Tag Archives: world war I

Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw

Written by guest blogger Seth Feldman.

Battle of the Somme (Geoffrey Malins and J.B. McDowell, 1916) was the most seen non-fiction film made during the Great War and in wartime Britain, the most seen film, period. For a hundred years bits of its remarkable footage have appeared in documentaries to the point where they have become iconic of the Great War itself. Battle of the Somme was the first film inducted into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, inspiring a digitally restored print by the Imperial War Museum and a second premiere with full orchestra a new score. In recent years, some film historians have argued that it should be designated as the first true documentary.

My problem in writing about Battle of the Somme was that to a twenty-first century audience the film doesn’t look like much. It is largely a procession of silent film intertitles, nearly one per minute, describing the shots we will see next. Almost all of these shots can be divided between preparations for the battle and its aftermath, with very few shots of the battle itself. Malins and McDowell, who worked separately, had been told to collect random shots to be used in newsreels. There was no idea for a narrative and, with wartime censorship in place, there was little mention of the bloodbath that had taken place while they were shooting.

Yet Battle of the Somme is more than just an historical curiosity. My hope was to use it as an archaeological exercise, a tool for imagining the way in which the audiences of 1916 saw it. Usually, writing about film audiences is based on reviews, newspaper reports and in some cases research by a film’s producers. And there has been some excellent writing of this kind about Battle of the Somme. But what I hoped to do was to recreate the 1916 British audience from the emotional context in which they watched the film to the way they would perceive certain shot compositions by Malins and McDowell as well as the editing credited to Malins and Charles Urban (one of the lesser sung heroes of early non-fiction filmmaking).

Battle of the Somme’s audience was an unusually homogeneous group. All of them were embarking on the third year of an unprecedented catastrophe; most coping with anxieties about friends and loved ones at the front. They were also increasingly resentful of the conditions the War had imposed upon them. As official propaganda, Battle of the Somme intended to raise their morale by connecting their sacrifices to soldiers at the front. What they saw was the enthusiasm of the troops, the care given to the wounded and, of course, what were then the battle’s small victories. Given the timing of the film’s release – while the four and a half month battle was ongoing – it also played upon the audiences’ desires for the “big push” that would finally end the conflict. Various shots in the film as well as the film’s editing and the wording of the intertitles show how this was attempted in a subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle manner.

My work was to scrutinize writing on the film and the film itself. This was made both more arduous and rewarding by the many publications released during the Great War Centennial. I then made notes to myself on and off for about a year before I even began to write. In all, the paper took far longer to produce than did the film. And while its distribution will be dwarfed by Battle of the Somme, my hope is that this archaeological exercise will provide readers with insight into other peoples’ as it existed a century ago.

Seth Feldman is an author, broadcaster, film programmer and Full Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto. His latest Canadian Journal of Film Studies article, Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw” is temporarily free to read on UTP Journals Online.

Lest We Forget: UTP Titles for Remembering War History

Tomorrow, University of Toronto Press will join Canada in thanking all who have served our country. We feel that it is important learn about our history so that we can properly honour the sacrifices made for us and so we can learn from the past. To that end, we would like to invite you to take a look at the following books.

Winegard_FirstWorldOilWarThe First World Oil War

By Timothy C. Winegard

Oil is the source of wealth and economic opportunity. Oil is also the root source of global conflict, toxicity and economic disparity. When did oil become such a powerful commodity—during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the First World War.

In his groundbreaking book, The First World Oil War, Timothy C. Winegard argues that beginning with the First World War, oil became the preeminent commodity to safeguard national security and promote domestic prosperity. For the first time in history, territory was specifically conquered to possess oil fields and resources; vital cogs in the continuation of the industrialized warfare of the twentieth century.

This original and pioneering study analyzes the evolution of oil as a catalyst for both war and diplomacy, and connects the events of the First World War to contemporary petroleum geo-politics and international aggression.

Celinscak_DistancefromBelsenHeapDistance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Nazi Concentration Camp

By Mark Celinscak

The Allied soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 were faced with scenes of horror and privation. With breathtaking thoroughness, Distance from the Belsen Heap documents what they saw and how they came to terms with those images over the course of the next seventy years. On the basis of research in more than seventy archives in four countries, Mark Celinscak analyses how these military personnel struggled with the intense experience of the camp; how they attempted to describe what they had seen, heard, and felt to those back home; and how their lives were transformed by that experience. He also brings to light the previously unacknowledged presence of hundreds of Canadians among the camp’s liberators, including noted painter Alex Colville.

