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Tolkien's Great War

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    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien,
    was born on the 3rd January, 1892.
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    He and his brother Hilary,
    experienced a difficult childhood.
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    When Tolkien was just four,
    they lost their father, Arthur,
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    to rheumatic fever.
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    As a widow with low income,
    his mother Mabel,
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    home schooled the brothers and played
    a vital role in their early education
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    and development.
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    Tolkien was a smart young boy, with
    a fascination and thirst for languages.
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    Tolkien sat the entrance exam for King
    Edward's School, Birmingham and passed.
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    From the Autumn of 1900,
    for a fee of 12 pounds a year,
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    Tolkien would be educated
    in an environment
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    that would help fulfil
    his academic potential.
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    John Garth: Going to
    King Edward's was
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    vitally important to Tolkien;
    he was an exceptionally
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    talented boy. King Edward's offered him
    a vast amount of scope
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    and also the company of other boys
    who were similarly talented.
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    Which was probably quite
    hard for Tolkien to find.
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    Simon Stacey: Not only did he play rugby
    but he was a leading light
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    in the debating society
    and the literary society.
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    He was the life and soul really,
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    and he missed the school a great deal,
    I think, when he finally had to leave.
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    VO: At the age of just 11, Tolkien
    and his brother Hilary
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    lose their mother Mabel to diabetes.
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    Grief stricken, he plunges
    himself into school life
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    more energetically than before.
    Academically he excels,
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    but in 1905 meets his intellectual rival,
    Christopher Wiseman.
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    John Garth: Tolkien met his greatest
    friend at King Edward's,
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    Christopher Wiseman on the rugby pitch.
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    A musician, a mathematician;
    quite different from Tolkien.
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    They developed such a strong
    bond on the rugby field
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    that they called themselves;
    "The Great Twin Brethren",
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    which was a phrase from
    "Lays of Ancient Rome" by Lord Macauley.
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    Simon Stacey: They also were
    friendly rivals in the school,
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    both being very academic boys.
    Wiseman had a formidable intellect
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    and he was interested
    in a lot of the things
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    that Tolkien was getting interested in;
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    languages, I think he was looking at
    Egyptian and was looking at hieroglyphics.
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    John Garth: Tolkien and Wiseman
    must have helped define each other
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    through their teenage years
    because they would argue;
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    they would argue strongly
    about all their beliefs in life.
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    Simon Stacey: Wiseman was
    a very talented musician;
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    Tolkien was supposed to be tone deaf
    but that didn't stop them getting on!
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    VO: Tolkien also befriends,
    son of the headmaster, Rob Gilson.
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    Tolkien, Wiseman and Gilson,
    form a strong bond
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    which will last throughout
    their school years and beyond.
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    Outside of King Edward's, Tolkien's life
    is about to change, yet again.
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    John Garth: Tolkien was living
    in lodgings with his brother, Hilary,
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    and when he was 16 he met fellow lodger,
    Edith Bratt, who was 19 at the time.
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    And she was a beautiful young girl;
    talented pianist and also an orphan.
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    And the two of them bonded
    on their shared sadnesses
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    but also on their hopes and dreams.
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    The difficulty for Ronald,
    as she called him, and Edith,
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    was that he was a Roman Catholic
    and she was an Anglican.
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    VO: Tolkien's Guardian, Father Francis
    Morgan, a Catholic Priest,
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    feels this is major divide; and also
    believes that Edith will distract Tolkien
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    from his attempts to get
    into Oxford University.
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    John Garth: Father Francis Morgan,
    forbade them from seeing each other,
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    or even from communicating.
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    He was thrown back upon
    his friendships at King Edward's
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    and it was this final phase of his time
    here, that he began to flourish
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    and make the place his own;
    he and his friends ruled the roost.
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    VO: Making the most of
    his final year at King Edward's
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    and the friendships he has formed,
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    Tolkien and his peers create
    an informal society.
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    These young intellectuals gather
    in the school library
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    and do what they are
    forbidden to do: brew tea.
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    Outside of school hours, they meet
    in a cafe at Barrow's Stores in Birmingham
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    and so, self-mockingly, they call themselves
    the "Tea Club and Barrovean Society"
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    or the TCBS for short.
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    (nostalgic music)
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    John Garth: The core of the TCBS
    was probably
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    Tolkien and Wiseman and the others
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    gravitated around them. There was Robert
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    Quilter Gilson, the son of the headmaster
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    here; Rob was a cultured and sociable chap,
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    he was perhaps the social glue of the group;
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    he would welcome anyone and find common
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    cause with them. A gentle artistic fellow
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    who loved to sketch.
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    Simon Stacey: He was a gifted artist and
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    had ambitions to be an architect.
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    There was a late arrival, Geoffrey Bache Smith,
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    who was fascinated by mythology, Celtic
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    mythology; so this gave him common ground
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    with Tolkien;
    it was another of
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    Tolkien's passions.
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    Simon Stacey: Smith was quite an accomplished
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    and advanced poet who recommended contemporary
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    poetry to Tolkien. When he started writing
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    poetry, Tolkien was to a certain extent,
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    inspired by Smith and the wider group.
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    And that was really the beginnings of
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    Tolkien as a writer.
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    John Garth: From the beginnings which were
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    mostly about fun, later on, during the war years,
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    this developed into a fellowship from which
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    each of them drew tremendous strength and
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    comfort.
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    VO: Later that year, Tolkien's time at
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    King Edward's comes to an end and he begins
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    his first term at Oxford, having successfully
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    gained entrance.
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    On the eve of his 21st birthday, and his
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    independence from Father Francis Morgan,
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    Tolkien writes to Edith and less than a
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    week later, they are re-united.
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    Edith is engaged to marry another man,
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    but despite almost certain ridicule,
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    she agrees to break the engagement to be
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    with her Ronald.
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    Over the next few months, a growing sense of
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    trouble brews across Europe and on the 28th
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    of June, 1914, everything changes.
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    (gun shot sound)
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    (solemn music)
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    Gavrillo Princip is arrested for the
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    assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
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    A diplomatic crisis ensues and within weeks,
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    Europe's major powers are at war.
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    Germany invades Belgium and Britain declares
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    war on Germany. Parliament issues a call
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    to arms from the British public.
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    Paul Golightly: There isn't a rush to the
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    colours straight away. It becomes much more
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    obvious that people are willing to join
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    up when atrocity stories start to emerge,
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    then you get a much more concerted rush
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    to join.
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    John Garth: There was an air of excitement
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    about the war, there was a naive sense that
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    this would allow young men to fulfil their
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    potential in a way that wasn't possible in
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    peace time. There was a tremendous sense
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    of patriotism and a sense of duty towards
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    whatever England, or Britain, stood for.
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    Paul Golightly: They are attracted to the
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    idea of a settling of accounts with the Germans,
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    or at least some of them will be. On the
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    whole, they thought they were going to give
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    the Germans a bloody nose.
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    John Garth: "The Germans has been dastardly"
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    and needed to dealt with and shown their place.
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    Paul Golightly: Men join up out of economic
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    necessity and you'll find that in any war.
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    Life is not very exciting and the romance
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    and colour of joining the army and being
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    part of something very big indeed, I'm sure
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    has some allure.
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    (solemn music) And they see things
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    in rather romantic ways, which of course is
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    doomed to fail; we all know what the First
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    World War turns into. It's not a war of
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    movement, of dash and élan; it's not cavalry
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    charges and distant trumpets; I'm afraid
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    it's the pitter-patter of machine gun fire
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    and the crump of artillery that's going to
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    dominate.
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    So they, I think, have expectations about what
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    the war will be like, and I think their main
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    emotion was, will it be over before I can
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    get to France.
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    John Garth: Tolkien, who's reading covered
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    ancient heroic literature, that is surprisingly
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    frank about what happens in war, went into
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    the war much more open-eyed. He described
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    himself as a "young man with too much
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    imagination" and so he did not relish battle
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    in any sense.
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    Paul Golightly: And I think that applies
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    to, not just men like Tolkien who fought in it,
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    but also the politicians and generals who
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    directed it; I think a lot of people
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    understood that this war could be terrible.
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    Simon Stacey: What you get in the letters
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    between Gilson, Tolkien and Wiseman and
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    then in Smith's poetry, is a serious
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    determination to do their duty and that they
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    should be prepared to give their lives.
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    A realistic appreciation that this is a dark time
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    and that they've got to come through it.
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    VO: G.B. Smith and Rob Gilson both join
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    the army in 1914, Tolkien's brother, Hilary,
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    signs up as a bugler and Christopher Wiseman
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    joins the navy. Tolkien however, faces a
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    dilemma.
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    Simon Stacey: Tolkien was in a difficult
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    position when war broke out; he had a year
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    of his degree at Oxford to run and Tolkien
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    needed a degree badly because he wanted to
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    pursue an academic career; he didn't have
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    any money in his family unlike Gilson and
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    therefore, having committed three years to
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    the degree it was very important that he
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    completed it. So he discovered a scheme
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    whereby he could undergo some training
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    in the Officer Training Core whilst
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    completing his degree, which he did triumphantly
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    with a first at Oxford.
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    VO: He follows good friend, G.B.Smith, into
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    the Lancashire Fusiliers in the hope of being
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    posted to the same battalion.
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    John Garth: Tolkien was looking for something
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    in the army through which he could use his
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    particular talents, and his particular talents
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    were languages and writing systems; he was
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    fascinated by codes and so forth. So it was
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    only natural that he would train up as a
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    signaller.
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    Paul Golightly: It would have meant that
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    Tolkien was exposed to the technology
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    available at the time and it must have
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    interested him; so the use of the radio, the
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    use of signals, of semaphore.
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    Simon Stacey: He learnt morse code,
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    he learnt how to use signalling lamps, field
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    telephones; which of course went on largely
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    to be ineffective or not to work.
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    John Garth: He became Battalion Signalling
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    Officer for his Battalion. Tolkien had to
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    oversee the communications of a Battalion
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    of between 600 and 1,000 men depending on
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    manpower at the time.
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    Paul Golightly: His basic job of course
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    was to act as a link between the various
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    layers of command, and that he would be
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    responsible for incoming orders and making sure
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    that the right people got those and of course
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    he'd be responsible for telling command further
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    up the line about the situation on his sector.
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    John Garth: So he was an absolute lynch pin
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    in a war which depended absolutely on how
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    much information you had about your enemies
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    position.
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    VO: In March of 1916 as his training nears
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    its completion, both Tolkien and Edith
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    become aware that he will soon be sent to
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    the Front. They marry and just over two
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    months later, Tolkien is shipped off to France.
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    The two of them part, not knowing if they
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    will ever see each other again.
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    (Loud battle sounds, Guns Firing, Shouting)
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    (ominous music)
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    VO: When Tolkien arrives at the Front, the
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    War has been raging for almost two years.
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    The cost of the War is clear;
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    the countryside is scarred and the casualties
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    high.
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    After a virtual stalemate of trench warfare
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    throughout 1915, and with a new wave of
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    thousands of freshly trained recruits, it is
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    clear the Big Push is imminent.
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    (marching feet)
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    Tolkien's Battalion remains in reserve, but
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    he fears for the lives of his old school
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    friends who are at the Front.
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    Within a month of his arrival in France
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    the Allies launch the Somme Offensive.
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    At 7.30am, on Saturday 1st of July,
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    the troops in the British Frontline,
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    go over the top.
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    (whistle sound echoes)
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    On the first day of the Offensive alone,
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    20,000 men are killed, 35,000 are wounded
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    and over 2,000 are reported missing.
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    Paul Golightly:
    The first casualty was the plan.
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    It started to fall apart very rapidly.
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    Tragically for the men caught out in the open,
    it was a death sentence.
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    1 in 5 men who went into combat on the 1st of July was killed.
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    John Garth: It was the most disastrous day
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    in the history of the British Army, and
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    a tragedy for the entire country. There were
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    villages that had lost all their young men.
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    Paul Golightly: It's marked as a loss of
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    innocence, that the 20,000 that were killed
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    represent a turning point in British
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    consciousness and the relationship perhaps
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    between those who make decisions and those
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    who are forced to carry them out.
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    (soft piano music)
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    VO: Among the many men that are lost on that
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    day, is dear friend and TCBS member,
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    Robert Gilson.
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    John Garth: He led his Platoon over the top
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    took charge of his Company, but was shot
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    in the middle of No Man's Land.
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    Paul Golightly: He was in the fourth wave.
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    He saw the first wave go in and fail,
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    the second wave go in and fail,
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    the third wave go in and fail.
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    And he, as a part of the fourth wave, had
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    to go in; and they still went. And that
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    I think is the most poignant and probably
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    the most tragic thing about the 1st of July
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    1916. That this generation, had so much faith
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    in their superiors, probably had so much
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    commitment to their fellows that they were
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    prepared to go, even though it meant certain
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    death.
