A man is seated at a piano with his back to the camera , with a backdrop in black-and-white of a parade.

Commemorating the First World War through a disability lens

In 2014, five disabled artists presented warm, witty and poignant perspectives on war and disability through a series of films co-commissioned by Channel 4 and 14-18 NOW, taking inspiration from Siegfried Sassoon’s 1917 poem Does It Matter? as part of the 2014-18 series of events exploring the resonance of the First World War today…

As 2018 draws to an end, we thought we’d re-share each film as part of our own commemorations. The poem inspiring the series as a whole is Does it Matter? by Siegfried Sassoon (shown by kind permission of the Estate of George Sassoon).

Does it matter? 

Does it matter? – losing your legs? …

For people will always be kind,

And you need not show that you mind

When the others come in after hunting

To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter? – losing your sight? …

There’s such splendid work for the blind;

And people will always be kind,

As you sit on the terrace remembering

And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter? – those dreams from the pit? …

You can drink and forget and be glad,

And people won’t say that you’re mad;

For they’ll know you’ve fought for your country

And no one will worry a bit.

Siegfried Sassoon (1917)

The series starts with Resemblance by Claire Cunningham. Assembling a crutch as a soldier assembles a gun, she enacts a ritual that mirrors the act of creating a weapon of destruction while actually creating an object of support.

Then Ghosts by Simon Mckeown. Simon’s motion capture animation follows a multinational cast of disabled veterans as they prepare for the day in a landscape filled with the artefacts and objects of World War I.

Followed by Oh! What a Lovely, Lovely Ward by Katherine Araniello. Katherine turns sentimentality on its head in a playful and absurd re-imagining of a wartime hospital where the wounded and war-damaged wait to have their morale lifted by Matron.

Then Breathe Nothing of Slaughter by Tony Heaton. Tony examines the potent symbol of the war memorial and the reality of war. Heroic, Adonis-like bodies are set in stark contrast to images of blackened faces and malnourished and broken bodies.

The final film is Soldiering On by Jez Colborne. Jez’s song explores his fascination with the pomp and ceremony of war, an experience he’s locked out of because ‘learning-disabled people don’t go to war’, made in collaboration with Mind The Gap.

All were all produced by Artsadmin and creative film producers Xenoki and supported by Unlimited.