Following Sassoon in France

Last week’s trip to France with Battle Honours Tours exceeded my expectations.
The tour’s title was Sassoon on the Western Front, and our itinerary followed his military progress, around the places in France where he served and fought. We had two guides. Rory Stephens took us through the military background with commendably revisionist enthusiasm and panache, and Viv Whelpton dealt admirably with Sassoon and the literary side. She gave us each a thick booklet of well-chosen readings (extracts from poems, diaries and novels) and at appropriate places we’d take turns to read Sassoon’s accounts of what he was doing and thinking at various junctures. Many of the members of the tour had their own expertise and contributed knowledge and insights. Read More »

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To the Front, with Sassoon

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Marion and I are off to London today, and tomorrow will be heading to Ebbsfleet, to join a tour organised by Battle Honours, in conjunction with the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship: Siegfried Sassoon on the Western Front.

We’ll be following the poet’s wartime career, beginning in Festubert, where he met Robert Graves (‘a young poet, captain in the Third Battalion, and very much disliked’, he wrote in his diary); then on to the Somme and Arras.

I’ve been to the Salient a couple of times, but have never visited the Somme, so am greatly looking forward to it.  I’ll take my camera, and will report here when we return.

Yesterday was a good day. My contributor’s copy of The Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and the Arts arrived. I’ve just been reading a very good chapter by Toby Haggith, on the making and reception of the Battle of the Somme film. I’ve also enjoyed Peter Grant’s piece on the ways that the Great War has been treated in popular music over the last half-century. And Kate Macdonald’s chapter on the wartime periodical press is something I wish I’d had to guide me when I started researching; truly useful.  And I’ve re-read my own chapter on ‘British Soldiers’ Songs’. Bloody good, if you ask me.

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‘Dayspring Mishandled’ in the Strand Magazine

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I’ve just got hold of the Strand magazine for July, 1928 (Thank you, Cotswold Internet Books). As well as Kipling’s ‘Dayspring Mishandled’, it contains P.G.Wodehouse’s ‘The Passing of Ambrose’ (later turned into a Mulliner story, and a serial episode of Sapper’s The Female of the Species. The Strand‘s readers got value for their shilling that month.

‘Dayspring Mishandled’ in this early printing has quite a few differences from the version collected in Limits and Renewals (1932).
Read More »

More on Kipling and Syphilis

Some more thoughts on this subject, partly as a response to Roger’s comment on my ‘Kipling and Syphilis’ post of a fortnight ago.

How likely is it that syphilis is a theme of ‘Dayspring Mishandled’?

It can at least be shown that venereal disease was a concern of Kipling’s throughout his career. As I suggested before, in a very late work, Something of Myself , Kipling refers back to his early days as a reporter, and his horror at seeing men suffer, and his anger that

‘official virtue cost our Army in India nine thousand expensive white men a year always laid up from venereal disease.’

It was after he left India that he wrote a story (set on the sub-continent) that treats the disease with a frankness very uncommon for its period.
‘Love o’ Women’ is the last of the ‘Soldiers Three’ stories. Read More »

‘Khaki and Kisses’ at Sheffield

khaki and kisses

Last minute reminder for ‘Khaki and Kisses’, three talks on First World War fiction at Sheffield Hallam University tomorrow (Thursday 22nd).

I shall be speaking about Great War fiction generally; then Prof. Chris Hopkins will discuss the romantic novels of Berta Ruck and Dr Erica Brown will talk about Elizabeth von Armin.

Full details are here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/khaki-and-kisses-popular-fiction-of-world-war-one-tickets-33272243175 (It’s a free event, but you can book in advance.)

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The Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and the Arts

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Of all the research I’ve done over the past few years, the job I’ve most enjoyed has been finding out about the songs that British soldiers sang songs. This was for my contribution to the Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and the Arts.

Big thanks to editors Anne-Marie Einhaus and Katherine Baxter for setting me the task.

I’m glad to hear that the Companion is now on sale. Here is the list of chapters: Read More »

Ted Hughes

I spent yesterday at the Ted Hughes conference in the smart Heritage Quay suite at Huddersfield University. I gave a paper titled ‘Ted Hughes and Gallipoli’, about his representations of his father’s war (William Hughes was on the peninsula with the 1st/5th Lancashire Fusiliers and, Hughes wrote, remained ‘undemobbed’, still troubled by his experiences for years after.
Hughes was born in 1930, but his father’s war shadowed his childhood. He wrote:

[T]hose born after the First World War but before the late thirties – that slightly different species who took in the blood of the First World War with their mother’s milk, and who up to their middle age knew Britain only as a country always at war, or inwardly expecting and preparing for war.

Read More »

Wonder Woman (12A)

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Huddled in a front line trench in November 1918, a Belgian refugee bemoans her flight to some visitors. Inflamed by the narrative, one of the visitors, a young woman, rips off her coat and dress, and, clad only in a sort of armour plated swimming costume, nimbly slips over the top to confront the enemy. The Germans are understandably interested by the sight, and begin to open fire on her. Luckily, she has a magic shield with her, which deflects snipers’ bullets and even machine-gun fire. Because she is drawing the enemy fire, the British behind her realise they have an opportunity to cross No-Man’s Land. (This is possible because, although the landscape is devastated and hellish, this is a part of the front, where, despite the two armies having faced each other there for four years, ‘without moving more than a few inches’, nobody has thought to install barbed wire to impede the progress of an attack.)
Once the Brits have speedily taken control of the German trench, they are then able to move unimpeded to the village just behind the lines, and to the thanks of grateful Belgians. The Germans, obviously, had not thought of defence in depth…
The new  Wonder Woman film is very silly, but I enjoyed it hugely. Read More »

Kipling and Syphilis

The June edition of the Kipling Journal arrived today, including a letter I wrote to the editor about the story ‘Dayspring Mishandled’ (collected in Limits and Renewals of 1932). I suggest that the hidden theme of the story is the subject of syphilis (unmentionable in the family-oriented magazines where Kipling’s work was usually published) . Here is the letter: Read More »

In pursuit of Rollo Balmain and Sara Mignon

Recently I’ve being trying to find out everything I can about a rather obscure pair of playwrights. They are Rollo Balmain and Sara Mignon, authors of Are We Downhearted? and A Sailor’s Love, both staged in 1915. Rollo Balmain alone is credited with A British Soldier, a topical play that hit the stage in September 1914, just six or seven weeks after the declaration of war.
My research is part of the Recovering First World War Theatre project, organised by Dr Helen Brooks of the University of Kent. She and her assiduous team have gone through the vast store of plays in the archive of the Lord Chamberlain (His office read every play about to performed in a public theatre in Britain, and allowed or disallowed the scripts, or demanded cuts and changes. This system of pre-censorship persisted until 1968.) They have noted all the scripts applying for licenses between 1914 and 1918, and have discovered that a large number of these deal with the war. In each of the years of the war, at least a quarter of the scripts make some dramatic use of the war (and a huge number of them are spy plays).
I have joined the crowd of volunteers who are now trying to find out about the performance histories of the plays, and about the lives of the playwrights. For the purposes of the project, the most crucial fact is the date of the playwright’s death, because this determines whether or not the script is in the public domain, and can therefore be legally published online by the project.
I was struck by the exotic names of Rollo Balmain and Rosa Mignon, and I liked the Lord Chamberlain’s reader’s summary of Balmain’s play, A British Soldier, licensed in September 1914: Read More »