They wouldn’t believe us

My feelings about the First World War were shaped not by stories handed down about grandfathers or grand uncles because the dead were dead and those who came back never wanted to talk about it, or by reading the war poets at school, but from seeing a performance of Oh! What A Lovely War when I was about fourteen. It broke my heart, and still does.

The opinion now seems to be that the commemoration of the Armistice should be to celebrate a race of heroes. We honour the sacrifice of a generation. The idea of the senseless tragedy, conniving national leaders, and incompetent generals, brilliantly put across in the play then the film of Oh! What a Lovely War, seems to have rather gone out of fashion.

This is the final sequence from it. If you don’t cry there’s something wrong with you.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

11 thoughts on “They wouldn’t believe us”

  1. yes I agree, I cry at this every time and I was left with a similar sense when i saw it as a teenager, the ‘0 yards gained’ and ‘50,000 lives lost’. But I also know the heroes led by donkeys isn’t necessarily a fair picture either. Politicians are mostly to blame (aren’t they always) for both the conflict and the direction of the war; what the generals didn’t know and couldn’t know was the sort of war they were in; it was new and no one had any experience of the conditions and the weaponry available, yet they were asked to prosecute a fight. It wasn’t a lack of regard for human life (at least not for many generals) at it’s heart, which was the message I took away from that film. Still, like many such topics the nuances are many and the essential message, that it was a wrong war fought in the wrong way remains true.

    1. It makes no sense to judge the morals of another time, I agree. People thought differently a hundred years ago, they were much more deferential to a hierarchy they believed was God-given, and time moved much more slowly. But the military caste in most of Europe was locked in the past and content to look up their own arses rather than notice the technological changes that had changed the whole notion of warfare. The first machine guns had, after all been in use since the American Civil War, and I believe they were also used on the Fuzzy Wuzzies, so they couldn’t pretend they didn’t know what damage they did. It seems such a pointless war to us now, but the Germans didn’t think it was pointless, that’s why they had another go. And the same kind of web of alliances continues to pull distant countries into wars.

  2. Thank you Jane. Thank you for reminding me of those far-off days when the teenaged me first saw that film and for the knowledge that my feelings have not changed in all those years. Senseless, yes. War is. But those that go to fight, those that return irreparably changed and those that are left to decay in foreign fields. Those will always command my respect, my devotion and my wish and hope that for their sakes, one day mankind might see the futility of all this fighting. And in the meantime, we should and must respect them all. It is their right and the moment we stop remembering is the beginning of the end of it all.

    1. We should remember all the awful senseless waste of life, the atrocities and the massacres. I don’t know that it makes any difference to the decisions our powerful leaders makes, but it does define what makes us a human being or a monster. It makes me furious when kids laugh through remembrance commemorations, be it for ‘old’ wars or recent bombings. There’s nothing more depressing than a young mind that is already full of lies and ignorance.

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