Italy’s 1915-17 offensive against the Austro-Hungarian empire waged in the nearby battlefields, surviving to impress upon the future pope the horror of war.

The pope in the past has recalled the “many painful stories from the lips of my grandfather.”

Before arriving at the monument, the pope prayed privately among the neat rows of gravestones for fallen soldiers from five nations buried in a tidy Austro-Hungarian cemetery just a couple of hundred of meters (yards) away.

In his homily during an open-air Mass at the Italian monument, the pope remembered the victims of every war – up to today.

“Today, too, the victims are many,” fallen to behind-the-scenes “interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power,” the pope said.

He lamented that the human toll of “senseless massacres” and “mindless wars” has been met with apathy. Francis urged: “Humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.”

The enduring impact of World War I, 100 years on, is evident in the visitors who continue to make pilgrimages to the monument, although in ever decreasing numbers, said Fogliano di Redipuglia Mayor Antonio Calligaris.

According to a Dutch NOS TV report

The pope inter alia condemned arms dealers and terrorists.

British artists and World War I, exhibition


This video from Berlin, Germany is about Käthe Kollwitz, artist and World War I opponent.

By Tom Pearse in England:

World War I remembered through British art

Truth and Memory at the Imperial War Museum, London, until March 2015

6 September 2014

A major retrospective at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London features the work of British artists sent to capture the reality of the First World War.

Compelling works reveal how artists helped commemorate “the war to end all wars.” They also highlight the dilemma facing official war artists. While many of the artists started the war at least generally supportive of its aims, they confronted something rather different at the front. Their portrayal of the horrors they witnessed does not always sit uncomfortably with official requirements.

The works are divided between two galleries, Truth—artists who created on the front line; and Memory—artists who painted their works on returning to Britain.

Truth is the more sobering. Visitors are confronted first with two paintings illustrating official British sentiment at the start of the war. William Barnes Wollen’s large Death of the Prussian Guard (1914) presents the first battle of Ypres as a moral triumph over Prussian militarism. Walter Sickert’s Integrity of Belgium, painted late in 1914, endorses support for “gallant little Belgium” in its noble and glamorous depiction of physical warfare.

Both paintings support the justification of British involvement in the war in defence of Belgium and in opposition to German militarism. This propaganda promoted British imperialism at the cost of millions of lives.

The rest of the gallery portrays a very different conflict. Two rooms feature works by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson and Paul Nash, both appointed official war artists in 1917 for the Department of Information.

Nevinson had been associated with the Italian Futurists before the war, collaborating with the movement’s founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti on a 1914 English Futurist Manifesto: Vital English Art. Marinetti had promised to “glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, [and] the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers.”

Initially, therefore, Nevinson was interested in glorifying the war as a triumph of technical achievement. His style changed after the horrors of the front. The “essence of the new war,” he said, “was overwhelmingly extremely alien, and utterly un-heroic.”

He is best known for La Mitrailleuse [The Machine Gun] (1915), “an example,” in the words of the London Evening News, “of what civilized man did to civilized man in the first quarter of the 20th century.” It does not really stand up to this praise: it shows less of the realities of war than it does a Futurist glorification.

Memory contains a room devoted to the Vorticists, whose manifesto bore some similarities to Futurism, with its call for a “strong, virile and anti-sentimental” art. In Percy Wyndham Lewis’s A Battery Shelled (1919) the soldiers are insect-like stick figures. Lewis likened the First World War to an absurd nightmare, removed from everyday reality. The IWM distanced itself from his work, loaning it out long term to the Tate Gallery.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919

Nevinson’s French Troops Resting and The Doctor (both 1916) show a sympathetic realism. Of the image of a dead child in A Taube (1915), completed in Dunkirk after an air raid, Nevinson said: “there the small body lay before me, a symbol of all that there was to come.”

Nevinson’s depictions of death, like the portrayals of destruction by Paul Nash that hang alongside them, are apocalyptic. Paths of Glory (1917) was banned from public display, as it depicts two putrefying British soldiers lying face down in “no man’s land.”

C.R.W. Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917

Another similar picture did not attract the censor. The Irish-born William Orpen’s Dead Germans in a Trench (1918) also shows soldiers putrefying in their trenches. The Times said Orpen “paints the corpse with serene skill, just like he might paint a bunch of flowers.” The censor allowed this painting because, unlike Nevinson’s, it showed enemy corpses.

