Boys in Zinc

Source: ‘A captain, artillery officer’, quoted in Svetlana Alexievich (trans. Andrew Bromfield), Boys in Zinc (Penguin Books, 2017 [orig. pub. Цинковые мальчики, 1989]), pp. 106-107

Text: Sacks of human meat in the morgue – it comes as a shock! Six months later we’re watching a movie and tracer shells start hitting the screen. We carry on watching the movie. We’re playing volley-ball and shelling starts. We look to see where the shells are coming from, and carry on playing … They used to bring us films about war, about Lenin or about an unfaithful wife: he went away, and now she’s with someone else. But everyone wanted comedies. They never brought us any comedies. I could have picked up my automatic and emptied it into the screen. The screen was three or four sheets sewn together under the open sky and the audience sat on the sand.

Comments: Svetlana Alexievich (1948 – ) is a Belarusian non-fiction writer and journalist, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. Her books are developed out of eyewitness statements of events in recent Russian/Soviet history. Boys in Zinc documents the experience of Soviet soldiers and their families during the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union 1979-1989.

A Hospital-Ceiling as a Screen for Moving Pictures

Source: S[amuel] Begg, ‘A Hospital-Ceiling as a Screen for Moving Pictures: a Cinema for Bedridden Wounded Soldiers at a Base in France’, The Illustrated London News, 10 August 1918, p. 1, reproduced at http://www.illustratedfirstworldwar.com/item/a-hospital-ceiling-as-a-scren-for-movig-pictures-a-cinema-for-bedridde-iln0-1918-0810-0001-002/

Comments: Samuel Begg (1854-1936) was a British artist, who was raised in New Zealand, and who became well-known as an illustrator for the British magazine The Illustrated London News. The text that accompanied it says:

A novel use of the cinematograph has been introduced into certain American base hospitals in France. For the amusement of wounded men who are unable to sit up or leave their beds, pictures are thrown on the ceiling above their beds by means of portable projectors. Thus they are enabled to enjoy the antics of Charlie Chaplin and other heroes and heroines of the “movies,” like their more fortunate comrades, who can move about and attend the ordinary type of cinema entertainment. How great a boon this ingenious device has proved to bedridden patients may be easily realised by anyone who has ever spent long and tedious hours in bed watching the vagaries of flies crawling on a ceiling.

The image and text were based on this original published in the American magazine Popular Mechanics, July 1918 p. 163 (unnamed artist):

Links: Illustrated London News image available from illustratedfirstworldwar.com

Popular Mechanics illustration available from Hathi Trust

The Crowd

Source: Extract from Louis Delluc, ‘The Crowd’ (originally ‘La Foule’, Paris-Midi, 24 August 1918, p. 2), reproduced and translated in Richard Abel (ed.), French Film Theory and Criticism: a History/Anthology, 1907-1939 – Volume I: 1907-1929 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 161

Text: Another audience. At the Saturday evening screening of the only cinema palace of the town, the Tout-Aurillac, a first-run and second-run house. Convalescents, billeted soldiers, respectable families, respectable young girls, the smoke from pipes, the ritornellos of an untuned piano, all in a deep, dark, cold cinema with Le Courrier de Washington on the marquee.

They also screened La Lumière qui s’éteint, an English film previewed in Paris last winter. Despite its almost unanimous lack of culture, the audience was deeply moved by the inner adventures of Maisie, Dick, and Torp. And you know what became of the great Kipling’s work on film. An ordinary anecdote, badly decorated and photographed, with a sad, heavy actor playing Dick – when will we see Douglas Fairbanks in the part? – a fop as Torp, a fool as Maisie, and unbelievable Arab battles, let’s be blunt, a cardboard Sudanese Khartoum. There is a film to do over again.

Why was this rough peasant audience affected in front of this artless and unauthorized gaucherie? Will it understand even more when the same drama becomes a quite beautiful film?

