A Great War veteran was a central character in a 2014 BAFTA nominated film.  ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ was in the frame for the ‘Outstanding British Film’  award and is based on the relationship between P. J. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks). 
Walt Disney–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Bafta Nominations - Saving Mr. Banks



In 1970 the satirical film portrayal of the 1914-18 conflict, ‘Oh What a Lovely War’, was nominated for a BAFTA.  It was directed by Richard Attenborough and it follows the story of the Great War using the actual words of soldiers and politicians.  It features most of the big British stars of the 1960’s including Maggie Smith, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and John Mills.  ‘Oh What A Lovely War’, was a runner-up but its impact over the years has been huge. Authoritative historian A. J. P. Taylor  declared,  "Oh, What a Lovely War does what the historians have failed to do... (it provides) a striking demonstration of what the war was about. Indeed, it occurred to me after I had seen (the show/film) to wonder how much historians were to blame for the fact that one has to go to see it to get a lively interpretation of this difficult subject."

Film Award Season - Oh! What a Lovely War

Oh What a Lovely War–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1


A painting that inspired Britain’s most celebrated war poet is currently on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.  Owen first saw ‘Avatar’ when he was recovering from shell shock and was deeply moved by the image that features four ghostly figures bearing heavenwards a soldier on a stretcher. Other works in the free exhibition feature Sir Harry Lauder, whose songs provided for many a sound track to the war, and suffragette Flora Drummond.


Remembering the Great War is at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh from August 4 – July 5 2015. Admission free.

The Painting that Inspired Wilfred Owen

Painting Inspired Wilfred Owen–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1


Saving Mr Banks–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

In this season of film awards we thought it appropriate to link this industry to the Great War.  Ranked as the 21st best British film, ‘The 39 Steps’ has been remade four times and the stage show is still running in London.  The thriller is set in Europe in the summer of 1914, as enemy agents seek to give their country an advantage when war eventually erupts.  The book on which the films were based was written by John Buchan and was first published in 1915.  During the war, Buchan and other famous authors such as H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds) and Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) were recruited by the Government to produce anti-German propaganda.  Reflecting on the German defeat, Adolf Hitler attributed much of the Allied success to their work and this impelled him to set up his own powerful Ministry of Propaganda in the 1930’s.

Film Award Season - The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

‘The Great Gatsby’ won two BAFTA’s in 2014.  It was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald who joined the U.S. army, hoping to fight in the final stages of World War I.  In June 1918, he was in training at Sheridan in Alabama where he met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre.  The war was over by the time he arrived in France but he recorded his thoughts on visiting key sites.  Commenting on the Somme he wrote, “This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer (1916)”.

Great Gatsby Author on the Somme

The Great Gatsby–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Image Left: Oscar winner Ronald Colman was wounded in action in October 1914. Below: Ronald Coleman in his role within the film 'Double Life'.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 18th October 1914

'The Hollywood Pals'

Ronald Colman–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1
Sherlock Holmes–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Filming has begun on a new ‘Dad’s Army’ feature with a new cast and a release date 12 months from now.  The film is sure to be a huge success in Britain where re-runs of the original T.V. series still draw large audiences.  Bill Patterson (right) will play Pte. James Frazer, the role performed by John Laurie - the only member of the original cast to actually serve in the Home Guard.  In World War 1, Laurie was an artillery gunner who fought at Passchendaele in 1917.  He had given up life as a trainee architect when war broke out and travelled from his home in Dumfries to London to enlist in the Honourable Artillery Company.   Coincidentally his major film breakthrough came in ‘The 39 Steps’ – featured on our facebook page on the 7th January.

Doomed? Probably Not!

Dads Army John Laurie & Bill Patterson–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

The remake of ‘Dad’s Army’ boasts an array of British talent such as Michael Gambon who plays pacifist Private Godfrey.  The original cast beautifully portrayed a group of no-hopers seeking to defend Britain against a Nazi invasion but some of the original actors were war veterans.   The original Godfrey was played by Arnold Ridley who suffered debilitating injuries during the Battle of the Somme (at Delville Wood).  Ridley was bayoneted in the groin, riddled with shrapnel and was battered on the head with a German rifle butt.  This made him prone to blackouts and given that his left hand was for a while virtually useless, he was given a medical discharge.  In 1918 he took up acting but his war injuries limited his opportunities.   Ridley also served in World War 2 and in 1940 was evacuated from Dunkirk.

