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Two Men - One Memorial


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November 18, 1915.

The Walk to Potyze.

It was pelting with rain when I started at 3.0 or so. As I got on I soon became quite happy, as is one's way in a deluge when moving and dressed for the part; and I do not think the guide minded, as much as some would have, the fact of his being pulled out of his dug-out on such a day. We came across the fields half-right, as the cross-road was marked as not to be used, by the Artillery, I think, who as usual do not want any flat-footed Infantry paddling round their war-hives. At the edge of the wood I let my guide go home; and passing many dozen bottoms of shell cases, I got an Artillery-man to take me to the 11th Essex H.Q., where a couple of officers from their M.G. section offered to show me where the E. Yorks were. It is curious, how I am beginning to think I enjoyed that afternoon; the idea is obviously absurd; still it had enough of the ridiculous in it to make it just worth remembering.

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The Plaintive Gunner.

Were I ten times more than a mere subaltern I do not think I should have the impudence to strafe the gunners; but here was an R.F.A. subaltern to-night getting quite heated on the subject of the Infantry and Artillery. What he objects to most seems to be the shyness with which certain Battalions in part of Hill 60, where he is, view an occasional short bursting shell, as judged by the language in which they protest against it. Probably the best thing to have done would have been to agree that the Infantry should welcome an occasional suprise of this kind, on the ground that it is all healthy experiment with a view to strafing the Hun. But unluckily some of us tried arguement: 'Would he not be very indignant if the short shell were not announced to the gunners?' Like the don confronted with the goat, he was 'bound to admit that it was so'; but I doubt if it really soothed him. The result in his battery is that they never fire at the Hun first line at all, as they reckon it is not worth while risking the inevitable accidents from wrong fuses and wet ammunition.

Well, I am glad to think I've never complained, not having had a short shell down my neck; but I can sympathise with both parties.

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December 1915.

More of No. 12 C.C.S.

It was rather interesting, as there were always officers from different stations coming in. The authorities were very generous, I must say; we were excellently fed, and night after night there would be red and white wine, whisky and brandy on the table. No great inroads however were ever made on these, as no one felt up to it. One night I played Auction (with the usual fool's success) with two very nice R.A.M.C. men and a man from the Oxfords. I once redoubled three Royals and made them.

I read The Fair Maid of Perth there. I also read Barrie's book which contained the original story of Peter Pan, from which the plat grew. I suppose no one ever understood children like that: the guessed success of the bachelor with children without their parents standing by, the terrific solemnity of small boys in great coats - these are grandly done.

Bells, always bells, from the big church over the way. It is not very far from home being here. Bells of Lichfield, Eton, Newcastle, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Worcester; the little bells of the Plain; all these could be heard clearly as I lay listening to their tale.

Strange how soon one gets back at least some strength. My first walk of one mile at H. was very exhausting; I sat on the roadside seat half blind! Within two or three days I was in the lines, walking all day.

The December Afternnoons. There were those at H.; when one looked at the Xmas toy-shop and the dolls' tea-sets )I remember with a curious rush the way the little cups would fit into the cardboard, years ago), and the evening came over the shops, and the lights, and me, and it was time to come in to tea like a good boy.

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January 3, 1916.

This morning there is nothing doing but cleaning, and we shall have an inspection in an hour or so. But what I wanted to say was:-

Why have I not dicovered a lovely thing by R.L.S. before? It is in The Open Road (page 242); 'In the Highlands.' I have it on the table now.

But oh, the military mind! I had read through once, delighted, and half-way through again, when for no reason I murmered to Winkley, 'You know the way to inspect Tube Helmets is to have them in here man by man, and avoid waiting and exposure in the air!'

And this, although, so far from being tempted by indifference to think of other things, I was definetely excited about the poem. We are a strange people.

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The December Afternnoons. There were those at H.; when one looked at the Xmas toy-shop and the dolls' tea-sets )I remember with a curious rush the way the little cups would fit into the cardboard, years ago), and the evening came over the shops, and the lights, and me, and it was time to come in to tea like a good boy.

