James Errington takes you on another trip into the ancient history of recorded sound, this time joined by Cambridge native Liam Higgins to review the music scene on both sides of the Atlantic in 1914, the year the lights famously went out all over Europe. This episode includes for the first (and hopefully the last) time, your hosts actually singing. Sorry.
You can’t listen to the show on 105fm in Cambridge, on DAB digital nationwide, on the Cambridge 105 website here, or on any good radio apps, because it’s already gone out, however you can still play it below or – even better! – sign up to my patreon for the radio podcast.
The 1964 BBC TV Series The Great War may sometimes feel a bit hokey and outdated in its narrative style, but with the centenary over and done with, it looks like its position is still unchallenged as the definitive documentary of the conflict. Beyond anything else, it’s priceless in its collection of original accounts from men who were then barely of pensionable age, and therefore still are able to vividly recount their experiences. You can’t help but wonder what they made of the rest of the 60s.
The whole thing is available now on Youtube. Here is the first episode.
One of the most widely-known stories of the first world war is the Christmas truce. The British soldiers hear the Germans singing ‘Silent Night’, they venture out into no-man’s land, exchange gifts and have a game of football. Much of this story appears to be true, though it is important to remember that the front was long, and the truce only took place in certain sections. There is less in the record about games of football, but there is at least a little evidence for this too.
As part of their BBC WW1 Centenary commemorations, this excellent series covered events as they occurred, exactly 100 years in the past. And then, after 49 days, they stopped, which is a huge shame all round. I want this to be a permanent feature.
The date was Bank Holiday Monday, 3 August 1914, and it was destined to be a day of final, irrevocable and fateful decision. Even as the camera shutter fell, preserving this carefree scene, the larger issues of peace and war continued to hang in the balance… Nearly thirty-six hours later, Britain would declare war on Germany. Life for many of the men and women on this river excursion would never be the same again.
Having been through a fair few of these books about years, this is the first one which has completely lived up to my expectations, but strangely enough it’s by having a narrow, selective focus that it manages to provide the wide scope it aims for. Each chapter tells a story from the time, ranging from national news to private affairs, and from the leaders of the country to its most lowly inhabitants. Woven through this is an incessant drumbeat of approaching disaster. The way Mark Bostridge weaves this element into the fabric of the piece seems a little counter-intuitive, an odd way to capture the supposed innocence of these times, but these memories are already stained by what happened, and the examination of those stains is, after all, why we are here.
On September 1st 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon in existence died. Three hundred years before, when the first settlers were arriving in North America, it was the most common bird in the continent, with up to 5 billion individuals. The story of the passenger pigeon is that of colonial destruction and contempt for the natural world writ large, and a reminder that for all the horrors taking place in Europe, mankind was already wreaking destruction of various kinds.
The sudden slide from the tranquil Indian summer of the Edwardian age into a state of chaos previously inconceivable is quite the tale, but telling it has always been hard. It’s not only that it’s a complicated story, it’s that much of the work in piecing together what happened was done well after the events themselves, and even when you see these pieces, none of it seems to fit. There is naturally a bias at play – we know where these foolish actions and reactions would end – but even so, believing that supposedly rational human beings in charge of powerful countries could let all this happen, it all seems somehow wrong.
It’s a great credit to the makers of 37 Days that they managed to weave all of this together into a piece of work which pulls these characters into suddenly clear focus – from Ian McDiarmid’s Edward Grey, the sanest man in the room who puts too much faith in the forces of reason, to Rainer Sellien’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, pandered to by competing officials, all keen to make him feel that their plan is his plan.