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Two Men - One Memorial


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Never fails to amaze me that there was in fact a 'behind the line' area where they coud cycle or look at the shops when only a little way away were the trenches.

Marina

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Wednesday to Thursday, April 12-13, 1916.

The train(1) left at 12.30; therefore we boarded at 10.30, and slept fairly well. Very uncomfortable, as there were too few Firsts, but we did not mind when eventually we did get to Boulogne. Dawn came cold, but by 9.0 or so it was warm and fine, and things were looking very rosy indeed as we marched out of the train towards our big breakfast at the usual buffet at the station.

At 2.30 in came an officer of the Cheshires:- 'All leave cancelled: notice up at A.M.C.O.'s office.' A joke, we thought; but no.

Well, off I went to the Quai, and there it was: 'All officers and men on leave will require' (silly idiom that!) ' to return to their units. Those proceeding on duty to England will continue journey. Further announcements later.' 'Oh, so that's it, is it?' we thought. Explanation obvious; Ypres, Verdun, and Arras all taken, London in flames, fleet at the bottom of Channel, entire B.E.F. on verge of extermination. At least what I really thought was not quite that: I thought probably the hun had made a bit of success of some attack on Verdun, and got near enough to make it advisable for everybody to 'Stand by'. That doesn't seem to be the case; at least I've not read of such a thing. One explanantion is that it is a traffic matter in England merely; but in any case I needn't waste time (and carbon) by more guesses, as we simply don't know at all. Nor do we know if and when leave will re-open; some are quite optimistic, others think it may be long.

Well, that was a dreary afternoon for many an expectant son of a family. I did the best thing for myself by sleeping two hours in the Hotel.

(1) The leave train.

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April 16, 1916.

But all was not black for another reason. Three men of 13th Battalion happened to be returning from leave that night, so I was able to see them, and talk of old days.

There were Mackworth of Magdalen, now attached to Div. H.Q. ('Q branch' I think he said), and Jackson, now Captain and Adjutant; also Pugh. We sat round talking Masonry with Mackworth for a long time, and what he told us, more than anything I had heard before, was rather thrilling. The search for the Name of God sounded a fairy tale, and it is amazing haow far thay all seem to believe in it. I ought to be a parson, certainly - who knows?

Breakfast next day at the Officer's Club at Boulogne; very convenient place, and one well worth knowing for the next occasion, if it comes - or when, for I am still optimistic. Followed by a long slepp, which lasted till Amiens, where we got out. Here came the unique odour of France straight to me as I came out of the station with Merry, and I was in a great state of delight. We went to look at the Cathedral, and I found there everything that my wildest dreams of Gothic had hoped for. It was a Spring morning; and there was the Cathedral of Amiens, and I hoped that it marked the dawn of a new age.

'Une nouvelle inspiration tout les jours'

I found myself asking for (quite unconscious that, as often, I was praying in French) by the west door.

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Thursday, April 20, 1916.

It is not for every one to stand on the summit of a Cathedral Tower from the inside, but that was my experience this morning; I have gone there before breakast. For the first time this week I saw sunshine and blue sky, and it was worth seeing, after this miserable week, how the white clouds came across the blue over the broken church like vengeance towards the Hun lines. Opening the Breviary (bought at Hazebrouck in December) at Jeudi Saint, I found

'Zelus domus tuae comedit me'.

My father's favourite psalm, by the way, is 122, and it was here that two or three days ago I murmured it through entirely on the 'Beethoven' chant. At Home Farm (by Bivelen Chateau) in February it used to be 57, with good reason, in the evening.

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Rest of my tour till May 4, my leave day.

The outstanding feature was the route march on what I take to be Wednesday. It was to be eight miles, and I found a way that made what I calculated to be 13600 yards, and perfectly glorious. The route is on my 1/40,000 map at the top, and mainly remarkable for the fact that it had a most glorious halt right on a hill overlooking village after village of this beautiful plain. Also it was high ground nearly all the way, and the men thoroughly enjoyed it, I think, though it was quite hot (after my liking this): I gave them twenty minutes halt at the place, which pleased them, I think. We want lots more of this hot weather th sweat the damp and rheumatism out of out old bones.

