Charles Carrington Begs to Differ; The Master of Belhaven Looks Back, Blunden’s Sussex Prepares.

Charles Carrington has been on the Somme since the beginning of the battle, and he had seen quite a bit. Yet he stands staunchly against the idea that two months of slogging attrition and tends of thousands of casualties were enough to lead to general disillusionment. He points out, fairly enough, that the operations around Ovillers and Thiepval have pushed the Germans at last from the ridge-line positions that had wreaked so much havoc in the early days of the battle. The German Chief of Staff, Falkenhayn, was recently sacked, too, and British morale–at least in his division–was high.

The 48th, a well-commanded division but of no outstanding fame, had captured strong positions from first-class troops, inflicting at least as many casualties as it suffered, had taken several hundred prisoners, and was conscious of its superiority. We were not intimated by the war of attrition and… never, I think, in better heart. On 31st August I wrote home: ‘They are beaten. The only question is whether they can hang on till winter…”[1]

 

Another officer looking back today, a century back, is Ralph Hamilton, the Master of Belhaven. He has not had an easy week: three days ago his battery was hit and he himself had a very near miss–shrapnel on the helmet, a tumble down the stairs, concussion, and a not inconsiderable dose of gas. Several of his men were wounded and six were buried alive before being rescued–remarkably, no one was killed. So today he reflects on an anniversary:

It is exactly a year since the division sailed from Southampton. What a lot we have seen and done since then! Neuve Chapelle–Loos–Voormezeele–Ypres–Kemmel, and now the Somme. I have been going through my roll to see what the casualties in my battery have been; I find that it amounts to fifty-six in all. This number cannot be considered excessive under the circumstances. The infantry must have lost at least 100 per cent., some battalions far more… At Dranoutre I fired 10,000 shells in three months; and if we stay here a little longer I shall equal that…

The Hun has been very active to-day, both in the air and with his artillery… Personally I don’t think either side could attack in the present state of the ground. All the trenches are full of water, and the rest of the ground, which consists of millions of shell-holes, large and small, has now become a complete series of little lakes.[2]

 

Despite this logical link between current rain and future mud, Edmund Blunden‘s battalion will nonetheless soon be for it. Yesterday, a century back, the battalion diary of the 11th Royal Sussex read

Showery weather. Programme for attack postponed for 24 hours. Shelled again.

And today,

Showery weather. Programme for attack postponed for 24 hours and again.

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Soldier From the Wars Returning, 123.
  2. War Diary, 238-41.

Harold Macmillan Finishes With Much Ado, and Passes to the Tragedies; Rowland Feilding Between The Guards’ Toc Emmas and a Kitchener Mob of His Own; An Impromptu Speech for Robert Graves in Wales

Rowland Feilding is after a new job. He is a competent and experienced officer from the right sort of family. It’s a cadet branch, however, and he has followed a profession between his two stints in the army, so his social position is only good, not excellent. But he can also boast of the right sort of reputation (if boasting were permissible)–he’s a fighter.

Yet while the army continues to get bigger the Guards have hardly more than doubled in size–regimental jobs are not abundant. Since his return to the Guards Division, Feilding has been lunching and dining and meeting his way toward a job more suited to his age (forty-five), rank (senior captain), and ambitions (command).

August 30th, 1916. Morlancourt.

I told you in my letter of yesterday how things stood with regard to myself. This afternoon I got a message to go and see the Brigadier as soon as possible. He told me he had had a talk with Geoffrey [Feilding], and also with Guy Baring. Geoffrey, apparently, had approved of the idea of a battalion tor me, and thought it would be much to my advantage, and that I would do it well. The Brigadier added that it is practically certain that I shall be offered the job of Divisional Trench Mortar Officer, but they are now also going to recommend me for the command of a battalion, which, in any case, even if the recommendation succeeds will involve a delay of a few weeks—which will give us time to decide.

So you see things are going well with me. Moreover, you need have no anxiety, because it is hardly likely that my new battalion (if I get it) will have to make any more attacks this year. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely, because the attacking season will be practically over by the time I get there.

This battalion went out to practise open fighting this morning. I rode with the Colonel, but it poured with rain, and, when we were all wet through, it was decided to give it up.

Yes, we are two solid months into the Somme, and the reserves are still practicing “open fighting,” just in case the great breakthrough takes place. And we are still shutting down practices because rain makes such things difficult…

As for Feilding, he realizes that this drive to be reassigned has much to do with status, but also with health and safety. It is not likely to get him killed this, year at least. He stops, now, and queries his wife, Edith:

I wonder what you will think of my news to-day. I have always said before that I would rather command a Coldstream Company than a battalion elsewhere. But the difficulty is my age. There is no getting away from the fact that, although physically I am well fitted for the strain and hardships, I am, in years, very old as Company Commanders go. I am double the age of all or nearly all the other Company Commanders of the Division, and there is practically no chance of promotion here.

Do write and tell me what you think.[1]

 

And today, a century back, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon attended a charity concert in a Welsh village near the Graves family’s country home. Robert’s father A.P. Graves chaired the meeting, but his son took a part, which the proud father duly recorded in his diary:

…to us the most touching incident was Robby’s practically impromptu speech of thanks on behalf of the Welsh soldiers–manly, modest, simply eloquent. It brought down the house… We had a happy little supper after of sardines & blackberries & junket.[2]

Sassoon, it would seem, did not take a part, but one imagines many vague smiles of bemused tolerance, and perhaps an underlying pleasure at seeing his awkward, troublesomely enthusiastic friend so well loved.[3]

 

And finally, today, Harold Macmillan is still on the Somme, slogging along in and out of trenches. He kept a sketchy sort of diary during this summer, which he mailed home to his mother. In it he periodically relieves the relatively bare military details with notes on his reading.

Macmillan is one of those young officers whose serious efforts to keep up serious reading seems less like a program of diversion and more like a necessary discipline, a way of keeping mental life going amidst the deadening and deadly routine.

30th: Wet. No parades–Boswell is finished at last, and with Much Ado most of the Shakespearian comedies. Now I must pass to the tragedies…[4]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. War Letters to a Wife, 106-7.
  2. R.P. Graves, Robert Graves The Assault Heroic, 161.
  3. Sassoon does not mention his visit to Graves--at least in its proper chronological placement, in either version of "his" memoirs. I believe he mentions it elsewhere, but he appears to have little enough that he wished to say about it...
  4. Webb, From Downing Street to the Trenches, 221.

