Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

The Reluctant Tommy


Ruth Ward
 Share

Recommended Posts

An interesting psychological interpretation - like father, like daughter? :whistle:

I think it's worth remembering that Ronald Skirth wasn't the one who published his 'memoir' and, in fact, seems to have been very keen to keep it private. There is an article in the Bexhill Observer (on-line) in which Jean Skirth relates an incident which, I think, shows very clearly that her father did not want his journals to be made public. http://http://www.bexhillobserver.net/news/bexhill-news/flanders_turned_ronald_into_the_reluctant_tommy_1_1402407 . This incident is mentioned in the introduction to TRT, but made light of by the editor. (I also wonder whether Jean Skirth was, perhaps, persuaded against her better judgement to allow the journals to be published. After all she donated to them to the IWM, not to the publishers).

Skirth was, obviously, a veteran of the Great War and must have had his reasons for writing his memoir in the way that he did. In doing the research it has become very apparent that Skirth has deliberately set about contradicting, at every opportunity, official sources like the Official History, the war diaries and the official maps in order to throw the proverbial spanner in the works. (I'm not suggesting here that Official sources are alway correct, they're obviously not, but Skirth seems to have an almost obsessive compulsion to contradict them). I also think that Skirth may have taken offence at statements in these official sources and others, such as Norman Gladden's - 'Across The Piave' and used his 'memoir' as a way of addressing, or counter-balancing them. All the errors and fictionalisation point to Skirth's desire to present an alternative, pacifist's view of his military service to a reader who he assumes will be unsympathetic, ignorant of the workings of a siege battery and Italy as a WW1 theatre of war. I wonder if, in reality, the young Ronald Skirth performed his WW1 military duty willingly and to the best of his ability - possibly even enthusiastically. Reflecting on all this in later life, as a pacifist (and assuming that at least is true) he might have been horrified at his actions then and his naive understanding of war. He might also have felt very angry that his younger self had been duped, or comandeered by the government/military in order to commit murder on their behalf. It seems to me that Skirth has 'sacrificed' his (and his comrades) actual ww1 military service for, in his eyes, the greater good of pacifism.

Ruth

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An interesting psychological interpretation - like father, like daughter? :whistle:

I think I've got quite a way to go on that score. ^_^

Ridiculous as it probably sounds, I was just trying to empathise with Skirth (or at least his pacifism) and understand why he wrote his memoir in the way that he did. I think many people find it hard to accept all the errors and fictionalization in his work, in part, because their inclusion can't be explained very easily. Also, most of us have great respect for all WW1 veterans and to pour considerable doubt etc over the credibility of a 'memoir' of one them is nothing short of sacriligious. I've come up with other explanations about his motives in the past, but they don't really stack up very well.

The interpretations other people have given about Skirth's motives are always very interesting (- not least because they often point to things I haven't considered). You must have had one or two thoughts yourself given all the research you've done - care to share them?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is possible that Skirth, like Sassoon and, probably, many others, became a pacifist due to the horrors he had seen. However, unlike Sassoon, Skirth, by his own admission, then committed acts that endangered the lives of his comrades and would, if discovered, have very likely resulted in him being shot as a traitor. Perhaps, living in fear of being uncovered later, perhaps worrying about whether Gunner Bromley had sussed him out, he was writing to discredit his potential accusers. Paranoia can get a strong grip on the guilty conscience and the more self-centred the man, the more delusional he may become.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Chris,

I'm attempting to reconstruct the identities of the company of 293 battery and understand more about this batteries history and who these men were.

I'm constantly looking for those who served.

May I get a copy of the records For Lt. Salusbury please?

Sean

Have you tried Geoff's Search Engine?

It pulls up 73 CWGC records under a search for the term '293rd'.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We can and possibly should empathise with the man but the writing itself is fully open to criticism and the scale of error suggests this is more deliberate than lapses in memory from a man who had sufficient intellect to check his facts if he wished to write an accurate account.

But for me, the key point is- he never intended to publish so there must be a more personal reason, beyond the 'love story' for committing these thoughts to paper. What that may be, I honestly don't know and wonder if we would ever know beyond possible hypotheses.

There are, of course, a whole set of files at IWM from which the book was edited, I don't know what else is in those that may shed more light upon it.

