Random Great War Facts

One of my favorite aspects of this class was the random pieces of information that we learned as we progressed through the different novels. Dr. Scanlon is an encyclopedia for obscure facts that pertain to WWI. Oftentimes, she would throw out a story or name that sparked an interest in multiple classmates. I would love to know what random fact has stuck with you throughout the semester, and/or what obscure bit of information you researched based on a class session? I personally went so far as to look up “unknown facts about WWI” and found this interesting little website. Fact numbers 1, 3, and 7, were the most surprising for me. Please feel free to reminisce or share brand new information!


The Tower of London Remembers

‘An organic living piece’ … Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s installation at the Tower of London. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

During today’s group discussion on Isaac Rosenberg’s poem “Break of Day in the Trenches,” a question was posed about the significance of the poppy flower. In modern times, the poppy is seen as a tribute and respectful gesture to honor war veterans. It first began in the 1920s, after WWI came to an end. People would pin the flower to their lapels or tuck them in their breast pockets to display their bright color. They were also placed on the graves of deceased soldiers, often by family and comrades who were paying their respects. Poppy flowers are a symbol of remembrance for those that fought and sacrificed for the freedom that we have today. They are a representation of solace, remembrance, and eternal sleep.

When our small group asked Dr. Scanlon about the poppies within the poem, she mentioned a beautiful sight in London, England that we might explore. The Tower of London has created an honorific display of poppies in homage to the soldiers of The Great War. It commemorates their bravery and loss through an extravagant arrangement of ceramic poppy flowers. Hundreds of hours and thousands of flowers were utilized to produce this masterpiece. I think that it is not only gorgeous to look at, but remarkable for its significance. The reason for its creation and the labor put into this display was well-thought-out.

If you would like to learn more about The Tower of London Remembers, here is a link to their website:


Maddie Baylor’s report on the website “The National Archives” 

Upon arriving at the home page of The National Archives website, the viewer is supplied with many options to choose from. The home page is organized into subcategories of data, all of which are grouped together based on related content. It is fruitfully decorated with pictures and artwork from the Great War, as well as highlighted captions that direct the reader’s attention. The front page is simplified and easily accessible, a helpful quality for someone who is not practiced in maneuvering through archival works. Each subdivision has a two-to-three sentence summary of what the tab includes. As a reader, I found that extremely useful, as some of the titles proved insufficient without context. The summaries are condensed so as to not overwhelm the reader, and I found them to be accurate descriptions of the content within. The homepage is simple to navigate, unlike some of the archives themselves.  

When a viewer clicks on one of the subdivisions, it redirects them into a different page. There, they find new resources and even more subcategories. It is very organized, but there is a learning curve. Everything on this website has a subcategory within a subcategory. It takes very little to get lost as you click on one link after another. There is an excess of information available, but my first time through the archives felt like falling down a rabbit hole. I would recommend that viewers sift through one section at a time, so as not to overwhelm themselves. Do not hop from page to page, for it is likely that you will get confused and have to start over from the beginning. The archives is a wonderful space to explore the Great War’s history and recorded artifacts, but the site can be rather off-putting. If you approach it in a systematic way, it will prove easier to navigate. Once the viewer understands the arrangement of the website, it is smooth sailing. 

The National Archives has a surplus of relevant information available for all interested parties. There is a field for everyone, no matter their media preference. If one enjoys nonfiction reading, there are collected documents and historical studies from countries around the world. If readers enjoy a more intimate experience, there are personal letters and diary entries available to peruse. If creative writing is appealing, there are impressive plays and graphic novels to explore. For the auditory viewer, there are plenty of podcasts and videos to avail oneself to. And if one is looking for an interactive experience, there is a blog built for community engagement, similar to this one! There is a space for anyone who wishes to further their education and do a little digging. The works available are extremely thought-provoking and motivating for further research. I would recommend this website to anyone wishing to expand their understanding of the Great War without a historical background. If you are unaccustomed to archival exploration, do not fear! There is a guide below to assist you. 

Due to the maze-like structure of this website, I will include little summaries below of what each section entails. The titles of the sections are in bold with a few sentences that explain what you will find within each one. This way, you do not have to struggle to find whatever material strikes your fancy. If you are interested in browsing through The National Archives, here is a cheat sheet:

A Global View: When you enter this section, you are met with a short list of our world’s continents and regions. You can choose whichever region you wish to learn more about, and that choice will redirect you to a second list. Here, you are once again asked to make a selection, this time from the small territories and countries within that continent. My first choice was to familiarize myself with Europe. From there, I decided to explore the country, Austria-Hungary. Upon my selection, I was able to explore Austria-Hungary’s timeline as it was impacted by the Great War. Each section provides readers with a concise overview, as well as small snippets of information explicitly relevant to the chosen country. It is a manageable space to explore WWI’s impact on all the regions of the world in an easily digestible way. 