Rowland Feilding Auditions at Dinner; Henry Williamson Passes his Board; Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves are Reunited

Rowland Feilding is working hard to get a new gig. Having rejoined the Guards after his exile to an entrenching battalion, he is now angling for a line battalion of his own. But it’s hard work, making the right connections:

August 29, 1916. Morlancourt

…Last night I dined with the Brigadier (General John Ponsonby). His latest joke is that if anyone makes a “faux pas” in conversation he has to stand on a chair, the unfortunate remark being recorded against him in a book which is kept for the purpose. Most people fall into the trap. I did not escape…

I sat next to him and told him how I had got side-tracked in the Entrenching Battalion. He said he had no idea that I was in France till he saw me a fortnight ago,—which shows little people know of one another’s movements here. He suggested that I ought to get command of one of the New Army battalions, and asked me to come round this morning to talk it over. This I did. I feel I cannot decide upon this point myself. I do not want to leave the Division. But It was arranged that he should discuss the whole thing with Geoffrey, whom he was going to see to-day…

The homey prestige of the Guards, or promotion and command among Kitchener’s lot? A difficult decision…

 

And two brief updates today: one young writer continues to ail while two others work their recoveries together. Henry Williamson has been out of action for quite some time, either recovering from symptoms of dysentery or training as a transport officer. Today he faced yet another medical board and was once again ruled unfit for duty, “anemic & about 1 1/2 stone underweight.” Williamson at time casts himself–and his alter ego–as something of a shirker. If so, he was a skilled one, since he was able to parlay these vague symptoms into six weeks of leave and three months of light duty.[1]

 

Robert Graves, meanwhile, has been released from hospital after treatment for a serious wound. He has been with his family at their second home in Harlech, Wales, for three days now. And today, a century back, he was joined by a fellow convalescent fusilier. Siegfried Sassoon is recovering from symptoms quite similar to Williamson’s, and he is now far from gravely ill. The high fever is long gone, and there is nothing that will prevent him from spending much of his convalescent leave playing golf and hiking.

Arriving on the afternoon train, Sassoon immediately made an impression. This “fine tall manly fellow” won the heart of Robert’s father A.P. Graves with his eager inquiries about the elder Graves’s youthful acquaintances. A writer of occasional ballads and songs and a collector of Irish folklore, Graves–he was seventy now, Robert’s mother being his second wife–had known Tennyson, Rossetti, and others. But this, perhaps, is reflexive politesse, a buttering up the old man. Graves and Sassoon have plans to work, and on a now quite different sort of poetry…[2]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Anne Williamson, Henry Williamson and the First World War, 76.
  2. R.P. Graves, Robert Graves The Assault Heroic, 160-1.

Ivor Gurney Holds Forth

It’s Ivor Gurney‘s birthday, today. Unfortunately, he takes the occasion to express a shocking opinion.

28 August 1916

Dear Mrs Voynich:

My twenty-sixth birthday finds me at a Clearing Station having my teeth attended to. I wonder where the twenty-seventh will find me? I hope — in England; consuming such wonderful chocolates as you sent me. They were very tray bong, and deserve mention in dispatches. You are to be envied, being near cliffs and the sea. I do not care for skylarks—you may have the whole tribe…

That is correct: an English poet–a Gloucestershire lad, no less–not only doesn’t love all the birds, but particularly dislikes the most poetical of them all.

…but your telling me the French name for them came in useful a day or two after, as we marched past an Estaminet with “Alouette” printed for all the world to see and wonder at. The French are a lovable lot, and a holiday in France; a walking tour especially; could not be bettered as a cheap escape from war-thoughts, if there are any, just after the war. (Apres le gore, our men say; as a joke, and not a bad one.) The French are so courteous, so easily interested, and obviously such a fine-tempered race…

We are probably the finer and more miraculously achieving, when we are put to it; but the French will be sooner stirred to great ends than we — as allies we are ideal, and have a suitable enemy to call out our best. And how well and lovingly they build! France will not erect ugly little tinpot churches all over her tiny towns, but will have one great church worthily built in an open space. Our men do not speak well of the French towns, but all their comminations and cursings come down to the simple ground-objection that there are no picture palaces. They will remember the quiet grace of these farms, and towns and villages when, apres le gore, they reach their own badly built, evilly conceived, wilful-carelessly planned conglomerations of houses, and see vistas of grey depressing slate roofs, and terrible fever-visions of desirable villas.

Well, the thought of la belle France has run away with me somewhat.

Indeed. But Gurney is hard to know, and so it is hard not to feel grateful for the strange perambulations of his letters. A man of parts, and opinions… but these are war letters, in the end:

You must have gathered from all this rigmarole that up till now I have been able successfully to dodge flame and steel — even nice blighties have eluded my anxious search. There is something that one ought perhaps to be grateful for, in that my mind is very much more serene than it was and my health altogether better. Perhaps two years…

This is an apparent irony that Gurney has mentioned before: does it make sense that a man who has struggled with his mental health in peacetime should find contentment easier to come by in the trenches? Well, it does not not make sense…

What follows is somewhat more odd. Another reference to the disappearance of Will Harvey turns immediately into a somewhat manic rundown of his poetic likes and dislikes. But what of the loss?

My best friend went out on patrol some weeks back, and has never returned. I am glad to say that we accidentally met on that morning and he lent me R[obert].B[ridges].’s “Spirit of Man”. Mine for always I suppose now. Unless that event occurs which will dissolve such rights of ownership, or desire; For it is a good book, though very far below what it might be. Why all that Shelley and Dixon, and Hopkins or what’s his names of the crazy precious diction? About one third of the book is worth having, some of it foolish merely. The Greek stuff is sometimes nonsense. The French trite and dull. Where is Wordsworth, Stevenson, Whitman, Browning? And why not more Tolstoi? The Yeats things are good, but he has omitted rare stuff, as Kathleen ni Huolihan, the Fiddler of Dooney.

One would not expect Bridges to include any Belloc; he is an old man; but the book would be better for it. You are right about M. Aurelius. He is mostly a washout. The only thing truly worth preserving is the “Dear city of Zeus” passage. Epictetus has humour and more courage, but it is a waste of time to read more than the Manual. The whole of E: is there, save the “custard with a hook” sentence. Anyway, are all of them. Whitman, Christ, Epictetus not included and summed up in the mind of Bach?

Perhaps not some of Whitman, but add Beethoven and there you are. Having read these two philosophers once, it should never be necessary to read them again. They have one “tip” to give, for which I thank them, and so — farewell.