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    John Garth: Tolkien heard about this
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    after his first action on the Somme a couple
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    of weeks later; and he was devastated.
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    It shook him to the foundations of his
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    beliefs. He had, as all of the members of
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    the TCBS had, built up their group as a
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    fellowship, with ideas and a spirit that had
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    something to give to the World. In which
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    all four of them were vital parts, and now
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    one of them was dead. So what did that mean
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    about their overall purpose? And also his
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    purpose.
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    Simon Stacey: Geoffrey Smith wrote him a
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    letter in which, clearly Smith experiences
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    feelings of devastation and a sense that the
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    fellowship had been broken. Rob would never
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    become an architect, he would never fulfil
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    his part in whatever they dreamed of.
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    John Garthm: And I think it took him quite
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    some time to recover from that. The other
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    two members, Wiseman and Smith, were
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    determined to persuade him that, no, the TCBS
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    purpose continued and I think eventually
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    Tolkien took heart from that.
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    VO: Tolkien writes to Rob's father, Headmaster
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    at King Edward's school to offer his
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    condolences. The TCBS lost a bright young
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    man, a talented artist and most painfully
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    of all; a dear friend.
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    Tolkien's war has well and truly started and
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    over the coming months he is subject to the
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    many hardships of trench warfare.
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    John Garth: He spent his time in and out
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    of the trenches. Battalions would be rotated
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    from the Frontline to the reserve trenches
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    to rest, as they laughably called it, but
  • 17:54 - 17:56
    it wasn't really rest, it was training.
  • 17:56 - 17:59
    Tolkien talked about the universal weariness
  • 17:59 - 18:01
    of all this war. But during this period he
  • 18:01 - 18:04
    was involved in three attacks, he was
  • 18:04 - 18:06
    very fortunate not to have to go through the
  • 18:06 - 18:09
    first day of the Somme; he was a few miles
  • 18:09 - 18:11
    back from the Frontline at that time.
  • 18:11 - 18:14
    His Battalion moved forward for a second
  • 18:14 - 18:16
    wave of attacks, they were launched against a
  • 18:16 - 18:18
    village called Ovillers; which had been the
  • 18:18 - 18:21
    German Frontline. One of the first things that
  • 18:21 - 18:25
    he encountered was, complete chaos in the
  • 18:25 - 18:28
    battlefield communications system. It was very
  • 18:28 - 18:31
    primitive. It was only partly built; damaged
  • 18:31 - 18:35
    by the fortunes of battle. He had signallers
  • 18:35 - 18:39
    going across No Man's Land carrying flares
  • 18:39 - 18:42
    to say, we have arrived. Further flares -
  • 18:42 - 18:44
    "we have taken prisoners", they carried
  • 18:44 - 18:46
    pigeons; pigeons were about the most reliable
  • 18:46 - 18:49
    method of communication. One of Tolkien's
  • 18:49 - 18:52
    signallers won a military medal for managing
  • 18:52 - 18:56
    to get his pigeons across No Man's Land and
  • 18:56 - 18:57
    do the job correctly.
  • 18:57 - 19:00
    VO: The attack is a success and many
  • 19:00 - 19:02
    prisoners are captured. Of all the combat
  • 19:02 - 19:05
    Tolkien encounters, one of the most significant
  • 19:05 - 19:09
    battles is also one of his last; an attack
  • 19:09 - 19:10
    on Regina Trench.
  • 19:10 - 19:13
    John Garth: This was in October, by which
  • 19:13 - 19:15
    time the battlefield had been reduced to mud.
  • 19:16 - 19:19
    The attack had been delayed by heavy rain
  • 19:19 - 19:22
    but on October 21st there was a cold snap
  • 19:22 - 19:24
    so the ground was frozen hard and the
  • 19:24 - 19:26
    attack was able to go ahead.
  • 19:26 - 19:30
    (Deep boom. Loud Artillery Fire)
  • 19:30 - 19:33
    (Gunfire, bullets zipping by)
  • 19:33 - 19:48
    (solemn music)
  • 19:48 - 19:52
    John Garth: He saw violent death, he also
  • 19:52 - 19:55
    saw and felt extreme terror.
  • 19:57 - 20:00
    He never, as far as we know, described at
  • 20:00 - 20:03
    length what trench warfare was like but he
  • 20:03 - 20:05
    summed it up in two words, in one of his
  • 20:05 - 20:08
    letters, and this was; "animal horror".
