Rowland Feilding on Sniping and Humor; Wilfred Owen’s Sunday Out

A quiet day of it, today, with just two brief updates. First, Rowland Feilding reports to his wife on the war of attrition in a quiet sector of the Somme.

My young sniping officer tells me he had a shot this morning, but his would-be victim signalled a “miss,” raising and lowering a stick above the parapet. I have known them do this before with a shovel. Our enemy evidently has some humour in spite of what people say.

A dark and deadly sort of humor, and one clearly common among the front fighters of both sides, if not yet among their civilian populations. It’s almost, though, as if any lighter subject turns Feilding’s next thought home, where truly modern warfare–a return of something akin to “total warfare,” largely absent from Europe for centuries–is advancing all the time.

Life in London must be getting more and more deadly. I fear it is becoming daily, more and more, a struggle for existence. I hope you do not have to stand in the queues to get your sugar and tea, and I pray that you are not starving yourself.[1]

He also prays, surely, that the Zeppelins and the Gothas do not get her.

 

And for Wilfred Owen, life goes on–despite the ominous significance of his return to health, and despite his new status as a friend of not only Siegfried Sassoon but also Robert Graves. His latest letter to his mother has nothing whatsoever to do with them–or with poetry–really, but since it is a light day I’ll include the whole of the day’s description. This is a young man’s letter with rather too much in the way of fine phrasing (as Sassoon writes of Owen, somewhere)–but it shows Owen touchingly happy. He’s enjoying himself among his now-numerous local friends, with no thoughts of the trenches, either those behind or those ahead.

Sunday, 21 October 1917 Craiglockhart

My dearest Mother,

It was a puzzle and a mystery to many, the party of six that assembled this afternoon at the Braid Hills Tram Terminus, and began a saunter into the Pentland Hills. People saw a married lady, an obviously unmarried young man in a reckless soft-cap, a well-dressed boy with violet eyes and tie, (wonder where his mother learnt that?) an ill-dressed thin boy, with an intellect behind his parchment forehead; a fat little knave apparently with a large apple stowed under each cheek in case of emergency; and a tall awkward boy, very nervous of himself. What spirit drove us together? The spirit of Stevenson it was; and he was with us at his gayest all the time.

He caused the finest wind the Pentlands can produce to come and play with us; and October spared us the last of her sun-remnants. When we beheld the Cottage to good advantage, we sat in the lee of a haystack and ate sandwiches. We then sang songs, and told tales, every now and then leaping about and prancing for joy.

It was already darkening when we reached Colinton and had tea, and quite dark when we took the Edinburgh road; and so we took it in good style with songs and dancing, whistling and holloing. Until the meteors showered in heaven; and we fell calm under the winter stars, and some of us saw the pale pathway of the Spirits for the first time.

And seeing it so far above us, and feeling the good road so firm beneath us, we worshipped God in our hearts; and knew we loved one another as no men love for long.

That was my way of spending Sunday.[2]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. War Letters to a Wife, 217.
  2. Collected Letters, 502.