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Two Men - One Memorial


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To His Sister

B.E.F.

Oct. 12, 1915.

I was pretty sleepy last night, and I slept without a break for eleven hours, but in camp. Oh! but the dawn over Flanders, and the booming of a big bombardment farther away, in a different direction, and the glorious sort of war-wind with just the right amount of suggested pestilence in it that blew over the fields as the sun rose, and reminded one that one was in a big show; and right below one the wood, huge on the map, ten short stumps on the field; and the city of Ypres with not a house standing entire; and the terribly sad view of glorious churches, battered to blazes, senn as the mist cleared in the morning, weeping to break one's heart across the desolate plain.

Oh! if I could always be as happy as I was during that trial trip, I should not have much to complain of! And the men were so glorious.They'd been in the trenches continuosly for many, many days, begrimed from head to foot, their eyes heavy with want of sleep, and their whole appearance quite different from that of men who've not been up. It was a very, very young Corporal, and there was a deuce of a bombardment going on, and the Sergeant-Major met him: 'What are you doing?' 'Oh! just issuing rations, Sergt.-Maj.' That is not particularly remarkable, no doubt, and that is why it is worth quoting, as being so frightfully typical. Well, there wasn't any risk as far as I was concerned, and it was only when we got back that somebody said, 'By Gad, we've been under fire; what fun!'

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To Mrs. Whitfield

9th Battalion, Rifle Brigade,

B.E.F.

Oct. 12, 1915.

That afternoon two of us got one and a half hours notice to get up to the trenches 'for instruction' with another Battalion: and actually during those one and a half hours in came your parcel!

We had a glorious time there; we were heavily shelled, coupled with almost complete safety; and what more interesting eaperience could you wish? Safety, because our front line was too close to theirs to be aimed at, but our support trenches (and in fact the back of my dug-out, only - by fragments - occasionally, in the front line) got hit. Yet only one casualty, as their shells mostly fell between us and them. It went on for two hours and was called 'fairly intense', i.e. nothing like that before an attack. Digging a new trench at sixty yards from the Bosches under flares and (bad) rifle shots was less of an arm chair show, rather!

I would like you to think that my thirty six hours there are a good omen, for they were absolutely the best I ever knew. I loved everything; at every step, even in the 'horrible mire and clay', I seemed so much the more admitted right into the Great Show. But I am getting foolish and must stop. It is because I am very, very happy.

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To J.O. Whitfield.

9th R.B. - B.E.F.

October 12, 1915.

I believe rather firmly that there is no Spinality in War. But you must go to the front line trenches to prove that, or the conditions are hardly fulfilled. What the support line may be like I do not know, for during a recent bombardment I gallantly turned my back on it; since the front line, let me add, was only forty yards from the Bosches and their artillery couldn't very well go for us there. But I confess to-day to experiencing once a very uncomfortable sensation, in reserve. 'That', I said to myself, 'seems to be spinal, and therefore I must have left the War behind.'

And indeed I had. The inconceivable prospect of a wooden-lined dug-out, in reserve, with the yellow leaves and the October term, and nothing but the shells, still bullying the battered remains of the city a couple of hundred yards away, to remind one of realities - this was indeed a change. We weren't idle: six hours digging per day keeps one fit all right. But this sort of digging is not like making a new trench at fifty yards, and there is time (when the three aeroplane whistles go, and work and staring upwards are forbidden) to look over one's shoulder and watch the crumbled houses and ruined towers. 'Hate the business?' Why, there is not a blade of grass or a broken brick which does not remind one that no one ever had such a time in his life as this of mine, nor ever will again! Oh yes, I am in a colossally good temper. But then I have had nothing to go through yet, like those others.

Good night: all's well.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Oct. 16, 1915

Well! here we are in good, though not very sweet, dwellings beneath the Earth. It is strange how perfectly natural it is to me now, already, to go to 'bed' underground and sleep like a tired child. It feels more as if one was in a ow wee room.

Yes, I cannot fail to know that I am being porayed for by the dear people I leave behind. I hope you saw my long letter about 'my istructional trip' in the other Battalion's trenches. I might have been being tangibly supported, so tremendously assured in that period did I feel of the help I needed.