Dad's Army Pacifist was a War Hero

Dads Army Arnold Ridley & Michael Gambon–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them’. These lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’ were first published in ‘The Times’ on 21st September 1914 and have become integral to British remembrance services.  They provide an insight into the reaction of the British public to the first serious news from the front.  It was with a mixture of shock and stoicism that the nation learned that the B.E.F. had been defeated at Mons and had lost 15,000 men.  Having faced a German ‘tidal wave’, British and French troops were in full retreat.


While walking along the cliffs of Cornwall, Lawrence Binyon was moved to compose his now famous poem.  In 2013, a handwritten copy of its fourth stanza – commonly known as the ‘Ode of Remembrance’ - was auctioned at Bonham’s for £8,000.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 21st September 1914

'For the Fallen' is Published

For the Fallen Laurence Binyon–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

‘Testament of Youth’ tells the story of writer Vera Brittain and war poet Roland Leighton.  Vera’s account of her war years is not untypical and it will tug at the heart strings. One cameo that can be shared without ruining the film is the special association that the two leading characters had with violets.  Early in their courtship, Roland offered a small bunch of the flower to Vera (which she declined).  He later bought her a ring with a violet stone and then from the front line sent her some violets that he found growing alongside the half buried corpse of a British soldier.  This was accompanied by a poem, the first verse of which is..

'Testament of Youth' on General Release

Testament of Youth–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

With 88% of their country under occupation many Belgians fled to Britain, where they were warmly welcomed.  In Torquay, near the hospital where she worked, one young V.A.D.  (nursing assistant) was transfixed by a small, dapper

Belgian Exodus From Ypres

Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1
Belgian Refugees Ypres–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Hobbit Shocker

The Lord of the Rings–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1



Image:  Edward O’Neill, the first M.P. to die in the Great War.


The first Member of Parliament to die on the Western Front was Captain Edward O’Neill who represented Mid-Antrim.  He was killed near Zillebeke in the Ypres salient on 6th November 1914 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing.  Although the 38 year old (whose son fell in WW2) served with a cavalry regiment his unit was that day fighting as infantry.  He died leading a gallant bayonet charge that drove the enemy back several hundred yards.  Captain O’Neill was one of 24 M.P.’s to die on active service in World War 1 – all of them officers.  Among the more interesting of these are Lieutenant William Gladstone (grandson of former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone) and Valentine Fleming (father of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming).

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 6th November 1914

MP's Start to Tumble!

Edward O’Neill first MP to die WW1–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

There were ‘Pals’ battalions for sportsmen, clerks and tram drivers but there was none for film stars.  If such a battalion had existed, it would surely be the 1/14th London Regiment (the London Scottish).  This Territorial Army unit was unlike any other – you had to pay to join.  Unusually it was also at full strength when war was declared and so they were one of the first T.A. units to be sent overseas.  On 18th October 1914 they were based in France helping to unload stores and being trained in combat.  Within their ranks was Oscar winner Ronald Coleman and the battalion would go on to boast no fewer than 4 major Hollywood stars. 


Ronald Coleman, a British soldier who was crippled in the First Battle of Ypres, went on to win an Academy Award. He won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of a troubled actor in  the  1947  film  ‘Double Life’.  Colman  (23)  served  with  the  London  Scottish  and was

 At the age of 16 Walt Disney tried to enlist in the U.S. army to fight on the Western Front but was rejected as too young.  Undeterred he joined the Red Cross and two years later he was driving an ambulance in France.  However he arrived too late to see action as an armistice had already been agreed (11th November 1918).

With the German bombardment of Ypres now 24 hours old, the trickle of refugees from Ypres became a flood.  The thud of explosions shook the ground, shattered glass and split walls.  On this day, St. Martin’s Cathedral was hit and many buildings were set alight.  To add to the misery of those trying to save their homes, there was insufficient water to tackle the fires. 

Belgian gentleman. She was Agatha Christie and in 1916, she wrote a detective novel that featured a character based on that charismatic little Belgian - Hercule Poirot.

Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Sweet, I send you oversea.
(It is strange they should be blue,
Blue, when his soaked blood was red,
For they grew around his head;
It is strange they should be blue.)


Late in her life, she still treasured these lines and particularly the flowers even though they had turned crisp and brown.  If the film stays close to the actual story it will probably do well (as tipped) at the upcoming film awards.

