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Matlock1418

"Goodbye to all that" = Fact or Fiction?

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Matlock1418

"Goodbye to all that"

Have started reading this 'classic' but it has been suggested to me that it is not all it first seems to be.

Rather spoilt things for me to now be in doubt - but I would like to know.

Fact or Fiction?

If a mixture how and where do you draw the lines?

Especially for his army service.

???

Matlock

Edited by Matlock1418

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kenf48

'Goodbye to All That' is not strictly speaking a war memoir, as was noted on this forum a couple of weeks ago only about half the book is concerned with his war service and the first few chapters are simply a prelude to the war, which for all concerned was a life changing historical fact.  

 

 Graves claimed,

"The objects of this autobiography, written at the age of thirty three, are simple enough; an opportunity for a formal goodbye to you and to you and to me and to all that; forgetfulness, because once all this has been settled in my minded written down and published it need. never be thought of again ; money."

 

This paragraph and others concerning his motivation were omitted from later editions.  The honesty was perhaps too much, however there is a resonance of the sentiment that in common with other old soldiers, some of whom wrote their memoirs and many more didn't,  that 'they did not talk about the war'.  'Goodbye to all that' as the title implies was saying goodbye to the first three decades of the twentieth century and when there was perhaps still some optimism about the future.

 

Graves is also being honest when he acknowledges he wanted to make money, he was always in debt, and threw in all the ingredients he considered would make his book a best seller, amongst these were battle scenes, he wrote,'people wanted battles and I'd been in a couple of good ones'.   Fussell in 'The Great War and Modern Memory' describes the book  as a fiction disguised as a memoir.  In short Graves is an unreliable witness to history.  He was surprised when on publication  many cited Goodbye to All That as an anti-war book,

I first read it in the 1960s (wearing a CND Stop the War badge) which coincided with the sixties revival of interest in the context of 'Donkeys' and 'Oh What a lovely war' school of history.  Again Fussell considers Graves was concerned with 'knaves and fools' which fits well with that narrative and the war in Vietnam.

 

In part as a counterpoint to the reception of Goodbye to All That Captain J.C. Dunn Medical Officer 2nd Bn RWF  published 'The War the Infantry Knew' a day by day account of war on the Western Front. A much less literary account but probably more historically accurate.

In his account it is generally recognised Graves mythologises the war, for a more prosaic account of his military service I would recommend, 'The Assault Heroic 1895 -1926' the first volume of his biography written by his nephew Richard  P. Graves.  

 

In the meantime suggest you accept his memoir as historically flawed but nevertheless an influential and great read but also to be mindful of his motivation.  

 

Neither do I think you should single out Graves for elaborating on his experience, in the 1920s the public was inundated with 'war books' and the most successful and those which are now regarded as 'classics' e.g. Sassoon, Brittain and Blunden to name just three cannot be considered 'accurate' in the historical sense, Fussel describes Blunden's 'Underones of War as 'memoir disguised as fiction'.  

 

All memoirs should be approached with some degree of caution especially those 'discovered' in the twenty first century with contemporary editors, at least Captain Graves service is a matter of record, he was there.

 

Ken

 

 

 

 

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Moonraker

Discussed several times already, including

 

here

 

and


here

 

Moonraker

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Matlock1418
34 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

'Goodbye to All That' is not strictly speaking a war memoir, as was noted on this forum a couple of weeks ago only about half the book is concerned with his war service and the first few chapters are simply a prelude to the war, which for all concerned was a life changing historical fact.

Ken, Thanks for your reply and critique.

33 minutes ago, Moonraker said:

Discussed several times already, including

 

here

 

and


here

Moonraker, Thanks for your reply.

I shall browse further.

Sorry if it rather seemed like a duplication of already ploughed ground - as obviously has been the case

I did search before posting! But my search term included quotes around "Goodbye to all that" and also round "Robert Graves" [easy to see why I didn't want a search that picked up on graves only!] so I guess that may be why I didn't see these other threads.

Anyway back to my reading.

 

 And "cheers" to you both.

