All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque…a Classic in Translation

I am so late in life reading classics which others would have read earlier in life, no doubt due to focus on study in other areas and life focus in other areas. This delicious post-retirement space has opened up, where reading has come into focus again……so glad I did not miss out on this Classic.

Throughout life I have I have had a strong identification with the vulnerability and, too often, the tragedy of young men going to war. World War One epitomised the large scale waste of youth and the devastation of a generation. The small brushes of war in my own life have been…

seeing a cousin drafted into the Army, off to Vietnam at Central Station as a teenager

being aware that my father had had a “long” war in New Guinea in World War Two (Itape to Wewak Trail) making him an older father when he married

The impact of the loss of my mothers young brother-in-law during WW2

watching numerous WW2. Movies with my mother on Sunday afternoons, growing up

researching the death of My father’s older cousin who enlisted in WW1 early, went first to Gallipoli, then to France. He was injured severely three times, and sent back to the Front each time, to be killed a couple of months before the end of the war

always finding ANZAC day Commemoration deeply moving, to weeping

Remembering Rudyard Kipling’s loss of his son, who he foolishly signed consent to join up, his death on the front after rapid field promotions. His grave site not being found till after Kipling’s death. Kipling had looked for it the rest of his life

the poor aftercare that Veterans get too often

a need to augment my small bunch of poppy flowers which my mother (deceased) initiated, in a dish on her sideboard

the poppies at the Australian War Memorial…

Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen (The old Lie!)…the Old Lie being that old men in faraway rooms decide and manage wars, the young men are thrown as fodder into it….

wonderful movies made by the Australian and British film industries commemorating the 100 years since

I have completed my two WW1 commemoration knitted rug throws…

Virginia Woolf’s book, Mrs Dalloway. Also movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the older Mrs Dalloway, and Natascha McElhone playing the younger. A close description of the annihilation of those killed as well as the survivors

All a little tangential to the topic…

I read All Quiet on the Western Front as an audiobook as well. It was stark in its portrayal of the reality for young German men in WW1 at the Front. Aside from a few references to the German forces or the Allied forces, the work could as well have been about British or Australian soldiers. They were all thrown mercilessly from trenches into no-man’s land. I was devastated by the ending, which was very naive of me.

It was first published in Germany in 1929; then 2.5 million copies sold in 22 languages in the first 18 months.

The author, Erich Maria Remarque, was himself traumatised, by his time at the Front as an 18 year old, thus able to portray the tragedy, bleakness and loneliness if being at war. He was injured, and lost companions.

This book was one of the books which were burned at Hitler’s Book banning and burning. It was stigmatised as subversive in Hitler’s Germany and was rendered poorly available. At the same time, it became and remains a classic in the rest of the world.

Remarque changed his name back from Remark (a Germanified form) to reflect the French origin of his father’s family. He replaced his middle name with Maria to honour his mother. Before WW2, he moved to Switzerland to live; later, he became a US citizen, but finished his life back in Switzerland. Later in life he married movie star Paulette Goddard. He wrote other books, but this is the world famous classic.
The book w

A.W. Wheen translated the book into English very early in 1930 for British publishers. His age and war experience was very similar to Remarque’s. Wheen was an almost exact contemporary of Remarque. Born in New South Wales in 1897, Wheen enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in October 1915. He was quite severely injured and was not well enough to be discharged till 1920. His is regarded as the best text, translated with the knowledge of the experience. There was another translation which is more word for word, but stilted (Murdoch). Then there were two American translations which deleted significant parts to sanitize it for the American reader, the first more than the second.

Such a worthwhile read, conveying the true pall of war.

A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles (A Classic Tragic Novel)

I selected “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles to read as my choice for A Classic Tragic Novel. This was one of three books which I purchased from Barnes and Noble, 7th Avenue, New York, each written by American authors. It is a coming-of-age novel first published in 1959, regarded as an American Classic, and which has been a set book for study in American schools over the years since it was published. It is set in the Summer of 1942 at a wealthy boarding school in New Hampshire.

The story focuses of a small group of boys who have a further time at school before graduating; however, enlisting looms for all of them. Gene is an introverted academic, sharing a room with the outgoing, adventurous, athletic Finny. Gene becomes jealous of Finny, unbeknownst to Finny. During a dare-devil game participate in by a group of the boys, Gene manages to cause Finny to lose balance on a high tree branch causing him to fall to the ground, instead of into the river below. The book follows the reactions of Gene, the eventual realisation by Finny and the reaction of other boys. A second accident for Finny has the ultimate consequence, with disturbance into the future for many of them. Feelings are admixed with the pervasive sentiments regarding war and peace. Finny had a separate peace.

I was pleased I read this book. I thought it captured the effect and foreboding of the War on these very young men, juxtaposed with the further imprint on them all of a stupid act born of immaturity and jealousy with tragic consequences. It was curious to me that seemingly there were no mature adults having any presence or impact on the psyches of these young men; but perhaps this is the norm for essentially teenagers to be anxious about and aspiring to their own sense of agency without adults. I felt affected by the tragedy myself.

The author, John Knowles, had himself attended Phillips Exeter Academy, on which he based the school in the novel called Devon. Knowles then spent time in the US Army Air Forces at the end of WW11 – in the novel some of the boys considered leaving school at their 17th birthday to join the Air Force, rather that wait to be drafted into the Army on finishing school. Finny was based on friend he met at a summer session, as in the novel; that friend was a friend of Robert Kennedy. Gore Vidal claims that Knowles told him that the character of Brinker was based on him.