'Le temps a laisse son manteau' (1)

wrote M.G.M. to me at this period; and I replied on C.2121 :- Ref: manteau. Yes Man: and Rupert Brook would have liked the lilac that grows outside my window.

O.C. Coy again. It seemed strange to be this again, walking about this delightful village, where three weeks ago I had just been deprived of the post by friend Barclay and was not feeling in good spirits. Also it was almost Summer now, and then there was frost; and our billet was far better, and there was a suggestion of the Plain; and the lilac and chesnut are right out, and I was going on leave, and ready to see my people, and England.

(1) Charles d'Orleans: Rondeau.

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Bapton Manor. (Written on Leave)

It is wonderful moonlight over the Wylye Valley and I am at the window of my childhood's bed-room. My pencil is in my hand, but I could not reach my only remedy in expression - not, I was going to say, if I sat for ten years; but that would be even more hopeless - I should have to live twenty-five years backwards. For as I sit here there rushes in upon me the inconceivable throng with which I have for twenty-five years peopled this country - all the men and women of my reading, and of my dreams. One day I will take ink and paper and I will try and set some of them down; at present I content myself woth saluting the old cedar-tree under whose arbour Tract T. kissed the spinster aunt, and the old lady's promenade to it from the house. But it was all Dingley Dell, and I am not here to annotate Pickwick.

Ho! the malady from which I suffer is the memory of the water-meadows, so old and so young: and I cannot think how I shall ever deliver my soul of it. Of course, I know every inch of them through and through, from here to Fisherton de la Mere. The old gate I used to swing on, that is gone: but the bridges remain, and the swaying weeds, and the still fishes, and the little hatches, and the incredible, deep unapproachableness of the river - 'deep water and don't you got too close' - and the bare possibility of being drawn into the mill; the smell of the mill, and of the wet meadows; the strange ventures of my thrown sticks and boats beneath the bridges; the river over which the garden leans, and the ditch along the garden towards it - ah, Wicot, where are you? Somewhere jealous and beyond the Downs? Ah, but I am sprung from this vallry; there is no drop of water in the myriad streams but has its kin in my veins.

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The Gas Alarm.

Saturday and Sunday May 20-21, 1916.

It seems rather humorous this lovely morning, as I write in Elliott's quiet room, but it did not at the time. As it happened I was very much awake, having spent many hours in collecting standing orders from old Battalion Orders for some months back, and indexing them, and altogether having rather an efficient and amusing game by myself.

So when I heard Oing! Ping!! on the horn, I thought 'No, that can't be the harmonium in the Chapel next door; it is Gas this time'. So I started no end of a fanforonade on my whistle; and judging from impressions left on some of the men, this part of the show at least seems to have been rather a success. I was alluded to several times as 'they', with 'their whistles'; and my orderly thought - there were ten men blowing!

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14th Divisional School of Instruction.

June, 1916.

Some recollections of Several Fine People.

8th K.R.R.C. Roger. This was a magnificent thing of a man in his way: huge deep voice and command like a bull: knew Irving and Fairburn and Day in the Artist's, from which, I think, he has recently got his commission. He was the hero of our little cricket match. I shall never forget him dancing round, hanging on to the roof the while, to the tune of 'Oh etc., etc.,', in the bus coming back from the Sniping School. He would be a dark man with what would go for a fine chin and a decided personality, and the words of his mouth were powerful hearing.

9th Rifle Brigade. E.H.L.S. Not very good.

Captain Benskin, R.E., D.S.O. He and the Colonel and I had a terrific arguement over education one night; he was all for modern things, and of course French and I were very much on opposite sides, and I didn't get very far, though he was quite delighted with my 'V.b' which I showed him. Curiously enough, letter from Ronnie next day quoting a remark of K(1) that Latin Orose taught him mare than anything else: but Benskin merely argued that he would have thriven on farce.

(1) Kitchener.

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Sunday, June 18.

On this day I had a very wonderful walk in the morning, starting soon after breakfast, alone. Throughout all this trip there was a lot of ecitement over Keats Nightingale, though I did not fail to realise that it would not do to soak too much in it, in view of the circumstances of the reader out here! I knew with a quite physical realisation what he meant by: 'Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget' .......that morning.

