I’m reading Ernest Raymond’s The Jesting Army (1930).
The army is near Gilban (in Egypt), heading towards the Battle of Romani (August 1916). The soldiers are singing:
…certainly not Tipperary, which had been discarded immediately the newspapers made it into the Soldiers’ Song [….] but in high chorus they invited someone to wash them in the water in which he washed his dirty daughter, that they might be whiter than the whitewash on the wall; or they proclaimed that they all lived at number 24, and at number 24 there was a knocker on the door; or they announced to the stragglers of Gilban that they were the New York swells, and they were respected wherever they might go…
I don’t know the ‘Number 24’ song. Can anyone help?
Judging by the words alone, it sounds oddly like ‘Yellow Submarine’…
The Jesting Army did not go down very well with some reviewers. In the TLS, Cyril Falls, who often had harsh words for the ‘disillusioned’ war novels, felt that this went too far the other way:
We have had of late a good deal of the war as seen by iconoclasts and cynics; ‘The Jesting Army’ is war as seen by a sentimentalist. Mr Raymond is indeed so sentimental that many readers will find the scowl which the cynics aroused replaced by a blush when they read his pages.
Humbert Wolfe in the Observer could not take the utterly decent idealised officers:
I cannot say there were not such soldiers and such officers in the Great War, nor can I say that Mr. Ian Hay’s heroes, for example, would not brush away a tear, in the interval of hitting sixes and winning the Diamond Sculls, if doings such as these were reported to them But […] they are not facts, they are not ideas, they are just expressions of opinion. Those who agree with the opinions will like the book. I do not agree with the opinions.
The Sunday Times, though, approved of its depiction of ‘the British Army – the Army that could jest in the face of unutterable horrors, that fought without hate and suffered without anger’.
I’m half way through it and moderately enjoying it, especially the details of the Egyptian campaign, which is rarely dealt with in fiction. It does get a bit pious, though.