Siegfried Sassoon Struggles to Read Wells and Agrees to Read Some Wilfred Owen; The Master of Belhaven Watches His Own Shells Hit

Today, a century back, marked the second meeting between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. We have noted that both men recognize the various distances of inclination–social, literary, etc.–between them, and that Sassoon certainly does not mind playing the upper class mentor, the man of the literary world, the published poet. It seems almost too perfect, then, that when Owen dropped by today–a restrained three days after their first encounter–he found Sassoon

struggling to read a letter from Wells; whose handwriting is not only a slurred suggestion of words, but in a dim pink ink!

So the published poet knows a great author, too… and that “dim pink ink” is perfect, somewhere between Waugh and Seuss…

The second meeting advanced their relationship as far as Owen admitting that he wrote poetry and Sassoon allowing that he would be willing to have a look at those poems. Owen was very pleased with the steady success of his efforts, yet he must have also realized that the youthful sonnets (his youth having extended until January’s harrowing introduction to warfare) would not be likely to win approval. So, returning to his room, Owen set to work. As he will explain to Leslie Gunston,

After leaving him, I wrote something in Sassoon’s style, which I may as well send you, since you ask for the latest.

The Dead-Beat (True—in the incidental)

He dropped, more sullenly, than wearily.
Became a lump of stench, a clot of meat.
And none of us could kick him to his feet.
He blinked at my revolver, blearily.

He didn’t seem to know a war was on.
Or see or smell the bloody Trench at all . . .
Perhaps he saw the crowd at Caxton Hall,
And that is why the fellow’s pluck’s all gone—

Not that the Kaiser frowns imperially.
He sees his wife, how cosily she chats;
Not his blue pal there, feeding fifty rats.
Hotels he sees, improved materially:

Where ministers smile ministerially.
Sees Punch still grinning at the Belcher bloke;
Baimsfather, enlarging on his little joke.
While Belloc prophecies of last year, serially.

We sent him down at last, he seemed so bad.
Although a strongish chap and quite unhurt.
Next day I heard the Doc’s fat laugh; “That dirt
You sent me down last night’s just died. So glad!’’

This is, to coin a phrase, rather over the top. Enthusiasm and the conscious attempt to ape Sassoon’s style has perhaps overwhelmed Owen’s better judgment–or perhaps this is, on some level, a canny ploy. The too-obvious imitation and the burst of energy both flatter the new mentor and provide him good material to work with. This draft of “The Dead-Beat” is not a good poem–but there is good stuff here to work with. And work they shall…

 

 

From the shell-shocked to the shelling, now: today’s entry in the War Diary of the Master of Belhaven describes a rare sight–a unique opportunity–even for this long-experienced artilleryman:

Once again a dated drawing by David Jones made in the rear of the Ypres Salient accords nicely with words written further ahead in the same area

To-day has been a red-letter day. This morning it was my day for calling on the battalion commander whom we cover. I went to the O.P. first and checked my registration… From there I went to the tunnels and saw the colonel of the 12/Royal Fusiliers. I had lunch with him, and he told me that one of his subalterns had discovered a place from which a German battery could be seen…They did not know the least where it was on the map, but they showed me the exact spot from which it could be seen. I was rather horrified to hear that it was… only 20 yards from a German post. However, the subaltern who was told off to take me there assured me that they had a complete understanding with the Hun infantry, and that we should not be sniped.

The unwritten laws of war are torturous and strange. The infantry, exhausted in the midst of an offensive, agree, essentially, to “live and let live.” This we have seen. And each tolerates their own artillery as an arm that should support them and come to their rescue but can also, for reasons inscrutable to mere infantry, cause them trouble by awakening the opposing guns–which, except during an actual attack, are far, far more dangerous to them than the infantry opposite.

And yet this British battalion–or a few of its officers, at least–are willing, in this case, to risk their beneficial truce with the German infantry by advising their own artillery to make good an oversight in the private war of counter-battery fire… of course in actual operational logic this makes sense: there is a war to win, and with good infantry-artillery coordination an enemy unit can be destroyed. And yet this increases the risk to the lives of the infantry by involving them in a battle which might otherwise take place (literally) over their heads…

The Master of Belhaven now journeys to the true front lines, a rarity for an artillery battery commander.

We went all through Shrewsbury Forest and I was able to really appreciate how badly we had crumped the back of the Hun position. Not a tree was left more than two feet high, and the whole place was just one mass of shell-holes touching each other. We quickly reached the place we were making for, and I was not a little astonished when my guide pointed out a tree 30 yards off, and said that the Hun sentry was there. It is really a most extraordinary situation, neither side has any sign of a trench–both are sitting in shell-holes a few yards apart…

We stood in a shell-hole and looked down on the Hun back-country, a truly wonderful view…

Hamilton’s guide points out the German battery, which takes a moment to locate with field glasses. But although much of the battery is camouflaged, one gun is clearly visible, and once he sees it, Hamilton can, with his map and a telephone connection back to his battery, fight an entirely new kind of action. Lying within yards of the German infantry he can bring down the fire of his guns, thousands of yards back, onto the German battery and correct their fire precisely and in real-time. Artillerymen are rarely this effective, and almost never do they get to see the immediate result of their effectiveness. No longer firing into the sky with math and a map to guide him, the Master is killing men with guns, now.

I fired my salvo of smoke-shells as I had arranged with Rentell. There was no doubt about them. They sent up a vast column of smoke… I at once gave a correction by guess, switching onto the hostile battery. After some time I got the guns definitely on to the gun that I could see. It was such a wonderful sight to see Huns walking about in the open. I next put a salvo of high explosive close to my target, and having located the place I at once gave them five rounds of gunfire from all guns. The range was exact, and so was the height of the bursts. My twenty-five shells arrived almost simultaneously and simply plastered the Huns who were moving in the trees. After that I ranged a single gun with high-explosive non-delay on to one of the German guns; the range was 4,800 yards; all the same the shooting and laying were excellent, round after round falling within a few yards of the target. One shell hit a wheel and brought the gun down on its axle; shortly afterwards another shell fell right into the German ammunition dump beside the gun. It blew up with a tremendous explosion and wrecked the whole place. When the smoke cleared away I could see the gun lying on its side pointing the opposite way to what it had before.

Hamilton continues firing into the other gun emplacements, but his telephone wire soon fails, and this ends the “shoot.” Congratulations begin to flow in immediately… Hamilton’s description omits whatever he was able to see of the reactions of the German artillerymen to the sudden concentration of accurate fire on their battery. Looking for the destruction of the guns he doesn’t see, perhaps, either the destruction or the escape of the men who had been manning them.[1]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. War Diary, 371-3.

Edward Brittain Faces Another July First; Rowland Feilding and La Belle France; Robert Graves on the Isle of Wight–and What is Siegfried Sassoon Up To?

Now that Edward Hermon is dead, Rowland Feilding is probably our most consistently uxorious writer. He writes faithfully and fully, concealing nothing of his feelings or–once the demands of military secrecy are met–of the danger that he is (or has recently been) in. But today, a century back, he is safely in the rear… and he has something else to confess, namely a raging crush on a local girl.

June 30, 1917. Bollezeele (near Zeggers Cappel).

I am getting rather bitten with agriculture. No wonder these peasants get rich;—or, if they do not (and I really do
not know), I should say there must be something radically wrong with the whole system of land tenure in this country. They are the most industrious and the thriftiest people I have ever seen…

I am sure it must be impossille for those who have not seen it to realize what cultivation means in France and Belgium, or to picture the seas of corn and potatoes and roots, extending as far as the eye can reach and further; the forests of hops, weedless; without a barren patch or a neglected spot anywhere. In the farm where I am billeted there is a farm-hand—a girl of about eighteen. She sleeps on the straw, on the floor of a stable. She is up, bursting with life and spirits, each morning at five o’clock; and she works, at top pressure, without ceasing, till dark. Then she returns to her straw. She is slim, but has the strength of an average man. She handles the farm horses with a single rein (attached to one ring of the bit only), and by word of mouth. Apparently, she neither eats nor drinks.

It is the “manure” season. That is to say, it is the time of year when they carry out the loathsome liquid accumulation of the past twelve months and spread it over the fields, and so wrapt up is this girl in the work, that you would think she revelled in it.

She moves always at the double—whether through the chicken run, whence every bird flies scared and panic-stricken at her wild approach, or through the manure heap (for she never goes round it). Each time I pass her she
looks up with full face and a cheery grin. I don’t suppose she ever washes, and she must reek of manure, but she fascinates me because of her extraordinary vitality. It is quite exciting to watch her at her work.

But, as I look upon her, I despair of the English as an agricultural nation.[1]

 

Before returning to France we need to visit the Isle of Wight, where Robert Graves has recently been ensconced in a Victorian palace (it was one of Queen Victoria’s retreats) to convalesce at his leisure. His ailments are quite real–exhaustion, damaged lungs, and semi-undiagnosed shell shock–but, as he tells the story, he is still eager to enjoy himself.

Along with several new compatriots, Graves founded “The Albert Edward Society,” a college-style faux secret society in “mock honour” of the prince consort. They ate strawberries and drank wine, “sang bawdy songs” and otherwise celebrated their being alive to celebrate bygone days–Graves, after all, is impetuous, irrepressible, creative, and twenty-one years old.