Matlock

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Moonraker
9 minutes ago, Matlock1418 said:

... Moonraker, Thanks for your reply.

I shall browse further.

Sorry if it rather seemed like a duplication of already ploughed ground - as obviously has been the case

I did search before posting! But my search term included quotes around "Goodbye to all that" and also round "Robert Graves" [easy to see why I didn't want a search that picked up on graves only!] so I guess that may be why I didn't see these other threads...

Not a problem. In the 14 years I've been a member of the Forum a lot of topics have come, gone and returned. I haven't checked to see if I contributed to the old threads, but GTAT was one of the books we were given to read at school in the early 1960s (not for exam purposes, just to give us an idea of the Great War). And it gave me my first every quote about Wiltshire in the Great War period, when Graves and his wife were cycling past Stonehenge after the war and saw the deserted army camps: "there was accommodation in these camps for a million men". (This was one of Graves' less-important misclaims: there were probably "only" 100,000 soldiers and airmen on Salisbury Plain at any one time.)

 

A few years ago, another GWF member offered a copy of GTAT as a prize in a light-hearted competition to provide a short piece of prose - which I won! I've just checked the book for the short quote above.

 

Moonraker

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Michelle Young

Jean Moorcroft Wilson wrote a a very good biography of Graves which also examines the writing of GTAT 

 

Michelle

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Matlock1418

Was reading and stopped - funny how you get influenced by an off chance remark

After a few weeks now, my mind being a bit like a gnat's these days, I seem to recall a couple of things that had seemed quite fishy, probably some others too but not to mind at the moment - I shall have to re-read, but ...

1) Vickers gunners brewing up tea = Think I know the difference between brewing and sustained fire role - Army tea may be pretty bad at the best of times - even though I'm a coffee drinker and never touch the other stuff (well perhaps not always/never - can be pretty good regardless when very, very cold and wet in the field!)  Apocryphal trench story/runour?

2) Graves seemed to claim that he had a significant hand in changing some operation at a level higher than Company level I think I recall = not sure a subaltern, even if acting captain (and i think he spent much time at that rank) and/or substantive captain would have had that much influence at higher levels than at company level - will have to re-read.

1 hour ago, kenf48 said:

'The War the Infantry Knew'

1 hour ago, kenf48 said:

The Assault Heroic 1895 -1926

 

40 minutes ago, Michelle Young said:

Jean Moorcroft Wilson wrote a a very good biography of Graves which also examines the writing of GTAT 

And some wider reading too it seems - Threads and more books!

Thanks :-)

Better get on....

M

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Pat Atkins

I suspect Graves included outlandish apocryphal anecdotes (like machine-gunners tapping out recognisable phrases - prostitutes' calls, I think - by removing bullets from feeder belts, etc.) to amuse himself, and perhaps also those of his readers who  had fought, at the expense of credulous readers who had not been there. He certainly seems to have had a sardonic edge.

 

Have to say I like GTAT, though I'd not treat it as history.

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Matlock1418
59 minutes ago, Pat Atkins said:

I suspect Graves included outlandish apocryphal anecdotes (like machine-gunners tapping out recognisable phrases - prostitutes' calls, I think - by removing bullets from feeder belts, etc.) to amuse himself, and perhaps also those of his readers who  had fought, at the expense of credulous readers who had not been there. He certainly seems to have had a sardonic edge.

Ah yes - that one was a cracker!

"Stoppage!" would have been the real order of the day methinks

Not these other little bits of military humour/wind-up coming through it seems but think dates and places are probably more likely to be the real and more credible recollections,

Not seen his service record but think he probably wouldn't have been able or wanting to muck around with those 'facts' too much.

Certainly goes into a lot of detail and name-dropping with other 'names' now much lauded though.  Know some association is known but just how much?

A good tale and a moneymaker certainly seems a likely motivation.

I shall continue re-reading and also some of the other titles suggested above.