The best known Sherlock Holmes twice missed out on winning a BAFTA.  Basil Rathbone was nominated in 1936 and 1938 in the category of ‘Best Actor in a Supporting  Role’.  Rathbone fought in World War 1, serving initially as a private in the London Scottish - a battalion renowned for its acting talent.  He enlisted in 1915, and finished the war with the rank of Captain and with a Military Cross for bravery.  This award followed Basil’s convincing performance of a bush.  Day after day, he dressed up as a bush with a camouflage costume adorned with simulated branches.  Burnt cork was his only make-up, and once blackened, he would crawl towards enemy positions to gather intelligence.  It is claimed that this reckless bravado was fuelled by his wish to avenge the death of his brother.

Two Nominations - No BAFTA Award

wounded in the fighting on the Messines ridge on Halloween 1914.  The shrapnel injury to his ankle was serious enough to have him repatriated and left him with a limp that could have jeopardised his acting career.  However he generally managed to conceal this and went on to receive four nominations for Academy Awards.

Ronald Colman in Double Life–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Two films based on the works of World War 1 officer, J.R.R. Tolkien won BAFTA awards in recent years.  In 2002, ‘The Lord of the Rings; Fellowship of the Ring’ won BEST FILM - an accolade equalled two years later by ‘The Lord of the Rings; Return of the King’.  Academics and students of literature search Tolkien’s works to find anything that links his stories with his experiences on the Western Front.  During World War 1, ‘the father of high fantasy’ served as a communications officer.  In late 1916, Tolkien began writing his ‘Book of Lost Tales’ while recovering from trench fever and his writing blossomed thereafter. The characters in 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy are often interpreted as returning WW1 veterans.

J.R.R. Tolkien–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Sam and Frodo endured longest and suffered most with the latter exhibiting symptoms of shell shock. The paralyzing screams of artillery shells have much in common with the screams of Nazgul and Ringwraith. Soldier’s descriptions of the nightmare landscape of the Somme seem remarkably similar to Tolkien’s Mordor and the Dead Marshes – particularly the references to foul rotting corpses in what reads like shell-holes.  Furthermore the destructive power of the massive grey clad Mûmakil and Oliphaunts replicate the impact on the battlefield of the tank. Tolkien played down the impact of his war experiences on his writings but academics argue that it would be impossible for him not to have been influenced by the horrors he witnessed.

Ian Fleming also went on to write a very famous series of novels based upon the secret spy - James Bond. Inspiration came from the Fleming family home which was adjacent to the estate of the Bond family one of whose ancestors had been a spy for Queen Elizabeth I.  Interestingly the Bond family motto was 'Non Sufficit Orbis' which translates as 'The World Is Not Enough'.


The BAFTA for ‘Outstanding British Film’ award for 2012 was awarded to ‘Skyfall’. 

Valentin Fleming, who was a Conservative M.P. for Henley, was instantly killed by a German artillery shell in 1917 at the age of 35, leaving behind four sons including a 7 year old, Ian Fleming.


Ian Fleming went on to become an accomplished author and wrote a series of stories for his children on which the 1968 musical film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was based. The only award for which the film was nominated was for the title song.

BAFTA Awards - Bang, Bang, Boom!

Skyfall Poster –Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Londoner Claude Rains was partially disabled by poison gas which permanently reduced vision in one eye. Rains, like fellow Hollywood stars Ronald Coleman and Basil Rathbone, served in the London Scottish in the Great War.  His injury did not handicap his movie career and he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor on 4 occasions but missed out each time.  None the less his film career was highly successful as he was the first actor to command a salary of one million dollars. His list of movie credits include; ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ in which he played King Herod, and Casablanca in which he played opposite Humphrey Bogart.  Rains who married 6 times, became a U.S. citizen in 1939.

Claude Rains–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Gassed Actor Becomes Highest Earner

Humphrey Bogart, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Great War. ‘Bogie’ was nominated three times for the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ but only won once - for his performance in ‘The African Queen’ (1952). 

Film Award Season - 'Bogie' Wades In!

Humphrey Bogart in Navy–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1
African Queen Poster–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

He is sometimes described as being wounded in the war but by the time he had completed his training the fighting was over.  His wound was sustained in an attack by a prisoner while he was on an assignment with the military police.  In an escape attempt, the prisoner he was escorting struck Bogart in the mouth which left the future star with a scar and a slight lisp that gave his voice a more gravelly and some say, sexy tone.