Nothing more of Harvey. But, before he goes, Gurney has a poem:

Rondel (is it?)
on next page.

Nor flame nor steel has any power on me.
But that its power work the Almighty Will.
Nor flame nor steel has any power on me;
Through tempests of hell fire I must go free
And unafraid, so I remember still
Nor flame nor steel has any power on me.
But that its power work the Almighty Will.

(Yes, I note the two “powers” ; but perfection is not a thing I value, but only Truth and Beauty.)

Distractedly, Gurney seems to return now to an implicit contradiction in his praise of France followed by his praise for German music.

A French-woman told me that les civils [i.e. civilians] expected the war no more than we did, and that les civils say, that if there were a God, he would go into the Trenches and finish the War. Les soldats think otherwise; and anyway, to see the French faces and to look into their eyes, is to be sure that whatever France thinks she thinks she will have no part for ever in the Prussian type of Atheism or religion. What news! What a time to live in, and, if it must be as a soldier. What a time to die in! And for what a cause! II faut a écraser les barbares [we must smash the barbarians], and then perhaps les barbares will remember and serve Europe again after their own great fashion. But a thousand years might well run before even the charitable forgive, especially as Germany will so easily forgive herself; if she ever manages to reach that spiritual height. However we propose to try to help her there…

With best wishes for present and future health:

Yours very sincerely Ivor Gurney[1]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. War Letters, 98-100.

Herbert Read Pontificates on Immortality; Edward Thomas Limps Along; Wilfred Owen’s Lofty Dreams; Raymond Asquith’s Wide Sympathies

Herbert Read is a difficult man… a difficult man to keep tabs on and, it would seem, to love.

27.viii.16

Rugeley Camp, Staffordshire

I find our differences crystallized in one sentence of your last letter–‘And though one must agree that man is not a constituent of the divine (who has said he is?) surely you agree that the divine is one of the constituents of man?’ I don’t agree anything of the sort. Man is a constituent of the divine. The divine is not a constituent of man. There you have my creed plain enough. Read, mark, and learn: and call yourself a pessimist.

Evelyn Roff shared Herbert Read’s interest in philosophy–if not in pre-marital sex–but surely the tone of these letters was not… congenial. We’ve seen many attempts at bridging the gap, at strengthening relationships stretched by the long separations and by the parts of a soldier’s life that a wife or girlfriend can’t spare. But Read seems to believe that formal intellectual sparring will do the trick…

Apart from names I believe I have as much zest for life as you. I regard it as a great heroic fight–a challenge to be accepted with laughter and song. Besides which there is all the intense joy in the beauty of things and in the love of persons. And I can live untroubled by the thoughts of an “After…’ The only immortality that troubles me is the immortality to be created in ‘things of beauty, joys for ever’…

I am a happy exultant Pessimist!

…I’ve got a wonderful little book–The Freudian Wish–the pathology of thought, etc. Also a fine volume of poems by D.H. Lawrence.[1]

 

 

From one relationship that bodes well but doesn’t sound right to one that cannot go anywhere, yet seems to do wonderfully. Alas for Eleanor Farjeon, whose friendship with Edward Thomas is burdened by occasional condescension, awkward praise, unrequited love and, now, their mothers as well. “Granny Thomas” is actually Edward’s mother, and she takes up the pen for her son, who has an abscess in his hand. (Thomas’s propensity for such maladies lends support to his belief that he was suffering from diabetes.)

13 Rusham Rd.
Balham S W
Aug. 25. 1916

Dear Eleanor,

How good you are to me, and how well you write. I read your last letter all myself, and without any discomfort, so you see I really am getting better, though I am not supposed to do much, and the field of visible things is still very dark to me…

Perhaps you know that Edward left the Romford Camp on Tuesday, and has to report at St. John’s Wood this afternoon. Poor boy, he is not at all well and has a bad abscess on his right hand, and ought to have a few more days for rest, and I should love to have him, but in these days the powers that be show no mercy, tho’ I am not without hope he may return tomorrow. Now he asks if he may add a postscript and of course I agree knowing well it will make my letter less dull.

This is all I can say dear and so Goodbye and happy days be yours.

With love from

Granny.

Farjeon seems pleased by “Granny’s” affection. Edward’s post-script was to ask a favor, of course: for months now, Thomas, training in London, has been billeted on his parents. Now he hopes to live more conveniently with Farjeon’s mother.

…Am I impudent in asking whether, if I am to be billeted out, I might possibly be billeted at 137 without inconvenience? I don’t know what the billet money would be but it might be enough to cover the cost of my living (minus the champagne). You will tell me as directly as I ask, won’t you?

If I am any good I will call and see your Mother tomorrow. But my poisoned hand has simply left me a wreck, good for nothing at all, in spite of 3 days rest here.

The champagne is a joke, the billeting money decent, and Farjeon’s mother would have no problem putting up the lonely, married soldier-poet she loves–or so Farjeon writes. But in the two days that have elapsed since this letter, all the plans have changed again. Thomas, it seems, is now officially an artillery cadet, and boarding in. Still, he will lean on loyal Eleanor…

From Cadet P. E. Thomas
Royal Artillery School
Handel St
27 viii 16

My dear Eleanor,

If I possibly can and I think I can, I will come round immediately after I am dismissed at 6 tomorrow. Then we can have dinner out or in as you like. You see I am not at St John’s Wood. All the R.G.A. men are here. It is too far off for me to sleep out, but I hope I can work at your house sometimes. There will be a great deal to do. Thank goodness my hand is mending fast, and so am I. I have been resting yesterday and today at Rusham Rd. We get practically every week end. The result is I got tired of logarithms and wrote 8 verses which you see before you. When I come I should like to borrow about the last 12 things I have written. I want to send them to the prospective publisher I told you about, with these if they are good enough…

Yours ever
Edward Thomas.[2]

I’m not sure which verses these are, but the progress toward a volume of poetry is significant. As is Farjeon’s role in it, not only as typist but as first reader and critic.

 

Wilfred Owen, meanwhile, has big plans. While his erstwhile fellow Artists’ Rifles’ cadet is finding his way toward the artillery, Owen is beginning to aim higher than the infantry. In a letter of four days ago to his brother Colin he raised a new hope:

There are changes happening daily, but I remain. Briggs went this morning to be attached to another Regiment; no choice of his. One or two are trying for the R. Flying Corps. Shall I? I think so.

