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The Break of Day - Poet Isaac Rosenberg

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The Break of Day - Isaac Rosenberg

BreakofDayScene post-WWI battle courtesy

This post follows up on Mike Schuster's The Great War Project report about Easter 2018 featured on the WWI Centennial News Podcast for April 6, 2018.  In the context of the stalling German offensive in the spring of 2018, Schuster discussed the WWI British poet, Isaac Rosenberg, who died on Easter Sunday.

"Break of Day in the Trenches"

Isaac Rosenberg's "Break of Day in the Trenches" provides one of the most disturbing examples of the dark, macabre humor found in the later WWI poetry that sought to demystify the virtues of honor, glory, and patriotism associated with combat. The speaker in the poem –presumably a WWI soldier in the trenches– begins by conversing with a rat as he looks out to no man's land from the trenches with the rising dawn:

The darkness crumbles away.

It is the same old druid Time as ever,

Only a live thing leaps my hand,

A queer sardonic rat,

As I pull the parapet’s poppy

To stick behind my ear.

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"This Loneliest Hour" - Vera Brittain

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On Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, and Extract from Chapter 9, "This Loneliest Hour"

Testament of Youth PosterTestament of Youth film adaptation poster

In 2016, The Guardian journalist, Robert McCrum listed Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as the 42nd best non-fiction book of all times. What follows are extracts from his article and a passage from the Testament of Youth's Chapter 9:

"Testament of Youth was written by Vera Brittain, a woman approaching 40 who had spent some 17 years coming to terms with her singular experience of the first world war – as a girl, a fiancee, a feminist, a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and, finally, as the sorrowing victim of intolerable grief. Brittain’s is one of several memoirs inspired by the fighting in Flanders, but it made a lasting impact through the raw passion of its anti-war message and its rather modern confessional candour. 

Read more: "This Loneliest Hour" - Vera Brittain

Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

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Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

by Margaret Thomas Buchholz

Jo fancydressJosephine Lehman Thomas. She writes in her diary: "June 1918: The gowns were of the real evening variety. I have gotten entirely over being shocked by such a display of arms and necks. After I have some new glad rags I am going to have some large pictures taken to astonish the Ionians by the general absentness of the upper part of my gown." Photo courtesy of Margaret Thomas Buchholz.

My mother, Josephine Lehman Thomas, who spent the last half of her life in Harvey Cedars, NJ, was a “government girl” in Washington DC during World War I. She lived as a determinedly modern young woman who relished the wartime excitement of the nation's capital – with its soldiers, movie stars, and international celebrities. She kept a detailed diary from 1917 until the late twenties, when she was a researcher and ghostwriter for Lowell Thomas. Her entries offer a lively record of city life at the time. The following is excerpted from her story which appeared in Washington History, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Fall/Winter, 1998/1999) and was later expanded into my book, Josephine: from Washington Working Girl to Fisherman’s Wife. ( The captions to the photos in this post also come from her diary.

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Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father

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Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father 

by Adrian Bonenberger

Belarus Soviet Monuments 2 Brest Hero Fortress 12Brest Hero Fortress. Photo courtesy

 One of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century—perhaps ever—Vaslav Nijinsky was born to Polish parents in what is now Ukraine, was at the time Imperial Russia (and for a brief six-month period, was a puppet-state of Imperial Germany). He is supposed to have thought of himself as Polish, for whatever that’s worth. He married a Hungarian woman and raised his children as Polish. He spoke Russian.

NijinksyjumpDancer Vaslav Nijinsky jumping. Photo courtesy

One of the elements I find so extraordinary about Brest-Litovsk, personally, is the assumptions that the Germans made about how populations and peoples worked, what identity meant at the dawn of the 20th century. Although Germany had expended great military, financial, and political capital in annexing or expanding its influence at Russia’s expense—a fact that they hoped would be to Germany’s financial and political benefit—to the people who lived within that territory, Germany’s sovereignty must have seemed like a distant abstraction, a matter of architecture and linguistic preference. As intellectually similar and similarly modern as even the most cosmopolitan people of that time were to people today, they were, nevertheless, different—there was a kind of existential freedom to choose one’s path, to pick an identity, rather than having it forced upon one.

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"The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

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"The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

WarpoemsCourtesy of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

* “I was in awe…because they were young. They were students, teenagers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was their way of contributing to the civil rights of their people. Having lived the life of a black person who had been segregated always, in my schooling, church, in every way—my neighborhood had no other people who didn’t look like me; my school was completely segregated—so the book, it really struck me…They knew what was happening to black people. And they saw fit to put it in writing.” — Jean Barnes-Peters, West Virginia native, owner of the book “War Poems.”

In the late 1970’s Jean Barnes Peters found a copy of War Poems sitting on a bookshelf in her house in Charleston, W.Va. The authors, Ada (17) and Ethel (18) Peters, were half-sisters to Jean’s husband, Joseph Cromwell Peters. Joseph Cromwell Peters, who is now deceased, never met his two half-sisters and didn’t know anything about them because their mother and his father divorced before his birth. The little book had always fascinated Jean and she would occasionally pick it up and read some of the poetry.

The preface in the book reads:

The sole intention of the authors in writing these poems is to show the Negro’s loyalty to the stars and stripes in the war with Germany and to show the need of unity of all men in the fight for democracy.

Eventually, Jean started to scrutinize their words and she realized she was reading protest, which seemed unusual for teenage girls in 1919 in rural West Virginia. How was it possible to know just after WWI how badly black soldiers were treated?

Read more: "The Colored Man is No Slacker" - WWI Poems by the Peters Sisters

Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem. Part 2

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Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem at the Lyon Opera. Part 2

Last week, WWrite featured an interview with world-renowned tenor, Paul Groves,. Groves was the tenor and played the role of the British WWI soldier in one of the most original interpretations of Benjamin Britten's musical masterpiece, War Requiem  at the Lyon Opera House in France. This week, we hear from actor/director/writer, Yoshi Oida, the Japanese director of Benjamin Britten's piece. Oida's discusses his connection with WWI through personal stories about Hiroshima, the experience of children in war, and his latest film with Martin Scorcese. 

8yoshi oida copyright mamoru sakamotoDirector Yoshi Oida copyright Mamoru Sakamoto

WWrite: Why did you decide to direct an opera inspired by Benjamin Britten’symphony for the Lyon Opera?

Yoshi Oida : Since childhood, people around me have gone to war and they have died in war. Even before the Second World War, I remember we were at war with China. So, when Japan lost the Second World War, I wasn’t sad. I was so happy because I could sleep every night instead of going to the underground shelters to protect myself from the bombing by American airplanes. I was so happy because my house was burned by the American attacks twice. My father had a bicycle factory and everything was broken. And when I escaped to go to the bomb shelters, I saw people die by my side. As a child, I was always with war and death.

Fortunately, after several years old there was no war in Japan. But I can never forget my childhood. So, when the Opera of Lyon asked me to War Requiem, I said yes. I also knew that, in addition to WWI, I had to make it a ceremony for my life. In fact, in WWI, the nuclear shuttle was the human being.

Mushroom cloud after bombing of HiroshimaMushroom cloud after bombing of Hiroshima

Read more: Listen to the Silence: Yoshi Oida on Directing Britten's War Requiem. Part 2


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