News & Blog

"If I should die . . ."

Posted on Thu, 1 February 2024 by Karen Needs - Medal News

At the movies WHEN I ask people why they collect British medals I generally get one of two answers—either the collector has medals themselves, they served in the military or in the police usually and collect related to their own service, or they have an overall interest in military history. Often these latter collectors will then go on to tell me what else they have that relates to their medals—uniforms, helmets badges, weapons and so on. When pressed they almost always tell me that they started off when young, usually “playing soldiers” with those wonderful Airfix kits you used to get (the Germans were made out of blue plastic, the Brits, Americans and Aussies were green, the Japanese and all the desert troops made in yellow, those who fought in the snow were a light grey, and of course, there were planes for those wishing to recreate the dogfights of the Battle of Britain) and subsequently re-enacting the battles they saw on the various war films that were popular in the 1950s through to the 1980s. From watching the World War II epics so they went on to watch the other classics, Zulu, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Four Feathers, Khartoum and so on, and became hooked, their love of the films leading on to an interest in history, an interest in history turning into acquisitions as their spending power grew. Of course, times change, World War II films fell out of fashion as Vietnam films became the vogue (that probably started in 1978 with The Deer Hunter) and our position as part of the Common Market meant that it wasn’t really the done thing to show Germans and Italians being shot at on British TV too often. In recent years we have, unsurprisingly, had numerous films that deal with modern conflicts in the Gulf, Afghanistan, Somalia and there have even been a couple of superb World War I films with the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front and 1917. There have still been a few that deal with 1939-45 though, most notably Saving Private Ryan, although that was released an astonishing 26 years ago. We had the rather soppy Pearl Harbor, but again that was 23 years ago, the memorable but wildly improbable Inglorious Basterds and then, thankfully, some real classics in Hacksaw Ridge, Dunkirk and Operation Mincemeat. But most other World War II films released in recent times haven’t looked so much at the military side of the war but rather the human cost; films like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief or The Pianist are all fine movies but aren’t necessarily going to encourage anyone to take an interest in military history. Sadly, I fear the era of playing with Airfix soldiers and the “classic” war film is probably over, and in future people will come to our hobby through different channels than many of us did. That said, I was very pleased to note that this past Christmas saw a slew of old World War II films on television (in fact there were lots of Christmas classics this year, from The Wizard of Oz to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I felt like I was ten again!) and that got me thinking—if I was to suggest to someone which films to watch to get a feeling for some of the history of World War II which ones would they be? And in which order would I recommend watching them? In the end I compiled a list and decided to actually watch them in chronological order (rather than in the order they were released), giving my long-suffering wife a little bit of an insight into the timeline of the War. I’m not suggesting they are historically accurate; I know there’s a lot of artistic license, but nevertheless so far it’s been fun. We have seen to date: The Darkest Hour, then Dunkirk, followed by The Battle of Britain, then onto The Desert Rats, Tora Tora Tora, Pearl Harbor and Empire of the Sun. Next comes 1942 with The Desert Fox, Ice Cold in Alex and Enemy at the Gates. 1943 will include Bridge on the River Kwai, Operation Mincemeat and The Dambusters. Then comes The Great Escape, Churchill, The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, A Bridge Too Far and A Midnight Clear (an underrated film about the Battle of the Bulge). Then it’s on to Hacksaw Ridge for 1945. The list isn’t definitive, we will add to it, but the experiment has been an interesting one, and has helped remind me why I, as a boy, was so interested in military history and why that led on to an interest in medals. I recommend it!