It is a strange life, and yet I feel as if I had always lived in a cave. It is so natural! I do need the help I receive, God knows how much!

___________________________________________

To H.E.E. Howson

B.E.F.

October, 1915.

Oh Man, Man! but what would you say if, somewhere in the most glorious place in Flanders, deep buried beside what I doubt is a looted 'bed' in a dug-out behind the line (we came out of four days in the trenches, very, very good, but not very eventful, a day or two ago) you found, gloriously thumbed and torn, a terrific illustrated edition of the

Chanson de Roland!

Also, Man, it is the October term. The evenings begin at 4.30, and however bored one may be at the invitation to 'stand to' at that hour in the trenches, one makes up by some very fine thinking of home when one comes out. All of which, however, you shall see in a better letter than this which I propose sending Phiz, to whom I owe one.

Man, 'you should eat less and write more'. It is a fine world.

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To J.O. Whitfield.

9th R.B. - B.E.F.

October 24, 1915.

Wonderful, perfectly wonderful, that Lendrum version of W.W. (1). And I can imagine you reading every word of it with a sort of triumph; for it is indeed wonderfully fitting, from first to last.............is in not?

It must be something to know how he fell(2), and that he almost certainly suffered nothing.

Ah yes, the end of Th Republic. Double marked in my Adam edition, I think.

Well, there it is. All is quite here, behind the line: it seems monstously luxurious, really. The three best days I ever had, I think, were when we had just come out of trenches, and lived in dug-outs on the edge of the ruined city. We dug furiously, and slept like logs, while in reserve: it seemed the only thing to do. No-one shelled us or worried us, though they did not spare the city.

(1) William Watson: 'well he slumbers, greatly slain.' Translated into Greek by W.T. Lendtrum

(2) 2nd Lieut. G.H. Whitfield.

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In the Headmaster's Garden, Shrewsbury.

M.G.W. 2nd from left

E.H.L.S. far right.

July 1915

post-1871-1152361754.jpg

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To C.A. Alington.

9th R.B. - B.E.F.

October 25, 1915.

Thank you very much for your letter and the 'Broadsheet'(1) I've only seen one or two of them, and they do make a pleasant change from C.2121 the message form which comes clumping down from H.Q. and was about all the literature we get in the trenches 'It may be all very well to run down the men who make these things,' but there's a something........

Our time in the trenches was short, a bare four days, and fairly unevebtful. I laugh to think of our exit, though.It must have been a comic sight to see me hopping along the parapet (we were well behind the front trenches, of course!) and shouting 'All those who don't want to be shelled at daybreak must get a move on!' There was really a very good chance we'd be spotted, but no-one, bar a few snipers, seemed to notice our absurd line. But they fairly hobbled along after that, and we got out with no casualties once more, and waddled home to dug-outs in reserve, a most ludicrous spectacle, at dawn. Yet at the time there was something rather thrilling about it; not because there was any real risk - I wanted to frighten them, rather than anything else, so as not to come in all anyhow - but a procession of men as near 'done' as no matter is not an easy thing to contemplate quite unmoved. But it is all such very small beer, all this business, and I feel half ashamed of describing it, as I did after writing to Kitch. As I told them next day, if it had been Mons, they'ld have had all the sleeplessness, plus twenty-five miles march, plus fighting pursuing Germans.

Well, we are in reserve behind the line now, and everything is very peaceful. Hence the opportunity to write this rather absurd rigmarole. One gets rather garrulous, I suppose, over the small escapades: and looking back on some of those days, they were really uncommonly good fun. I enjoyed every minute of them - with a few small exceptions only.

I see from the Salopian that our casualties have risen enormously in the holidays. One would not have it otherwise, no doubt; but the thing seems likely to go on. Pupils of my own are beginning to appear in increasing numbers, and I can't be philosophical, then; though one reads the other daily casualty lists with a fortunate callousness.

(1)One of the 'Times Broadsheets'

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To M.G. White.

9th R.B. - B.E.F.

October 26, 1915.

