A Few Things You Can Do With One Arm

While looking for something else in the 1918-1919 volume of the National Review, I came across an article that grabbed my attention. Most of the stuff in the National Review is heavyweight military, political or historical stuff, but this was a short three-page piece explaining A Few Things You Can Do With One Arm. The author is named simply as “An Officer”.
It’s attitude is positive and forthright:

One-limbed people won’t have the word “can’t” in their vocabulary. But their more fortunate brothers who have two arms will keep assuring them they “can’t”. If you own to can’t you may as well return to your nursery days and find your old nurse. You can do anything if you say you will and have patience, from fighting in the line to cutting your nails.

The article goes on to explain how various things can be done with only one hand – lighting a match, tying a boot-lace, and tying a bow tie, for instance. “Most games present no difficulties,” he claims. In billiards, “Until you have become practised enough to play off the cushion without using a rest, a hair-brush supplies quite an efficient bridge.” Tennis, cricket and soccer are “only a matter of practice” but “Rugger floors you, although if your side is a man short, you can be of some use as a forward.”
The author goes on to explain how various military skills can be tackled, from adjusting a gas-mask in under the prescribed six seconds to operating a Lewis gun.

The one rule applies: Don’t let other people help you. They only bother you in doing anything, and every time make you less independent.

He is not particularly keen on artificial arms – often more of a hindrance than a help, and useful mostly to “prevent the aesthetic feelings of other people from being hurt.” He likes gadgets, though.
It’s a bracing piece , and well-written. I  started wondering about the author – until it occurred to me that this could be by Douglas Jerrold, whose right-wing politics were in line with those of the National Review, and who  lost an arm at the Ancre, an incident he describes  in his Georgian Adventure (1937):

Then suddenly, as I was trying to think if I had forgotten anything, I felt a blow and realised that my left arm had been shot off. I remembered the story of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Uxbridge. Lord Uxbridge: “They’ve shot off my leg, sir.” The Duke: “By gad, sir, they have.” So, like the duke, I looked round, and found my arm hanging somewhere at my back, but, alas, no revolver. Oddly enough, I hadn’t been knocked out. Indeed I walked on a few yards, looking for my arm, and was really only overcome with the pleasure of finding it still there.”

After spending most of 1917 in hospital, Jerrold commanded the Naval Division Officers’ School at Aldershot in 1918. In his memoir, he explains what he tried to do there. Young men with neatly brushed hair and a “good” education came to him, and he tried to turn them into proper soldiers – by which he meant thinking soldiers.

I had as a rule three weeks to teach these officers to think and to act on their own initiative, to argue and become at least potentially insubordinate.

That last phrase may sound surprising, but the proudest moments in Jerrold’s war memoirs are those in which he stands up to a superior officer, and on one occasion refuses to obey an order, for the greater good of his men.
This sort of tough-minded can-do attitude seems exactly the same as that of the one-armed officer who wrote the National Review article. Jerrold also wrote The Lie About the War, a 1930 polemic against the “futility” type of war memoir.


  1. The Shadow
    Posted March 20, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    This is absolutely fascinating! The complete lack of self-pity is very bracing, and it strikes me that, allowing for the obvious changes in technology, it is the sort of article that might benefit contemporary amputees. I don’t suppose that I’ll be able to find any copies of THE NATIONAL REVIEW any time soon, but I intend to look out for GEORGIAN ADVENTURE on my next binge of antique book buying.

  2. Posted March 20, 2009 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Jerrold’s Georgian Adventure is highly recommended – especially for its account of Gallipoli.
    Jerrold was there with A.P. Herbert, who wrote his own account in The Secret Battle – and while on the Peninsula wrote this poem about the flies that plagued the soldiers of the expeditionary force:

    There once was a man who said “Why
    Should I suffer the bites of this fly?
    I’m prepared to concede
    That it must have a feed,
    But let it be Jerrold, not I.”

  3. Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I can’t resist adding a link to this news story.

Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: