Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Aurel Sercu

1916 and "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Recommended Posts

Aurel Sercu

Let me start with my question at once : Are, for you personally, the year 1916 and the expression All Quiet on the Western Front inextricably linked?

 

Let it be clear : for you personally, and the expression. Not specifically the book and the movie. I know 'all' (well ... let's say "enough") about Erich Maria Remarque and the novel and the movie and the remake. So, please, do not surf on the internet to (hopefully) reply to my question.

 

Why do I ask? I am about to write an article about my 'favourite' British cemetery in Boezinge (Talana Farm Cemetery). Of the over 500 graves here are very few of 1916, fewer than a dozen. (The vast majority are 1915.) Somehow I would like to combine in the title of the article, or in the opening lines, the year "1916" and "all quiet on the western front". For as long as I can remember I have always linked the two. For me 1916 was a "quiet year" (disregarding for a while the Somme). Certainly in my area (Ypres) : Second Ypres was 1915, Third Ypres was 1917, and in between 'nothing much' happened. (I know, that's very relative and I do now that 'things' happened ...)

 

But now I am wondering : maybe that was a very personal connection I made, based on nothing solid. I am wondering all the more because - I'll be honest - I went to Wikipedia etc., and saw that the novel is not specifically about 1916, but from beginning to end.

 

So please help me out ... Is my being sure that 1916 and All Quiet etc. belong together nothing but a false memory of mine? (Of which I have more, I've found out lately ...)

 

Aurel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Fattyowls

Aurel, what an interesting and original question. I'm always interested in memory (especially false ones) so I'll have a think about it and 'get back to you'.

 

Pete.

 

P.S. Send my best to Madame Sercu. Say it's from one of the really mad people on the internet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ajsmith

Personally I've never associated the phrase with 1916 but with the whole war. Maybe that's because I saw the original movie when I was quite young (I studied film at college) which was the first time I'd ever heard the phrase.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60

No- there is NO connection with the Somme and 1916.  The title of the book is taken from a german army communique (October 1918?)  saying that there was nothing going on in the west. That is the day that the hero/dooomed anti-hero of the book is killed- It is an allusion that his life was of such insignificance that what was a totality for himm (death) counted as nothing in the "greater" schemes of the warring parties, especially the german Army-It is an anti-war allusion that life was cheap.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Old Forge
23 minutes ago, Aurel Sercu said:

Let me start with my question at once : Are, for you personally, the year 1916 and the expression All Quiet on the Western Front inextricably linked?

 

Hi Aurel, for me personally, no - 1916 = Verdun and the Somme, so it's difficult to equate it to the expression so closely. FWIW, I prefer the more literal translation, 'In the west, nothing new...'

 

Cheers,

 

Richard

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

Pete,

After my posting I went outside, the lawn, and sat there, thinking. "Madame Sercu" looked at me, and said : I bet you are thinking about WW1 ! And I replied "No ! I am not !"  But that was a lie. For Erich Maria Remarque was on my mind ...

 

ajsmith, I saw the movie when I was young too. (And that is certainly not a false memory, for since then I have always admired Ernest Borgnine. And between you and me, I found the remake quite good too !). Maybe I read somewhere, in an article or a book, : "Nothing much happened here (Ypres area), it was the time of "all quiet on the western front". And in my mind I linked the two inextricably, but incorrectly.

 

Aurel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

Thanks, Richard, and Voltaire60,

 

Voltaire, indeed, that was one of the things that made me hesitate. I remember the link between the (anti-)hero's death and the following cynical line "Im Westen nichts Neues". So I checked (Wikipedia etc.) and found he died in 1918. Which made me wonder : So I was wrong when I linked the phrase to 1916.

And now I am thinking : indeed I was wrong.

 

Aurel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60
18 minutes ago, Aurel Sercu said:

Thanks, Richard, and Voltaire60,

 

Voltaire, indeed, that was one of the things that made me hesitate. I remember the link between the (anti-)hero's death and the following cynical line "Im Westen nichts Neues". So I checked (Wikipedia etc.) and found he died in 1918. Which made me wonder : So I was wrong when I linked the phrase to 1916.

And now I am thinking : indeed I was wrong.

 

Aurel

 

 Its not a problem-  Remarque chose the title "Im Western nichts neues" deliberately from the German Army communique- it is on that date that the anti-hero is killed. The title is an allusion to the futility of war ansd that the life of an individual counts for nothing- that what was totality for him was of no consequence to the High Command.

    I understand that that the literal translation of "Im Western nichts neues" could not be used to an American audience- "In the West nothing new" would only confuse, as at that time the main staple of of Hollwood was 2-reeler cowboy "Westerns"-it would confuse The West with the Western Front. (It is for that reason that our British film "The Madness of King George III" dropped the "III", as an Ameican audience would think it the third film and second sequel in a series of films (like Star Wars episodes) )

    The only mystery with Remarque is whether he changed his name. I can recall some elderly German ladies  more than 40 years back telling me the story that his original surname was "Karma" and that he reversed the syllables broadly to romanticise the name as a pen-name.

