Transcript: The Importance of Remembering | Oct 19, 1987

Theme music plays.

The title “Realities in Toronto” appears on screen as fast clips show pictures of different cities, including Toronto, Washington DC, and San Francisco.

With Robert Fulford, Richard Gwyn, and Suzanne Grew-Ellis.

Clips show the traffic in different cities.

Then, as a clip of an interview runs, Suzanne’s voice narrates
FOR MANY, IT WAS AT THE
BATTLE OF VIMY RIDGE,
THAT CANADA CAME OF AGE.
TONIGHT, ON REALITIES,
WE REMEMBER THAT BATTLE
AND THE MEN WHO FOUGHT IT.
OUR GUEST IS PIERRE BERTON,
JOURNALIST, HISTORIAN,
AND MEDIA PERSONALITY.
HE IS INTERVIEWED IN TORONTO
BY RICHARD GWYN, INTERNATIONAL
AFFAIRS COLUMNIST FOR
THE TORONTO STAR.

Pierre and Richard sit in an office for the interview.
Pierre is in his late sixties, clean-shaven, with sparse white hair. He’s wearing a tartan suit, pale green shirt, and black bowtie.
Richard is in his late fifties, clean-shaven, with wavy white hair. He’s wearing a beige suit, white shirt, and gray tie.

Richard says Mr. BERTON, WHAT IS IT 79 YEARS
AGO NOW THE GUNS FELL SILENT
IN EUROPE AT THE END
OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR.
AND IN YOUR BOOK, IN
VIMY,
YOU WRITE THIS ABOUT THAT WAR:
YOU SEE THE GREAT WAR WAS
MUCH MORE A CANADIAN WAR
THAN THE SECOND.
THAN THE SECOND WORLD WAR.
WHY WAS THAT?

Pierre says FIRST OF ALL,
WE LOST MORE MEN.
THERE WERE MORE PEOPLE KILLED.
NOT ON A PER CAPITA BASIS.
WE WERE A COUNTRY THEN
OF 8 MILLION PEOPLE.
NOT THE NUMBERS WE HAD --
WE WERE ABOUT 20 MILLION,
I THINK, IN WORLD WAR II.
WE LOST MORE PEOPLE BECAUSE
WE WERE FIGHTING LONGER.
DON'T FORGET, IN WORLD WAR II,
THE CANADIANS DIDN'T REALLY
GET INTO ACTION.
ONE DIVISION GOT INTO ACTION
IN '43 IN SICILY, AND AFTER
THAT IT WASN'T UNTIL D-DAY.
BUT THE CANADIANS WERE IN IT
ALMOST FROM THE BEGINNING
IN WORLD WAR I.
AND I THINK THERE WAS A LOT
MORE FEELING ABOUT WAR AS A
PATRIOTIC EFFORT.
EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS A
DIFFERENCE IN WORLD WAR II
BECAUSE WE WERE
UPSET ABOUT HITLER.
BUT IN WORLD WAR I, WE
WERE RALLYING TO THE FLAG.
IT WAS AN ENGLISH
IMMIGRANTS' WAR.
AND THE PEOPLE WHO FOUGHT IT
WENT OFF FEELING THAT THEY WERE
REALLY ACCOMPLISHING
SOMETHING AND CAME BACK
BITTERLY DEPRESSED AND
DISAPPOINTED AND CYNICAL.
AND IT WAS THIS CHANGE IN
AN ATTITUDE TOWARDS WARFARE.
FOR 2,000 YEARS, WARFARE HAD
BEEN LOOKED UPON AS SOMETHING
GALLANT, AN
ADVENTURE, YOU KNOW?
THE BANDAGE DRAPED
RAKISHLY OVER ONE EYE.
THE ARM IN A SLING.
BUT, REALLY, NOBODY
TERRIBLY MUTILATED.
THEY WERE FIGHTING HILL TRIBES
IN INDIA, AND FUZZY WUZZIES
IN AFRICA, AND THE BOERS.
AND AS PAUL FUSSELL SAYS
IN THIS WONDERFUL BOOK,
THE GREAT WAR IN
MODERN MEMORY,
WORLD WAR I BEGAN THE
'THEM AND US' ATTITUDE TO
THE ENEMY.
THE ENEMY WASN'T
JUST THE ENEMY.
HE WAS NOT A GALLANT
ENEMY, HE WAS EVIL.
THE KAISER WAS EVIL.
THEY CRUCIFIED
BABIES IN BELGIUM.
THIS WAS A PROPAGANDA WAR.
THIS WAS NOT THE FEELING OF
THE SOLDIERS IN THE TRENCHES,
AS I HAVE SAID IN
VIMY,
THEY TRIED TO FRATERNIZE QUITE
OFTEN, AND THEY USED PHRASES
LIKE GERRY OR FRITZ, DEPENDING
WHETHER THEY WERE IN
THE AIR FORCE OR ARMY.
BUT AT THE TOP LEVEL, THEY
WERE THE BEASTLY HUN AND
THE TERRIBLE BOSCHE.
AND THIS WAS A
DIFFERENT KIND OF WAR.
AND IT SEPARATES THE WORLD
INTO PRE GREAT WAR
AND POST GREAT WAR.
I THINK IT IS REALLY A
MILESTONE FOR CANADA.

Richard says YOUR CUT IN TO WORLD WAR
I, IS OF COURSE,
VIMY.
BY THE WAY, SHOULD
THAT BE VEEMY OR VIMY?