Here's a thing. I read this and was overwhelmed by a rush of memory. I remember my father taking me to a toy shop on a dark December evening. I had been ill and as being taken for a treat. And I suddenly saw it - 'the evening coming over the shops' and the lights coming on and shining through the fog. And Dad bought me a toy tea set and it took me ages to take the little cups and saucers out of the cardboard slots they fitted into because I was afraid of breaking the cups. dad sat and 'drank tea' out of my tiny cups!

Sorry, a bit off topic here - but it is the mark of a good writer to provoke such memories in other people, and I had forgotten this episode!

Marina

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I loved the diary entry of November 2, 1915, lovely piece, and the sparking of the forgotten episode in your life certainly marks him as a good writer.

Andy

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Two Heavy Pages. January 12, 1916.

Books, during all this period, - Wrong Box and a thing called Edwards, by Barry Pain, a book about a London gardener, painting him in none too honest colours, and coloured for me throughout by trenches and knife-rests, as is the way of printed matter to men in a grave situation. Who, that has ever been through anything, even the hours before an unimportant race, does not know how this reads, not the pages before him, but something he dislikes the prospect of, across them all? Of course this prospect business is played out fairly soon, I hope and believe, and am beginning to find; but knife-rests, due same evening at 15 and 25 yds. from the Hun in biggish numbers (a dozen or so), do come into one's mind when they shouldn't; and this would not be an honest entry if it tried to drown the facts in any heroics!

Before dismissing, the subject of this idle contemplation of danger it would be rash not to remember two things it, I think, begets; one is the quite physical emotion towards, and almost clinging to, inanimate objects; the other is the passionate acquiescence in low countries. Whether this latted be due to the fact that the eye gulps greedily at large vista scenes it may be possibly be like to lose, I do not know; but I can understand quite well now, from its complete absence when at rest among the lowlands, how the contrary is true of mountains, and how dread is said to lurk in high places. Yes! I suppose we have had a taste of what Belloc calls 'the great emotions'. But I am at last conscious of what really happens; one introduces an almost palpable slur. The great high hearted ones probably do not do this: they pull out their skeleton and defy him, and rather look forward than ohterwise to explorations among his uncharted bones. For myself I am perfectly clear; I do not exactly reverse my chair, and I pray devoutly I may not want to leave his company. But I think he is just left out, not even waved aside - I am a total stranger to any melodramatic 'steeling', and all the rest of the room grows more and more adorable in detail just because he too is there. It is a curious world.

Well, but I am coming to the Nox Mirabilis(1), Wednesday, Jan. 5. And I do not think I need describe it here. The pose of the 'strong silent man' (which I and J.P.D. have decided is the one to gull the gaping civilian!) may be all very well, but I hardly expect the story of this night will go altogether unremembered or unrepeated. Besides, it is J.A.M. (2), not I, who is the hero of the piece.

(1) This refers to the night when he had a narrow escape from a German machine-gun.

(2) J.A. Merewether, his Company Commander.

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am a total stranger to any melodramatic 'steeling',

What an odd section this is, what with the presence of the dread starnger and the 'refusal' to revrese his chair. (metaphorically). The feeling grows on me that he is full of a certain resigantion or fatalism - I thought so before when he was 'storing up' his mind pictures of school and home countryside. It is interesting that when he is describing how he feels that he 'buries' feeling and thought in convolution. He wants to note down, but wants to hide as well. Intresting 'tic'.

Marina

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Marina,

A very strange section indeed.

Andy

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Wednesday, January 19. - 3.30 p.m. precisely.