In Good-Bye to All That he calls the society the “Royal Albert Society” and gives several more examples of concurrent high jinks and clevernesses, including changing the labels on the paintings in the gallery, dressing up a piece of driftwood as a drowned sailor, and defending the society from boorish intrusion by outdoing all the efforts of the intruders at telling filthy stories. Which makes a lousy anecdote, since Graves is not at liberty to repeat the story he told to win the day… his point, however, is that he is no longer quite the prude he once was.

In keeping with the guiding principle of his memoir, Graves also throws in entertaining stories that chime with perceived reading-public interests and drops whatever names he can. Therefore he mentions A.A. Milne (slightingly) and he tells of his interactions with a curious colony of French Benedictines in exile on the island who strike him as urbane and humane, despite not keeping poetry in their library. Graves has the sad task of describing to one of these monks what his native Béthune looks like now. And, as if in an echo of the several young Anglican officers who have become Catholics or are moving in that direction, Graves claims that these interactions–and his general esteem, pace the skill with filthy stories, for the monastic life–brought him some way in a similar direction: “Catholicism ceased to repel me.” Which is vintage Graves, whether or not the self-centeredness and backhanded snark are intended…[2]

Graves’s letters from this period, however, mostly concern his efforts to advance his poetry and that of his friends.

30 June 1917
Osborne, Isle of Wight

Dear old Sassons,

Without doubt a great poem: poor little Orme, he’d have been awfully pleased with it. The simple effect would be strengthened by a more regular sweep in the first half of each verse: as it stands it would worry people who didn’t know much about poetry: it breaks the flow of sense.

Trusting to your good nature I’ve pencilled in some tentative suggestions…

Mindful of my constant impositions on the patience of others, I will not excerpt from the individual word-queries and quibbles of scansion that Graves then lists…

…I know you’ll forgive these remarks, because you’ve patched up poems for me before now. And without my corrections it is a great poem, so you needn’t notice them…

Robbie has my Fairies and Fusiliers manuscript if you happen to be in town and want to see what I’ve been at.

Best love

Robert

And then–this very same day, a century back–Graves received a letter from Sassoon which seems to have given a general sketch of his intention to protest against the war. Graves will spend a good deal of time in his memoir emphasizing Sassoon’s poor health–exhaustion, shell shock, general malaise. But this sounds like how he has been feeling at this time. Sassoon himself has hardly made any physical complaints, and sees himself as aggravated and motivated rather than ill. The two men may, of course, have reasons to differ about the etiology of Sassoon’s intent to protest…. but I would not be surprised if the (lost) letter to Graves read something like Sassoon’s fictionalized account of this period:

Back at Butley, I had fully a fortnight in which to take life easily before tackling ‘wilful defiance of military authority’. I was, of course, compelled to lead a double life, and the longer it lasted the less I liked it… it wasn’t easy to sustain the evangelistic individuality which I’d worked myself up to in London. Outwardly those last days of June progressed with nostalgic serenity. I say nostalgic, because in my weaker moods I longed for the peace of mind which could have allowed me to enjoy having tea out in the garden on fine afternoons. But it was no use trying to dope my disquiet with Trollope’s novels or any of my favourite books. The purgatory I’d let myself in for always came between me and the pages; there was no escape for me now…[3]

No, no escape. But he was only passive north-by-northwest, as the warning-shot letter to Graves demonstrates.

Graves wrote back, clearly alarmed, but neither aware that Sassoon has actually written his protest and set the wheels in motion to have it read out in the House of Commons, nor that he had not yet actually published it.

It is only too much like Sassoon to do what he has in fact done: taken several steps toward dramatic action, then wandered off with the act uncompleted, the rebellion hanging fire but liable to set itself off at any time. Graves seems to suspect something like this:

I have just posted a letter I wrote this morning but your new one has come. Look here, why don’t you come and see me down here…

I want to know what characteristic devilment this is. Are you standing as a pacifist MP? That’s the most characteristic thing I can think of next to your bombing Lloyd George.

Yours,

R

But the alarm has only begun to ring, as Graves’s post-script–as usual, critical of a mutual friend–shows:

I’ve also written on Sorley. Bob Nichols of course is not Sorley but he’s next best, a devout admirer.

I’ve a copy of my new poems here.[4]

So Graves is alerted… but has not not yet leapt into action. He will act, and soon–as a loyal friend, if not always a true one.

 

The idea of the protest, remember, is to stop the madness. Edward Brittain has just returned to it. And he too writes two letters, today, both to his sister Vera.

France, 30 June 1917

I have arrived at the transport lines and shall be starting for the trenches in half an hour or so. The battalion is apparently just at the place where one would wish it wasn’t, as the papers have not failed to mention the place every day for the last week or so…

Opposite Lens, in other words, where the British staff is convinced that a hasty offensive might unseat “demoralised” the German defenders.

And not only is Brittain’s new battalion in the area of contemplated operations–it is slated to attack. An entire year–less about ten hours–after his wounding, after months and months of rehabilitation, and waiting, and training, he is suddenly thrust back into the very forefront of the war.

France, 30 June 1917
A dug-out

8.45 p.m.

The unexpected has happened again and I am in for another July 1st. If it should be that ‘Ere the sun swings his noonday sword’ I must say goodbye to all of this — then good-bye. You know that, as I promised, I will try to come back if I am killed.

It is all very sudden and it is bad luck that I am here in time, but still it must be. All the love there is in life or death to you, dear child.[5]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. War Letters to a Wife, 197-8. This, too, must put one in mind of The Spanish Farm Trilogy--but there, it being a (good) novel, the "girl" is a woman with a spirit to match her physical energy, and a full life half-hidden from (and imagined by) the decorous English officer...
  2. R.P. Graves, Robert Graves, The Assault Heroic, 175; Good-Bye to All That, 250-4.
  3. Complete Memoirs, 488-9.
  4. In Broken Images, 71-2.
  5. War Letters from a Lost Generation, 362-3.

Isaac Rosenberg’s Daughters of War; Francis Ledwidge’s Gods of Greece; Siegfried Sassoon Declares the Death of Youth

Some days we make do with an update and a diary excerpt or two… other days three important poets are writing about their minds and their methods.

Isaac Rosenberg posted a letter to Eddie Marsh today, which probably included a draft of his difficult, sui generis, mythological poem “Daughters of War.” It also contained an attempt to allay the perplexity the poem would cause:

I am now fearfully rushed, but find energy enough to scribble this in the minute I plunder from my work. I believe I can see the obscurities in the ‘Daughters’, but hardly hope to clear them up in France… The first part, the picture of the Daughters dancing and calling to the spirits of the slain before their last ones have ceased among the boughs of the tree of life, I must still work on. In that part obscure the description of the voice of the Daughter I have not made clear, I see; I have tried to suggest the wonderful sound of her voice, spiritual and voluptuous at the same time. The end is an attempt to imagine the severance of all human relationship and the fading away of human love. Later on I will try and work on it, because I think it a pity if the ideas are to be lost for want of work. My ‘Unicorn’ play is stopped because of my increased toil… It is to be a play of terror—terror of hidden things and the fear of the supernatural. But I see no hope of doing the play while out here. I have a way, when I write, to try and put myself in the situation, and I make gestures and grimaces.[1]

Of the play, more anon, I hope. And this almost touching personal detail is a reminder of just how difficult it must be to write poetry in the trenches, especially as a private. Of course he gestures and grimaces–and many writers talk to themselves, at their leisure, in rooms of their own…

As for “Daughters of War,” the poem has been long in gestation–Rosenberg sent an early draft to Gordon Bottomley in December–and it has been growing in power. Like the ancient poets who dreamt Valkyries and Amazons–and like David Jones and his Sweet Sister Death–Rosenberg summons up female embodiments of war’s power.

Space beats the ruddy freedom of their limbs,
Their naked dances with man’s spirit naked
By the root side of the tree of life…

I saw in prophetic gleams
These mighty daughters in their dances
Beckon each soul aghast from its crimson corpse
To mix in their glittering dances :
I heard the mighty daughters’ giant sighs
In sleepless passion for the sons of valour
And envy of the days of flesh,
Barring their love with mortal boughs across–
The mortal boughs, the mortal tree of life.
The old bark burnt with iron wars
They blow to a live flame
To char the young green clays
And reach the occult soul; they have no softer lure,
No softer lure than the savage ways of death.

We were satisfied of our lords the moon and the sun
To take our wage of sleep and bread and warmth–
These maidens came–these strong everliving Amazons,
And in an easy might their wrists
Of night’s sway and noon’s sway the sceptres brake,
Clouding the wild, the soft lustres of our eyes…

 

Next to this wrenching vision, full of sex and death, the melodious prose and harmonious rhymes of Francis Ledwidge seem to come from an entirely different war, a different era. They don’t, of course–they come from the same day. These are very different sensibilities: our two poets in the ranks and out of the working classes share very little else than those three facts of their identity.

Ledwidge wrote another letter to the prominent writer Katherine Tynan today, a century back, and it begins with a strange confusion.

19.6.17

This is my birthday. I am spending it in a little red town in an orchard.

Actually, it is not his birthday. Which goes a longer way to show one of the larger cultural and social gaps among our writers than a ream of commentary about Ledwidge’s rural roots or Lord Dunsany‘s reflexive condescension towards his Irish “peasant” protégé. It seems that birthdays were little regarded in rural County Meath a century and another score of years back, and even when he enlisted Ledwidge did not know the date of his birth. His mother, flustered, confused his and his brother Joe’s, or so the story goes. Our Frank Ledwidge was born on the 19th, but of August–his twenties have two months left to run.