Pierre says WELL, FRENCH CALL IT VEEMY.
THE CANADIANS CALL IT VEMMY.
I WAS RAISED TO CALL IT VEEMY.
MY FATHER SPOKE SOME FRENCH,
AND HE THOUGHT IT SHOULD
GET ITS ORIGINAL NAME.
SO I SAY VEEMY.
I TRY TO SAY VIMY, BUT I
SOMETIMES DON'T SAY IT RIGHT.

Richard says OKAY, I'LL SAY
WHATEVER YOU SAY.
WE'LL SAY VEEMY.
WHAT WAS SPECIAL ABOUT VEEMY?
IT WAS ONE OF HUNDREDS OF SET
PIECE ENGAGEMENTS, SOME OF
WHICH WORKED, SOME OF WHICH
DIFFERENT, AND ALL IN WHICH
LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE
LOST THEIR LIVES.

Pierre says FEWER ON A PERCENTAGE
LOST THEIR LIVES AT VEEMY
THAN AT MOST.
IT WAS THE FIRST BRITISH
VICTORY IN THE WAR.
AND IT WAS FOUGHT NOT BY THE
BRITISH, THOUGH THEY HAD
A COUPLE OF, NOT DIVISIONS,
THEY HAD A COUPLE OF
BATTALIONS THERE.
IT WAS FOUGHT BY
CANADIANS ENTIRELY.
AND IT WAS AN ALL
CANADIAN EFFORT.
MIND YOU, THE GENERAL
STAFF AND THE HIERARCHY
WERE BRITISH GENERALS.
BUT IT WAS CANADIAN
ENTERPRISE.
CANADIAN RULE BREAKING.
CANADIAN IMAGINATION
THAT REALLY DID THE JOB.
AND SO VEEMY STANDS FOR
ALL OF WORLD WAR I
AS A KIND OF A SYMBOL.
PEOPLE SAY WE GAINED OUR
NATION HOOD AT VEEMY.
WE DIDN'T.
WE GAINED IT IN WORLD WAR I.
BUT VEEMY BECAUSE IT WAS
SUCH A SPECTACULAR SUCCESS.
WE ONLY LOST A TOTAL OF 9,000
CASUALTIES, OF WHICH 3,000
WERE KILLED ON THAT DAY.

Richard says THAT'S 9,000 OUT OF HOW MANY?

Pierre says OUT OF 100,000.

Richard says WHO WERE ENGAGED AT VEEMY.

Pierre says ABOUT 98,000 PLUS.
WELL AT THE SOMME, I'VE
FORGOTTEN HOW MANY, 40,000 OR
SO KILLED ON THE FIRST DAY.
ONE OF THE TERRIBLE THINGS
ABOUT THAT WAR WAS THE
SLAUGHTER THAT WENT UNNOTICED
BY THE GENERALS THEMSELVES.

Richard says WHY WERE THE CANADIANS
CHOSEN TO FIGHT AT VEEMY?
I MEAN, IT COULD HAVE BEEN
BRITISH, FRENCH, WHATEVER?

Pierre says THERE WAS A LINE.
THE LINE EXTENDED FROM THE
SWISS BORDER RIGHT TO THE
NORTH SEA.
AND THE CANADIANS WERE
AT THE UPPER END OF IT.
THEY HAD BRITISH
ON BOTH SIDES.
AND I'M NOT SURE THAT
IT WAS A STUDIED THING.

Richard says THAT CANADIANS
WERE PICKED THERE.

Pierre says THAT THE CANADIANS
WERE PICKED THERE.
THEY HAD A MUCH LARGER FRONT.
IN THE END, THEY WERE PICKED
TO DO IT, AND THEIR FRONT WAS
SQUEEZED DOWN TO FOUR MILES.
AND IT WAS A VERY DENSE FRONT,
100,000 MEN IN FOUR MILES
BECAUSE THEY HAD BEEN
SPREAD OVER EIGHT OR NINE.
IT WAS JUST THAT BYNG WAS
PUT IN CHARGE OF THE CANADIAN
CORPS, AND THEY WERE GIVEN
THAT JOB BY HAIG, WHO WAS,
IN MY OPINION, THE FLAWED
GENERALISSIMO OF THE
BRITISH ARMIES.
BUT IT MAY HAVE BEEN BECAUSE
THEY THOUGHT OF THE CANADIANS
AS ASSAULT TROOPS.
THEY WERE BEGINNING TO THINK
OF THEM, AND CERTAINLY AFTER
VEEMY, THEY BECAME ASSAULT
TROOPS IN THE LAST HUNDRED
DAYS OF PASSCHENDAELE
AND SO ON.
THERE WAS A LITTLE BITTERNESS
ABOUT THAT BECAUSE THAT'S
WHERE THE HEAVIEST
CASUALTIES WERE.
BUT THEY WERE VERY
GOOD ASSAULT TROOPS.

Richard says WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT VEEMY
WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT, FIRST
OF ALL, SAYING WHAT IT WAS.
WHAT WAS SO SPECIAL, WHAT WAS
IMPORTANT ABOUT VEEMY RIDGE?