Blog Posts about the First World War: This section allows for viewers to choose from an array of blog posts, the earliest of which dates back to a century ago. The posts seem well-informed and well-written as a whole. There is a lot of research and records included within the posts, all of which correlate to the war. I find that this section is good for interacting with the community and making connections through fellow history enthusiasts. 

Voices of the Armistice: The draw of this section is for those who enjoy an audible experience as opposed to the written word. There are three pages of podcasts which discuss a plethora of topics, many of which are diaries from soldiers who experienced the war. Hearing a first-hand account from war veterans can be more effective than reading an article about them. Each podcast is titled, which is useful for viewers who are interested in a particular subject. There are also podcasts which might prove to be upsetting in their content; that is yet another benefit for having labels. The podcasts have a condensed duration, so it will not monopolize your time. These podcasts provide viewers with plenty of information in a neat little package.  

Armistice and Legacy—a graphic novel on the First World War: After viewing some of the other sections, this one is a nice break from the overflow of information. In this space, you will find a bit of creativity intertwined with the facts of the war. It describes the process of students who are creating a graphic novel based off of the stories of WWI. It includes pictures of the artists as they outline and draw, as well as background information for the purpose of their project. This section is a great opportunity to see how the resources of The National Archive are being utilized by the community. 

Plays about South Asia and the First World War: Under this section you will find a handful of plays, all of which depict an important event that happened in the Great War. Each performance is around 15 minutes long, but they go by quickly as you get caught up in the actions of the story. You listen to the actors read their lines and can follow along with them through the use of the transcript. If you absorb information better by reading, this section kindly provides the script as well as the audio. The shows themselves are very easy to comprehend, and their content is unlike the rest of the resources in the archives. They focus on the way that the war impacted south Asian countries, specifically that of India. It touches on gender, race, and religion, all of which I believe are important to learn about. Their commentary on the war and its effects are both educational and enlightening. It is similar to the podcasts in its media form, but the unique content separates it from all other sections on this website. 

Letters from the First World War, 1915: This section holds the personal remarks of soldiers who were writing to comrades and loved ones. It is a deeply intimate place to hear the observations made by veterans in the war. Many letters allow you to listen to someone read it aloud, as though that person is speaking to you directly. They also have the transcript further down the page if you prefer to read it as the intended letter. This is a fascinating space to apply what we have learned from our novels to reality. I found the letter  “Injury: I look a pretty picture” to be in keeping with what we have read. It is a note from one injured soldier to a comrade on the front, which I could discern from the content of the message alone. When sifting through the different letters, one can distinguish the way that the writers wish to present the magnitude of the war. Depending on who the receiver is, they might desire a reassuring message versus an authentic one. This is a great section to read the first-hand accounts of soldiers in 1915, as well as a space to relate our lessons to real life. 

First World War podcasts and videos: Within this section you will find a hodgepodge of media relating to the Great War. It incorporates podcasts, plays, recorded conversations, poetry, and more, all of which connect to WWI. Some videos are direct accounts from the soldiers themselves, others are accomplished through the research of outside sources. It is a place for viewers to explore an assortment of multimedia options if that seems more intriguing than the written word. 

Find your ancestor in our First World War records: The title of this section is quite self explanatory. It is a guide to finding veterans of the Great War who might be an ancestor of yours. There are a great deal of links that describe the different positions that your ancestor might have held in the war, such as Army nurse or Corps officer. After clicking on a link, the site instructs you on how to uncover records of that person. It is very thorough and comprehensive in its explanation. If you are looking to learn more about an ancestor, this is the place to do so. Even if you don’t know any veterans, this is also a great space to view records of war soldiers and learn more about them individually.

Browse our online collections: In this section, one will find the most diverse resources available to viewers. It consists of documents, service records, maps, photographs, and anything else remotely related to WWI. All that is not covered in the other sections will be placed here. However, a majority of the links lead to a page that reads “Page Not Found.” Apparently, in order to access most of these records, you must go to the “archived version” of the page and search there. It seems superfluous to do so, but I imagine that whatever results people are looking for  must be worth the extra effort. 

First World War titles in the bookshop: Lastly, you will reach the archival bookshop. If you are looking to do some WWI shopping, The National Archives has provided you with a quick and easy place. There is jewelry, stationary, books, maps, and gifts for anyone you know who also takes an interest in history. This is a shop for all important eras, so make sure to hit the 20th century link when searching. Happy shopping!

