After two harrowing days in the Fricourt trenches, John Bernard Adams stands aside as a memoirist, letting his official company commander’s pen provide a terse, businesslike coda to the little burst of violence which has killed three of his comrades.
SPECIAL REPORT–C 1 Section (Left Company)
The mine exploded by us opposite 80 A at 6.30 P. M. last night has exposed about 20 yards of German parapet. A working-party attempting to work there about 12.30 A.M. and again at 2 A.M. was dispersed at once by our rifle and Lewis-gun fire. The parapet has been built up sufficiently to prevent our seeing over it, sand-bags having been put up from inside the trench. Our snipers are closely watching this spot.
J. B. P. Adams, Lieut.
O.C. “B” Coy.
6.30 A. M. 20.3.16.
The point here is, simply, “so it goes… on and on, in a war of attrition.”
Time now, perhaps, to catch up with Raymond Asquith. Two days ago he announced in an uncharacteristically chipper letter to his wife Katherine that he was about to head to Lyons,
on a confidential mission. It will take me a couple of days and is rather a windfall. Anything to get away from St Omer and introduce a little variety into one’s life, though the ‘mission’ itself is not intrinsically very sensational. . .
Today, a century back, secret agent Asquith has a happy update:
This visit to Lyons is really the most agreeable thing I have done since the war began. I got here at 4 yesterday morning after rather a stuffy night journey; with just time for a small dinner at the station buffet at Paris. The place is very full owing to a fair which is going on, and I had to drive round the town sometime before finding a bed, but in the end got a very good room at this Hotel, with a bath which I have made the most of. It is one of the most charming towns that I have ever been in, a great manufacturing place of 1/2 million inhabitants–silk-making, shell-making, dyeing–every kind of industry–but not a whiff of smoke or a sign of a slum; broad streets, wide squares, handsome houses, excellent food and quite admirable wine. The town is built rather like Bath round an amphitheatre with one open side looking out towards the Alps, the rest steeply banked up towards the Cevennes…
I had tea yesterday in the highest part of the town, from which you see a fine panorama of orderly streets and the two great rivers the Rhone and Saone with their quays and bridges flowing together at the southern end of the town and beyond the town a wide green plain stretching away to Mont Blanc, which shows very plainly perhaps a 100 miles off, its precipices glistening with snow. But the atmosphere of the place is so wonderful, full of life and colour and effervescence under a hot and brilliant sun–A more utter change from the north of France it is impossible to conceive, or from England either for that matter. It is the gayest town I have been in since Venice. There are a lot of French Colonial troops about—in appearance at any rate, much superior to ours–Senegalese with Beardsley faces. Zouaves with baggy braided trousers and moors with turbans of spotless linen, far handsomer than Othello. Best of all, no khaki, so that I am quite an excitement to the populace and the most charming looking women—the only ones in France—throw me every now and then a voluptuous leer.
Our boy has been starving for society. The holiday gets even more entertaining:
This change of paper is because the vice-consul (British) came in to my hotel and made me walk up the hill to lunch with his chief at a pleasant villa on the top, and then I walked back and am finishing my letters in the consulate. The consul and his wife are both very pleasant friendly people and the vice-consul is a most agreeable youth who was at Winchester and Oxford–long after my time. He showed me the sights yesterday, and in the evening took me to a play called Je ne trompe pas ma Femme [I don’t cheat on my wife]—quite well acted but not less boring than plays usually are in spite of the curtain rising upon a man and woman (illicitly) in bed together. The vice-consul took a fancy to the woman and wanted to go round with me afterwards and talk with her: but I very nobly refused: (a) I am very chaste (b) because the woman was very fat (c) because I hate talking to a woman in a language which they know better than I do. No. Je ne trompe pas ma femme.
I start back again after dinner tonight, and shall breakfast with my chief in Paris, report the results of my mission and then, I fear, back to St Omer. A very pleasant little holiday. I hope I shall find lots of letters from you when I get back.
One wonders: does Asquith regret being parted from his regiment in the trenches as much as he had insisted he would? His silly little “intelligence” mission and this trip to the theater spanned exactly the same time as the proud old Royal Welch (only a few ticks down the seniority/prestige meter from Asquith’s Grenadier Guards) lost three officers to run-of-the-mill trench duels. Pointlessness, safety, comfort, and occasional entertainment as opposed to pointlessness,discomfort, sudden death, and esprit de corps…
Lastly, an update on T.E. Hulme’s martial identity: he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Artillery today, a century back. It has been a strange, herky-jerky sort of war for Hulme. He charged into uniform as a ranker in the sui generis Honourable Artillery Company at the very start, saw some action in the trenches during the first winter, and has been wounded, discontented, out of action, a productive polemicist, and, briefly, an infantry subaltern. Neither fish nor fowl, he will now take his vast energy and unbiddable personality to the big guns…