Again I think of how this sort of confusion might have arisen in Rosenberg’s family too, with an absent father and Yiddish-speaking mother, or how Ledwidge and his surviving siblings might have shared, like Rosenberg and his brother, the “family suit.” But for such similarities there are more striking differences. Rosenberg is a child of the London slums. And Ledwidge?[2]

There is a lovely valley just below me, and a river that goes gobbling down the fields, like turkeys coming home in Ireland… I was down here earlier in the spring, when all the valley wore its confirmation dress, and was glad to return again in the sober moments of June. Although I have a conventional residence I sleep out in the orchard, and every morning a cuckoo comes to a tree quite close, and calls out his name with a clear voice above the rest of the morning’s song, like a tender stop heard above the lower keys in a beautiful organ…

If you go to Tara, go to Rath-na-Ri and look all around you from the hills of Drumcondrath in the north to the plains of Enfield in the south, where Allan Bog begins, and remember me to every hill and wood and ruin, for my heart is there. If it is a clear day you will see Slane Hill blue and distant. Say I will come back again surely, and maybe you will hear pipes in the grass or a fairy horn and the hounds of Finn…

Ledwidge also enclosed three new poems, “The Find,” “Stanley Hill,” and “The Old Gods:”

I thought the old gods still in Greece
Making the little fates of man,
So in a secret place of Peace
I prayed as but a poet can:

And all my prayer went crying faint
Around Parnassus’ cloudy height,
And found no ear for my complaint,
And back unanswered came at night.

Ah, foolish that I was to heed
The voice of folly, or presume
To find the old gods in my need,
So far from A. E.’s little room.[3]

 

Siegfried Sassoon has not written in his diary since beginning to work on his “declaration.” Today, a century back, he is very much still in declaration mode, railing angrily at the waste of the war and the evil cynicism of those who prolong it.

June 19

I wish I could believe that Ancient War History justifies the indefinite prolongation of this war. The Jingos define it as ‘an enormous quarrel between incompatible spirits and destinies, in which one or the other must succumb’. But the men who write these manifestos do not truly know what useless suffering the war inflicts.

And the ancient wars on which they base their arguments did not involve such huge sacrifices as the next two or three years will demand of Europe, if this war is to be carried on to a knock-out result. Our peace-terms remain the same, ‘the destruction of Kaiserism and Prussianism’. I don’t know what aims this destruction represents.

I only know, and declare from the depths of my agony, that these empty words… mean the destruction of Youth. They mean the whole torment of waste and despair which people refuse to acknowledge or to face; from month to month they dupe themselves with hopes that ‘the war will end this year’.

And the Army is dumb. The Army goes on with its bitter tasks. The ruling classes do all the talking. And their words
convince no one but the crowds who are their dupes.

The soldiers who return home seem to be stunned by the things they have endured. They are willingly entrapped by the silent conspiracy against them. They have come back to life from the door of death, and the world is good to enjoy. They vaguely know that it is ‘bad form’ to hurt people’s feelings by telling the truth about the war…

The diary continues, wandering into violent territory as Sassoon decries the bloodthirstiness of women and imagines a mob awakening to “lynch” the “dictator” who has plunged it into war.

The soldiers are fooled by the popular assumption that they are all heroes. They have a part to play, a mask to wear. They are allowed to assume a pride of superiority to the mere civilian. Are there no heroes among the civilians, men and women alike?

Of the elderly male population I can hardly trust myself to speak. Their frame of mind is, in the majority of cases, intolerable. They glory in senseless invective against the enemy… They regard the progress of the war like a game of chess, cackling about ‘attrition,’ and ‘wastage of man-power’, and ‘civilisation at stake’. In every class of society there are old men like ghouls, insatiable in their desire for slaughter, impenetrable in their ignorance.

Soldiers conceal their hatred of the war.
Civilians conceal their liking for it…[4]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Collected Works, 375; Moorcroft Wilson, Isaac Rosenberg, 359-61.
  2. See Curtayne, Francis Ledwidge, 183.
  3. The Years of the Shadow, 294-6.
  4. Diaries, 175-6.

Duff Cooper Gets the Call; Henry Williamson is Laid Low; C.E. Montague Draws Strength From Hardy; Woolf Praises Sassoon; Francis Ledwidge Gropes Toward God; Isaac Rosenberg Lifts His Eyes to the Larks

I don’t mean to make fun of Duff Cooper–he is a capable man, and not nearly as daffy as he sounds in his journal–but, until today, all we’ve heard of his recent decision to take an Army commission is that is seemed to yield positive short-term results in his endless pursuit of Diana Manners. Ah–but has he forgotten the other woman in his life? Yes, yes he has.

In the afternoon Mother telephoned. She has found about my prospects of joining the army. She is naturally much upset–it is most awkward.[1]

 

Nor did I set out to make fun of Henry Williamson, today, but this disjunction between diary and novel is… also pretty funny:

Thursday, 31 May. Kicked on head by Tommy.

The editors add, helpfully, that “Tommy was a mule.” Which, given that Williamson is a mule-riding Transport Officer–and despite the fact that he describes stubborn men as “mules”–should probably be taken literally, and not as a slight on the stubborn character of some insubordinate “Tommy Atkins.”[2]

In the novel, instead of this misadventure, Phillip Maddison attend a conference held by Captain Hobart in which he is initiated into further tactical secrets of the coming Messines Ridge attack. There is much admiration expressed for General Plumer, the rare innovator among the British senior officers and the man most responsible for the novel use of what are essentially early modern siege warfare tactics scaled up by several orders of magnitude and undertaken over the course of many months: there will be some very big mines. Which, of course, were top secret at the time.

After the conference Phillip goes walkabout, as he so often does. Leaving his work to his sergeant, Phillip strolls past signs and organizational tapes and models and remarks on the fact that every possible preparation for the coming attack has been carefully thought out. He is then struck by the idea that if such detailed tactical information were to be passed on to the men of the Machine Gun Company, surely it would be a good thing for morale, and who better to lecture them than himself…[3]

 

But today is a busy day, and with those bits of silliness out of the way we can move toward a few more formal literary accomplishments.

First, I’d offer this definition of a worthy novel: a book that can offer intellectual and emotional support to a reader burdened by cares and mired in doubt, yet far from any easy resonance with its subject matter. We have a nomination, then, today, from C.E. Montague, writing to his wife:

May 31, 1917

A man here has got The Return of the Native and I borrowed it last night and read the first few pages again. How wonderful they are—I do believe the finest opening ever written for a novel of that kind. I shall try, at odd times, to read on. There is something massive and hill-like about Hardy which makes him good to read during this passing madness of the world—he helps one to feel what a mass of durable things in human nature as well as in other ‘nature’ are going on all right, all the time, and will be there to come back to when the evil time is overpast.[4]

 

Time in its dogged unidirectionality is a strange thing. Thomas Hardy has held out an austere kind of hope to many of our writers, and his approval meant more to Siegfried Sassoon than that of any writer… but if one were to try to sell an unacquainted reader on the merits of Sassoon’s poetry today, a more powerful endorsement might be felt to come from a review of his verses that was published today, a century back, in the Times Literary Supplement:

…the beauty in them, though fitful, is of the individual, indefinable kind which comes, we know not how, to make lines such as we read over each time with a renewed delight that after one comes the other.[5]

Thus Virginia Woolf on The Old Huntsman and Other Poems.

 

We also have a relative rarity, today: a long letter from Francis Ledwidge. Written from reserve billets in France, to Katherine Tynan, it shows Ledwidge in the thick of the action and, characteristically, able to wring beauty from the terror and violence of his surroundings.

I would have written to thank you for the sweets, only that lately we were unsettled, wandering to and fro between the firing-line and resting billets immediately behind. This letter is ante-dated by two hours, but before midnight we may be wandering in single and slow file, with the reserve line two or three hundred yards behind the fire trench. We are under an hour’s notice. Entering and leaving the line is most exciting, as we are usually but about thirty yards from the enemy, and you can scarcely understand how bright the nights are made by his rockets. These are in continual ascent and descent from dusk to dawn, making a beautiful Crescent from Switzerland to the sea. There are white lights, green, and red, and whiter, bursting into red and changing again, and blue bursting into purple drops and reds fading into green. It is all like the end of a beautiful world. It is only horrible when you remember that every colour is a signal to waiting reinforcements or artillery, and, God help us if we are caught in the open, for then up go a thousand reds, and hundreds of rifles and machine-guns are emptied against us, and all amongst us shells of every calibre are thrown, shouting destruction and death. We can do nothing but fling ourselves into the first shell-hole and wonder as we wait where we will be hit. But why all this

I am indeed glad to think you are preparing another book of verse. Will you really allow me to review it? I don’t want money for doing it. The honour would be more worth than money…

A. E. sets me thinking of things long forgotten, and Lord Dunsany of gorgeous Eastern tapestry and carpets. Do you get such impressions from the books you love? I met a traveller in Naples who told me that he never read Andrew Marvell but he remembered a dunce’s cap and a fishing-rod he had when a boy, and never could trace the train of thought far enough back to discover where the connection lay. I am writing odd things in a little book whenever I can. Just now I am engaged in a poem about the Lanawn Shee, who, you remember, is really the Irish Muse. One who sees her is doomed to sing. She is very close to you. I am writing it in the traditional style of the ‘Silk of the Kine.’

Here are the opening verses:

Powdered and perfumed the full bee
Winged heavily across the clover,
And where the hills were dim with dew,
Purple and blue the West looked over…

There is some more of this exercise in willful aestheticism, but Ledwidge also includes a finished poem in a very different vein:

 

Ascension Thursday, 1917

Lord, Thou hast left Thy footprints in the rocks,
That we may know the way to follow Thee,
But there are wide lands opened out between
Thy Olivet and my Gethsemane.

