Culture and Identity

© Kevin Thomas

© Kevin Thomas (c/o People’s Collection Wales)

At first, artists and writers were among the war’s cheerleaders, but the war often changed their views and cultures profoundly.

The war was a clash of nations, a struggle between different and competing cultures, sometimes expressed as grandiose imperialism or nationalism. Although it was fought largely for established powers and empires the war had the paradoxical effect of mixing peoples and nations.

In the First World War Wales had its own Division, the 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division, which captured Mametz Wood and Pilckem Ridge, but Welshmen in the forces could find themselves fighting alongside Canadians, Africans and Indians as well as Cockneys, Scots and Irishmen. Many Indian soldiers came to Europe for the first time, and about 70,000 of them died for the British Empire.

In all the belligerent countries, the war affected literature, art and music. The countless fatalities and mutilations of the war were especially shocking to artists and writers who had felt a sense of optimism and progress.  European culture suffered a jarring loss of confidence and many of the old artistic styles and genres no longer seemed appropriate. Pre-war Romanticism gave way to the abstraction of surrealism, the atonality of new music and the disillusion expressed in poetry and novels.

The war was a clash of rival nation states, but it often brought about a mixing of cultures. Perhaps it eventually led to some greater understanding and respect between peoples.