It was at the corner between the cover and the wood; and there the road comes swooping round as though it knew the arms of all the fairies were opening in the wood below.

To get to the village I made across 1/2R. and then turned sharp left down the road. Perhaps the village was more adorable than anything I have seen since Houtkerque, and it would be absurd to deny that in itself it is much more beautiful. The road through the village climbs slowly up the hill like a pilgrim to the church on the hill-top; and it seemed in most English wise that it loitered by pools and official house corners as it rose. Finally the church reminded me tremendously of some little church on the Plain; with its avenue of chestnuts diagonally leading to the little door, and its little cemetery, and the big trees and cure's house around.

In the evening Hall and I went to Noyelle again, this time making for the next village beyond it. Hall, by the way, is one of the priveleged people to whom I have lent The Path to Rome. The others, I think, I have noted in the book.

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LETTERS.

To His Father.

B.E.F.

The Farm, Feb. 2, 1916.

We came out absolutely 'flat-out' into The Farm last night, the men quite exhausted after a bad time. I am tremendously happy to be here at rest for two or three days; so are the men. It was grand to see how they loved a rest in the mud of the road coming down last night, falling asleep constantly in some cases. It is rather fun when it's over; the mere physical delight of a chair when you are pretty well exhausted, the walk in the air (fresh and not foul) before a late breakfast back here, the comparitive silence; the chance of writing a letter, of reading a book, of hearing the dear old sad songs of the British Infantry, which thrill me whenever I hear them, because I know the men, poor hardly-used creatures, are happy after a hard time. They have had an exhausting week.

Yes, one does come into one's own with the Psalms.

One of the wisest remarks of Hilaire Belloc in The Four Men is where he curses a certain poet for his 'dreadful innocence of the great emotion'. I d not see how these can be suffered and enjoyed except in war. (And of course your 122 is the pick) How often have my thoughts gone back 'turribus tuis'(1) with a murmur of 'Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem'!) He did know that what it was to be alternately in dangerous places and out of them!

(1) Psalm 122 'I was glad when you said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.'

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To C.A. Alington.

B.E.F.

Feb 10, 1916.

'Will I pleasr', says the Adjutant, 'take over command of C Company from now?'

The OC C Company (Roberts, a great Cambridge cricketer I think) was killed in what would have been probably his very last tour of inspection of his trenches, the foulest, most unspeakable and battle-scared, I suppose, in the world: it is there that - oh well, I mustn't put in horrors. This was two nights ago, and for thirty-six hours I have been in his shoes, with a feeling of something like remorse at the dreadful noiseless continuity, so typical of the Army, with which the place he leaves is (nominally) filled. Companies are so scattered here that we see little of each other, and I knew him only slightly; but he was much liked and is terribly hard to follow.

It would be silly to pretend that I am not pleased with this very unexpected lift up, however irrelevant I may feel to my predecessor's memory. It is a big opportunity, in its way, after all, and I only wish I were more equal to it. This is a rather heavy letter, I am afraid; having got what I often wanted, but saw no likelihood of getting, I can't help feeling rather a worm! In fact, I need a pastoral epistle rather badly, for many reasons, and would be grateful if I could have it, from you.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Feb. 12, 1916.

I write this right back out - we've trained and marched back to within a mile of our month's rest billets. That's the news as far as it goes, and I suppose it will ally anxiety for the present. I wrote a letter in the trenches to an old Salopian on his entering the sector to relieve us, in which I said quite truthfully that (though I was perhaps foolishly sentimental, and partly lying) I couldn't leave that sector quite without a pang. After all there is nothing like it on earth nor, I suppose, ever will be. It's not a bed of roses exactly - see the casualty lists recently and those to come - but I said I would not have missed being there for the worlds.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Feb. 14,1916.

I'm sorry to hear you're hors de combat with a cold. I remember rather enjoying the game called Bronchial Catarrh at Eton, where you had to stay in bed for fear it should become pneumonia, and yet felt quite well and read like anything. I read Lorna Doone under those conditions and loved it. This matter of novel-reading was presented to me as duty (!) at Shrewsbury.

I have lately come to believe, as A.C. Benson would say, that there's a lot in this, and that the busier I am (and of course I am far more so now as O.C. Coy.), the more necessary it is that I should try and get this bit of reading; provided of course, that I don't let it get more than a bit!

