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Two Men - One Memorial


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To R.F. Bailey

B.E.F.

Mar. 1916.

What about that Polonius (1) scene, by the way?

Men, it's not such fun being a Company Commander as it might seem, if you're incompetent. Tell Kitch; and that I will really write when I can. Tell O.J.W. ditto, and thank him very much for the lovely book, (2) which I've just had time to open for the first time almost (except the Rupert Brooke sonnet, which I read at once). I wish I was not such a fool, Men, by God I do.

(1) This letter was written from near Arras.

(2) At the Front: a pocket book of verse.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

March 15, 1916.

Here again we are now in a good house, belonging to the owner of a big factory over the way (which, by the way, is a useful buffer for shells when they come over, and the Bosche has not been altogether asleep lately). What I cannot bring myself to grasp is the situation about all these empty houses, evidently left in a hurry and full to the brim with books and property. Empty ruined houses I think I may claim to have some experience of, after Ypres: but here somehow the pathos of the thing is all alive: every house seems only just left, and more sadly. Yet why one should be more moved by one deserted boudoir (to which the owner will perhaps return) than by ten thousand homes desolated beyond all hope of repair, that is the question I cannot answer.

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There is somehting sad about billeting in recently abandoned homes - in a way, the people are still present. must be uncmfortable to anyone with sensitivity.

Marina

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To J.O. Whitfield

March 17, 1915. *

(sic. Come, come, my man - after two and a half months....)

Wash out apologies and let me get on. They're so badly due that they'ld fill all my letter. Yours was a very fine letter and I loved getting it. Yes, the little book (1) is delightful. I agree about Rupert Brooke and Julian Grenfell, and I suppose about Newbolt, but I'm not sure. One's values fluctuate so strangely out here. Some things are spinal at home, but bearable and even good out here, because they simply depict what Belloc called 'the great emotions'. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that I have known a poem or a verse, or whatever it may be, to be intolerably spinal in billets, and very nears one's heart twenty-four hours later in the line.And though I am now in billets - billets of an incredible kind, too, in a large town within a distance from the Hun that is only measured in thousand yards stretches (incredible how few) - even so I can just summon up enough memories of F35 (2) to make a guess that, given the right conditions, the poem might be an inspiration. In fact, it has been, in its way. Your reply will be that it may be near reality but it is not Art; and I think (for I am in billets) you are right.

Curiously, the Man gave me a copy of the Oxford Pocket Virgil: it arrived at 'A' huts (I don't know why I put that in, except to please myself with memories of that mud-bath; for you don't know where it is, and thank God it's not here, though I love to remember it - now isn't that absurd?) - it arrived, as I say, just after Christmas, and I have read the 4th Eclogue again, as you did, I think. It is very good of you to suggest it. - Ah, but this is a lovely place. I've just stuck my head out of the window, to send for an orderly to take a message which I've written. Spring's coming, you know, and there will be Pippa, and blue sky over the Cathedral - to substitute for the tower (or dome was it? who knows) that lies now at the foot ofthe chancel steps, and to be carried by the still standing four great central arches. Steady a minute: I'm going to make a statement now. I was in there this morning and you shall have the benefit (?) of it. I must make a statement in my diary (3), now, and you shall have it in carbon. I am sorry for you, but I am rather excited, and you began it. Excuse me while I get my book.........

No - Wash-out. 'Death and the Maiden' (4) on our gramaphone!!!! By the way, I believe there's a war on: one forgets here.......there's the air back again..... and the .....Ah well, but that was very good. The next tune is (I greatly fear) likely to be spinality by Landon Ronald. Well, no, but it's all about a 'bird of love divine'; tant pis.

Now then, I will show you how a man runs upstairs to get his diary. Ach! the spinal applause-catcher, the top note. I'm off.

I think I was saying when the business bagan - all the fault of that orderly, really - that I was very grateful for your very kind offer of a book; and when people are kind enough to do that sort of thing, it is only a fool who throws up the opportunity! Let me therefore indicate firmly that I do not pocess the Shropshire Lad, and never did, and that is rather absurd. The Man used to have a green cloth edition which I have fingered for years; and I believe, if you would be so very kind as to send me one like that, I should be very happy. I should be in easy time for the 'Cherry'. (There is nothing like asking for things in this world!)

(1)At the Front

(2)A trench

(3)The Cathedral

(4) Schubert's String Quartet in D minor (2nd movement)

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

March 19, 1916

It is my birthday, and at midnight exactly I stood in the trenches, and forgot for the moment about the working party I was with, and thought of you all, not forgetting to look carefully in what I took to be the direction of Lichfield, and to think that that was a good place to be born in thirty (!) years ago. 'Please detail officer and forty men of your Company' went the order, to work at trenches and so-and-so. So I thought I could do no better than inaugarate my birthday by a bit of work; it might be an omen for a changed future!.

So here I am, feeling well and happy, thank you, except that I would like to be spending my birthday with you all instead of here. Still, of all places out here, we'ver certainly chosen the best to celebrate it in.

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happy birthday, Evelyn.

he lives anywhere in his head except where he is, whereas R.V. was meticulous in recording everyhting he heard and saw. Two very different reactions.

Marina

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To C.A. Alington

B.E.F.

April 2, 1916.

'Pretending I like it,' you say. Yes, and (though I had evidently a decided fit of the dumps when I last wrote) the pretence is quite convincing, to me. I really think that was the only period when I was definitely a little fed up, ever since I joined: and that was probably because we'd been out of the trenches too long, and our 'trek' period, with the constant fuss over billets night after night, was getting tiresomely long. Since then we've been in again, and had the most inferanl time I remember from the weather, though the Hun was evidently so equally miserable that the firing was small.

We are all feeling much better, thank you; for here we are sitting in the open air, and the men are writing home, bless their souls (till we come to the job of censoring this evening), and the sun is glorious, and the snow seems really gone this time.

Well, as I was saying, things are pretty well, really; I think I was depressed, when I wrote, to a considerable extent, but your letter cured me this time. Curiously, when I first read it, I expected more ghostly admonition (abd still do, for that matter) and said, 'Yes, but......' and put it in my pocket.

Yet, when I remarked to my officers that evening, 'Isn't this rather fine reading?' and proceeded to read a bit of your letter, I found to my amazement (and theirs, if they noticed it; but I doubt if they did, for it was listened to in spell-bound silence, and they were vastly impressed, I know) that I could not quite read the last page with a steady voice.

Ah! yes, that was a good letter.

Meanwhile Pitcairn Jones (1) is here, and I hailed him with a shout of delight down the trench telephone. It is a very good business, this.

I've not seen White again since our great meeting in the south. But his Battalion's quite near here again, and if he's back from leave I hope to see him soon. It was very sad, that sudden news about his father (2).

I send this to the Chantry, because I like ti imagine you're sitting there on another such day as this when you read it, with another Spring coming along, at last, in the loveliest country in all England.

(1) A member of the School House at Shrewsbury from September 1910 to July 1915.

(2) White's father had died on February 27.

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To J.O. Whitfield.

B.E.F.

April 3, 1916.

The trenches were long and frightfully boring to patrol, owing to mud and snow and frost and considerable exhaustion - seems incredible now, for to-day it has been boiling - and in the long, lonely trudges I might have been observed mooning along all by myself and stopping now and then to get a star or two right, and then humming:

Far in the western brookland

That bred me long ago

The poplars tremble

By pools I used to know....

and feeling very happy at that business, I would plunge along to the next sentry group.

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To C.R Cudmore.

B.E.F.

April 8, 1916.

I have this moment seen the news (1) in the Morning Post of April 5th, which I opened by chance after coming off duty; and before I turn in for an hour or so, I just send a line to say how very, very sorry I am. I suppose few people 'got going' quicker than old Mike in what was after all quite a new job, and one may well ask who ever made a better show in less time.

I won't write a long rigmarole, as I don't expect you could bear to be inflicted with one just now. But I can't help adding I feel it is all rather splendid. That may be a bit absurd, but I do feel it. I suppose it is rather selfish view of things, but I confess the second idea which came into my head was, 'There; you see again how the thing can be done'.

And yet, all this infernal philosophy may be very fine, but the fact does remain; and it is not easy to consdole oneself when one remembers old times, and how he is the first of a very pricelss old crowd to go. Still, he didn't and (after all!) doesn't care, and I'm not sure I wasn't right after all in the feeling, not only unhappy, but also grateful for his lead to the dear little sportsman - one of the very best that you or I ever knew, or shall ever know!.

Good-bye, old man, and Good luck

(1) Lieut. M.M. Cudmore was killed in April.