Maddie’s Reading Questions for February 3rd:

  1. In Chapter Eight, Nellie meets Robin in the hotel she is staying at. They have a memorable night together, leading to Nellie’s loss of virginity. While this has been a topic for much of the story, the actual event is quite anticlimactic. In your opinion, what is Nellie’s motivation for sleeping with Robin? Is there motivation? Following that thought, is this act one of selflessness or selfishness? Nellie knows what awaits Robin at war, therefore she is providing him with a kindness. A night of pleasure and warmth before he goes into the horror of the trenches. On the other hand, he could be serving as a distraction. She could be taking advantage of this offered opportunity to distance herself from her past life (in the traumatic war) and the future that is to come (at her tragic home). She has many things on her mind, including her worry over going mad and her lack of awareness: “I don’t care…something has gone from me that will never return” (pp 169). Is Robin an escape for Nellie, a last act of tenderness for his benefit, or something else entirely?
  2. Nellie has known about Roy’s interest in her since Chapter Four, when he writes a letter alerting Nellie to his coming arrival in France. Her response then is “Poor Roy,” a much different reaction to their eventual meeting in Chapter Nine (pp 75). When Nellie goes on her first date with Roy, she relays most of her feelings and activities as being “Queer” (pp 188-190). How do you interpret the continuous use of this word? Previously, she has made remarks about her inability to care, stating that she is “Emotion-dry” as the war has “drained me of feeling” (pp 169). Do you read the monotonous “queerness” of each situation as a lack of sentiment, or as symbolism for something larger? Figurative language, such as repetition, is usually used when representing a greater theme. As seen just a page later, the use of “queer” is substituted for the word “happy.” What do you find is the reason behind this? Is there an actual shift in emotions, or do you believe the word to be inauthentic? Does this change your previous answer in any way? 
  3. After reading the final paragraph, what feelings are you left with? Does the story seem resolved? Is it what you expected or hoped for? In my class, many felt the ending of All Quiet on the Western Front brought about a sense of closure and relief. Does that remain true for Not So Quiet…? The last few sentences are very similar between the two, but the interpretation of the endings rely heavily on the content of each novel. In All Quiet, Paul saw gruesome, awful sights and suffered many traumas. Nellie has also suffered many traumas, but her experiences differ because of her role within the war. Much of this is due to gender and class because of the period restrictions. Nellie is not on the front lines, but she is still constantly in danger. In both books, everyone has died by the end. Nellie’s  familial connections, friendships, and relationships differ along the way from Paul’s. Do the characters that you have read in Not So Quiet… affect your feelings about the ending?  Does the statement, “her face held an expression of resignation, as though she had ceased to hope that the end might come,” read as Nellie finding peace to you (pp 239)? Is her death a punishment or a gift?

Lord of the Flies-esque?

Something about All Quiet on the Western Front reminds me of my first time reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding. (I read it five years ago, it is definitely a little blurry!) Golding’s story revolves around a group of young boys who have crash-landed on a deserted island and must learn to regulate themselves. I believe that I draw parallels between these two novels because they both invite the reader into a world where there is a lack of societal expectations, no set rules, and limited ethical standards. The Great War was the first experience of soldiers in horrendous conditions (trench warfare, updated technology, mass killings) where there were no set guidelines to follow. Due to inconceivable circumstances, this war was quite different from those of the past. I am not referring to all the soldiers fighting, particularly those on the Western Front. There, soldiers of all nationalities were forced to suffer for years on end with little, if any, relief. As we discussed in class, men on the front began to assume more maternal roles, ones that would be deemed emasculating were they at home. Comforting fellow soldiers, expressing vulnerabilities, and intimate friendships would all be inappropriate within society. However, due to their secluded position, the men on the front developed a new sense of societal expectations. The same can be said for their lack of decorum. They sit on latrines for hours, keeping one another company. When relating it to regular times, Paul says, “There it can only be hygienic; here it is beautiful” (Remarque 9). The rules established on the Western Front are different because they have had to adapt to a new reality. They eat rats, masturbate together, and beat each other up to keep from traumatic attempts at suicide. As in Lord of the Flies, a different set of rules is necessary because of their location. 

Possibly the largest connection I make between the two is their change in moral standards. When a young recruit is suffering from what is indisputably a long descent into death, the characters debate killing him. To many, that is considered murder (which is illegal.) However, these soldiers have seen the pain that a death like this will produce, and their ethical scale is tipped in a direction not aligned with modern society. It is their experience and knowledge that leads to this interesting dilemma. Their sole intent is to fight and survive, and to some, that puts their sanity into question. In the second chapter, when Muller asks after the boots of a man not yet dead, it is considered realistic on the front, but would be appalling to anyone else. These sort of decisions are unique to those who have undergone this same experience. All Quiet on the Western Front may not follow the same story line as Golding’s book, and it doesn’t have the same disturbing actions, but they do both pose a compelling question: what would you do to survive when you are separated from the rest of the world?