And oftentimes I make the night afraid,
Crying for lost hands when the dark is deep,
And strive to reach the sheltering of Thy love
Where Thou art herd among Thy folded sheep.

Thou wilt not ever thus, O Lord, allow
My feet to wander when the sun is set,
But through the darkness, let me still behold
The stony bye-ways up to Olivet.

 

Yet neither Sassoon nor Ledwidge can lay claim to the most important poetic reference point of today. Isaac Rosenberg wrote recently to Gordon Bottomley (the letter was posted today, a century back) about a number of things, including his new work alongside the Royal Engineers, putting out barbed wire at night. The letter mentions both Dead Man’s Dump and Daughters of War, and also seems to indicate that he has completed “Returning, We Hear the Larks,” a poem which can speak for itself, about many things, not least that a poet walking in the shadow of the valley of death who chooses not to look to God might also look to nature–even here–and then, through nature’s verse-entwined messengers, to poetry.

Sombre the night is:
And, though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lurks there.
Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison-blasted track opens on our camp—
On a little safe sleep.
But hark! Joy—joy—strange joy.
Lo! Heights of night ringing with unseen larks:
Music showering on our upturned listening faces.
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song—
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man’s dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides;
Like a girl’s dark hair, for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.[6]

References and Footnotes

  1. Diaries, 54.
  2. Anne Williamson, Henry Williamson and the First World War, 157.
  3. Love and the Loveless, 144-5.
  4. C. E. Montague, 161.
  5. See Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon, 360.
  6. I'm not entirely convinced by Moorcroft Wilson's dating of the poem to May 1917, but it seems plausible... and this is a poem that can't be left to slip through the cracks entirely...

Edward Thomas Wanders Off and Reads Eastaway; Siegfried Sassoon Inspects the Feet; Vera Brittain is Bitter and Rebellious; The Death of Arthur West

Edward Thomas is still confused about the liturgical calendar. He began a letter to Eleanor Farjeon today, a century back, under the impression that Easter had occurred a week earlier than it will have:

April 3

My dear Eleanor I didn’t discover the Egg till Easter Monday, because I was taking apples out one by one from a corner I had nibbled out. So now I must write again to thank you for an Easter Egg. It was such a lovely morning Easter Monday, though I can’t praise it so well today when the ground is snow slush and the wind very cold though not colder than my feet…[1]

And there the letter trails off… has he been called to the guns? To some reminder that Easter is still nearly a week off?

Thomas also wrote to Gordon Bottomley, but the date of Easter does not arise. It’s clear that Thomas’s rush has everything to do with expectation: he knows that the battle will begin soon.

My dear Gordon,

Your letter of the 28th of March has just come…  think I had better write back now as this is the eve, & I can’t help realizing that I may not have another opportunity. It is the end of a beautiful sunny day that began cold with snow. The air has been full of aeroplanes & shells & yet there have been clothes hanging up to dry in the sun outside my window which has glass in it, though whether it will tomorrow not even the Hun knows. The servants are chatting outside in their shirtsleeves & war is not for the moment dirty or ugly—as it was this morning, when I was well in front & the shining sun made ruins & rusty barbed wire & dead horses & deep filthy mud uglier than they are in the stormy weather or in the pale cold dawn…

Between beauty and ugliness, violence and idleness, time to talk poetry. Eight poems by “Edward Eastaway” have just been published.

I have not seen the Annual yet but by the same post as your letter came The Times review which I was quite pleased with. I don’t mind now being called inhuman & being told by a reviewer now that April’s here—in England now—that I am blind to the ‘tremendous life of these 3 years’. It would be the one consolation in finishing up out here to provide such reviewers with a conundrum, except that I know they would invent an answer if they saw that it was a conundrum.

This is a cold, wry assessment. Thomas was a powerful and precise poetry critic long before he was a poet, and these skills have not deserted him just because he is the poet in question. He knows that his poetry is too assured to fit neatly into any prefabricated category, and that, just as new poems by a pseudonymous author are criticized for not being overtly about the war, they would, if he were to be killed, inevitably come to be considered the work of a war poet. And both of these certainties are amusingly short-sighted. Being a powerful poet who chose not to address what he hadn’t yet experienced, he both is and isn’t a “war poet.” He’s a poet, and there’s a war on, and the weight of it sinks into any good poetry the way the stench of decay unavoidably permeates the cloth of uniforms worn in trenches.

And, since few critics are capable of knowing competent poetry from great poetry without external hints (the praise of others; a famous name) few suspect who this new, strangely assured poet “Edward Eastaway” might be. Should they be sniffing harder, to smell the war? Should they slow down and read the poetry and understand what it is, and why it might be published without a recognizable name?

Why do the idiots accuse me of using my eyes? Must I only use them with field-glasses & must I see only Huns in these beautiful hills eastwards & only hostile flashes in the night skies when I am at the Observation Post?

…No don’t tell anybody about Eastaway tho naturally I want people to want to know who he is…

Goodbye. Yours ever & Emily’s

Edward Thomas[2]

 

Siegfried Sassoon, meanwhile, is marching toward the coming battle. But slowly enough for his diary to run the gamut–and include a poem too.

April 3

Left Corbie 9 a.m… Woman in our billet says that troops have been coming through (going toward Doullens and Arras) for fifteen days, never staying more than one night. The movements of our (33rd) Division are nebulous… Our billet is adorned with mouldy stuffed birds, with spread wings; a jay, a small hawk over the fireplace, and a seagull slowly revolving in draughts, hung from a string in the ceiling. Also two squirrels and a stork.

Feeling much better since we started moving, except for usual cold in head and throat. Same old ‘point-to-point’ feeling about going into the show—the ‘happy warrior’ stunt cropping up as usual. Letters from Robert Graves and Julian Dadd yesterday which cheered me no end. R.G. at Harlech—lucky devil…

The Second R.W.F. are gradually taking me to their bosom. It will be best for me to stay here now and try to become a hero…

No sign of my book yet. I do want to see it before I get killed (if death is the dose which April means me to swallow).
First Battalion are up at Croisilles; having a rough passage, I am afraid.

FOOT INSPECTION

The twilight barn was chinked with gleams; I saw
Soldiers with naked feet stretched on the straw.
Stiff-limbed from the long muddy, march we’d done.
And ruddy-faced with April wind and sun.
With pity and stabbing tenderness I see
Those stupid, trustful eyes stare up at me.
Yet, while I stoop to Morgan’s blistered toes
And ask about his boots, he never knows
How glad I’d be to die, if dying could set him free
From battles. Shyly grinning at my joke.
He pulls his grimy socks on; lights a smoke.
And thinks ‘Our officer’s a decent bloke’.

April 3[3]

The diary is the old familiar Siegfried–moody, self-involved and preoccupied with his demise (and, on the way thither, his heroism) in the Brookean fashion, yet also punctuated by striking observations. The squirrel!

But the poetry is another major step in his recent new direction. It’s not so much the “realism”–it’s still too prettily written to succeed in being gritty, too didactic to feel natural–as it is simply the subject matter. The soldiers are being condescended to, it’s true, but at least they (and not “glory” or “England” or “the fray”) are front and center, and they speak, and they begin to be fleshed out. It’s an observational poem: they are marching, after a few easy weeks, and their feet must be attended to. This is practical, but it’s a pointed observation: these are not hearty soldier lads ready for sacrifice, but rather tired men, with sore feet. And if the officer/poet is still operating in a register of theoretical sacrifice, well… perhaps that will be the next change.

 

Briefly, before a difficult last entry, we will hear from Vera Brittain, writing to her brother Edward. This letter reminds us that one of the goals of this project is to measure the passage of “real” time by maintaining the precise historical distance of one hundred years. Vera is reacting today to mail that we read weeks ago, but is just now reaching her.

April 3rd

My mail was depressing to-day; as well as your news about being passed fit there was a letter from Father in the usual strain — German retirement at the wrong time for us and therefore anything but an advantage (of course you say this too & I always suspected it) — Russia internally rotten & likely to sue for a separate peace — conditions dreadful at home — end no nearer in sight etc etc. This sort of letter is so much more depressing out here than at home; for it is long before you get another to remove the impression. Victor too sends me a letter half cynical, half hopelessly resigned; apparently he was on the verge of an attack, for he spoke of perhaps never writing to me again, & says — as you said to him before July 1st — that it is time to say a long long adieu. This too leaves me anxiously & very sadly wondering how long it will be before I hear any more of him & what it will be when I do. I think I would rather have had an attitude of open resentment & rebellion in the face of death than this sort of stifled
bitterness…

Had a delightfully vigorous & colourful letter from Geoffrey–though he longs for leave.[4]

A strange course, that letter takes, to append the news of Geoffrey Thurlow’s letter after she has taken her deepest swing toward disenchantment in some time. But letters to intimates are like that, unloading the mind’s concerns without too much concern for order or priority. I think it’s fair to note that while Vera Brittain takes delight in letters, the central fact of her non-working life is, now, anxiety for the soldiers she loves and cares for. Edward Brittain has been passed fit, at last recovered from his wounds; Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Richardson are both in France, and liable to join in the coming battle. And she will only learn of whatever happens weeks afterwards–unless the news is so bad that someone takes the time and expense to try and get a telegram through. She is far closer to the war than most provincial young ladies will ever get, and further away from the worst of France.

