Слике страница

other familiar country sounds; we hear not them alone, but what they are symbols and crystallization centers of; for man is ever reading himself into the so-called outer world. It is

his particular magic to hear in the lark's The New Statesman,

miracle of song the music of Shelley and the wisdom of Meredith, to infer the cherubim from the chaffinch, and to find in the “lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee, some coupling with the spinning stars.”

J. Arthur Thomson.


This admirable title is not mine. It belongs to a gunner who has fought through all the worst battles in France. It occurred in a conversation we had together in a London drawing-room. If I were free to write the things he told me you would call it a bad title. You would say that I should plead for no war humor at all.

This young officer said to me that it is quite impossible to exaggerate the infernal qualities of modern war. He assured me that we at home shall know nothing of what a battle is like until peace is declared. The best of newspaper correspondents have confessed to him that they do not possess the knowledge to describe war. Staff officers do not know what it is. Only the men enduring a bombardment, which is like an earthquake prolonged for days and weeks, and only the men who go over the top to storm machinegun entrenchments, truly know the character of modern war. And only here and there among these muchenduring men is there one able to express in human language the agony of his soul.

War is hell. Anything which tends to obscure this truth is a deadly evil. Any spirit among non-combatants which makes for levity in this matter is a most devilish blasphemy. There has never been in the history of man so great a world-agony. Such widespread torture of human nerves has never hitherto been imagined. The body of humanity is being stretched

on the rack of utmost calamity. Imagine the feelings of men in the trenches when they come home to find us laughing and jesting about the war, or when the illustrated papers from London filled with war humor reach them in their dug-outs. The young officer did not inveigh against humor. He has a mind which responds quickly to brightness, wit, joy, and even frivolity. But he said to me, “In God's name don't let us have quite so much war humor.” Think of that conjunction. War— Humor. War means the killing and disfigurement of men. Its object is the destruction of life. It is state-sanctioned murder on a colossal scale. If you stood in a casualty clearing station for two or three hours after a battle you would not smile. You might break down and weep or you might go mad; but you would find it physically beyond your power to smile. A jest of any kind in such a situation would strike you as something inexpressibly abominable. But here at home, without any sense of absurdity, we talk about war humor. Think of those two words, War—Humor. The gunner said to me: “People are misled by hearing of jokes from the trenches. Let me assure you that every man in a bombarded trench fears with every stretched nerve of his body. Because two or three of them, in a moment of nervous reaction, utter some casual remark or sing a verse from a barrack music-hall ditty, the British Army is supposed to be full of Ole Bills. Haven't the people at home got enough imagination to know that the splendid young men who compose our modern armies loathe this beastly war with every ounce of their feelings? Can't they see that trench jokes of which they hear such a lot, are just nervous reactions? Don't they realize that the men are suffering? Don't they know that the whole thing is loathsome to the soul of even the very worst of men? They are living in the utmost degree of discomfort, exposed at any moment to death or mutilation, and with nothing, absolutely nothing that the heart of a man craves for and knows is its human right. It makes my blood boil here at home to go to a theater, to take up a picture paper, and to hear some people talking. Wherever I go in London I encounter war humor. I can't move but I’m confronted by it. Everyone in London seems to take the war as a joke, as something to laugh about. And young men training to be officers come to us in France in this spirit. I once heard a fellow say that it took more than two months, even in the City of Fear (Ypres) to purge the soul of ragtime and flappers. No man is of any use as an officer till he has feared. You've got to look fear right in the eyes, seriously, steadily, quaking like hell in your own heart, before you are any good in the trenches.” There are two good reasons for this plea. To begin with, the frivolous atmosphere at home (besides being in most execrable taste) is bad for the men preparing to go out. Cromwell would have trained his armies in

another atmosphere. The welfare of The London Chronicle.

the Army demands a more serious and dignified spirit at home. And next, we are fighting to make an end of war, and not, as I heard a wit say, “for political incompetence, commercial corruption, and Lady Diana Manners.” We are fighting war much more than we are fighting the German people. It is war, seen as the deadly enemy of mankind, which has brought the great American nation to our side. The real people of England are serious. Whatever may be the merits of our statesmanship, the ethics of our commercial princes, and the war-moods of fashionable society, British democracy is fighting to a finish because it knows it is fighting war. And the only way in which this spirit can be weakened, which otherwise must conquer, is to make war seem anything but the malignant shape of Satan.

