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Two Men - One Memorial


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To Mrs. Reid.

B.E.F.

Aug. 14, 1916.

This little line I have meant to write for a very long time, and now that Capt. Wilmer has your address to give me, as I have just found, I will write at once; only saying that neither that nor any other excuse (such as our occupations, for instance) is really any reason, I fear, for my delay.

Schoolmasters are narrow-minded creatures, I am told, and this, perhaps, explains the kind of jealousy which makes me sometimes feel that none can miss Malcolm more than I do: sometimes I am good enough to make a generous exception in favour of his family and of the New House, but not always even of them. It is absurd, of course, for do I not know perfectly well how enormously (more than any man I ever knew; it is not, obviously, true of everybody, however much it ought to be) he loved 'his ain folk' and his home, and was constantly talking of you all? This and that he would mean to do when he got home for the holidays, jaust as he used to when he was a boy: it was good to hear him. Yes, I do know really how sad a blow it must be to you all.

Ah, but I have seen his letter written just before the advance, and it is wonderful, is it not? I have good reason to know of one friend of his, who wlaked over some lately German trenches; with what thought, I leave you to imagine. I do not know, myself, where he fell; but it is no idle saying as I may explain later, if I tell you how surely every tree, and village, and trench speak of him and his achievement to me, as I pass by............A most wonderful letter, surely, and so typical of him: it is, indeed, an inspiration to any soldier that reads it. But more important than all this is the great fact that he was perfectly happy about it all - and whoever could imagine he would be otherwise? - and that for him there is nothing but a frenzy of congratulations, even of envy, though for us there's always the almost intolerable blank.

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I can say that, now: I could not feel it a month ago, when it was too new. But now (in a tiny little degree) I seem to think I guess the way he went, and with what colossal triumph and shouting he really ought to be greeted.

Yes, but that is easily produced here, that sense of immense success in his doings, and of a wildly inimitable abd challenging example to us ithers; but for you it cannot quite be the same. A letter like this cannot, however light-headed (at the moment) its writer, really consist of nothing but a beating of the drums! Abd I do ask you to believe that I most deeply sympathise with you; most deeply and most easily, in the loss of your dear brother and my friend. No: in spite of those last two words, I am not going to be jealous any longer! Only very sorry for you all, and hoping most devoutly for your comfort.

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To H.E.E. Howson.

B.E.F.

Aug. 18, 1916.

We go up into the trenches to-morrow, so I've not time for a very long letter. Ine can, I think, feel more quietly and happily about our dear Man now; at least; I feel much happier than at first. I think his wonderful letter must lead that way. Our bit of the line will not be what is known as a soft job, though our present intentions after arrival are somewhat doubtful. But I would like you to think I'm fit and well and happy, and not to be anxious at all.

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To His Sister.

B.E.F.

Aug. 18, 1916.

Lately we have been seeing 'Punches' and 'Bairnsfathers', and things galore, though I don't think it's very likely that we shall be quite so comfy for the next week. We are, in fact, going into the trenches to-morrow, and we know that it will not be what is called a 'cushy' job. More than we do not know, just at present; but 'keep up your best courage', as the dear, dear, patient, and little understood, and most adorable Riflemen say in simple letters home which I have censored and send with mine.

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but it is no idle saying as I may explain later, if I tell you how surely every tree, and village, and trench speak of him and his achievement to me, as I pass by..........

Oh, this is sad!

Marina

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To C.A. Alington

B.E.F.

Aug. 19, 1916.

Thank you enormously for your letter and the copy of The Salopian. I needn't say, what every one maust have sais when they heard it, how wonderful I thought your two addresses (1). I liked hugely the definition of Education: it seemed exactly to combine the two sides of the thing; so that neither the Philistine hero (for all his merits) nor the mere artist can quite claim perfection; a sort of Goliath Leon Berthelini character (is that the name of the man in 'Providence and the guitar'?[2] I mean him anyway) is, I suppose, tolerable, but not either alone.

(1) 'A conversation' : published in Shrewsbury Tales.

