I just got in from an event commemorating The Great War specifically, and Remembrance Day more generally: a screening of a 1928 Canadian film (the most complete one of the era as well, which is a huge deal) Carry On, Sergeant! with live music (and new score) provided by Hilotrons.
They are performing this at a couple of more locations (Renfrew, Collingwood) in the coming weeks, so if you’re able to make it to a screening you should totes go. (Whoops, apparently those shows aren’t happening after all?)
The film itself is a fascinating piece, actually legitimately (and intentionally) darkly funny in places, harrowing in others, and with some remarkable special effects considering its vintage. You can find out more about its history, and revival, on the Lost Dominion Screening Collective’s website and in this documentary snippet on YouTube.
As interested as I was in the film, I was also plotting a return to blogdom while watching.
There are lots of kilts in this movie, and I learned something about them as a result of seeing it.
Also because of this viral infographic-ish thing debunking common misconceptions, which, at the risk of sounding like an asshole, was composed of stuff I largely knew.
OK, sure, the internet is full of information, but are people looking for it? Not always. And I always like to butt in with a fact when I can. I’m a huge hit at parties with my talk of three Best Actor Oscar winners appearing in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and explanations of how Jerusalem artichokes are the only tuber vegetable native to North America.
I’ve been trying to make an effort lately to make better notes about things I learn in the everyday, possibly because I am 90 years old in my heart, but also because trivia dominance depends on my retaining information and writing things out helps a lot.
(Here’s where my older brother, if he’s reading, will seriously worry that I am turning into our eccentric Uncle Edward, who took painstaking notes on everything he encountered. I’m not quite THAT bad, and anyway, I’ve never been good at drawing, so I won’t be putting together schematics of our manual lawn mower any time soon. OR WILL I?)
All this nonsense preamble is to set up a new, occasional (?) series acronymed TILALM for Today I Learned A Little More, where I ramble about things I’ve learned, and other interesting tidbits that I might have already known long before today. Because I’m a recovering and/or wannabe historian, most of these will be historical in nature. At least for now, until I get Neil deGrasse Tyson or Lorde to write a guest post.
(I can already sense that I will be cringing when I reread this at a later date. Hello self-doubt, my old friend.)
Anyway, I am that asshole who wants SO BADLY to Google actors’ names and credits while watching a movie, or to find out whether a battle scene was actually filmed in Scotland, or if they did it in Northern Ireland for tax reasons. I rarely watch a television program, or hear a bit of celebrity gossip, or ingest any snippet of not-formal-education information without wanting to know a least a little bit more.
Some stuff I knew:
- The kilt as we know it (worn from the waist down, pleated) is a fairly modern invention, credited to an English industrialist who found the more traditional ‘belted plaid’ (which was wrapped around the whole body like a kind of cross between a toga and a car blanket) that his employees wore too cumbersome for an ironworks (no shit).
- Tartan was banned for 40 years after the ’45. These were the belted plaid-type, for which you can apparently buy a pattern to sew for yourself, if you’re into that sort of thing.
- The formal Highland dress that you might see in a dance competition, Cape Breton wedding, or 19th century postcard would never have been worn by the average Scottish peasant type back in olden times and came to be the Scottish ‘national dress’ after that 40 year ban ended.
- Clan tartans are probably mostly made up. A delightful pair of gentleman, known as the Sobieski Stuarts who claimed to be the descendants of Bonnie Prince Charlie, are responsible for the explosion of ‘traditional’ tartans being adopted after the publication of their book Vestiarium Scoticum (heh), even though their research was probably almost entirely bunk.
- Tartans can still be commissioned too, as Laird Singh did in 1999. The resultant pattern is a tartan that can be worn by anyone of the Sikh religion.
- Kilts were not allowed in battle in the Second World War.
I’ve known people in the militia, I’ve been to the Edinburgh Tattoo, and absolutely I understood that yes, kilts are part of the dress of certain regiments in the military in Canada (this is a Scottish country), the UK, and elsewhere, but what I did NOT know that kilts were part of the battle uniforms in the First World War.
In the film, Smalls, McKay, and Cameron are in the ‘Canadian Scottish’ regiment and wear their kilts throughout the war. I thought the kilt-clad Smalls, who I suspect the director was grooming to be the Canadian Buster Keaton, sleeping in a water-filled trench with gunfire and mayhem going on all around him, was dramatic license. Nope.
As if trench life wasn’t horrific enough, in winter, in summer, a soldier in one of those lucky Scots-affliated regiments would have been exposed, bare-kneed to the elements, blood, shit, and tears.
Googling ‘kilts and trench warfare’ did not disappoint. There are good quotes and excellent pictures there.
At least they got to wear proper combat boots, because ghillies or brogues would have been hopeless in the mud.