Britain’s Great War
Thursday, 23 January 2014

Britain’s Great War

The very human, touching stories behind the First World War

Written by Ben Felsenburg
Ben-Felsenberg-176Would that Jeremy Paxman had been around in 1914: ‘So, Kaiser Bill, you don’t seriously expect the rest of the world to stand by as you roll on across the Belgian border, do you?’ Others in this centenary year will no doubt tell how nations clashed across the trenches, but in Britain’s Great War (BBC One, Monday, at 9pm) Paxman’s subject is the ordinary man in uniform, and, away from the battlefield, how life was transformed back home in ways that had been unthinkable. He finds one soldier writing to his family, ‘It’s the ending of the world,’ and in a way that’s true: with mass mobilisation and the enlisting of the entire nation – women included – into industrialised total war, the old certainties and ancient order were to be swept away.

Paxman doesn’t pretend to be an academic historian, but in the place of learned expertise, he offers telling human details. We’ve become all but inured to the unimaginable number of the dead: how much more affecting it is to learn that there were postmen who gave up their jobs because they could no longer bear the task of delivering the official letters that began, ‘It is my painful duty to inform you…’

These events are a century distant, but they might have taken place yesterday as 105-year-old Hartlepool resident Violet Muers remembers the town’s shelling by the German navy. ‘I think someone’s beating the carpets!’ exclaimed her older sister at the first noise, before 152 lives were claimed in the bombardment.

NOT TO BE MISSED

TV-Jan24-NotToBeMissed-590

THE JUMP, Channel 4, Sunday, 8pm
Expect to see high-impact collisions between C-list posteriors and ice as a dozen celebrities learn winter sports in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics.

INSIDE THE ANIMAL MIND, BBC Two, Tuesday, 9pm
Is there more to what your faithful companion is thinking than ‘Where’s my next meal?’ Chris Packham gives the doggy intellect the once-over.

OUT“ NUMBERED, BBC One, Wednesday, 9pm
Thank goodness for the Brockmans: the disturbingly accurate sitcom returns for its final series.


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