THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD
Peter Jackson's documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old is currently screening in Australia and should not be missed. It is a moving 99-minute exposé of life on the Western Front in WWI using original footage that's been digitally restored and colourised, plus some scenes that were staged for the 1916 film Battle Of The Somme. The New Zealand director takes us on a journey that is thoroughly harrowing, told by the selected testimonies of a number of British soldiers who signed up to head off to fight a battle for God and country, never anticipating the long-term atrocities that lay ahead. The common thinking was that it was all a grand adventure that would be over in six months. The film opens with about 20 minutes of the jerky monochrome war footage that we're used to before smoothing out to become more fluid and in colour and, suddenly, the images appear as if they were filmed recently. As a result, they are far less distant and far more powerful. We learn how young lads were turned away initially when they revealed that they were too young to sign up (you were supposed to be 19) and sent away to return with a more suitable birth date (which meant going outside and coming back in again). Boys as young as 15 were joined up. After undergoing six weeks of basic training in marching and combat, issued with one uniform and one clean shirt, they were sent off to unknown destinations, which for most was their first trip abroad. Jackson then exposes the unbelievable conditions the men were subjected to in the trenches as they basically lived in their own filth, plucking lice from their bodies, having limited access to clean water and surviving on tinned food. The closer they got to the Front the more the troops developed a camaraderie. That mateship was vital in keeping up their spirits in the face of adversity. And what terrible hardships and difficulties they were. The documentary is unflinching in its depiction of the horrors of the battlefield (the documentary is classified MA15+). It shows the reality of war. In the midst of the global WWI centenary commemorations, They Shall Not Grow Old is a stark reminder of the servicemen and women's bravery and the sheer dreadfulness that these men endured. We owe it to them to make a point of embracing this experience. Lest we forget.
PS. In a similar vein, look out for the dramatic WW1 film - Journey's End.