M

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yperman

 

17 hours ago, kenf48 said:

 Graves is an unreliable witness to history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fussell's analysis in GW and Modern Memory I think  fully explains GTAT. Despite long ago as an undergrad being taught to  evaluate sources I have always tended to fall into the trap of believing GW memoirs as objectively true - till I tried to write not a memoir but some notes for family on my own non-GW service.I then  ran into a series of problems:

 

1) Taking myself (and my opinions) out of my memory of "what happened" I found  is incredibly hard. (Plus faulty memory and vanity!)

2) Self censorship of unpleasant details and personal behaviour I would not wish to share with family.And the selection of what "matters" and what is excluded.

3) Libel - many of the people referred to in my notes would regard my memories of their actions and attitudes as defamatory if I had told the whole story And many of my memories are based on rumours and unit myths.

4) Technical, operational  and procedural details constantly clogged my writing - it was either simplify or death by footnotes and the devil I found  is in simplify.

5) Values,beliefs and previous experiences. I don't think we can get into the heads of GW soldiers. For two reasons - firstly what would be intolerable to 21st century people would not necessarily seem so to GW soldiers fresh from an inadequate civilian diet and living in  unheated one up one down houses full of fleas, bed bugs, lice and five to a room and an outside latrine. Whose often dangerous jobs included North Sea fishing, steel making,  pulling root crops in driving rain, digging ditches or crawling in 3 foot high coal seams deep under ground. To them tea, bacon,  jam, rum, bully beef, cheese and crackers might seem  handsome fare and the army not all that bad a life. Secondly these men were both badly educated and raised and proud to be British and to be both  racist and sexist. Their world view and values were totally at odds to ours and coming as they did from an unfair, class ridden society  where politics was "normally" the province of the elite and the socialists, their view of the war must have usually been brutal and naive.

 

So I think Graves' fiction (like Conrad's 19th century sea stories) helps one to "see" whilst being fiction loosely based on lived experiences. Not a witness but an impressionist maybe?

 

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EastSurrey
3 hours ago, Matlock1418 said:

Ah yes - that one was a cracker!

"Stoppage!" would have been the real order of the day methinks

Not these other little bits of military humour/wind-up coming through it seems but think dates and places are probably more likely to be the real and more credible recollections,

Not seen his service record but think he probably wouldn't have been able or wanting to muck around with those 'facts' too much.

Certainly goes into a lot of detail and name-dropping with other 'names' now much lauded though.  Know some association is known but just how much?

A good tale and a moneymaker certainly seems a likely motivation.

I shall continue re-reading and also some of the other titles suggested above.

M

I saw his WO file at the National Archives 10 years ago-ref. WO339/23299. It's  a biggish file that seemed to have avoided the extensive weeding of so many others. However, there was not much of interest-nothing re. his support for Sassoon, but lots of copies of telegrams to him regarding postings, etc. But there was a letter from the Cadet Battalion where he was instructing, commenting on him & recommending he didn't return!

Michael

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Matlock1418
5 hours ago, EastSurrey said:

But there was a letter from the Cadet Battalion where he was instructing, commenting on him & recommending he didn't return!

Enlighten me please = not return to the Cadet Battalion or not to the Western Front??

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EastSurrey

I've now found my copy from 10 years back,  of the letter sent to the War Office by the Officer Commanding No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion at Oxford.

'9th July 1917

Sir, I have the honour to report that Capt. R. von Ranke Graves, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, has been sent on the recommendation of a Medical Board to the Convalescent Home at Osborne.

This officer joined the Battalion under my Command on April 2nd 1917. He impressed me as intelligent and keen on his work, but also as very young & inexperienced. I am of opinion that the state of his health- he was very badly wounded in France- was a considerable handicap to him, and do not recommend that he should return to Oxford on that ground, as I consider that the place did not suit him.'

 

Michael

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David Filsell

In reality  Graves nor Sassoon wrote history or claimed to and yet both criticised invention in each other's work. Both, like most of us, had laws and wrote fine literary works 

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Matlock1418
On 30/09/2019 at 11:21, EastSurrey said:

I've now found my copy from 10 years back,  of the letter sent to the War Office by the Officer Commanding No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion at Oxford.