Pierre says WELL, IT WAS THE ANCHOR POINT
OF THE GERMAN DEFENCES
AT THAT AREA.
IT WAS A RIDGE ABOUT
700 FEET HIGH, I THINK.
STRETCHED FOR ABOUT
THREE AND A HALF MILES.
BIG CAMEL-BACK, UP
AND DOWN LIKE THAT.
AND IT WAS THE TOUGHEST GERMAN
BASTION ON THE WESTERN FRONT.
AND THEY SAID, YOU KNOW, YOU
COULD STAND ON TOP OF VEEMY
RIDGE, ONLY IF YOU WERE A
GERMAN, AND SEE MORE OF THE
WAR THAN FROM ANY OTHER SPOT.
THE GERMANS HAD FORTIFIED IT
LIKE A MINIATURE GIBRALTAR.
WHEN THE FRENCH DECIDED
THEIR BIG PUSH AT ARRAS,
THEY THOUGHT THEY'D HAVE TO
GET RID OF THIS ANCHOR POINT
OR THE GERMANS WOULD HAVE
ENFILADE FIRE ON THE LINE.
OF COURSE THEY DIDN'T
DO MUCH AT ARRAS,
SO IT DIDN'T REALLY WORK.
AND I THINK, AS A STRATEGIC
POINT, ALTHOUGH IT HAD ITS
IMPORTANCE, THAT IMPORTANCE
HAS SOMETIMES BEEN BLOWN OUT
OF ALL PROPORTION.
I DON'T THINK IT WAS
WORTH TAKING, MYSELF.
BUT THAT'S A PERSONAL,
SUBJECTIVE OPINION.

Richard says I MEAN, WHEN YOU SAY YOU
DIDN'T THINK IT WAS WORTH
TAKING, IS THAT BECAUSE THE
GERMANS DIDN'T TRY TO RETAKE IT?

Pierre says THAT'S RIGHT.
THEY NEVER BOTHERED.
IT WAS TOUGH TO RETAKE.
MIND YOU, THE RIDGE WENT
SLOWLY UP ON THE CANADIAN
SIDE, AND THE OTHER SIDE WENT
DOWN LIKE THAT, LIKE A CLIFF.
AND IT WOULD HAVE
BEEN TOUGH TO RETAKE.
AND IT HAD SOME ADVANTAGE IN
THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED.
BUT I THINK THE MAIN VALUE OF
VEEMY WAS AS A MORALE RAISER.
WE DID IT.
AND WE DID IT WELL.
IT WAS A SET PIECE BATTLE.
IT WORKED.
THERE WERE VERY
FEW MISTAKES MADE.
IT WAS CAREFULLY PLANNED, WITH
A PLANNING THAT WENT FAR
BEYOND THE PLANNING THAT HAD
TAKEN PLACE IN PREVIOUS BATTLES.
ESPECIALLY THE
COUNTER BATTLE WORK.
WHICH WAS McNAUGHTON'S JOB.
HE REALLY KNOCKED OUT ABOUT
85 PERCENT OF THE GERMAN GUNS
BEFORE THE BATTLE BEGAN.
AND IF HE HADN'T DONE THAT,
THEY WOULDN'T HAVE GOT THROUGH.
OF COURSE YOU KNOW WHAT THE
IRONY WAS, AND THIS IS THE
IRONY OF WORLD WAR I.
HAVING REDUCED VEEMY TO A
MUD HEAP AND A RUBBLE,
THEY COULDN'T HAUL THE GUNS
UP TO EXPLOIT SUCCESS.
I MEAN, WHEN YOU WIN
SOMETHING, IF THEY COULD HAVE
KEPT ON GOING, THEY COULD
HAVE SWEPT ACROSS THE
DOUAI PLAIN WITHOUT
ANY TROUBLE AT ALL.
THEY COULDN'T DO IT BECAUSE
THE GUNS WERE MIRED.
AND THE MIRE WAS
OF OUR OWN MAKING.

Richard says YEAH, YEAH.

Pierre says AND THEY DIDN'T COMMIT THE
CAVALRY, I DON'T KNOW WHY.

Richard says YOU DESCRIBE IT AS A SORT OF
GENTLE SLOPE LEADING UP
700 FEET, AS YOU SAID.
HAVE YOU LOOKED AT IT?
AND HAVE YOU TRIED TO IMAGINE
YOURSELF WALKING ACROSS THAT?

Pierre says YES, I HAVE.
I WENT OVER THERE.
BUT THE PROBLEM WITH VEEMY IS
IT HAS BEEN MANICURED SO MUCH
IT BEARS NO RESEMBLANCE
TO THIS DREADFUL...

Richard says YOU COULDN'T RECREATE
IT IN YOUR MIND.

Pierre says NO, YOU CAN'T QUITE.
I LOOKED AT IT
AND I THOUGHT...
THERE'S ALL TREES,
CANADIAN TREES PLANTED.
THERE'S NICE STEPS.
AND THERE'S THIS BEAUTIFUL
MEMORIAL AT THE TOP.
AND YOU WALK UP THE STEPS.
AND YOU TRY TO THINK
OF GUYS GOING UP.
AND YOU THINK, IT'S
NOT MUCH OF A SLOPE.
AND IT ISN'T.
IT'S ONLY A TOUGH SLOPE IF
YOU'VE GOT 40 POUNDS ON YOUR
BACK, AND EVERYTHING IS
BREAKING LOOSE ALL AROUND YOU.
THE MACHINE GUN BULLETS
ARE POURING AT YOU.
THE GUNS ARE BOOMING, AND YOUR
OPEN GUNS ARE GOING OVERHEAD.
AND THAT'S WHAT MADE IT TOUGH,
TO CLIMB OUT OF THE TRENCH
AND GET UP THERE.

Richard says BEFORE THE PLAN, OR AT LEAST
BEFORE THE ACTUAL BATTLE,
YOU ARE IN THE TRENCHES.
CAN YOU DRAW FOR US A WORD
PICTURE WHAT IT WAS LIKE
FOR CANADIANS?

Pierre says I CAN.

Richard says TO BE IN THE TRENCHES,
FOUR MONTHS, FIVE MONTHS.

