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Two Men - One Memorial


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very prophetic and what a letter to write, just how do you put all your possible last thoughts down for your loved ones.

Andy

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From another fellow officer:-

'I have been in your son's Company since he took over the Company in the beginning of the year, and of course I knew him well in the earlier days after the 25th September. We all loved him, officers and men, and he was entirely unselfish. The Comapny, under his command, ran smoothly, and he took an immense amount of trouble over it. The first experience we had of this push, though not so disastrous from the casualty point of view, was far more unpleasant, and all through he was magnificent. If he knew what fear was, he never showed it. I have already said that everybody loved him - the men would have gone anywhere with him. He was leading them with his usual calmness to the end. I cannot tell you how great the loss is to us, the few of us who are left. Those of us who have been through many things, pleasant and unpleasant, will never forget him.'

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From a Tutor of Magdalen:-

'I can hardly bear to write; yet, in a sense, I have been expecting the news. Do you remember the day, long ago as it seems, when Magdalen lost the Headship, and the crew came back to the barge spiritless and cowed - all but he! Ever since I knew that he had gone out, I have felt that the gallant spirit which refused to accept defeat on the river would carry him fearlessly through this greater struggle, but only too likely to the death that I sometimes fancied he would almost have desired - the death most worthy of him.

'Nothing, I think, in all my life as a teacher, has given me greater pleasure than to hear from Alington, as I often did, of the great work he was doing at Shrewsbury. Only a few weeks ago he was telling me about it. But I know also, from what he said and partly from a letter he showed me, that in the trenches he had found himself as perhaps he never had before.

'I think we most not grieve for him. It was a great life, full of force and vigour and enjoyment, nobly laid down; and the memory of it will remain with some of us to the last.

'I should not be suprised to know that these last months were to him the happiest of all. But there will be many sore hearts to-day among Magdalen men, and for myslef I feel that a light has gone out of my life.'

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This poem was first printed in The Salopian:-

Laudatori Optimo

E.H.L.S.

Players before an empty house

October's pageants go,

That now no plaudits can arouse

From you, who loved them so.

By you unheeded, as of old

The tyrant autumn breeze

Will stre our pavements with the gold

It plunders from the trees:

Unmarked by you the swallow's flights,

Cloud-shapes, and chimney tunes,

And friendly blaze of schoolroom lights

On mist-wreathed afternoons.

There is no light on hill or plain,

No sigh of wind or wood,

But seems as if it watched in vain

To hear your 'Man, that's good!'

But where on some uncharted shore

Fearlessly you look down,

A nearer pilgrim than before

To that Eternal Town,

How you must cry aloud, in praise!

God send one echo through,

To cheer the dull and dusty days

That sunder us from you.

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LETTERS

To His Mother.

B.E.F.

July 12, 1916.

White is killed, I suppose. Anyhow, I've a letter from Bailey, of Shrewsbury and the New House, saying, 'You will have heard by now' (I hadn't) ' that the thing......... has happened'. He goes on to say that he may be a prisoner; from which I infer he is reported missing, and do not hold any hopes of that kind, for we had heard that his Battalion was very badly cut up. He was my greatest friend, and loved Shrewsbury. The last letter he wrote me was just before the push, and he said, among other things, ' Anyhow, Shrewsbury and out life at the New House are immortal; that's one comfort.' I dare say it shows terrible selfishness, but I have faced the casualty list daily without a tremor for two years now, and now, when I am hard hit myself, I cry out!

Mum, he was such a dear; he was so keen on everything, and the most true 'artist', in the full sense, that I have ever known.

This month, or whatever it is (no, it's a bare fortnight, isn't it), has opened my eyes to the lot of those who sit and wait, as I have been doing since the push started. For goodness' sake, don't let this one case make you think you have any more reason than before to be anxious about my miserable safety - what difference can one example, however near home, make to the probabilities of good or evil fortune in one among millions? But I can sympathise with you, who are good enough (!) to be anxious about me, better now. Yet do please realise that one friend's death does not increase my risk or chances, any more than it diminishes it; you must not let it make you worry about it.

But I cannot be very happy, even though I did write, just before he died, to say 'Nothing matters to you or me; we're both all right, in the right place, and we know it'. I still think I spoke the truth; or pray that I may really believe it. War is a terrible thing, especially lately, as all of us know........

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To His Sister.

B.E.F.

July 13, 1916.