  • 20:09 - 20:13
    It would reduce you from humanity and
  • 20:13 - 20:17
    turn you into a retched beast desperate only
  • 20:17 - 20:20
    to cower and survive. And it's very
  • 20:20 - 20:22
    interesting if you look in The Lord of The Rings
  • 20:22 - 20:25
    whenever the characters are in situations of
  • 20:25 - 20:28
    extreme fear, they're always described as
  • 20:28 - 20:35
    stooping and stupefied, un-manned by terror.
  • 20:35 - 20:37
    Paul Golightly: A lot of British trenches
  • 20:37 - 20:39
    were deliberately uncomfortable because
  • 20:39 - 20:41
    the Generals wanted the men to believe
  • 20:41 - 20:42
    that they were only temporary, that they
  • 20:42 - 20:44
    would be advancing beyond this, that this
  • 20:44 - 20:46
    wasn't their home.
  • 20:47 - 20:50
    VO: Out on the Western Front, Tolkien feels
  • 20:50 - 20:53
    isolated from home and letters to, and from,
  • 20:53 - 20:56
    Edith are a lifeline. For reasons of
  • 20:56 - 20:59
    strategic importance Tolkien is forbidden
  • 20:59 - 21:02
    from sharing his location in his letters, so
  • 21:02 - 21:05
    he devises a code of dots to keep Edith
  • 21:05 - 21:06
    informed of where he is.
  • 21:06 - 21:09
    John Garth: He simply found the letters
  • 21:09 - 21:12
    of the alphabet within what he wrote to her
  • 21:12 - 21:14
    and put a dot above the relevant ones to
  • 21:14 - 21:17
    spell out the name of the place where he was
  • 21:17 - 21:21
    currently located. And Edith kept a map
  • 21:21 - 21:25
    on her wall and pins to show where he was
  • 21:25 - 21:27
    at that time.
  • 21:27 - 21:30
    VO: After the successful attack on Regina
  • 21:30 - 21:32
    Trench, the Battalion is withdrawn from the
  • 21:32 - 21:35
    front and paraded in front of the top brass.
  • 21:35 - 21:38
    Tolkien however, falls ill.
  • 21:38 - 21:40
    John Garth: It was trench fever. And this
  • 21:40 - 21:43
    was a louse born disease due to the unhygienic
  • 21:43 - 21:44
    conditions in the trenches.
  • 21:44 - 21:47
    Paul Golightly: It spread through contact
  • 21:47 - 21:51
    with lice and it symptoms aren't very pleasant
  • 21:51 - 21:54
    It gives you a headache, you can have stomach
  • 21:54 - 21:57
    cramps, you can have pain in you joints
  • 21:57 - 21:59
    and in your bones, you can get lesions on
  • 21:59 - 22:03
    your skin; it's not fatal but it can become
  • 22:03 - 22:06
    very debilitating. So debilitating you can't
  • 22:06 - 22:08
    be an effective soldier. Tolkien got a very
  • 22:08 - 22:11
    bad case, so bad that he had to be invalided
  • 22:11 - 22:12
    "back to Blighty" as they put it.
  • 22:12 - 22:14
    And in fact it was the end of his war.
  • 22:14 - 22:16
    John Garth: It saved Tolkien's life, it took
  • 22:16 - 22:20
    him out of the battlefield and back to Britain.
  • 22:20 - 22:23
    He was shipped home to Birmingham, to
  • 22:23 - 22:25
    The First Southern General Hospital as it
  • 22:25 - 22:28
    was called at the time, which was actually set
  • 22:28 - 22:30
    up in the grounds of Birmingham University.
  • 22:30 - 22:33
    And it was there that Tolkien was re-united
  • 22:33 - 22:37
    with his wife, Edith and where he began
  • 22:37 - 22:40
    writing the first stories of Middle-Earth.
  • 22:41 - 22:44
    His re-union with Edith was deeply emotional
  • 22:44 - 22:47
    and was an inspiration for various pieces of
  • 22:47 - 22:49
    writing in his mythology, notably the
  • 22:49 - 22:53
    story of Luthien and Beren; which features
  • 22:53 - 22:55
    in the Silmarillion and is mentioned in
  • 22:55 - 22:58
    The Lord of The Rings. A love story between
  • 22:58 - 23:01
    a mortal man and an immortal elf.
