I went to the Birmingham Centre for First World War Studies this evening, to hear Brian Bond give his inaugural lecture. He has just written a book about memoirs of the Great War, and the talk drew on this material, to contrast Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Guy Chapman and Edmund Blunden.
He showed a relish for Graves’s Goodbye to All That which was perhaps unexpected, given that the inventiveness of Graves is rather a long way from the methodology of the good historian. He clearly enjoyed the sheer zest of the book, and the outlandishness of Graves’s character.
He showed that all his chosen authors were complex men with complex attitudes to the War. All of them loathed what the war did to men they cared for, but all found immense value in parts of the war experience.
The one that I have not read is Chapman – I must rectify that. I found some extracts from his A Passionate Prodigality on the Spartacus site. I like this conversation between two junior officers in a dugout:
“Do you remember a corporal with the Messina medal?”
“Oh, yes; a dark stocky man.”
“He went off with an officer we’d caught. Presently I found him back in the trench. I knew he couldn’t have got down to the cage and back; so I asked him what had happened. ‘Well, sir,’ he said, ‘it’s a very hot day. We sat down in a shell hole and he gave me his watch and his field-glasses and his money. It’s very hot day and a long way down. So I shot him.’
“What did you do?”
“There wasn’t any need to do anything,” said Vaughan with a curl of his thin lips; “he was killed that afternoon.”