Distance from the Belsen Heap examines the experiences of hundreds of British and Canadian eyewitnesses to atrocity, including war artists, photographers, medical personnel, and chaplains. A study of the complicated encounter between these Allied soldiers and the horrors of the Holocaust, Distance from the Belsen Heap is a testament to their experience.

Marrus_LessonsoftheHolocaustLessons of the Holocaust

By Michael R. Marrus

Although difficult to imagine, sixty years ago the Holocaust had practically no visibility in examinations of the Second World War. Yet today it is understood to be not only one of the defining moments of the twentieth century but also a touchstone in a quest for directions on how to avoid such catastrophes.

In Lessons of the Holocaust, the distinguished historian Michael R. Marrus challenges the notion that there are definitive lessons to be deduced from the destruction of European Jewry. Instead, drawing on decades of studying, writing about, and teaching the Holocaust, he shows how its “lessons” are constantly challenged, debated, altered, and reinterpreted.

A succinct, stimulating analysis by a world-renowned historian, Lessons of the Holocaust is the perfect guide for the general reader to the historical and moral controversies which infuse the interpretation of the Holocaust and its significance.

 

covers3Living with War: Twentieth-Century Conflict in Canadian and American History and Memory

By Robert Teigrob

Canada and the United States: we think of one as a peaceable kingdom, the other as a warrior nation. But do our expectations about each country’s attitudes to war and peace match the realities?

In Living with War, Robert Teigrob examines how war is experienced and remembered on both sides of the 49th parallel. Surveying popular and scholarly histories, films and literature, public memorials, and museum exhibits in both countries, he comes to some startling conclusions. Americans may seem more patriotic, even jingoistic, but they are also more willing to debate the pros and cons of their military actions. Canadians, though more diffident in their public displays of patriotism, are more willing than their southern neighbors to accept the official narrative that depicts just wars fought in the service of a righteous cause.

A provocative book that complements critiques of contemporary Canadian militarism such as Warrior Nation, Living with War offers an intriguing look at the relationship with the military past on both sides of the border.

For those local to Toronto, please find information about the Remembrance Day Ceremony at Queen’s Park here

Unlocking The First World Oil War

Winegard_FirstWorldOilWarDr. Timothy C. Winegard discusses his interest in warfare, meeting his wife, and his new book The First World Oil War.

How did you become involved in your area of research?

I have been enthralled with warfare from a very young age. I can remember being in Grade One or Two and getting so excited for the Book Mobile to make its weekly visit to my school, because each week the librarians brought new war books specifically for me. To be honest, I suspect that many of them never actually got read, but I was fascinated by the photographs, knowing that my Grandfathers had served for Canada in these wars.

My Great-Great-Grandfather Charles served in the Boer War and the First World War. My Great-Grandfather William served in both World Wars and his son, my Grandpa William, in the Second World War. They all served as “civilian soldiers.” I also have family members who served in Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf War. Accordingly, I served nine years as an officer in the Canadian Forces, including a two-year attachment to the British Army. My name, Timothy Charles William Winegard, is a testament to their impact upon my family, and certainly myself.

However, my primary passion has always been the First World War.  This is my fourth book, and the third looking at particular angles of the Great War.

What inspired you to write this book?

The origins of this book lie in a series of questions.  Having just published two books on global and Canadian indigenous peoples and the First World War respectively, my wife asked me, “What is your next book going to be on?”  Having been immersed in indigenous warfare and politics for the past six or seven years, I wanted to return to my roots as a pure military historian.  I had long ago written a journal article on the topic of this book.  In fact, that article on Dunsterforce from 2005, was the first piece of writing that I had ever published.

I simply answered my wife’s question with: “Oil and War.”  Bewildered, she ingenuously asked: “Isn’t that a given?”  She unknowingly answered her own question, and the premise of this book.  And, yes, it is now a given.  But how, why, and when, did this marriage between oil and war happen?—during the First World War and its fraudulent peace.  And, how, why, and when, did the United States and the United Kingdom come to dominate global oil?—during the First World War and its fraudulent peace.   This book is, in essence, the answer to her question, and many more.

How did you become interested in the subject?

Simply put, oil dominates all aspects of modern society and has done so for the past century.  Oil was and is the catalyst for global conflict and aggression over this time period.  It really just seemed like a logical fit to trace the influence of oil on war and geo-politics from its starting point of the First World War to contemporary occurrences in the Middle East, Russia, the Ukraine, the Sudans, Nigeria, and of course this list could go on.  I also figured that with the Great War centennials approaching, now was the right time to finally sit down and write this book.

