They Shall Not Grow Old – Peter Jackson – WW1 colour documentary

WW1 footage colourised. Also WW1 British soldiers narrating the whole documentary, the audio of this narration being from BBC film-reel, from the 1960’s that was in part used in a previous BBC production. So you get a lot of eye witness commentary and you get War Museum archival footage and then you get Peter Jackson, the director of Lord of the Rings I believe, who brought in some current day technology to speed-adjust and colourise the footage. Also very interestingly they made a good effort towards determining what the people in the footage are saying, by bringing in expert lip-readers, to uncover commentary from the old silent films. The movie is on Youtube, you can watch it now for $2.99 normally $7.

Some standout things: The veteran recounting his run-in at age 17 with the white feather ladies circa 1914, the condition of the teeth, so many toothless smiles, I suspect from a brawling way of life more than poor hygiene – I could be wrong I dunno. A lot of missing teeth. The rarity of the footage – This is not news-reel footage for mass consumption, we see the rarer harder to source footage of confronting scenes. You see a shell drop on a group of pack-horses and the aftermath of that and there are two wound scenes, one showing a soldier at a first aid station getting some disinfectant swabbed on a bullet hole that has gone cleanly through his left upper arm, and the other is a soldier getting a shell dressing applied to his upper left arm which has a huge chunk missing from it. The narrators also provide descriptions of the physical carnage.

The tanks are shown – very amazing footage. Descriptions of big battles: How they start, develop and finish. Artillery barrages, machine gun traps, trenches, uniforms in colour, the walking wounded, troops walking back from the finished battle, some wounded, all filthy, some shaking, others laughing and joking.

Some fascinating footage of the light trains they had back then, both steam and petrol powered.

Also the lead up to the start of the war, where recruiting and attitudes are very optimistic and then the part where it gets scary for me, is when they are a few weeks into basic training, endless bayonet equipped parade drills, physical training, marching, machine gun strip and assemble lessons, and the pace of the routine and the strict discipline and the professionalism is starting to make the narrator wonder what he has gotten himself into and where he is headed next. They were engulfed in an unstoppable, inescapable tsunami-like flow towards the trench carnage and I believe the narrator had intuited this.

Another impression I got is just how hard work it was. It seems the British Army operated in several phases of routine, basically 1 being on the front line for a 3 day period, two, being at the rear of the direct front and three being on leave.

At the front they had to take their own 3 day food in with them and at the rear it was a ‘rest’ from the carnage, but it meant rolling shells off a train and onto a horse cart or digging big trenches or carrying barbed wire or any other heavy physical task.

The footage is often amazingly illustrative of those times, for example, they show a big gun positioned near a slate shingle roofed farm building and when the gun fires many of the slate shingles fall off the roof.

This is one of the best war movies I have ever seen. I don’t think there is much better than this. Its just done so well I rate it 10/10.

They Shall Not Grow Old – Peter Jackson – WW1 colour documentary

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