Tag Archives: WWI

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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A Quiet Night: December, 1916.

A Quiet Night: December, 1916

Light startles me awake – at first,
I think I sleep again amid the frost.
Then from the bed I raise my head
And see the moon – relax! I’m safe at home.

Inspired by  Li Po (701-762)

©2014 by Christine Plouvier. Winner of Second Place as part of a collection of poems, in the Adult category of the 1st Annual Peabody Public Library Poetry Contest, 2014. (See “We Have A Winner!” in the post, From the Slush Pile at the Irish Firebrands blog.

A Man Resting, near Arras. By William Orpen, 1917.
Courtesy Imperial War Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

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Review: The Somme (Foley & McCartney)


Book shown drawn out of brown slipcover.

The Somme: An Eyewitness History

Two innovative approaches make this book by far the most readable of the Great War histories that are based on participant testimony.

First, the chapters are organized topically instead of chronologically: the reader doesn’t have to struggle to keep a mental place on the timeline of the battle, or to keep connected the separated segments of each individual’s experiences while moving between many different first-person accounts. Second, the emphasis is given to the quotations rather than to summaries and interpretations by the historians, by reversing the usual format for font usage: the participants’ accounts are printed larger than are the editorial interpolations, making for a much smoother, easier reading experience.

Separate pages of glossy photos are scattered at restful intervals in the text. A single-page map at the beginning serves to orient the reader to the Western Front, while a separate larger map of the Somme battlefield resides in a plastic pocket inside the back cover. This second map suffers from “busy” syndrome, because it documents all the lines of advance for the whole campaign, and does so in solid, dashed, and dotted-dashed lines that are all in black, superimposed on the black line-drawn topographical features (German positions are shown in red).

The end matter includes definitions of military terms and acronyms; an appendix that explains Britich and German army composition; end notes; reading recommendations; a bibliography entitled “Acknowledgments;” and a reasonably thorough index. The sturdily bound hardcover book is housed in a heavy slipcase which fits so snugly that it can be difficult to return the book to its box.

This history is on the pricey side because of its elegant binding, but it earns its keep because of its accessible presentation of events. Highly recommended.

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