How long did it take you to write your latest book?

Adding in the time I spent researching, I would say roughly four to five years.  However, I wrote the actual manuscript/book over a two-year period.  The majority of this writing, however, was done over two summers, during my break from teaching, and coaching the university varsity hockey team.  During the actual school year, my time was limited, so while I did revisions and proof-reading, the actual writing occurred over two summer breaks.

What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

Certainly that people forget just how much impact the First World War has had on our lives.  Most events that have transpired in the last 100 years, including current events, have their roots in the Great War: the spread of Communism, the creation of Israel, the troubles in the Middle East, the partitioning of borders across the globe based on oil concessions and arbitrary demarcations, the issues in the Balkans.  The list is endless.  The goal of this book is to tie together the circumstances of the Great War to contemporary events using oil as the medium.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

Just how far the First World War (and oil) have taken us down the rabbit hole.  Some of the links and associations shocked me.  The rise of al-Qaeda, the politics of Afghanistan (and the entire greater Middle East for that matter), the corruption, and clandestine activities that took and take place to secure global oil rights.  It really is both mindboggling and fascinating.

Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

Compared to other books I have written; the research trips were not quite as hectic. I went to various archives and libraries in Canada, the United States, Britain, and Australia.  Although some of these trips overlapped with research for another book, so in this sense, I killed two birds with one stone.

However, my research trips for this book produced my own adventures.  I was consumed by two tornadoes in the US, engulfed in a hotel fire in London, was subject to numerous cancelled flights, slept on countless acerbic airport floors and vinyl seats, and was forced to make an emergency landing at NORAD in Colorado Springs as the engine and baggage compartment of my plane were immersed in flames.  I suppose this is all a part of the travel and research process though!  I always joke that the actual writing part of the book process is the easiest, and I am sure many authors would agree.

The best part of my research for this book, however, is that I met my wife Becky in Washington D.C. while I was at the US National Archives. I bought a ticket for a Washington Capitals game and she was sitting beside me.  She was in D.C. for a work conference, having flown in from Grand Junction, Colorado.  She is the reason I left Canada, and now live in Grand Junction, and teach and coach at Colorado Mesa University.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Aside from finding the time, I would say knowing what to include and what to exclude.  By that I mean trying to make the links from the Great War to more recent events clear to the reader, by not getting too focused on the details, but rather present the bigger picture of how it all fits together in one giant web of geo-politics and war.

What are your current/future projects?

Right now I am researching for a book on the political aspects surrounding the 1972 Summit Series of hockey between the Soviet Union and Canada. As Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip sings, “If there’s a goal that everyone remembers it was back in old ’72.”

I am not really looking at the actual hockey that was played, nor Paul Henderson’s famous winning goal.  I am looking at the Cold War politics of the series, and the role played by both governments (and the United States) and their various security branches. The book will also look at the political aspects of the series on a national level in Canada, as it was made to coincide with the 1972 Federal Election.  Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made sure of this, as he thought the series (and what was thought at the time to be Canada’s certain victory), would unite the country, and Canadians would forget about the FLQ Crisis, French-English divisions, and spiraling unemployment and inflation.  He used the series politically to try to gain voting favour in the upcoming election.  While he was reelected in 72, it was with a minority government.  These are just a few of the political aspects which will be detailed in the book.  There was a lot of political maneuvering happening amongst Canada, the Soviet Union, the United States and even NATO, both at the international level and also on the domestic fronts.  As Phil Esposito remarked, “This is war.”  Indeed, it was a cold war both on and off the ice.

What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

To be honest, I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure, although all of the reading I do for my research is pleasurable nonetheless! I am currently reading secondary source literature for my next book.  I also read the weekly magazine Economist dutifully.  Lately, my son and I have been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid series for his bedtime story.  He is six, but we both love it—the vignettes mirror real life, and are quite hilarious.  We also like the Skippy John Jones kid’s series.

What is your favourite book?

This is a tough question!  I love J.R. Miller’s book, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada.  It is brilliant, and I often say that I wish I would have written it.  Thomas More’s Utopia, and Machiavelli’s, The Prince are also two of my favourites.  And while I don’t read a ton of fiction, I do love Joseph Boyden’s, Three Day Road, and The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.  Some of my other favourite authors are: Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, William S. Burroughs, and Margaret Atwood.

