Category Archives: Language


I’m half-way through (and thoroughly enjoying) Warwick Deeping’s Suvla John (1924). It’s about a soldier, supposed killed at Gallipoli, who comes back secretly after several years, dressed as a tramp, to discover his younger brother in charge of the family estate and his fiancée married to a cad. The cad’s father had been a Northern […]


Does anything date more appallingly than good intentions? In Richard Blaker’s Medal Without Bar (1930) the first time we hear of a soldier called Fishstein is when he is leaving: For the other man, “Ikey” Fishstein, the battery’s Jew, there was nothing in particular that could be done. Richards had dabbed iodine on a dozen […]

A Somme diary

Today’s Daily Telegraph has extracts from  a recently discovered Army notebook, containing a diary of the first four days of the Battle of the Somme (though the strapline seems to think that this took place in 1917…) It  describes some grim horrors, but with a turn of phrase that speaks volumes about the attitudes of […]

Arnold Bennett’s ignorance

I’m very fond of this letter from Bennett to Richard Blaker in 1925:  My ignorance on the subject which you mention is complete. It is a perfect sphere, and you can walk round it and not find a flaw anywhere. Otherwise I would have been delighted to be of assistance. Goodness knows what the subject […]

Two Words

In Richard Blaker’s Medal Without Bar (1929), we learn some of the history of the appalling officer, Dolbey: Dolbey was  arraigned, through the proper channels, by an indignant and dignified old Sergeant for cursing him on parade and in the presence of his subordinates with two words that no good soldier may use, save in […]

D.H.Lawrence as King Lear

The Lawrence description of a Zeppelin that I posted yesterday has got me thinking about Lawrence and his attitude to the war. The sudden change in the psychological and ethical atmosphere of Britain must have been a challenge for all writers, but for none more than Lawrence. Nobody in the pre-war years had analysed relations […]

Don’t Mention the War

I’ve written before about reticence in Great War writings – the urge (or even need) not to speak about certain things. In The War Workers, E.M.Delafield is very alert to subtleties of wartime manners, and presents an interesting dinner-table conversation. Lesbia Willoughby is a florid middle-aged lady “with the voice of a pea-hen” who is […]

H. M. Tomlinson on War Books

Tomlinson was a war correspondent for the Daily News, and later assistant editor of The Nation. In this extract from Waiting for Daylight (1922) he is considering the value of what has been written about the war, and saying why – in his  opinion – so few truthful books have dealt with the conflict: I […]

A Literary Critic

Vincent Sherry is a critic of Great War literature who seems to be highly regarded; or at least, his writings are found in the most prestigious places.  But I just can’t get on with him. Still, I’ve been thinking about T.S.Eliot’s reaction to the war, so I went back to The Great War and the […]

Great War II

A while back I wrote a post about early uses of the term “The Great War”. My examples from the Union Jack comic and The Nation magazine were pipped by the OED’s reference – Maclean’s Magazine in October 1914. But now I’ve come across a reference (which I’ve not checked personally) to an article in […]