Verdun 1916

Peter Jackson’s documentary ‘They shall not Grow Old‘ is well worth a watch. I was sent this poem written by someone who has been inspired by Peter Jackson’s documentary and was immediately reminded of Paul Nash’s painting, The Mule Track.  The painting hangs in the Imperial War Museum, London as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Jackson has taken original black and white newsreels from World War I and using digital technology, transformed them into coloured film.   Somehow, the original black and white footage let us disassociate ourselves from these events to some extent.  Now in colour these scenes are even more compelling, but they are not for the faint hearted.   This trailer gives you a flavour of Jackson’s genius as he takes us into the trenches of WWI https://youtu.be/EHYRfukHToc  The full movie is only £11.99 and well worth it (in my opinion).

Paul Nash (1889-1946) and his brother both served in World War I and their paintings capture the horrors of the trenches.  February 1916 saw the beginning of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war and this poem captures an essence of what it must have been like.


100 Years on from Paul Nash

The leaves rise, sucked upwards only to fall into loam.

A silent sigh as the clockwork rewinds.

On screen the image reawakens



Coloured and shaped as only the dead can be.

Silent no more.

It’s in the eyes

‘Smile for the camera, Boys.’



That light

That shooting gallery false dawn

Staccato bursts

Silhouetting fortitude

In the rain

In the mud

In the fog.

That fog.


Too late

Always too late

As Christmas goes by and spring departs,

Dragging woods and birdsong into fleeting memory.

Leaving rich soil too poisonous to plough.

E.M.  Currie

The Battle of Verdun started on 21st February 1916 and did not finish until December of that year.  It started with a ten hour bombardment of the French town and over the next ten months a total of 980,000 men were killed or wounded.

All the battles of WWI have now faded from living memory, but thanks to the work of Peter Jackson, the surviving films are more relevant to a modern young audience and clearly continue to inspire young poets.

Nash - The Mule Track 1918 IWM
The Mule Track.  Paul Nash (1889 – 1946). Image copyright of IWM

3 thoughts on “Verdun 1916”

  1. There is something absolutely fascinating about Nash’s images. I hadn’t consciously come across him until my step-son did a college project on the surrealists at which point I realised that I knew him from his landscape paintings – with beautiful trees and contours- such a juxtaposition with his war work. Thank you for a thought provoking post.


    1. Paul was profoundly affected by his experiences – not surprising really. However, it is his letters to his wife that are the most revealing. Whether you can count him as one of the Surrealists is debatable since he didn’t fully subscribe to Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto. Certainly his more abstract paintings have a surreal (with a small ‘s’) quality and his abstract paintings do not quite fulfil the whole idea of abstraction. I find him incredibly cerebral as he is clearly working through many demons created from his experiences in WW1. To quote the online magazine Ideelart “He [Nash] intended his paintings to spark ideas; not about scenery, but about the ancient, eternal relationships between the forces of time, nature, humanity, culture, life and death”. The landscapes are exquisite and when hung beside the tortured landscapes he painted of events of 1914-18, they provide a balm to the eyes.

      BTW am thoroughy enjoying your posts on King Charles. I wish I were nearer as I would come to your course.


      1. Its interesting isn’t it – those boxes- that art is packed into and labelled by. I really struggle with modern painting (and I’ve been marched round the Tate Modern and the Baltic Gallery by my step son who has explained all about emotional response to which my usual comment is to do with skips- make of it what you will. I just don’t get it from the twentieth century onwards) but Nash’s paintings don’t fit the niches. There is a need to think about landscape and all those other things you listed. I think that’s probably why I like him. He reminds me of the metaphysical poets in pictoral form. I adore George Herbert’s imagery. I shall have to take myself off to a gallery and have a good long hard think about what it is I struggle with in both terms of surrealism and abstraction – I’m not that keen on faces made from vegetables either! Keep the posts coming – they’re making me think!

        ps glad you’re enjoying the posts – I’m having a fortnight of strong women during a break in classes (back to Bess of Hardwick and Margaret Beaufort).


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