An entirely idle, and I am afraid grossly lovable, day, on which my memory will dwell with what is known, I believe, as loving particularity. To be exact, I am sitting on a rather hard concern of boards, thinly dishuised in a layer of water-proof sheet, and many sand-bags underneath me; another sheet excludes the sunlight, all but a couple of long beams down which play a remarkable assortment of smoke wreaths. For in my mouth is an enormous cigar, the gift of J.P.D., of terrific prosperity; round my shoulders is my British Warm; I am well shaved, I think, but otherwise content to be in a comfortable assurance of the need of the soon expected bath. Over my right shoulder protrudes from the wall of the dug-out a stick candle; aeroplanes buzz overhead, and two or three silly nations are squandering ammunition by the ton upon them; the Hun furiously strafes the French support lines, and our guns reply occasionally. Every now and then a M.G. wakes up and pushes in half a belt, as our M.G. officer has it; and in an hour the three aforesaid foolish nations will have their front lines 'standing to'. I am quite warm for once. I think I am making my entry with a rare amount of detailed precision; it is unlikely that for some time 'I shall be removed'; and I am going on leave (with Chester as companion, too) precisely at 4.30 a.m. to-morrow.

Leave! I am heartily glad I took the steps I did about it; for anyhow I am afraid the standard required for it is not reached(!), nor approached, even in these four days. Terribly 'deteriora sequor'; but better, even so, than cease even 'videre meliora'. Anyhow, I am going, and for the present it is delightful to promise great things; especially those great things which have absolutely no objective importance, perhaps. Thus, should I 'get my civvy clothes on'? I think yes!

It is a sort of proud little perogative of people back from the Front especially, though it is often done at home by some, but not by me till we came out. I think yes; it should make more of a real holiday, and though Heaven knows I've done nothing, I can do with a change perhaps. 'Spats, too,' as Michael said. And evening dress, no doubt. And games of cards in the evening; and then probably a smoke with father and a talk over Big Things. Exercise - I must have that; I am still not quite strong after my chill; perhaps I shall run down to the Lock and back as of old. And not too much to eat, while not so active, and in a house.

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Books too; imagine if I could really do something to clear the air in The Large Matter in a week! The life of a student, when alone; shall I go back to that for an hour or two, with pens and paper and volumes round me? This could only be very early and very late, of course, with the old Cathedral to point the way. But though it is good fun to put these little more material matters first, there remains Home, and that is where I go. Home, and to my ain folk, whom I seem to know now better than ever before..................And about that I do not think I should write profanely.

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Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1916.

Elverdinghe Farm.

Let us begin with the last good thing, which was any time after 10.0 a.m. to-day. As usual, I took my short airing down the road past the French, saluting and nodding like fun; there is not enough of that business. It has never failed to be the adorable time of the day, but to-day, after a certain amount of fairly real misery (in F 30 [real F])(1), I strode down the road inhaling the air of the universe, and even I counted my breaths, fifteen yards at a time!

(1) A trench

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Feb. 3, 1916.

The afternoon was peaceful again, and thank God I have heard the sad songs of the British infantry proceeding from the barn, betokening that my much over-worked men are happy. They have had the devil of a time, and no sympathy from H.Q., for they are put on working parties at once.

At about 3.30 I began writin, and continued till after 5.30. First orders for relief came along, and I spent time drawing a plan of the front line and Canal Bank.

7.30 p.m. Glorious chorus of 'Good-bye Virginia' from room of officer's servants next door; it must be the young Davis (it was), who delighted me so enormously on Zmas Day at Houtkerque. I can't stop myself from wanting to listen........Very excellent indeed; it has made a great difference, thank you!

The three following nights were remarkable for the colossal work put in by D Cpy. I shall never forget the vigour they put into the work on the night of the 6th from 10.30 to 12.30. We should have begun at 9.0, but the sand-bags and shovels were late in arriving from R.E. or wherever it was; and I had told them, the harder they worked, the sooner the second relief would get home. Result - 35 men filled about 500 sand-bags in two and a half hours and laid several hundred of them. They worked like fiends. It takes men with the real thing in them, to work for their successors like that; and, please God, that is going to be true of all our work in those trenches! This is a fact that must not be forgotten. It had the real unselfish ring about it.

Afternoon. The gramaphone in the barn with the Company; an idea of mine which pleased them a bit, I think. We sat listening to the Plantation Medleysa and H. Lauder songs, etc., while the shells strafed the village, and the blue sky pierced through the roof. It was worth doing.

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M.G.W. (Malcolm White)

October 1915 to February 1916.

