Doran Cart is Senior Curator at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. He joins us today to talk about the historical accuracy of the hit blockbuster movie 1917.
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Dan LeFebvre: [00:01:51] At the very beginning of 1917 we see the date of April 6th, 1917 but they don’t really give us a lot of context for the war up to that point. We know from history, it started in 1914 so I’d been raging for about three years by the movies timeline. But what kind of, what thrown directly into the action.
We don’t even get a location of where all this is happening, although we do find out later in the movie that it’s in France. But before we get into some of the details in the movie, can you give us a little historical context of what was going on during the war up until the timeline of the movie in 1917.
Doran Cart: [00:02:27] Sure, and it was interesting they chose that date of April 6, because that’s when the United States Congress declared war on Germany to come into the war. But that was not the scope of the movie at all. But of course, that was a, you know, for America and for the world. That was an pretty important event that incurred on that same day.
But of course you are right. Fighting on the Western front, which is where this occurs really started in August of 1914. And by April of 1917 had been really several years of not a whole lot happening other than people dying and, you know, creation of some new types of weapons, especially tanks on the British side.
And there was a whole lot happening in the world besides just trenches on the Western front. I think the real cataclysmic event of 1917 or course the Russian revolution, most people would just say the restaurant revolution, but actually there were four of them in 1917 and this really affected not only the war on the Western front because once the Russians basically left the war and allow more Germans come from the Eastern front to the Western front.
It also signified the loss of a huge nation in support of the allied effort. And so Russia, by April of 1917, was already in turmoil and would really not be able to contribute much to the effort after that, although they did do some fighting, especially against the Austrians, on the Eastern front. And this was a time when it was really in full force, a total war because the Germans were bombing civilians in England with not only the Zepplins, but also with every bombers.
By this time, unrestricted submarine warfare. Was declared again in February by the Kaiser, and this was one of the reasons that led to America’s entry into the war. And so that was primarily one of the most important things of this time, was this unrestricted submarine warfare, and especially how it was affecting the shipping of materials and men and food and everything to the allied countries from the United States.
So from this, basically what’s being shown as a fairly small microcosm of the war to the common infantry man in 1917 there were huge events occurring all over in 1917 the British entered Baghdad. Well, you know, the war in the middle East was continuing. The incredible use of artillery in 1917 when it really, you know, even though they use it a lot before then, it really came into its own in 1917 with the amount.
Of artillery fire that was occurring, especially on the Western front. But you’ve also got Italy, you’ve got a, you know, fighting in Italy, you, with the Italians and the, the Austrians. And so that’s what we try and cover here. It’s a museum is this was a real total war going on and, you know, and to pick out a real specific event.
Is interesting, far from a historical viewpoint and, you know, to talk about that and where it seems more of a personal kind of activity as opposed to this huge global. Effort that’s going on, with over 30 nations involved. And, I think really 1917, not only because of America’s entry into the war, but because of Russia, basically exiting the war really changed.
And this was, also, you had mutinies in the French army. Not that they didn’t want to fight, they just didn’t want to attack. Because their, their losses were so disastrous in an offensive in April of 1917 called the Novell offensive and they said they would fight and protect our country, but they didn’t want to go over the top.
Then you have Germany in, in Germany, there’s mutant their immunities in the German Navy, but because of the battle of Yelland previously, the German main fleet had not left support. And so the germ of the sailors were being basically treated poorly and they weren’t allowed to go out of the port. They weren’t allowed to leave.
There are barracks basically. And so there were started to be mutinies there. So, and then you have bread mutinies and among the civilians. In Germany, you had bread lines and Russia kept bread lines in England. This was, there was a lot, a lot going on in this time period. Sorry, I kind of rambled on there.
No, it really gives, I think it gives a great idea that even though it is a microcosm, like you mentioned, they’re really focusing on just this one little part of the store. But there was just so much more that was going on at that time.
Correct. He really, That’s what we really try to show, you know, here at the museum and in our scholarship and in the research that we make available.
And, you know, we try to show that the museum is an international source of information about the world war and what’s going on. W my kind of standard phrase, when people ask me about, say, a particular day or. Or battle or whatever. I’ll say, well, I know a little bit about a lot of things and not a lot about one thing, and so I liked, I’m glad that people would do center on particular efforts in particular battles and things like that.
