Paths of Glory- Stanley Kubrick (1957)

Monday, December 29, 2008

on se boit une bouteille de pinard?

Merci, and welcome to the blog. This project is one that I've had at the back of my mind for some time now, and is a result of:

1) Fond memories games on the kitchen table with hundreds of Airfix WW1 plastic figures many, many years ago.

2) The excellent 1957 film Paths of Glory, which still remains one of my all-time favourite war movies.

3) The passing of the last French Poilu (and veteran of the famed Foreign Legion), Lazare Ponticelli. This blog is dedicated to him and all of those who fought for France during those devastating years 1914-1918.

I have long had an interest in the First World War. My great-grandfather- an "Old Contemptible" who enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1913- served both in Flanders (including Mons) and later in Italy. Beating the odds, he survived the war despite having been being gassed. Growing up in Canada, I was always aware of the contributions and sacrifices made by the Canadian Corps at places like Vimy Ridge, and the war remains a defining one in Canadian history. As a kid, I must have had models of just about every WW1 aircraft that was out there, and I still have shelves upon shelves of books on all things related to the conflict.

But thanks largely to watching Paths of Glory at an early age, I have always had a fascination for the French poilus. An image of bearded men looking old beyond their years, clad in their mud-soaked horizon bleu uniforms and elegant Adrian helmet, and fighting in the filth of the trenches at Artois, along the Chemins-des-Dames, and above all for the lunar landscape around Verdun. They struggled not only against the Germans, but also against their share of flawed leadership and endemic organizational chaos ("Systeme D"). By November 11th, 1918, the French army had suffered an appalling 1.3 million casualties.

In these circumstances, it is not the fact that the French mutinied that surprises me- the army, after all, being raised en masse from a nation with a tradition of revolution and direct action against perceived injustice- but the fact that by 1918 enough units were ready again to take the offensive and to carry on the war.

Needless to say I do not hold any truck with any "cheese-eating surrender monkey" hogwash that is out there; nonsense often repeated by people who really should know better.

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