Edited by voltaire60

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

Voltaire,

I think I remember (and it is not a false memory, for I read it in Major Holt's 'Ypres Salient' - unless that is a ... false memory  :-) - that his real name was Kramer, and that he reversed it and made it look French.

 

As to West and Westerns ... I understand. And by the way, I like westerns  (too), especially Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. (Sorry.  :-)  or   :-(  )

 

Aurel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Gunner Hall

Voltaire60,  Wikoipaedia and Britannica both have his real name as Erich Paul Remark,  All Quiet, is a brilliant piece of writing,.IMHO. Auriel, I actually prefer the John Boy Walton 1979 version of the movie too.  Ernest Borgnine  is Kat for me.     Erich Paul's youngest sibling BTW,  Elfriede Scholz,   was a victim of the infamous Friesler, at the Volksgerichtshof  and was beheaded.   In sentencing her to death, he actually said  "Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach — you, however, will not escape us"  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60
2 hours ago, Gunner Hall said:

Voltaire60,  Wikoipaedia and Britannica both have his real name as Erich Paul Remark,  All Quiet, is a brilliant piece of writing,.IMHO. Auriel, I actually prefer the John Boy Walton 1979 version of the movie too.  Ernest Borgnine  is Kat for me.     Erich Paul's youngest sibling BTW,  Elfriede Scholz,   was a victim of the infamous Friesler, at the Volksgerichtshof  and was beheaded.   In sentencing her to death, he actually said  "Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach — you, however, will not escape us"  

 

      Thanks for the update-It was a memory of a pleasant elderly German lady telling me that more than 40 years ago. -she was almost a contemporary in age with Remarque..

The 1930 Lew Ayres film,is,incidentally, one of the few films of that era which showed a sniper  getting his "kill"- Even at the very end, it was anti-war and broked another taboo-that snipers were not really to be mentioned. Our anti-hero is "sniped" by a French soldier while reaching for a butterfly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
chaz

no, 1916 primarily remembered for1st July. and the death of my great uncle Arthur down in Battery Valley

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

 

Indeed, Wikipedia tells us:

When he published All Quiet on the Western Front, he had his surname reverted to an earlier spelling – from Remark to Remarque – 

 

So Major Holt in his "Ypres Salient" (in my edition p. 68) was wrong when he wrote: "He was born in Osnabrück in 1898 by the name of Kramer - which he reversed and 'gallicised' to become 'Remarque."

 

(Wikipedia says he was born as Remark. I must say I find this a little odd. Isn't "Remark" a strange name to be born with in Germany? Oh yes, I see ! The name of (French speaking) immigrants, who originally spelled "Remarque", (maybe) changed the spelling into "Remark". Besides, But Wikipedia is always right, isn't it?

 

By the way, there is no "Kramer" in this story? Major Holt only had a false memory ...

 

Aurel

 

Added later: If anybody else is interested in the history (change) of the name, see also the part "Remark/Kramer" in this Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AErich_Maria_Remarque#Remark/Kramer

Edited by Aurel Sercu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
GreyC

Hi,

from my collection:

Westen.jpg.e365bac70ec1512b97dbbce2bcd2e1f4.jpgWesten2.jpg.3dadc40b02be368ff7093b1f52803159.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Keith_history_buff

No, not for me personally. One thing that left a strong impression when I read it was that one of the soldiers makes a direct reference to the week long bombardment on the Somme that marked the prelude of that particular campaign, therefore framing that book as taking place after 1916.

It is widely said that more soldiers died during the Somme campaign than in WW2. That, tied in with the 1960s British historiographical tenet of "donkeys led by lions" would, in my opinion, see many Britons to consider 1916 as anything but quiet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
RegHannay
2 hours ago, Keith_history_buff said:

No, not for me personally. One thing that left a strong impression when I read it was that one of the soldiers makes a direct reference to the week long bombardment on the Somme that marked the prelude of that particular campaign, therefore framing that book as taking place after 1916.

It is widely said that more soldiers died during the Somme campaign than in WW2. That, tied in with the 1960s British historiographical tenet of "donkeys led by lions" would, in my opinion, see many Britons to consider 1916 as anything but quiet.

Surely, that should be "Lions led by donkeys" ???