Being a material culturalist of the war, I have to really deal with everybody who was in the war. And what the material culture, how it was being developed, what it meant, how it was used. And so when people ask me to talk about a specific thing, I really have to do my own work and, you know, really find out what was going on.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:09:05] Speaking of getting into a little more of the specifics, the main characters in the movie are two Lance corporals from the eighth battalion. They’re named Tom Blake and William Schofield. I played by Dean Charles Chapman and George McKay, respectively. Were they based on real people?
Doran Cart: [00:09:20] Not that I know of.
I think from what I’ve read from the director, they were kind of amalgams. Of men that he had heard about as a child growing up. They might be based on actual people, but you know, you’d really have to go deep into the British rosters really to find it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:09:37] Not somebody that really stands out as
Doran Cart: [00:09:39] a main
Dan LeFebvre: [00:09:40] character that we would know about from history.
Doran Cart: [00:09:42] No. No. Cause usually when you get that kind of notice, they’ve been awarded like the Victoria Cross or you know, the military medal and things like that. And I don’t think he really meant for them. To be standouts kind of thing. It was just, these were two ordinary men thrown into an extraordinary circumstance, which I think really goes to the whole statement about world war one, these extraordinary men and women who were thrown into incredible circumstances, way beyond their control.
And how did they react to this? How, how did they survive or not, and how did they. Really think about what was going on around them. Yeah. It’s
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:27] like you’re saying, there’s a lot going on and it all the way down to these little
Doran Cart: [00:10:31] individual storylines. Well, I don’t think they’re a little, but I think they’re more personal.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:35] Yeah. That’s a good way to phrase that. Yeah. Now, according to the movie, the Germans abandoned their lines and they move back a few miles. we see this as, I think there’s Benedict Cumberbatch, his character, Colonel McKenzie. He believes that they’re on the run. They’re planning this massive all fences too.
Finish the Germans off once and for all is the implication that we get course. Little do they know that the Germans have retreated on purpose and they laid a trap for Mackenzie’s men. In the movie. We see this from general Aaron Moore. He’s played by Colin Firth, and he says that they found out that it was a trap, thanks to some aerial photographs of the Germans new line, but they can’t communicate by phone because the lines have been cut by the Germans as a parting gift or as they’re retreating.
Right. So that’s why that’s what sets up this. Okay. A message needs to be delivered from general Aaron Moore’s position to Colonel McKenzie before he launches the attack the next day. In a balance we have, I think we’ve seen this with a lot of the marketing materials at the lives of two battalions or about 1600 men, in the hands of the success of this mission from just two men.
Of course, one of them bring it back to a personal level. One of them is one of the messenger, Tom Blake’s, his brother. So it’s a personal mission for them as well. Is there any historical truth to
Doran Cart: [00:11:50] that? Well, it’s not necessarily seen as true. It’s how is it interpreted. So like the Germans never acknowledged that they were in a retreat.
They were in a consolidation of their troops along what they called the Siegfried line, and the allies called it the Hindenburg line. And basically they were just going into a better position where they’d already created a lot of concrete in placements, fields of fire from machine guns, open, areas for artillery.
Fire. And so, in all the German accounts that I’ve read about this, they never said they were retreating, you know? So there again is an interpretation and that they were moving into a better position because they really kind of felt that they were too far extended. Now, whether this could be received or perceived as a trap in this retreat, very well could have been.
perceived as that, and especially cause Germans one that when they had real positions like are shown in the movie, they want to, to abandon them because they built good positions and they were defending Germany at their back was the fatherland. Then the allies looked at this consolidation and they said, Oh, there were tree.
And so in there we’re treating to the Hindenburg line, and so, and this probably was true on their part, they, that’s probably exactly what they thought was occurring. And they did have area where cognizance force had been in use from the very earliest part of the part of the war in 1914 that’s what airplanes really started out being a, were for recognizance and photography of where the primarily where the enemy artillery positions were at.
Because that’s what was important. And so in all likelihood and aerial photography over this area, which show them that these positions had been abandoned, and troop movement would be kind of hard to see unless it was in. Truck trains and that kind of stuff. And, you know, larger groups, just a body of men moving would not be as easy to photograph cause playing goes over pretty quick and they’re snapping the pictures and relaying this information back.
