The First Cinematic War

By Dr Richard Berger, Associate Professor, The Media School.

Tucked-away behind the Fiveways pub in Winton, is Fampoux Gardens. Built by ex-servicemen in 1922, the garden has at its centre, a sundial. This modest memorial is inscribed with the words:

“On March 28th, 1918 the enemy launched a big attack at Fampoux. The Hampshires refusing to be driven back, the enemy received a serious defeat”.

On the British Pathé website, you can watch an eerie, flickering film of the survivors of that battle, from the Royal Hampshire regiment, leaving their ship at Southampton docks in 1919. The Great War (1914 – 1918) was the first major conflict to be documented by the relatively new medium of film.

Cinema was barely a decade old when the conflict began, but by the time it had finished, filmmaking had matured to an extent that it was being used to create a rich (and controversial) visual record which continues today. Released before Armistice Day in the November, D. W Griffith’s Hearts of the World (1918) was so controversial in its portrayal of the German troops, it delayed the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. That same year, Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms was a more sensitive attempt to present the war through a soldier’s eyes – Chaplin continued to raise money for service charities. Other films, such as King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) tried to convince audiences that it was the USA who had brought the war to an end.

Poster for 1922 film, Hearts of the World.

Poster for 1922 film, Hearts of the World.

It was All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), which established the war film as a serious genre. It starred German and Austrian veterans and it marked the point where patriotism was turning into circumspection. A rising star of Germany’s new Nazi party, Joseph Goebbels, reportedly let off a stink bomb during a screening. The war films of the 1930’s had an American bias, largely because Hollywood was now the dominant force in cinema. Films such as A Farewell to Arms (1932, remade in 1957) and Ever in my Heart (1933) depicted an American soldier falling in love with a British nurse, and an American woman marrying a German, respectively.

As Europe was once again consumed by a second world conflict in the 1940s, cinema revisited the Great War as means to comment on the on-going one. Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York was a cynical piece of propaganda, which became an effective recruiting tool. In the UK, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) so enraged Winston Churchill, for its even-handed treatment of both British and German troops, he tried (unsuccessfully) to have it banned. Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) told the story completely from the French point-of-view, and in doing so managed to encapsulate the anti-war fervour which was now gripping America – by now locked-in another conflict in Vietnam.

T. E Lawrence may have met his end on Dorset’s roads in 1935, but David Lean’s treatment of him in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is probably the most well known First World War film. After Richard Attenborough’s adaptation of the satirical stage-show Oh! What a Lovely War in 1969, the genre declined as cinema moved onto the Second World War, and the Korean and Vietnam campaigns for inspiration.

The Monocled Mutineer (BBC TV)

The Monocled Mutineer (BBC TV)

Television took up the baton, and in 1986, the BBC series The Monocled Mutineer didn’t hold-back in its depiction of the events surrounding the very real Percy Topliss – an infamous deserter and conman. The highpoint of First World War satire came from an unexpected quarter: the final series of a historical comedy – which until then had preferred slapstick and absurdity to satire. Blackadder goes Fourth (1989) lampooned the stupidity of the British officer class, and the mindless futility of war. Underneath the laughs lurked some sharp observational truths: in his four years in France, Field Marshall Haig never once visited the trenches, or the wounded. His officers really did have nothing but beating sticks to protect themselves, and in one day alone (June 30th, 1916), 30,000 British troops were mown-down while walking slowly towards German machine guns. Blackadder skilfully negotiated these historical realities, building-up to one of the most moving endings ever committed to the small-screen.

More recently, the children’s author, Michael Morpurgo has seen his novel War Horse adapted into both an award-winning play, and a Steven Spielberg film (in 2011). But, it is Private Peaceful (adapted for cinema in 2012), which is the most savage in its criticism of the virtual destruction of a generation of young men.

For almost 100 years, different media have attempted to explain and understand the seismic event of the Great War; the battlefield has moved from Fampoux to film, books, television documentaries and now videogames. The truth we do have is in those few seconds of flickering film at Southampton docks, and a small sundial in a park in Winton.

Post WWI – The rise and fall of international law

By Dr Melanie Klinkner, Senior Lecturer in Law.

World War I, though centred in Europe, was a global war initially involving the Allies on the one side, and the Central Powers on the other, but other countries were drawn into the conflict, turning it into the largest war in history. A staggering 9 million combatants were killed and this large cost of life galvanised many legal and political minds to try and avoid such future bloodshed by working towards peace and stability.

The Treaty of Versailles is perhaps best known for the demands placed on Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries, but the Treaty has also great significance for international law. The League of Nations was established, as outlined in the Versailles Treaty of 1919, to steer away from the traditional power-distribution through injecting some more democratic and open elements. Its main goal was to maintain world peace and the idea goes back to 1795 and Immanuel Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace: A philosophical sketch’. Kant’s notion of a peaceful world community did not lie in the creation of a global government, also rejected by the League of Nations, but in the hope that States would be free, respecting their citizens and welcoming foreign visitors as fellow rational beings.

One requirement in the Covenant of the League was that States, before resorting to war, had to exhaust judicial or political dispute settlement processes. In a further attempt to promote peace, the 1928 Pact of Paris, State parties forswore the resort to peace as means of national politics – though this initiative was hardly successful as ultimately evidenced by the Second World War. It is ironic that the 1919 Peace Treaty designed to end all wars led to a war which is unique so far in terms of non-combatant deaths – World War Two.