Pierre says I SAID IN THE BOOK, HERE'S
WHAT YOU DO IF YOU WANT TO
KNOW A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT IT
WAS LIKE AT VEEMY, OR ANYWHERE
ELSE, OR PASSCHENDAELE,
OR YPRES, OR ANYWHERE.
GO OUT IN YOUR BACKYARD.
DIG YOURSELF A PIT EIGHT FEET
DEEP, AND ABOUT THAT NARROW.
MAKE IT ABOUT TEN FEET LONG
AND FILL IT WITH WATER.
AND THEN WAIT 'TIL A BIG
RAINSTORM COMES ALONG AND MOVE
OUT THERE IN YOUR COVERALLS,
AND PUT ON A TIN HAT, AND SIT
IN THERE EATING A COLD BULLY
BEEF OUT OF A TIN CAN THAT YOU
TRY TO CLAW OPEN,
AND SOME HARD TACK.
AND THEN YOU WILL GET A TINY
LITTLE IDEA OF WHAT IT'S LIKE.
STAY THERE FOR ABOUT A WEEK.
THEN REMEMBER THESE THINGS.
THE GUYS WHO WERE LIVING THAT
WAY FOR LIVING THAT WAY FOR
FOUR YEARS.
IN AND OUT OF THE TRENCHES
EVERY WEEK OR EVERY TWO WEEKS,
FOR A WEEK OR TEN
DAYS OR TWO WEEKS.
AND THERE WAS ONE OTHER
THING THAT WAS HAPPENING.
ALL THE TIME THEY
WERE IN THERE,
ALL HELL WAS
BREAKING LOOSE.
IF YOU STUCK YOUR HEAD UP, A
GERMAN SNIPER PUT A BULLET
RIGHT BETWEEN YOUR EYES.
THEY WERE VERY GOOD.
IF YOU SAT THERE LONG ENOUGH,
A TRENCH MORTAR OR WHIZ-BANG
WOULD HIT WITHIN WE HOPE
WITHIN NO MORE THAN TEN FEET
OR YOU'D BE DEAD.
BUT THESE THINGS WERE
GOING ALL THE TIME.
YOU LIVED WITH SUDDEN DEATH.
AND DURING THE DAY, THERE
WASN'T MUCH CHANCE TO SLEEP,
YOU WERE WORKING WITH A PICK
AND SHOVEL ALL THE TIME, OR
YOU WERE SENT BACK TO CLAW
YOUR WAY THROUGH THESE
TUNNELS, THESE HUGE SUBWAYS
THEY WERE BUILDING TO PROTECT
THE TROOPS.

Richard says THESE WEREN'T THE ONES
THAT WOULD GO UNDER THE
ENEMY LINES?

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Pierre Berton. Author."

Pierre says UNDER THE ENEMY LINES.
SO THIS WAS REALLY WHAT IT WAS
LIKE EXCEPT IT WENT ON FOREVER.
THERE WAS NO END TO IT.
THERE WAS YEAR AFTER YEAR
AFTER YEAR IN AND OUT,
IN AND OUT.
SOMETIMES YOU'D GET BACK TO A
REST PERIOD FOR TEN DAYS AND
PLAY A LITTLE FOOTBALL AND
MEET GIRLS AND GET DRUNK,
OR MOST OF THE TIME
INDULGE IN TRAINING.
THE TRAINING WAS VERY
HARD AND VERY TOUGH.
MARCHING AND CLAMBERING UP
SLOPES TO TRY AND REPEAT
WHAT YOU'D BEEN DOING.

Richard says DISEASE AND SICKNESS
AND SO ON --

Pierre says THE OTHER THING, YOU COULDN'T
TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
YOU'RE IN A TRENCH, YOU
NEVER TOOK YOUR CLOTHES OFF,
OR EVEN YOUR BOOTS.
YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO TAKE YOUR
BOOTS OFF, BUT YOU DIDN'T.
YOUR FEET WERE SWOLLEN, YOU
WERE SOAKING WET ALL THE TIME.

Richard says WELL, THAT WOULD ADD TO IT.
DISEASE, SICKNESS, ETC.,
WIPE OUT A LOT OF MEN?

Pierre says REMARKABLY, FEW.
THESE WERE HEALTHY YOUNG MEN.
AND THE POINT ABOUT THE
CANADIANS, AS OPPOSED TO THE
BRITISH IN 1917, WERE
MANY SHOP WORKERS, THE
CONTEMPTIBLES, THE FIRST
HUNDRED THOUSAND OF
KITCHENER WERE DEAD.
THESE WERE PEOPLE WHO,
LARGE NUMBERS FROM THE WEST
WHO KNEW WHAT IT WAS
LIKE TO LIVE OUTSIDE.
WHO LIVED OUT IN THE COUNTRY,
COULD WORK WITH ANIMALS.
THERE WERE TENS OF THOUSANDS
OF HORSES AT VEEMY
HAULING EVERYTHING.
THERE WAS NO OTHER
FORM OF PROPULSION.
WHO HAD BEEN IN
THE HINTERLAND.
WHO KNEW HOW TO FIRE A RIFLE
AND SHOOT A GUN, WERE HUNTERS.
SO IN A SENSE THE CANADIANS
WERE MORE PREPARED FOR IT, AS
WERE THE AUSTRALIANS, THAN
SOME OF THE BRITISH TROOPS
FROM THE CITIES.
I THINK THAT HELPED.
THE OTHER THING WAS THAT
YOU KNEW EVERYBODY ELSE.
CANADA IS A SMALL COUNTRY.
PEOPLE WERE RUNNING ACROSS
THEIR FRIENDS ALL THE TIME
FROM DIFFERENT BATTALIONS.
STUMBLING OVER THEM
IN THEIR SLEEP.
FINDING THEM OUT IN THE
MIDDLE OF NO MAN'S LAND.
SEEING THEM SHOT IN A BATTLE.
THEY WERE ALL GUYS TOGETHER.
THEY KNEW THINGS THAT
NOBODY ELSE KNEW.
THERE WAS A GREAT SENSE OF
ESPRIT DE CORP
WHICH I THINK
HELPED THE MORALE AT VEEMY,
WHICH WAS QUITE HIGH, YOU KNOW.