(2) In New Arabian Nights.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Aug. 28, 1916.

I expect you'ld like some horrors before long!! I dare say I can give you some one day, but it doesn't seem particularly necessary. There is nothing so very romantic over the remains of brave men blown to every kind of bits weeks ago, as to make them worth remembering too much, nor in recollections of the same thing happening to one's own people in one's trench, though, so far, only in milder degree as regards numbers. Oh! but the R.A.M.C.! They are wonderful. Seventy six hour's carrying without sleep, one party had. And I'll never foget, after my corporal (I call him 'mine') was killed, how, on call for stretcher bearers, four came doubling towards the exposed place, and I had to shout them back, all but one, the others being needlessly exposed. That arrival nearly broke me down altogether.

It is a wonderful world you know!!

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

September 1, 1916.

I am now (for a considerable period; probably; perhaps - well, no; but anyway a good long rest, I can say; during which you need not have the least anxiety therefore!) right, right back, several miles behind the most beautiful Cathedral I know, which I hope, if I'm lucky, I may see again soon, at closer range than the railway.

We are quite exhausted. After a terrible firty-eight hours (on and off) bombardment of varying degrees in trenches, we came out and marched to bivouac in reserve. I went dead off to sleep several times on the road, and bumped into the man ahead! Comic, that; but at the time I was not happy, because I was so done that it was a struggle to get in at all. This was one of the few times I've been so done that I had difficulty in keeping going, and it is, I suppose, rather a good thing for people who are as a rule reasonably strong, at any rate to be raelly 'done' occasionally -(not, of course, that I've been out here eleven months without finding out; but seldom, if ever,, was I so tired as last night): it keeps them mindful of what sort of task is suitable for the smaller, and perhaps weaker, among the men.

Well, I will write to-morrow some more about the things we have been through. At present, there's no need to say more than that there has been indeed good cause to thank God for the events of the last three weeks. (1)

(1) Spent in the trenches by Delville Wood.

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To C.A. Alington.

B.E.F.

Sept. 1, 1916.

It would not be justice to our own people not to point out that we were gloriously miserable up there, and had the most beastly time, thank you! That wood, with its horrible battle signs, was indeed no joy-party: and it seems likely to remain an offence before God and man for a long, long time, for it is not easy to see how to mend matters under present conditions. Yet even so, on one's better moments, when not too 'done', one could see it was all very glorious, and even from the horrors - nothing very new, only so ubiquitous - that were all round it was not hard to catch some slender inspiration..........Well, well.

And here we are, right back, miles from anywhere - though the most lovely cathedral on earth (I think) is within a day's march. And we find we are farther from shops and civilisation than ever - it is thirty odd days now since we saw a shop - and in spite of being happy enough (as we ought to be: the last forty-eight hours bombardment left me unhurt, but hit by little pieces literally a dozen times, I should think; only falling stuff on the clothes or helmet, and only a few nasty little jars, really, which but for the helmet would, I think, have done for me, but my dug-out was broken in over me once, and - well in fact, I was very lucky through the whole of a very long and tedious bit of crumping; that's all really). - As I was saying, instead of being happy to be alive, we're already 'strafing' at not having ordered things to read (and so forth - see below), and in fact, to put it plainly - could you be so very good as to send me out something? I don't a bit know what, but I'm getting horribly stupid and ignorant of everything: has nobody written a book lately which one ought to read? (That's really dreadful, but I can say that, - as I'm so notoriously not a seeker after books that are 'in the swim', so to speak - without being misunderstood!)

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Hasn't somebody written something like those Housemaster's Letters lately, or some pedagogic work? And all this panicking about education that goes on in The Times; do tell me, when you next write, where we are. One would think, from the way people talk, that there would be no England, as we knew it, at all after the War! -Or, indeed, anything printed would be simply pounced upon out here - you can's imagine how mentally starved one gets, and all without any particular reason, if one would once make up one's mind to the prospect of treating books as what the Army calls 'consumable stores'; I mean of getting a book out and not minding leaving it behind in billets. Ah, if every one did that! For we had to send home practically everything we owned, lately, to get luggage down to weight.