Comments: Louis Delluc (1890-1924) was a French film director and pioneering film critic, writing on diverse aspects of film culture for French newspapers from 1917 onwards. Le Courrier de Washington was the French title for the American serial The Perils of Pauline (1914). La Lumière qui s’éteint is presumably The Light That Failed (1916), an American rather than an English film, directed by Edward José and starring Robert Edeson as Dick, Claude Fleming as Torp and Lillian Tucker as Maisie. Aurillac is in the Auvergne region of south-central France.

Ten Days That Shook the World

Source: John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1919), pp. 59-60

Text: The city was nervous, starting at every sharp sound. But still no sign from the Bolsheviki; the soldiers stayed in the barracks, the workmen in the factories … We went to a moving picture show near the Kazan Cathedral – a bloody Italian film of passion and intrigue. Down front were some soldiers and sailors, staring at the screen in childlike wonder, totally unable to comprehend why there should be so much violent running about, and so much homicide …

Comments: John Reed (1887-1920) was an American journalist and socialist whose first-hand account of the Russian Revolution of October 1917 in Ten Days That Shook the World is one of the most vivid and closely-observed accounts of the epoch-making events. It served at the inspiration for Sergei Eisenstein’s film October (USSR 1928) and John Reed’s story was told in the film Reds (USA 1981) with Reed played by Warren Beatty. The city referred to here is Petrograd, now St Petersburg. The period is just before the fall of the Russian Provisional Government and the takeover by the Bolsheviks.

Three Soldiers

Source: John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers (New York: George Doran Company, 1920), pp. 25-27

Text: “Now, fellows, all together,” cried the “Y” man who stood with his arms stretched wide in front of the movie screen. The piano started jingling and the roomful of crowded soldiers roared out:

“Hail, Hail, the gang’s all here;
We’re going to get the Kaiser,
We’re going to get the Kaiser,
We’re going to get the Kaiser,
Now!”

The rafters rang with their deep voices.

The “Y” man twisted his lean face into a facetious expression.

“Somebody tried to put one over on the ‘Y’ man and sing ‘What the hell do we care?’ But you do care, don’t you, Buddy?” he shouted.

There was a little rattle of laughter.

“Now, once more,” said the “Y” man again, “and lots of guts in the get and lots of kill in the Kaiser. Now all together. … ”

The moving pictures had begun. John Andrews looked furtively about him, at the face of the Indiana boy beside him intent on the screen, at the tanned faces and the close-cropped heads that rose above the mass of khaki-covered bodies about him. Here and there a pair of eyes glinted in the white flickering light from the screen. Waves of laughter or of little exclamations passed over them. They were all so alike, they seemed at moments to be but one organism. This was what he had sought when he had enlisted, he said to himself. It was in this that he would take refuge from the horror of the world that had fallen upon him. He was sick of revolt, of thought, of carrying his individuality like a banner above the turmoil. This was much better, to let everything go, to stamp out his maddening desire for music, to humble himself into the mud of common slavery. He was still tingling with sudden anger from the officer’s voice that morning: “Sergeant, who is this man?” The officer had stared in his face, as a man might stare at a piece of furniture.

“Ain’t this some film?” Chrisfield turned to him with a smile that drove his anger away in a pleasant feeling of comradeship.

“The part that’s comin’s fine. I seen it before out in Frisco,” said the man on the other side of Andrews. “Gee, it makes ye hate the Huns.”

The man at the piano jingled elaborately in the intermission between the two parts of the movie.

The Indiana boy leaned in front of John Andrews, putting an arm round his shoulders, and talked to the other man.

“You from Frisco?”

“Yare.”

“That’s goddam funny. You’re from the Coast, this feller’s from New York, an’ Ah’m from ole Indiana, right in the middle.”

“What company you in?”

“Ah ain’t yet. This feller an me’s in Casuals.”

“That’s a hell of a place. … Say, my name’s Fuselli.”

“Mahn’s Chrisfield.”

“Mine’s Andrews.”

