It’s very difficult to write a book or make a documentary series that gives a general description of a major war. World War One and Two have been documented to the extent that it is difficult to come up with something new and interesting to say, especially considering the number of war buffs there are about, including myself.
Despite this Jeremy Paxman kicks off the BBC’s four year First World War Centenary Season surprisingly well. His documentary series focuses on how the war affected the lives of Britons at home and on the front. After watching the first two episodes of the series, I would encourage anyone who believes Blackadder to be a logically accurate description of life in the trenches to watch this. Your prejudices will be challenged.
Not all the British public were gagging for German blood. Did you know that on the weekend before war was declared with Germany, over 100,000 people attended a peace rally, where Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party spoke? Some of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s cabinet wept when they found out Britain was at war. The first trenches of the war were not built in Belgium or France, but in Britain, such was the threat of invasion. Paxman has previously seemed to be a little nonchalant in his past documentaries, however he seems to be taking things a bit more seriously this time. The human side of the war is covered well and Paxman does a good job of this noting not only the sense of impending death that many soldiers write about in their letters, but also the sense of classlessness permeating throughout the trenches from people who lived in a very class-conscious society.
The documentary series is certainly worth watching if an accurate, concise and ‘mostly’ unbiased documentary is what you want. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is interesting. After all, not many television programmes have an interview with a 105 year old woman who survived a German Zeppelin attack on Hartlepool.
You can watch the four-part series of Britain’s Great War now on BBC iPlayer