Podcast Review: Psych Of The Great War

This podcast covered several ideas, through a panel of experts and through audience commentary. One of those subjects was what motivations would there have been for men to join up with the army at the time. Ironically, the army was a voluntary recruitment until about halfway through. Being that the British were not a largely military populace, not many had that sort of experience. So it was not something that many could return to with ease. The first month saw some enthusiasts signing up, but not many until late August, or even early September.

One speculation for this is that the men would have to get their affairs in order before signing up for the army. There were things to worry about like if their jobs would be waiting for them when they got back, would they be getting paid through the war, what would happy to their families, and so on.

Another explanation for seemingly slow recruitment numbers, at the beginning, is that the war did not seem close to home. It was not until word got back that misled many to believe that the first forces had been destroyed at the front lines was there a bit of a rush toward the recruitment offices. This seems to have awakened a need to defend one’s home, one’s family. The need to volunteer seemed more vital, and necessary, if anyone wanted a home to come back to.

They talked about a fear of the front lines, as well. The lead orator asked if there were mixed feelings about joining the army, or having to defend at the front. And, of course there were. Not everyone was enthusiastic about the war. Many thought the war was going to be expensive, as it often is, and were worried about their business. The country saw a slump in employment. Yet, the men still felt it was needed that “they do their bit.” Obviously not just men, but women serving in other roles – nurses and such as we have read throughout the semester.

One young man, of seventeen, wrote his mother asking that she write to his Sargent. If she told him how young the boy was, he would not have to serve on the front. This shows that the young man still felt it was necessary to serve but maybe not so close to where the bullets, and shells were exploding most of the time.

Speaking of letters, they talked about the use of letters and parcels a lot. It was funny how they spoke of mother’s letters not being saved as often as letter from sweet hearts. But, I loved the explanation for it. They speculated that the relationships of these young man (70% under the age of thirty) were strongest with their closest family members. This would not likely be wives, if they had them, or even girlfriends. Honestly, it was their mothers and fathers, siblings, and the like that would know them best. Why save the letters of someone you knew would always be there? Would send another letter as soon as they could? Would send you everyday items that were so important to you? Things that you had not even thought to ask for?

No, sweet hearts were every bit as depressing as they were hopeful. One man’s sweetheart, whom he had only been married to for a week before joining the fight, wrote to him about how lonely she had been. That she had taken to dancing and talking with another man. While the solider had saved the letter, because it did have little admissions of missing him and loving him and the like, he also wrote back saying how’d he take great pleasure in breaking every bone in any man’s body who even dare tried to kiss his beloved. So, these insecure relationships gave hope.. but also lead the way to anxiety.

Shell shock was given a great deal of time. It was explained that many men were unlikely to talk about their traumas from the war. That even when they tried many of the doctors, or the military personnel, judged the privates differently than they would the officers. It made more sense to them that an officer would break, mentally. He had more pressure, more responsibility, and more strain than the privates and soldiers.  Anxiety was acceptable for these men, these higher ranked individuals.

However, the privates were seen as being hysterical (a women’s emotional disorder at the time), and trying to escape their duties – even after returning home. Many of them lost their pensions for serving in the war because of how they chose to cope with the trauma (often booze, or other frowned upon dalliances). In fact, the term “shell shock” was coined by these men – not physicians or psychiatrists. They were trying to explain how their nerves had been literally shattered as a result of shells exploding nearby them.

It was talked about how women also experienced “shell shock” by trying to treat the men, before and after they came home. So many would try to pour so much of themselves in the care for these men that they did not tend to themselves. Wearing themselves so thin, while witnessing the after effects of the war on the men, led to their eventual breakdown as well.

The thing I found most interesting was the genderising of aspects in the war. The expert who spoke on this said that he was speaking from the perspective of the people during that time. However, I’m inclined to think that many people even from today would think of some of those acts as more feminine than masculine, or more maternal than paternal.

One of the examples was a letter a young man had written his mother after witnessing the death of his mate. His comrade was shot, and lay dying next to him. He cradled the man, in his arms, until he died. Afterwards he kissed him, twice, on the temple – right where he knew his own mother would have kissed him – once for the mate’s mother and once for himself. This was described as maternal.. but I kept thinking, it could have been seen as paternal.

