Documentary to serve as fundraiser for Norwich cannon restoration

April 8, 2019

When someone mentions the name of famous director Peter Jackson, images of hobbits, dwarves, elves and orcs come to mind rather than machine guns, muddy and bloody trenches and landscapes blasted beyond recognition.

But Norwich city Historian Dale Plummer praised Jackson not for bringing to life the fantasy world of Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” but for the director’s groundbreaking World War I documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” released in December. Jackson used historical footage intricately colorized using actual colors of dirt and background vegetation from the battlefield sites and forensic lip readers to interpret the conversations and orders barked by officers in the trenches.

The artillery blasts demonstrate how the term “shell shock” came about, Plummer said.

“It really needs to be seen,” Plummer said of the documentary.

After Plummer and other members of a committee raising money to restore Norwich’s World War I captured German howitzer war prize saw the documentary at the packed Lisbon Landing AMC Classic cinema, they worked with the cinema manager to organize a special showing of the fim to raise funds for the restoration effort.

“This will allow people to learn more about World War I and see what it was really like to be in this very, very terrible war,” Plummer said.

The committee’s efforts are aimed at more than fundraising to restore an important war artifact, Plummer said. The group wants to help people understand the human elements of the war that killed millions of young soldiers and sailors and forever changed those lucky enough to return home.

Among the latter was Walter P. Moran, chief electrician at Norwich Gas & Electric, the predecessor to Norwich Public Utilities. Moran, who resigned his post to voluntarily enlist in the army, was severely wounded and thought to be dead. He was nearly buried when a friend, Irving Bogue, discovered he was still alive, Plummer said.

Moran was rescued, hospitalized for months before finally returning home to Norwich, where he opened a clothing shop and later became Norwich postmaster. Bogue, however, was killed shortly after rescuing his friend.

In honor of Moran’s service, NPU has purchased 50 tickets to the April 13 airing of “They Shall not Grow Old” to be distributed to local veterans through the Norwich Area Veterans’ Council, Plummer said.

Last fall, the Norwich committee helped arrange the city’s Veterans’ Day ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In April, the committee will begin a series of five programs on the war. The first, not yet scheduled, won’t focus on battles or artillery fire, but on poetry created during the war.

The city’s howitzer sat outside for nearly a century, its paint peeled, metal rusted, and sections of the wooden wheel spokes rotted away over time. It has been moved into a Public Works garage for protection to await the restoration.

The committee has raised about 60,000 goal for the howitzer restoration, Plummer said. The city’s finance department is handling the funds, and the committee has contacted a professional conservator for the project.

“This is a very significant artifact of World War I,” Plummer said. “Of the thousands that were made, only a couple dozen are left, scattered across the world, some in terrible shape.”