Orpen was criticized in the press, but achieved popular acclaim for his sympathetic response to what the IWM call “the madness of war.” Works like The Mad Woman of Douai (1918) and Blown Up—Mad (1917) portray its harrowing effects. He depicts trench warfare in grim detail but seems, in the words of his contemporary John Rothenstein, to have “found it difficult … to come to terms with the broader implications of the war.” This is a wider problem here.

Orpen had been associated with the Celtic Revival, seeking artistic expression for an Irish national identity alongside the literary Celtic Twilight movement. Orpen, who went to the front as an official war artist, remained a loyal figure within the British Empire despite his anguish at what he saw of the war. He was knighted by the British crown after the war.

What Orpen saw at the front affected him deeply. Most of his images, some of the most powerful here, come from the Somme. In August 1917 Orpen came across a vast cemetery where British troops had buried their own dead but left the Germans to rot. Like Dead Germans in a Trench, Orpen’s Thiepval (1917) leaves us with a dismal image of mud-baked white and the remains of a British and German soldier, their bones entangled in death.

Such sympathy was often based on personal experience. In “Over the Top”, 1st Artists’ Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917 (1918), John Nash (Paul’s brother) recalls a disastrous action that resulted in the death and wounding of nearly his whole company.

Many of the artists emerge as deeply conflicted. Orpen, for example, despised the post-war vainglory of those military figures who commissioned him for portraits. Despite this, and his own depictions of imperialism’s effects, he was knighted for his war work in June 1918.

Another Irish official war artist represented in the Memory gallery, John Lavery, was also knighted for his work. He painted a portrait of Michael Collins after the pro-Anglo-Irish Treaty Sinn Fein leader’s assassination. Orpen and Lavery both gave the IWM substantial art collections after the war.

Lavery’s Lady Henry’s Crèche, Woolwich (1919) is one of several pieces showing women’s auxiliary work for the war, including Anna Airy’s Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells (1918). Airy, one of the first official women war artists, was employed by the IWM when it was first established. The Museum could refuse any work she produced, without payment.

Anna Airy, Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells: Singer Manufacturing Company, Clydebank, Glasgow, 1918

Memory also marks the memorialisation of the dead. George Clausen’s Youth Mourning (1916), inspired by the death of his daughter’s fiancé the year before, stands as an elegy for a lost generation; a powerful image of grief and sacrifice. Clausen was appointed an official war artist in 1917, but could not travel to the front because of his age.

George Clausen, Youth Mourning, 1916

The most striking work here is the final painting in the Truth gallery, Gassed: In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) by Gilbert Rogers (1918). In stark contrast to Wollen’s work opening the gallery, Rogers hauntingly depicts a dead medical officer lying alone in the mud surrounded by puddles of water. The officer’s gas mask is turned towards the observer, a disturbing image that stays with you.

Gassed: In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) by Gilbert Rogers

The exhibition is significant. The paintings do not just document the conflict. They raise questions about it.

The IWM was first proposed in 1917 as a “national war museum” to document the experiences of World War I. Its remit was extended in 1939 to cover the next world war. During the Korean War coverage was extended to “all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces had been involved since 1914.” Since then it has also expanded to run the Royal Air Force museum, the museum on World War Two warship HMS Belfast, and the War Rooms of Winston Churchill. While the IWM can be blunt about certain realities of conflict, it is also an official repository, pushed towards “approved” versions of history.

Like other cultural repositories in Britain, even the flagship museum of the government’s Great War centenary has not been immune to budget cuts. The IWM’s government grant has been reduced significantly, and it relies on private funding more than ever.

It also has to satisfy its 22 trustees, who are appointed variously by the monarch, the prime minister, the foreign secretary, the secretary of state for defence, and the high commissioners of the seven Commonwealth governments. The board currently includes leading military figures like former secret intelligence head Sir John Scarlett, as well as the billionaire Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft. This is a highly political body.

In October 2012 Prime Minister David Cameron opened the centenary campaign at the IWM announcing £50 million of funding, including an upgrade to the museum.

