World War 1 As Seen By Popular Culture

Today is Friday 11th November, known throughout this country as Armistice Day, a day where we remember those who gave their lives in defence of King and Country. It’s been a British tradition since 1919, and like most British traditions, it originates from a non-Brit, South African Sir James Percy FitzPatrick to be specific, who suggested a two minute silence as he had witnessed occurring daily in Cape Town since April 1918. It’s always weird talking about popular culture in regards to war, it feels almost disrespectful to use war as art, yet it’s also the best way to teach people about it, it’s easier to engage people on a subject if you wrap it in a manner which people can find entertaining, it’s why the Horrible History books sell so well, and it’s why teachers in schools play films in lessons (well, that and they’re hungover). So with that in mind, here’s the best media to consume to get a feel about World War 1. Important note; it’s not chosen by quality of the media, but by how respectful it is towards the subject.

Video Games

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Nobody is more frustrated than me that despite us being halfway through the centennial of the war, this is the best game about the subject released lately. Some would argue Battlefield 1, but that featured a moment where someone runs across the top of a blimp and in tone seems no different than any other modern shooter, albeit with surprisingly accurate weaponry. This is different from most wartime games as it’s not about battles and weaponry, it’s about people. The game is focused around different people; you have the French POW, the American, the Belgian nurse, the English pilot and the German soldier. The animation style may make you think it’s a lot more childish than it actually is, it’s remarkably heartfelt, even more so when you realise parts of it were heavily influenced by letters written by the great-grandfather of one of the creators during the war.


Green Fields Of France – Dropkick Murphys (Eric Bogle cover)

This was originally going to be Paschendale by Iron Maiden, with lyrics like

Whistles, shouts and more gun fire
Lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire
Battlefield nothing but a bloody tomb
Be reunited with my dead friends soon

it would take something spectacular to unseat it. Green Fields Of France is without a doubt good enough. It’s hauntingly beautiful and respectful, especially this version. It was covered by Joss Stone a short while ago and it cut out so many lines it almost destroyed the anti-war message of it, this version doesn’t do that, this one is full of sorrow and mourning, and is almost made to be played over a montage of battlefields and poppy’s and elderly soldiers mourning their long lost brothers in arm. That’s very surprising considering Dropkick Murphys usual repertoire are songs that should be sung whilst downing pints and celebrating, if they’re usually the party, this song is the funeral that precedes it. Telling the tale of Willie McBride, a soldier who we’re told died in the opening verse, the song pontificates on his sacrifice before culminating in this verse

Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain


Blackadder Goes Forth

Obviously. Even if the entire series was just the final scene from this episode on a continuous loop it would still count, that scene is just so impactful, so powerful, so utterly perfect in every way that nothing can beat it.


Shoulder Arms

The film that inspired Chaplin to make The Great Dictator (a.k.a, one of the greatest films ever made). If this article was about the best film, then Lawrence Of Arabia would have won this easily, but as I said earlier, it’s not about the quality, it’s about the reaction and the feeling of it. This was released in 1918, whilst the war was still going on so it was a very brave move, but one that paid off. As Chaplin said

“the thought came to me: why not a comedy about the war? I told several friends of my intention, but they shook their heads. Said [Cecil B.] De Mille: ‘It’s dangerous at this time to make fun of the war.’ Dangerous or not, the idea excited me.”

Chaplin’s shortest feature, at just 46 minutes long, so it never overstays it’s welcome, walking the line between funny and meaningful, showing Chaplin at his very best and playing with techniques he would later perfect.


Perhaps – Vera Brittain

I know, I didn’t pick Wilfred Owen, I’m a terrible person. But to me this is more powerful and personal. Inspired by her fiancee, who was killed by a sniper at the age of 20, just four months after she had accepted his marriage proposal.

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

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