Of the last Draught that went out, men I had helped to train, some are already fallen…

That letter then soars into a blizzard of half-self-aware pontification (word of the day, apparently) for his young brother. But today, a century back, his eyes are still on the skies:

Sunday 27 August
Manchester Regiment, 5th Battalion

My dearest Mother,

…The C.O. himself told me on Thursday that he was putting me down for the New Battalion, so that I am not being kicked out of the Manchesters, whatever happens. The C.O. appears to have found my work—or my person—not too offensive to him.

There is only one other of the Artist Batch now left…

I was on the point of sending in an application for the R. Flying Corps, when, at tea, the C.O. spoke to me about being kept on. I said ‘I thank you, sir’, being an Englishman.

But I still have a big idea of turning to Flight.

It is not quite a determination, or I might say it would certainly come about. There are ways and means, and I will work them, if I decide to. Tuesday I am going up to London, on Dental Leave, in order to see a high official at the War Office. Nothing succeeds in Aerial Matters without some boldness. So I am starting well.

I have not sent in my application for Transfer, as, once I did so, I should commit myself to the C.O’s eternal displeasure. Now what do you think about it.?

Flying is the only active profession I could ever continue with enthusiasm after the War…

By Hermes, I will fly. Though I have sat alone, twittering, like even as it were a sparrow upon the housetop…

Owen is swept away, again, by this idea, which–as he probably realizes, between the high-flying bits of bluster–does not sound terribly practical. But to dream of flight!

If I fall, I shall fall mightily. I shall be with Perseus and Icarus, whom I loved; and not with Fritz, whom I did not hate.  To battle with the Super-Zeppelin, when he comes, this would be chivalry more than Arthur dreamed of.

Zeppelin, the giant dragon, the child-slayer, I would happily die in any adventure against him. . . .

But I am terrified of Fritz, the hideous, whom I do not hate.

Fondest wishes for a fine old Aberystwithian Holiday.

Your own Wilfred[3]

It seems a little strange to object primarily to the deadliness of being an infantry officer and then dream of becoming a pilot: yes, there is little glamour in the infantry in a trench war, and fighter pilots will indeed take on the mantle–at least for propaganda purposes–of latter-day knights. But pilot training is deadlier than grenade-handling, by a long shot…

Owen is hard to read in these letters… but it’s probably the case that he has been worried about being accepted in his regiment, being seen as acceptable to his battalion commander. Now he can play up the promise of the Flying Corps knowing that he is likely to be assigned to an active battalion before long…

 

Finally, it would seem that there are ways to be prophetically almost-witty and to not only somehow clamber up onto the right side of history blind and backwards… and then slip right off the other side, showing your saddle-girths to the sky. I joked yesterday about Raymond Asquith‘s cutting edge opinions on the benefits of vaccines, breast-feeding, and the proper deployment of national care-giving resources. Today, a century back, in a letter to Diana Manners, he has a chance to seem ahead of his time once again. Asquith, defender of gay rights?

27 August

. . . All the morning I have spent conferring with a bn. officer who wants me to defend him at a Court Martial on a charge of “homosexualism”, as these overeducated soldiers persist in misnaming these elementary departures from the strict letters of “Infantry Training 1914”. His story seemed a very queer one[4] even to me who esteem myself a man of wide sympathies. But I am hoping to persuade Sir E. Carson to take my place, as I think the situation demands a deeper reservoir of cant than anyone but an Ulster covenanter can extemporarily command. . .[5]

This is pretty interesting, really, and I wish we knew more about the case. It’s not quite clear whether Asquith deserves any credit for his “wide sympathies,” here. It’s good to know that he is not a fulminating homophobe, but he is also trying to get out of the job and may be telling Manners about it more for the frisson/ability to demonstrate his cutting-edge disdain for convention than to show that he really doesn’t care where a man finds love or sex. As for the case itself, it seems clear that most units would tolerate a certain amount of more or less clandestine homosexual activity. Again, this may have something to do with the idea that consenting adults might do as they wish, English gentlemen respect privacy, etc., but it may have more to do with simple expediency–which is what Asquith is getting at with his “Infantry Training” joke. In an all male world it made more sense to look the other way than to aggressively prosecute gay men or men who took some comfort among their fellow soldiers. It seems likely that there were many who lived more or less conventionally heterosexual lives at home but refused the only likely such option in France–government-inspected and approved mass-market brothels in reserve-billet towns–and looked among their comrades instead. After all, this is the England that recently sent Oscar Wilde to jail, and also the England that tolerated more or less open homosexuality in the artistic reaches of the middle and upper classes, and in which the sexual availability of off-duty Guardsmen (the non-commissioned soldiers of Asquith’s regiment, among others, which were stationed in London in peace time) was a cliché of urban decadence. Hence the more-than-ordinary-in-military-legal-cases requirement for cant.

I know nothing about this case and shouldn’t speculate, but it is somewhat likely that one of three things posed a more significant problem than, simply, “homosexualism,” and pushed the case toward a court-martial. First, the officer may have earned the enmity of his commander, and not necessarily because of an uncompromising hatred of homosexuality. It might be  cynically seen as a sure-fire way to force a man our. Second, the officer might have failed to be discreet, which was a serious problem given the hypocrisy of the situation and the high bar for social reserve in Guards regiments. Asquith would, I’m sure, overlook a gay man who could be trusted not to be publicly exposed as such, but not a man who was a likely embarrassment. Third, while we, today, would note that homosexuality in and of itself does not cause this problem, it would have seemed to present a serious and legitimate threat to discipline if the gay officer had seemed to take an interest in any men under his command. In an all-male army, heterosexual abuse of rank wasn’t possible, but there are obvious problems not only of potential coercion (this, one imagines, might often be overlooked in an army in which some men were assigned to be body servants, were tied to wagon wheels or flogged for minor offenses and sometimes shot for serious ones, and in which all might be sent to their deaths) but of accusations of favoritism. Coercion is bad: favoritism is worse, especially in the form of a sexual relationship between officer and man. No cracks from the learned Asquith about Spartans or Thebans would be appropriate in such a case. In the British Army, all personal beliefs aside–as in most societies’ armies–it would be a bad thing if the private soldiers of a platoon had good reason to believe that their officer will protect one of them more than others.