During this time White was still at work with his Battalion at Sheerness, often in command of a Company. His spare hours he gave to music, reading, and the organisation of games and entertainments for the men. He was away on leave from time to time; on December 2 he came to spend a long week-end at Shrewsbury. Southwell and he met once (for a few hours) in London, but that was all.

He was on leave at Radlett with his sister, when the telegram came ordering him to France. And on the following day (February 7) he went to Southampton. This is what he wrote during this period.

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DIARY.

October 14, 1915.

Hollingbourne with Buxton and Russell-Smith. A wonderful day of Autumn. There was the forge at Hollingbourne, and the sparks flew upwards. In the train on the way home I read the two greatest short poems in the language (steady!); the Ode on a Grecian Urn, and the Ode to Autumn.

January 26, 1916.

Met the Man in London on the way back to the Front after leave. He had wanted me to go to meet him at Shrewsbury, but I said I could not get there at present, for (1) practical reasons, (2) psychological reasons; as I had decided not to go again till I had been out.

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LETTERS.

To The Men - The New House

Radlett.

October 2, 1915.

I have to report that I saw the Man off from Charing Cross this morning in good health and good spirits, and gloriously himself.

Read, please, Boon by'Reginald Bliss' (H.G. Wells), for turns and deep thinking mixed (Virgil).

Oh, Man! Wales was good.

I've just been talking to a remarkably clever man. He came from the Man's Battalion, and the Man wired to me this: 'Make early acquaintance of latest arrival from here very delightful sadly (1) anti-Bensonian.'

(1) Southwell was fond of A.C. Benson's books.

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(2) psychological reasons; as I had decided not to go again till I had been out.

I've come across this idea before - that me felt they could not mix with others until they had been 'blooded.'

Hope he hasn't missed his last chance to see the school.

Marina

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To C.A. Alington.

Radlett.

October 2, 1915.

I spent last night with Southwell, and saw him off this morning early from Charing Cross, just too early for him to receive the poem's(1), which I found on returning to the Hotel at 11.0.

He was very much himself and awfully concerned as to the items of kit which he ought to take, and wishing there was an order to take no kit. We spent an hour in chemists shops last evening, while Southwell examined the chemists about anti-vermin powders, believing all their various suggestions and acting on most of them.

Finally it required three taxis to get to Charing Cross, not due to the size of his luggage but to a general lack of organisation in the departure.

It is not fair that I should have to see him off and not go with him.

I think I told you that the Colonel is not letting me go out just yet, by reason of my more advanced age, and the shortage in our Battalion of officers over twenty years. It is a nuisance. I'm all for the Front, now Southwell has gone, and also kindred spirits at Sheerness are going.

(1) V.b

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To A.E Kitchin.

The Hill Top - Radlett

October 2, 1915.

See my remarks about the man to C.A.A. He was worried about his kit. How many Morphia tablets should he take? If they were so useful, why not hundreds of them? Whether Sulphur was really any good against lice? Wouldn't it fall off the clothes as soon as it was put on? Twc. etc. He couldn't think of much else.

I told him about those steel plate mirrors - you know the things - we discussed their efficacy against glancing bullets, etc.; and finally, when I asked if he wanted me to send anything out to him, he seemed to think these were good things (though he'ld be quite content, if some one ordered him not to have them). Anyhow, he said I might as well send him out four.

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To Canon Southwell.

Sheerness.

October 10, 1915.

I must write a line in answer to the very kind letters which you and Mrs. Southwell have written me.

As you will easily realise, there has been no departure for the Front which I have felt so keenly as Evelyn's. I always think (and sometimes say) that there has never been anything quite like the life which our common household has lived at Shrewsbury these five years, with it's intimacies, enthusiasms, and mutual appreciations. Whitfield was saying the other day, what has been thought by so many who knew him, the Evelyn's soldiering is one of the finest sacrifices of this war, undertaken in spite of his characteristic distaste for all, or a great deal, that it involves.

. . . . . . . . . . .

I hope to hear good news of him very soon.

