The quick guide to World War 1
This year marks a century since the end of the Great War, the one fought in trenches, across continents, by heroic young men against deadly new technologies and by nations fuelled by greed. The author Jacques Tardi describes World War 1 as “nothing but a gigantic, anonymous scream of agony” in his graphic novels. Filmmakers see it as a grainy black-and-white era full of despair and futility. Literature majors know it as a generation that collectively lost its innocence. Military strategists look at it in terms of lands annexed and futile blood spilled. And 100 years on, most of us know it largely from bits and pieces of history that leave us with more questions than answers.
To get a better sense of what went down between 1914 and 1918, and how it affects us to this day, start here:
Comics and graphic novels:
The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme
Joe Sacco, the cartoonist and journalist behind the graphic novels Palestine (1996) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009) is no stranger to depicting wars. This book isn’t a story in the traditional sense. It’s a long, detailed look at the first bloody battle fought by the British Empire and France against the Germans. A focused, heart-wrenching look at a day in the life of a war.
Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard
You probably know Adlard as the artist in The Walking Dead comic. White Death (1998) takes its name from the cruel White War on the Italian-Austro-Hungarian front, where cannons were strategically fired to create deadly avalanches on both sides, soldiers used the frozen bodies of their dead compatriots to reinforce their trenches, and two bodies were recovered as late as 2013, inspiring this story.
To End All Wars
Edited by Jonathan Clode and John Clark
Need a quick guide? This 2014 anthology of 26 short graphic narratives draw on actual events, characters, circumstances, incidents or consequences of WWI. More than 50 contributors from 13 countries worked on the charity novel for free, covering everything from the first aerial bombings of civilians to land, sea and air attacks on both sides of the war.
Watch: 6 things you must know about the First World War
All Quiet on the Western Front
A book-to-film-adaptation, and in many ways the quintessential WW1 movie, this was the first film to win Academy Awards for both best picture and best director. Lewis Milestone took a humanist view of a group of young Germans drafted into the great war. The movie, like the book, looks at the horror of war and its unexpected price.
Peter Weir’s beautifully shot, 1981 anti-war film shifts the action to Australia, specifically the bloody Battle Of The Nek against the Turks and the young idealistic soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who died in it.
A Very Long Engagement
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2004 mystery has a love story with a touch of fantasy. What if you were told that your fiancé had died in the war but you refused to believe it? Mathilde’s investigation into what happened in the trenches exposes a cruel, morally bankrupt system and makes you realise that the casualties of war stretch far beyond the battlefield.
The BBC mini-series is just three episodes long but they’re packed with detail and great storytelling. The series covers the 37 days before the World War 1 starting from the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria to the UK declaring war on Germany. It’s a lot of diplomatic intrigue, a gradual building up of the horrors to come and a look at the irresponsible decisions that precipitated the bloodbath.
Based on The Other ANZACs, a critically acclaimed book that uses diary entries, letters, photographs and historical documents, the show looks at the nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service at Gallipoli and the Western Front. There’s never a dull moment. Or an episode that doesn’t break your heart.
Eddie Redmayne stars in the BBC One adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s novel. Two episodes lyrically cover the tale of young lovers separated in many ways by the war, as old-world alliances crumble.
Fall of Giants
There’s a wealth of period detail in the intertwined stories of families, communities and dynasties that make up this epic 850-page novel set in the years before and during the war. And enough plot twists to keep you hooked.
The African Queen
Set in Tanzania, and a great example of the far-reaching effects of war, it’s the tale of Rose Sayer avenging the death of her brother(who she believes was killed by the Germans), with the help of Charlie Allnut, a ship captain.
Testament of Youth
What was the war like for women? This memoir of an Oxford student stationed as a nurse in England, Malta and France as part of the British Army’s Voluntary Aid Detachment offers a hospital-bedside view. It’s honest and chilling – no one wins.
The First World War
One book to explain it all? The book covers military tactics, geopolitical strategies, battle accounts and diplomatic relations. It’s a quick read. You can almost see the borders of the world map shifting and areas getting bloodier as you read.
Battlefield 1 has been commended by gamers and historians for its accuracy and ethics. The gameplay doesn’t shy away from death and disease; the planes, tanks, poison gas, cavalry and infantry are spot on. And it’s a multi-part narrative, which means you travel the globe (France, Arabia, America), completing missions, evading villains and profiteers. The game’s trailer was YouTube’s most-liked when it was released in 2016.
The 1914.org podcasts
Dip in to an episode at random (Armstice, wartime leisure, food rations, Christmas celebrations, letters) or listen to them all one by one. The collection put together by the Imperial War Museums is part of the First World War Centenary Partnership, a network of local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations set up to create a repository of new and archival information about the war.
To show how it all unfolded in real time, historian Indiana Neidell told the story of World War I through a 10-minute weekly YouTube documentary series in 2014. Great War covers Europe, Africa and Persia, and shows the complicated politics that bubbled over into war. Think of it as a way of skimming headlines and short takes from 100 years ago.
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