August 1914

Here’s a paragraph from Allan Monkhouse’s 1919 novel, True Love (about which I shall write more later):

He encountered queues of men at the recruiting offices waiting their turn to enlist. One day he walked along a line, and, regarded critically, it didn’t seem that the might of Germany had much to fear from these. They looked strangely small and shabby ; they joked a little sometimes, they lounged, they spat; some looked sullen, and some appeared to be gazing at an object infinitely far away; many had the Briton’s air of consciously making a fool of himself. He came to the end of the line and started, for there was the little man of the German restaurant. He looked defiant and apologetic too. He grinned faintly and said : “Ad to do it.” And Geoffrey felt then that there had never been anything like this in the world before, that nothing had ever mattered so much, that to falter now would be baseness and misery. As he paused there, the little man looked at him inquiringly and muttered again : ” Ad to.” Geoffrey shook hands with him and hurried away.

He saw Lindsay that night and told him that he wanted to go.

3 Comments

  1. Posted January 10, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    “One day he walked along a line, and, regarded critically, it didn’t seem that the might of Germany had much to fear from these. They looked strangely small and shabby; they joked a little sometimes, they lounged, they spat; some looked sullen, and some appeared to be gazing at an object infinitely far away; many had the Briton’s air of consciously making a fool of himself.”

    This seems to have been a persistent perception of Britain and the British army through thw war: see Ford’s Parade’s End:
    “A very minute subaltern–Aranjuez–in a perfectly impossible tin hat peered round the side of the bank. Tietjens sent him away for a moment…These tin hats were probably all right: but they were the curse of the army. They bred distrust! How could you trust a man whose incapable hat tumbled forward on his nose? Or another, with his hat on the back of his head, giving him the air of a ruined gambler! Or a fellow who had put on a soap-dish. To amuse the children: not a serious proceeding…The German things were better–coming down over the nape of the neck and rising over the brows. When you saw a Hun sideways he looked something: a serious proposition. Full of ferocity. A Hun against a Tommie looked like a Holbein landsknecht fighting a music-hall turn. It made you feel that you were indeed a rag-time army. Rubbed it in!”

    • Posted January 10, 2012 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      I agree that it seems to have been a persistent perception – and also maybe a source of pride. Patrick MacGill called his first war book ‘The Amateur Army’ and Britons often liked to present themselves as amateurs, improvising a war against the German professionals, and fighting frightfulnesswith doggedness and sincerity.

  2. Posted January 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Ah, but the British volunteers had PLUCK!


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