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Feb. 17, 1916.

The arrival of Sir D. Haig down the road was rather picturesque. Unfortunately I had, like all O.C. Coys., to give out that men must look striaght to their front and not follow him with their heads, and therefore I had to keep my own straight. So it came about that Isaw literally nothing except the great man himself when on the ground. But coming down the road, as I said, it was picturesque; the C-in-C. and the Army Commander and their staff (or rather half a dozen of them) and six Lancers and the Corporal carrying the Union Jack, behind; it was this very mediaeval procession, trotting down the road a quarter of a mile from the field, that we could all have a look at and which was very striking. When he came on we had the usual business; the bugle sounded and we gave the General Salute by Battalions. The he rode down past each Battalion, when I could have had a good look at everybody if it would have done: and as you may guess, I swivelled my eyes round a bit, only taking care to keep my head straight. However, the effect was that it was not until I found him bending down from his horse and asking me how long I've been out, and 'had I been quite fit all the time?' that I realised he was upon me. I don't quite know at how many Company Commanders he stopped; quite likely at all, though I don't think he did. It was unfortunate that of two remarks, with which I had been favoured the C-in-C. was a lie! But the alternatives were:- (1) 'Yes, Sir.' (2) 'Well, Sir, now you come to mention it, I did catch a slight chill in the lines, and had a short spell in hospital at Hazebrouck; you know the place, perhaps, Sir: very nice people they were indeed.' So rather than hold up the great man and the Army Commander and other brass-hatted gentry and the whole brigade with these truthful particulars, I chose (1), and I hope the Recording Angel realised that I was only doing what any but the very coolest of soldiers could very well presume to do.

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SSSShhhhhhhh! Don't let the Forum know that ES says Haig is picturesque - they'll swarm on us like flies!

A little vernede touch in the oddness of the 'medieval procession'. He'd have liked that bit!

Marina

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Feb. 22,1916.

You would all adore this place, but you couldn't have anything like the huge joy with which I regard every inch of it; you want four and a half months in the flats to get the best out of the Downs. That is what they are. I couldn't think, for a moment, to-day why I left Bapton when the train went by, till I realised that it made precisely the same noise under the big Downs as the G.W. trains there. Then for Mum there would be a waterfall, with a big mill-wheel turning and pounding away by the side.

And to-day the Company couldn't get a football; so I rode of to a town (not the big one, but it had lots of shops, and I had hopes) three miles off: no good: three more in a different direction to a small village, where the town man said there was a 'fabriquant de ballons' (glorious phrase!), and in doing so I got up about 600 feet, I suppose, and beheld the earth and it was a good place: (I got the football, old but passable; his last).

I write in bed (absurd luxury),rather uneasily in this position, but anyhow I could not add much of value to this descrption of a very happy day.

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Had to read that twice - the first time, I actually thought he'd gone up in a balloon! Well, stranger things have happened on the Westewrn Front!

Marina

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Must admit I had to look at that part three times as I was putting it on the post, but, thats what his letter says.

Andy

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To R.A. Knox

B.E.F.

Feb. 22, 1916.

It is terribly late, but after all we are in billets, miles and miles from the old district, and comparatively luxurious ones, so I could have no excuse for not writing (in bed too: absurd prosperity!).

So you have taken a leaf out of my history, have you? I was a little taken aback on hearing I had to have the operation, but it was explained next day that since about the nineties the operation is about the simplest going. 'This may be all very well,' as the Rev. Mr. Rolles said; 'it may be extremely well': but that can't prevent my being awfully sorry to hear about it all.

I can only hope everything will go as well with you as it did with me, and that you'll enjoy the convalescent period as much and as soon. Being a lazy individual, and very tired for some reason at that period in term, I had a glorious time in bed reading books; C.A.A. gave me Tante, I remember, to my great delight, and I waded through practically all Shaw's plays and prefaces again: and the Man sent me Synge, and I got excited again about Deirdre and Emain. And there was the great morning when I felt practically well so long as I kept still, and after waking up turned over and lit a candle very early, and reflected that I had the whole day to read, if I liked, and that it was all rather fun. All this unholy glee in complete idleness may not come your way so fully, but I hope some of it may. Meanwhile the Man is within one mile of me as I sit, and I am just going over to tea there with him. It is strange. A Cathedral town is within a dozen miles of us; not the one where he lived years ago, but a good place. I hope to get there.