Noteworthy for international criminal law, the Treaty of Versailles also wanted the question examined whether war crimes trials for the defeated German Elite, including the Kaiser, were an option. The Commission on the Responsibilities of the Authors of War were divided on the issue. The majority recommended inter alia the establishment of a tribunal to prosecute suspected war criminals including the prosecution of defeated heads of state. Though an international Tribunal was not established, some German individuals accused of war crimes were tried in 1921 by the German authorities in the Leipzig War Crimes Trials.

But the inter-war period was fruitful in other ways through international legal innovations such as the creation of a World Court in 1922, optimistically called the Permanent Court of Justice. Whilst the Court did not have compulsory jurisdiction over all disputes, through deciding cases, a substantial body of international jurisprudence emerged. One such example considered to be an important foundation of international law is the Lotus Principle suggesting that States may act in any way they wish so long as they do not contravene an explicit prohibition.

Ambitious efforts were also made to codify international law. The prime example is the 1933 Montevideo Convention setting out the definition, rights and duties of statehood. Article 1 is best-known as it spells out the four criteria for statehood which remain relevant to this day.

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

Clearly some of the creations from this inter-war period had a short life, though many of the ideas and concepts have survived or been re-incarnated in the aftermath of the WWII. In fact, international lawyers became ‘heroic crusaders’ post 1945, building a new world; The United Nations replaced the League of Nations, the International Court of Justice the Permanent Court of Justice, and German and Japanese leaders faced trials for crimes under international law in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

No doubt, international law failed in avoiding carnage and maintaining world peace demonstrating its key weakness – the implementation of its norms is linked to political will.

Women in WWI and its aftermath – have attitudes changed?

By Dr Kate Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Radio Production.

In 1918, the Ministry of Information produced some striking photographs of wartime women workers: operating a railway signal box in Birmingham; cleaning shop windows in Mayfair; driving a tram in Glasgow; delivering coal in the Old Kent Road; working as clerks on the HMS Essex and moving huge flour bags at a Birkenhead flour milling factory. During the First World War, almost two million women entered paid employment for the first time, to replace men who had been called up. Crèches were set up at munitions factories while the Treasury Agreement ostensibly ensured equal pay. Women were feted as heroines, doing their bit for the war effort.

Women working in flour mill, 1918

Female workers pack flour in a mill at the works of Rank and Sons, Birkenhead, Cheshire, in September 1918 © IWM (Q 28268)

While the reality might not have been so rosy – working conditions could be appalling, nurseries were few and far between, equal pay avoided by subdividing tasks – the new visibility of women in the workplace and their ability to perform tasks that had previously been deemed impossible had a profound effect on the nation’s psyche and its understanding of femininity. Women were shown to be as capable as men and married women, even mothers, combined work with family responsibilities without being denounced as aberrant.

The final year of the war saw the enactment of two significant pieces of legislation. The first was the Representation of the People Act, which enfranchised eight million women aged thirty and over (the vote was finally extended to all adult women in 1928). The second was the Parliament (Qualification of Women Act) which enabled women to stand as MP’s, ironically at age twenty-one, before they could legally vote. Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in parliament, in 1919. A third piece of equal opportunities legislation was passed in 1919, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act (SDRA) which supposedly opened all professions to women and entitled those who were married to work.

Women operating signal box 1918.

A female railway worker operates the signals in a signal box on a siding at the Great Central Railway in Birmingham, September 1918. © IWM (Q 28148)

But despite this acceptance of new and wider roles for women, once the war had ended most were expected to give up their jobs and return to housewifery; the Treasury Agreement ended and nurseries closed. Similarly, the SDRA was circumvented by the Church and the Army while loop holes were found to enable marriage bars to be reinforced. During the ensuing years, a growing cult of motherhood and domesticity vied with women’s increasing desire for careers and fulfilment outside the home.

Feminists, whose efforts before 1914 had been concentrated on the vote, broadened their objectives to include equal pay, equal promotional opportunities and the ending of enforced spinsterhood in jobs such as teaching and the Civil Service. At the same time, divisions developed between activists who, on the one hand, believed there should be no differentiation between women and men and those, on the other, who held that women had distinctive needs that should be legislated for accordingly.

Women tram driver in 1918

A female tram driver in Glasgow, November 1918. © IWM (Q 28391)

One hundred years on from the start of the First World War – how far have attitudes changed? The patronising comments that have greeted the new women members of Cameron’s cabinet, particularly the focus on their appearance and dress, would have been familiar to Nancy Astor. If their promotions are a ploy to win the next election, will these women then be discarded if the Tories have success? Likewise, the rumpus over women bishops reinforces the ever-present debate as to women’s suitability for some positions, as is also the case with Army women on the front line. Is it the deep patriarchy of these institutions which makes them so resistant to change? Or is there something inherently different about women that demands an alternative approach?

In similar vein to the years immediately after the First World War, equal pay, glass ceilings and working mothers continue to be areas of fierce argument, while images of home-making, baking and ideal mothering fill our TV screens. Women’s role and place in British society is as controversial now as it was then. In fact, those photos of women workers in 1917 look eerily post-modern and would even raise an eyebrow today.