But there, again, in looking at, and we, we watched the movie here in a preview a couple of weeks ago. It is a drama to . of, you know, things that were occurring in, had occurred during the war, primarily seen from the British point of view. And so that was my viewpoint, that it wasn’t a documentary. It was a dramatization of similar events that occurred on the Western front during the war.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:48] One thing I’m curious about is. Just how, I guess I’ll back up a little bit. Cause one of the things that struck me about the storyline was this massive contrast. And I alluded to it earlier, that, you know, the lives of 1600 men relying on just two and one. There’s one line of dialogue from the movie that stood out to me to explain this.
It’s when Blake and Scofield were given the mission by general Aaron Moore, they ask, is it, is it just us? Is just the two of us and general or more replies with a quote from Rudyard Kipling. I had to look this up afterwards where that was down to Gahanna or up to the throne. He travels the fastest who travels alone.
So just the idea of relying so many lives on so few in order to save time. Do we know of any stories where something like that might’ve happened.
Doran Cart: [00:15:36] There again, it’s very possible. Generally when communications like this had to occur, there were soldiers specifically dedicated as runner and we’d deliver messages.
So they did and you know, could travel in pairs in case something happened to one of them. The best you get through. The thing about with world war war communication is that primarily it was done by telephone. And the telephone wires Tinder to be cut by artillery fire. Cause you could see in the movie when they’re going through the trench, you see the telephone wires and the Telegraph wires along the sides of the trenches.
Well, you know, you explode a section of that trench and that blows the wires, which is why they had lots of options. Believe it or not, they were still using messenger pigeons and you can deliver messages for one coop to another. They use flashing lights or Helio grafts. The British were very good at that.
They use signal flags. They use flare guns. There is a reference in the movie to a flare gun. Primarily those were used at night cause you could see them better. Again, the airplanes themselves were a tool of communication in our exhibition here at the museum about the air war. We have one of the.
Canisters that a message would been placed in and it would be dropped from an airplane and it had kind of a ribbon on it that would help identify, help the pilot identify if it was dropping, where it was supposed to drop, and generally wherever the higher command was, they were close enough to the airfields that they could send messages that way.
And so those, you could consider that an individual basically delivering a message. So there were a lot of different ways of communicating and if all of them failed, then you had your runners and they were, they were lightly equipped, you know, they could read maps, they knew where the locations were at and things like that.
And they were generally of the noncommissioned officers, like the Lance corporals, you know, our above because they had more status. When they were received, where they were going to. And so all of those things are feasible within the context of the movie. I think as far as the dramatic aspects of the movie, I thought it was, you know, very good.
And, I like it because now it will create interest in world war one and in 1917 and when that happens, then, then our international museum does come to the forefront again. We’ve just gone through the five years of the Centennial of world war one, which created a great interest in the history of the war.
We, we work with students all over the world with our education programs, our online, as well as our teacher training. we do online exhibitions. And so, we’re kind of in the same businesses. These, these two fellows, these two messengers. Are we trying to deliver the message about what occurred in world war one?
And so a movie like this that basically I was not aware of really until, you know, we started getting the advance information about it really helps. It really helps in the, in our providing information about the history of the war.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:13] You mentioned the trenches, and I wanted to ask about this aisle set up, how the movie explains it, because trenches during world war one are something that they’re almost a, they’re a character of, of their own, and a major part of it.
So the first thing comes from, there’s a line of dialogue is in the beginning, and there were Blake and Schofield were walking down a trench, and one of the older soldiers says something like, Hey, you’re going down and up trench. Which as soon as I heard that, I was like, wait, there’s like one way traffic.
I didn’t, I guess I never realized that trenchers were really
Doran Cart: [00:19:43] almost like going the wrong way down a
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:45] one way street. And then the other part of it was I saw a big contrast with the way that they portrayed the
Doran Cart: [00:19:52] British and German trenches, the
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:54] British trenches look like you might expect there wet, muddy held together by wood, little protection from dirt berm above.
And then the German trenches looked very different, and you mentioned the, the wires, even the wires along the wall and the German trenches look much more organized than
Doran Cart: [00:20:11] in the British trenches there
Dan LeFebvre: [00:20:12] have cement walls. And I just got the sense that the Germans built these trenches with more care, had more time to build them and built them with more care than the British side.
Can you give a little more insight into what the trenches were like, how they were depicted in the movie and how accurate that depiction may have been. Sure.
Doran Cart: [00:20:30] That’s probably two things that people, they don’t know a whole lot about world war world before they come to the museum and when they leave it out a lot more, but when they come, they know about trench warfare and they know that the Germans early in the war Wars spike Telmate’s, those are two things that are ubiquitous about the war, and because we use that spike Tellman as kind of in propaganda.
That was the spike. Even though the Germans were all wearing steel helmets. By the time the United States entered in 1917 the trenches really started on the Western front in October of 1914 and quickly. The German engineering. Was better. The British and the French, they didn’t want to build trenches because they thought it showed they were on the defense and they always wanted to be on the off chance.
But by 1917 you had to have a whole network of trenches and like you say, the up trench and all that. Well, there were layers of trenches. From the front line or where they would attack from. Then there’d be a second line communications trench basically, and then there’d be trenches for bringing up supplies, food, that kind of thing, and every latrine trenches they have those.
And then you’d have some places where you had enough room, you’d have even rest trudges. And so even though they weren’t intended to be built more in haste than the German trenches were, they still were engineered. In other words, they knew how to build them. Where at a place. The other thing about. And where are they were fighting in Northern France and Belgium was, we’re willing to all see that.
You dig down, you go down six feet, you’re under water basically. Most of the time, this is when this term duct board came into use and these are kind of, they look like closely born and ladders that are laid in the bottom of trenches. So you can walk upon them and not disappear in the mud. Because people did, they did disappear in mud.
So the saying was that it was so wet, the ducks even needs something to walk on. So they had the duck boards and you know, that’s, that’s a legend. You know, that you can’t really find that written down any place. And then conversely, and of course, going back to this point, the British and the French always planned on attacking.
They didn’t plan on staying in trenches, but by 1917 this frontal attack of everybody jumping out of a trench and running against German machine guns and artillery was really more of a suicide mission. The name thing, I know my British friends, well disagree with me on this, but the British always were waiting for a cavalry attack.
They were always, they always had the horses there, and because. Your majority, your British command were originally cavalry officers, and so they had the horses in readiness when a breakout occurred. They run the horses out there and win the day, even though by this time tanks poison gas, incredible amounts of our chillers.
Shells. Artillery was the main killer on the battlefield. World war war. 60% of the battlefield deaths that occurred in world war one were from artillery. 60% of all the deaths came from disease while fighting on the battles, of course, inflicted incredible, horrible casualties, disease. Really, you put all these people together in one place, horrible sanitation with, with the rats that they showed very effectively in the movie.
And bad food, and after a while, just living in mud and wet all the time affects people, and so they realize that you had to rotate people out the lines. He couldn’t be in the lines for weeks on end because then they don’t become an effective fighting force anymore. The Germans, however, really had to bring all their.
Support and their supplies from Germany, whereas the France, they were in France, they can call upon to train their people, move them up into the trenches whenever they wanted to. They actually even started by 1917 after some of the mutinies, the French let people go home on conjugal visits basically, and of course they were right there and the British, it was harder, but.
I think that was kind of alluded to that it was harder to go home to England and come back into what you had left then to just stay there and not worry about going home and seeing what life was like at home. And of course then when the Americans got in, they took over a lot of the trench lines of the French, especially.
They had no place to go. I mean, they had to go on ships to get to France, so they had to give them the rest periods as well. And the Germans did the same thing. They cycled people off, they put rest, potassium, they put them on rest and then bring other battalions up and things like that, especially after the Russians are basically out of it.
They have more troops to bring to the Western front trenches were not. All the same. There were not ubiquitous. They were known throughout the world because at this time you had recording, you had movies, you had photography that was printed almost immediately. And so people in lots of places to see what was really happening in the war that they hadn’t been able to before.
Now even a lot of it was censored. You still could get the idea of what, what it look like and what it was like in these situations. We have some replicas of trenches here of different scenes and trenches have visitors could look into and see what it was like. That’s really just a snapshot as course.
They’re very clean. No rats. We do have a dead rat, one of them. Oh, nice. And we always tell the score, Jordan, when they’re looking in there and see if they can spot the rat. And he’s a big one. But you can see the deterioration of these trenches as you go from 1914 to 1917 through 1970. And then people talk about the Western front being from the English channel all the way to the Swiss Alps.
That’s true. That’s where the Western front was, but trenches were not continuous throughout them. They were in particular areas, either in defensive positions or offensive positions. and so there were gaps in them, but it primarily because of geography. you didn’t have to protect where there were the straight up mountains in the Vogue mountains down in the South, but you still had defensive positions there.
You couldn’t, you couldn’t attack straight up one of the Welsh mountains. I’ve been there and, and just walking, walking there is not an easy task. But when you get to the top, there are defensive positions so you could see what was going on in the valleys below. But like where we’re talking about what’s featured in the movie, that’s really trench warfare.
That’s really what it was looking like. And there again, you can’t really show everything that was occurring. Okay. I hate to say this, but a movie about war, calling an entertainment is kind of a, you know, hard to say, but I think, and when you say you’re watching a drama or you’re, it’s like a stage presentation or something like that, then you are being.
Take him to another place. And I guess that’s what entertainment, you know, really is. And, and I think that this movie for people who really know a little about war, war war will be taken to different places that they’ve not even thought about before. I thought one scene that was really effective was when a fellow, when he was by himself, and I can’t remember his name, he goes in that town that’s being shelled and the flares are going off and everything.
And to me that that really looked like what they would have seen. That was, well, this kind of how on earth presentation, and I know it was very dramatic, but it also, I thought was very effective.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:29:41] Yeah, I was going to ask you about that because that is a big part of the movie. A Scofield was the one who was going there and,
Doran Cart: [00:29:47] yeah,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:29:48] and the city.
We, in the movie, we find out as a Cusimano. Was that something that actually was the city actually bombed out in 1917?
Doran Cart: [00:29:57] Well, they all were, there wasn’t any place left on the Western front that wasn’t rubble. now some places like, Al bear, the, church survived there and the steeple because that’s what they used for siding artillery.
And so that was a high point. It was the highest point you could see from miles away. You try not to destroy the churches. But any place that could be a defensive position was basically seen as fair game. When you go to France now you can see the places that survived that were rebuilt after the war, like Verdun and out bear places, army and places like that.
But there are some places where there was just nothing left. They’re called ghost villages. They have signs at there and said, this is where the village of whatever used to be. That happened throughout Belgium and Northern France on the Eastern front in Russia and some places, the troops actually pulled them down and use them for building their trench systems and civilians were gone.
There were no civilians in these areas, and they basically had gotten out in 1914 sometimes they got trapped there if they had gone back for something or whatever. But there was very little left other than rubble, and when you go through these beautiful French village stuff today, that historically they were there, but they’ve all been rebuilt.
They build them to look like the village that was there. But, but yeah, pretty much everything like that was gone.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:32] Wow. That leads into another part that I was curious about too, because we see in the movie that the Germans, I’m going to call it retreating
Doran Cart: [00:31:40] cause that’s what, that’s what they did in the movie.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:42] as, as they were leaving, they essentially laid waste to the land behind them. They chopped down trees to block the roads. They destroyed bridges. they left the trip wire that nearly collapsed the tunnels on the two messengers, one of the big points in the movie, and they’re even killing the cows so the British soldiers couldn’t eat them later.
That was something that was mentioned in the movie as well. Did the Germans really lay this path of destruction as they were retreating?
Doran Cart: [00:32:07] If they were able to say, we’re not under constant air observation, if they were not under attack from the air, from our Fillery. They would walk roads and destroy bridges.
I don’t know about cutting down individual trees, but a road was a major tool, a major weapon in the war. Cause that’s how you move people. I would think that they did course, the Belgians and the French do that in their retreats in 1914 and knocked down walls and things like that to block the advancing Germans.
It occurred, as far as it occurring in that particular area, I’m, you know, I’m not familiar, you know, with that. but yeah, sure. In bridges especially, were always something that you can either use or you had to destroy it, one of the two. And you couldn’t just leave a bridge stamp because that’s how you transported.
And then when you got in, you collapsed trenches, you know, on themselves. Objects were wired with booby traps that were seen as kind of souvenir kind of things, particular weapons, food, things like that. A lot of times they didn’t have time to do it. Basically, if you’re getting out, you’re getting out. I know I read one description, and I’ve always liked to a quote from one of a German, a German soldier when they went into a French trench.
You know, he was telling me everything that they found in there, including the flog raw. As you know, a unit. If you didn’t have time to take your flog raw with you, you were not, you are not able to do a whole lot of damage. But then I was reading an intelligence report from the 89th division, the American 89th division in the battle of some yell in September of 1918 they advanced so quickly.
That the Germans really had no chance to take anything with them or to do anything. They found a place. The Germans had beautiful gardens. They had a beer garden, you know, which really Americans, that was pretty great because they were a dry army. That was great. And so they talked about it. They found cigars, they found pictures and all this kind of stuff.
So around this time, in this consolidation of the Siegfried line. Yeah. More time cause you have this plan. It was a plan to movement of troops who is not a, well, not a Helter Skelter retreat. So they would have time to arrange booby traps and things like that. Anything that appealed to the common soldier.
One thing that I’ve, I remember is in the operation Michael, which was a German offensive in 1918 in the spring prior to break through the British lines. Before the Americans got there in full force and by this time, equipment was bad. Shoes were bad, everything, you know, they didn’t have a whole lot of stuff.
They were well trained troops, they had good weapons and everything like that. These were stormtroopers primarily, but they got stopped, not necessarily by the defense or the British, but after when British soldiers were dead and killed in front of them in this events, he stopped to get boots. No picked up boots, put their boots on, things like that.
So in a rural retreat, you’re not going to have time to take a whole lot with you in a measured movement. You have more time to create that thing, which is what you know really what was shown in the movie that you know, they had destroyed some of their defenses. They’d left some artillery pieces that they couldn’t move.
They knew I had an advance. Cause if you had to get out and take stuff, you always took your blends with the artillery cause it took a lot to produce those. They were your main weapon and if they were busted then you’d leave. If you couldn’t move them, then you disabled them, take the breech blocks out, you know, whatever like that.
I guess there are two types of retreats. There’s one where you have to just get out and there’s another, which is a plan to movement, a plan, movement away from one place to another.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:27] And the second one seems to be more of what we saw in the movie.
Doran Cart: [00:36:30] Yeah, that’s right. And then when they moved to the secret nine and it was even more a more powerful position cause they had the height, whatever Heights there were, there were no real Heights to speak out there, but they ended the fields of fire.
That was what was really important was so that you could have crossfire of your machine guns. And if any troops, and it’s called an inflate, you would always cite those in clear fields of fire. And in some places, that’s why they cut down trees. What trees were left, there were not a whole lot of trees left on the Western front.
Now you know, all that is feasible. It just depends on what they were planning in the, and if they had a plan in the first place. I
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:12] want to switch to the authentic side cause according to the movie, by the time Schofield finds the second Devon’s in the wood, it’s morning. And so he asks why they haven’t gone over yet.
And they identify themselves as D company. They’re the second way. They don’t all go in at once. And this gives us a little insight into what it must’ve been like for an offensive. From the trenches. Cause we see Schofield running through the trenches trying to find Colonel McKenzie to deliver his message.
And the soldiers are queued up to go over. We can hear officers. It’s not a main part of the movie, but we can hear the officer’s barking orders. Okay. A company, you’re going on the first Mark B company, then you prepare for attack, follow your platoon commander and stay spread out and you hear the whistles blowing.
Okay. This is, you know, on this is when we’re going to charge across the battlefield. We never really see the enemy necessarily in the movie, but we see all of this start to the attack getting organized. How well do you think the movie did depicting the way that the attacks were organized from the trenches like that?
Doran Cart: [00:38:08] Well, I think they really showed the human nature of it. Very well, you know, on basically in the fear and the uncertainty and things that were going to happen. Again, this is a dramatized event. You know, when you’re really doing that, you create the drama and the path that’s occurring. But by 1917 you really have to realize these fields are full shell holes.
They’re full of dead animals are full of dead humans. They’re full of poison gas, all types of gas. The skies are basically black with shell fragments. Machine guns are everywhere. German snipers are everywhere. And so to really get a feeling of the drama, the nets. I think they did a good job of creating, you know, that as far as, you know, what the Germans were doing, they were either waiting or there would have been just incredible fire going on and there’s, you know, there’s fire going on, but everybody had a gas mask, you know, gas, poison, gas was everywhere.
It was in shell holes. It would seem your trenches, it was on your clothing. You had mustard gas, which was really an oil, but it was a burner. You know, it burned your skin. It burned your, you know, your inside, your nose, your mouth, any place there was water on a human body. Mustard was there, fogging and chlorine or respiratory gas.
They were everywhere. But if you do a movie with everybody wearing their gas masks, it’s hard to tell, you know how they’re acting and, and things like that. And so that’s why I say, you know, in drama to zation you really have to show a differently than you do in an a documentary or something like that.
So sometimes, you know, I’m not the right person to go movie, but, you know, as far as representing history so that we’ll realize that this is going on, these kinds of activities are going on. 1917 was full. Just take this action and multiply it hundreds of times. I think that’s really important and I think the storytelling is important there.
The idea of hearing these stories as a young man from the director, the oral histories, I think are just really important as well. And so in, in showing this, I think that’s what people, I hope that’s what people will take away from it, that these guys are being thrown into situations they don’t want to be there.
They want to be back in England or they want to be, you know, in Paris or you know, wherever they want to be in Munich. They don’t want to be there, but you have to have a reason. There has to be a reason. One of the main reasons that they do show in this with the two fellows who are the messengers, was the comradery.
You supported your own solace, you supported your own truth. You were there for your buddy. You were there to help them, to help them survive. You couldn’t really think about yourself. You had to really think about, okay, if I’m going, what I’m doing will help other guys survive, then it’s worth it. And that to me, really is what true heroism is.
When a person. Goes out of their own self. It goes beyond concern for their life to help other people. And to me, that’s really truly what a hero is. We use the word very loosely nowadays, and I think it applies in a lot of instances, but to me it always means you have to go outside of yourself. You have to go beyond what will occur to you.
And so in this movie. You see that with, with these fellows and in one on one fortunately dies in the quest and another gets through. And to me, I think that’s really an important part of the story because they don’t want to do this. They’re scared, they’re hot, they’re dirty, they’re hurt, you know, tears these hand on barbwire.
You know what they realize if they do what there’s, they’ve been asked to do and they were really asked, they weren’t really commanded to do this, then that makes their quest more important, I think, because, you know, they didn’t, they didn’t have to go. You didn’t really see them ordered up the chain like everybody would have been, and so they take it seriously.
One, because he’s brother. The other because this is his comrade. He’s going with his comrade. He’s not going to abandon him. Then he doesn’t even abandon the fellow who was killed in making connection. Then with the brother, the quest to him then is complete. It’s a good story and you can see it. You can see in her a lot of a lot of movies that where you have this kind of task, or I could call it a quest, they had that in this movie, and you, you say, okay, well this is based on somebody, or this is based on stories or whatever.
That’s great. You know, because you’re still being affected by what human beings can do in extraordinary circumstances.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:43:57] I’ll feed this back and make sure that I’m, I’m understanding it sounds like overall, even though the messengers weren’t necessarily based on individual real people, it’s not necessarily a, this storyline is not necessarily true.
They pulled pieces that could have been true there. Things that could have happened in this overall setting that Israel, of course,
Doran Cart: [00:44:21] you know, during the war.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:44:23] And they turned it into what sounds like one of the more important parts of the comradery, like just telling this human story of people, ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances and trying to survive together.
Does that sound like an overall essence of the movie compared to history?
Doran Cart: [00:44:44] think that’s exactly why. And you know, like, when they’re setting really the scene, when you’re in the British trenches and you know, you see, how the guys are in there and how they’re, where they’re eating and you know, things like that.
Then you’re setting the scene for that. It’d be like a play where you have real good scenery that you created for that. That’s not the important part. But the important part is the story that you’re trying to tell. And this to me is a, is a story of comradery and of people really going beyond themselves as far as it being directly from history.