Another interesting thing that had to do with gender, and gender roles, was how white collar jobs were being labeled as more feminine and this made those men who were employed in such roles eager to defend their masculinity by joining the military. How odd is that to think of? To prove that you are a man by defending your country? I guess that comes from a more modern perspective, that anyone can die for their country’s defense, but when WW1 was going on.. this open minded thinking probably didn’t occur to many in the same way we think of it today.

Along the lines of gender, it was also spoken about how men were brought into the domestic because of the war. They were writing home for kitchen utensils, recipes, how to get rid of lice, sewing kits, etc. Odd to think of soldiers out there essentially “playing house” but it was what they had to do for survival, and it brought bits of home to them – another aspect of survival that the experts commented on. It was impossible to bring home out to the trenches, and the war was supposed to be keeping the trenches away from home. But, if they could just bring bits and pieces back with them… it helped the men (and women in their line of duty) hold onto the hope that home was not /that/ far away.

Oh.. and lastly – the trenches. They were talked about to some extent, and one letter about the trenches made me laugh. It seems one young man was writing to his mother, endlessly, about the mud and filth that he had to endure in the trenches. So much so that she sent him soap. This made me laugh, but the expert made a good point about this.The young man wrote back asking his mother what good was soap when he had no water. And, the expert pointed out that the young man was not just saying that the gift was useless. He was saying that his mother did not, and could not, understand what life out there was like. It was not just the threat of dying but the living conditions, the rats, the lack of necessities that were pressing, and upsetting, for a person.

Random factoids – it is speculated that 8 million letters were leaving the western front on a weekly basis. – Some of the most requested items were for hygiene purposes.- Most officers would have been young, public schooled men who were use to being financially dependent on their parents – Most privates would have left school around 14 and been involved in manual labor.

Ashleigh’s Report on the Podcast ‘Armistice’

The IWM podcast, Armistice, gave the events and times of how World War I came to an end. The podcast was recorded with some commentary from the narrator but mostly consisted of veterans and people from the WWI era giving their accounts of how they felt and what emotions they went through when they hear of the armistice.

In early October of 1918, Germany, who was no longer able to support the war, approached the United States about an armistice. One of the veterans from the podcast, Marmaduke Walkington, said that British soldiers had a sense that things were coming to an end and, “early in November I wrote home and said we may have peace by Christmas, but this is not very probable. Easter should see the end of it all, that, mind you at the time, we ran a sweepstake on the day the war would end”. After weeks of negotiation, an armistice was finally signed at 5am on November 11th. Military commanders on the western front were informed that hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock.

People found out in varied ways and in different paces. George Jameson’s unit read about it. He said that “ when the war ended we didn’t even know about it. We know that things were getting pretty critical, we knew that we were doing well and nobody wanted to cop out, the war might be ending tomorrow, sort of thing”. People were still fighting and preparing for more conflict. “We were moving forward with the idea of taking another position when one of the drivers shouted that there’s a sign on that thing marking the war’s over. We didn’t believe it, nobody would believe it” said Jameson.

When the word finally got out, people reacted in different ways. British Officer Tom Adlum said “I don’t think any of us thought we would lose. I think we were confident all the time. We always thought we were a bit better than they were but I always thought that the German was a good fighter. Even the most timid of us thought we would win in the end”. Some soldiers like Clifford Lane were too mentally and physically destroyed to celebrate the end of the war. “As far as the armistice itself is concerned, it was kind of an anti-climax. We were too far gone, too exhausted really, to enjoy it. All we could do was just go back to our billets. There was no cheering, no singing. We had no alcohol on that particular day, no alcohol at all. We simply celebrated the armistice in silence and in thankfulness that it was all over”.

London was a contrast to these reactions. People gathered in the streets from everywhere. Thousands of people from every building. There was no more work done that day. This news also came as a sign of hope for the conscientious objectors, those imprisoned for refusing to join the war. Wilfred Little boy said that he knew it would not be so simple to get released. Especially since it was taking the authorities so long to get the soldiers home. “In point of actual fact, it was just about six months, because it was April 1919, that all of those that had done at least two years, were liberated”.

