I bought the tickets a week ago based on Dad’s opinion of the documentary, They Will Not Grow Old, produced and directed by Peter Jackson, with footage and materials from the BBC, Imperial War Museum, the veterans of WWI, and all the artists of their field to bring this significant piece of our world history to life.
We find our seats in the perfect middle with five minutes to spare. The room we’re in seats 86 and about 50 of those are full. I ask the man next to me to move one seat over so Caleb can have his seat and make room for a couple on the other side. The tension is high and the shhh’s would remind you of a 3rd-grade classroom.
Being the youngest ones in there, and the only ones without gray hair, I thought it would be funny to say, “Children, please settle down,” but I didn’t want to interrupt the film either. There were no kids, phones, or coughs. The audience was very respectful and in as much awe as we were with the collective gasp when the color was introduced.
I appreciate the viewpoint from an ordinary soldier joining three years before he was legally allowed to because everyone was doing it — and boys did what they were told back then. Having spent such a short time in the military myself, but never seeing battle, I still know how easy I had it compared to these guys hiking miles in the trenches.
The veterans go into details of their day-to-day — using a toothbrush to clean their uniform buttons instead of their teeth, sharing a stick as a seat over a latrine (and the horrendous aftermath when it breaks when you only have one uniform), and eating plum-apple jam on biscuits and drinking petrol flavored tea.
Not every moment was rainbows while they were away from home. They killed rats that ate their friends before they could bury them, stuck their faces in urine to escape the mustard gas, had their feet amputated from frozen muddy trench living, and shared their booze with the dying enemy before collecting prisoners.
The captured Germans were put on stretcher duty and then their watches were taken, such is war, but they got along well when they weren’t shooting each other. The incorporation of the posters and magazines from 1914-18 helped complete this story of life in the trenches and how the war was viewed back home.
The coloring of the film added humanity and a renewed interest in the history that my great-great-grandparents lived through. I felt like an excited child in school learning about puttees (wraps for the lower legs that helped with marching) and seeing cannons in action, but the mood in the room changed when the blood was shown on-screen.
I could’ve watched for another 100 or 1,000 minutes, as that would be only one-sixth of the total footage; some being the fourth generation to help preserve the film it was hand cranked on using a Moy & Bastie or a De Vry camera. Peter also went through 600 hours of veterans interviews and his collection of 200 magazines to make this film a reality.
The restored footage made it easier to zoom in for a more modern storytelling effect and Peter hired lip readers, tracked down soldier locations for voice accuracy, created the sound effects using historical items (or those close to their likeness), and went back to the Western Front for color accuracy — all in three years.
We were able to stay in the time period just a moment longer when a few of the women from the audience sung along to “Mademoiselle from Armentières” playing during the credits. This brings their childhood stories to life in a way I don’t understand but that I can appreciate. Thanks for the recommendation Dad.