So you are at Bapton, are you? I wonder if the weather is what you expected - do you remember, in Bleak House, that terrible bit beginning 'It is raining in the place in Lincolnshire', where you seem to get drenched only to read? One day, perhaps, I'll try and send you the names of some friends there - gates in the meadows, and - ah well, I'll do that later, I hope.

You know I have heard M. White is missing, don't you? It is very, very sad for me, and perhaps even worse for the New House people, still at Shrewsbury, which he loved so tremendously.

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To R.F. Bailey.

B.E.F.

July 13, 1916.

Thank you very much for what it is only true to call your dear letter. The little message from the Man, as well as some hints of my own, will show you I knew the possibility of such news was always there - but does that help? Keep his letter, Phiz, after you and the Man have read and re-read the last lines. It belongs to the New House surely, and I might lose it from my luggage. The allusions to a letter of mine I can explain later, if necessary; they refer to an expression of points of view about Summer and War (I think), whose only interest can be that the Man seems to have agreed with them: but his approval seems, somehow, to make them belong to you as well; and one day I shall feel as though disloyal, if I don't repeat them.

Phiz, will you understand, when I say that I am utterly without an attitude, about our Man? I mean that, when one writes letters to people who have lost sons, shall say, one writes, I think, purely as a civilian, and with a quite honest mingling of congratulation and pride in one's sympathy; and this is not hypocrisy, because one does feel definetely under an obligation and should be grateful, and one is, I think, a little better in some real sense -

'Sangius Martyrum semen Ecclesiae'.

And (you will forgive me for talking so entirely about my own feelings, but what else is there? And you encouraged me, thank God) surely never more than now I should feel that; yet I am not man enough. Nor, I think, am I making a silly mistake in regretting a missing attitude, nor doing anything irrelevant and 'posing': for one does wish to face some way or other, and not be caught on either flank by the evil days. It is only what poor Wilde said in De Profundis, about the trees being all right because they were finding expression. Ah yes, Phiz, that is it; and what if you do not grasp anything to express? Am I to go on? Good.

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Well, so I tried the other extreme; suggested to myself that, while I could write to other bereaved people, I was this time completely knocked out. But no, Phiz; that is not so either: certainly it must be No! (And yet,......) Then, I think, I rebounded from that, and thought of many brave men, and said I must be stout-hearted: 'The Man is dead: carry on' At which I merely turned, and laughed aloud at my lonely self for a fool: for that's all out of a book, and I don't truly feel it. I did think, however, of just trying to express a little more by saying a little less: suppose I just wrote 'CREDO' on a sheet, and posted it to you. Rather a tremendous claim, though, I thought, considering. There will be those (you, I believe, for one) who could make it without a tremor: somehow I feel it is too much for me, on paper; though I do tell myself hourly it is true, alone. Was I not almost passionately invoking Hoj and all the Saints in the calendar aloud, in the trench, just five minutes before your news came? Let us leave it at that. 'Credo quia impossible', sometimes; but 'Crdeo', notwithstanding! And that, surely, is one and a half pages too much, all about my feelings: and not a word for the New House. But don't think, either you or the Man, that I haven't hgad you in my mind every moment. That is a great saying of our Man's in the letter he sent me; very typical, because he had such an enormous influence on the New House always, dating from old Broadlands days, and , all of that, he writes as one quite unaware!

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I doubt whether any man was loved quite in the same sort of way as ours, or had such a colossal effect, with so entire an absence of claiming it, on the people he lived with. That is why I find it so hard to send you and the Man the sort of sympathy I would give years of my life to send: as well as argue with the church over the way that, whatever its foundation may now look like (!), it is really doing very well.

I will try and write again, and to the Man: forgive this lamest of letters (from 'trenches' theoretically, but - for a bit - reserve Compamy; so we have more chances of writing and more facilities in many ways), which I fear leads nowhere, but just stumbles about. Tell the Man and yourself that I love you very dearly: it is quite true, God knows: I cannot see anything else worth saying: but that, I believe, is; and I think our Man would have wished it: and I think he knows I am not lying!

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To R.A. Knox.

B.E.F.

July 16, 1916.

Thank you ever so much for your wonderfully good letter. It was not till to-day (it came yesterday) that I realised how good it was; at first I read it, like Phiz's, with a sort of blank stupidity, and only after reading them both many, many times did I see how splendid they both were.