And what could she mean by “open resentment & rebellion?”

 

Finally, today, a century back, Arthur Graeme West was killed by a German sniper. He was twenty-five. To write about him now, today, is disheartening, for a number of tangled reasons.

First, of course, because another bright young man and talented writer has been killed, pointlessly. But I’m also feeling an obscure sort of guilt because it proved to be impossible to properly include West in this project. On the most superficial level, it was hard to draw on a book entitled Diary of a Dead Officer without infringing upon the rules of being strictly a-century-back from the current date. For another thing, West’s writing–some decent poetry, a diary that veers between confessional and angry, initial enthusiasm curdled by the army’s stupidity and the war’s brutality–compares in many ways to Siegfried Sassoon‘s… but it’s not as good. To quote him often would have been duplication, in a sense, and since the thread of West’s story is much more difficult to follow, it might have confused more than enlightened us.

And that tangled thread is the biggest reason that I ended up hardly using his work: it was heavily edited, after his death, to shape it into a particular form. West was certainly disillusioned, even “disenchanted:” he was angry at the war and the army, he was afraid, and he regretted joining. In 1916 he had considered objecting to the war on pacifist principles and even wrote a letter of resignation. But he didn’t send it. Instead he returned to France. In his last few months, back in the line, West wrote very little.

But none of that is disqualifying: the problem is that these aspects of West’s character, his beliefs, are heavily emphasized in the posthumous publication while much else–how much else, and what it was, I don’t know–was cut out. The published Diary is, essentially, a work of anti-war propaganda, carefully constructed by West’s school friend Cyril Joad, who was a committed pacifist. West doesn’t seem to have had the same beliefs, and so he has suffered a particularly ironic sort of violence: his feelings were, after the fact, suppressed and misrepresented, a sort of negative echo of the way in which his decision to join the army (he was no pacifist then; instead he was very typical of our Public School and Oxford boys) controlled his body. There is a lot of interesting material in the Diary, which is why I read it and made some use of it here. But while we can track someone like Sassoon in his changeable moods, our access to West’s mind is not only partially blocked but carefully channeled, and his words stripped of their original context… and that didn’t feel right.

So Arthur Graeme West is dead, and he will have some posthumous recognition as a sort of pacifist martyr–but he wasn’t. He was a young man who came to hate the war and wanted out, but went back anyway, out of duty and out of fear and into fear and terrible danger, and to his death.

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Farjeon, Edward Thomas..., 264.
  2. Letters to Edward Thomas From Gordon Bottommley, 281-3.
  3. Diaries, 148-9.
  4. Letters From A Lost Generation, 331-2.

Ivor Gurney on Ledwidge and the Poor Folk; Patrick Shaw Stewart is Foiled by Diana; Wilfred Owen on England, and the Abode of Madness

Patrick Shaw Stewart has been too long in Limbo. Or, more accurately, in Macedonia, which is no one’s idea of either a glamorous or a crucial theater of war. His society there is limited mostly to French career officers. It could be worse, one would think, but Shaw Stewart has different standards: his ambition is to scale the heights of English society… and today, a century back, at long last, he arrived back in England. Instead of staying in London or going to visit his family he went straight for Belvoir, where Diana Manners was ensconced. Sometimes, brilliant or beautiful people–brilliant, beautiful, and frequently not-so-nice people–get what they deserve. Manners is or was the muse to many men, and many of these have been killed–Raymond Asquith was the greatest loss. But just because the suitors are being winnowed by war does not mean that Diana is ready to give up bow, quiver, and pack.

One assumes that Shaw Stewart was invited, but Manners was not looking forward to the visit, and “feared he was going to propose to her.” A telegram to another beau, Duff Cooper, joked “Pray God with me to face this great ordeal and to let me triumph.” But she was evidently more than a match for a single gallivanting officer.  Without having proposed, Shaw Stewart will move on tomorrow from Belvoir to Panshanger, where Lady Desborough is throwing the third of four consecutive weekend parties. Shaw Stewart will get to mix with lords, politicians, society belles, and the ghostly absence of her two elder sons, his friends Julian and Billy.[1]

 

Just a brief note on Edward Thomas‘s war diary for today, a century back. He merely jotted a few lines, but these nevertheless convey the strange ways in which officers in a different sort of Limbo–Codford is a staging camp, and orders for France may appear at any point, now–spend their days scattered among disparate activities. Thomas inspected latrines, issued pay to the men of the battery, wrote letters, learned to ride a motorcycle, and received, with a letter from his wife Helen, an edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.[2]

 

Ivor Gurney has been writing prolifically to Marion Scott, of late, and today another of our poets crosses his pen:

O tis cold! but this barn is pretty strawy, and my oil-sheet is over my legs, and I go straight on. Merely through boredom I have turned out another masterpiece today. Also having seen the Observers appreciation of Ledwidge’s description of the robins note as being like tiny cymbals, I looked for a robin, found one, heard it — and dont agree, altogether. He must have thought a lot to have written that description — it being too out of the way to be spontaneously observed. Now please turn back to the back of page one, where further grace will flow from my pen.

Interesting, both in the critique and the unusually confident note of humorous self-deprecation. It feels like Gurney has put his finger upon one more way that the poetry of 1917 is betwixt and between: we cannot get by without robins (not to mention larks and nightingales)–but are we really listening to them anymore?

But Gurney is unique among our poets in the quality of his ear. He is–we shouldn’t for a moment forget this–a trained musician and a composer, and sounds are his province. His mood is light today, as he trips from the usual parcel-thank-yous to joking about the dearth of local musical facilities… and yet we could almost read this as a most grave lament.

I think everything you have sent me has arrived now. There are no stragglers left. Binyons verses, for which I thank you are here also, but — O I need a piano; though two verses are pretty well settled in me. For the sum of one franc I got an hour on a faint toned piano yesterday; but that was not good enough, and there was no Bach, my fingers were stiff and my mind wandering allways . . .

I should leave it there… it’s beautiful and sad, and not altogether crazy–there must be many officers in safe jobs behind the lines with regular access to pianos… But Gurney is a private, and isolated, here: Marion Scott is a faithful friend and a great help in his work, but her connections are relatively humble and run through the musical world. Gurney is far from the seething centers of war poetry–Clitherland Camp, Eddie Marsh’s office, the Poetry Bookshop–and his craft is still happily Georgian. But his opinions are, naturally, beginning to show a certain disenchantment. His latest poems have sung the scenery of his beloved Gloucester, but today he turns to the people:

 

Poor Folk

We wonder how the poor get on in England,
Who wonder how the troops get on in France.
We’re better off than many folks in England,
Although we’ve got to face the Great Advance…

Oh when at last there comes the Judgement Day,
I’ll ask of God some questions that he must
Answer me well. Or I’ll choose rather to be
Some free spirit of Hell, or merely dust.

As how the poor who fight so well in France,
Die with a smile for England in some ditch.
Seem never really to get a proper chance —
Their wars and justice made for them by the rich.[3]

 

And finally, today, Wilfred Owen. His last letter described his first, intense experience of the front line, and it marked a major watershed in his writing. But history too can tense and slacken as experience distends and relaxes (the emotional rhythm, too, of regular trench service) and today’s letter, although still that of a changed man, moves back toward a more familiar register.

Friday, 19 January 1917 [2nd Manchester Regt., B.E.F.]

We are now a long way back in a ruined village, all huddled together in a farm. We all sleep in the same room where we eat and try to live. My bed is a hammock of rabbit-wire stuck up beside a great shell hole in the wall. Snow is deep about, and melts through the gaping roof, on to my blanket. We are wretched beyond my previous imagination—but safe.

Last night indeed I had to ‘go up’ with a party. We got lost in the snow. I went on ahead to scout—foolishly alone—and when, half a mile away from the party, got overtaken by

G A S

It was only tear-gas from a shell, and I got safely back (to the party) in my helmet, with nothing worse than a severe fright! And, a few tears, some natural, some unnatural.

Here is an Addition to my List of Wants:

Safety Razor (in my drawer) & Blades
Socks (2 pairs)
6 Handkerchiefs
Celluloid Soap Box (Boots)
Cigarette Holder (Bone, Sd. or 6d.)
Paraffin for Hair.

(I can’t wash hair and have taken to washing my face with snow.)

Coal, water, candles, accommodation, everything is scarce. We have not always air! When I took my helmet off last night—O Air it was a heavenly thing!

…I scattered abroad some 50 Field Post Cards from the Base, which should bring forth a good harvest of letters. But nothing but a daily one from you will keep me up…

Owen moves now to a brief but telling self-survey of how a combatant’s attitudes might change. There is too much here to even begin to unpack. Better to let the writer unburden himself and see what still troubles his mind in the next letter…

We have a Gramophone, and so musical does it seem now that I shall never more disparage one. Indeed I can never disparage anything in Blighty again for a long time except certain parvenus living in a street of the same name as you take to go to the Abbey.

They want to call No Man’s Land ‘England’ because we keep supremacy there.

It is like the eternal place of gnashing of teeth; the Slough of Despond; could be contained in one of its crater-holes; the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah could not light a candle to it—to find the way to Babylon the Fallen.

It is pock-marked like a body of foulest disease and its odour is the breath of cancer.[4]

I have not seen any dead. I have done worse. In the dank air I have perceived it, and in the darkness, felt.

Those ‘Somme Pictures’ are the laughing stock of the army—like the trenches on exhibition in Kensington.

No Man’s Land under snow is like the face of the moon chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness.