The portrayal in Truth and Memory stops short of analysing the wider implications of what the IWM calls the “epoch-defining events of the First World War.” Its focus, rather, is a sense of ordinary people working together in a difficult but necessary situation without commenting on the reasons. Overall its memorial to British sacrifice fits perfectly with David Cameron’s notions of “Britishness.”

IWM publicity underscores this: “At the turn of the last century, art in Britain held a position and status in society quite different from today and was often regarded as having a social function. In particular, images of warfare imparted notions of identity, culture and morality, enshrining these as the ‘truth’.”

The exhibition’s strengths lie in what it shows of the realities behind such notions. Artists in the current epoch confront the necessity to go further.

The exhibition, which is free of charge, runs until March 8, 2015.

World War I and poppies


This video is called Poppy – Papaver rhoeas.

From Peter Frost in Britain:

The flower of sacrifice

Thursday 21st August 2014

PETER FROST traces the history and symbolism of the poppy

The poppy, Britain’s most colourful weed, is much in the news lately as we mark the centenary of WWI that didn’t end all wars. Over the century that simple flower came to mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people and not always for the best.

We are talking about the corn poppy, (Papaver rhoeas) also known as the corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy, red weed, coquelicot, and even, due to the strange effect of its curious smell — the headache poppy.

Cascading down the walls of the Tower of London are thousands of ceramic red poppies and they are promised to fill the moat before November 11, Armistice Day.

Members of the public are invited to pay 25 quid to acquire a poppy for themselves. Some of the money goes to a coalition of military charities. The poppies will stay in the Tower until November and then be despatched to those who have purchased them.

There are plenty of poppies to buy — 888,246 in fact — one for each of the brave British tommies who laid down their lives in the blood and gore of the first world war.

The poppies at the Tower are an amazing sight — the thought behind it a noble one. But as you would expect every dodgy politician from the prime minister down, every gung-ho blood and thunder Colonel Blimp is getting in on the PR act.

Even junior royals like Prince Harry, this time not wearing his Gestapo uniform,

Actually, it was an uniform of Adolf Hitler’s Afrika Korps.

and William and Kate are trooping along to the Tower to plant a poppy to ensure a spot on the six o’clock TV news.

It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Wrap a bit of the glorious dead’s glory round you.

Commercial sponsors haven’t been slow to get in on the act either. There’s a Spanish sounding bank, a big city insurance firm and millionaire’s law firm …

Let’s leave this whole pathetic story and take a look at the amazing plant itself.

The poppy has evolved and found itself a unique evolutionary niche. We don’t really know where it originated. North Africa probably, or perhaps ancient Persia.

We do know how it travelled. It hitched a lift in the clay jars of seed corn that ancient traders trafficked all over the known world.

Ancient farmers in Britain, Flanders and just about everywhere else would buy a bushel or so of seed from a passing Phoenician and the free gift would be a bunch of colourful scarlet weeds.

They soon discovered that the poppy seed had plenty of uses in bread and cakes and boiled up in a tea it even possessed magical curative powers.

It had developed its tiny rock hard seed to last a long time before it landed up somewhere it could grow.

Did you know that some poppy seeds found in funereal jars in ancient tombs have been successfully germinated?

That of course is the explanation of the huge flowering of poppies in Flanders. As shells, bombs and trench digging disturbed the soil, poppy seeds that had lain dormant so long got warmth, moisture and sunlight and burst into scarlet flower.

Up to 10 million soldiers were killed in WWI. Estimates of civilian deaths top 1.4m.

As the men returned home, many of them with shell-shock, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they had stories to tell.

Those who had seen such horrors in Belgium and northern France also would tell a much brighter story of the extraordinary beauty, persistence and profusion of the fragile but defiant flower — the blood red corn poppy.

Strangely, it was returning north American soldiers who first adopted the red poppy as an emblem.

Canadian doctor John McCrae had captured the beauty, symbolism and pathos of the poppy in a poem: In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row,/That mark our place; and in the sky/ The larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below…

This music video by British punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees is the song Poppy Day, based on McCrae’s poem.

US organisations arranged for artificial poppies to be made by women in war-torn France. The money raised went to children who had been orphaned by the war.

British soldiers too came back from the grimness of war to find that life wasn’t “fit for heroes” as they had been promised. Just like today returning heroes found the government off hand and tardy dealing with their problems.