To the ancients who loved fighting and who very largely lived by fighting, war was a god, radiant and beautiful. There are those amongst us who would make it a comic figure—a caricature. Instead of praying to Mars, we dress war up in the garments of Charlie Chaplin, and grin at it. But we must hate war, hate it with all our heart, mind, and soul. Men do not laugh at the thing they truly hate. To hate righteously is to hate with enthusiasm.

I am convinced that the very offensive levity which manifests itself with ever less shame and ever more effrontery in the pleasure center of London, is due to a wholesale weakening of those moral restraints which are essential to the progress and to the dignity of the human race. English playfulness is a vastly different thing from war humor.

Harold Begbie.


A letter I received last Friday gave me one of those welcome excuses to get

into closer touch with my neighbor, Petherton, than our daily proximity might seem to connote. I wrote to

him thus:

Dear Mr. Petherton, Miss GoreLangley has written to me to say that she is getting up a Rag Auction on behalf of the Belgian Relief Fund, and not knowing you personally, and having probably heard that I am connected by ties of kinship with you, she asked me to approach you on the subject of any old clothes you may have to spare in such a cause.

Of course I'm not suggesting you should allow yourself to be denuded in the cause (like Lady Godiva), but I daresay you have some odds and ends stowed away that you would contribute; for instance, that delightful old topper that you were wont to go to church in before the War, and that used to cause a titter among the choir —can't you get the moths to let you have it? Neckties, again. Where are the tartans of ’71? Surely there may be some bonny stragglers left in your tiebins. And who fears to talk of '98 and its fancy waistcoats? All rancor about them has passed away, and if you have any ring-straked or spotted survivors, no doubt they would fetch something in a good cause. I hope you will see what you can do for

Yours very truly,
Henry J. Fordyce.

Petherton's reply was brief. He


Sir, Had Miss Gore-Langley chosen a better channel for the conveyance of her wishes I should have been only too pleased to do what I could to help. As it is, I do not care to have anything to do with the affair.

Yours faithfully,
Frederick Petherton.

But he was better than his word, as I soon discovered. So I wrote:

Dear Petherton,<-I have had such a treat today. I took one or two things across to Miss Gore-Langley, who was unpacking your noble contributions when I arrived. Talk about

family historics; your parcel spoke volumes. I was frightfully interested in that brown bowler with the flat brim, and those jam-pot collars. Parting with them must have been such sweet sorrow. I feel like bidding for some of your things, among which I also noted an elegantly-worked pair of braces. With a little grafting on to the remains of those I am now wearing, the result should be something really serviceable. I don't mind confessing to you that I simply can't bring my mind to buying any new wearing apparel just now. I'd like the bowler too. It should help to keep the birds from my vegetables, and incidentally the wolf from the door. And seeing it fluttering in the breeze you would have a continual reminder of your own salad days. Surely the priceless family portrait in the Oxford oak frame got into the parcel by mistake. I am expecting to acquire that for a song, as it cannot be of interest except to one of the family, and I should be glad to number it among my heirlooms. Miss G.-L. is awfully braced with the haul, and asked me to thank you, which is one of my objects in writing this. Yours sincerely, Harry Fordyce.

Petherton was breathing hard by this time, and let drive with:

Sir, LIt is like your confounded impertinence to overhaul the few things I sent to Miss Gore-Langley, and had I known that you would have had the opportunity of seeing what my wife insisted on sending I should certainly not have permitted their dispatch.

I have already told you what I think of your ridiculous claims to kinship with my family, and shall undoubtedly try to thwart any impudent attempts you may make to acquire my discarded belongings. The photograph you mention was of course accidentally included in the parcel, and I am sending for it.

Yours faithfully.
Frederick Petherton.

In the cause of charity I rushed over to the Dower House, and pointed out to Miss Gore-Langley how she might swell the proceeds of the sale. I then wrote thus to Petherton:

Dear old man,—Thanks for your jolly letter. I’m sorry to tell you that Miss G.-L. holds very strong views on the subject of charitable donations, and you will have to go and bid for anything you want back. I'm very keen on that photograph, if only for the sake of your pose and the elasticside boots you affected at that period. Everyone here is quite excited at the idea of having Cousin Fred's portrait among the family likenesses in the dining room, and its particular place on the wall is practically decided upon.

I shall probably let the braces go if necessary, but I shall contest the ownership of the bowler up to a point.

Why not have your revenge by buying one or two of my things? There is a choice pair of cotton socks, marked T.W., that I once got from the laundry by mistake; they are much too large for me, but should fit you nicely. There's a footbath too. It leaks a bit, but your scientific knowledge will enable you to put it right. It's a grand thing to have in the house, in case of a sudden rush of blood to the head.


