I was delighted by the brief irruption of the ghost of C.E.Montague into today’s Guardian. I’d just been thinking about his 1923 collection of short stories, Fiery Particles.
What did the readers of Blackwood’s Magazine, more used to the breezily conventional military writing of Ian Hay, make of these stories, especially Honours Easy, a tale of two staff officers competing to see who can get most medals without going within gunshot of the enemy? It’s a post-war story with all the wildness of A Hind let Loose, Montague’s joyful pre-war satire on provincial journalism.
Colin, the anti-hero of the story, is very like the journalist Fay, the manic centre of A Hind Let Loose, amorally delighting in his power to work the system, blithely superior to those who take things seriously. One senses that this character was the irresponsible imp who usually had to be kept hidden within the public personage of Charles Montague, responsible Guardian leader writer and wartime censor of correspondents’ reports.
Most memorable in Honours Easy is the general (nicknamed The Crook):
He had come out to France in command of a division. The first time it went into action his genius miscarried and lost a mile of ground and half his men. It was only then that the General showed his full speed. Some say he had leapt into an aeroplane the moment the battle was lost. Anyway, he was in London incredibly soon, and seeing the proper person about a mark of distinction so signal that, when the bad news came in, it would look silly to turn round and give him a post on the shelf. Still the news came, in the end; some of these things will get out, whatever you do. Clearly The Crook was not born to command divisions. So he was given a corps to command…
This story is yet another of those texts from the early twenties that take a radically sceptical attitude towards the war. I’m gathering quite a list of them.