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Still on the Dulce Et Decorum Est theme. Sometimes I think he's trying to convince himself, finsding a model for waht he might endure himself.

Marina

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To His Mother

B.E.F.

April 8, 1916.

The sun is shining; it is just after 'stand down' in the morning, when both sides are very happy, in view of proable breakfast partly, and also of the great fact that it is broad day and the night is over - that means a lot more than it does at home. Every one is pleased, firing is very slight at present, and there is not a sound except from crowds of larks, singing some great tale about the Spring as though there never had been one before (and there never was one more desired, I know), in strict and splendid neutrality over No Man's Land.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

April 9, 1916.

I'll send the promised description now; I arranged for it by taking a stroll from Coy. H.Q. to one end of the line yesterday, pencil in hand, during a quiet quaarter of an hour, and just jotted down things seen on the way on the back of an envelope. Here it is.

Starting from our dug-out, which is a very different concern from anything 'up yonder', being many feet underground, and approached by a flight of a dozen or more steps, beautifully boarded in and supported by three thick tree trunks, I got into the trench leading to the communication trench that goes to the front lines, several score yards up. (The dug-out itself I will describe in another edition). I had to take the signaller's dug-out on the way, and betwwen here and there I passed various typical odds and ends - piles of brushes, old haversacks, box of rockets for signalling in case of emergency, old water-bottle, a few jam tinms (left by previous occupants-we are being rather good about keeping the place tidy, bit I wouldn't swear we never leave tins about!), old pack, and finally the signallers dig-out itself - a quite good concern, though rather crammed, as being a big one it has to hold the C.S.M. (Company Sergeant Major), Officers servants and four orderlies, as well as the signallers. Getting rid of my message there for the benefit of an old Salopian, who has just come out to another Company (an excellent fact this; curiously it is the first time I've had one in the same Battalion with me), I was just leaving when suddenly I saw the trench cat; we often have them out here, but, curiously enough, none of the inmates of that dug-out knew she was there, though she sat on top of their 'house'. They're rather a bore really, because they walk about the parapet in the front line, and show where the posts are by stopping to talk to the men in full view of the Hun. But I hadn't time to wait to see if she would come down.

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It's amazing that a cat would stay there! but I suppose they would be handy for killing rats. Nver thoght of them betraying the position of the posts!

Marina

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Something I must admit that I had not given any thought to. SSShhhh though, remember the thread on cats, don't want to start all that off again :D

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Something I must admit that I had not given any thought to. SSShhhh though, remember the thread on cats, don't want to start all that off again :D

:lol: The cat thread is alive and kicking and I've quoted Evelyn's story on it! Just to provide some Great War interest!

Marina :lol:

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Ah!! Marina,

So I see, interesting point though which I am sure that very few people thought of. Wonder if they pushed the cat away when it started giving away the positions :o

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

April 10, 1916.

It is very wonderful, isn't it? To think that I am again within a few days of seeing you all!

It is getting on for 'stand to' time, though I mustn't be rash enough to indicate the exact hour at which that not unthrilling hour is due. After that I shall be on duty for three to four hours during the night, ending at about 1.0; and as 'stand to' next day is early in the extreme, I shan't get very much sleep. I ought really to be 'down to it' now, but then you mustn't expect too much; whern did any ordinary child go to sleep on being told he was going to have a holiday? So though I haven't had much sleep, and shall perhaps be strafed by my new friend, the O.C. C Coy., for not taking better care of myself, I can't help just sitting and scrawling away, not to any particular point, but just to show I am rather pleased with things just at the moment!

Well, as I said, it is very wonderful, and I am in good form, as you can imagine.

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Ah!! Marina,

So I see, interesting point though which I am sure that very few people thought of. Wonder if they pushed the cat away when it started giving away the positions :o

'Tis a filthy slur, Sir. Cats don't stop to chat - the men enticed her and thought it worth a risk.

Marina

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To His Aunt.

B.E.F.

April 11, 1916.

Before you get this you will probably have been well beaten at Bezique, so I just sent it beforehand, to console you by showing you're not forgotten out here. But if my journey takes too long - and certainly I seem to be going to have a much longer job getting home than before - then you will no doubt have eveything ready, please, for your defeat: cards counted, and markers at zero, especially the red one, for that is the one you prefer. If, on the other hand, I get home first, I will make all arrangements for the first morning session.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

April 18, 1916.