I am speculating, and shouldn’t–I don’t know who this officer was or what indiscretion lead to the prosecution. But I have been thinking of a sad case we will encounter in the future, and Asquith’s view is not insignificant testimony on a thorny issue…

 

References and Footnotes

  1. The Contrary Experience, 76-7.
  2. Farjeon, Edward Thomas..., 210-12.
  3. Collected Letters, 406-8.
  4. No, it didn't mean that then.
  5. Life and Letters, 290.

Raymond Asquith on Prettiness, Shaw, and a Woman’s Place; Robert Graves is Released at Last

Raymond Asquith and the Guards Division are back in billets. Two days and a century back, he reported to his wife Katherine on the move, and on his prospects:

3rd Grenadier Guards, B.E.F.
24 August 1916

…I can’t tell you the joy of getting into a house at last after this life of trenches and dug-outs, huts and tents and bivouacs. Last night we had an absolutely bloody camp, the worst I have seen yet. All the officers slept together in a hut with a canvas roof, through which the rain poured in on a floor of hard mud littered with the leavings of poultry, and just as I was going to bed a mole ran out from under my pillow and then ran in again.

Eglise vignacourt

Saint-Firmin de Vignacourt

We had to get up at 4 a.m. in the dark and wet and marched off–the whole division together–at 7. The weather cleared and we had a fine and fairly cool march of 12 miles or so pretty nearly due South through a very comely bit of country with bills and woods and fields of undulating com. About noon we finished up in a biggish rather pretty village with an oldish rather pretty church.[1]

Sloper and I found an excellent billet in a cottage with a charming little garden full of pansies and dahlias and delightfully clean rooms where we have just had lunch. We are out of the sound of the guns and the countryside is smiling and peaceful…

You would think it impossible on our limited front to cover as much ground as we have done during the last month. We never stop moving and yet we never seem to arrive anywhere, which is perhaps as well . . .

I am now reading the prefaces to Shaw’s plays which I find stimulating. He has the gift of never being quite right about anything. No one who wears jaeger and disbelieves in vaccination ever could be.

How very topical!

But he always says a number of true things in a very telling way. How right, e.g. to wipe off the slate those stale and senseless controversies about the exact date of the gospels and the authenticity of the miracles. And how true that beliefs are a matter of taste and taste a matter of fashion. This gets rid at once of the old trouble about so many clever men being Xians and the newer one of so many clever men not being Xians.

So Asquith is reading Shaw. And who else, praytell?

I should like Ford’s plays if you can get hold of a small (and cheap) edition, and you might also send me (if you can get a French version of it) Mafarka Le Futuriste by Marinetti…

The first, alas, is not Ford Madox (he is still “Hueffer,” anyway) but rather John. So, yes: Raymond Asquith, while marching to and fro across France and Belgium, making nasty comments about various people all the while, would also like to read both Futurist poetry and Jacobean tragedy.

 

That was two days ago. But Asquith has an unerring instinct for the alternation of attractive and repulsive qualities and opinions. Now that I have praised him for the breadth of his interests, today, a century back, he comes down heavily on the question of what women–or at least his woman–should do to aid the war effort. It’s not accidental that Asquith segues from a discussion of their three children to his opinion of his wife’s new (potential) interest:

3rd Grenadier Guards, B.E.F.
26 August 1916

. . . I have your letter of Tuesday; It is bad news about Helen being musical, but I am glad she can ride. I think it would be a great mistake for you to become a nurse (unless of course you are driven to it by sheer boredom). After all charity begins at home and you will contribute much more to the commonwealth by suckling Trim and teaching him how to attract women and Helen and Perdita how to attract men, than by muddling about with compound fractures and spiral bandages. Also what would happen to me if I ever did come home on leave?[2]

What indeed. So, if we’re keeping score, Asquith is an anti-anti-vaxxer and a lactivist. How enlightened! And, also, he would like his wife to be waiting at home for him, presumably to supervise the staff that will cook him his dinner and get him his slippers and perform any other necessary services…

Or perhaps his obnoxiousness has raised my hackles. It would be rather late for an untrained nurse to learn enough to be useful, and–theoretically at least–the care of their infant son and young daughters would have to be taken up by someone else, which hardly strengthens the British wartime work force…

 

And what has become of Robert Graves? Well, it turned out that taking shrapnel through the chest required more than a week in hospital. But today, a century back, Graves was at last released, and made immediately for his beloved Wales, ‘crying all the way.”[3]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Now I regret omitting, yesterday, Rowland Feilding's assessment of the same church: "It is a beautiful church—inside and out;—I think almost the prettiest small church I have seen in France."
  2. Life and Letters, 288-9.
  3. R.P. Graves, Robert Graves The Assault Heroic, 159.

Vera Brittain on Battle’s Unspeakable Splendor; Tolkien Writes of a Forest Walker; Ford Madox Hueffer Begins to Bore; Rowland Feilding is Back with the Division

For the second consecutive day, J.R.R. Tolkien began work on a new poem, heading the manuscript ‘HQ dugout Thiepval Wood Aug[ust] 25-26’. It, too, remains unpublished, but the title, at least, sounds suggestive of subsequent work. Perhaps misleadingly: “The Forest Walker” was dedicated ‘To Bus-les-Artois Wood,’ and it seems to have referred to Tolkien’s emotions when walking in that wood just after learning of Rob Gilson’s death.[1]

 

Death, or glory: in London, today, the First Day on the Somme is also eliciting more positive emotions.

Although Edward Brittain was wounded in the bloody chaos of July 1st, this has come to seem a providential mercy. As the battle ground on, Edward was safe, recovering in the very hospital in which his sister labored as a V.A.D. And after release, convalescent leave in London.

Vera Brittain, therefore, has not been writing much. Not only is her beloved brother close by, but she has been working extremely long hours nursing the thousands of wounded men who came through 1st London General in the wake of the great attack. But yesterday, a century back, Edward Brittain learned that he had been awarded the Military Cross for his valor and leadership after being wounded. Today, he visited Vera, and then she wrote to their mother:

Isn’t it unspeakably splendid about Edward’s Military Cross! And how like him to send you a postcard, when anybody else would have wired; he takes it with the utmost placidity… he was wearing it to-day… other officers turn round & look at him, & he never appears to notice it… He says he will undoubtedly get promotion now–though was does it matter if you are a 2nd Lieutenant all your days, when you are an M.C.?[2]

This is uncharacteristically giddy–which is itself telling. Clearly Edward Brittain is very proud of his decoration, as he has reason to be.