It is borne in upon me that I have been particularly blasted. Here I am safely packed off with all my belongings, very largely due to you, and not a word sent back. I haven't written much yet to anybody but my people; but I wrote a goodish letter to Kitch and C.A.A. in answer to theirs yesterday, and now that we are back in reserve it is not to be tolerated that I shouldn't send some statement to you. The crossing over was quite calm, though people seemed rather cold and silent. In fact the change, from the actual departure day or days, to the glorious we've had since, was past believing. The most priceless ten days in my life, I think, were those that wound up with reserve dug-outs outside the ruined city.

_____________________________________________________

To Mrs. Whitfield

9th R.B. -B.E.F.

October 26, 1915.

I had a letter from Jack two days ago, arriving with yours, curiously enough. He told me you had had the best news you could hope for; it is indeed good to hear the end came at once, and in such a way. At least I can imagine it must be a very great consolation, though somehow I don't feel that anybody, but those who have the right to, should intrude any pilosophy of that kind.: those who loved him will probably employ it themselves, and if not, no infliction of it by others seems tolerable.

You will be suprised at my enjoying the comparative luxury of a pen and ink (and a table and all sorts of conveniences, for that matter): we have come right out now and are behind the line altogether for a time.

We are billeted in a lovely farm: it means scandalous prosperity for the officers, for we have a real roof and a bed, more than I ever had in England since April except on about five nights; but the men have to sleep in barns. Still, I would have given worlds for an exchange into a barn from trenches, so I suppose they are fairly happy. It is the only army in history, I suppose, which doesn't go hungry for every now and then, thanks to the A.S.C.; so that is something.

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To T.E. Bartleet.

B.E.F.

November 1, 1915.

Well, the great thing at present is of course the publication of B.b's Poems. At least, I suppose you know all about the idea, which I think has gone some way towards execution: if not, there's no harm in telling you, of all people, though if it is not common news, I dare say not too much should be said about it yet. But in any case let me get said early enough, what I have felt all along, that to you and the other forefathers of the race of V.b poets neither I nor they can ever be to grateful. Things like that have only to be started, and they will go: but they could never have been started by harangues from me, and it needed the actual poets to start the ball rolling. I wrote to Lutener recently; to him too, of course, we owe a terrific big lot.

I remeber showing - the book once(1), a year ago or so, and receiving some rather clever criticisms on the poems from him. His main contention was that they were all rather 'pink'. I know what he meant, and so of course will you. Well, it is better than having them grey. And yet red would not be a bad description of some of them: what about the Blakeway poems, especially those in the Kipling manner? Kipling surely is a brilliant scarlet at times.

Meanwhile what poems have you written lately? I am quite sure I have detected your hand in the Salopian during the last few months. One poet did mt the honour of sending me a copy of one of his works, and very fine it was: if you want to lease me enormously, you might do the same.

(1) Containing poems by members of V.b, written in their own handwriting.

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Red letter day today - bumper posts!

I'm wondering how true what he writes about the tenches can be? His relish for them surprises, and yet there is no reason to disbelieve him. Perhaps the waiting to go was worse than the arrival.

Marina

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To Mrs. Whitfield

9th R.B. - B.E.F.

November 4, 1915

I had a letter from Shrewsbury today, and the postmark has reminded me that you are p[robably there, or recently returned. I hope you enjoyed going there: it is a glorious place, when all is said.

Did I tell you that we are really rather spoilt here at nights? We actually sleep in beds: the thing is rather ridiculous, and I feel an awful fraud, especially when I remember that kind people at home probably think we are suffering all kinds of unknown hardships, and are being sympathetic. However we'll try and do what we can to be uncomfortable next time we go up to the trenches: something of the kind is really due to you I feel!We didn't find beds up there, and yet I shall never forget my first real sleep of four or five hours in a dug-out after two or three days up there, and how delightful they were beyond anything a bed ever produced.

I am becomming a fair navvy. I have been on an R.E. 'course' and am absurdly supposed to know all about trenches and wire and sand-bags; but I am really beginning to think digging is in my line.

The great joy of our servants, who use the kitchen next door (and think they can't be heard), is to yell ridiculous broken English to the small children of the farm. It is going on now, and the extraordinary thing is that they seem to make themselves understood. The children worship them, of course. So do I, for that matter; my boy (he is no more, really) is too perfect a servant and fellow generally to be believed.

Well, here is the gentleman in question wanting the table for dinner, so I must close this rather absurd rigmarole. I wonder whether you have heaps of Shrewsbury news for me: I shall look forward, as I always do, immensely to your next letter.