There, I've got that grievance off - I've said much the same thing to my people too. It's all one's fault for not asking sooner; so is the absolute starvation which seems to threaten one's religious attitiude out here - unless one is already one of the great ones. Then again we hear a few sermons - about once a month, perhaps; not more than a handful, ever since I came out; and not till to-day have I written home to ask for something to read to keep one's soul alive. One's so appallingly stupid, that's all: it is easy to arrange better, really.

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I said that I would explain 'and so forth', just now. It means I've been made sort of O.C. Entertainments (!) for our rest period, and am too blank to be able to think of anything clever beyond football and concerts - 'and so forth', and it's all very vague and unsatisfactory. And in fact, as I've not had a proper night's sleep for ages, I'm writing drivel which should never have had begun, and had better go to bed.

P.S. Do send me a sermon letter: I'm sure that's what I want. A kind of religious Braodsheet, you know; they are wanted.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

September 6, 1916.

This first visit to the wood was the most unpleasant time we have had, in some ways, which is consoling - now it's over !!!

Our casualties, owing to vigorous digging which the men put in, were quite small. One rather tragic figure, though he was brave enough, and only rather badly shaken, was Wallis, our comic singer, who had certainly had as bad a time as most others among the men.

It was in the redreation room at Arras, in the ____, that, he first came out strong as a humorist; and to see the poor fellow scared badly - and no wonder - during these later days of out trip, was sad for any one who remembered his impersonation of that irate husband in search of the Toreador, or his song 'Leetle by leetel, and beet by beet':-

I am not fishing, though here I sit:

I'm only drowning a worm in it

Little by little, bit by bit.

All of which, of course, was reproduced at _______, at that quite memorable starlit concert in the orchard. Still, a rest will no doubt revive him.........

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Horrors? Well, yes, I suppose so; but there seems no useful purpose in recalling them. Even the most lamentable remains of brave men, blown to every sort of bits, and accusingly unburied beneath the stars, it was not hard to catch a rather obvious inspiration. There is some rather grim tale of a certain hand protruding through the parapet (such as you see withered and beckoning, and not ghastly at all, near the dreadful valley of Tophet, which lies to the west, nearer the village's brick-dust) in some trenches far away from here, whcih a certain Regiment grasped familiarly as they passed by. I am not at all sure whether this was a profane act at all, even though done in jest. Myself, as I said on hearing it, I do not feel humorous about the dead at all: I feel more inclined to salute them: in fact, when alone, I generally do. But it is not impossible, I think, to see something grimly sacramental in this curious greeting of theirs; and I believe the shade of that warrior smiled to see it, and knowing the hands that grasped his for those of new comrades, he would not be troubled at all.

Oh! dear, this is poor stuff. But what would you have?

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Sept. 7, 1916.

There was a lorry going from Brigade H.Q. to Abbeville at 10, carrying Quartermasters and Mess Corporals and casual officers, in search of purchases of various kinds; and I was sent with our Q.M. (Paine) to get various odds and ends for any one that wanted them. I dare say it was a kind of excuse for getting me a holiday, but anyway sundry officers are the richer by towels, shaving soap, slippers, wine, tobacco (oh no; I left that behind at the canteen, a bad business!), and so forth. Rather a good game, seeing all your money gradually fade away, and then remembering you'll get it all back next day.

After a most wonderful ride, we found the lorry gone off, not even having given us five minutes grace. What our Q.M. did was to catch no less a man than the A.D.M.S., just leaving for the town in his ambulance. So we got on that, and were there in no time. The Brigadier has a lovely 'Chateau' in the valley, and I noticed that he has real chairs to sit on; I mean, leather arm-chairs that one might dream of in a dug-out! But I suppose every one thinks his neighbours are more cosy than himself in the Army, and certainly the B'dier did not enjoy his day any more than I did.

With us was an interpreter - with terrific good rumours; rather tantalising this sort of thing, I fear, but you can't have those yet!.

