Playing Soldiers

It was Eitan Bar-Josef’s paper at the Oxford Masculinity and the Other conference that persuaded me I ought to take a look at The Romance of the Last Crusade, the war memoirs of Major Vivian Gilbert.

Gilbert had been an actor before the war, and his book describes how he took on the role of officer and determined to play it stylishly. He is one of those writers who make explicit what others hide – in this case the element of sheer play-acting involved  in taking on the role of a soldier:

I spent this fortnight in getting my uniform made, being photographed in it, and growing a moustache. My theatrical training stood me in good stead in helping me to cultivate the kind of moustache suitable for a second lieutenant. I did not make the mistake that some temporary officers made, of growing the type of moustache usually worn by a sergeant-major or a field-marshal.

The book starts with a fiction about the crusades, and the rest of the text is about Gilbert attempting to fit the part of crusader as he goes to war in the Holy Land.

Lovers of clunking irony will appreciate the book’s ending:

We had finished our crusade, peace and freedom were in the Holy Land for the first time for five hundred years – and it all seemed worthwhile.

Did they all really believe they had solved the problem of the Middle East? never such innocence again.

Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: