Monday, 22 June 2015

Achi Baba - "Stand in the trench Achilles..."

Our projects tend to focus on myths, legends and storytelling, and in researching Achi Baba, we were really struck by how, even at the time, the whole effort was associated with The Iliad - turning it into this heroic epic. There's an immediate and obvious contrast with the much less romantic reality of life and war on the peninsula and comics are an especially effective medium for blending those contrasting views and voices together.

We have adapted verses from one poem in particular, Patrick Shaw Stewart's 'I Saw A Man This Morning', which perhaps explores this classical link more explicitly than any other. The poem was written by Shaw Stewart while in hospital in Imbros, preparing to return to the theatre of war in Gallipoli. He links the campaign with Helen of Troy both directly and through rhyme and repetition, and then imagines Achilles in battle.

There is a grim foreshadowing in Shaw Stewart's poem, in hoping that Achilles will 'shout' for him, he is referencing the moment in the Iliad, when Achilles learns of the death of his comrade Patroclus - and lets loose a terrifying battle cry, while the Gods crown him with fire. The narrator of the poem, in identifying himself with Patroclus, is imagining himself soon to be dead. Shaw Stewart did in fact survive the Gallipoli campaign, but not the war.

There is an excellent book about the many ways the Iliad was referenced in the poetry of the First World War, which takes its title from Shaw Stewart's poem - 'Stand in the Trench Achilles by Elizabeth Vandiver'. Of course, The Iliad continues to be referenced and reframed in war stories and was even used as a way of studying post traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans. It has inspired many graphic novel adaptations, including the wonderful Age of Bronze by Eric Shanower.

If war poetry is of interest to you, then Above The Dreamless Dead, edited by Chris Duffy, provides an entirely different way of experiencing those works, it is a collection of comic adaptations of World War One poetry, and was certainly inspirational in our development of this project.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Gallipoli - 'Lest We Forget, The Facts'

In telling the story of the Gallipoli campaign, we have not avoided the grim reality of the war, and so our Achi Baba graphic novel is suggested for mature audiences due to scenes of warfare some may find upsetting or disturbing. Arguably of course, there is no other way to view warfare. However a recent piece in the Guardian explored some of the difficulty in producing artwork which tries to confront the horror of the First World War.

The short film below is from the website No Glory In War. The No Glory campaign aims to to use the first world war centenary to promote peace and international understanding, rather than simply nationalistic commemoration.

Our Achi Baba project was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund - First World War Then and Now programme. The graphic novel will be available from Glasgow Comicon on Saturday 4 July and from the Dutch Gable House in Greenock on Saturday 11 July.

Monday, 8 June 2015

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda...

In our exploration of the Gallipoli campaign for our Achi Baba graphic novel, we have focussed largely on the British forces. However Gallipoli is most usually associated with the Anzacs and the sense of national identity which subsequently developed in Australia and New Zealand - though of course, soldiers from many nationalities fought as Anzac soldiers.

While specifically associated with the Anzacs, the song 'The Band Played Waltzing Matilda' recognises the universal horror faced by everyone who fought and died on the peninsula, and the broken world that remained for many who survived.

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Achi Baba - Old Gallipoli's A Wonderful Place

There are many famous songs from the First World War, and while they have a universal appeal around the experiences of the troops or the families left behind, most of them are associated with the Western front. Old Gallipoli's A Wonderful Place is one of a smaller number of songs and tunes which are related to the Gallipoli campaign.

It is sung to the tune of Mountains of Mourne, we've used a version of the tune in our promo trailer for our Achi Baba graphic novel, although we have used a reading of the poem 'The Vision' by Patrick MacGill in place of the lyrics below.

Oh, old Gallipoli's a wonderful place
Where the boys in the trenches the foe have to face,
But they never grumble, they smile through it all,
Very soon they expect Achi Baba to fall.
At least when I asked them, that's what they told me
In Constantinople quite soon we would be,
But if war lasts till Doomsday I think we'll still be
Where old Gallipoli sweeps down to the sea.

We don't grow potatoes or barley or wheat,
So we're on the lookout for something to eat,
We're fed up with biscuits and bully and ham
And we're sick of the sight of yon parapet jam.
Send out steak and onions and nice ham and eggs
And a fine big fat chicken with five or six legs,
And a drink of the stuff that begins with a "B"
Where the old Gallipoli sweeps down to the sea.

The Achi Baba project was supported by Heritage Lottery Fund - First World War Then and Now programme. Copies of the book will be available from The Dutch Gable House on Saturday 11 July from 10 - 2.

As we move closer to the centenary, Inverclyde's Great War project is tweeting the progress of the the 5th Argylls on their journey towards Gallipoli/Dardanelles using #5argylls