Birds and Battle

I’m sitting in my living room typing this post from my phone and trying to cope with this movie I just finished watching.

For my film review (don’t worry this isn’t it) I watched the film Beneath Hill 60 (so so good. Do yourselves a favor and watch it. Side note: it’s free on YouTube but you didn’t hear that from me) which is about an Australian group of miners during the war. In some of the very beginning scenes, I was puzzled hence this post.

Several of the mining tunnels they had constructed had small cages hanging on the walls with pigeons and canaries or “budgies” in them. I asked my family of movie buffs and history freaks why this was and the answer, though seemingly simple, shocked me.

Today we have machines that detect gases that shouldn’t be in our homes. There are carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors and probably dozens more for dozens other reasons, but during WW1, these machines didn’t exist. Underground, the likelihood of pockets of these gases was extremely great. Miners could be digging tunnels and mine into one or (as we discussed before) mine into pockets of gas that had seeped into the ground after being used. Because a small bird’s body is more delicate than a humans, the miners used these birds to detect if they were nearing pockets of gas. If the bird got sick or died, the miners knew they were in danger.

Similarly, running out of oxygen in the tunnels was a great possibility so often times the miners would light candles to test how much oxygen was in the tunnel. Tall flames meant lots of oxygen and dim lights meant alarmingly small amount.

I haven’t had any chance to look up any further information online since, as I said before, still trying to come to terms with the end of what I just witnessed, but I thought the resourcefulness of these people was incredible and mandated a share.

Cartoons After The Great War

I’m not sure exactly which rabbit hole I fell into to find these, but I found some really interesting late 1920s to early 1930s cartoons depicting life during The Great War.

This first one is an Oswald the Rabbit cartoon directed by Walt Disney entitled “Great Guns.” It features a lot of the new technology being developed including tanks and machine guns although it also shows some of the more “primitive” weapons people were forced to use in the war.

I think this cartoon is super interesting because(as we touched on a little bit in class) World War I marked really the beginning of a move from personal combat (and to hand combat and people actively killing each other face to face like Paul did to Duval) to removed combat (much like the contemporary style we use today where often times people never really come face to face/ warfare becoming more mechanized).

This second cartoon, also an Oswald the Rabbit piece, is called “Not So Quiet” (already interesting since All Quiet on the Western Front was published the year before this was released). “Not So Quiet” more prominently features aspects of trench warfare (even going into aspects as detailed as the amount of water and liquids that would accumulate inside the trenches). Another neat addition to this cartoon is the depiction of armistice at the end. We spoken lightly in class about how so many people knew the war would come to an end and so countless lives were lost wastefully. This cartoon shows that with Oswald being chased by a bomb until the armistice and then just having the chase end.

The final cartoon is an early example of Looney Tunes and is called “Bosko the Doughboy.” It clearly shows what life in the trenches was like down to the louse on the sergeant. This one also shows the water in the trenches and the boards placed on the ground to make walking in them easier.

I think all of the cartoons are super neat, not only because of the way they depict World War One, but because of how it seems like the world was coping with what had happened after the fact.


So I was watching the Trench Warfare video we’re supposed to view before next class and while I thought it was super interesting, it left out one piece of information I wanted to know most.

How did the soldiers actually build the trenches?

There’s no way (at least in my mind) they could’ve just dug straight into the ground. Wouldn’t that be too dangerous? But how else could they have done it?

I did a little *ahem* digging and found out from this children’s website (hey, I’ll take the information where I can get it) that there were three ways people went about constructing the trenches. The first way being exactly what I thought couldn’t possibly work–the soldiers dug right into the ground (a process called entrenching). According to the same website,

“Another method was to extend a trench on one end. It was called sapping and was a safer method but took a lot longer. Tunneling – which is digging a tunnel and then removing the roof to make a trench when it is complete…”

I feel like there’s more information out there that could probably way better explain how these trenches were built but I couldn’t find much else. If anyone else can please post it! I think this is super interesting.




FYI, the anniversary of the first official trenches being dug on the Western Front is coming up on September 15th (here’s the link to the neat article I found that nugget of information in)!