Ronnie, it is very terrible; more so, I think, than yesterday. There is a curious method by which one pushes aside some feelings that get in the way (ordinary second-rate sort of aversions, I mean; as to unpleasant sights, for instance) with an almost physical sense of effort which becomes half-mechanical; (I say second-rate aversions, for I do not dare to come near saying that I shift heavier visitations in the same way:) and so it was, perhaps, that I got behind that sort of callousness, or tried to, for a few hours. But just as it is a kind of effort, so it lives; especially when one is not moving about and being busy. And I don't know that it is much of a shelter worth trying, anyway. One is alone, terribly alone, without the Man (of whom you, most surely.........). Yet I find Herbert Garton tremendously comforting: one of the best of men.

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To H.E.E. Howson.

B.E.F.

July 16, 1916.

If I could write the sort of letter I know I ought to try and send you, I should be the happiest man alive, in spite of everything. For it seems, somehow, that you must be in the very centre of the pain that goes with every word of the news; since to be in the New House all the time without our Man ........ And yet, I don't know; for only to-day I wrote to Ronnie, and wished all the time that I could have the chance of giving all I possessed for one day with you, Phiz, and him.

Man, he was in very good form, our Man. Look at this(1). It's an answer to a sheet of C.2121, with 'Man: (senders number) 9/95: June 1916: Man' written on it; enclosed I 'glancing grass'. I send the answer, or answers: it seems to have pleased him. Oh yes, he was in very good form; and it is all the better for the fact that, a month before, he had been a little depressed, owing to a (very typical) feeling that he was being less competent than he might. 'Since cleared away,' you see; that is very good.

I dare say you saw my letter to Phiz. I don't think, Man, that it will be clever to try and belittle the calamity. One wonders, sometimes, whether the 'Loss is common to the race' attitude is any good, and I am pretty sure it isn't. Too many priceless things have happened ever since Broadlands; and to pretend to drop (even to the small degree which might be possible) this memory, is surely a loss rather than a gain. There never was a man really like ours, and I think the answer must be: 'So much the better for the men that owned him; still better, the more they remember.'

(1) See post #430

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Oh Man dear, I am sticking down all this pilosophy, and I do hope it's all right: I try to offer something, for what it's worth, and please don't be angry if the ring is a bit hollow: the tune is a bit shaky, but it is the right tune; of that I am sure. What you want is a great strong man, with a faith like the foundations of all the hills; and if I, evidently, Heaven knows, am not fit to kiss the feet of such a man as that, much less to be the kind of real support I would give eveything to be, yet I thank God all day and every day that, if ever two men answered that description, I believe they are in that house with you now. Do let them talk about the Man, and what they really think is the explanation of it all; if I were to be shot tomorrow, I would leave you that as my last message. You mustn't try and carry it off alone: I know what that's like. Dear me, Man, a heavy letter; I almost wonder if the Man's smiling over my shoulder. So clumsy and so voluble, isn't it? But not wrong, Man; no.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

July 20, 1916.

Received the casualty list. Yes, it is M.G. White, I am afraid. I like to think of him, as Browning did of Abt Vogler; say that his million ideas of music, poetry, teaching, friendship are now utterly satisfied: and it seems at least mistaken to griev for him too much.

Ah me! but I was nearly saying it is a cruel world. What a wonderful thing the faith must be, when it is able to keep one absolutely proof against everything! I sometimes think that, in the Divine Arithmetic, 1 and 1 do not make 2. I mean that one is apt to look at the tragedies of the War, and say, 'This, and this, and this - how awful!', while all the while it may not be more awful for anybody, God included, for wenty myriads of families to be bereaved than for one; it is at least arguable that no one family suffers more, and perhaps, even, it suffers less, by the thought that others too need comfort. I do not know, but I try my little hardest to believe.

It is dark, and 'He is a God that hideth Himself'; but a man may walk, when he cannot see his hand in front of his face - and arrive after all! It is not only in the trenches, I expect, that there is such a thing as the great 'Stand Down' and the Great Dawning!

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

July 25, 1916.

I could not possibly do anything but send him (1) a copy of Rupert Brooke's Poems, called '1914', because there are poems about the soldier which seem to me to hit perhaps the very highest note that has ever been struck during the War. No one who has not been here knows, I think, how difficult those tremendous ideals are, but is the better, I think, out here for reading them. The only thing I am anxious about is lest I may have given some one a copy before, at home.

You will, in any case, know the one that speaks of his life after death; but I think 'Saftey' is the greatest thing of the War. I have just been reading it again in Garton's copy, and was enormously impressed.

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To J.O. Whitfield.

B.E.F.

Aug. 2, 1916.