Knowles other significant book was Peace Breaks Out, set just after the war, at the same school. but written in 1981, so long after A Separate Peace. Knowles seems to have been processing his own response to youth, camaraderie, war, peace and loss.

I was able to buy the movie of the same name in Google Play. I enjoyed the movie as well, another interpretation of the novel.

ANZAC DAY 2017

For two peas from the same pod, John and I are somewhat different……he has no fear of flying, and does it for work and pleasure; whereas I have always been somewhat nervous about it, exacerated by experiencing lightning strike and moderate turbulence during flight and landing. The relevant genes for flight and courage must be on the Y chromosome!

Recently John sent two video clips of very moving aircraft tributes for Anzac Day Commemorations – one taken from Caboolture Airport, with others, but in particular, featuring John and his brother-in-law, Rod, flying their Chipmunks. The other is a moving fly-by filmed from Mt Mee.

Mt Mee fly-by

 

ANZAC Day 2017

For two peas from the same pod, John and I are somewhat different……he has no fear of flying, and does it for work and pleasure; whereas I have always been somewhat nervous about it, exacerated by experiencing lightning strike and moderate turbulence during flight and landing. The relevant genes for flight and courage must be on the Y chromosome!

Recently John sent two video clips of very moving aircraft tributes for Anzac Day Commemorations – one taken from Caboolture Airport, with others, but in particular, featuring John and his brother-in-law, Rod, flying their Chipmunks. The other is a moving fly-by filmed from Mt Mee.

Mt Mee Fly-by

 

The Passing-Bells

Over the last couple of years, I have deeply enjoyed various contributions of the BBC to the Centenary Commemorations of WW1. One was the movie Testament of Youth, the powerful true story of Vera Brittain, from her memoir of the same name. The cast was very strong, including the increasingly recognized and lovely Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (her English accent is perfect).

 

As we are only halfway through the Commemoration years, I decided to pass the recent 34 degree C (feels like 40!) weekend heat in our front room air-con, knitting and watching the BBC’s series, now on SBS, The Passing-Bells.

The title required a little investigation, as it is not directly explained…….passing bells are those (usually Church) bells which might call hearers to awareness of, or prayer for the passing of a soul, commonplace in British villages a hundred years ago.

The author of the television drama The Passing-Bells, Tony Jordan, wrote this drama specifically for the young. It needed to suit a 7pm time-slot, and be true to the theme but not so gory as to make it unsuitable for that time-slot. He was inspired by Wilfred Owen’s poem:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent maids,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred also wrote that other remarkable poem, Dulce et Decorum est (pro patria mori), which calls out ” the old Lie”, it is sweet and right to die for ones country.

We follow a British and a German youth and their respective families, from their enlistments from their home villages, and through each year of the war. It is interspersed with real film and audio at times. The experience offered is that of this war on Youth and these youths, not the politics of the war, or rights or wrongs. One of the aims was to draw for today’s youth some understanding of the inexplicable awfulness of war. We feel that the honour of dying for one’s country may be a lie, especially as, in this particular war, it was significantly inflicted by vain ego’s on both sides; and, by the middle and end of the war, we see the futility of terrible human losses.

A great watch, taken in it’s full context. The music by is haunting as it suggests the hope and aspirations of these teenage youth and the lightness of home, which they lost……for so many, life ended in the slime and mud of the Somme and Paschendale.

I think it drew enough of the facts, without being excessively traumatizing, to give modern youth a glimpse of that reality.

Poet, Wilfred Owen was killed Nov 4, 1918, a week before the end of WW1, at the age of 25.

 

Thoughts seguay to Rudyard Kipling, who via his contacts helped, his son, John, enlist as an officer. John was killed after leading (leading at 18?) his troops into battle at the Battle of Loos, France, disappearing in September 1915, six weeks after his 18th birthday. Rudyard never really recovered from this loss. John’s body was not recovered at the time, Rudyard searching for the next four years for him, tracking down his battalions survivors, his military contacts, the Red Cross, Swedish contacts and German ambassadors, before finally accepting that he had been killed, rather than taken prisoner.

Having been a keen supporter of the war, Kipling became critical. His haunting poem Common Form reads: “If any question why we died, / Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

In 1992, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission changed the inscription of an Unkown Soldier to John Kipling……he had lain those years un-named due to clerical errors:

He had been promoted in the field to First Lieutenant, not the original assumed Second Lieutenant, confused with another Lieutenant who had died in the field hospital, and, freshly geographically pinpointed due to a clerical error with the grid reference of the day. We now know on Rudyard’s behalf, where his son’s body lies.

(I did not previously know that it was Kipling’s idea that all war graves have equivalent headstones and crosses, there to be no distinction according to rank….and, Also, on war graves everywhere “Known unto God” is written, rather than “unknown”, again, Kipling’s words…..)

I want to re-see the movie My Boy Jack, now.

Kipling Poetry I have noted

The Thousandth Man

If

My Boy Jack

Jane’s Marriage – in this poem, Kipling gave to Jane (Austen) in Heaven, that which she had missed in life -the love of her ideal man.

This latter was my Aunty Bell’s favorite poem. She was born in 1901, so at coming of age, the flower of Australian youth had been killed in WW1. She never married.