--------, from which you will infer this is the next day. I am now at tea with the Man, who will add a statement. Good-bye for the present and good luck.

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Must admit I had to look at that part three times as I was putting it on the post, but, thats what his letter says.

Andy

Isn't he just referring to having to go uphill to the football shop? That was my second interpretation!

How he lives for his books! Must be a great thing to be a writer who can inspire such enjoyment.

Marina

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Feb. 27, 1916.

To-day was Sunday. And there was Celebration in the school here, and we knelt at the familiar desks in the familiare room all hung with maps, and I remebered that I was a schoolmaster too: and I saw the familiar black-board; also I reflected that I could not write on it so beautifully as the (doubtless) dear old painstaking master of the little village. And I thought of you all, and wondered whether you knew I was doing so. Only last night one of my officers produced The Golden Treasury, and I turned up 'The Blessed Damozel' of Rosetti, and came at once across the passage where the two are praying, widely seperated, as we are:-

Are not two prayers a perfect strength?

And I shall feel afraid?

And I said 'Thank you', and I closed the book, and I thought of home.

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To C.A. Alington.

B.E.F.

Feb. 27, 1916.

We had two or three days of great peacefulness several miles behind our old line; then travelkled northwards to some most adorable country very like English Downs: I scoured fifteen miles of them one glorious morning in search of a football on my pony (and got it) for the Company; a funny thing it was too, but it did alright.

Two days there was all we got, but oh! the incredible old ladies of my billet. One was 93 and the other 70, I suppose; a mother and daughter. The latter was ill and rheumatic, and the mother follwed her every motion with the eys of one looking after a child. Yes, and when one of my officers went in to find billets, she caught him affectionatley by the arm and said 'Remember 70'..... It is far better than Alphonse Daudet! Since leaving there we marched a couple of days, sideways with regard to the line, in snow; bitterly cold and miserable billets - for the men, I fear: the officers managed better; we had a house of some kind and could keep out of the cold, which pierced the barns where the Company was. But it's not easy to be quite happy with the knowledge that one is probably one of perhaps four or five who aren't pretty miserable - or at least so one would think: but they are very wonderful with it all.

Many thanks for your letter, which I was delighted to get. I'm still waiting the epistle for which I asked, and hope to get it soon (our letters crossed). Not that I'm unhappy at all; but I'm just getting a touch of the 'fed-upness' which seems to come on some people who've been out some time, and it's much to early. Besides. I'm not really fed up; only one easily gets rather to lose sight of one's ideals and lie about, so to speak, and having just got my Company this won't do. Can you understand? I expect you can. And the Communion Service to-day was in a schoolromm, and I felt rather less contemtible than usual.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Situation unchanged

March 11, 1916.

The only curious thing is the discovery of a way to get into the ruined Potestant Church next my billet; not badly ruined, but with broken windows and a few stones shelled loose through the roof (never hit firectly, I should say, but shaken). So to-morrow the Padre (who lives and will live for the next week with us) will clebrate there, among the ruins. Rather sadder, I can't help feeling, these villages which have not really been deserted altogether, and whose Church shows a sign of a very recent Service - more so, I feel, than a Church like Ypres, completely ruined and abandoned ages since; for the tragedy is still breathing.

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To R.A. Knox

B.E.F.

March 11, 1916.

I am glad that you're going on so fast. Yes, you've beaten me in some ways; but I'm not sure about the morphia. There the advantage lies, I feel, with me. I remember being a little proud of that episode: it is not for everybody to feel the mild suggestion of devilry incident to it - as though one had a little secret which only needed advertisement to make (as Walter de la Mere has it) 'Cold voices whisper and say' - he has taken morphia.

I'm town Major of somewhere: isn't it fun? This distinguished honour is however to be wrested from me, when we move in two days, by the Company Commander who takes over my billets: still, to be addressed as 'M. le Major' even for a few days is something. It means busy times, however, so I must let this short scrawl go.

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