That was surley a very fine, and if I may say so, a very brave letter. I think you hardly understood what I meant, though. It can be best explained by pointing out that there is a deal of difference between inability to feel one and the other of two propositions - 'Carry on'; and 'The Man is dead: Carry on.' The first is being done; the second has a sort of brilliant ring about it which, if attainable, would be rather fun, but happens to be entirely foreign. What I really meant was what I called absence of attitude altogether: one plods along, not particularly hearty and not particularly sensitive; for some at least of one's emotions here die easily: after a month and a half in the line, with a period out in supports, one becomes rather a low order of being - I mean all but the good men do. We are now no great distance from the Man, if you understand; and life above ground has been very good for some days: we are 'seeing the light' (in a sense no Greek ever guessed), and a very delightful change that is. There is actually a bathing-place in this village, and after the enormous heat of the day a bathe is very good.

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Fantastic tributes, makes you wish that you had met him as a man. The poem and the tributes most definetely do bring a lump to the throat.

Andy

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To C.A. Alington.

B.E.F.

Aug.2, 1916.

Well, we are resting at the moment in a village: and very attractive it is, after several weeks of life in, or just behind, the line. Any more definite allusion to our place is, of course, out of the question, except that M.G.W.'s district is not very far; though I don't really know even now, within many miles, where that is. You, no doubt, understand?

Meanwhile, everything is very good: we marched a few miles before breakfast, by way of getting a bit of air into our lungs before the heat; then I worked on a machine gun for some hours, and actually had a bathe to-night.

And so term is over, and I know - how well! - what that last week has been like. I suppose they came round, as they always do, to say good-bye, though with more regret than ever - alas! - when they came to you; and there would be the last Sunday evening Chapel, and your address (1) (I await it eagerly); and the almost coscious look of 'Good-bye' on the face of the Breiddens (2), which (even before I came away) used to send one's heart into one's mouth; and some of us would be thinking how we paced the School Yard, years ago, on just such a Summer night; and the younger amongst us would be wondering how the place could carry on during another year, when this and that place was empty - having not learnt yet from experience that a school is the only immortal thing on earth, and the only thing about which all the platitudes are true and all the longings undying.

It is not like that in the Army - at least, I think, not to the same extent. Not but that the number of adorable days here is not incalcuble; but it si not quite the same story..............

Well, well, this had better go now. Let me have your address in Chapel, won't you? Later on, perhaps, I will send you some news, should there be any. At present we are happy enough in this existence, wondering a little, but generally too tired and contented for more than wonder; and, perhaps luckily, we are not allowed too much time for that, either. In fact, now I come to think of it, I doubt if I've done any of that for some time now. It seems a trifle futile, considering how very little there is to be wondered at, and how many better men have contrived to get through with no wondering at all. But I would like to see your address, all the same.

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To H.E.E. Howson.

B.E.F.

Aug. 6, 1916.

Incredibly good concert in the orchard last night. One Baynes (late C.U.B.C.; he rowed against me) is now our M.O. and very remarkable he is: he is one of those men who sing like birds, and swim, and dive (with somersaults), and do a lot of shouting, and are very good, in fine. You should have heard him take 300 men clean off their feet with 'Songs of Araby' last night; an old, old friend, of course, but I never saw it so effective. Nor anyone so priceless as the modern R.F.C. man: he is perfectly immaculate, salutes all officers, and drills like a guardsman. He was much in request at the concert.

Oh Man, The Path is always in my valise; and I read not only the tale of The Emilian Way (I seem to have known one or two such !), but also the story which tells how 'Youth came up that valley at evening, borne upon a southern air'. I know what that means; it seems to make more frequent visits these latter days. It is the best book in the world, and has been read by (I think) nine officers, in more than one Battalion, since I got it from you.

I must stop now, Man dear, as time is rather short before parade. You will understand, this leaves me very well, thinking everlastingly of the place we and the Man all loved, praying (as C.A.A. would say) for the peace of our Jerusalem, and in no way so very far removed, I think, form our Man himself. Yet not definitely very near, either.

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To H.E. Walker.

B.E.F.

Aug. 8, 1916.

By the way, The Four Men, you know 1 Well, I'm not going to launch forth into a tirade about it; but an officer of the 60th told me yesterday that he liked it enormously, and more than The Path to Rome. It is awfully good, but not, I think, quite such a great affair. I mention it, because I have an idea it was about in your time in V.b that the rage for Belloc began - my rage, I mean; for, no doubt, those who knew him found out all about him long ago.