Richard says THE VETERANS, THE ONES YOU'VE
TALKED TO, WRITTEN TO, BOTH
WHILE YOU WERE WORKING ON
THE BOOK AND AFTER THE BOOK.
I'M TALKING AGAIN STILL
ABOUT LIFE IN THE TRENCHES.
THAT AS A KIND OF PERIOD OF
EXCITEMENT, OF COMRADESHIP,
AND SO ON, OR AS A HORROR?

Pierre says WELL, THE FIRST THING THEY
TALK ABOUT IS THE COMRADESHIP.
THEY ALSO TALK ABOUT, THEY'RE
VERY BITTER, A LOT OF THEM,
THEY SAY IT SHOULD
NEVER HAVE HAPPENED.
IT WAS A STUPID,
SILLY WAR.
NOT ALL OF THEM.
SOME OF THEM HIT ME AT THE END
BECAUSE I SAID WASN'T WORTH IT,
AND I GOT SOME ANGRY LETTERS
ABOUT IT AND SOME PRO LETTERS.
ANYWAY, THE FIRST THING THEY
SAY IS THEY TALK ABOUT AS A
COMRADESHIP OF THE
GUYS NEXT TO THEM.
NOT THE COMRADESHIP WITH THE
OFFICERS WHO THEY NEVER SAW,
OR THE SERGEANT
OR ANYTHING ELSE.
AS THEY DISCOVERED AFTER
KOREA, WHEN THE U.S. ARMY DID
A LONG PSYCHOLOGICAL
STUDY OF HOW MEN FIGHT,
THEY REALIZED THAT MEN
FIGHT IN GROUPS OF FIVE.
TWO ON EACH SIDE.
CURRIE KNEW THAT WHICH IS WHY
HE PUT IN THAT KIND OF TACTIC
THAT HE DID.
HE BELIEVED IN THE PLATOON
SYSTEM OF SMALL GROUP OF MEN
WHO KNEW EACH OTHER AND
CAME FROM THE SAME TOWN.
THE GREAT THING ABOUT VEEMY,
THE CANADIAN CORPS, WAS THEY
KEPT IT TOGETHER.
THEY DIDN'T SPREAD THEM
TO THE BRITISH ARMY.
IF YOU CAME FROM MANCHESTER,
YOU MIGHT HAVE ENDED UP WITH A
GUY FROM LEEDS OR LONDON.
BUT IN CANADA, IF YOU CAME
FROM REGINA, YOU END UP WITH A
GUY NEXT DOOR TO YOU FROM
SASKATOON, REGINA, OR MOOSE JAW.
AND THESE ARE GUYS WHO WOULD
DO ANYTHING FOR EACH OTHER.
THEY SAVED EACH OTHER'S LIVES
MANY TIMES, SO THAT THEY
WOULDN'T LET EACH OTHER DOWN.
OF COURSE, THIS IS THE WHOLE
BASIS OF BATTLE, THAT YOU
DON'T LET YOUR FRIENDS DOWN.
THIS IS THE WAY THEY GET MEN
TO SACRIFICE THEIR LIVES.
AND YOU CAN SEE IT AT VEEMY.

Richard says WAS THAT WHAT TOOK
THEM OVER THE TOP?
WE'VE ALL SEEN IT
MANY TIMES IN MOVIES.
YOU TRY TO IMAGINE YOURSELF
KNOWING THE MOMENT YOU PUT
YOUR HEAD UP THE PARAPET,
YOUR CHANCES OF SURVIVING ARE
ABOUT, YOU KNOW, ONE
IN TWO OR WHATEVER.
HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY
GET OVER THE TOP?

Pierre says THAT'S THE EASIEST PART.
I THINK THEY WERE SO
PLEASED TO GO OVER THE TOP
THEY COULDN'T WAIT.
DON'T FORGET, TO GET A HUNDRED
THOUSAND MEN, 30,000 OF WHOM
WERE IN TWO LINES.
THERE ARE 20,000 OUT FRONT,
10,000 MORE BEHIND, WAITING,
THAT'S ALL THE SERVICE CORP.
SOME OF THESE GUYS HAVE BEEN IN
ASSAULT TRENCHES ONLY THREE
FEET DEEP IN THE RAIN AND
THE MUD FOR 12 HOURS, LYING,
WITHOUT ANY FOOD
OR ANYTHING ELSE.
THEY WERE DYING TO
GET OVER THE TOP.
ANYTHING TO GET AWAY FROM THIS
HORROR AND THIS BOREDOM, AND
THIS SLIME, AND THIS MUD AND
FILTH AND WAITING, WAITING,
WAITING.
SO WHEN THE FIRST GUN BOOMED,
AND THE SERGEANT OR OFFICER
SAID, ALL RIGHT, LET'S GO.
THEY CLAMBERED
OVER THAT PARAPET.
THEY WERE HALFWAY UP IT
ALREADY, AND THEY WERE JUST
HELL BENT FOR LEATHER.
I THINK THAT WAS
THE EASIEST PART.
THEY ALL TELL ME THIS.
I ASK THEM, OF COURSE,
THE SAME QUESTION.
THEY SAID, OH, GOD WE
WANTED TO GET OVER.
YOU DID IT, EVERYBODY
WAS DOING IT.
YOU WEREN'T GOING
TO HANG BACK.
SOME FELL BACK AND WERE SHOT
AND SOME -- ALSO YOU HAD A
SHOT OF RUM.
YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND A LOT
OF THESE GUYS WERE HALF CUT.
THEY WERE HALF CUT
WHEN THEY WENT OVER.
THEY WERE GUNG HO.
THEY'D BEEN TRAINED FOR
THIS FOR FIVE MONTHS.
YOU KNOW, IF YOU'RE TRAINED
LONG ENOUGH FOR SOMETHING,
YOU WANT TO DO IT.
THAT'S ONE OF THE
PROBLEMS OF WAR.
YOU TRAIN A LOT, YOU USE
ENOUGH WEAPONS IN PRACTICE.