Image Left: Poster for "The African Queen". Right: Humphrey Bogart in his U.S. Navy uniform.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film inspired by Vienna born Stefan Zweig.  Austria-Hungary was at the centre of events in 1914 and Zweig was obliged to do his military service as an officer which was a challenge for a pacifist.  He did his duty but never fought and refused even to carry a rifle.  Instead he spent the war attached to the War Archives managing documents to ensure an accurate record could be kept for future generations.  Zweig was Jewish and in the 1930’s he fled to Britain, then America and finally Brazil.  He felt that he belonged nowhere and in 1942, at the age of 61, he and his wife committed suicide.

Oscar Season - 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

The Grand Budapest Hotel–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

In 1941 Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of World War 1 hero Alvin York.  The story was based on York’s diaries and tells how the hillbilly sharpshooter became an American hero. During an American offensive in the Meuse-Argonne sector in October 1918, York’s unit was pinned down by German machine guns.  As the only unwounded n.c.o., York was given command of a handful of survivors and by a mixture of marksmanship and guile he took 132 enemy soldiers prisoner.  In 2008, the film ‘Sergeant York’ was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Oscar Season - Best Actor - He Took 132 Prisoners!

Gary Cooper as Sergeant York–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Buster Keaton was given an honorary Oscar in 1960.  The comic genius, nicknamed ‘the great stone face’ had a career that spanned 67 years and included over 100 films.  As a 22 year old, Keaton was one of 4 million Americans who were called up to serve in the Great War.  After training, he embarked for France via the port of Liverpool, arriving in the Somme sector nine days before the end of the war.  In recounting his war experiences Keaton complained that he had to sleep on the ground in either crowded tents or decrepit farm buildings.  The drafts caused him to go deaf in both ears for a while and in one ear for life.


Honorary Oscars are awarded irregularly to mark lifetime achievement or exceptional contributions to the motion picture industry.

Oscar Season - Honorary Award - Diasbled by a Draft!

Buster Keaton–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

A film called ‘The Letter’, co-starring Herbert Marshall and the legendary Bette Davis was nominated for nine Oscars in 1940.  For much of his acting career Marshall was able to conceal the fact that one of his legs had been amputated at the hip during the Great War.  The London born actor, one of a band of thespians who fought in the London Scottish Regiment, was wounded in the thigh by a sniper in 1915. Of his 40 films, the best known may be ‘The Razor’s Edge’ while his last one, ‘The Third Day’ was shot in 1965. Months after completing this film, Herbert passed away at his home in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 75.

Film Award Season - Actor Pretended to Have Two Legs!

The Hobbit J R R Tolkien–Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired to write the poem "In Flanders Fields" on this day in 1915. He had just led the funeral for his friend, Alexis Helmer who had been obliterated by an enemy shell.  “In Flanders Fields” is one of the most quoted of war poems but the physician who composed it allegedly thought so little of his effort that he threw it away.   However it was rescued and eventually published in Punch magazine.  The poem paints a picture of a typical wartime cemetery with the ubiquitous poppies thriving in the newly dug soil.  It is largely from McCrae’s composition that Britain uses the poppy as the flower of remembrance.

'In Flanders Fields'

John McCrae In Flanders Fields –Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 3rd May 1915

On 13th April 1915, Captain William G. C. Gladstone (age 29) was mortally wounded by a sniper near Armentieres. The death of the M. P. for Kilmarnock Burghs was especially tragic as he had only been at the front line for a few days.  Captain Gladstone was the nephew of William Ewart Gladstone who was Prime Minister four times during the reign of Queen Victoria.  Gladstone was one of seven M.P.s  who were killed in 1915.  In total World War 1 claimed two dozen of Britain’s elected representatives and among the more interesting of these was Major Valentine Fleming - father of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming.

Parliament 1915 - 7 MP's Killed

Captain Gladstone MP 1915 –Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1

The head of a world famous ceramics firm raised two battalions of volunteers from villages in ‘the Potteries’ and offered himself as an officer.  At 53, Cecil Wedgewood was technically too old to serve but was given the rank of Major.  By the end of June 1915, his North Staffordshire recruits were preparing to embark for France.  Wedgewood - a Boer War hero – always took a keen interest in the men he had persuaded to enlist and this gave rise to the nickname they bore throughout the conflict.  At his ceramics factories workers made weekly penny donation to a fund that paid for all manner of treats that were then sent to the ‘Pets’. Major Wedgewood was killed in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

'Major Wedgewood's Pets'

Major Wedgewood WW1 1915 –Western Front Witness– Famous WW1 Soldiers-WW1 Poets- Famous People in WW1