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we'll try and do what we can to be uncomfortable next time we go up to the trenches: something of the kind is really due to you I feel!

He really is what you used to be called, 'a bit of a wag'.

Do we know exactly where he is?

Marina

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Marina,

Just a bit of a 'Wag'. The 9th Battalion at this time where in the Potijze lines, on the 21/10/15 marched to the Poperinghe area with billets in Houtkerque. They went back to Ypres on 18/11/15.

Andy

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To Mrs. Whitfield

B.E.F.

November 11, 1915.

I read, with great interest and a curious sense of pride, the information you have been able to glean: he seems to have fallen quickly and quietly, like so many of the best men, in the front of it all, and with that natural inevitableness which seems to leave survivors without suprise or even any detailed story to tell.

I am glad you enjoyed your visit to the centre of the universe: they are good men, are they not?

_____________________________________

To R.A. Knox.

B.E.F.

November 14, 1915.

In the present situation I can't feel I deserve the goodness of people at home in the least. So it is without any feelings of regret that I hear, not to put it too plainly, that the situation is liable to a change (1) before any very long period has elapsed. When we are in the trenches again I will announce the fact, but at present we are saying very little and trying to feel very secretive, an easy task when there is no knowledge of any particular definiteness to betray. The time here has really been more like training in England than anything else: we run, slowly and ponderously after my manner, before breakfast, then parade with smoke-helmets, inspect men for absurd deficiencies, shoot a little, drill, do musketry, digging, wiring, make speeches (very rarely; I've made two on 'trench duties' to the Company on wet days, mainly because I swore when in the trenches that I would get about thirty points really hammered into them in a lump, instead of having to strafe a man here and there in each of the twenty two bays); and so forth. Even football has found its way in; and our Coy. is as pleased as any school ever was over coming top in that.

It is all very different from the trenches; sleeping in a bed seems absurd luxury, especially a bed like mine; one hopes this period will not convert us all into soft jellies again. However, no doubt things will seem more straight-forward when we do go in, as one can't help picking up a little sense in even so short a visit as our last.

My O.C. Coy. has been laid up for a week, so I ride his horse with immense satisfaction; it is a very great thing to ride horses, surely. When I say ride, I mean that the horse and I ( in that order of seniority) go together, and have so far - when on the march - made a dead heat of it. Well, I must say good-night.

My love to the Men and V.b of course.

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To His Sister.

B.E.F.

November 14, 1915.

Mum asks whether the Army has aged me, and the answer is, not an hour; in fact the whole situation tends the other way, for, ever since I joined, I have constantly been in a subordinate position to people years younger than myself. Not here so much, for I am getting older again; but in the 13th there were lots of men junior to me, and I felt like 19 instead of 29, and a very good thing too!

But I am quite ready to believe that being in a really thick business ages people sometimes. But H.G. Wells is talking through his hat, I think, when he says that being 'sheltered from thought' ages one; surely too much thinking is just what does age one!

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To R.F. Bailey.

B.E.F.

November 15, 1915.

At this point I turn out your other letter (undated, as Cox & Co. always used to say in reply to mine: but I'm better now in those terms) and I find some very nice things in it. Oh yes, I know that smell of damp leaves. There would be lots of those here too, with 'Michaelmas Term 1915' stamped in unmisteable letters upon every one. In fact, ever since I came out, it has been only in some foolish delusion that I have not been with you all the time. 'Stand to' before dawn has, in addition to the glorious fact that the night is coming to an end, the invariable accompaniment of the very academic mist of the plain, to make me remember things. And it is the same before sunset, when you are coming home from the wet leaves and the 'tang' of November air, and are preparing, like Arthur Benson, to pull chairs round and sit down to tea. And that reminds me that I am now exactly midway between Jekyll and Hyde, if you understand me. When I was in England I would look quite often at the Army, and the adorable Plain in particular, from outside: I was always a civilian off (my critics would say 'and on') parade. But yesterday an A/Cpl. came in with a letter saying his mother was not expected to live, and could his place on the leave roster be altered? To which I listened without a trace of emotion, while the O.C. Coy. (who said afterwards that this was what he could bear less than any amount of calamites to the Company militarily) said that he was afraid nothing could be done, as the C.O. had - under orders - given out that in cases exactly of this kind the leave roster must be rigid or it would never work. And the moment he left the room I turned the corner, with an entirely physical sense of altered perspective, and realised I was in the presence of a great tragedy. You see, things happen, and go. Very rarely I try to stop them, feeling 'This will be good to remember', 'That it is better than Daudet'; but I have to climb up behind my telescope to focus them, and it is too tiring. So I shall be duller than ever, after the War, you see. Ah , well.