Richard says THE ADRENALINE'S
BEEN WORKED UP AND UP.

Pierre says YOU WANT TO USE
THEM IN ACTION.

Richard says SURE.
WHAT ABOUT DROPPING INTO A
SHELL HOLE, YOU KNOW, ABOUT
50 YARDS IN FRONT OF YOUR
TRENCHES AND SPRAINING YOUR
ANKLE BY DELIBERATELY
ON ACCIDENT.

Pierre says THERE'S VERY LITTLE OF THAT.
THERE WAS OBVIOUSLY SOME.
THERE WEREN'T MANY PURPOSEFUL.
SOME GUYS CHEWED CORDITE,
WHICH MADE THEM SICK AND
TURN BLUE, AND SOME SHOT
THEMSELVES, BUT THEIR
COMRADES KNEW IT.
BUT THE REASON YOU DIDN'T DO
IT IS YOU WOULDN'T LET THE
SIDE DOWN.
THE HORRIBLE THING WAS IF IT
HAPPENED TO YOU BY ACCIDENT.
IF YOU WERE SHOT, AND YOU FELL
IN A SHELL HOLE, YOUR FRIENDS
COULDN'T LIFT YOU OUT OF THE
THAT SHELL HOLE BECAUSE THE
ORDERS WERE NEVER STOP.
STOP FOR NOTHING, KEEP GOING.
AND THERE WAS SEVERAL
INSTANCES IN THE BOOK WHERE
BEST FRIENDS, THE GUY WENT TO
HAUL HIS FRIEND OUT OF THE
SHELL HOLE, AND THE OFFICER
POINTED HIS GUN AND SAID
KEEP MOVING.
AND THEY KNEW THEY HAD TO.
THERE'S A MOMENTUM TO WAR, AND
THERE'S A MOMENTUM TO ATTACK.
IF IT EVER SLOWS DOWN OR BOGS
DOWN, IT NEVER STARTS AGAIN.
AND THE REAL HEROES ARE
THE GUYS WHO KEEP THAT
MOMENTUM GOING.
THEY'RE QUITE OFTEN
PRIVATE SOLDIERS.
THERE'S A CASE IN THERE OF A
PRIVATE SOLDIER WHO WAS GOING
TO BE COURT-MARTIALED
FOR INSOLENCE.
WELL, THEY NEVER
COURT-MARTIALED HIM BECAUSE
HE WAS THE GUY WHO SAID, 'COME
ON YOU GUYS, DON'T STOP.
KEEP GOING, KEEP GOING'.
AND THAT'S THE
SECRET OF BATTLE.

Richard says AS WE SAID EARLIER, RIGHT AT
THE START, PEOPLE WENT TO WAR
ORIGINALLY IN '14 WITH THIS
GREAT EUPHORIC CHIVALRIC MOOD.

Pierre says IT WAS PARTLY THAT.
IT WAS PARTLY
EVERYBODY IS DOING IT.
IT WAS PARTLY PEER PRESSURE.

Richard says AND YOU HAVE THIS KIND OF
MAGNIFICENT POET, RUPERT
BROOK, NOW GOD BE THANKED,
MATCHED WITH HIS HOUR.
NOW, 1917, THE WAR'S BEEN
GOING ON THREE YEARS.
THAT'S AT VEEMY.
DID THAT MOOD STILL APPLY?
THAT KIND OF INNOCENT,
CHIVALRIC ATTITUDE TOWARD WAR?

Pierre says NO, NOT AMONG THE SOLDIERS,
BUT AMONG THE CIVILIANS THEY
DID, BECAUSE THE SOLDIERS
NEVER TOLD CIVILIANS THE TRUTH
OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING.
FIRST THEY HAD A HARD TIME
DOING IT BECAUSE OF CENSORSHIP.
SECOND, THEY DIDN'T WANT TO
UPSET THE PEOPLE BACK HOME,
MOM AND POP.
PUT YOURSELF IN THE PICTURE.
YOU WANT TO GO TO WAR AND
YOUR FATHER SAYS, OH, COME ON,
YOU'RE TOO YOUNG.
AND YOU SAY, I'VE GOT
TO GO, I'VE GOT TO GO.
HE SAYS, ALL
RIGHT, ALL RIGHT.
YOU'RE NOT GONNA GET OVER THERE
AND SAY YOU MADE A MISTAKE.
YOU'RE NOT GOING TO TELL YOUR
OLD MAN OR YOUR MOTHER THAT
YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE GONE.
AND YOU'RE NOT GOING TO
SAYING ANYWAY BECAUSE
YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT.
AND, ANYWAY, YOU CAN'T
DESCRIBE WHAT IT'S LIKE.
THERE'S NO WAY YOU CAN TELL
THE FOLKS BACK HOME THE HORROR
THAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH.
SO, YOU KNOW, EVEN WHEN THEY
GOT BACK HOME, VERY FEW OF
THEM TALKED ABOUT IT.

