The Great War, which wasn’t really so great.
For our final term and our final project in Humanities, we were researching World War I (WWI). This is right up my alley as I find military history really interesting. I like to hear the motives behind the conflicts, and hear all of the stories of what actually happened. As the quote attributed to writer and philosopher George Santayana, says,
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It is also of particular interest to me right now as this summer I am going to France to tour battle fields, cemeteries, and memorials from WWI and WWII with the Juno Beach Center on their first Student Pilgrimage. I am trying to do as much research as I can before I go, and then add to my knowledge on the trip.
We started off learning about the basic history of WWI, like how it started and why. As with most conflicts, it’s complicated. One reason was that at that time there was already a ton of tension and pressure in Europe, especially between Germany and England, Germany and Austro-Hungary, and Germany and Serbia. Germany was advancing technologically and becoming really popular. Several countries, particularly Prussia, and Germany, wanted an advanced “German Europe” because Germany was really good at making things and inventing things, and they were really good at using technology at the time.
The reasons why it started were a bit confusing, but I think this comedic video I found called “If World War One was a Bar Fight” makes it a bit clearer.
The last straw that triggered the start of WWI is the assassination of Archduke of Austro-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand didn’t actually go according to plan. A few people from Serbia known as The Black Hand, tried to assassinate Ferdinand. That didn’t go so well. Ferdinand was in a parade and The Black Hand threw a bomb, missing him, but killing and injuring a number of civilians that were around him. They ran away and the mission was a fail. There was a second attempt when Franz Ferdinand went to visit the people were injured in the bomb attack. As he was driving to the location to visit the victims, while on the same street, there was one of the Black Hand members, who saw Ferdinand. This time he didn’t mess up his chance and was successful in assassinating Franz Ferdinand when he ran up to the car they were in and shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife.
After the assassination, the war started with Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia with Germany’s support. Then Germany declared war on Russia, who was Serbia’s ally. Germany then invaded France through Belgium, resulting in Britain declaring war on Germany. Britain declaring war meant that Canada was in the fight, too. The two sides were divided into Austria, Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey and extending into southeastern Europe and the Middle East) on the Axis side, and England, France and Russia on the Allied side. After war was declared and countries started fighting, we learned about Canada’s role in the war.
Canada actually played a very big role in WWI, winning some key major battles for the Allies. They participated in many well known battles including the battle of Vimy Ridge, the battle of the Somme, the second battle of Ypres, and the battle of Passiondale. These were really big battles in the war that Canadians helped win. Many people say that from the first World War, Canada was proven on the world stage as a nation, and a formidable fighting force. I learned that the Germans called the Canadians “Storm Troopers”. Which is a fun fact; anyone who watches Star Wars will know what I mean. These accomplishments by Canada are a really cool part for me as I am going to France, as I mentioned before, to study the Canadians in WWI and WWII.
So now it’s time for our main project. As this year we have been doing a lot of video work, we had to make a WWI video about a topic on the war. I chose to do the story of Colin Muir, a Canadian soldier in WWI. How I learned about Colin Muir was I attended a reception given for myself and the other 3 students from BC that were chosen to go on the Juno Center Pilgrimage. The reception was hosted by the BC Veterans Commemorative Association, who are sponsoring the student costs of our trip to France. In return, they asked that we research a soldier from each World War who was from a British Columbian regiment, and was interred at a cemetery we were going to be visiting on our trip in order to make the trip more personal. We are to find their grave, take a picture in front of it, and record the memorial statement on it. I’ll upload and add those pictures to this blog when I return from the trip. Colin Muir was the WWI soldier that I was given to research.
What I tried to convey in my video about Colin Muir was the horrors of war, and how nasty and terrible war really is, giving the first hand soldier’s experience. I also wanted to highlight that the soldiers who went to fight in The Great War were our community members, neighbours, and even friends. What helped me a lot with this was our novel study. For our novel study, we were allowed to choose from a list of three books: Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse, also by Michael Morpurgo, and Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison. I chose Generals Die in Bed (I had already read War Horse), which is based on the author’s own experiences as a WWI Canadian soldier. I used a lot of his descriptions from the book about the battlefield to show how terrible it really was. The main character in the book talked a lot about lice, and at one point he describes how his coat jacket was covered in lice from head to toe after getting off the front lines. The soldiers would go a week on the front lines, then a week just off the front lines for a rest period. During the rest period, it was so uncomfortable in the uniforms, that they would have to pass a torch or lighter over the uniforms to kill the lice. As they burned the lice, the lice would boil and pop on their uniforms. He described it as a sea of lice dying as he waved a flame over them. That was pretty disgusting so I tried to add in a ton of stuff like that to show how it really was for the soldiers.
I have included my final reflection on the book Generals Die in Bed, which is a creative book summary. What I made is a collage of WWI War propaganda posters combined with actual photos of the fighting. Another theme in Generals Die in Bed was anti war and the soldiers saying that it was nothing like what they expected.
I also included this concept of the reality of war being nothing like the soldiers expected in my video. Another message that I tried to portray in my video, was what these soldiers actually did. These soldiers were young men from all across Canada, some even from our community like Colin Muir, who went away to fight for our country and to fight for our freedom. If it wasn’t for them, our country would look quite different than it does today. This is a big part of my World View, that a lot of these soldiers and military members are under appreciated, and, in modern day society, are actually even shamed and feel ashamed. I think this is wrong because they give up everything, including their lives, for the freedoms that we enjoy, so that people can protest and do whatever they want because they live in a free country.
Here is a draft of my video.
As you can tell, I have a few improvements to make, but it is a pretty good start. I have put my final video at the end of this post.
And finally, the last twist. Because in PLP we can’t just do something simple like making a video, we have to add something more. So our last twist was we had to present our video to an audience of Grade 6’s and 7’s. We went down to Cove Cliff Elementary and we showed them our videos. You can see me here showing them my video. It was actually a really cool experience having a different audience. Someone who wasn’t researching WWI all the time, like our classmates, and seeing what they took away from the video. It was fun and interesting answering the different questions they had about the war from my knowledge that I had gained from combining my prior knowledge with the things I learned from my further research this term.
So here is my final video product. I hope you like it and thank you to all of the Veterans out there.