Stephen Graham

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Stephen Graham’s A Private in the Guards is the most  considered and penetrating of twenties war memoirs. His account of the training methods used by N.C.Os in the Scots Guards lays great stress on ‘the humiliation of recruits by words or blows’ and ‘the use of glaringly indecent language’.  I’ve just discovered that Graham’s account was disturbing enough to be raised in the House of Commons. Here’s Hansard for 4 November, 1918:

§ Mr. BRIANT asked the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been called to the charges of brutality and bribery in connection with the treatment of recruits in the Guards; and, in view of the prejudicial effect of such statements on recruiting and the reputation of the Army, if he will order an inquiry to be made as to the truth of the allegations?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I cannot undertake to order an inquiry into allegations of the vague and general character of those to which the hon. Member refers.

§ Mr. BRIANT
Are not some of these cases given categorically with the names of the persons concerned and all the evidence connected therewith?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have not read the book in question myself, but I do not believe that I should be justified in ordering an inquiry of this character because a book has been published by an individual containing a number of accusations.

Captain TERRELL
Will the right hon. Gentleman flatly contradict these statements?

§ Sir C. WARNER
Is there any means by which false statements may be corrected, and the injury to the Navy and the Army which this book and the consequent article in the “Times” will bring about can be stopped?

Sir J. D. REES
Had not the system which produced the best Infantry in the world better be left alone?

§ Mr. BRIANT
Should I be in order in raising this question on the Army Estimates this week?

Mr. SPEAKER
That is for the Chairman of Ways and Means to decide.

The interesting thing is that Graham goes a long way towards endorsing the tough methods of training and discipline that so horrified some M.P.s. As the first sentence of his book says:

‘The sterner the discipline the better the soldier, the better the army.’

I discovered about this while browsing in the Guardian archive, which has now been put online, and is available through academic libraries. This lets one search through the complete run of copies of the Manchester Guardian and Observer, and is a brilliant way of spending an afternoon. My greatest joy came from discovering some Max Beerbohm cartoons that I’d never seen before, including one of Arnold Bennett. The site is plastered with copyright notices prohibiting reproduction, or I’d have copied some of these for you. As it is, I just recommend anyone who can do so to go trawling in the archive. You will discover treasures.

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