For us–for them–there is an easy, likely subtext. Edward was always the second fiddle to Roland Leighton (and yes, he is a violinist). Roland was bigger, braver, the higher-ranking cadet in their schoolboy O.T.C.–altogether a more likely war hero. But Roland is dead, with never a chance to prove himself anything more than highly competent and ordinarily brave. And Edward, the quieter one, the musician, the one whose sister made a great romance of his great friendship, had now won the right to wear a very visible symbol of courage under fire…

And for Vera, yes: there is some uneasy way in which her love for her brother has been forced to expand to cover the empty space once filled by her love for the “fallen” young man they both loved. That somewhat vapid pride in bemedaled military glory–“unspeakably splendid!– jars with our sense that the more sensitive should see the carnage and failure behind the fluttering fig leaves of a thousand medals, that the civilians who try so hard to bridge the gulf should pick up on the soldiers’ sense that true valor is only haphazardly acknowledged by the army, and medals should only be quietly half-celebrated. But, I think, she too doubted him. This is her little brother–sensitive, gentle, a little strange. Perhaps she had feared for his fate, perhaps she had doubted that he would prove brave and capable… and he has. A great relief.

 

Ford Madox Hueffer, meanwhile, suspects his wife of killing his poetry and his colonel of wanting to kill his military career. He writes again to Lucy Masterman, today, and again the idea that she could help him find a better post is uppermost in his mind.

Dear Lucy,

…Isnt it rather queer & bitter to think that no one–according to V[iolet Hunt] at least–will publish my poems–of wh. I have written several out here? I wish C. F. G. wd. make some of his editors put them in–for I rather suspect V.(tho’ I may be unjust) of suppressing them for ends of her own.

With the labour of 184 men I have today drained a considerable portion of this country & I have also marched 12 miles to bring up a draft. So I have not been idle. But the C. O. continues to impress on me that I am too old for this job. I think he wants to force me to relinquish my commission. I suppose you do know anybody who cd. impress on Gen. Bridges the desirability of having me in his Int[elligence] Dept?

…I suppose I am a bore: I am terribly afraid of becoming a bore with a grievance. I shd. certainly not write about it to anyone else But I really am rather considerate about this & I know you suffer fools, if not gladly, then at least more patiently than most people…[3]

 

And finally, today, Rowland Feilding is going in the opposite direction. He, too, is rather too old for a job in a line company. But then again he was a soldier before the war and has won a reputation for aggressiveness. He’s a Guards officer, too, although his career had been sidetracked into a support unit far from the social center of the Guards Division. But now Feilding has been sent back toward the center… if he can just get himself into the sight of the right people…

August 25, 1916

I was up at 5.45 yesterday morning, to catch the train at Mericourt, the railhead of the Entrenching Battalion… we managed luckily to find a Flying Corps tender going our way, which brought Walpole, myself, our servants and kits to the Guards Divisional Headquarters at Vignacourt, where we found Geoffrey Feilding and his Staff having lunch…

I was told that an application had been forwarded for me to go through a course, with a view to my becoming Divisional Trench Mortar Officer…

I have met so many friends that it would bore you if I named them all. I had tea with Colonel Skeffington Smith… and in the evening met General John Ponsonby, who took me along with him for a walk. He said he had heard about the Trench Mortar proposal, and gave me some advice as to the duties it would entail…

I am in such a happy mood at getting back to the Division.[4]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Chronology, 89.
  2. Letters From a Lost Generation, 268-9.
  3. Letters of Ford Madox Ford, 70.
  4. War Letters to a Wife, 104-5.

Ivor Gurney’s Threnody for Will Harvey, Not Quite Lost; Edmund Blunden Tosses a Ball; John Ronald Tolkien Takes Up His Pen

Edmund Blunden has been waiting diffidently in the wings, here. He has been out since May, but his battalion has been having an easy time, rotating in and out of reserve and holding quiet sectors of the line, and so Blunden’s memoir-observations are difficult to tie to a particular date. Today, however, a century back, the battalion diary of the 11th Royal Sussex confirms their arrival, after a rail journey. at Le Souich, a little town well to the north of the main Somme battle–and so we have a chance to work a bit of Blunden’s incongruous contentment into this summer of endless battle.

A German airplane hovered above the act, and we sat waiting for the train to start, in a familiar attitude, with trying apprehensions. We travelled with the gravity due to hot summer weather, and found the process better than marching. But the Somme was growing nearer! Leaving the railway, we were billeted one night in a village called Le Souich. The occasion was marked at battalion headquarters by a roast goose, which the old farmer had shot at shortest range with an air of a mighty hunter (“Je le tire a I’oeil“); and I joyfully remember how Millward, that famed cricketer, gave us an hour’s catching practice in the orchard with apples instead of cricket balls.[1]

 

John Ronald Tolkien rejoined his battalion today, a century back, after a brief signals course. More significant than the course, perhaps, was his meeting with Geoffrey Bache Smith, who had objected so strongly to the idea that the T.C.B.S. had been effectively dissolved by the death of Rob Gilson. Tolkien’s 11th Lancashire Fusiliers are now near Thiepval, working in support constructing new trenches while other units man the front line. In support, it seems, an inspired signaler may jot down more than military messages: at some point today Tolkien began work on “The Thatch of Poppies,” a poem which has not, to my knowledge–and considerable amazement–ever been published.[2]

 

Finally, today, another letter from Ivor Gurney to Marion Scott.

24 August 1916

My Dear Miss Scott,

I hope you are still improving, and getting on as well as becomes an English woman in these times. You may have written to me, but I am at a hospital miles away from the lines to have my spectacles and teeth mended, and to drink as much coffee as my interior may be induced to receive. Unfortunately we are kept within the camp, and one’s efforts are necessarily confined in their sphere. Anyway there will probably be your parcel waiting to go into the line with me, when the time for return comes.

Do get on well though, and write me those interesting letters which are a part of such joy as I can get here…

These preliminaries dispensed with, however, Gurney turns to the shocking recent news:

The thing that fills my mind most though is, that Willy Harvey, my best friend, went out on patrol a week ago, and never came back.

If what follows seems callous, it may show Gurney struggling to come to terms with what he assumes is Harvey’s death. It will be some time before the Gloucesters learn that their enterprising new lieutenant was not killed but rather taken prisoner.

It does not make very much difference; for two years I have had only the most fleeting glimpses of him, but we were firm enough in friendship, and I do not look ever for a closer bond, though I live long and am as lucky in friendship as heretofore.

