The Great War (documentary)

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The Great War is a 26-episode documentary series from 1964 on the First World War. The documentary was a co-production involving the resources of the Imperial War Museum, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The narrator was Michael Redgrave, with readings by Marius Goring, Ralph Richardson, Cyril Luckham, Sebastian Shaw and Emlyn Williams.

Episode Three: "we must hack our way through (Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg)"[edit]

Euan Rabagliati (describing his conversation with Field Marshal John French after returning from a reconnaissance flight): He said, ‘Have you been over that area?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir!’ And I explained what I had seen and they were enormously interested. Then they began reading the figures that I had estimated, whereupon I seemed to feel that their interest faded. They seemed to look at each other and shrug their shoulders. And then French turned around to me and said, "Now yes my boy, this is terribly interesting, but tell me all about an aeroplane. And what can you do when you're in these machines? Aren't they very dangerous? Are they very cold? Can you see anything? What do you do if your engine stops?" And all that sort of stuff. And I couldn't bring him back to earth, because obviously he wasn't interested. And then, I again tried and he looked at me and he said, "Yes, this is very interesting - what you've got. But you know, our information - which of course is correct - proves that...you really...I don't think you could really have seen as much as you think. Well of course I quite understand you may imagine you have, but it's not the case."

Episode Five: "this business may last a long time (Rudolf Binding)"[edit]

Henry Williamson (describing the inscriptions on German graves): They would put, the Germans, “für vaterland und freiheit” – for fatherland and freedom. And I said to a German, “Excuse me, but how can you be fighting for freedom? You started the war and we are fighting for freedom.” And he said, “Excuse me, English comrade, kamerad, but we are fighting for freedom for our country. And I say, “You also put: Here rests in God, ein unbekannter Held – here rests in God an unknown hero. In God?" “Oh yes, God is on our side.” “But,” I said, “he’s on our side!” “Well English comrade, do not let us quarrel on Christmas Day.”

Episode Six: "so sleep easy in your beds (Admiral Fisher)"[edit]

Ernest Amis (describing the sinking of SMS Nürnberg during the Battle of the Falkland Islands): She was on fire, forward and aft. And some of them were jumping into the water on bits of wreckage, so as to try and get to us, but the seas were icy cold. We all had the impression that those Germans were very very plucky people - I actually saw one man pull out a flag, that was aft. He got hold of it and I saw him as he was sinking under the water, still waving that flag as that ship went down. Much as if to say, "Deutschland still über alles."

Episode Ten: "what are our allies doing? (Russian General)"[edit]

Narrator: Mid summer, 1915. The war was almost a year old now, a visible thing, a landscape halfway to desolation. It stretched from the flats of Flanders, across the wide plains of northern France to the mountains of the Vosges and the Swiss Frontier. Then through Italy and across Serbia, along the edge of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and miles upon hundreds of miles through the Russian steppes to the Baltic Sea. A vast circle of flame and hate.
Richard Talbot Kelly: You’re chiefly afraid, you know, of how you will behave when you really meet the worst things that war can produce and I became afraid of seeing my first dead man. I'd never seen a dead man. Well now, I knew that there was an old stretch of German trench between our first and second line where there were a lot of German and Canadian corpses. And in order to find myself, I think, I decided one day, I would go and have a look at this and see what I felt about it. Suddenly, round a bend in the trench, I came to a great bay. It was full of dead Germans. But they weren't a bit horrible. They had been dead for about six weeks and weather and rats and maggots and everything else had done their stuff. And they were just shiny skeletons in their uniforms, held together by the dried sinews that was round their bones. It was a most weird and extraordinary picture and I was absolutely fascinated. A skull, you know, grins at you in a silly way. It laughs at you. More or less said, "fancy coming here all terrified of dead men - look how silly we look."

Episode Eleven: "Hell cannot be so terrible. (French soldier)"[edit]

French Soldier: (on the horrors of Verdun) Having despaired of living, we prayed to God not to let us be killed, the transformation is too revolting, but just to let us be dead.

Episode Thirteen: "the Devil is coming...(German soldier)"[edit]

Richard Henry Tobin (describing his experiences at the Battle of the Somme): Then five minutes to go. And then zero hour, and all hell lets loose. There's our barrage, the Germans' barrage, and over the top we go. As soon as you get over the top, fear has left you, and its terror. You don't ... look, you see. You don't hear, you listen. Your nose is filled with fumes and death. You taste the top of your mouth. Your weapon and you are one. A hunter, you're back to the jungle. The veneer of civilization has dropped away. And you see the line of men, the flare of the shells and the mist of dawn, November dawn. And the fumes from the shells coming out of the bursting shell, which gives it a dirty orange colour. Then you see this line. Then a gap, closing, and go on.

Episode Nineteen: "The hell where youth and laughter go...(Siegfried Sassoon)"[edit]

Clemenceau: We stand before you with but one goal; to pursue the war relentlessly. No pacifist campaign, no treachery, no semi-treachery. Only war, nothing but war.

Episode Twenty: "only war, nothing but war (Clemenceau)"[edit]

Narrator: When the huge French railway guns began to counter-bombard the Germans, this war of artillery, this war of technology, reached its fantastic climax. The city and the trenches shared the same conflict. Man cringed beneath the weight of the horrors he had created to gain him victory. Yet victory belonged to no one - the horrors to everyone.

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