You know there is a good deal to be said for riding of a morning, through the wonderful country that is really France; real valleys and hills, and a real harvest waiting to be brought in, and real trees at which you look in suprise, to see if it is true that they have really have their branches, and are not torn from their roots by shells. Even now, after leaving the salient months ago, a valley of any pronounced character still strikes one as a glorious novelty.

Andy

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Hi Marina,

I thought the hand saga rang a bell somewhere.

Andy

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Continued.

Well, we reached the town. Throughout the day I made the wineshop my depot (let me add hastily that it is a wholesale place!) for my parcels, and after making a few purchases I went off to see the Cathedral. It stands wonderfully well above the neighbouring houses, and though it is not like 'The Cathedral', it was quite enough to make me catch my breath, on seeing its two towers suddenly round the corner. Late Gothic, I suppose, but Gothic good and unmistakable: and the boast on the west door, 'Dilexi decorum Domus tuae' (dated 1624, by the way), was worth making.

There was a curious monument (I suppose to St. Wulfran) standing in the middle of the chancel; a gold, mitred abbot, facing the congregation with so realistic an attitude that I could not, for a moment, be sure that it was not some priest reciting some very special office. Though if so, and even if not so, why back to the Altar?

Yes, indeed I stood still and praised God for that facade. So, as usual, I went into my own place to pray. I met tragedy, though, on my way out. (Mais, mon Dieu, le beau tableau!) It was a black clad woman sobbing into her handkerchief by a pillar near the west end, watched commiseratingly by a girl with two little children. It was a temptation, almost, to ambush her and murmur 'Du courage!' or something of that sort, but I thought not........

This is the sort of thing that makes me feel the incarnation of selfishness, for really believing in my foolish moments that the War, taken as a whole, is not such bad fun........

There was one quite famous half-hour or so, actually in a second-hand bookshop, though two and a half pennies for reading The Vision of Er (in an old collegiate edition, I suppose) is not bad going!! True to my pedagogue instinct, perhaps, I also got a old copy of Horace, just to throw away, and a thing with German in it. These were both well worth getting, just for a few days, at least. Here I must stop, as space is running out.

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To His Mother.

B.E.F.

Sept. 7, 1916.

I read The Vision of Er after breakfast; voila assez!

Fussy, otherwise: fuss with that map of billets for the Division, mild fuss I mean; the Battalion are not worrying me for it, but my incompetence is, and I am already sick of compass bearings. Mild fus, too, with the football arrangements, though Dennet is being splendid with them.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Sept. 1916.

Books. Do send me some Novel (or something) that people are talking about. What does one read, nowadays, of anything? My mind is a complete blank, and I get daily stupider and more cabbage-like. Is there anything in the 7d. series(no, not that, I thin) that is really good just now? Do you know that for over thirty days I've not been near a place where you could buy anything in print at all, or anything else, and I'm simply starved (mentally, I mean !! Not otherwise)?. I lived for a week on J. Verne's Centre de la Terre, borrowed from a school master at ______. Which reminds me, I've been terribly starved for some devotional book, and if you could send out one, Knox Little's perhaps: oh dear, oh dear, look at this list, and this request has come nearly last; it's rather dreadful. Sometimes, in these little chrches, I have pounced greedily, like a famished beast, on an old, tattered volume of Huguenot or Roman sermons, to catch any glimpse of a message of exhortation from any casual line, and found it, every time; but I ought to have written long ago, to ask for something fuller.............

I believe the thing would be if I could have something (turned to secular literature again) sent out periodically, of a cheap nature, to leave and lose. One doesn't hope to return smokes, which cost more; and yet, just because books will and must be lost now, one hesitates to ask for them. It is the wrong end of the stick, surely!!

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Sept. 9, 1916.

A Civilian Reaction. 1st week Sept. 1916.