We arrived at the Cathedral City (1) at noon, and found to our great joy that the train did not go till late afternoon. So we wnet and saw the Cathedral, and as you have gathered I lost my heart to it altogether.

We used to be very easily satisfied in Belgium with the churches there, which, though not great to behold at close quarters, being made largely of brick instead of stone, yet have a pleasant way of rising out of the trees and serving as the only landmarks on the plain. So when I really saw something good, you can imagine my huge delight.

There was an additional excitement because I was able to buy Ruskin's pamphlet on it, extracted from the book and sold at a franc in the shops. This was glorious reading, mainly because he is so tremendously excited about it - Gothic pure, unsurpassable and unaccusable': 'The Stars in their courses built it, and the nations'.......and so on. I dare say I ought to have been more excited over the choir-stalls carving, according to him, but I confess I loved the other parts much more.

(1) Amiens.

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To J.O. Whitfield

April 18,1916.

'Aetas parentum peior avis tulit

nos nequiores, mox daturos

progeniem vitiosiorem'

'Nos peres etaient plus mechants que nos aieux; nous sommes plus corrompus que n'etaient nos peres; et bientot nous laisserons des enfants encore plus vicieux que nous.'

It is not too priceless, this long tirade? And better, a gem from 'Fons Bandusiae':

'Et venerem et proelia destinant.'

'Il se prepare aux combats et a multiplier le troupeau - le petulant animal ('lascivi suboles gregis')

It comes from the translated Anthology (1752), lying about in my billet in the town of _____, the home of a prosperous and literary merchant in better days. It was necessary to communicate with you at once.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Thursday, April 20, 1916.

As you know, I'm O.C. again, so I've not had to wait long. Since then I've been, or thought myself, fearfully busy trying to keep things going. Quite honestly I am sorry he (1) went so soon, for naturally I don't pretend to the same experience or capacity for this. Of course, as I wrote to him, one does and ought to feel that it is a good game, being a Company Commander; but I do think the Company would have benefited by some more of him, and so should I. However, one must try to carry on. The secret of the whole thing, as he ran it, was not merely being busy himself, but being able to act as a sort of centre of activity and make everything move around him. In fact, I believe many very fine commanders have been successful by doing little themselves and, as it were, sitting in a kind of spider's web and controlling from inside. At present this is a very tempting picture, but I don't know nearly enough yet to be able to indulge in such methods; but one doe's learn the unimportance of one's own work and inspections and orders, etc., compared with the value of being able to make all the other subordinate officials run their own provinces for all they're worth.

(1) Capt. Barclay.

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To Mrs. Case.

B.E.F.

April 20, 1916.

Thank you very much indeed. Your delightful parcel has just come in; like the last, it contained specimens of everything a soldier likes!

I've rather a good tale for you to-day. A month ago, when we came into this town, I secured, with the Town Major's approval, a very fine house for our officer's billet. We were just taking over, when in came an agitated French Priest, who made a long and moving speech to the effect that it belonged to the Depute - an important person, of course, and also an officer in the French Army: he had several brothers in the service, and generally had great claims to consideration, and (in short) would we be so very good as not to insist on our right to occupy the house? The clergyman had been asked to plead with troops coming in, apparently, and as the French had agreed, I thought I could not (in the interest of the Entente, as well as from natural sympathy) very well do otherwise than clear out. So we took another house, and now, after some more trips to the trenches, we have returned, again not to his house.......... This afternoon the Depute's house, not many yards up the street from where I am sitting, was heavily crumped and we were not there! Poetic justice, is it not?

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To M.G. White.

B.E.F.

May 4, 1916.

Ref.: 'Manteau' (1)

Yes, Man; though if you'd seen our trenches a fortnight ago, you'ld have guessed that 'the Mother of Months' had been at it again

Filling the shadows and windy places (sic)

With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain.

But I am not being very good. Less of it. Man, Shrewsbury; and I am going there. I start to-day for England, 4th May, and Rupert Brooke would like the lilac outside my window. Ah! yes, Man; it is nearly a year now: and I think of the hollow on the plain, where I was sorry he had gone and lay, not altogether unlike Belloc, when (if you remember) musing on the Nature of Belief. (2)

(1) M.G.W. had quoted in a letter to him 'Le temps a laisse son 'manteau'

(2) At Undervelier, in The Path to Rome.

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