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60
2 hours ago, Keith_history_buff said:

That, tied in with the 1960s British historiographical tenet of "donkeys led by lions

 

   I think this translates as "the book by the late Alan Clarke of that name. I seem to remember-apologies if it is well covered on GWF- that,as with Kaiser Bill and "contemptible little army", the veracity of "Lions led by Donkeys" has proved rather elusive (Ludendorff usually gets the credit)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
RegHannay
3 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

   I think this translates as "the book by the late Alan Clarke of that name. I seem to remember-apologies if it is well covered on GWF- that,as with Kaiser Bill and "contemptible little army", the veracity of "Lions led by Donkeys" has proved rather elusive (Ludendorff usually gets the credit)

Yes, a title of a book by Clarke. Not being a true historian of the great war I am totally ignorant of Ludendorrf but I would like to be educated please Voltaire.

Dave.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chasemuseum
17 hours ago, Aurel Sercu said:

personally, the year 1916 and the expression All Quiet on the Western Front inextricably linked

For me as an Australian - 1916 is the Somme, Fromelles and Pozieres. Sgt Charles Stuart Taylor 54Bn AIF, formerly of the Australian Military & Naval Expeditionary Force, which invaded German New Guinea, then after the expiration of his period of service, re-enlisted in the AIF, joining 2Bn, serving and being wounded at Gallipoli, Chas was then killed by shrapnel bullets on the 23rd of August 1916. I do not think of 1916 as relating to the expression "All Quiet on the Western Front": To me 1916 is an image of near constant combat and death from the AIF's arrival at the Western Front through to the end of the year.

 

There is a Bairnsfather cartoon with two images of an officer, "6 months of this and one day of this". Sitting and toasting a slice of bread with a sword over a coal bucket and a second image of heroic fighting with the sword.  That to me is "All Quiet on the Western Front" - that for most soldiers, the day to day routine was relatively boring and humdrum not "glorious" and that the phrase relates to a day when life was humdrum up and down the line - one of many such days. And as previously mentioned, the imagery by Remaque that it should on such an insignificant  day that his main character is killed - an expression of the inhumanity, pointlessness and brutality of the war. That the sacrifice of our hero's life is for absolutely nothing - that the individual is reduced to such insignificance that a person is nothing and may just as easily have never existed.

 

In short - to me that year and that phrase are not linked and I do not associate them together.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

Thanks, gentlemen. And it is becoming clearer to me that I probably must have read or heard somewhere that (at least in the Ypres area) things were (relatively) quiet in 1916, and that it was the time of "all quiet on the western front". Or in other words, the person who said or wrote that just borrowed this phrase from Remarque's novel, where it was not specifically referring to 1916 at all. But I (falsely and incorrectly) thought it did.

 

(Let me add that I really like the 1979 remake. Though the hardest part for me was to try to forget that Paul Bäumer was John-Boy Walton, from The Waltons. And the birthmark on his left cheek reminded me he was throughout the movie. No, I do not wish to hijack my topic and cause a discussion which version was better. Nor do I want to start a discussion if E.M.R. had an affair with M.D., which is what Major Holt writes.  :-)

 

Aurel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Black Maria

I suppose the early 1916 actions around Ypres have been overshadowed by the big offensive down on the Somme . According to the official 

records there were 'actions of the Bluff ' ( 14 Feb -15 Feb , 2 Mar ) , 'actions of St Eloi Craters '( 27 Mar -16 Apr ) , Battle of Mt Sorrel  ( 2-13 June ) 

My interests are in memoirs rather than battles or 'local operations' but having read a few memoirs of people involved they were no more terrifying 

for those taking part i would think than the bigger Somme battle that has eclipsed them . 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

Black Maria,

Thanks.

And very true. For indeed, the actions you mention were not really "quiet". But they were ... far away, south of Ypres (and I live ... 5 km north of Ypres...  :-)

 

Aurel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Andrew Upton
3 hours ago, Chasemuseum said:

...There is a Bairnsfather cartoon with two images of an officer, "6 months of this and one day of this". Sitting and toasting a slice of bread with a sword over a coal bucket and a second image of heroic fighting with the sword.  That to me is "All Quiet on the Western Front" - that for most soldiers, the day to day routine was relatively boring and humdrum not "glorious" and that the phrase relates to a day when life was humdrum up and down the line - one of many such days...

 

I believe this is the one you're thinking of, but the original caption is rather different:

Mark Warby on Twitter: "Today's Bruce Bairnsfather #WW1 centenary ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Interested

For me, there never has been any relationship between the two statements - 1916 and the Book Title.

Not sure why you would think 1916 was "quieter" than any other year in the Great War, although, as the mid-point (approx.) of the conflict I can imagine there might have been a lull in the level of activities.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aurel Sercu

Interested,

Thanks. When I think that 1916 was "quieter", let it be clear that this is only for my part of the Western Front, Ypres, and especially north of it. I also checked almost all cemeteries in my area, and it is striking that the proportion of 1916 graves is significantly smaller. (Except for Essex Farm Cemetery, just north of Ypres, where 1916 graves are 72% (!)

But again: generalising that 1916 was quieter obviously is wrong.

Edited by Aurel Sercu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...