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Comic scene with the vermin powders and the three taxis. Sudden picture of an absent minded professor type, running for cabs trailing clouds of sulphur! Interesting that he's more interested in the powders than the steel mirror protection!

Marina

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To H.E.E. Howson.

Sheerness.

October, 1915.

Autumn is being good in Kent, when I see it.

_______________________________________________________

To R.F. Bailey.

Sheerness.

October 21, 1915.

I feel education must be an interesting business now. E.g. Democracy, Freedom of Press, Empire, etc. etc.

I am worried about the size of the world. A Rhodesian started talking about South Africa last evening, and I thought 'Good God! South Africa has never come into my vision at all. I've always rather regretted all those colonial places. But they have to be considered too. It's awful!'

Schoolmasters are always either trying to make aesthetes out of Philistines (the Adjutant has just come in and said that three were to go 'out, now, and those three include two of the best people here - Damn!) of Philistines out of Prigs. The Prig so often has the root of goodness in him, and we deal with it so unsympathetically! (This is not a sermon to you; only, being now one eighth a soldier, I speak dogmatically). I should have been so much better a person, if my seventeen-year-old aestheticism had been kindlier dealt with; if I had been shown why it was wrong, i.e. because it was not real, not because it was not mainly or some such thing; if I had been shown where my violin practice lay in the scheme of things; how it was good and therefore most necessary to look at it in the right perspective.

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To A.E. Kitchen.

Sheerness.

Oct. 25, 1915.

We are playing Rugger amid general enthusiasm at present. We beat the 5th K.R.R.C. to-day fairly easily. I couldn't play, as I twisted my ankle in a game yesterday. I'm in rather good form this year.

I've heard some great music at week-ends lately at Queen's Hall.

Kent was very lovely when I visited it last on various occasions with Russell-Smith, Buxton, and West.

Thought. I've read some poetry; good old things like Keats Odes, etc. I've been arguing against pure Conservatism with the Adjutant and Captain Edwards, and have given the latter Galsworthy's Stife, Silver Box, etc. to read. I'm also getting them to read Lowes Dickinson's After the War. As to the War, I've been so taken up with the problems of its direction, that I've hardly thought about its essential justice. I'm just where I am.

I think perhaps that you base your own undoubtedly powerful arguements for Christianity and Peace too much on the hopelessly compromising and inconsistently weak attitude of mast parsons, and that you do not work enough on a priori reasoning. I don't think you've ever really refuted the man who says 'Yes, but we are improving slowly'. You have only proved the Unichristianity in him. I am always hovering round the opinion that there is a World Mind gradually growing stronger and more reasonable though and in spite of its various forms of commerce, armaments, competition etc.; and that a sudden violent renunciation (as suggested by 'literal' Christianity) would be an aberration of that Mind, just as the War is an aberration.

[Read Boon by R. Bliss (really H.G. Wells)]

Of course that is not Christianity, at least I'm afraid not. No-Damn it! It isn't.

Many thanks for sending The Salopian, always very welcome; it arrived to-day.

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To The Men - The New House.

Sheerness.

October 26, 1915.

I'm sorry to note that we're no better than we used to be.

- JERSEYS - (1)

__________________________________________________

To A.E. Kitchen.

6th R.B. -Sheerness.

Nov 9, 1915.

Just a line. Thanks very much for The Salopian. It is very good of you to send it; continuez donc. I was at Repton last Saturday with a 6th R.B. XI - hopelessly beaten. I did a thorough subaltern turn in town on the way up with the rest of the party. Dinner at the Elysee, followed by The Only Girl. I enjoyed the whole expedition moderately only, with the exception of The Only Girl, which I liked very much.

Saturday night and Sunday I was at the Musical Club. Sunday - Temple Church, stroll round the Temple, Fleet Street, Cheshire Cheese, and Russian concert ay Albert Hall.

I hope to be on the list (2) soon, and when I am, I shall get long leave and put in a night or two at Shrewsbury.

(1) Following a neglected appeal for football jerseys.

(2) List of officers to be sent to the Front at short notice.

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