They Shall Not Grow Old……But A Few Lucky Ones Did

We went to the movies yesterday.  What we saw was not an entertaining movie.  It wasn’t a RomCom nor was it a fantasy.  It wasn’t sugar-coated.

No sugar-coating or Mary Poppinsing with yesterday’s movie!

It wasn’t a story either.

As much as I loved this book and cannot wait to see the movie–what we saw wasn’t a Hollywood version of a story!

What it was—was history and a history that is slowly fading. We saw “They Shall Not Grow Old”

Despite the smiles–and over bad food at that–this documentary was somber and frightening.

This is a somber, sometimes eerie, sometimes absolutely horrific and well-needed documentary about The Great War—World War 1.

Posters like this had men and teens as young as 15 who lied about their birthdates to enlist in the British army.

Directed by New Zealand Oscar Winning Peter Jackson it’s dedicated in part to his grandfather who fought in that war.

Forget another Oscar–this guy needs a friggin’ Pulitzer Prize for “They Shall Not Grow Old”

Like Jackson, my grandfather, Thomas Wynne, also fought in that war.  One of my great-uncles also fought and was killed.

My grandfather, Thomas Wynne Sr.  from County Roscommon.  He fought when he was 19 years old and we are thankful he returned!

My grandfather said little about his time fighting in this war.  In fact, as children, all we knew of it was a photograph of his division (sorry I don’t have a photo—my aunt has it), his old WWI helmet and his gas mask.

I have no idea who in our family has his old helmet but we all took turns playing with it.  

And we were all too familiar with these alien, monstrous looking gas masks.  I don’t know how well they protected because my grandfather lost a lung due to the poisonous gases.

He also lost a lung as a result of the effects from the mustard gas, I believe—it was one of the gases.  But the man was strong because he lived to be a very old man.  With one lung.  Smoking Chesterfields and drinking a boilermaker a day.

My grandfather must have had great genetics to have one lung, smoke non-filtered Chesterfields AND drink a boilermaker a day.  

Other childhood memories of his days in the Great War were  listening and singing songs like  It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” “K-K-K-Katie” and “Mademoiselle from Armentieres” which we dubbed “Yinky Dinky Parlay Voo”

For some strange reason, I thought everyone on earth knew this song.  I grew up singing this thanks to my grandfather!

It wasn’t until I was older that he mentioned life in the trenches was the worst experience he ever had.  He said it was the only time, as an adult (actually late teens) that he shit his pants in fear.  This was in The Somme at the Battle of the Verdun.

My grandfather never spoke of life in the trenches.  My guess is he didn’t want to be reminded.  But Peter Jackson gave me a better understanding of what my grandfather and others went through.  It was horrible.

He was lucky.  He survived. And though one of his major organs was removed.  He remained ours.  And he was one of my favorite people.

But back to the film.  Jackson focused on the British troops during this war as he was commissioned by the BBC and his grandfather was one of the troops.

Four years into the making, the footage was restored in color—a painstaking process.  But the film goes from black and white into the color making the effects of this war even more realistic and horrifying.

From black and white to color–and it gave a more harrowing, realistic aura of this awful war.

Voice-overs from men who fought this war and survived were taken and used for describing the War.

Faces of young soldiers and listening to the voice overs of those who fought were beyond moving. It was downright sad.

Some of the scenes were so god-awful, I had to look at the movie out of my bad eye and in one moment of the film, one of the men used in the voice-overs states that ……he passed a boy (soldier) with an arm and leg blown off—his eye hanging down to his cheek calling for his mother.  He shot the boy to put him out of his misery—and his voice shook—years later.  Can you possibly imagine?

This is a very subdued photograph of the casualties of day one in the Somme.  The movie showed more graphic visuals that I just can’t even post.

There is no romanticism in this movie.  It is what it is.  It showcases the horrors, and also the “off-time” from the trenches.  Men and teenaged boys being what they are—boys.

There is nothing romantic about war in this documentary. It is what it is.

This is one of the saddest photos.  Jackson, in the commentary mentioned that the men in this photo–it was possibly their last 30 minutes alive because they were sent into a battle in which all the men died.  Look at the fear in the soldier’s face. 

God knows how they were able to shot a gun with these masks on….

The part of the movie that did me in, though, was the ending credits.  The song, Mademoiselle from Armentieres was being sung over the credits. And at that moment, it all came back to me.  My grandfather singing that song to me.  And I remembered the lyrics and sang along.

It was a very touching part of the movie and I wanted my grandfather back so I could really talk to him about his life in the trenches and understand more of what he went through.