To call it ‘England’!

I would as soon call my House (!) Krupp Villa, or my child Chlorina-Phosgena.

Now I have let myself tell you more facts than I should, in the exuberance of having already done ‘a Bit.’ It is done, and we are all going still farther back for a long time. A long time. The people of England needn’t hope. They must agitate. But they are not yet agitated even. Let them imagine 50 strong men trembling as with ague for 50 hours!

Dearer & stronger love than ever. W.E.O.[5]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Edwardian Meteor, 221.
  2. War Diary (Childhood), 155.
  3. War Letters, 122-3.
  4. This letter, too, will be the basis for--or shows the first metaphorical feeling toward--a later poem.
  5. Collected Letters, 428-9.

Frank Richards and the Royal Welch Attack; A Memorable Day for Siegfried Sassoon; Lavish Praise for Francis Ledwidge; Tears on the Ward and Clinching Certitudes for Vera Brittain

I have made bold to correct Frank Richards‘ dating of tonight’s raid, based on the reports in Dr. Dunn’s chronicle. For the 4th, then, read the 5th:

On the night of the 4th February, C Company, made up to two hundred men, were sent in the line between Cuinchy and Cambrin to capture a large crater which was about sixty yards from our front-line trench. In the first place the enemy exploded a large mine and had rushed and occupied the crater… During the last fourteen days three separate attacks had been made on the crater but each one had failed. We could not afford to let the enemy hold the crater that distance from our front line: they would have been able in a short space of time to have driven mine galleries from there in under our front line and blown up hundreds of yards of our trenches. Four signallers were told off for the attack–two with the attacking party and two to remain with Lieutenant Stanway who was in charge of operations and who would be in the front line trench. We were issued with steel helmets, the first we ever wore, and arrived in the front line at 10.30 p.m.

After the failures of the earlier attacks, an utterly ancient but recently rather novel tactic was being attempted: surprise. Instead of alerting the enemy with an insufficient bombardment, the men of C company, 2/RWF were to slip quietly out into no man’s land at 11:00, approach the German position as stealthily as possible, and then rush the crater with grenades.

We left our trench and dashed silently for the crater, we singallers running our wire out; we could not keep pace with the rest of the company, who were soon ahead of us. They had reached over halfway before they were spotted. Then the enemy opened out with machine-gun and rifle-fire and bullets were now zipping around us. We had made it up before we left the trench that if one of us fell the other would carry on the best way he could; but luck was with us and we got safely across to the lip of the crater. The scrap was well in progress and I covered Paddy whilst he was fixing the lines to the instrument and establishing communication. At 11:30 p.m. the whole of the crater was captured, and we were consolidating our position…[1]

So far so good. There will be a German response, of course. But it is almost midnight, which can play the role here of built-in cliff-hanger…

Dr. Dunn’s multiple-author chronicle of the 2/RWF–a sort of informal and much more informative Battalion Diary–agrees with Richards’ account in most ways. Other than the day’s discrepancy, the one significant difference is that there may have been a “slight artillery bombardment” rather than no support at all. “Slight,” of course, would seem to be worse than nothing, but evidently half-surprise was achieved, and with it the lip of the crater…[2]

 

And some 60 miles more or less due south, serving with the other Regular battalion of the same regiment, is Siegfried Sassoon.

February 5

A memorable day. Brilliant sunlight and sailing white clouds all the morning. About 12.30 a German aeroplane came over and our anti-aircraft guns let off about two hundred shells—little puffs of white hanging aloft, dispersing slowly while the big hawk forged ahead and then turned and went back, superb and insolent. After lunch rode across to the Citadel under the same blue weather, startling the hares and partridges across the fallows and wheatlands, to find our batteries busily booming away at the Huns who had been playing hell with the trenches occupied by R.W.F. Got there at 4.30, and had some trouble getting up to C. Company and the front line, as the communication-trenches were very much knocked about. Found Greaves, Stansfield, Orme, and Wadd all serene, and no one hurt, though they had been peppered with trench-mortars etc from 8.30 to 3.30. I left them at 7.45, when all the stars were out and the young moon on her back, and an owl flitting across the trenches. Through the dusk came the loud rattle of Hun machine-gun fire on the left; the sky soared unheeding of the war-lines, and the trenches ankle-deep in wet clay, and men grimly peering from under their round steel caps. The mare brought me home straight as a die across the four miles of plough and mud–gloom all around and stars, stars, overhead, and hanging low above the hills—the rockets going up behind, along the line—brief lights soon burnt out—the stars wheeling changeless and untroubled, life and deathless beauty, always the same contrast.

kettle hat

Medieval Kettle Helm, from the Metropolitan Museum

Sassoon–ever a Romantic, still an innocent–is in transition, now. While the other battalion takes dozens of casualties in a tough little night skirmish, his day is “memorable” for the sun and stars and the moon as much as for a trench mortar attack that does no damage at all. For Frank Richards of the Second Battalion, the new steel helmets are important new bits of gear, issued against bullets and shrapnel; for Sassoon of the First Battalion, they are a stroke in this half-way sketch–peering grimly from beneath their steel caps, the Royal Welch might be serving Henry V rather than George. (The medieval appearance of men under the new steel helmets was remarked upon by many writers, although the blurring centuries suit David Jones better than anyone else.)

5030119_orig

British Infantry Helmet, c. 1916

 

Sassoon is not himself helmed, but neither is he any longer riding the unspoiled country of the rear. And yet he is still riding–still the battalion transport officer, and thus up and back from the rear elements rather than in the front trenches–and still beholding the world as a hunter and a poet. And yet the mortars are falling. Really, he’s stuck in between, close… but not there yet. His dreamy prose suits this state, I think.

So I still see the war as a looker-on; catching a glimpse of the grim places, and then ride back to village lights and evening talk with old Cotterill and the interpreter. But my time will come—never doubt it.[3]

 

oct20-2004 Ledwidge Pics

Francis Ledwidge, Promising New Peasant Poet

And far off in Egypt, Francis Ledwidge was still slowly recovering from the illness and exhaustion which laid him low at the end of the demoralizing campaigns in Gallipoli and Macedonia. But morale is a river with many tributaries, and what is sickness and defeat to a poet whose first book is receiving raves?

And no matter that most reviewers condescended by playing up the “peasant poet” angle–a rave is a rave, and Ledwidge was neither ashamed of his origins nor unaware of their pseudo-exotic appeal to the poetry-reading public. One review included his photograph and the following praise:

To start life as a farm labourer and to graduate as a road scavenger is not the usual prelude to a career of distinction, yet this is the record of Francis Ledwidge, a young Irishman . . . His first little volume of verse will win for him many friends. The poet’s lines are charged with human feeling, and are sure, to make their appeal…

Ledwidge was very pleased with this reception, and wrote today, a century back, to his patron, Lord Dunsany:

Thanks for Georgian Poetry to hand a few days ago, also for other parcel just received. Mr Marsh is to be congratulated on his selection of verse, but somehow I think he could have got better from Songs of the Fields. I am glad to be there all the same. I enclose three small things of many I have written in Greece and Serbia, some of them indeed under shrapnel.

I’m afraid I’m not getting better. My back is very painful and weak and I have a terrific headache. There are Navvy imps in my head. I am going somewhere for sulphur baths, perhaps these will do me good. My dreams are awful things and I hate going.asleep because of them. Sometimes I am lying in a coffin in a terrific dream. I will be all right again some time.

I wonder if I might trouble you for a small book of poetry. There is nothing to read here but prose and I have read the few books worth while…

But one can’t write with only self-praise, complaint, and humble requests. Entertain, peasant! How about a wry Irish anecdote about the way establishment Church of England chaplains treat the Roman Catholic Irish?

A ‘C, of E.’ chaplain who lives here called to see me one day because he had heard of my book. He seemed to be taking a great interest in me and promised me a book of poetry, but suddenly he saw on my chart that I was an R.C.and hurried from me as if I were possessed.

He never came over to me since although he has been in the ward many times. I wonder if God asked our poor chaps were they R.Cs or C. of Es when they went to Him on August 15th.

Thanks again for your thoughtfulness.[4]

From such individuals it would be unfair to make generalizations. But I’ve read a lot of Great War stuff at this point, and the consensus on the general uselessness (or worse) of the Anglican chaplains is… quite strong. Especially when they are compared to Catholic chaplains, whose presence tends to be sacramental, ubiquitous, and unstinting rather than consisting of Mr. Collins-like entrances followed by hem-hawing failures at general uplift…

 

Finally, today, Vera Brittain.

Saturday February 5th

Strenuous day as there were two operations. The first was a dangerous case–an internal growth–and the man in poor health. He was at the theatre about 2 hours from 10.0, & got through the operation, apparently
rather to everyone’s surprise, & they said they did not know what would happen when he came round. He had not come round when I went off duty at 5.0; his mother, who had been sent for, was sitting by his bedside as he lay very pale & still. I thought of Roland lying pale & weak & unconscious after his operation, & I had to bend over my broom as I was sweeping the floor, so that the patients should not see the tears I couldn’t keep out of my eyes.

I had another letter to-night from Roland’s servant, giving a few more illuminating details of His death. It proves Him conclusively not to have thrown His life away recklessly or needlessly. He was hit because he was last man to leave the dangerous area for the comparative safety of the trench, and so was at the post where the Roland we worship would always have wished to be when He met Death face to face.[5]

“Proves conclusively” is hardly critical reading, and her later description of that terrible night’s events will be careful and fairly equivocal. But now, yes–she is looking for, and finding, the answers that she needs about the circumstances of Roland’s death. She needs to be sure of the past in order to search out the next step.