Now, then, an awkward eulogy for the living:

He was full of unsatisfied longings. A Doctor would have called it neurasthenia, but that term covers many things, and in him it meant partly an idealism that could not be contented with realities. His ordinary look was gloomy, but on being spoken to he gladdened one with the most beautiful of smiles, the most considerate courtesy of manner. Being self-absorbed, he was nevertheless nobly unselfish at most times, and all who knew him and understood him, must not have liked him merely, but have loved him. Had he lived, a great poet might have developed from him, could he only obtain the gift of serenity. As a soldier, or rather as I would say, a man, he was dauntlessly brave, and bravery in others stirred him not only to the most generous recognition, but also unfortunately to an insatiable desire to surpass that. His desire for nobility and sacrifice was insatiable and was at last his doom, but his friends may be excused for desiring a better ending than that probable, of a snipers bullet in No Mans Land. There is only one thing to make me glad in all this, which is — that I saw him a few hours before he went out, and he lent me his pocket edition of Robert Bridges “Spirit of Man”, a curious collection, but one well worth having, and a worthy memory of my friend. I need no such remembrances; if the Fates send that I live to a great age and attain fulness of days and honour, nothing can alter my memory of him…  He is my friend, and nothing can alter that, and if I have the good fortune ever to meet with such another, he has a golden memory to contend with. A thing not easy.

But life goes on. And life, for Gurney, means poetry and music:

I am anxious to hear what you think of my setting of Masefields lovely poem. Do not spare criticism. Once I could not write away from the piano; that was written in the front line. Indeed I am becoming fit for my job — by which, as you know, I do not mean fighting. Our front has been fairly quiet, but that term will not exclude raids or bombardments, or the unwelcome irritations of Trench Mortars. These things often make me horribly afraid, but never past the possibility of making jokes; which must be my standard of paralytic fear…

After discussing some of the details of his work, he returns to the subject of the war. And, naturally, to the chances of surviving it:

These are great days now — in England. But in France, they are either — awful or — dull. Ours is the latter lot, which means less horror but also less chance of a blighty.

I still expect to come through, but then, who, doesn’t?

…Anyway, we can stick it, and will, since now we understand Fritz and his cloudy soul.

Goodbye and best wishes for Exuberant Vitality:

Yours very sincerely

Ivor Gurney[3]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Undertones of War, 80-1. Blunden adds, in the revised edition, that Millward's memory differs....
  2. Chronology, 89.
  3. War Letters, 96-8.

Bimbo Tennant Remembers the Good Life of the Souls; Ford Madox Hueffer’s Uncertain History

A few days ago Raymond Asquith wrote to cheer and enhearten Diana Manners, proclaiming in unusually emphatic tones that she–queen of their coterie–was not only incomparably beautiful but a pioneer of wit, a leader in their movement that disdained the dusty witticisms and precious vapidities of the Souls, their parents’ generation. It was a long letter, and it culminated (after an apparent break in composition) with a dark little joke about the death of Basil Hallam, so I cut rather heavily to move things along. I noted that Asquith took a shot at his step-mother’s father, but I elided the location at which he chose to set his “here’s-how-passé-the-Souls-are” joke. That step-grandfather is Bim Tennant‘s grandfather, and the Scottish estate at which this representative bit of the last century’s cleverness was uttered was “Glen,” which still remained–and still, apparently, does–in the family.

It what surely qualifies as a sort of metaphysical crossing-of-paths, Bimbo himself–significantly younger than Asquith yet frightfully traditional in his filial enthusiasms and his poetry alike–wrote a letter today in which he wistfully remembered his childhood days there.

Aug. 23.

” . . . I suppose you are still at Glen. I wish I could be there for the 31st. Talking of the hills, do you remember that day long ago, when a nursery-party we were all descending Minchmuir, and you thought I would be cold, and wrapped me in your rose-coloured lovely petticoat? I love to think of those days; and another time, in later years, when Zelle was balanced shriekingly, on the broad back of a hill pony, which was subsiding into a bog with her. Those were the days when David used to ride Little Diamond; I hope you haven’t forgotten how he and the groom were observed coming across the golf course, vente a terre, closely pursued by a wasp. What fun we all had then…

Do you remember when we were at Kirk House (Kirket) and you were sitting at your writing-table in the ‘tippits for mice’ drawing-room, when a grim procession passed the window headed by me, followed by Clare, one of the maids, two of the gardeners, Christopher, and finally Willson with a ladder, the whole thing explained by the fact that Mdlle. Kremser, the French governess, had climbed a tree and was totally unable to get down unaided? Then the games of cricket with a rubber ball when Jack Pease was unanimously received into the ‘uncledom.’

We had a splendid house in a tree behind Willie Houston’s house (where those little apples used to fall from the tree, and be so delightedly gathered and eaten) years came and went and Willie Houston’s relays of dogs were invariably called ‘Nellie’ quite regardless of sex : ‘Aye, I just ca’ him Nellie.’ What a perfect troll he was! God rest his soul. I think our family has many more good jokes than any other, don’t you?

That last line, in a gauzy nutshell, is why the “conflict of the generations” is a clumsy tool for fine work. Bimbo loves his mother immoderately, borrowed petticoats aside: she is beautiful and wise and, in keeping with the tradition established by her senior officer in the Souls, Lady Desborough, she may have strenuously insisted upon the fact that everyone, always, was having fun. If so, Bimbo is a most loyal scion, and manifestly unfitted for disenchantment.

Now endless love from your devoted son,

Bim.

P.S. I hope my proofs will come soon. I daresay if I wore black shirts, and painted execrable futurist pictures, and wrote verse that was quite incomprehensible, the reviewers would take it for genuine ‘poesie.'[1]

And yes, there’s the kicker. There is a middle ground, of course, namely the way shown by Sorley, which Rosenberg, Graves, and Sassoon are beginning to pursue. But if that Georgian-to-realist mode is not even in view, and if the cheerful young aristocrat-with-pen sees only the mad-eyed Futurists and his own not-even-neo Romantic juvinilia, well… Bim’s proofs shall be proof that mere months in the trenches cannot budge the fairy-strewn Medievalism lodged in some winsome hearts…

 

And now for one of those older men who bridges the 19th century novel and, if not quite the wacky excesses of true Futurism, then at least the arriving Modernist upheaval. Ford Madox Hueffer, we may remember, has recently been blown up and deprived of his memory. Or not. The published letters are carefully agnostic on this matter (although perhaps simply by way of the accidents of preservation), but there is hardly enough in the way of references to traumatic memory loss in these letters to Lucy Masterman (the first undated, but assigned tentatively to August) to bolster the shaky assumptions that have been made.