For prisoners of war, the news did not travel quickly either. In fact it was almost lost in translation. Burt Ferns was imprisoned in Germany and it was posted on a bulletin board in German. He said “ We called the old sentry over and he came over with his rifle and we told him to have a look at this and when he did he put his rifle on the ground and when he did that we knew the war was over”.

The final note in this podcast was how, as part of the surrender, Germany had to surrender all of their high seas fleet in late November. There was such a wide variety of reactions and sadness to those who would never return home. People lost friends and family to this war and after all of the different types of celebrations going on during this time were over, most of the people involved in this war were left with nothing but sadness.


My Thoughts:

One of the things that I wished this podcast had was more information on the actual end of the war. I loved all of the stories and enjoyed hearing from the veterans, but so much was involved in the end of this war. Other than Germany giving up their fleets, it did not touch on all of the other things that Germany was charged. I know from previous classes that they owed an outrageous amount of money. A sum that they could never have been able to pay back. They also lost land and so much more and that just wasn’t talked about. I did enjoy the stories, but I was looking for more of the conditions of the treaty rather than just the reactions to it.

I also feel like, while it may not be appropriate (not really sure), that the losing countries voices were lost. I know it was a British focused podcast, but there was two sides to this war and I think this podcast really left out half of the views of this war. What did the Germans feel about this armistice? Were they just as glad that it was over? Did they want to keep fighting? I think I would have really liked both perspectives here because this armistice was definitely not a simple and straightforward matter. It involved raw emotion and I wish I had something from the other side.


I pledge, Ashleigh Grim




Michael’s Report on the Podcast ‘Weapons of War’

IMW’s Podcast on Weapons of War, is a short collection of stories about weapons used by their soldiers. It started with the standard issue weapon for British soldiers in World War 1. Which was the short lee Enfield rifle, a bolt action weapon capable of firing fifteen rounds a minute. British officer John Grover explained the importance of being able to use a tactic called “Fire and Movement” which the rifle was used as an advantage to this style of fighting.

Bayonets were also given to almost every soldier in the war, in which soldiers would fix them on the tips of their guns. Soldiers would charge at the enemy using them as a spear. Ulick Burke told a story about how much more painful a bayonet was pulling it out, rather than going in.

Trench clubs were also used by soldiers to “balance you” by carrying a rifle and a club. They were made out of sticks or parts found by soldiers.

There were many grenades that soldiers in World War 1 would use, the first being a Cricket ball grenade use by British soldiers. A very early version of a hand grenade made of iron and gunpowder. The mills bomb was another type of bomb used, but was used more often. British soldiers would also use improvised grenades called Jam tin grenades, by finding an old jam tin and placing gunpowder, clay on top of that, with a fuse placed inside of it. Then they would fill the top part of the can with nails or scrap iron. Germans used Stick grenades which were a stick with a canister on the end. They were lighter and easier to throw than the British bombs.

Machine guns were usable at the start of the war, but not very convenient for the “Fire and Movement” style. They had to pick people to operate the guns, because they were easy targets for the enemy. A few of these guns were known as the Vickers gun, maxim gun, and the Lewis gun. Each machine gun was manned by a team of 6 people, who had an individual task that was essential to the operation of the gun. Number 1 of the team would man the gun, while number 2 would carry spare parts and the other 4 would carry the ammunition. The Vickers gun was water cooled, so each operator had to shoot in bursts to keep the gun from overheating during an attack or defense.

Trench Mortars were also used by soldiers, which were handheld pipes that would launch mini bombs toward an enemy trench. The Germans called them Minenwerfers and they would cause a lot of damage to British soldiers. Along with large amounts of artillery, plenty of gas was used as well as long as a bomb called a Bangalore Torpedo. This was a long narrow plank with slabs of gun cotton touching each other and the detonator on the other end. Soldiers would place this in between wires around trenches, and blow it up, leaving a hole in the wire.

Flame throwers were also used by the Germans, in teams of soldiers who carried the nose of the weapon and some who carried the ammunition. Plenty of friendly fire was also apart of the war, as careless mistakes or accidents caused harm to soldiers.

