Matt Heath: World War I horrors put modern life in perspective

Section
Blogs,
Publish Date
Monday, 26 November 2018, 8:51AM
NZ Herald
NZ Herald

Feeling dissatisfied and annoyed in your life? I have the cure for you. World War I.

Technology is making New Zealand easier, safer and more convenient all the time.

The eradication of departure cards is a great example. My exit on business last Friday was easy as.

Auckland Airport is incredibly efficient and flash these days. The e-passports, the streamlined security, friendly staff, big bright green arrows and clear red crosses. They've got their stuff together out there.

But it doesn't stop people being annoyed all the time. Is all this Kiwi comfort and efficiency making us soft?

I was listening to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast on my headphones whilst breezing through departure. His Blueprint for Armageddon World War I series.

The horrors of WWI really put your life in perspective.

A dude in front of me got mad, stamped his foot and yelled f*** really loudly when the passport scanner didn't work first time. It did the second time. But he couldn't deal with a 20-second delay.

How would a man with such little backbone go at the horrific Battle of Mons? How would he deal with a lengthy stint on the Western Front in 1915?

I started listening to Blueprint for Armageddon on the centenary of armistice a few weeks back. Just finished. It's awesomely long. Across six enthralling four and a half hour episodes, Carlin takes you deep into the grim heart of the conflict.

The first episode was released in 2013 but it's worth listening to anytime. It's giving me brutal nightmares. Which I see as a positive. You don't sweat the little things when you're contemplating the heartbreaking carnage at the Battle of Passchendaele.

Despite the title, Carlin spends as much time focused on the personal human side as he does on the big wigs and politics.

The numbers are breathtaking. On August 22, 1914, alone, 27,000 allied soldiers died. Big numbers like this hit you hard. But not as hard as the individual accounts. Blueprint For Armageddon is populated with harrowing letters from soldiers on both sides.

Striking images stay with you. Like the proud hopeful French soldiers turning up at the start of the war in fancy Napoleonic garb. Uniforms designed 100 years before. Bright red pants, cloth hats, white gloves and even swords. They stood upright out in the open, fighting bravely for their country. Drilled not to seek cover.

Unfortunately, things had changed and they were mown down in their tens of thousands by the efficient German war machine. Brutal new technology coming up against the old battle techniques on a massive scale for the first time.

Eventually, soldiers had no choice but to dig or die. Which of course brought the evil of the trenches. You can find the courage to bravely battle through a slow internet day at work with those images in your mind.

Little details in the war stick with you. The Allies couldn't get the dead bodies out of the trenches because they'd get shot doing it. So they had to bury them under their feet.

Imagine living months on end with your dead comrades buried beneath you in puddles of mud. Not only are you likely to be killed at any time, but when the shells landed the old decaying bodies of friends would get blown out of the ground. Sure puts the horrors of a few supportive police at your parade in perspective.

Carlin quotes a veteran who asked who were the toughest and bravest soldiers over there? He answered the New Zealanders and Australians because no matter how bad it got they were the ones laughing and making jokes. That makes me very proud.

In super easy advanced 2018, we spend a lot of time stressing about minor inconveniences. It's worth giving Hardcore Histories: Blueprint For Armageddon a listen.

With WWI on your mind, you will happily endure hardships like sitting in traffic, on smooth roads, in an air-conditioned car for a bit. I mean it's annoying but not quite as rough as getting chlorine gassed in a trench at Wieltje.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.

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