Attd. 9/Welch, 19th Div.
B.E.F, Belgium

Dear old Lucy,

Using a good deal of determination, I have got out of the muses’ hands & back to duty, after an incredibly tortuous struggle across France. I rather began to think that I shall not be able to “stick it”–the conditions of life are too hard and the endless waitings too enervating. However, that is on the knees of the Gods…

I… am not vastly happy with the people here–can’t get on with the C. O. or the adjt.—wh. is disagreeable. However, it is very interesting, all of it—if not gay.

So he has been away–in hospital, perhaps. But why “the muses?” Or has he been somewhere else since the hhospital? In any event, no word of memory loss and life-altering trauma.

Then, today, a century back:

Attd. 9/Welch
19th Div, B.E.F.
23.8.16

Dearest Lucy,

I am fairly cheerful again, thank you–tho’ I do not get on with the C. O., & the Adjt. overworks me because I talk Flemish… Still it is all very interesting & one learns a little more everyday.

Still no references, but then again this is very repetitive. Many letters, especially those that may be spaced by weeks, are repetitive–who can remember what they wrote? And trench warfare is repetitive, so this is no smoking gun of memory loss. Hm.

We have been out of the trenches since Monday & go in again almost immediately—but it is quiet here at its most violent compared with the Somme. Even the strafe that the artillery got up for George V—wh. the artillery off’rs called “great” or “huge” according to their temperaments—wd., for sound, have gone into an old woman’s thimble in Albert, not to speak of Bécourt or Fricourt. George V—whom I saw strolling about among the Cheshires—really was in some danger. At least he was in an O. P. that was being shelled fairly heavily when I was in it “for instruction.” But I guess they squashed the Bosche fire fairly effectually while he was here. Still he gave the impression of a “good plucked ‘un”—& the P. O. W.—who was quite unrecognizable, was perfectly businesslike.

Still no mention of debilities. Perhaps it hasn’t happened yet? Perhaps it happened, and has yet to be exaggerated-in-the-telling? In any event, prim reporting on the King’s recent visit is hardly indicative of any particularly strange fires akindle in the smithy of the Fordian soul.

But now there is a reference to a week in an ambulance. So it did happen, it would seem–although possibly not when he claimed, and probably not in the shockingly course-altering way he will come to describe it.

I rather think the staff is nibbling at me…[2] I shd. not be really sorry—because I have had my week in the Somme & three weeks here & a week in Field Ambulance & a week draft conducting. I shd. naturally prefer going on as a regimental off’r—but the C. O.—an ex-Eastbourne Town Councillor & the adjt, an ex-P. O. clerk—annoy me—the C. O. says I am too old & the adjt. thanks me all day long for saving the H. Q. Mess 2 frs. 22 on turnips & the like. I don’t know which I dislike most.

Well, that’s what you get for meandering into the New Army in 1915 and speaking some Flemish… this will all be fodder for the big novel. And it’s not that Ford couldn’t always write, it’s just that he is still writing in a less-than-revolutionary descriptive mode. Here’s a bit of “Trench Pastoral, with Bombardment:”

Still, otherwise, it is—tho’ you won’t believe it—a dreamy sort of life in a grey green country & even the shells as they set out on their long journeys seem tired. It is rather curious, the extra senses one develops here. I sit writing in the twilight &, even as I write, I hear the shells whine & the M. G.’s crepitate & I see (tho’ it is hidden by a hill) the grey, flat land below & the shells bursting…

Inconclusive, then. But the letter ends in unfortunately Fordian fashion: a plea for strings to be pulled (Lucy Masterman is the wife of the propaganda chief C.F.G. Masterman) and a pot-shot at his own de facto wife, soon to undergo transformation into one of Modernism’s most frightening ogresses.

 Love to C. F. G. I suppose he cd. not get me sent to Paris. I shd. like a weekend there and cd. spout about the Somme and here.

Yrs.

V[iolet Hunt] seems very queer; don’t tell her anything that I tell you, because she does so worry.[3]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Memoir, 221-2.
  2. It is not. In fact, due to his German parentage, Ford and his brother are on a list that bars them from staff work.
  3. Letters of Ford Madox Ford, 68-70.

Wilfred Owen Meanders; Tolkien Dines Under Fire

A quiet day, today, a century back, as far as our writers our concerned. Wilfred Owen has had a weekend leave, and visited his family. Writing to his mother, he makes rather a romantic meal of his journey back through London to camp.

Monday Evening 9 p.m [22 August 1916]

My own sweet Mother,

What an age since we were at supper yesterday!

At Tamworth there was an hour to wait on the miserable little Station, so I wandered into the old Town to try and look up my old friend Lord Marmion.

This is Tamworth Castle in Staffordshire, associated with the Marmion family, and, much later, with the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s verse narrative.

The solitary lowland lad mooned about a bit more:

There was a low, glamorous Moon and to see any strange place by a vague moon, for an hour, is better than a week’s stay there; and I was already tuned up to an emotion not pitched in keys of moon or castles…

Even hustling across London to catch an early morning train draws a swell of violins:

The dawn broke as I crossed the Bridge, and the Dome, and the East End showed so purply against the orange infinite EAST that in my worship there was no more care of trains, adjutants, or wars.

Thus I caught that train by 1 1/2 mins. From Milford, I pushed on to the Camp by motor miraculously waiting at the station; and had plenty of time for a second breakfast and shave.

I was on Bomb Throwing with real live Mills Grenades.

Well that rather kills the Scott-to-Turner Romantic vibe. And it’s actually s a sign of military-industrial progress: few, if any, of our writers have had a chance to throw a live grenade while still in England. Manufacturing is catching up with demand, apparently, and perhaps this slower and steadier introduction to the weapon will cut down on the number of accidents…

I went to sleep in a safe spot when I had thrown my own; but the noise was too frightful to go on. After lunch I fell asleep; and remained so long after the rest had fallen in! But none noticed me! Arriving back in Camp I was called upon suddenly to lecture on Discipline…[1]

 

And John Ronald Tolkien, on a short signalling course, and his T.C.B.S. comrade Geoffrey Bache Smith, in billets near Bouzincourt, were able to meet for dinner. Although Smith had hyperbolically threatened his old friend with violence over his views on the impact of Rob Gilson’s death, the only violence during the meal was a brief flurry of German heavy artillery.[2]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Collected Letters, 405-6.
  2. Chronology, 88.