I wrote to the Man about a fortnight ago; I fear it was something in the nature of a statement, but whether he sent it on I don't know. I will now go into an enormous bed, and thank you for getting so far in what seems a most egotistical tirade. Good night, those Men.

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To H.E.E. Howson.

B.E.F.

November 15, 1915.

Man, I think you ought to be encouraged in your kind proposal to send The Path and The Men (1) out here, because I've already talked dimly about them to the men with whom I live, and as they are exceedingly good men they should be taught better ways. Merewether (he's my O.C. Coy., a 2/Lt. like me and most of us) is an old B.N.C. man of about thirty four, and very adorable. The small editions would be the things, as we can't carry much weight of course.

I wish you could find out from the Man something he would like before ho comes out. He was always a good man, of course; but he insisted on giving me things when I came out, and generally filled me with such a sense of unworthiness that I do not even now know which to look or what to say: and I would like if possible to find something useful to sling back at him, by way of showing I've not forgotten his existence altogether. It reminds me, by the way, that your map-case invaribly accompanies me on all marches, as it used to in England. In fact, I found there that my constant wearing of it produced an impression that I was a bit of a man with maps, and so I decided the illusion mut be kept up! You will picture me, please, on a route march here, astride M.'s horse (he being ill), with the thing on my knee, feeling very cunning and pioneerish. Also I wish to draw attention to the slight flavour of Central Europe of which I am unable to free myself, while riding slowly through the small towns at the head of the Company.

(1)Hilaire Belloc's The Path to Rome and The Four Men.

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To His Father.

B.E.F.

Nov. 20, 1915.

This is a glorious chance for anybody who can keep really cheerful; and if you wonder what sort of fairy boon I would like, it would be that I should not really fail there. At present all,s very well; here I am, with very wet feet indeed, but well fed and reasonably warm. Later, I shall probably have to be with the wet platoon pretty well all night.

Well, that's what I really need please! It is very good, you know: it is a job, and I do wish to make a good one.

__________________________________________

To His Sister.

No. 12 Casualty Clearing Station

B.E.F.

Nov. 27, 1915.

I feel better this morning, and this evening's rise in temperature is very useful after all. No symptoms, hardly even a head-ache, except at times to-day. (1812 on gramaphone: I must stop to listen; six months ago I should have said I was tired of it, but when you've heard almost no music since, your heart goes out to it!) In fact, if it were not for the fact that one can't forget one's friends are still up yonder, and that one wonders what they're up to, and how long one will be before getting going again - apart from that, as I say, I'm not so badly off.

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.

the moment he left the room I turned the corner, with an entirely physical sense of altered perspective, and realised I was in the presence of a great tragedy. You see, things happen, and go.

What an odd sensation that must be. I read something similar in Beatrice Webb's diary - a moment that changed everything, radically. I see he is torn now between his bonds with the school and with his friends at the Front, but still thinks in 'terms'. Damp leaves at Michaelmas - that struck me too - my favourite time of year.

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As you say Marina an odd and somewhat strange feeling one would imagine.

Andy

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To The Men - The New House.

No. 12 C.C.S.

B.E.F.

November 29, 1915.

Men, (send on to the Man of the Island(1), please)

Lying here this morning with a fairly thick head and a temperature just high enough to convince me I'm not the most frightful skrimshanker in France (it takes some persuasion, that, when one feels well enough to read, and is in a warm bed, and it freezes outside, and the proper place for one, the trenches, must be less comfortable!) - lying here, as I said, I've been through all your lovely letters and concluded once again that you were (this is a joke entirely of Whitfield's, but I think it is rather a good one) of the quality stated in the margin. So I said to myself, 'I shall write to these men'.

