Way back within my first few days at University let’s just say I was in the right place at the right time. I was unsuspectingly pounced upon by the creator of the radio version of David Roberts’ ‘Minds At War’ – a book of poetry of WW1 in context.
Well, I say pounced as though I was a victim but I have to say I was absolutely delighted to be involved – even if it was more by luck than being actually talent-spotted. The chap was desperate for a role to be filled and I was the rabbit who had strolled into the headlights.
Twentieth century European history is a real interest of mine so I had no hesitation in agreeing to offer my voice for a character. I had no idea who the character was, but then again I didn’t really care.
It turns out I had been offered the role of Count Brockdorff-Rantzau. “Such an iconic role”, I thought with just a mild hint of satire.
In all seriousness, I had no idea who he was at first but he had the very important role of being the Head of German delegation at the Versailles Peace Conference.
Apologies in advance, but this is going to lead into a bit of a history lesson. The Treaty Of Versailles, signed in June 1919, was the official ending of World War One. It was the peace treaty where the Allies and Germany together agreed settlements.
“We cherish no illusions as to the extent of our defeat – the degree of our impotence. We know that the might of German arms is broken.” is the line from Count Brockdorff-Rantzau featured in the book.
In the treaty, Germany had to agree to: taking sole blame for the war and therefore paying £6.6billion in reparations (compensation) for damages; giving away 13% of its land which contained around six million people, 10% of its industry and 15% of its agricultural land; disbanding the airforce; limiting the army to 100,000 soldiers and reducing the navy to 15,000 sailors, six battleships and no submarines.
Leaving the treaty, Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau who had previously fulfilled a number of different diplomatic roles, was believed to have said that the treaty would be impossible to fulfill and cause continual discontent amongst the German people. He was absolutely right.
The Treaty of Versailles is arguably the route cause of World War Two. Think about it. The humiliation of accepting sole responsibility of the war (when it wasn’t) and having a significantly reduced army caused the German people to rightly resent the Allies and also their own politicians (who had very little choice on the matter) for signing it. On top of this, the German people had huge reparations to pay and they had to do this whilst recovering from war themselves and having lost significant chunks of land, population, agriculture and industry. This impoverished a generation.
To put events simply; such anger, resentment and poverty gave extremist parties such as the Nazis something to talk to the people about. Hitler was very good at blaming the politicians for letting Germany down and giving great speeches as to how he would re-arm Germany and they would become a great nation again.
You see, if you punish someone so hard you run the risk of a somewhat charismatic extremist coming along and offering the people hope where they had none before and a chance to fight back against their oppressors.
That is exactly what happened and the Allies made sure that they didn’t make the same mistake after the Second World War. They helped Germany rebuild – well West Germany anyway!
Going back to the radio show, although I was very lucky to be selected and only played a very small role, I was very pleased to play the part of a German politician who foretold the dangers of what is widely considered to be one of the most instrumental and damaging treaty in world history.
It was such an honour to play a small part in a year where we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One and the 75th anniversary of the start of British involvement in World War Two.