'9th July 1917

Sir, I have the honour to report that Capt. R. von Ranke Graves, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, has been sent on the recommendation of a Medical Board to the Convalescent Home at Osborne.

This officer joined the Battalion under my Command on April 2nd 1917. He impressed me as intelligent and keen on his work, but also as very young & inexperienced. I am of opinion that the state of his health- he was very badly wounded in France- was a considerable handicap to him, and do not recommend that he should return to Oxford on that ground, as I consider that the place did not suit him.'

 

Interesting that Graves in GTAT recounts meeting, during that time in Oxford, with many persons with pacifist ideas so wonder if his associations were held as affiliations and thus against him ???

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EastSurrey

It might be possible, but he did have health issues and perhaps something of an attitude problem.

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Matlock1418
23 minutes ago, EastSurrey said:

something of an attitude problem

Do please elaborate

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voltaire60
1 hour ago, Matlock1418 said:

Do please elaborate

 

2 comments:

 

1) Attitude problem-  a growing unwillingness to be killed in a useless war of slaughter?

 

2)  The comments by the OCB officer are revealing of deep prejudice.  Graves forename was  Robert and I have yet to see any OCB report using the middle name in full and just the initial of the forename.

    That he should be referred to as "Von Ranke" Graves is a deliberate but back-handed slur against him by the OCB officer.   Lucky his middle names were not "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha" or the full exttent of his rampant anti-patriotic Teutonophilia would have been exposed.  

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Matlock1418
46 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

The comments by the OCB officer are revealing of deep prejudice.  Graves forename was  Robert and I have yet to see any OCB report using the middle name in full and just the initial of the forename.

    That he should be referred to as "Von Ranke" Graves is a deliberate but back-handed slur against him by the OCB officer.

I too suspect it was - as notwithstanding that Graves had already served overseas for many months and been badly wounded and apparently not recovered, physically or mentally.

I wonder what the OCB officer's service record was like.

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voltaire60
Just now, Matlock1418 said:

I too suspect it was - as notwithstanding that Graves had already served overseas for many months and been badly wounded and apparently not recovered, physically or mentally.

I wonder what the OCB officer's service record was like.

 

Do we know the OCB officer's name?

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Matlock1418
Just now, voltaire60 said:

Do we know the OCB officer's name?

I don't.

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voltaire60
Just now, Matlock1418 said:

I don't.

 It's OK- now I can walk again (though not on water anymore.....)  I will crack out Graves' file at Kew and look up the officer.

  The phrase by that fine but underrated Great War warrior, Melchett comes to mind "Rubber Desk Johnnys"

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Matlock1418
1 minute ago, voltaire60 said:

It's OK- now I can walk again (though not on water anymore.....)  I will crack out Graves' file at Kew and look up the officer.

Glad you are up to marching again.

From GTAT Graves reports that he was posted to "Wadham Company of No. 4 Battalion". 

Later about a page later he writes "The Wadham dons had elected me a member of the senior common-room ..." and shortly after in the same paragraph " My commanding officer, Colonel Stenning, in better times University Professor of Hebrew, ..." but heaven knows if he wrote the report.

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voltaire60

This would be John Stenning, Professor of Aramaic and a don at Wadham.  Oxford can be a little backbiting-I know,I watch Inspector Morse repeats :wub:

 

Stenning served with the 1st (Oxford University) Volunteer Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry:[5] this battalion was part of the Volunteer Force, and as such his service would have been a part-time.[6] He was promoted to lieutenant on 6 September 1905.[7] He resigned his commission on 19 November 1907.[8]

On 26 May 1909, he rejoined the British Army to serve with the newly created Oxford Officers' Training Corps (OTC), and was promoted to the rank of major.[5] On 22 March 1912, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and took command of the Oxford OTC.[9][10] From 1916 to 1918, he was also commanding officer of an Officer Cadet Battalion.[2] These provided officer training to those who had served in the ranks or had been part of the OTC, before they were commissioned in the British Army.[11] He relinquished his commission on 11 September 1919 and was allowed to retain his rank.[12]

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David Filsell

Fascinating stuff

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