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Old Soldiers Never Die, 140-2.
  2. The War the Infantry Knew, 180.
  3. Diary, 38.
  4. Curtayne, Francis Ledwidge, 142-3.
  5. Chronicle of Youth, 315.

Ford Madox Hueffer is Under Attack; T. E. Hulme on an Army of Conscripts, and Incompetents; Wilfred Owen Volunteers an Unwillingness to Volunteer

Late last year the redoubtable Ford Madox Hueffer (morte Ford, but not just yet) and his partner Violet Hunt had released a book of stories. Today, a century back, he suffered “the most vicious personal attack ever made in print” against him. Which, given his outspokenness, pushy Modernism, and general delight in provocation, is saying something. So let’s quote from the review by one J.K. Prothero, writing in The New Witness:

Mr. Ford Madox Hueffer has written a series of stories under the title of Zeppelin Nights; and Miss Violet Hunt has collaborated with him. There are flashes of Miss Hunt’s genius dispersed throughout the volume, and one is sensible that she has made a heroic attempt to leaven the mass of Mr. Hueffer’s dull offensiveness. But the fugitive gleams of patriotism supplied by the lady are not sufficient to redeem the ponderous panic of the co-author. It is generally supposed that Mr. Hueffer is not exactly of pure European extraction, and this book certainly tends to confirm such impression. The following lines, descriptive of London cowering in the throes of Zeppelinitis, seem to indicate that the writer’s fear of bodily hurt is more acute than one associates with men of our blood…

Yes, the reviewer is insinuating that Ford Madox Hueffer is a poltroon and a coward, and that this fact is due to his Jewish blood. Even in 1916, as we will see, there was a general perplexity about whether to respond first to the errors of fact, extrapolation, or interpretation.

One could point out that Hueffer is not Jewish, but rather of Christian English and German “extraction.” Or one could ask why an English writer’s interest in Continental writing (Hueffer, unusually, read several languages, and had not only lived in Germany and France but collaborated with Conrad–a Pole, by Jove!) should lead, as it apparently does, to an attempt to slander him as “not exactly of pure European extraction.” Or one could query the leap from the action or atmosphere of a book to an attack on the personal courage of its author. But this would be the most hopeless course, surely–is this reviewer someone with whom we would want to take up the critical question of distinguishing an author and his work? No, and not least because he does a hilariously bad job of it.

After a long quotation and a lengthier disquisition on the shamefulness of Hueffer’s portrayal of Londoners–he shows them expressing a fear of death-by-Zeppelin rather than totally committed to demonstrating their sang froid–Prothero lets us in on the author’s secret: Hueffer’s familiarity with the “non-European” sections of London has taught him what true cravenness is, and thus enabled him to pull of the authorial feat of traducing honest (fictional) Englishmen… such committed bigotry needs more skillful expression if it’s not going to simply look silly.

But the next bit is sillier. Prothero turns to the identity of the character “Serapion Hunter…” and somehow digs himself into a deeper hole:

The end of the book, however, shows us Serapion Hunter, the teller of these tales–devised, according to Mr. Hueffer, to find ‘mental rest… just as the inhabitants of that old Italian city of Florence found refuge in the dreary institution of the Decameron,’ grown tired of living in a cellar garnis; and having decided that death is by no means the most terrible thing in life, shaking off his paralysis forthwith enlists–possibly under the influence of Miss Hunt. This is quite obviously the European view of things. The view, which is quite as clearly un-European, insists that the horror of the ‘Night Hag’ ‘slowly upspreads from its nodus on the panting human breast where she squats and crouches… until moon and stars and all clarity of thought and vision are blotted out under the loathsome burden. . . . We lay helpless and could only long in our bitter abjection, for the dispelling crow of the cock, for the gay noises of dawn.’

For this condition which Mr. Hueffer aptly describes as ‘abjection,’ there is only one cure.[1]

Right. Or, no–wrong, and idiotic, and disgusting. But still, right: “Serapion Hunter” is an obvious authorial stand-in. But not for Miss Hunt.

Ford shepherded the book press-ward but left Hunt to see it published. He, despite being unmilitary, overweight, and much older than most subalterns (he’s forty-two) has accepted a commission in an infantry line regiment.

Rarely has a hatchet job seemed so perfectly miscalculated. It’s a slip and a fall and a thunk and a quiver in a nearby door, et voila, the targeted adversary can lay his hand on a most convenient weapon, and return fire…

 

After all that, the pugnacious political philosophy of T.E. Hulme is almost weak tea. But he was at it again, today, in the New Age, writing both as “North Staffs” and under his own initials. In the former piece–both are available here–he rather acidly makes a united discussion of the incompetence of the British army (specifically in the Dardanelles campaign), the unwillingness of the political leadership to shake up the old institution for the sake of greater efficiency, and the recent decision to begin conscription. Hulme takes the peevish, principled, and practical point of view that it is unfair to both suddenly introduce conscription where it has never existed before and to expect these new soldiers-by-compulsion to serve in a hidebound 19th century army, swollen to monstrous size. Then, ten pages later, the insubordinate subaltern is more openly discussing G.E. Moore, Husserl, and the possibility of a “Neo-Realist” middle path in philosophy…

 

Finally, today, Wilfred Owen. Who, come to think of it, stands in somewhat amusing juxtaposition to the non-poltroon subaltern of the Welsh Regiment and the ex-grunt of the Royal Artillery Company–perhaps our two most heavy-hitting writers currently in uniform, and two who could very easily have escaped the combat they have endured and/or will endure.

Owen, whose relatively late decision to volunteer now must seem like a near-run thing (for all those who enlist now will be viewed as trying to escape the looming ignominy of the just-passed conscription law), is still not eager to go.  This is one of the first times we’ve heard of one of our young officers seeking a middle ground–not between Nominalism and Platonic Idealism but between their personal military analogues: an absolute avoidance of war or an earnest quest for the quickest route to the greatest danger. Owen, rather reasonably, objects that he would prefer to learn his trade before beginning it:

Thurs. [Postmark 6 January 1916] [Postmark Romford]

…You may be surprised to know that I had a Commission offered to me today. Are you yet more surprised to know that I refused it: Lancashire Fusiliers, just going into Fighting Line. And I haven’t fired my Musketry Course. I can tell you no more. A list of names was read out, and we said Yes or No according to our feelings!

…Your W.E.O[2]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. See Ford Madox Ford, The Critical Heritage, I 122-4.
  2. Collected Letters, 375.

A Gas Drill Jingle; Robert Graves Tries an End-Run Around Siegfried Sassoon, While Sassoon is Even Yet There, in Arcadia

Doctor Dunn of the 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers again provides a bit of trench humor. Today, a century back, he recorded this “model of a concise Order that men could understand and remember” that was posted in a trench:

If a whiff of gas you smell,
Bang your gong like bloody hell,
On with your googly, up with your gun–
Ready to meet the bloody Hun.[1]

 

Also today, a century back, Robert Graves wrote to Eddie Marsh to describe his happiness in temporarily escaping that very battalion, in favor of the First Battalion of the same Regiment. Oh but Graves has some other matters to put before his would-be literary mentor as well:

My dear Eddie

I have just got Georgian Poetry and your last letter… I am tremendously grateful as I have been without fresh books for a long time now and at a very loose end in the evenings in this dull little place, for we’re here for two months, we are promised, training in open fighting about thirty miles behind the line in the Somme department… It’s great to know that that we won’t have any trench-work for so long and that we’ll have Christmas out and can be sure of living and keeping well till February at least…

This battalion, for a change, is full of delightful people: the CO is a brilliant soldier called Minshull Ford whom we all worship, a man of immense technical and practical knowledge, and a very kindly, tactful person who doesn’t grouse.

The younger officers are an exceptionally nice lot and I’m very cheered with life.Siegfried Sassoon is here and sends his affectionate remembrances: a very nice chap but his verses, except occasionally, don’t please me very much.

That reminds me…

Oh does it? Graves is a bit of a fibber, of course, but now we see a meanness so blatantly rooted in selfish anxiety as to almost be forgivable. There’s no reason to doubt the genuineness of his reaction to Sassoon’s verse–it certainly wasn’t his sort of thing, nor was it really very good. But to snidely toss that in to a letter in which he tries to maneuver closer to the all-influential Eddie! One can imagine Marsh rolling his eyes, as Graves clumsily tries to box out a competitor for the Marsh’s poem-placing largesse.

And what has Graves been reminded of? His own possible unworthiness. He claims now–perhaps truthfully or perhaps just conveniently–that his father has been circulating unrevised drafts:

It makes me hot with shame to think what crude miscarriages you’ve got there of mine… Please forget you’ve seen them…

A.P. Graves was certainly eager to advance his son’s poetic interests, and he might have pressed unfinished verses upon Marsh. Yet it seems more likely–especially as Graves the Younger doth protest too much–that Robert has had second thoughts about the quality of his recent work. Surely this has something to do with the recent discovery of a friendly fellow-poet whose verse–however outdated–has already earned him breakfast with Eddie.

And so Graves throws his dad under the bus, as we would say, in an ill-advised attempt to get in another revision. Crap! Those were bad, better polish ’em up… and best to remind Eddie of my all-too-poetical chances of a short and dramatic life now too.

