Wednesday 8 April 2015

The World at War....A Personal Reflection

                                      A television classic - I own this on DVD and also have  
                                      the book that accompanied the series.                                        

Courtesy of the BBC I have just completed watching all 26 episodes of the documentary series: The World at War. This widely acclaimed series needs little introduction from me but, if I am honest, it has had a greater impact on me this time around than it ever did in 1973.

As a young boy bought up on a diet of Commando and Battle comic books and endless supplies of plastic models seeing images of real tanks and soldiers, sailors and airmen in action was an exciting experience and fuelled many a game using Airfix figures and Charles Grant's Battle: Practical Wargaming.

The series made for compelling viewing and I suspect that I probably had little time for the 'boring' interviews and the seemingly more mundane aspects of the conflict - the political and human dimension. I wanted to see action! Such is the limited attention of a 13 year old.

Fast forward a few decades and I have just finished watching the entire series again. It is safe to say that the experience has been altogether a very different one. True enough the 'action' sequences are still as enthralling as I remember although the previously 'boring' interviews have taken on a new significance with my more rounded and mature outlook - 40 years of reading and research have ensured that my understanding of the conflict is far better than in 1973. The human dimension though has had a much bigger and if I am honest, more harrowing yet uplifting impact. You can see the suffering and with the benefit of advancing years and of hopefully a greater level of emotional maturity can understand at least a little of what those people went through. The nature of loss. The nature of death.

The true enormity of a conflict that consumed the world and that changed it forever - the redrawing of international boundaries down to the death of a beloved relative - is really what this series is all about. The war impacted the world at every level and showed no favours to any nation, race or creed. The pain of loss of a close loved one knows no boundaries whether you are British, German, French, Russian, American, Japanese - the grief is universal.

As a technical achievement the World at War is a magnificent piece of work. The footage, interviews and narration is first class. It has the power to inspire, horrify, anger and shame by turns. Above all it has the power to make one think. To think about the truly global epic of the war and and how humanity was able to, in the space of a few years, demonstrate every emotion and passion from the heroic and noble sacrifice to animal levels of bestial behaviour. All human life is here, for good or ill.

In closing it is fair to say that I have struggled to get the right words out for this post. The images I have seen have affected me deeply - more so than I would have expected - and form a balancing counterweight to the purely martial dimension, the dimension that we as war gamers routinely enjoy.

I can do no better than to quote the last word narrated in the final episode by the late and great Laurence Olivier:



Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Well said, David...

PatG said...

I re-watched last year and had much the same difference in experience. What I found striking is how relatively young the veterans were at the time of the interviews. Galland was 'only' 61, less than 10 years older than I am now.

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


What an excellent blog entry! My background and memories were similar to yours ... and I must admit that watching this series again now that I am older and - hopefully - wiser, produced a similar reaction.

All the best,


Mallius Vane said...

Still incredibly powerful viewing forty years on!

Wg Cdr Luddite said...

Your comments replicate my own experience perfectly.

Paul O'G said...

I remember it as Lad with similar perceptions as your own. Must get around to watching again, once I get around to watching TV again!

Sun of York said...

I have good memories of watching this back in the 70s. I only missed two episodes. The breakout from Normandy was screened while I was getting my wisdom teeth out (that makes it 1974) and while my parents had gone to the expense of hiring a TV for my hospital room I sadly fell asleep just before it screened due to the effects of the operation. The other episode I am pretty sure I missed at the time was the one covering the concentration camps. It was put on late in order to protect gentle viewers.

Anibal Invictus said...

I suscribe every single word of your comment. Funny how time and knowledge gained can change your perception of life

Prufrock said...

Very well said.