After the movie ended, a 30-minute commentary with Peter Jackson was shown.  If you see this movie, you have to stay for the commentary because it makes the film more precious.  He mentioned all the countries and colonies who fought in the war.

The colonies were among those mentioned in the commentary…

…as well as the Americans

He also mentioned that we could be the last generation who had a relative who fought in that war and asked to talk about it.  Chances are that more people had a relative who fought.

You know it isn’t a proper blog post of mine if I don’t mention clothing.  The Scots had THE best military uniforms.  Kilts.  And they managed to fight a good battle in them..

Now you know one of the reasons I love my kilt skirts so much!

And he was so correct.  Personally, I naïvely thought everyone had a grandfather or great uncle fighting in WW1. It was also my thinking that everyone was well-educated about The Great War.  It saddened me to find out that its history is fading.

War is stupid.  War is dumb.  War is humanity at it’s worst.  People think I’m an oversensitive liberal.  I’m not.  And I’ve had some people tell me I’m a lousy American because of my views on war.

An African-American infantry on their way to The Verdun.  We forget about our men of color who fought in this war.  They should be a big part of Black History Month!

But here’s the thing.  Every time I’m in France.  I visit an American War Cemetery.  Vincent and I drove up by the Somme some years back to look for my great-uncle’s grave and we think we may have found it but weren’t sure.  In any case, I make sure to pay my respects for all the men who fought in France during WW 1 and WW2.

This is the American Cemetary in The Somme.  We may have found my uncle’s grave but we weren’t sure. Either way, I went down on my knees and paid respect to these men who fought for the world.

It doesn’t get more patriotic than that.  So, to those who think I’m a lousy American.  I challenge you to do the same and I say don’t judge me. Not now.  Not ever. Never.

Two years ago I was here. It never gets old for me and I will continue to pay my respects for those who fought in The Great War and WWII.

My thanks to Mr. Jackson for bringing back a piece of history that is fading.

Here’s the song that broke me.  From the ending credits of  They Shall Not Grow Old.  (I grew up thinking it was “Yinky” when it’s actually “Hinky”–oh what we learn when we grow old!). The commentary gives a nice background story to the men singing this song.  And it’s an uplifting ending to the credits!

About Catherine

Far from perfect, but enjoying life as a non-perfect and flawed individual at 60 years young. I'm still wondering what I'll be when I grow up! The characters in my life's screenplay include my better half. He is a refined Frenchman who grew up in Paris and summered in St. Tropez. I grew up in Long Island and summered in Long Island. I am not refined. My three grown children are also a big part of my life. For their sake, they happily live where their careers have taken them! But I can still mother them from a distance! I write about the mundane. I write about deeply shallow issues. But whatever I write or muse about--it'll always be a bit on the humorous and positive side! It's all good!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to They Shall Not Grow Old……But A Few Lucky Ones Did

  1. Jane Billman says:

    My grandfather fought in WWI – we had the same helmet and gas mask. He had side effects from the mustard gas and sang the da songs. Thank you for sharing those memories and reminders. XO jane

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Jane. I think you would really appreciate this movie because it makes us think about that history many of us share. Those souveniers–huh??? XOXOXOXO

      • Jane Billman says:

        No kidding it was a flashback as I read your post… dad smoked Chesterfield’s and my mother lost her lung in her 20s …. my great grands on my fathers side immigrated from France…

        I need to see that movie I am sure it will resonate with me.

        Thank You

  2. Mary Lou says:

    You are an amazing American! Thank you for this post & for expressing your views.
    Mention of those songs brought back great memories! I know all the words to the songs & grew up singing them. Both of my grandfathers served in WW1. One was stationed overseas in the trenches and was later admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a time for “shell shock” in the 1950s. The nightmare lasted for many years for him.
    My grandmother was a switchboard operator at Camp Taylor in Louisville during WW1.

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Mary Lou. Your poor grandfather–I wish there was more information about the soldiers who suffered from the emotional trauma–and that shell shock–I’ll bet more soldiers than we could imagine suffered from that. I’m glad that you appreciated this post!! XOXOXOXOXO

  3. Yolanda Baird says:

    I think this is Jackson‘s masterpiece. So moving and carefully, thoughtfully done. And you’re right-you need to see the commentary at the end. I’m pretty sure none of my relatives served in WWI, but it’s been an interest of mine since high school. My boyfriend at the time got me a used book of an overview of the war by a Canadian for graduation, the start of my collection. I’m so glad you saw the movie, and that you appreciate it. I’m looking forward to getting a copy.