I can't pretend that I'm not comfortable, because one's looked after in a most magnificent way here; but I feel very annoyed and, to be quite candid, a bit ashamed at going down this way. It would weigh less heavily on one, if it weren't that the people in the trenches must be having as beastly a time at least as I had a week ago; for it's freezing, and perhaps worse, and meanwhile one lies in bed.

-Oh well, I suppose Ill be out soon. Besides, it's not as if one mattered at all except for the look of the thing; one feels somehow that a sick officer is always something in the nature of a set-back.

This drivelling soliloquy - to which I hadn't meant to treat you - is the sort of thing I have thought to myself for the past 168 hours, when not better employed: but I confess that I've rather seized the opportunity to read a bit while here. Partly about my job, but partly not; and the latter has been particularly good fun, for it's almost the first time since April! Quite certainly what reminded me, though, that there were Men about, was yesterday evening, when I took up a book at about four o'clock, and found that it was November, and lamp-lighting time; time to read, as it might be at home, to the accompaniment of bells beyond my window, and falling snow, and shadows on the wall. You would have liked those. Good-bye Men. Tell C.A.A. my news. I'm writing too, but don't think I'll repeat this tiresome rigmarole again.

(1) The Isle of Sheppey.

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To H.E.E. Howson

B.E.F.

Wed., Dec. 8, 1915.

I have this moment been 'returned to duty' from hospital, where they treated me wonderfully well and I had altogether too prosperous a time. I was in bed rather a long time before my temperature would go down, so I'm not feeling frightfully strong; however, we don't go into the trenches till to-morrow night, by which time I ought to be all right.

Well, but what I was going to say was that on returning I found The Path awaiting me, and shouted for joy. Thank you for a good man.

Well, there's no news, of course, as I've been away from things. They've been strafing a bit though, I hear, and I am very unhappy about my servant, an awfully nice youth, who was killed by a whizz-bang while I was in hosoital.

Love to all the Men.

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To M.G. White.

B.E.F.

Thursday, Dec. 9, 1915

We go to the trenches in 2 hours, so I can do no kore than acknowledge receipt of 2 letters.

I wonder where you'll come Man.

Now I take your train letter. Oh Man, those hills!. Yes Man I know.

Cough mixture joke. Lack of Sympathy

Pragmatism. Ah: I'd forgotten. I've lost all my brains, if I had any, so long now.

Arthur Benson's Essay. No Joking matter.

Book. Man, you are too good. I can't think at all now, but I will. And you, Man: I want very much to find something for your kit. Write at once, Man, and say what you'ld like. Knobkerry (beastly but useful), compasses, map-case? Tell me. Awful Rush, Man.

Love

Man.

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To J.F.C. Richards

Thursday, Dec. 9, 1915.

Two Salopians arrived to-day, from you and A.E.K.; but I was much interested to get your commentary on the same, showing the various authors. I liked your editorial very much. Oh yes, The Salopian is a link; it is indeed! 'The sterner claims of war' take some forgetting at the moment, for it is pouring torrents and we go into the trenches in three hours (get there about 11.0 p.m.) after out three days in reserve huts, under which we have today been wonderfully comfortable, rain it never so violently outside.

As I say, it akes some forgetting; but the Salopian and your letter (and those of some other friends) have done it. The Headmaster's 'Dream' (1) I was very glad to read; I quite agree, the poem especially is splendid. Oh, Burge's poem! It is adorable, my dear, adorable. I love the Metre, too; it is so unusual and so enormously alive. Do tell him I think it is quite definetely a thing that has pleased me more than any poem I've read in ages and ages. Bailey's 'Rome' is an old friend: I thought (and think) it is enormously good too.

I thought the Sussex poem would be Routh's. I was there you know, at Seaford, and Heaven knows how I thought of the hills every time the Downs tried to capture me - though I could not have written down my constant thoughts so well! I liked the 'Vale', too, very much. I think Sir J.M. Barrie would have had something to say, if he had seen that. Thompson is rather good at that sort of 'Jubilee Cup' game. Please tell Sanger I loved his poem, too. You know, the fact is, you've produced a very, very remarkable number, and I humbly offer my congratulations!

No time for a line more, but thanks a thousand times.

(1) The Draft: published in Shrewsbury Fables.

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