If it seems, as it probably does, that my letters are about anything but the Push and the War, this does not so much imply a conscientious dread of the censor (myself, mainly) as a rather definite feeling that, for the time, it is rather good to have a change. And I have perticularly good opportunities of letting the War alone for a week, for I have been made to run a little committee to look after 'games', i.e. a concert, football, cross-coutry running, and so forth; and as this takes more time than one might think, we have been given a good deal of time free from the not very humorous parades which the Battalion has while out at rest. I don't, as a matter of fact, excuse myself the early morning march (7.30 - 8.30, usually), because, though I am notoriously a horrible person to get out of bed, I do definitely enjoy this show enormously, and it does a little to keep one fit; so, though not compelled, I generally go.

It is true that I've been asked occasionally, 'What it is that this lazy, mysterious Sports Committee does?' But I tell them that it is their jealousy and ignorance that makes them ask!

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It's a bit like the Army, at first sight, to put me into association football, but I suppose an Old Blue is supposed to know something of how to start things of the kind: that is one explanation. Anyway, let me clam that a concert is being given to-night, and that our football ground is remarkably good. So is the team, but we let the Captain of the side do all that, naturally, so the aforesaid 'L.M.S. Committee' claims no credit there. We beat the Trench Mortar Battery handsomely yesterday.

However, what I was saying was that a reaction has rather set in, and for a week I've been rather enjoying the different outlook. Of course the visit to the big town - was a day to remember; but there was an excursion to a smaller market town, quite soon after we came here, which stood out at the time as a day of wonder. Remember, I had not seen a shop for over thirty days; and imagine what it was like to be confronted, after a delightful ride with Heycock, with two really standing streets (no ruins), full of little shops where you could buy civilised things like teacups, books (there were at least twenty, in all, in the village; twenty volumes I mean!), and even shirts, to say nothing of fruit and wine, etc. :_but no tobacco, ezcept the French, which is rather hopeless, though I once loved their cigarettes, I remember.

They know how to make omelettes there, too, but that's by the way............

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This is all very well, and of course the militarism must come back, and come quickly. If the whole Army said 'Now, let's be civilians', the Hun would have a fine time! But I tell myself that perhaps it doesn't do much harm right back here for once; and, considering the total abandonment of my civilian life with which I took the plunge into the Army, I see no reason to doubt my ability to get back into the groove! Let's hope so, as the groove however narrow it is, I take it, what I am here to move in!!

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To H.E.E. Howson.

B.E.F.

Sept. 9, 1916.

I was just saying, overleaf, to myself, that I had met a good man. He was dining at our Head Quarters the other night; I forget his name, or rather I never heard it; but he was Adjutant Cambridge O.T.C., like Maclachan at Oxford. I said, when he came in, to myself that you would have called him a great man; for when we were introduced to him, after getting up in the middle of our dinner, he took just no notice beyond a glance, and went on peeling his coat. This was glorious, though he didn't care a damn what our names were, he made himself very entertaining at dinner.

We are, for the moment, miles upon miles behind the land of the 'Push', from which the Division has come out: sufficient that we spent three weeks there, and the Division is supposed to have made a great name. Our Battalion was spoken very well of, I hear; we did not make any organised attack, but were siad to have held on to the captured trenches in a satisfactory manner: we had a longer go, naturally, than anybody else in the Brigade, as it was not the turn of the Battalion to go over the top this time. I don't think I want to bother about this Push just now, though. It is Autumn, and there are good things about. And, between ourselves, that Wood (1) is not one of the better places. I said the Division had been in for one dip in the Push, - you understand.........

Well, this morning there was the real hungry, academic mist, that has marked the beginning of a new epoch every autumn these twenty odd years in my memory. Last time I saw it would be somewhere near Ypres, I suppose. There were some unusually good trees about (they look strange, somehow, with their branches on); and there was a deal of dew, and I confess I ran a few hundred yards before I would consent to eat breakfast. Not much wind, nor your cattle(2), here; but what Phiz will remember as 'good birds' were eating placidly and rather enviably, in a way. And though we cannot exactly be said to be getting near a chance of fires - not the fires you mean anyway! - we can still remember that it is going to happen to you. Also, though I don't know how far this is due to the autumn air which came like an inspiration from heaven today, we are beginning to think about books.

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