Richard says THEY TALKED TO YOU.

Pierre says THEY TALKED TO ME.
THEY WANTED TO TALK TO ME.

Richard says WAS THEIR MOOD OR THEIR
MEMORIES, ARE THEY OF PRIDE,
OF ANGER, OF WHAT?

Pierre says IT WAS MIXED.
I COULDN'T SAY.
I COULDN'T GIVE YOU
A CROSS SECTION.
SOME SAID IT WAS NONSENSE.
THEY SHOULD NEVER
HAVE DONE IT.
OTHERS SAY THEY WOULDN'T HAVE
MISSED IT FOR THE WORLD.
AS LONG AS -- COURSE
THEY LIVED, YOU SEE.

Richard says NOW, I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT
YOUR OWN SORT OF SUMMATION.
THIS IS, IN FACT, THE LAST
SENTENCE IN THE BOOK, IN
VEEMY.
AND THIS IS YOURSELF.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
THE ANSWER, OF
COURSE, IS NO.
THAT IS PIERRE BERTON'S
SUMMATION ON WORLD WAR I,
ESSENTIALLY.

Pierre says I'M TALKING THERE ABOUT
WORLD WAR I, NOT JUST VEEMY.
AND SOME PEOPLE THINK I WAS
TALKING ABOUT VEEMY ITSELF.
BUT I WAS TALKING
ABOUT THE WHOLE THING.
OF COURSE WORLD WAR
I WAS NOT WORTH IT.
I SUPPOSE WORLD WAR I, THE
GREAT WAR, WAS THE STUPIDEST,
SILLIEST, UNNECESSARY
WAR THAT WAS EVER FOUGHT.
IT WAS FOUGHT FOR NO GOOD
REASON EXCEPT EVERYBODY HAD A
LOT OF ARMAMENTS THEY
WANTED TO USE IT.
IT WAS FOUGHT BY PEOPLE LIKE
THE KAISER, WHO HAS TO BE
BLAMED, BUT IT WAS ALSO FOUGHT
BY MADMEN IN EVERY CAPITAL
OF EUROPE.
IT WAS FOUGHT BECAUSE
THEY WANTED TO FIGHT IT.
AND
THE GUNS OF AUGUST,
BY BARBARA TUCHMAN
TELLS THE STORY AS WELL AS
ANYBODY HAS EVER BEEN ABLE
TO TELL IT.
THEY SAW IT COMING, AND THEY
DID NOTHING TO STOP IT.
AND THERE WAS NO
REASON FOR IT.
THERE WASN'T TERRITORIAL
AGGRANDIZEMENT, IT WAS SIMPLY
NATIONAL FEELING.
IT WAS THIS NUTTY BUSINESS, WE
HAVE TO BE BETTER THAN THEM.

Richard says BUT AREN'T YOU THERE, IN
SAYING WAS WORLD WAR I WORTH IT?
NO, OF COURSE THE ANSWER IS.
THAT'S PIERRE BERTON'S JUDGMENT.
AREN'T YOU IMPLANTING OR
OVERLAYING ONTO THE PAST,
THE PRESENT, THAT IS PIERRE
BERTON TODAY, PEACENIK,
PRO-PEACE, ETC., WE KNOW
NUCLEAR WAR HAPPENS IT WILL
ALL BLOW US UP, AND YOU ARE
APPLYING THE STANDARDS OF
TODAY TO A TIME WHEN WORLD
WAR I, IN FACT, WAS WELCOMED
BY MOST PEOPLE.

Pierre says WELCOMED BY EVERYBODY
AT THE BEGINNING.
IT WAS NOT WELCOMED AFTER.
I WAS -- DON'T FORGET I GREW UP
IN THE SHADOW OF WORLD WAR I.
I WAS THERE WHEN MY FATHER
HELPED PUT UP THE MONUMENT
IN DAWSON CITY.
BUT I WAS ALSO THERE WHEN WE
GOT THE POETRY OF WILFRED OWEN,
AND THE POETRY OF
SIEGFRIED SASSOON,
AND BOOKS BY ROBERT GRAVES.
AND
ALL'S QUIET IN
THE WESTERN FRONT.
THE INTERESTING THING IS THERE
ARE NO CANADIAN BOOKS LIKE
THAT, THAT I KNOW
OF, OF ANY STATURE.
BECAUSE FOR US, WE HAD AN
AMBIVALENT LOOK AT THAT WAR.
YES, IT WAS HORRIBLE, YES IT
WAS TERRIBLE, YES, IT
SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN FOUGHT.
BUT, MY GOD, IT MADE
A COUNTRY OUT OF US.
OH, BOY, WE GOT ON THE WORLD
STAGE, AND THE CANADIANS DID
WONDERFULLY WELL.
SO WE HAD THIS TWO WAYS.

Richard says IN THAT SENSE, IT
WAS
WORTH IT FOR CANADA.

