Everything I know about WWI, I learn from watching Oh! What A Lovely War.
It may seem odd to learn history from a musical, but OWALW is no ordinary musical. It was historically accurate, with historical figures uttering famous lines, all of the music was taken from actual songs sung at the time, and like WWI, the musical drags on forever at the end until the Americas show up and then very suddenly, it’s all over. (As an aside, for those Downton fans who have not seen it, I highly recommend it as a movie. Among other delights it features a scene with Maggie Smith, in her prime.)
I bring this up because towards the end of OWALW there is a scene that stunned my 8-year-old self the first time I saw it, and to this day still blows my mind. I found myself wondering the other day if we would in fact get to seeing it on-screen here, or if William and Matthew would do us all a solid and get themselves injured and sent home first. As 1918 drags on, the troops are ordered to strap their bayonets on their weapons, and at 5am precisely on a day in September the entire British Army jumped out of their trenches at what was known as the Fifth Battle of Ypres and ran like idiots straight into the gunfire of the Germans in an act of mass suicide at the behest of General Haig, who never let a little thing like the reality of the war get in the way of his reasoning.
Something about that scene, with the commanders anxiously staring a their pocket watches and holding their whistles has always stayed with me. That is why, as this week’s episode opened, and Matthew pulled out his pocket watch and stared anxiously at it, I knew, all at once, what we were in for.