Some organised themselves into ex-servicemen’s societies of various political opinions and of varying degrees of militancy. In 1921 many of these organisations united to form the British Legion.

Its purpose was to provide support and to fight for the rights of ex-servicemen, especially the disabled, and their families. In fact what actually happened was it became one of the richest British charities ever.

In 1921 it bought one-and-a-half million of those French made artificial poppies and sold them to the British public raising over ten thousand pounds. Poppy day had been invented.

Soon it set up its own poppy factory, with disabled ex-servicemen making the poppies. Today they produce and sell over 45m lapel poppies, 120,000 wreaths and one million small wooden remembrance crosses.

Not everyone is happy to wear the red poppy. Some see them as glorifying war and militaristic thinking. In many people’s eyes they have become a badge of jingoism and a justification of recent wars.

The British Legion adopted as its slogan: “Honour the dead, care for the living” but even in the week David Cameron and Nick Clegg and various other ministers paraded themselves at the British Legion commemorative church service it was announced that claims for compensation from recently serving military personnel, often wounded in battle, were taking 10 times as long as before the latest Con-Dem round of spending cuts.

The idea of detaching the poppy from a militaristic culture dates back as far as 1926.

The No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint “No More War” in the centre of the red poppies instead of “Haig Fund” and failing this pacifists should make their own flowers.

Douglas “Butcher” Haig was the British general who had ordered so many of his troops to their deaths at the Battle of the Somme — one of the worst bloodbaths in British military history.

When it came to lions led by donkeys, Haig was certainly our biggest donkey — two million brave lions died under his orders.

The Legion choose to keep Haig’s name on their poppies until 1994.

In 1933 the first white poppies appeared on Armistice Day, mostly home-made and worn mainly by members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild.

Just a year later the Peace Pledge Union was formed and it began widespread distribution of white peace poppies in November each year.

Just as today, it took real courage and real commitment to wear the white peace poppy.

So which will you wear? My wife Ann always wears a red poppy. She wears it in proud memory of her dad Fred who always wore his red poppy in memory of his own father, another Fred, Ann’s grandfather.

Grandfather Fred died in France in 1917. He had been in France just days and his body was never found. He left a widow and four children including young Fred then aged just six. Fred’s red poppy was the only memorial to his dad he ever had. No wonder he wore it with pride.

This year our 14-year-old grandson, who also has the middle name Frederick, was at Tyne Cot cemetery with his dad and his family to pay tribute to his namesake, five generations before, who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme.

So wear your poppy, red or white or both with pride. They aren’t about glorifying war and militaristic thinking. They are about the respect each of us feels for those who paid the greatest price in the futility of war.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem commemorates World War I dead


This classical music video is called Benjamin Britten – War Requiem.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Britten masterpiece fitting reminder of WWI carnage

Tuesday 19th August 2014

War Requiem

Usher Hall

5/5

THERE could be no more fitting work to recognise the centenary of “the war to end wars” than this great pacifist statement by Benjamin Britten on the pity of global conflict. This must be one of the most dramatic of requiem masses.

There is throughout an angry ironic exchange between the words of the conventional Latin Mass for the Dead, with its religious message of damnation and prayerful appeals for salvation, and the interwoven anti-war poetry of the greatest of war poets, Wilfred Owen.

The opening aeternam, a plea for eternal rest, is followed by Owen’s bitterly sad sonnet Anthem For Doomed Youth, with the memorable opening line of: “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”

Throughout, the poems puncture the complacent profundities of the religious scenario.

Britten’s music, which spine-chillingly captures the Armageddon of battle and the helpless and hapless lament of the senseless slaughter, progressively draws the two worlds together.

It climaxes when the enemies on the battlefield meet in death — “I was the enemy you killed my friend … let us sleep now” — meet with the ethereal voices of boys wishing these martyrs to rest in peace.

Andrew Davis conducts the massed musical ranks of the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Scotland’s National Boys Choir and three international soloists in an ascent from a standing start to magnificent heights, while chorus master Christopher Bell induces some stunning choral singing.

German baritone Matthias Goerne and English tenor Toby Spence as the enemy soldiers truly are the voices of suffering humanity while Uzbek soprano Albina Shagimuratova thrills as the voice of the angel. Magnificent.