With every year that passes, World War I becomes increasingly remote.
As a child growing up in the 1950s, World War II was my yesterday, and World War I was close enough that I knew songs like “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” and “I’ve got Sixpence” from hearing veterans of that war belting them out in the Presbyterian church basement.
Anne Morgan’s War, a documentary streaming on PBS, brings World War I back to life, but in a new way. This is a story of civilians: the people who lived in the devastation of Northern France, and the American women who came to their aid.
And it’s particularly rich in photos and film clips.
Anne Morgan was the youngest of billionaire banker J.P. Morgan’s four children.
Departing from her fathers mold, she was a philanthropist, feminist, and union sympathizer who, with like-minded friends, stood on the picket lines with the workers in the New York Shirtwaist Strike of 1909.
When J.P. Morgan died in 1913, she inherited a quarter of his $2.3 billion fortune (in 2022 dollars). Anne was then 40, living in France in a villa she had bought with friends in 1903. When the war broke out in 1914, she immediately offered her home as a hospital for wounded soldiers, and became treasurer of the Civilian Division of the American Fund for the French Wounded, a group that imported ambulances from the US and sent them to the front.
On a trip to check that the ambulances were indeed arriving, she saw the devastation of the region and decided to help.
She made her headquarters in the partially ruined Chateau de Blérancourt in Picardy, and over the next seven years built a massive aid organization, the American Committee for Devasted France, also known by its French acronym CARD (Comite Americain pour les Regions Devastees).
By 1924, CARD had recruited a total of 350 young American women, equipped them with Model T trucks, and sent them everywhere in the region, distributing medical aid, food, clothing, and tools so people could return to farming. CARD set up kindergartens, libraries, mobile libraries, training for nurses aids and courses in home economics, and then trained local people to operate them.
It was an expensive venture, even for a very rich woman.
So Morgan travelled back to the US frequently to raise money, using some distinctly modern methods. She hosted gala dinners and tennis tournaments as well as lectures, and eventually set up chapters of CARD in several American cities.
To get her message across, Moran hired Harry B. Lachman, an artist, photographer and filmmaker, to document both the devastation and the work of reconstruction. Lachman shot an enormous volume of film, both still and movie. We see families living in abandoned trenches because it was the best accommodation available, men exploding the live munitions left in the fields, children in school and at play, and gathered at a truck, for milk, as in the picture above. There’s a class in canning and food sterilization and a visit from Santa Claus after several years’ absence. This is what makes Anne Morgan’s War such a rich and rounded picture of life in wartime, and the reconstruction that follows.
For anyone interested in Original Alignment, these images are doubly fascinating.
Moving pictures of people before 1920 are rare indeed. And 1920 is the generally accepted borderline between Original Alignment as the postural norm in Western countries, and the shift to today’s pelvis-forward posture.
Yes, you will see some examples of people out of balance. There are people, both French and American, who bend from their waist, others with their pelvis forward. But the norm is very different. Most people have their weight in their heels, their pelvis back, broad shoulders, lifted spines, and heads in balance over the spinal column.
Check out the photo at the top, a group of civilians, whose lives have been upended by war. The woman on the far right sits with an almost regal posture, pelvis anchored, spine lifting. Scan along to the left, and see if you can sense the shared verticality of the first five people, all rising along the same vertical line. Even the two people on the far left, who look most battered by the war, have their weight firmly planted in their heels.
Like the memory of World War I, this relaxed, elongated posture is also fading from our collective memory.
We can’t do anything about time eroding the lesson in horrific waste of life that was World War I. We can, individually and collectively, keep not just the memory, but the reality, of Original Alignment alive in our bodies. It’s worth a try.