Dark Corners: “Westfront 1918” (1930)

Over on my other blog I wrote about a German film from 1930 set in 1918 as the tide begins to turn in favour of the Allies.

Secret Panda

Nearly three years ago the Irish Film Institute hosted the Dark Corners season of films from the Weimar Republic. I wrote about them in the pages of popular journal Frank’s APA and now at last I am sharing my thoughts on these films with you, starting with this one. Popular films like Cabaret have fixed Weimar in the public mind as a period of decadent excess that almost deserved to be swept away by the Nazis. Weimar cinema meanwhile is usually associated with expressionism (funny camera angles, strange sets, fantastic plots), but the programming of this season attempted to present a broader picture of the films produced in that era. Old favourites like Dr Mabuse, Caligari, Nosferatu and Metropolis were avoided in favour of other types of picture, particularly ones showcasing the New Objectivity style of the 1920s, though they did still show expressionist classic Der Golem (which…

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Covid-19 and the Spanish Influenza

Secret Panda

As a distraction from the current Covid-19 unpleasantness, readers may be interested in casting their mind back to a hundred years ago, when another respiratory disease swept the world. The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 famously killed more people than the First World War, reaching parts of the globe barely touched by that conflict. It acquired its name because in neutral Spain the press was more free to report on the disease’s ravages than in the countries at war, leading people to think that it was exacting a particularly heavy toll there. In fact it was no worse in Spain than anywhere else. The disease certainly did not originate in there, though its exact origins are mysterious, with some suggesting a US army camp in Kansas, others the British training base of Étaples on the French coast, with others again naming China.

The Spanish Influenza has certain similarities with Covid-19…

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November 4, 1918 Soldier Poet

Today in History

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was working as a private English tutor in Bordeaux, when the “Great War” broke out in 1914.

800px-Memorial_to_the_Artists_Rifles,_Royal_Academy,_LondonAt first in no hurry to sign up, he even considered joining the French Army before returning home to England, to enlist in the Artists Rifles Training Corps, in October 1915.

Originally formed in 1859, the Artists Rifles was a British special forces regiment, raised in London and comprised of painters, musicians, actors and architects, and symbolized by the heads of the Roman gods Mars and Minerva.

It must have felt a natural place.  Wilfred Owen was a poet, a talent first discovered about ten years earlier, at age ten or eleven.

Owen was commissioned Second Lieutenant after six-months training, and posted with the Manchester Regiment of line infantry.  An application to the Royal Flying Corps was rejected in 1916 and he was shipped to France, joining the 2nd Manchester…

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A Most Excellent Adventure Begins…

Possibly of interest to Dublin-based history fans.

Trinity HistoryCon

Calling all Jedi, Wizards, Hobbits, Goblin Kings, and Timelords…

“For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – Gandalf the Grey

In the internet age, many people outside of academia wonder how scholars stay relevant and connected. We have all heard in the classroom, “why should I learn this when I can Google it?” The truth is we, like the Jedi, help others see otherwise invisible connections in the world, “the Force”. Academic rigor brings to light causes, correlations, and questions in our history, our culture, our environment, and ourselves.

A twelve-year-old watching Star Wars for the first time may not grasp the layers of history embedded within the saga. She may not comprehend the concept of asceticism or monastic life but she will retain how Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi lived closed off from the galaxy, seeking a fulfilled life through communing with the Force.  Many historians and other…

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Take 3 Guys, all Conscientous Objectors.

Three British conscientious objectors.

Scarce heard among the guns. (Blogs about WW1)

These are three short bits about Conscientious Objectors. One is still sung about in Scotland his name is John Maclean (24 August 1879 – 30 November 1923). Born in Pollockshaws on the outskirts of Glasgow. John was Britain’s only revolutionary communist.  The others of his era, Manny Shinwell, Willie Gallacher and the other leading lights of Red Clydeside were Parliamentarian Communists. Educated at Glasgow University where he obtained an MA. John spent most of his adult life teaching other adults in Glasgow and founded the Scottish Labour College. He was Britains first Bolshevik Consul, although not recognised by the Westminster Government. Imprisoned for his anti-war stance under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) he went on hunger strike and was released after protests. In April 1918 he was again arrested. At the beginning of December 1918 he was released. An event commemorated in a song by Hamish Henderson.

“Hey Mac…

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Backing the Bolsheviks, Dublin 1918.

When 10,000 people gathered in Dublin to hail the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

Come Here To Me!

In February 1918, thousands of Dubliners celebrated the Russian Revolution at a packed meeting in the Mansion House. Indeed, the attendance was so great that it spilled out of the Mansion House, with many more filling parts of Dawson Street, with an attendance of up to 10,000 people.

Some of the most interesting characters of the time, such as Maud Gonne, Countess Markievicz and others spoke, and ‘The Red Flag’ was sung with gusto. The song, which has become something of a socialist anthem, was written by Irishman Jim Connell in 1889. Jim Connell was awarded the Red Star Medal by Vladimir Lenin in 1922, which gives an indication of the importance of the song to the socialist movement. While much has been written of anti-communism and anti-socialism in early twentieth century Ireland, this incredibly well-attended meeting is largely forgotten. The meeting was chaired by William X. O’Brien, who had…

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Farewell Alistair Horne

I have just learned that Alistair Horne has died. Horne was the author of The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, an account of the Battle of Verdun that heavily informed my own posts on that terrible battle. Horne had a unique ability to write narrative history that was also impressively analytical.

His book on Verdun was the middle of a trilogy on key Franco-German struggles, with the other books looking at the war of 1870 & the civil war that followed and the fall of France in 1940. All three of those books are excellent.

Horne wrote widely on many topics though it is his books on French history for which he will be best remembered. I hope one day to read his A Savage War of Peace, his account of the Algerian war of independence.


Alistair Horne, War Historian and Onetime British Spy, Dies at 91 (New York Times)

Sir Alistair Horne obituary (Guardian)

image source (Pan Macmillan)

“Burra, Due Hai Tipperary”



A version of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” as written down by an unidentified soldier of the 1/6th Battalion, The North Staffordshire Regiment (Territorial Force) in late June 1915, when he heard Sikh soldiers singing it while bivouacked alongside them at Ouderdom. The letter from which this extract was taken was printed in The Burton Daily Mail on 1 July 1915:

“Burra, due hai Tipperary,
Bahoot Lumbah knouch wo
Burra, due hai Tipperary,
Sake pas Powchenay ko,
Ram, Ram, Piccadilly!
Salaam, Leicester Square!
Burra, Burra dur hai Tipperary
Lakin del hoe-aye lah gah.”

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