    • Catherine says:

      Yolanda–this movie WAS a masterpiece. Jackson had better receive an Oscar next year for it. It’s something that I don’t even know if it is taught in schools anymore and if it is, it’s probably a blip. A paragraph or two. It sounds like you have a very interesting collection. XOOXOXOXOXO

  4. KathyL says:

    Hi Catherine. I saw this film recently. It was beyond moving and horrifying. My husband and I both had grandfathers fighting in WW1; and fathers in WW2, so their stories have been well known in our generation of the family, and passed on as much as possible to our son. I don’t think you’re a bad American! I can’t believe how stupid someone must be to accuse you thus. I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years because so much you say – whether profound or frivolous – resonates with me. Keep up the good work and thank you 😊

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Kathy! Horrifying is the best word to describe that movie. And I think everyone needs to see it. I’ve passed information on to my own children about their “great grandfather” my dad was too young to fight in WW2 but if he had been old enough, he would have enlisted. Oh…those who are so quick to judge because I don’t care for a certain dictatorship personality that’s *cough* leading our country. He’s the biggest anti-american on earth. Defending Putin. Saying he loves No Korea’s “Baby Huey”. And he’s a draft-dodging coward. He and his supporters talk a big game but in the end–they are all anti-american. XOXOXOXOXOXO

  5. Juliet says:

    Ohhh wow! I’m a kiwi like the great Peter and my grandads both fought in WW1 – and in fact, my maternal grandfather fought at the Somme. He died when I was 7 (I was the youngest grandchild), but it was an absolute given not to mention the war. He had an absolute contempt for politicians or grandees as he put them. I’m glad the film shows the wide range of ethnicity, one thing we forget is how it completely distorted a whole generation – the women also suffered, many never married their beloveds or married later or as in the case of my paternal grandmother put up with appallingly damaged men because of it. So, so sad – thank God, our children have never been forced into this barbarity of enforced fighting, horrendous

    • Catherine says:

      Juliet–thank you for bringing up the impact that war had on women. The women were also sent out to work during the war–not so much in the USA because we entered late and didn’t have nearly the amount of troops everyone else had. My grandfather didn’t much care for politicians–although his nickname in the neighborhood was “Guv’nor”. Let’s hope there’s not another war like either of the two WW!!!!! XOXOXOXO

  6. Juliet says:

    On a lighter note, google the lemon squeezer hats on the anzacs – I always thought they were very covetable

  7. Denise says:

    Thank you Catherine for sharing this story. My husband and I have grandfathers that fought in World War 1, also Uncles that served in II and also Vietnam. I have seen the damage these men and women have gone through. My husband and I would really appreciate this movie. However, when you mentioned K.K.K Katie, boy did that bring back memories! My Aunt would always sing that song when I was little. I never knew where that song came from until you just mentioned. Just one of those things you learn, but never know the origin.
    “K.K.K. Katie beautiful Katie,
    You’re the only G.G.G. girl that I adore.
    And when the M.M.M. moon shines
    over the mountains
    I’ll be waiting at the
    K.K.K kitchen door…” LOL

    Have a great day!

    • Catherine says:

      OMG. Denise. I was singing along while reading the words to KKKaty. My grandfather’s pet name for me was Katy and I have a feeling that’s why he sang the song to me. But boy–isn’t it amazing what can trigger memories. You and your husband would definitely appreciate this movie. It’s not entertainment but it’s such a must-see for the history and remembrance! XXOXOXOXOX

  8. my great uncle Charlie fought in WW1 and I blogged about it on Remembrance Day Nov 11 2016. He never talked about his experiences, other than being gassed, so I have no stories to share, but I do have his medals and a collection of German postcards and memorabilia like his pay books etc. I was able to trace his journey from Canada to England to France, to Germany in 1918 November, then back again….he was stationed in England for six months after the war in a convalescent hospital (like in Downton Abbey), recovering from the Spanish flu.

  9. Sandra says:

    I have added the movie to my list. My Dad fought in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII and the horrors of battle that he witnessed stayed with him his whole life.

    We have been to Verdun twice and the museum there is outstanding (it was just redone a few years ago) with several interesting films. I think you and Vincent would find it fascinating.

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Sandra. You willappreciate this movie and find it very interesting. We’ve been to museums at Normandy but on our next trip, I think we’ll plan something to the Verdun. Thank you for the heads up on that! XOXOXX

  10. This war never should have happened, It was for nothing. Millions dead and for what? I hate reading or watching anything about this war because of the terrible loss of life for nothing!

  11. Susie says:

    My grandfather fought in WW1 and no one in the family ever talked about it. It was just something no one ever talked about. I may be incorrect, but I believe that WWI and WWII are discussed and memorialized in Europe more than they are here in the USA.

