I recently had the great joy of seeing They Shall Not Grow Old in the movie theatre. Have you seen it? Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) took old World War I footage from the Imperial War Museum and worked some magic with it—slowing down and smoothing out the shaky recordings, then colorizing much of it and adding in realistic sound effects. In the background, bits and pieces of old memoirs were read aloud.
For 90 minutes, the audience was transported to 1914-1918, to experience what trench warfare must have been like for the Allies. It was truly breathtaking—and sobering.
It got me to thinking about Florence Nightingale’s participation in a wartime effort, and the fact that she, too, shall not grow old in our minds. One reason why she won’t, is that we have a single recording of her voice, recorded on a wax cylinder in 1890, 20 years before her death in 1910 and almost 30 years before the end of World War I.
No doubt it would have been a very strange experience for her to have her voice played back for her via the peculiar machine!
In the recording, she offers a blessing to her “dear old comrades” from the Crimea. She loved the British troops, and they adored her right back.
I wonder what she would have thought about Great Britain getting involved in such a massive conflict as World War I—followed by World War II not two decades later! She would have had much to say about the organization of field hospitals, I’m sure.
Here is Florence’s brief voice recording. It’s crackly and imperfect, as you might imagine from the technology of the time. Enjoy, dear reader.