Taking a break from the war for a moment, the excellent Between The Liner Notes podcast has a history of Joe Hill, the songwriter whose work would inform the political side of folk music for the rest of the century, who was executed for a murder he almost certainly did not commit in 1915.
If you’re looking for stupid, pointless wastes of human life in the First World War, you really are spoilt for choice, but, even among such inauspicious company, the Gallipoli campaign manages to stand out as particularly stupid and particularly pointless.
To sum up: The Ottoman Empire sort-of-accidentally entered the war on the side of the Germans, the allies were at a complete stalemate and Winston Churchill suggested trying something a bit different. In theory this meant smashing through a passage to Russian Black Sea ports to the Mediterranean, in practice it meant sending shiploads of conscripts to disembark on exposed beaches and get shelled by Turkish soldiers.
One memorable account has a party of British officers arranging a conference with local Ottoman officers, whose first question is “Why are you here and why are you letting us shoot your men?”
If you’re looking for coverage of the First World War in podcast form then the obvious first stopping point is the Blueprint For Armageddon series of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, and since I’ve listened to the whole thing, twice, I should really write something about it here. But what exactly? Was it good? Well, yes, I suppose so, it was certainly an immersive, meticulously researched, astonishingly in-depth description of the war, and Dan held my attention through each of its three-hour-plus episodes, but from time to time I did think about how this was a man making a very forceful speech about the deeds of other forceful men from a century ago, and it did seem like an example of much of what is wrong with the world of podcasts. What saved it was Dan’s genuine horror at the scale of suffering, this cut through the form completely and was the reason I listened again. Do I recommend it? Um…
Often it seems that the past is artificially kept as a distant country. Concerns over accessibility, commercial interests and worries about keeping things “relevant” and “relatable” mean that primary sources are relegated to secondary concerns. So it was wonderful to listen to this series on BBC Radio 4 which used archive interviews to explore the events of the First World War in the original words of the people who lived through it.
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.
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.
There will be a lot of coverage here of the early part of the first world war, as there are so many fantastic resources available. The BBC in particular launched into the project of making something new about these years with such a degree of creative enthusiasm that it set vastly unrealistic expectations for the rest of the four years.
This series presented by Christopher Clark goes over the feverish 37 days which took an almost entirely peaceful continent into all-out war, and it’s absolutely one of my favourites – he really gets inside the heads of all the disperate parties experiencing this historical vertigo all at one. None of them can believe that this is really going to happen until it’s too late – and frankly, I find it hard to believe too – surely they can stop this madness before it’s too late? It’s testament to the quality of the programme that even knowing how it ends, there is a genuine sense of suspense.
Today is the 107th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The story of the “unsinkable” liner hitting the iceberg is so famous it hardly seems worth retelling for the umpteenth time, except perhaps for the producers of Entertainment Tonight, who reported on the sinking of the Costa Concordia with this headline
So, here’s a pack of materials suitable for immersing yourself in Titanic lore for a day or so, if such a mood has taken you.
Thomas Hardy – The Convergence of The Twain
A contemporary poem by Thomas Hardy, expressing the fairly original idea that the ship and the iceberg were destined to meet each-other and foolish humans could do nothing to prevent it.
As far as I’m concerned 20th Century British Monarchs go something like this:
Edward VII – Portly saucy man with big beard and elaborate clothing, had his own era.
George V – Had a funny moustache and looked very much like his royal cousins?
Edward VIII – Quit to get married to Wallace Simpson, bit too friendly with Hitler.
George VI – King during WW2, Queen’s dad, had a stutter, died youngish.
Elizabeth II – The Queen
* WW1 (of course) – did a lot of troop visits, was injured by falling off his horse.
* Refusing to have the Romanovs given asylum in the UK for fear of a revolution here, leading to their deaths.
* Also votes for women, the first Labour government, independence for Ireland happened.
* Being euthanized / murdered in order that the news be in the more respectable morning papers.
* The apocryphal-but-still-worth-mentioning last words “Bugger Bognor” and the real last words “God Damn You!”