I watched a really interesting movie on TCM this evening that I'd never heard of before. It was my first experience with British propaganda, for one thing (besides Downton Abbey, ahem). Shot in 1942, it tells the story of a small British hamlet that is infiltrated by a contingent of Germans in advance of Hitler's Big Invasion. Obviously the intent behind it was to mobilize support for the war effort, and it taps into what seem like quintessentially British themes of duty, pluck and cheerfully staring into the face of death.
It's got thrills and chills, and it has some really shocking moments of brutality nestled up against that sort of homely domesticity you associate with a small town. The Jerries get their in by showing up in the town posing as a British corps of engineers and are billeted throughout the town, and the reveal that these are in fact Germans was done with a disquieting casualness—though the movie has pretty much tipped its hand in the first three minutes.
The opening is set in the town cemetery where the narrator shows you where the Germans are buried, the war is over and done, and Hitler has "got what's coming to him." I had to catch myself because when that sequence was shot, that wouldn't be established history for three more years—but that is the promise the move is making to the contemporary viewer in exchange for a commitment to "doing your part" for the war effort. And ultimately pretty much everybody but the baby does their part.
Why is it called Went the Day Well?(?) This is the full epitaph, which was written by a classical scholar, John Walter Edmonds, in 1918:
Went the day well?We died and never knew.But, well or ill,Freedom, we died for you.
I have to say this little bit of verse really blew my mind. Maybe it sounds silly but it never dawned on me that if you get killed in battle you don't get to know how it turns out. So the idea of a fallen soldier inquiring, in an almost conversational way, hey guise, did my death have meaning? did we come out on top? really touched me.
My great uncle was a WWII fighter pilot; his plane was shot down over Foggia, Italy, and the reverberations of that event continue to play out within my family to this day. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I once went to Foggia at my grandfather's request to find his grave; spoiler alert: haha whoopsie silly pop-pop actually his grave was in Florence. Yes Nilla cried in front of the wizened proprietor of the Foggia cemetery.) My great grandmother used the military death benefit to buy a beautiful piece of coastal property in Maine that is literally my favorite place on earth and remains in my family to this day. It will eventually be mine & my sibs' to maintain (ack because economically we are fuck ups). It would be nice to imagine Uncle Bobby were to retain some sentience of the incredible good fortune his sacrifice wound up conferring on his family. The day did go well, for the allies and the Waffler family, thanks to you.
In conclusion, having strayed far afield, I would rate this film a worthwhile watch. Keep an eye out!