Monday, 4 August 2014

Thoughts on the Centenary

I was born 76 years and 10 days after Britain joined the war in 1914. If I'd been alive at the time, I would have seen my partner, brother, cousin, friends and colleagues leave for France. I probably would have lost at least one of them. This is a heartbreaking fact which makes me feel hopeless and desperate, even though Maxx and his cousin are sat next to me safe and sound eating baguettes.

I can't imagine the fear, the sadness and the horror those men must have faced. Looking at images of the landscapes, of the trenches, of the bodies and of the wounded is overwhelming. Seeing videos of hopeful young soldiers waving at the cameras, excited for battle, fills me with dread and a sense of guilt. Did he survive? What about him? 

There are many perceptive academic texts written about the effect of WWI, particularly on memory; posted below is an extract from one of my 3rd year essays, entitled "What are the main issues involved in writing about World War I within fictional forms?". The Runner is the fictional short story I wrote based on my great-grandfather's experiences.

The final issue involved in writing about World War One within fictional forms is reader and author understanding. The purpose of writing history fiction, as has been stated, is to entertain, but also to educate. This raises the question whether fictionalizing events as traumatic and important in British military history as World War One removes the seriousness of the subject. Romanticising the war as exciting and a great adventure could be seen to trivialise the trauma and losses suffered between 1914 and 1918. By contrast, fiction can also teach many truthful things; although the horror of war is sometimes absorbed into fictional war narratives, placing them in these contexts widens their appeal and therefore reaches a wider audience.

In 2000, Paul Fussell described how ‘a striking phenomenon of the last twenty-five years is this obsession with the images and myths of the Great War among novelists and poets too young to have experienced it directly.’[1]  The continued popularity of war narratives has been discussed; however, Fussell highlights how preposterous this seems when the writers have no experience, and arguably no real understanding, of what they are writing about. Without these personal experiences, writers are now reliant on the experience of others, but images are one of the few sources of the war that make it semi-accessible. When writing The Runner, I did look at images of the Somme in A J P Taylor’s The First World War: An Illustrated History, but as has been discussed, I only used one graphic image, to make it more effective. I attempted to counter my lack of understanding by focusing on the experiences passed to me from David Chapman.

[1] Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.321.

If you want to read The Runner, click here.

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