“How soon’s it take a feller to git out o’ this camp?”

“Dunno. Some guys says three weeks and some says six months. … Say, mebbe you’ll get into our company. They transferred a lot of men out the other day, an’ the corporal says they’re going to give us rookies instead.”

“Goddam it, though, but Ah want to git overseas.”

“It’s swell over there,” said Fuselli, “everything’s awful pretty-like. Picturesque, they call it. And the people wears peasant costumes. … I had an uncle who used to tell me about it. He came from near Torino.”

“Where’s that?”

“I dunno. He’s an Eyetalian.”

“Say, how long does it take to git overseas?”

“Oh, a week or two,” said Andrews.

“As long as that?” But the movie had begun again, unfolding scenes of soldiers in spiked helmets marching into Belgian cities full of little milk carts drawn by dogs and old women in peasant costume. There were hisses and catcalls when a German flag was seen, and as the troops were pictured advancing, bayonetting the civilians in wide Dutch pants, the old women with starched caps, the soldiers packed into the stuffy Y.M.C.A. hut shouted oaths at them. Andrews felt blind hatred stirring like something that had a life of its own in the young men about him. He was lost in it, carried away in it, as in a stampede of wild cattle. The terror of it was like ferocious hands clutching his throat. He glanced at the faces round him. They were all intent and flushed, glinting with sweat in the heat of the room.

As he was leaving the hut, pressed in a tight stream of soldiers moving towards the door, Andrews heard a man say:

“I never raped a woman in my life, but by God, I’m going to. I’d give a lot to rape some of those goddam German women.”

“I hate ’em too,” came another voice, “men, women, children and unborn children. They’re either jackasses or full of the lust for power like their rulers are, to let themselves be governed by a bunch of warlords like that.”

Comments: John Dos Passos (1896-1970) was an American modernist novelist. His second novel, Three Soldiers (1920) is an antiwar work which stresses the dehumanising effects of war. Dos Passos served as an ambulance driver during the First World War. The scene here takes place in an American town close to troop barracks.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Heart of a Soldier

Source: Lauchlan MacLean Watt, The Heart of a Soldier (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918), pp. 78-79

Text: There are constant opportunities for the artist amongst our men, if only the artist were there to catch the play of firelight on rugged faces, and the shapes and postures of comely manhood. One night we had a cinematograph show in a farm courtyard, which was packed with our fellows. The scene was unforgettable. Some heavy clouds hung overhead, but there were wide blue star-strewn spaces, where the sickle of the new moon hung dimly, like a thing of dream. The bare, gaunt skeleton rafters of the broken roofs of the barns and outhouses stood out black against the sky. And as the pictures flickered across the screen, the hushed attention of the men was most infectious. Sometimes it was a scene of some of the places only too familiar to them — a ruined village, a shell-torn road, or a group of officers at the door of a broken-down house, to be greeted with a deep silence, or the swift intake of breath which speaks of poignant remembrance, or a hearty cheer as this or that favourite personality appeared. Then there were ships, the sea-lions of Britannia; followed by laughter-provoking reproductions of Bairnsfather’s inimitable cartoons. The next time these men were crowded together under the strain of deep emotion, they were themselves passing through an episode of imperial and international picture-making and map-changing, up where the guns were drumming the prelude of another act in the tragedy of war. For it was just a few days later that the laughing crowd in that moonlit courtyard went up the line again.

Comments: Lauchlan MacLean Watt (1867-1957) was a Scottish author and cleric, who served as a chaplain with the Gordon Highlanders in the 7th Division during the First World War. The film based on the cartoons of Bruce Bairnsfather is The Better ‘Ole; or, The Romance of Old Bill (UK 1918 d. George Pearson). Bairnsfather was best-known for his soldier character Old Bill, with his famous advice to a soldier grumbling about his lot: “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it”. The film shown described took place in France.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Story of the "9th King's" in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

The Story of the “9th King’s” in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg