Trench Warfare

Jordan “Funk Hole” Pratt joins us to discuss WWI’s Western front, The Battle of the Trench, The Battle of the Crater, trench foot, dysentery, chlorine and mustard gas, self-inflicted wounds, trench raids plus news and pop culture.

Music: “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag” by Art Mooney

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19 Responses

  1. What a terrific episode! Great guest, awesome info and Kevin’s puns were–well, the rest was great anyway! As for the film Passchendaele, I have actually found a sincere audience for it. I have some friends who are recent immigrants to Canada from the UK, and are very familiar with British myths, legends and storys of The Great War, but who were utterly shocked to find out Canada had its own. The film is bad, yes, but does show we have our own take at myth-making for the War to End All Wars–I just wish we had a better film to show this.

  2. the supermacromation tv series Terrahawks had a christmas episode where the alien’s forces and the earth forces faced off in protracted trench warfare before christmas eve on the moon (or a moon somewhere) the sheer level of assault from tactics like creeping barrages, etc unnerved the command staff on each side so much they declare a ceasefire just in time for Christmas and the humans introduce the aliens to the customs of Christmas. it was sappy, but the lead-up was a bit intense for a kids show.

  3. Oh, and there was also the Mel Gibson flick, Gallipoli–a really great film, with an inappropriate soundtrack. The trench scene at the end is terrifically powerful!

    1. +1 for Gallipoli. Excellent film, and I love the music, although I can’t remember how appropriate it was. JM Jarre’s Oxygene is the piece, good old timey synthesiser stuff, in the same era as Vangelis’s Blade Runner soundtrack.

  4. Excellent episode, gents. Excellent.

    Coincidentally I was talking about the ol’ pee-covered face thing for gas attacks this morning just minutes before listening, and my friend who was in the Canadian army says it’s a myth, but I haven’t checked on that.

  5. To further your Can-Con content, there was the battle of Vimy Ridge, which was a primarily Canadian run engagement that was brutal, but ultimately one of the rare successful campaigns for Canadian soldiers in particular, and for the allies in general. It really helped to put Canada on the map internationally.

    Many men died during the battle, and a really beautiful memorial was raised to commemorate those lost in the battle on the Canadian side, and is one of the largest and most elaborate and beautiful memorials from that period.

    During World War II, Hitler himself toured the site and thought it was a most beautiful and peaceful memorial and took great pains to make sure that it was not damaged or destroyed during the conflict in France, including moving elite Waffen-SS troops to guard it from being damaged by either side.

  6. More pop culture:

    Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film “A Very Long Engagement” involves trench warfare, self-inflicted wounds and execution for cowardice. It’s mainly a romance-themed detective story and a bit less zany than Jeunet’s other films such as “Delicatessen” or “Amélie”, but still just as enjoyable (plus Jodie Foster has a cameo where she speaks french). Incidentally, Jeunet’s latest film was shot in Pincher Creek Alberta and in Montréal, but has yet to see a theatrical release in North America.

    And to keep things bilingual, we should also remember this little bit from Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”:

  7. Some more Can-con for you:

    Timothy Findley’s 1977 novel “The Wars” and the 1983 film adaptation. I haven’t read the novel but I have seen the film and it’s pretty bad*, a stereotypical Canadian movie: slow, boring and terrible production values. For the trench fighting scenes, they couldn’t afford to build a large set, so they used tons of dry ice to create an impenetrable fog which hid the lack of scenery!

    Donald Jack’s “Three Cheers for Me” a novel about a WW1 Canadian fighter pilot, it features a lot of black humour and hilarious misadventures on the part of the protagonist. A large portion of the book concerns the protagonist’s experiences in the trenches before joining the RFC. I highly recommend this book and the second & third of “The Bandy Papers”, they’re hilarious.

    *It’s terribly ironic that we keep making such bad movies about such an important part of our history, isn’t it?

  8. The battle at the “Crater” was a bit more complicated than you made it out to be. General Burnside was not the commander of the Army of the Potomac — Meade was. Burnside helped develop the idea of blowing a huge hole in the trench line defending Petersburg, Virginia, and had African-American troops trained to take advantage of the situation. However, several other generals in the army objected to blacks leading the charge, so a white unit was substituted at the last minute, with zero training. So they went straight into the bowl of the crater, instead of around the edge.

    By the way, Burnside wore prodigious whiskers on the sides of his face, which took his name, but twisted around into sideburns. Or so the story goes…

    1. The Crater battle was featured in the movie Cold Mountain. Here is a clip of the explosion.

      The movie shows the Rebs firing into the crater from above, although the above clip ends with the explosion.

      1. Sure, the Confederate forces did eventually regroup and took advantage of the Union soldiers blundering straight into the crater. The Yanks should’ve immediately skirted around the edge while the Rebs were still reeling from the explosion. The African-American troops had been training to do just that, so their replacement by untrained white soldiers made a total mess of the plan.
        I think I saw Cold Mountain a bunch of years ago, but I don’t recall being impressed by it, at least not like I was about Glory and Gettysburg.
        My initial response was addressing the few points the Caustic Soda guys got a bit wrong, since as Canadians they probably don’t know many details about what happened in a civil war that took place in a different country. I’m sorry if I caused confusion instead of clearing things up a little.

  9. Hey guys, another awesome podcast! Sorry if I missed it, but there were a couple of caustic things I thought were missing. Firstly, tunneling: Burrowing under the enemy trenches to place explosives under the enemy. From

    “In January, 1917, General Sir Herbert Plumer, gave orders for 20 mines to be placed under German lines at Messines. Over the next five months more than 8,000 metres of tunnel were dug and 600 tons of explosive were placed in position. Simultaneous explosion of the mines took place at 3.10 on 7th June. The blast killed an estimated 10,000 soldiers and was so loud it was heard in London.”

    Many of the resulting craters are still very visible today.

    The other thing was one of the most awesome weapons briefly deployed on the battlefield: a fricking enormous flamethrower, or to give it its proper name, Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector. is a decent writeup and there’s a Wikipedia page. If you search on YouTube, there was also a TV programme that recreated one. It’s massively impractical BUT AWESOME.

    Keep up the good work guys 🙂

  10. Wonderfully cheerful Xmas episode, guys. 🙂

    I remember reading All Quiet on the Western Front in History classes in school, and still remember an early scene in the book where all the characters are away from the Front and are sitting in a circle playing cards sitting on box toilets, which they had to use because they all had the runs.

    Sucker Punch had a good trench fight scene, but it was very video game-like. Interesting film and nothing to do with trench warfare really, just a collective hallucination to escape the horrors of an old orphanage (oh, and there’s a good psychiatry callback in that one with a lobotomy reference towards the end).

  11. Cartoonist Joe Sacco’s most recent book is a 24-foot long fold-out panorama depicting the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It’s incredibly detailed; the images of the trenches are particularly devastating.

    I attempted to watch “Passchendaele” too. PAINFUL.

  12. Pop culture: season 2 of Downton Abbey is during WW1. One of the main characters gets posted to the the front and gets himself back to England by holding a cigarette lighter above the trench to get his hand shot. The nephew of another character is executed for cowardice

  13. To add to the war films list, though I know there’s tons of them out there: Deathwatch is a very well-done horror movie set in the trenches of WW1. It’s a small production but pulls things off quite well, with the special effects looking pretty good and the atmosphere of the whole thing really pushing the claustrophobic, filthy nature of the fighting. As I recall it’s pretty recent (somewhere in the 00s, I think?) but isn’t all that well known.