  • 23:01 - 23:02
    (Gentle Piano Music)
  • 23:02 - 23:05
    VO: However, Tolkien's respite is short lived.
  • 23:05 - 23:08
    Shortly after returning to Birmingham, Tolkien
  • 23:08 - 23:10
    learns from Christopher Wiseman, that
  • 23:10 - 23:14
    good friend G.B.Smith has been killed.
  • 23:17 - 23:19
    John Garth: The Battle of the Somme was
  • 23:19 - 23:23
    over, and Smith had been organising a
  • 23:23 - 23:26
    football match for his men about four miles
  • 23:26 - 23:28
    behind the Frontline, when a stray shell
  • 23:28 - 23:31
    exploded near him.
  • 23:31 - 23:35
    He was hit by shrapnel and developed what
  • 23:35 - 23:38
    they called Gas Gangrene, which killed
  • 23:38 - 23:42
    him within a few days. Early in 1916, while
  • 23:42 - 23:45
    Tolkien was still in training, he had a letter
  • 23:45 - 23:48
    G.B.Smith, who by that time was in the trenches
  • 23:48 - 23:49
    in France.
  • 23:49 - 23:52
    VO: Smith was about to go out on Night Patrol.
  • 23:52 - 23:54
    The officer who had led the patrol the night before
  • 23:54 - 23:57
    had been captured and most likely killed.
  • 23:57 - 24:00
    John Garth: It was about the most dangerous
  • 24:00 - 24:02
    activity that you could do on the Western Front
  • 24:02 - 24:04
    and Smith was about to go into it and he took
  • 24:04 - 24:08
    the opportunity to write to Tolkien, and
  • 24:08 - 24:16
    tell him; "I'm about to go out on Night Patrol,
  • 24:16 - 24:18
    I am a wild and wholehearted admirer of
  • 24:18 - 24:23
    what you've written and what you will write"
  • 24:23 - 24:29
    He told Tolkien, "you I'm sure are chosen,
  • 24:29 - 24:33
    and you must publish."
  • 24:33 - 24:36
    Smith was essentially the first Middle-Earth
  • 24:36 - 24:37
    fan.
  • 24:37 - 24:39
    Simon Stacey: Smith says in the letter that
  • 24:41 - 24:45
    death couldn't put an end to the TCBS, to
  • 24:45 - 24:49
    the "immortal four" as he put it, that Tolkien
  • 24:49 - 24:53
    may say the things that he had wanted to
  • 24:53 - 24:57
    say, long after he is there to say them.
  • 24:57 - 25:01
    That's very moving because Tolkien, although
  • 25:01 - 25:05
    very much his own individual artistic self,
  • 25:06 - 25:09
    I think did see his later career as an
  • 25:09 - 25:12
    attempt to fulfil the artistic dreams that
  • 25:12 - 25:13
    they'd shared.
  • 25:13 - 25:17
    John Garth: He was able to gather his strength
  • 25:17 - 25:23
    and perhaps see Smith as an ideal to be lived up to.
  • 25:25 - 25:28
    VO: In the summer of 1918, Tolkien and
  • 25:28 - 25:30
    Wiseman gather some of Smith's poems and
  • 25:30 - 25:32
    have them published in a small volume,
  • 25:32 - 25:37
    entitled; "A Spring Harvest".
  • 25:37 - 25:40
    Tolkien's war is over, but the impact of his
  • 25:40 - 25:43
    experiences will stay with him forever, and
  • 25:43 - 25:46
    will even feature in his future writings.
  • 25:46 - 25:48
    John Garth: The whole experience of the War
  • 25:48 - 25:52
    had an ongoing affect on much of Tolkien's
  • 25:52 - 25:54
    mythology. As soon as Tolkien returned from
  • 25:54 - 25:56
    the Somme he started writing a story called,
  • 25:56 - 25:58
    "The Fall of Gondolin" which was the first
  • 25:58 - 26:01
    element of his mythology that dealt with battle.
  • 26:02 - 26:04
    And the fascinating thing about it is that the
  • 26:04 - 26:08
    attacking forces use things that are termed
  • 26:08 - 26:10
    by Tolkien, "dragons" or "beasts" or "monsters"
  • 26:10 - 26:14
    but they're described as metallic and rolling
  • 26:14 - 26:16
    and they spout fire and some of them have
  • 26:16 - 26:19
    troops inside them, and it's pretty clear that
  • 26:19 - 26:22
    this is a kind of mythologising of the Tank.
