I’ve read some good articles over the years about the reading habits of soldiers in France, and the literature supplied to them.
What I hadn’t considered much before was what they were discouraged from reading. Here’s Arnold Bennett, writing in February 1919, about the committee who ran the Camps Library, and made sure it did not contain material damaging to their own religious prejudices:
But I really am somewhat surprised at a recent action of that vast institution, the Camps Library, whose chairman is Sir Edward Ward (forty-four years’ military service), and whose honorary director is the Honourable Dame Eva Anstruther. We are being specially urged just now to remember that the soldiers still bound to the slack tedium of military duty need literature for their diversion. I have supported the Camps Library myself; but I shall hesitate about doing so in future—and I imagine that many others will hesitate—until some satisfactory explanation is given of the fact that the authorities controlling the Camps Library obstinately refuse gifts of books by Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Mill, Spencer, Matthew Arnold, Lecky, Ray Lankester, and other illustrious champions of man’s right to think for himself. In the autumn of last year a clergyman named Nolloth protested in the Daily Mail against the pernicious spread of rationalist literature in military camps. The official ban on Darwin, Matthew Arnold, and Co. appears to have been the result of this clerical protest. Messrs. Watts are the publishers of the cheap reprints of the aforesaid improper authors, and they had made a habit of presenting copies of their publications to the Camps Library. It was intimated to them that the habit must cease. Correspondence ensued. The following was the final epistle from the Honourable Dame Eva Anstruther: “In reply to your letter of the 23rd December, which I have shown to our chairman, Sir Edward Ward, I regret that I have nothing to add to my letter of 19th November informing you that, as we are reorganising this Library, we do not for the present see our way to accepting your kind offer of the popular scientific reprints.” And so that’s that. I should like to inquire whether the Camps Library refuses, or has ever refused, orthodox Church of England literature. I should also like to ask how long “for the present” is to continue. As long as it continues we are fronted with the interesting phenomenon that our “citizen army” is being officially deprived of an opportunity of reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and Matthew Arnold’s Literature and Dogma.