If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

I am not sure, really, as this is what I always wanted to do, and worked towards. Well, I always wanted to play in the NHL, like every other Canadian kid!

I have always said that I wanted to enter politics later in my life, like my grandpa did.  I always said I wanted to be a Member of Parliament, and perhaps the Minister of Defence or the Minster of Indian Affairs.  Obviously, my move to the United States has hindered that aspiration for the time being.  And since America won’t grant me dual citizenship, I cannot run for office here in America, as I will always remain a citizen of Canada.  When our kids are adults, we may move back to Canada, and perhaps I can pursue this further.  Who knows though: Life happens while you plan for it!

I loved my time in the Army, but didn’t want to make it a career.  Before I met my wife, I was teaching at Western University in the Indigenous Studies Department, and had been accepted to study aboriginal law at the Law School.  I might have made aboriginal law a career, had I not met Becky when I did.  But, I love my job, both teaching at a university and writing.  This is what I was programed for.

Canada and the First World War: Conduct and Commemoration

August 4th marked the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany and the start of the First World War for the British Empire, including Canada. University of Toronto Press is proud to have had the opportunity to publish scholarship on the Great War for almost as long. What follows is a selection of recent UTP titles that may be of interest to readers looking to learn more about the war.

Conduct

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The first Canadian contingent of troops left for Europe in October 1914. After training in England, they fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in late 1915. Their experience is the subject of Andrew Iarocci’s Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914–1915. They were followed, fairly swiftly, by a second, then a third, fourth, and fifth – what eventually became the famed Canadian Corps.

The brutal nature of the trench experience is one of the most persistent images of the war, but historians have tempered their descriptions of the futility of trench warfare over the years. In 1992, Bill Rawling published Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914–1918. Rawling used staff reports, battle diaries, and interview transcripts to examine how the Canadians trained to overcome the challenges of trench warfare, and he argued that the Canadians were able to adapt and triumph over that environment. Twelve years later, UTP is happy to be able to release a second edition of Rawling’s book, featuring a new introduction on the book’s origins and influence.

While he was researching in the Nova Scotia Archives, historian Brian Douglas Tennyson discovered an unpublished manuscript about the Canadian army’s 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Regiment). Its author, Captain Robert N. Clements, had joined the unit as a private in 1914 and fought in France until he was wounded in August 1918. Merry Hell: The Story of the 25th Battalion appeared in 2013, edited and with an introduction by Tennyson. Steve Harris, chief historian for the Department of National Defence, calls it “a singular contribution to our knowledge of the First World War and those who fought it. Anyone who calls himself or herself a First World War historian will read this book with a smile of satisfaction on their face … and for those who haven’t read much on the First World War, at least at the battalion history level, this will be a revelation.”

Commemoration

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97814426112389780802096197

 

 

 

 

 

The process of memorializing the war and its lessons began even before the war itself was over. Working on behalf of the Canadian War Memorials Fund and funded by newspaper baron Max Aitken, British and Canadian artists – including future members of the Group of Seven – painted more than 800 works memorializing the Canadian war effort. Maria Tippett’s Art at the Service of War (re-released last year with a new introduction) is a cultural history of the CWMF that studies its substantial contribution to how the war was perceived within Canada.

Looking at a very different medium, Susan R. Fisher’s Boys and Girls in No Man’s Land studies representations of the war in English Canadian children’s literature – both before and after 1918. And, moving beyond Canada, Laura Wittman’s The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier examines the creation and reception of these symbolic national burials as emblems of modern mourning.

A peculiarly Canadian aftershock of the war was the so-called Currie libel trial. In 1927, the Port Hope Evening Guide published an editorial which blamed Sir Arthur Currie, the commander of the Canadian Corps, with throwing away Canadian soldiers’ lives in the push to capture Mons in the last days of the war. Currie sued for libel and prevailed in a hard-fought trial that became national news. The Last Day, the Last Hour by Robert J. Sharpe, himself a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, tells the story of that remarkable trial.

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Looking to learn more about Canada and the First World War? A good first stop are the First World War chapters in Jack Granatstein’s Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace or the essays in Canada and the First World War. Written by noted Canadian historians including Margaret MacMillan, Jonathan Vance, Desmond Morton, and Granatstein, they cover a wide range of important themes.

Interested in digging deeper? The Canadian Historical Review has released a bibliography of every First World War-related article they’ve published since their first issue in 1920 – and made each of those articles Open Access. Check it out.