  • 26:22 - 26:24
    Which was Britains secret weapon, which
  • 26:24 - 26:26
    had just been launched on the Somme while
  • 26:26 - 26:27
    Tolkien was there.
  • 26:27 - 26:31
    The Lord of The Rings focusses on a fellowship,
  • 26:31 - 26:34
    they're separated on different battlefronts,
  • 26:34 - 26:35
    much like the TCBS were.
  • 26:35 - 26:37
    Simon Stacey: It's almost unimaginable that,
  • 26:37 - 26:40
    in writing of the breaking of the fellowship,
  • 26:40 - 26:42
    in The Lord of The Rings, that Tolkien wouldn't
  • 26:42 - 26:45
    have been influenced by his own loss during
  • 26:45 - 26:48
    the First World War and the breaking of the
  • 26:48 - 26:49
    TCBS fellowship.
  • 26:50 - 26:53
    There is a late letter in which he mentions
  • 26:53 - 26:56
    that the dead marshes, through which Frodo,
  • 26:56 - 27:00
    Sam and Gollum travel, owe something to
  • 27:00 - 27:02
    northern France, in the area of the Somme
  • 27:02 - 27:03
    where he fought.
  • 27:03 - 27:07
    John Garth: Frodo and Sam are very much
  • 27:07 - 27:10
    the equivalent of an officer and his batman; his
  • 27:10 - 27:13
    servant. And Tolkien actually said that, "my
  • 27:13 - 27:18
    Sam Gamgee is inspired by the Privates and
  • 27:18 - 27:22
    Batmen I knew in the First World War".
  • 27:22 - 27:25
    Frodo represents really, the feelings of a young
  • 27:25 - 27:28
    man like Tolkien himself, thrown into a war
  • 27:28 - 27:31
    unwillingly and having to shoulder a terrible
  • 27:31 - 27:35
    burden; a burden of duty. You can see that
  • 27:35 - 27:39
    Frodo develops symptoms of what we would now
  • 27:40 - 27:43
    call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or
  • 27:43 - 27:45
    War Trauma, or what they called then,
  • 27:45 - 27:49
    Shell Shock. He becomes withdrawn from
  • 27:49 - 27:52
    the World, increasingly enclosed within himself
  • 27:52 - 27:55
    he says he can't remember what grass was like,
  • 27:55 - 27:57
    what sunlight was like.
  • 27:58 - 28:01
    When the war is over in The Lord of The Rings,
  • 28:01 - 28:04
    Frodo does not strut his stuff as a hero,
  • 28:04 - 28:06
    he is visibly traumatised by the whole
  • 28:06 - 28:09
    experience. This was very true of many of the
  • 28:09 - 28:12
    soldiers who returned from the Western
  • 28:12 - 28:15
    Front, unable to talk about the experiences
  • 28:15 - 28:18
    that had affected them so deeply.
  • 28:18 - 28:22
    (retrospective piano music)
  • 28:22 - 28:24
    Paul Golightly: The generation that fights
  • 28:24 - 28:27
    the First World War, should be called courageous.
  • 28:27 - 28:30
    Simon Stacey: The sacrifice of that generation
  • 28:30 - 28:31
    was extraordinary.
  • 28:31 - 28:35
    John Garth: It was a tragic loss not only for
  • 28:35 - 28:39
    families, for friends, but for civilisation as
  • 28:39 - 28:45
    a whole. It shook long-held beliefs and
  • 28:45 - 28:48
    assumptions in honour and glory.
  • 28:48 - 28:52
    Simon Stacey: It is the first thorough
  • 28:52 - 28:57
    going war of the machines. So many
  • 28:57 - 29:00
    thousands and ultimately millions of men
  • 29:00 - 29:04
    could be wiped out, could be destroyed without
  • 29:04 - 29:06
    necessarily facing their individual enemy.
  • 29:06 - 29:08
    Paul Golightly: These men don't have
  • 29:08 - 29:12
    the privilege of dying one at a time, they die
  • 29:12 - 29:14
    on mass; and it's those numbers that I think
  • 29:14 - 29:17
    traumatise us so much. That's why we have
  • 29:17 - 29:21
    the memorials at Thiepval and Menin Gate;
  • 29:21 - 29:24
    where it's just one long list of names.
