Reconnecting Viewers with World War I Soldiers

World War I Footage

Director Peter Jackson, whose grandfather (to whom the film is dedicated) fought in World War I, set out to make a documentary unlike any other. He and his team worked for three years to restore 100 hours of footage.

The result is They Shall Not Grow Old, which aims to reconnect modern viewers with soldiers of that century.

Trench Warfare

An extensive collection of footage chronicles world war i, the global conflict referred to as the “War to End All Wars.” The film clips present scenes of battles, trench warfare, and the devastation that was part of the war. Footage also includes the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the climactic Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and the Armistice celebration.

In the first few weeks of World War I, as soldiers occupied their frontlines, they dug in along a meandering line of trenches that were difficult to penetrate and well-defended by gunfire and barbed wire. As a result, casualties increased dramatically as military tactics failed to keep pace with advances in firepower and mobility.

The video shows a number of scenes in the trenches, including German and British soldiers firing their rifles into no man’s land, soldiers running through the area, and soldiers standing silhouetted without gas masks. Soldiers are also shown assembling ammunition and repairing barbed wire. The final scene shows a wounded soldier being wheeled to an aid post by his comrades.

U-Boat Warfare

At the outset of the war, Germany waged an effective submarine campaign against merchant ships. The ruthless U-boat tactics caused outrage among neutral nations and America, especially after the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Lusitania. The sinking was the catalyst for Winston Churchill to chastise “this strange form of warfare hitherto unknown to human experience”.

At first, U-boats obeyed prize rules and surfaced before attacking to allow crew members and passengers time to escape. The British responded with ‘Q-ships’, disguised warships intended to lure U-boats in close and sink them. These and other Allied advances, including the intermittent cracking of the German Naval Enigma code, long range patrol aircraft, escort ships, and the immense American shipbuilding capacity all turned the tide against the submarines.

This collection of footage chronicles the events leading up to and ending with the armistice in 1918. Various clips showcase trench warfare, life in ‘no man’s land’, gas masks and the threat of chemical warfare, the armament of the era, as well as the devastating Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Naval Action

The two largest navies in the world go head to head at the Battle of Jutland. Two years into the war, British Admiral David Beatty and German Admiral Franz von Hipper each command a squadron of dreadnought battleships. They maneuver around each other and fire at will.

The resulting gun battle was the first time that ships of this type had ever fired at each other. Learn more about this event in NHHC’s Victory at Sea.

As the war escalates, naval forces battle the submarines in the North Atlantic, bringing vital convoys of supplies to England. In the Pacific, aircraft carriers destroy Japanese vessels in the Marshall Islands and Gilberts. But a price must be paid for victory. This episode shows some of the most brutal fighting in the war. It also includes a moving memorial to those who lost their lives in the Philippines, and a poignant reminder that the world must never forget the sacrifices made by our ancestors for freedom.

Military Training

A large percentage of the men who volunteered to serve in the armed forces in 1914 had never done so before. They were entering an organization with a culture completely different from anything they had experienced before, and a training schedule that was often full of other critical tasks.

Jackson’s crew worked for years to restore all 100 hours of footage that would be included in the documentary (a task that he said was “far beyond anything I actually imagined”). They wiped away decades of dust, scratches and stains from the footage before they could work on adjusting the frame rate to make it more like modern movies.

The resulting film, They Shall Not Grow Old, is an incredible collection of footage that illustrates the impact of the war that was meant to end all wars. It includes scenes of trench warfare, the horrors of no man’s land, gas masks and armament, and even the Armistice celebrations.

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