Pierre says NOTHING IS WORTH THE DEATHS OF
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF MEN.
NO NATIONALISM IS WORTH THAT.
YOU KNOW, I'M OPPOSED TO FREE
TRADE, BUT IF I THOUGHT THE
OPPOSITION TO FREE TRADE WOULD
INVOLVE THE DEATHS OF PEOPLE,
I WOULD SAY, NO,
NOTHING IS WORTH IT.
NO, NO, NO.
NOT THAT WAR.
OF COURSE, EVERY GENERATION
OF HISTORIANS MARKS, WRITES
REVISIONIST HISTORY.
AND IN A SENSE, I SUPPOSE,
THIS IS REVISIONIST.
THERE'S SOME GUNG HO SCENES IN
IT, BUT REALLY IT'S REVISIONIST.
IT'S TO SAY THIS IS, LET'S
LEARN SOMETHING FROM HISTORY.
THE OTHER BOOKS ABOUT
VEEMY DO NOT SAY THIS.
THE OTHER BOOKS ABOUT VEEMY,
YOU'D THINK THIS WAS THE
GREATEST THING SINCE,
YOU KNOW, THE OLYMPICS.
IT WASN'T.

Richard says THIS GETS DOWN TO
THE NATURE OF HISTORY.
I MEAN, WHETHER IT IS TO
REVISE HISTORY, USE YOUR OWN
PHRASE, IN OTHER WORDS, TO
DRAW LESSONS, AND ALMOST
PERHAPS IN THE PROCESS OF
DRAWING LESSONS TO THE
PRESENT, TO REARRANGE HISTORY
IN THE LIGHT OF THE PRESENT,
RATHER THAN TO RECREATE
HISTORY OR EVENTS OF THE PAST
AS THEY WERE AT THE TIME.

Pierre says I THINK YOU HAVE TO
UNDERSTAND THAT HISTORY,
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE
PAST, IS INTERESTING.
I MEAN, IF YOU START OUT BY
SAYING IT'S NOT, THEN YOU
SHOULDN'T BE WRITING IT.
I FIND. I DON'T THINK YOU
HAVE TO ARRANGE ANYTHING.
I THINK YOU HAVE TO TELL THE
STORY AS A STORYTELLER.
STORYTELLERS HAVE BEEN
TELLING THIS FOR 2,000
OR 3,000 YEARS.
HERODOTUS GOES A
LONG WAY BACK,
AND MACAULAY, AND
ALL THESE PEOPLE.
WE ALL COME FROM
FAIRLY GOOD ORIGINS.
WHAT YOU ARE NOT DOING IS
GOING -- SEE, I WRITE A
DIFFERENT KIND OF BOOK.
I WRITE A BOOK ABOUT
BIG EPIC STORIES.
I'VE CHOSEN TO DO THAT
BECAUSE I ENJOY IT.
AND ALSO BECAUSE I THINK THEY
ARE NEEDED IN THIS COUNTRY.
I DON'T TAKE A TINY LITTLE
CORNER OF HISTORY AND EXPLORE
IT IN ALL ITS AREAS.
THIS IS WHAT PROFESSIONAL
HISTORIANS DO FOR EACH OTHER.
AND THEY SHOULD DO IT.
I LEAN ON THEM.
EVERY POPULAR NARRATIVE
HISTORIAN USES THE WORK OF
OTHERS, AS EVERY
PROFESSIONAL HISTORIAN DOES.
BUT I DON'T THINK YOU HAVE
TO REARRANGE ANYTHING.

Richard says WHEN THE BOOK CAME OUT, YOU
WENT ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND
HAD A SERIES OF PARTIES WITH
WORLD WAR I OR VEEMY VETERANS.
WHAT SORT OF STORIES
DID THEY TELL YOU THEN?

Pierre says WELL, MOST OF THE STORIES
THAT I'D GOT ARE IN THE BOOK.
THE INTERESTING THING WAS THEY
WERE SO PLEASED, NOT JUST THE
PARTY, WHICH THEY LIKED, THEY
WERE PLEASED THE BOOK HAD
BEEN WRITTEN.
ANOTHER BOOK.
BUT THERE HADN'T BEEN A
BOOK FOR MANY, MANY YEARS.
AND THEY SAID WE'RE SO PLEASED
YOU HAVE TOLD THIS STORY AGAIN.
IT NEEDS TO BE TOLD.
THE YOUNGER GENERATION
HAS TO REMEMBER,
HAS TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.
THEY WANTED TO GET
IT OFF THEIR CHESTS.

Richard says 70 YEARS, HAVE I
GOT MY DATES RIGHT?
YES, 70 YEARS.
HOW DO THEY FEEL THEIR
COUNTRY TREATED THEM?

Pierre says I DIDN'T... I THINK
THEY FELT NOW THEY'D BEEN
SEMI-FORGOTTEN.
BUT I DIDN'T DETECT
MUCH BITTERNESS THERE.
MOST OF THEM HAD
DONE QUITE WELL.
THEY GOT JOBS AFTER THE WAR.
AND THE THING, THE WAR HAD
AFFECTED THEM, BUT MOST
INTERESTING, AS I SAID BEFORE,
FELT IT WAS A TURNING POINT
IN THEIR LIVES, THAT THEY
WOULDN'T HAVE MISSED IT.
THAT WAS THE FEELING.

Richard says IN SPITE ALL THE HORROR,
THEY WOULDN'T HAVE MISSED IT.

Pierre says THAT'S WHAT THEY SAID.

Richard says AND THEY WOULD LOOK BACK
AND SAY BECAUSE OF THAT,
I'M A DIFFERENT PERSON.

Pierre says YES.
AND DON'T FORGET, YOU ALWAYS
REMEMBER THE GOOD TIMES.
YOU NEVER REMEMBER THE BAD.

The end slate shows a picture of the Toronto City Hall.

A Production of TVOntario. Copyright 1987, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: The Importance of Remembering