Tag Archives: German history

Review: The African Queen (film).

The African Queen.

The African Queen is one of those rare movies that improves upon the book. It has a much more satisfying denouement than Forester’s novel, even if it does perpetuate the pleasant myth that ship captains have the authority to solemnize marriages. But this is meant to be fictional entertainment, not a historical documentary.

It’s a complex narrative, told through three tightly plaited story lines. First, and most importantly, it’s a war story, set in German East Africa at the start of the First World War. Next, it’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter how often you’ve seen it. Lastly, it’s a love story, of the “unlikely romance” genre that’s built on a deeper development of character which implies that this is a meaningful relationship that will last.

The screenplay has such engaging, fast-paced writing that one forgets that without the war story line, there would be no plausible rationale for the adventure or the romance. Furthermore, the war story is built around the declared mission of a woman, Rose Sayer (who, until her brother’s untimely death, served as his missionary companion): to commit an act of war against a vessel of the Imperial German Navy. No such event occurred during the war, but the viewer comes away from the film feeling that it could have happened.

World War I in East Africa, map by Mehmet Berker

Given the times and her upbringing, we cannot doubt that after her grand adventure, Rose would happily settle down in a cottage surrounded with hollyhocks, there to bear Charlie Allnutt’s children and make blancmanges for the rest of her life. But we can also tell that without her, Charlie the drifter would have been happy to keep a low profile and float out the war in the backwaters of Africa. Rose makes a hero out of Charlie, not on the flimsy premise that he “rescued“ her from the hazards of a war-torn African colony, but by inspiring him to buck up and brave the leech-infested waters of the river, to help her achieve her grand design.

The African Queen thus becomes a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of women of Rose’s generation who served and inspired in wartime roles of amazing diversity: from traditional sock-knitting and bandage-rolling, and becoming nurses or voluntary aides, to munition workers, ambulance drivers, and innovative lifesavers, such as Madame Marie Curie with her mobile x-ray units, which she personally outfitted and personally delivered to hospitals and casualty clearing stations near the Western Front, and who trained doctors in their use.

Read the book by C. S. Forester, or not, as you like. But be sure to dial up the movie, or dig out your copy of it, and enjoy it for everything it can mean to you, in your understanding of the wars of history and your approach to the battles you face in your own life. Highly recommended.

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Review: Sniping in the Great War (Pegler)

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Sniping in the Great War.

A helpful little book filled with technical details on the guns, scopes, practices and personalities behind the performance of sniping among various Commonwealth and Regular troops of the BEF. The German side of the story is given generous, if not as thorough, treatment as are the British. An overview of the history of wartime rifle use in other times and places is included.

It’s well enough written, with few grammatical errors, but it’s obviously been padded with a great deal of repetitive, almost literary, verbiage, without which it would have been a much shorter book. There are detailed photographs of the arms, and pictures of proponents of the skill.

My big gripe with the book is that although published in hardcover with a fine, glossy dust jacket, the pages started falling out – and it was purchased new.

Otherwise, not a bad investment for those who want some in-depth, albeit brief, background on this aspect of trench warfare.

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Review: Three Armies on the Somme (Philpott)

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Three Armies on the Somme: The First Battle of the Twentieth Century.

The size and presentation of this volume, along with the back cover hype and the author’s credentials, promise much more than they deliver.

What this writer tells about the French army has been equally well told elsewhere; what he contributes about the German army is less than substantial, and he has nothing new to say about the role of the BEF, except to wax snarky about other historians’ work; indeed, he often descends to ad hominem attacks against those authors, a distinctly unprofessional behavior.

Most of the nine maps are drawn to a scale that puts them on the too-busy side, with a plethora of lines and arrows superimposed on a background of largely unnecessary topographical features. The separate sections of photographic plates are printed on glossy paper, which improves their visibility, but several photos have been over-used in the genre, and the photos are minimally credited on the plates, when better identification could have been provided in a separate section. In the back matter, the author indulges in a bit of redundant discussion of military organization, and he includes a list of abbreviations (actually acronyms) at the beginning of the extensive end notes section. An additional section includes remarks about sources and reading recommendations. The index seems to be adequate.

Disappointing, despite its heft.

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