Yours ever,

Petherton simply replied:

Sir, LIt is, I know, absolutely useless to make an appeal to you, and I Punch,

shall simply outbid you for the portrait if possible; if not, I shall adopt other measures to prevent your enjoying your ill-mannered triumph. Yours faithfully, F. Petherton.

The Auction was held last Wednesday. I didn't attend it, but got Miss Gore-Langley to run up the price of the portrait as far as seemed safe, on my behalf, which resulted in Mrs. Petherton getting it for £5 15s. I got the hat, but Mrs. Petherton outbid my agent for the braces.

Dear Freddy (I wrote), Wasn't it a roaring success—the Auction, I mean? I didn't manage to attend, but have heard glowing accounts from its promoter.

The most insignificant things, I hear, went for big prices; one patriotic lady, I'm told, even going to £5 15s. for a faded photograph of a veteran in the clothes of a most uninteresting sartorial period. It was in a cheap wooden frame, of a pattern that is quite out of the movement. Fancy, £5 15s.1

Did you buy anything?

In haste,
Yours, H.

If you have any stout safety-pins, lend me a couple, old boy. I failed to secure the braces. They fetched 1s. 9d., which was greatly in excess of their intrinsic value.

There has been no reply from Petherton to date.



On production of written authority the sentry passes you in; whereupon you mount the steps in the grassbank leading up from the sunken road and find yourself at their summit on a stretch of ground, artificially leveled, and in view of an ordered cluster of

huts—which some of the inhabitants describe with accuracy as in shape resembling brief sections of Bakerloo Tube. Side by side, not unpleasing in their quaint rotundity, they shelter some scores of the local contingent of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps— whose official designation, as a saving of time, is usually shortened to “the Waacs.” In our part of the world the Waacs have ceased to be a novelty. They preceded me in the district, and I do not know how long they have been here—but it is long enough to have started a camp cabbage garden, after the fashion of masculine corps. Their neat khaki uniforms pervade the cobbled streets and, office hours over, are dotted on the country roads; and, judging by the frequency with which you meet them under escort, they would seem to be popular with the Army from a social point of view. That temporary creation dubbed “Somewhere in France” has acquired the habit of assimilating new developments, and one gathers that even the Waacs' first appearance aroused but a passing sensation. Nevertheless, they are in their way a curiosity; these brown-hatted, khaki-clad young women are something new in the history of soldiers and soldiering. Women in numbers have attached themselves to armies before now; but these organized feminine battalions for noncombatant duties are a direct product of the new warfare which is fought not only by the soldier and won not only in the field. Incidentally one speculates as to what Army life will make of the ordinary girl, how affect her in habits and outlook. For the life she is leading is Army life, rubbing elbows with soldiers, domiciled in barracks, hedged round by the barriers of discipline. It leaves its mark on the man who has lived it and will leave its mark on her. As regards appearance there is not much fault to be found with her; her neatness is ultra-military. All the same, I am told that, in spite of her smartness, the Waac-some of her—not infrequently suffers from homesickness when she first settles down over

Channel, which, given her newness to barrack conditions, is a misfortune not to be wondered at. Girls fresh from home and the comparative privacy it affords must almost inevitably take time to adapt themselves to a life lived entirely in common; close quarters, even if comfortable, are not suited to every temperament, and seven in a bed-room may at first be a trial to one used to slumber alone. But one gathers from the look of the majority that the shaking-down process is not of very long duration, that with more or less swiftness they find their level and adapt themselves to camp life and atmosphere. They enrol, one imagines, in the sensible spirit, well knowing that the small discomforts which will fall to their lot are as nothing to the hardships and dangers their brothers are called on to suffer, since they live—in the camp I speak

of, at least—under model conditions

as regards sanitation and health. Their work would appear to have been a success—at any rate their numbers are increasing, and with the increase has come the inevitable need to provide them with interest for their leisure. That means more accommodation than the regulation mess and living huts—in other words, the same facilities for rest, amusement, and supplementing of rations that the Y. M. C. A. provides for their comrades of the Army. What they need they have: a hut, own brother to the countless others that are served by the Red Triangle; well scattered with chairs, well furnished with tables, a provision counter at one end and a miniature stage at the other. In short the familiar compound of tea-room. club-room, and concert-hall—where you sip your cocoa, write your letters, and give or attend entertainments. “Y. W. C. A." is the sign on its face; the two organizations work together for the welfare of the girls.

« ПретходнаНастави »