You must have had one or two thoughts yourself given all the research you've done - care to share them?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Andy,

I've not yet tried it but think I've found all the chaps who died in 293 SB, I make it only 11.

does the search term 293rd encompass more than this battery?

Sean

Have you tried Geoff's Search Engine?

It pulls up 73 CWGC records under a search for the term '293rd'.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Andy,

I've not yet tried it but think I've found all the chaps who died in 293 SB, I make it only 11.

does the search term 293rd encompass more than this battery?

Sean

Yes. I did it again under the term '293RD SIEGE BTY' and got 11 results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is possible that Skirth, like Sassoon and, probably, many others, became a pacifist due to the horrors he had seen. However, unlike Sassoon, Skirth, by his own admission, then committed acts that endangered the lives of his comrades and would, if discovered, have very likely resulted in him being shot as a traitor. Perhaps, living in fear of being uncovered later, perhaps worrying about whether Gunner Bromley had sussed him out, he was writing to discredit his potential accusers. Paranoia can get a strong grip on the guilty conscience and the more self-centred the man, the more delusional he may become.

I wonder if Skirth actually committed these acts of treachery - the mis-calculating of trajectories etc. From what I understand (which, it has to be said, isn't very much in regard to the technical aspects of artillery) the process of firing accurately on a target could have involved 'bracketing' whereby the data needed was obtained by firing either side of the target and gradually bringing the fall of shot closer in each time until the target was hit. Bracketing (used to register the guns?) would have given the enemy a warning that their battery etc was being targeted. (This has been noted on other threads I think). Skirth would not have needed to deliberately alter any data to 'warn' the enemy - it happened as a natural consequence of the process. (And it would be typical of him to contradict things in that way). However, there is also the possibility that the battery used 'map shooting' (predicted fire) - which might not have provided any opportunity to mis-calculate data. (Apparently there was an abundance of maps in Italy, so perhaps the data needed for accurate shelling of targets could be gotten satisfactorily from them). Hopefully, one of the artillery experts will put me straight about all this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is a very good question. Is there anything in the memoirs that can definitely be trusted? With the number of false statements that have been demonstrated, perhaps everything that cannot be supported by external evidence should be regarded as untrustworthy.

Keith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good points. I'm aware that building a hypothesis of deliberate paranoid self-delusion based on a "memoir" (almost, perhaps, a second-hand "memoir") that is so riddled with error or misrepresentation is, in itself, like building a house on sand. However, I'm intrigued by the motives and the man - even if I have a gut feeling of contempt or, at least, mistrust. Antony

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, in a case like this what I always look for is any independent corroboration of claims made. Apart from the technical issues around his claimed adaptation of his military duties, I have yet to hear of any external corroboration of his claim to pacifism. So far as I can see, he never mentioned his conversion to pacifism to anyone at the time of the war (and it would need to be a conversion, because he seems originally to have been so eager to join up that he asked for his call-up to expedited), nor does he appear to have joined any pacifist organisation after the war. The claim to pacifism appears to rest solely on his memoir as privately written some sixty years later.

The claim to be a conscientious objector is even more doubtful. As normally used, it means either someone claiming CO status under relevevant legislation or someone, having been denied the opportunity of such claim, who acts in open disregard of such denial of CO rights.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, I'm intrigued by the motives and the man - even if I have a gut feeling of contempt or, at least, mistrust. Antony

I think we all are. What I find really hard to get my head round is how he could re-write his comrades history. Perhaps he felt that because they had become fictional characters in his hands that it was ok to do that.

Ruth

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Admin

Thanks Andy,

I've not yet tried it but think I've found all the chaps who died in 293 SB, I make it only 11.

Sean

I did a spreadsheet listing date and other details of the 11 casualties on Geoffs from records available on Ancestry

Don't know how to attach it to an email on the forum system but send me a pm and you're welcome to it.

Headlines are only two recorded as kia, two died from illness interestingly the first and last. The remainder died of wounds. Two died in Italy. Service records found for five of them.

Ken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, in a case like this what I always look for is any independent corroboration of claims made. Apart from the technical issues around his claimed adaptation of his military duties, I have yet to hear of any external corroboration of his claim to pacifism. So far as I can see, he never mentioned his conversion to pacifism to anyone at the time of the war (and it would need to be a conversion, because he seems originally to have been so eager to join up that he asked for his call-up to expedited), nor does he appear to have joined any pacifist organisation after the war. The claim to pacifism appears to rest solely on his memoir as privately written some sixty years later.