I don’t know what this mobile training is leading up to, whether it’s the Spring Push, as they say, or whether we’ll be sent to some other war theatre like Egypt, Serbia, or Mesopotamia. I don’t really care so long as we’re lucky enough to avoid the trenches in January…

…we all feel much more optimistic now and have at least a sporting chance of coming safe through the whole lot, we think. Golden après-la-guerre seems appreciably nearer now…[2]

 

Sassoon himself, blithely ignorant of his new friend’s attempt to displace him as the former Naval person’s private secretary’s favorite non-Welsh Welch poet, is in a pastoral wonderland. Amazingly, being in training (not so strenuous training) behind the lines feels to him like a redemption of his year or two squandered in urban earnest of poetic advancement. Instead, there is a poetic (and yet almost non-verbal) “meaning” to be found the wartime countryside, a return to the comfortable home-feeling of a well-mounted countryman. He is at war, but at peace, in France, but in the countryside–and so more at home than he had been in London.

December 10

Fine and warm. Did attack on Le Quesnoy before lunch. Walked through the woods beyond Le Fayel after lunch. Beautiful country–sat on edge of wood, under beech and cypress trees, looking across a valley of ploughland to grassy hills crowned with long dark lines of pine-covert… a faint golden light over all, austere, and yet delicate in tone and outline… Not a soul in sight but a big sandy hare and a brace of rabbits, and some pigeons wheeling about the pines. As I came out of the wood, the ploughmen were driving their last furrows and a man with his two dogs was driving a big flock of sheep to the farm, silver-grey in the dark stubbles, with Montagne away among its trees (and the R.W.F. fifes and drums playing down the street). This country is more like Arcady than anything I ever saw, but I expect all the woods are let to shooting syndicates.

And we can hear the big guns booming fifty kilometres away, and Armageddon is still going on. I have found peace here, anyhow, and the old life of 1913-4 seems lopped right off–never to return, thank heaven.[3]

This is Paul Fussell‘s Arcadian Resources in a nutshell–or in a brace of rabbits in the dark stubbles, anyway.

But–and today’s entry on its own will not confirm this (so read back a few in the Sassoon archives!)–it’s because Sassoon has pre-scripted his experience, not because he has come for an imagined war and been surprised by peace. The reason he can, paradoxically, spend a few days near the line and then experience this pastoral “rest” as a continuation of his rural young adulthood (rather than the first sixteen months of the war or his residence in London before that) is because he has consciously decided, and portentiously declared to “follow” his brother Hamo (and, implicitly, perhaps, Rupert Brooke–although he surely intends a more glorious end than Brooke’s sun-dappled expiration from the miseries of blood poisoning).

Sassoon is content, for the moment, to ride about the countryside and be at peace because he intends the new year to bring a happy, violent end to all his uncertainties…

 

References and Footnotes

  1. The War the Infantry Knew, 170-1.
  2. In Broken Images, 37-8.
  3. Diaries, 25.

Edward Thomas Goes Home–and Plump Down to the Old Level; Good News for Francis Ledwidge, Edward Hermon, and Robert Graves

So the slow train from London toward Steep did, alas, deliver Edward Thomas without improving his mood unwontedly. As promised, he added to yesterday’s letter to Robert Frost. Now, I often omit the passages in which he discusses his children–especially Mervyn, who is under Frost’s supervision in America–but while they pop up somewhat frequently as subjects of concern and the sources of loving anecdotes, Thomas rarely writes about his wife Helen. Nothing more than the expected niceties and passed-along greetings, in the expected position near a letter’s close.

Then, today, a crushing letter to the man who bids fair now to call himself Thomas’s only friend. It begins by treating Frost like an extension of Thomas’s notebook–what greater honor, between fellow poets?–but soon figures him as the onlie confider:

The day’s over, a cold blowing day bright all the time after a storm of wind in the night & rain in the day… our hangers mostly bare now except the yellow larch & the dark yew…

I wonder would you recognise me with hair cropped close & carrying a thing little swagger cane: many don’t who meet me unexpectedly, & they say I never looked so well in health. Now you will think me getting over to the other extreme of complacency.

But I am not. Coming in home last night after walking home fast in the rain at 10 & finding the place upside down & Helen almost as much scared and surprised as pleased to see me, I went down plump to the old level. I had been too eager & enjoyed the rain too much–with solitary excitement.

Does one really get rid of things at all by steadily inhibiting them for a long time on end? Is peace going to awaken me as it will so many from a drugged sleep? Am I indulging in the pleasure of being someone else?

…Goodbye to you all.

Ever yours

Edward Thomas[1]

Thomas can be a cruel husband. Helen had stood by him through deep, recurring depression, through his suicidal periods, through long periods of financial strain when his writing earned too little, and she seems to have raised little objection to his habits of taking off on long walking tours and bicycle tours, visiting friends for days or weeks, and taking on impractical projects while she stayed behind, caring for the children, scraping by. He had even gone off and joined the army without telling her.

Now, a few months into this experiment, he returns home unannounced–and is displeased with his reception.

It’s hard on everyone, this thing. But this is pure Edward Thomas–it’s not Helen, not their troubled marriage, not the war:exhilaration from tramping across open country, then a domestic scene disturbed, obscure disappointment, a sudden plunge. Solitary excitement giving way to fretful melancholy is his defining experience–this night, a century back, and in so many of his poems.

And yes–as Thomas knows, he is indeed indulging. I’m not sure who is more likely to be disappointed–the man who thinks he will discover his true self (at last!) in war, or the man who recognizes that becoming an amateur soldier is only a very high-stakes game of “dress up.”

Regardless, an inward-looking man like Edward Thomas will not fool himself. He has changed, in the last year, but it was becoming a poet that was the true change. The other path, the much-traveled one, the one that leads to France, was no sure choice, no necessary thing. The relief of choosing discipline, service, membership in a “unit,” is fragile, perhaps brief–this we learn today, this we knew. And it’s unspoken here, but then again it needn’t be: of all the things Edward Thomas has chosen (or not chosen), this one alone will really bear him along without requiring further active choice. It’s the war now, for the duration, or until death does them part.

 

Other writers, and happier families, were abroad in London: Alfred Graves, proud papa, lunched with Edward Marsh today, a century back. He received swift and positive feedback on several of the poems which Robert had recently sent to Marsh–including I Hate the Moon–and which Alfred had delivered in typescript to Harold Monro…[2]

And, right in step, the even-better-news of two days past reached another proud papa, Edward Hermon:

Was having dinner when Buxton brought me a wire. I opened it wondering which it was to be & when the glorious news dawned on me everything changed at once, & incidentally the weather took up, the storm has blown itself out & the new moon is shining in an absolutely cloudless, starlit sky & the whole world seems at piece. There isn’t a gun firing & if Ben wanted a better augury he couldn’t possibly have it. Oh! Darling mine that I could be with you to join in your joy because dearie it must be worth all the weary waiting and anxiety now…

I am the happiest man in France tonight & it will smooth away all difficulties for a long time to come…

Don’t worry about me old dear, just lie still & get well.[3]

 

And finally, far away on the Greco-Serbian border, Francis Ledwidge was able to acknowledge his own literary success today, a century back. Lord Dunsany, now a training officer at the Inniskillings’ depot in Derry, has rolled up his sleeves and become a most useful patron–not just a critic, condescender, and writer-of-forewords, but a sort of volunteer literary agent. He had recently sent Private Ledwidge the (generally quite favorable) reviews of his first book:

Thanks very much for your two letters and press cuttings. These were the first I had seen and I am delighted beyond words. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for all you have done for me, and when you congratulate me on the success of my book, you forget that but for you it could never be, and you leave me with all the glory. The reviews are better because each critic appreciated different poems, this shows a worthiness from coyer to cover, a worthiness I had only,hoped for in two or three pieces. None of them have selected the verses Mr Marsh took, this makes the whole book more valuable still.

I wish I were back again. But there seems no hope yet of our returning. The weather is getting bad, the nights in particular. Being in a mountainy country we suffer much from rain and cold. A goodly few of us have rheumatism badly, but the work is still here and the doctor is inexorable. The enclosed poem is one I wrote in a thunder shower in Salonika. There are still great doings to come from me and I am full up, but have no time…

Thanks very, much again and best wishes.

Even the mountains of Serbia can’t keep us out of the Marsh. It’s true: Ledwidge has made it. Not only is Songs of the Fields now entering its second printing, but Marsh will include three of his poems in the next volume of Georgian Poetry.

And Ledwidge is writing again, too–although I’m not sure which poem was included with this letter. But, alas, there is patronage and then there is patronage. Lord Dunsany may be a real Lord with literary connections, but his influence in the army–he had left years before after a bad experience as a young officer, before returning for the war as a reserve captain–is limited. In another letter from this period on the Serbian border, Ledwidge wrote asking if

there be any chance of getting home for a month? The Doctor will only give one a day’s rest, that is no cure for rheumatism when the same day miles of a march have to be done and that night a ‘listening post’ in some outlandish hollow.

This cannot be done–not even close. From France, perhaps, if Dunsany were intimate with Divisional staff officers, although it would be irregular. But not from the Mediterranean theater. This sort of plea–but for the implication that a certain sort of parcel would be welcome–is thus slightly pathetic:

When I get paper I will send you copies of my latest work, meanwhile if you could get a holiday for me I would be so grateful, and so would my mother…[4]

No doubt, but it cannot be.

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Elected Friends, 107.
  2. R.P. Graves, Robert Graves, The Assault Heroic, 140.
  3. For Love and Courage, 133-4.
  4. Curtayne, Francis Ledwidge, 136-8.