I will not weary you with any laments over Mr. White: you know well enough what it must mean to me and all of us. It was indeed a shock, though, coming so soon after the news of Mr. Woodroffe, who, besides being I suppose one of the best men in all the R.B. and in one of the most celebrated families, was partly responsible for my joining it, and in rather a special way seemed to have an enormous claim on my gratitude.

Meanwhile we are sitting, not actually in the trenches, but 'somewhere', and awaiting orders, behind. The weather is glorious; so is your letter; so are you, and I would give anything to see you; so is France; and so I think is the whole look of affairs in general (when one is able to look at it in the right way, and not grumble at the price when the casualty lists come out); and in a word, I am very happy, and would like you to think so !

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To His Sister.

B.E.F.

Aug. 10, 1916.

Meanwhile, there is your poem. Which, led me say at once, I quite definitely like; it seems to me (1) to be true, which is more than you can say for some poetry. I mean that this is just what right-minded people do, and ought to, feel when (as I at the moment) they are near a river. I think (2) the metre is the right length. I mean, it obviously ought to be short, as yours is. To write in ten-syllable lines, in the eighteenth-century manner, is to give up the game, of forty points of it, before you start. (3) Rhymes; h'm, well, yes. A pendant would growl over 'cause' and 'yours', because of the 'r'. I know one man who always fumes at that, because he says you are making it 'cau-r-se'. Otherwise they're all right, aren't they ? (4) Words; I say, not 'gladness and joy', because this 1 + 1 = 0, rather, doesn't it ? 'It's all right in the winter time' (as the song doesn't say) in the good old carol, because it's quaint: here it's either nothing or a quotation; and there, that's pulled the bits of your poem out for inspection, but now comes the re-reading as a complete poem, and that's the real test; and if it means the Brook, as do Tennyson's and Kingsley's efforts in the same line, surley it's a poem worth writing. And to me, it does mean the Brook, and there you are. This is rather a long criticism: is it the sort of thing you wanted, I wonder ? Oh, I say, there's only one more thing, and that is whether you could have made it a little more just the one Brook you've got your eye on. This covers all brooks, and perhaps that's better; but my own opinion, if you want it, is that, if you'd pinned it down fast to one brook, with two wee lines, only, to make it stand out, it would have made it even more vivid. Yet, as I've already said, it does bring out the brook very, very clearly, even as it is. Dear me, this is too long, and I must get to business.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Aug. 11, 1916.

This morning I was alone; so I went along the river bank, and made a highly important discovery, which is that F.S. Post Card makes a capital boat in skilful hands like yours or mine. I put one afloat this morning, within twenty yards of a huge artillery camp on the bank, but not in the least abashed by the watchful eyes of one or two inquisitive gunners at their ease on the bank. I put her well out, and with a poke from a stick off she went. All went well (this was a very important voyage, and you must forgive me if I dwell on it rather lengthily) for quite a long time; it was necessary to throw one big stone into a shallow, to prevent her coming to rest much too soon. And there was a certain home-sick look about her (perhaps she caught it from her designer), which was a little too apt to make her aim at unexpected little harbours on the way down. With this exception, however, she did well, and it was no fault of hers that she did go right down to join the ____ Oh dear, here's the censor again; one can't even run one's private navigation without being careful. What stopped her, after what would have been at Bapton a very good run of some hundreds of feet, with a regular forest of thick weeds on a corner, into which she not only butted, and waited some time, but actually slid right into a little wave, which opened a passage for her, and closed her in later. And there she lies, and will lie for a long time, as I fully expect. Not a bad trip, though, by any means.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Aug. 14, 1916.

This will reach you too late to be a proper birthday letter. I had hoped to write two days ago, but it couldn't be done. But, at any rate, let me now send all my very best love and prayers, and wish you many happy returns of the day.

I think, if it must be granted that I am to be away at all, you would agree that this, of all places on earth, is the most wonderful for me to be in. I must not, I suppose, describe it at all yet, though a bit later I see no reason why at least a general outline, without names, should not be given of what to me has been the most incredibly beautiful and thrilling thing I have ever seen on earth.

We are not in the line as I write. I am sitting on an inverted biscuit tin (my bath !), and what I see looks rather like the Great Orme's Head on a crowded day. Ah, it is wonderful, wonderful; everything that one dreamed of. ..........Well, I will tell you more about it later. Meanwhile, there is no doubt I am portentously pleased with everything I see and hear ( if you understand), and highly fit and happy.

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