  • 29:24 - 29:27
    These bodies have simply disappeared, and
  • 29:27 - 29:29
    they're all separate lives but they've all
  • 29:29 - 29:30
    vanished at once.
  • 29:31 - 29:33
    John Garth: When you read the King Edward's
  • 29:33 - 29:38
    School Chronicle, as I have to research
  • 29:38 - 29:43
    Tolkien's life here, you get to know the boys
  • 29:43 - 29:45
    with whom he grew up and you see their
  • 29:45 - 29:47
    achievements, you see what they were learning,
  • 29:47 - 29:50
    you see how wonderfully intelligent, potentially
  • 29:50 - 29:55
    creative and brilliant they were. And then
  • 29:55 - 29:57
    the First World War; and you see that they're
  • 29:57 - 29:59
    heading for this.
  • 29:59 - 30:01
    Paul Golightly: These young men, with their
  • 30:01 - 30:04
    whole lives in front of them, have, yes it's
  • 30:04 - 30:06
    a phrase that we all know, have been cut off
  • 30:06 - 30:08
    in their prime. They were full of potential,
  • 30:08 - 30:10
    full of life, full of vigour, full of plans,
  • 30:10 - 30:12
    full of ambition; wanting to do all kinds of
  • 30:12 - 30:14
    things with their professional lives and
  • 30:14 - 30:16
    their personal lives, and denied that opportunity.
  • 30:16 - 30:19
    John Garth: When you look at the fortunes
  • 30:19 - 30:21
    of war, it's quite astonishing that Tolkien
  • 30:21 - 30:24
    survived and went on to produce the great
  • 30:24 - 30:26
    works of literature that he did; works that
  • 30:26 - 30:29
    have shaped our culture. And one does
  • 30:29 - 30:33
    wonder how many others didn't survive,
  • 30:33 - 30:35
    what potential was locked inside them that
  • 30:35 - 30:39
    they never had time to bring out of themselves.
  • 30:39 - 30:43
    So there is an uncountable loss there.
  • 30:44 - 30:48
    Simon Stacey: G.B.Smith gives a brief glimpse
  • 30:48 - 30:53
    of a young life snuffed out and only very
  • 30:53 - 30:57
    incompletely communicating its dreams.
  • 30:57 - 30:59
    Paul Golightly: This is a generation that did
  • 30:59 - 31:01
    not talk about the way it felt. So in that
  • 31:01 - 31:05
    sense I think the psychological affect was
  • 31:05 - 31:08
    long lasting. A number of veterans surived
  • 31:08 - 31:11
    the war only to find that they couldn't survive
  • 31:11 - 31:11
    the peace.
  • 31:12 - 31:15
    VO: In the chapel at King Edward's School,
  • 31:15 - 31:19
    eight brass plaques hold the names of
  • 31:19 - 31:21
    245 Old Edwardians who lost their lives during
  • 31:21 - 31:25
    the First World War. Tolkien and his TCBS
  • 31:25 - 31:27
    friends, are just four of almost
  • 31:27 - 31:29
    fifteen hundred Old Edwardians who answered
  • 31:29 - 31:33
    their country's call and fought in The Great War,
  • 31:33 - 31:36
    and each of their stories is worth telling.
  • 31:37 - 31:39
    Paul Golightly: The graveyards that you can
  • 31:39 - 31:42
    walk around in northern France now have become
  • 31:42 - 31:45
    almost 21st century cathedrals; where some
  • 31:45 - 31:48
    really important questions need to be ask about
  • 31:48 - 31:50
    the nature of war and the nature of
  • 31:50 - 31:55
    sacrifice, and in the First World War's case,
  • 31:56 - 32:01
    the scale of that sacrifice. Whether any war
  • 32:01 - 32:06
    could be worth that.
  • 32:13 - 32:28
    (Piano Solo)
Title:
Tolkien's Great War
Description:

Tolkien's Great War

A half hour documentary on JRR Tolkien's experiences during the First World War produced for a centenary exhibition at King Edward's School, Birmingham. For more information, please visit www.kes.org.uk/great-war-exhibition

Produced & Directed by:
Elliot Weaver & Zander Weaver 2014
www.EllianderPictures.co.uk

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Duration:
32:58

English subtitles

Revisions