    I think it is wonderful that They Shall Not Grow Old was made. I haven’t seen it yet, but intend to. I have seen trailers of it. The colorization of the historic films and photos makes it so much more real, and I think it will encourage more young people to view it. I’m thankful that there are so many photographs of WWI, and that this movie has been made.

    All of the paper service records of our WWI servicemen that our government possessed were destroyed by fire in 1973, and the Grandpa’s that could have (but many didn’t) tell us about that war are gone now. The service records of WWII, and Korean Era veterans were all destroyed, too. 16 – 18 million files destroyed. There’s a photo of the 1973 National Personnel Record Center fire on Wikipedia. It was a huge fire.

    As a part time job in 1972, between high school and college, I worked at the National Personnel Record Center, in the WW1 files area. They stored all of the veterans files for WW1 in the area where I worked. The size of the space, and the rows and rows of towering shelves of boxes of files was unbelievable. There were thousands of veterans’ files in paper envelopes, stored in hundreds and hundreds of open topped cardboard boxes, organized alphabetically, stacked on 8 or 10 foot tall metal shelving. I climbed a tall, wheeled, ladder to retrieve files of WW1 veterans..The files were the original files that had followed the service members from location to location during the War(s). Most of the WWI records were written with old fashioned ink pens (not ball point) and a few of them were held together with straight pins, no staples. The papers were yellowed with age and some were brittle, each one was a historical document.

    There had been plans of microfilming the military records of all of the service members, but that never happened. Even at the time I worked there, I thought storing all of that paper in cardboard boxes was stupid, but now I think it was also disrespectful to our veterans to store such important, historic paperwork in such a careless way.

    On the first day of the fire, in nearby neighborhoods, scorched bits of paper drifted down into people’s yards. I lived about a mile away and a few the scorched pieces of history fell into our yard.

    • Catherine says:

      Susie. That is such a sad story. And you speak the truth when you wrote that the files in cardboard boxes were disrespectful. I have issues with that because it seems that all our soldiers from all wars are never treated like the heros they truly are. Its a damned shame that those files weren’t protected. Thank you so much for telling us about that. I’m really saddened! XOXOXOXOXO

  12. Margaret says:

    Finally got around to reading your posts and as always was worth the wait.
    All of this really touches me and I couldn’t believe living and educated in England of Irish parents that I was aged 49 yrs before I studied (self study at advanced level) war literature and associated history. At school all we were taught in history was about kings & queens and I opted to do social and economic history at ordinary level which was really just about england’s Industrial revolution.
    When I was studying war history I was fortunate to visit the imperial war museum in Manchester which was a great education in itself.
    In our town a memorial was erected a couple of years ago in memory of a regiment The Chorley Pals. At some stage I will take a pic and post it on here.
    It beggars belief that it was to have been a war to end all wars.
    I am so pleased that eventually the topic is now being taught in schools and the great input from other nations is being recognised.
    No wonder rousing tunes were needed to keep spirits up.

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Margaret! We’re in a hectic world now–aren’t we? I’ve been so bogged down at work lately that when I come home I don’t want to do anything. Sorry it took me so long to reply. But hey–here in the States, history is a joke of sorts. World History is skimmed and god forbid the kids learn the horrors of war–it will traumatize them–and that is exactly what it should do! They need to know about this. Sure are right about those rousing tunes!!! XOXOXOXO

      • Margaret says:

        Hi CATHERINE,
        No need for apologies ever re late replies. I understand that things must be hectic for you if you are working. I retired in 2010 and cared for mum who passed away 2015 so I am really acclimatising to things.
        As my blog is progressing and I am also reading blogs of others I am finding it hard to keep abreast which seems Abit like work.
        What work do you do CATHERINE?

      • Margaret says:

        P.s CATHERINE,
        How’s this for a coincidence? A Friday post on a local Facebook group from village where I was born and lived on and off until 2003 appeared. A you tube video of Coppull band early 1990’s on Remembrance Sunday starting from and ending at Royal British Legion. Couldn’t believe it when I saw band start with ‘Its a long way to Tipperary’. Band joined with neighbouring village a few years ago and is no more. End of an era. Lovely war memorial in remembrance garden I also must post at some stage.
        British Legion used to do a lot of charity work and I remember going on trips to the circus with them for free.
        In later years as part of my Health Visiting role I supported the resident manager of a British legion elderly care facility. I carried out health assessments and set up and assisted with groups. A housing association later took over management responsibilities.
        Of course I was living and working in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland in 1987 when bomb exploded at Remembrance Sunday service. Fortunately I was staying at my aunts house 25 miles away in Irish Republic, co Donegal for the week end. I had to return back to Enniskillen that night to start work on the Sunday.

Leave a Reply