World War 1 connection

World war 1 ended 90 years ago today. Not that it featured much in Sri Lankan history. The industrialised butchery of 1914-18 is barely mentioned in the foot notes of Sri Lankan history.  Perhaps in the back ground of the 1915 riots. I think there is mention in the later stages of Martin Wikramasinghe’s Gamperaliya. It was the last old style scuffles between empires. We the conquered were far away from it all. Our attitude epitomised by they ignored memorial near the public library.

Yet as a kid I had a history buff’s obsession with this European tragedy. How this interest took hold of a Sri Lankan teenage in remains a mystery. A grand parent was confident that it was the result of a past life. Many years later a psychic on another continent said the same thing

To keep up my rational facade, I prefer to blame it all on a book. Specifically a book of short stories about a fictional WW1 British fighter pilot called “Biggles” (short for Bigglesworth) in the western front between 1916 and 1918. Written by a pilot who survived the war. Picked up the first book at a KVG bookshop. Turns out there were more books.  I gradually bagged more over the years. Sri Lankan bookshops can have oddly interesting inventories.

Years later I discovered that bookshops in the developed world have shelves of lavishly illustrated expensive WW1 histories. Carefully chronicling the industrial slaughters with names like Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres, and Verdun. Lots of black and white pictures. Mostly “after” pictures of the carnage and mud of the trenches. 

The most timeless are informal shots of the young men in uniform. Taken on leave from the front. Mischievously dishevelled uniforms though the faces are serious. There’s wry smile somewhere in the grainy photo  but you got to look. The uniforms change but the look is familiar.

In the first world they are holding the usual stiff ceremonies before of stony monuments. In reality we do our daily shuffling about through the check points hoping not to catch a bomb blast. For me the day gives me a sad mysterious subconscious vibe. Proof that my thoughts, like this blog, are mired in irrelevance when it should be on the here, now and tomorrow.

At least I got a post out of it


8 thoughts on “World War 1 connection

  1. I write this after observing the minute’s silence here in the UK , at 11AM. It’s always quite a poignant thing to do, I don’t know if it’s done in Sri Lanka at all.

    I was am ardent Biggles fan as a kid too. The adventures of him, Algy,Ginger et al were a strong part of my childhood. Even now I often try to wear goggles and a flying hat whenever possible!


  2. RD you are a Biggles fan too!!!! 😀 I always wanted one of those flying hat/helmet thinginies. Its not cool in SL to show too much of an admiration for anything colonial era British so for a long time I had to keep the Biggles thing (or for that matter ww1 heroics) under wraps.

    I tend to lean more towards the WW1 Biggles stories. Some of them were too loony to be purely fiction. Like landing behind German lines to nab a turkey. What were your fav Biggles books?


  3. Cerno I must admit that I can’t remember the names of the books or the specific stories. I just remember the “dashingness” of Biggles and his band of merry men. I should probably reread some of the books some time. I’ve often wondered if there were some homosexual overtones to the stories that I never picked up on when I was a kid.


  4. Cerno, I left a comment last night but think it may have got caught in your filter.

    I honeslty can’t remember the specifics of the Biggles books well enough to say what happened in each one. There seemed to be so many stories all with roughly the same plot. In later years I have often wondered whether that band of men had certain “leanings” towards each other, in a way that your spam filter prevents me from outlining!


  5. JackL Thank you for that link 🙂 Sounds like a very interesting book. Will definitely table it for reading on the throne.

    RD: Fished out you comment 😉 but glad the second one got through.

    I’ve heard about the gay references in the stories but I definitely didn’t catch there. Now that you mention it, there were some death scenes that don’t seem that platonic if you think about it.

    I think there was more glossed over references of post traumatic stress disorder though. There was a big love interest story where Biggles falls for a woman who turns out to be a German spy. She does pop up as character in the post WW1 Biggles books but not in a big way.

    I have to admit I haven’t read any of those old books in a while. Should do some digging around.


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