This podcast was awesome, as a history buff, I found it very fascinating about all the different types of weapons they used. Especially during a time of great technological advancement. Bombs and machine guns were fairly new to the war scene, and hearing stories from soldiers who used them was exciting. The tactics used, especially in no man’s land, were quite heart wrenching as a story by Joseph Clements in the podcast explained the battle of Gallipoli. Soldiers were so bunched up, that he could easily sweep his gun left and right and he “couldn’t miss”. However, I know there were a lot more weapons used during World War 1 like tanks, gas, and horses which was not apart of this podcast (gas talked about briefly). Otherwise, the podcast was a nice, short summary on popular weapons used.

Ellie’s Report on the Podcast War and Leisure Time

The IWM Wartime Leisure and Entertainment podcast gave a fresh perspective on the positive aspects that came out of the war. It told of the times in between the brutal fighting where the men were able to relax and unwind. Although the war that they were fighting in was horrendous, and the conditions that they were living in were seemingly unbearable, this podcast told countless stories of ways that the soldiers kept themselves entertained, and kept their morale high. I thoroughly enjoyed this 30 minute podcast. It gave me quite a lot of insight into the minds of the men at war. Having so many personal interviews with the men who were there to witness the type of entertainment that is discussed, really gave this podcast a personal feel, and like I was right there with the men as they were telling their stories. I believe that this podcast gave attention to every area of entertainment that went on, and did not leave anything out that I would notice having not been there. It gave accounts of things that they did on the front lines while the fighting seized to pass the time, as well as activities that went on while they were at their barracks.  

Clifford Lane was one of the veterans who was interviewed for this production, and he told stories of the men gambling. He said in his interview, “No one can imagine being stuck in a six foot trench in the middle of winter with nothing to do. So we gambled”. He, as well as many other veterans who were interviewed after him, told stories of a game that they played called “Crown and Anchor” while stuck in the trenches. Another account of what the men would do while passing the time in the trenches was explained by Lendon Paine. He told the interviewers, “The troops used to sing quite a lot. Especially in the trenches. Most of their songs were made up”.

Another soldier who fought in the war named Bollock Burke accounted playing soccer with other units while passing the time before reporting to the front. He also said in his interview while talking about the soldiers he fought beside, “they would go into a very well known village nearby… and the troops would get beer”. While all of the previous examples that were given seemed to be remembered fondly by the veterans, the activity that was most accounted was the display of concerts.

In these concerts, the troops were able to come on stage in front of everyone and perform, much like a talent show. There were around ten separate stories that different soldiers that attended these performances told. One of these soldiers was Walter Cooke. He told of one of the first concerts that was thrown, where him and a friend decided that the troops needed cheering up. He said, “these troops want cheering up ya know. Let’s throw them a concert party… They would come up and say something quite comical ya know. Or a fellow would come out of the audience and sing a song”. These concerts allowed for the comrades to get to know each other better while providing them with entertainment.

Allison Woods report on the podcast “How Britain Went to War”

This podcast shows how unprepared Britain was for a global war.  After the Boer war, they knew they needed reform in the military, but oftentimes the committees created to accomplish this reform did not have much decision-making influence with the Cabinet.  Yet, the committees were able to get some progress done, A major accomplishment being the creation of the War Books, that functioned as walkthrough manuals on various subjects: what to do in the event of war, how to change the government from a peace-time one into a war one, and how to mobilize an army, among other topics.  However, these books would only be useful for the first few phases of a war, after which the British would then have to improvise.

At one point before the war the Cabinet is talking about how to go about getting the army and such and what measures they will have to take but they just turn to each other and shrug.  I am not joking when I say that they decided not to decide on anything and said basically, “let’s leave that decision for down the road if the war comes”.  The army and navy did not like to talk to each other.  There were too many interservice rivalries.  There was also another committee made to investigate threats outside of Britain and the person put in charge of that spoke no foreign languages at all.  Before the war, this group was essentially useless.  Nothing really worked as it should, but on the organization side, the British had it down pat.

When it became apparent at 11:00 pm Tuesday 4th of August 1914, that the British would be obligated to come to the defense of Belgium, thereby participating in the Great War, everyone cheered at Buckingham Palace, so sure of victory, while the whole cabinet was silent.  Colonel Maurice Hankey in a letter said: “Once we go to war, we will be in the unknown.  Minister Winston Churchill was the only one in the cabinet that didn’t look anxious.  He was jaunty and confident when it was apparent we were going to war.”  Churchill embodied the British people at this moment, the majority of them confident in their navy and the fact that they could win easily.

