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I was struck by the image on this mid-century record cover, World War I Songs in Hi-Fi by the Four Sergeants.
August 1914 is when the folly started, and millions of men battled each other in trenches separated by mine fields and barbed wired, in the mud and the rain of the fields of Flanders, Belgium and France.
Men who would go to war departing from train stations in Great Britain or elsewhere, and sometimes singing battle hymns who in the lull of fighting wrote letters home or wrote trench poetry, exchanging photos and keepsakes of loved ones just in case they did not return.
The First War of a new Century with its twenty million victims, so very different in nature to previous ones, was so bloody, that it was for decades referred to at the “Great War”.
Yet, the events have been recalled in songs sung during hour long marches from the back lines to the front or sung back home to entertain troops.
The camaraderie even extended to one’s foe. After all they suffered the same cold, rain and mud and senseless killing with bayonets fixed.
Songs listed on the back side of this record are shown below.
The last song on this record is one of the most famous ones.
If you think these sort of follies were fabricated by “little men”, the lust auf profit international bankers or grand old dictators backed by gangster industrialists selling the ordinary men on the great virtue of patriotism, then just have a look around the world 100 years later.
The main difference is that today’s fighting men no longer sing. Which soldier leaving the Flanders field alive, would not know this famous poem below, written in the midst of the greatest folly known to men.
The fighting French took the art of the period to new heights illustrating the horrors of war, in satirical pulp magazines like La Baionnette before the fighting ended in 1917, in this very grand manner on the back cover by the illustrator Gus Bofa, that says it all.
Freely translating the French: Tomorrow we will all march together friend and foe for the final battle, singing the “Internationale” and hope and work for understanding and peace (click on the player in the above link to hear the song).
It doomed patriotism for a while to the hinterland of the political arena. The greatest war novel of all times, sold 2.5 million copies in 18 months and translated in 22 languages, is All quiet on the Western Front by the German WWI soldier and novelist Erich Maria Remarque (1891-1970). The German title is Im Westen nichts neues.
Almost immediately, within a year, the original German novel written by an old enemy was translated into the French language. The images below are from our own copy.
The dedication on the next page is prophetic. Freely translated it reads “This book is neither an accusation or a profession of a certain faith, it only wants to say that there is a generation wounded by war even if they escaped that tragic abuse”.