You know, original documents or something like that. It really is not that important because that’s what we do here at the museum. The documents, the original documents that, you know, the statements. We show the uniforms and of men and women who served in the war and how children were affected. Children as refugees, children under Obama attacks, children picking up.
gathering peach pits, in, in the United States, which were then made into charcoal, which were put into the, the gas mask filters because they knew that they made the best filtration system. There’s thousands and thousands of stories, and this is one good story that they were able to tell. And he based it on his own life, his own way.
There were director of Sam Mendez on his life. It kinda did what we’d all like to do. I think tell a good story. And so it make it dramatic and make an appealing, and again, I can’t really call it entertainment, but you know, to do that to, to tell a good story that people can take that away with them.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:46:41] Yeah.
Yeah. Well you mentioned that it was based on the director’s own life. And I have to ask this cause. I’m sure you’ll be asked to this a lot.
Doran Cart: [00:46:50] Well, I already have them, so go ahead. And
Dan LeFebvre: [00:46:54] at the very end, we do see the name Alfred Mendez from the first battalion as the grandfather of the director. How much do we know about Alfred service during world war one?
Doran Cart: [00:47:04] I have to admit, I don’t know anything about it. I didn’t know anything about him until I started seeing the previews and reading the advance materials. But the British have excellent records about the service man. And you know, if he says that, I’m sure somebody already looked it up in England, Etsy hit the war records office, and, you know, the Turman, that’s, that’s true.
If he had a mission, if it had been about Americans, and Peter mentioned some Americans saying we had done the same thing. Even though we’re international here, we don’t have the volume of records that each country can maintain. And a lot of them, and for people who want to do this and for looking, you can get a lot of this stuff online.
You can look at the Canadian war records, you can look at the British war office records. You can look at in the United States records from different States. In that aspect, I think it’s very important and that I hope he really did exist, you know, so, so that people can do that and they can look him up and see what he did.
I know that we’ve had a lot of contact with people over the years. Just to give you an example, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, his grandfather was killed in world war II. You mentioned that and told us about him, and so, you know, we looked, gave up. Yeah, he was there. This thought, and I hate to say this, but sometimes the records are better if somebody died.
Are there always better for officers because they were considered a different kind of class. I’ve just been talking to so many folks about this movie that I haven’t had, tends to even try to look him up again. I’m just real pleased that this is occurring at this time because again, it draws attention, I hope.
I hope we do. I hope they do more of things. I hope that they cover other stories. You know, I’ve seen a lot of movies about world war one. And all of my, the ones that I like do tell that kind of story that has that kind of connection to out.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:49:08] Well, thank you so much for coming on to chat about 1917. Before I let you go, can you share a little bit of information about the national world war one museum and Memorial, and where someone can, listening to learn more and plan their own visit?
Doran Cart: [00:49:21] Sure. The museum and Memorial have existed since 1920. The collection started in 19 points. we’re, we’re studying our hundredth anniversary this year of the collection, and we have an excellent website. they can go there. It’s, it’s real simple. The world war.org we don’t mess about is the world war.
And, I can see a lot of things. We have an online collections database of things that we have scanned that are in our collection. They can see the different events that are going on here, CR, online exhibitions. If they can actually come here to see exhibitions go there and see the online exhibitions.
We have a lot of YouTube because we record all the lectures and people who come here and give programs. So they’re on there. They actually recorded me the other day for national hat day is fine to be on the 15th I’m talking about helmets on that day, so. And we have excellent Facebook and Twitter counts.
So you can go to our website, you can see all the thing, Instagram, all that. From there, our social media folks are excellent about getting the word out. I’m kind of the dinosaur. I will do it if they tell me how to like today coming and talking to you. But you know, my thing is with the, with the objects, and that’s what we try to teach with here.
So we do a lot of exhibitions. You know, on site here, traveling exhibitions we bring in from other places as long as with our own, we’d like to be seen as the information source internationally for every nation. Cause that’s museums been collecting internationally since 1920. So, I’d say the best place to start is with our website.
And if you forget what it is from hearing this podcast, just a Google world war one museum, and you’ll get us. Let’s talk a little is,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:51:16] I appreciate your time so much.
Doran Cart: [00:51:19] I enjoyed talking to you and if you have any more questions, just let me know.