Yet for all their blunders, the British were more prepared for war than any other country at the time.  They were able to set styles and standards of a wartime government that needed to be adhered to, long before The Great War even begun.


Personal Opinions:

The podcast was difficult to comprehend at points because of the many thick accents of the speakers.  I had to rewind frequently to fully understand various points, and I felt the content of the episode was unorganized because of the way the information was presented to the audience.  For instance, something relevant a while ago would be brought up much later.  Though I will admit that this did not occur many times, it did make me confused.

I did appreciate how many educated scholars and professors were brought onto the podcast.  However, I do wish they had backed up their facts in some way other than when the broadcast switched to the national archives for quotes.  I did like the use of a few letters and a diary from higher-ups in government and the prime ministers’ wife.  That was a nice touch that allowed me to get into the heads of the people involved.

This podcast showed me that Britain was inept at figuring out how they would fight a global war, if it ever came.  They assumed that such a war would be like all others they had fought before, blockading their enemy with the navy, hurting their enemy’s economy, and have others do the fighting for them.  This turned out to not be the case.  It surprised me how self-assured Britain was; they thought their navy would beat the Germans easily, which just dumbfounded me.  Overall, I cannot judge the British too harshly for their actions, for who could have known the war to come would have been so different from all other wars prior?

Katherine Brown’s Report on the podcast of “Voices of the First World War: Christmas at War”

This podcast offered some insight about the Christmas experiences of the men and women during the course of the war. The podcast was not in the style of a single interview, but a collection of experiences that began with the infamous Christmas Truce in 1914. However, I appreciated how they tried to collect a spectrum of accounts of what it was like during the Christmas season on the front line, at hospitals, prisoner of war camps, and at sea. There are accounts from men serving in Turkey or near Bethlehem. In contrast, there are also reports from nurses and volunteers at hospitals.  

Each account was accompanied by a brief introduction about the individual. I would have liked for their also to have been some commentary to link each account, to give facts and figures. For instance, there was an account from a conscientious objector, Walter Griffin, who talked about what it was like to be imprisoned during Christmas time. He made sure to verify that in prison, Christmas was a mundane, unannounced affair with carefully rationed, bland food. This experience contrasted vastly with many of the soldiers’ accounts of the food served on the front line; a majority of the accounts praised Christmas meals of pheasant, turkey, Christmas pudding, and alcohol during the war. I wanted to know more about the experience of the prisons; Griffin talked nonchalantly about the atmosphere of the prison. Was this the experience of other conscientious objectors? How many were jailed over the various holidays during war time? Did any help, perhaps, to create packages, letters, and gifts for the soldiers stationed away from home?

Of all of the various recollections, most of which were resplendent with talk of food and caroling, there was only one who talked about men dying on Christmas day. I thought this was interesting because unlike the truce, which was a rare occurrence, work commenced as usual for many committed to the war effort. George Wray, who was suddenly recalled back to France, talked about how the soldiers had pleasant expectations for Christmas morning. However, these hopes were quickly dismantled when the Germans had broken the line they had left. “Sad to say, we lost quite a few men,” Wray reported.

This comment raised some questions for me. The podcast had left out the perspectives of those celebrating Christmas on the home front. What was their experiences in creating the packages that the soldiers did mention throughout the experiences? The podcast mentions that Princess Mary set up a commission to provide a gift for the men serving at the front or the sea; this must have been a rallying effort that needed a lot of preparation

. What were the experiences of the wives and children at home, with their husbands and fathers absent? What about those that were informed that their men had died during the holiday season? Was there radio specials to raise spirits, or was Christmas a terrifying ordeal? It made me wonder if there are any surviving Christmas broadcasts that could also have been added to the podcast, to glean what it was like to have Christmas at home. After all, as mentioned in class, many thought the was would be over by the Christmas so it must have been a very strained time, especially as more and more Christmas holidays were spent at war.

Overall, the podcast was well organized and thought provoking. A listener can really begin to understand how, for many, Christmas was a beacon of light for men who soon became bitter and anguished by the continued bloodshed and torture of a war that seemed to never end. Actually listening to the cadence of their voices, years after, reaffirm how small things like Christmas pudding or gifts rallied the men and women during war time.