The claim to be a conscientious objector is even more doubtful. As normally used, it means either someone claiming CO status under relevevant legislation or someone, having been denied the opportunity of such claim, who acts in open disregard of such denial of CO rights.

Skirth 'confessed' to being a conscientious objector in a separate postscript attached to a letter which he wrote to his girl-friend. He did this deliberately knowing that the confession would not go any further than the officers mess -because it was 'private'. (TRT p.160). Skirth says in his confession: "I vowed that because God had spared my life I would never help to take away another's , - unless I had orders which I could find no way of evading... I am faced with a terrible dilemma:- my enlistment oath demands that I do one thing and my pact with God another. It's a conflict between my duty and my conscience."

Ruth

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I find really hard to get my head round is how he could re-write his comrades history. Perhaps he felt that because they had become fictional characters in his hands that it was ok to do that.

I think you probably have the measure of the man there Ruth. Guilt complex maybe?

I have met people who have managed to supress the truth by evolving imaginary facts to suit their purpose. Eventually the imagined facts replace the real ones.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Paranoia can get a strong grip on the guilty conscience and the more self-centred the man, the more delusional he may become.

As suggested above. A

Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, like the letter he claims your grandfather sent him after the war thanking him for keeping the secret of the MM, the letter does not exist, or can never be found.

I wonder what happened to all the censored letters?

Skirth 'confessed' to being a conscientious objector in a separate postscript attached to a letter which he wrote to his girl-friend.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The more I read both 'The Reluctant Tommy' and all research concerning the errors that appear, I do keep reminding myself that Skirth fought in the Great War and quite probably saw some absolutely horrific sites.I have not had to face what Skirth had to in his life. This does not give him any right to denigrate others who served in the Great War.

I am more concerned about the parties that still hype TRT and market it as being somehow 'authentic'.

Thanks again Ken, I have found a copy of Paul Fussell's book and started reading the section on Robert Graves. Very important points raised in relation to anything to do with Great War memoir writing.

"P.S. To Goodbye to All That" cited in Paul Fussell's 'The Great War and Modern Memory' (in his section on 'The Caricature Scenes of Robert Graves') where Graves enumerates the obligatory ingredients of a modern memoir, a section of the essay is reproduced listing those ingredients.

Ken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, like the letter he claims your grandfather sent him after the war thanking him for keeping the secret of the MM, the letter does not exist, or can never be found.

I wonder what happened to all the censored letters?

Good point. I haven't got the foggiest idea how you set about finding out though. Have you?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would of thought destroyed unless they contained anything that needed to be taken further. If Skirth wrote what he claims to have I cannot envisage that there would not have been repercussions for him. I believe that like the letter to your GF it never existed.

PS - I noted yesterday that Northwich library has a copy of TRT, I moved it to a less accessible shelf :whistle:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In the "fiction" section, I trust. As to the letters; might they be in the IWM papers? Antony

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would of thought destroyed unless they contained anything that needed to be taken further. If Skirth wrote what he claims to have I cannot envisage that there would not have been repercussions for him. I believe that like the letter to your GF it never existed.

PS - I noted yesterday that Northwich library has a copy of TRT, I moved it to a less accessible shelf :whistle:

Nice one!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Skirth states that the letter from Ruth's GF and also one from Snowdon, he destroyed. The IWM papers are the ?5 files of handwritten notes that comprise his original memoir, I think they are definitely worth a view.

As to the letters; might they be in the IWM papers? Antony

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ruth, I found another interesting pice of evidence today. It concerns "Lieutenant Salisbury", who supposedly quietly gave Skirth sight of the dastardly Snowdon's "tissue of lies" report about 15 June 1918. Well, the good Lieutenant is John Salusbury, and having seen his service record today I can tell you that he was away on a course at the time of the battle and for some time afterwards. There is no way he was in a position to have done as Skirth claims. I have a copy. When I've had a chance to download and sift it all I'll send it on.

Chris - Seany says he's received 2 pages from you. Any chance I could have the same please?

Many thanks

Ruth

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...