This is just a note to say that Tim Kendall’s excellent documentary, ‘Ivor Gurney: The Poet who loved the War’, is now available to watch in full on Vimeo:
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:
An anecdote from Arnold Bennett (New Statesman, December, 1918)
The other day I met a British officer who had been wounded nine times, captured by the Germans while in a state of unconsciousness, and in England reported killed. He seemed to be perfectly well and perfectly cheerful. But one matter had aroused his resentment. It was not that as a prisoner he had received only six parcels out of thirty-nine dispatched by his friends. It was not that on returning to life and England he had had to pay for the advertisements of his own decease in the Times and the later advertisements contradicting the same. It was that his solicitor had forwarded to him, among other bills, a bill thus conceived: “To Memorial Service (fully choral), three guineas.” Somehow the words “fully choral” rankled in his mind.
Edgar Wallace was once the best-known and best-selling author in Britain. His thrillers caused sensations and were read by just about everyone. His plays packed theatres. His sales in Germany and elsewhere were immense, too. Is he still read, except as a curiosity? I don’t think his thrillers have worn as well as Sapper’s.
He started as a journalist, and reported the Boer War. Sometimes in South Africa he tried his hand at verse, and produced pieces that were tough and realistic. here’s one I didn’t know until today. It was printed in the Spectator in 1902:
I’m currently enjoying Peter Keating’s 1994 book, Kipling the Poet. (Peter Keating was one of my course tutors when I did my M.A. at the University of Leicester, back in the early seventies, and I can hear his voice in the book.)
The chapter ‘Armageddon’, on the poetry Kipling wrote during the Great War is especially interesting, and I was rather surprised to find there i poem that I had not previously come across. It is called The Sons of the Suburbs, and is not included in the standard Collected Poems (though I expect it is in Pinney, which I can’t afford).
The story behind it is that Kipling was asked for a contribution to the Christmas 1916 issue of Blighty, weekly magazine issued free to World War I troops. It was distributed by the War Office, the Admiralty and the Red Cross, and subsidised through donations and sales to the general public. As it happens, I’ve got a facsimile copy of that 1916 Christmas issue (reprinted some years ago by the IWM).
A while ago I wrote here about Galsworthy’s eighth Forsyte novel, Flowering Wilderness (1932). That is the book in which the disillusioned war poet Wilfred Desert has just returned from Darfur, in the Sudan, where he had been kidnapped by fanatical followers of the Mahdi, and told he must convert to Islam, on pain of death. Having no Christian religious convictions, Desert acquiesces. When back in London he is looked at askance by those who had never been put into so challenging a position.
‘Tis cold ! Heap on the logs—and let’s get tight !
The Gods can turn this world for just one night.
I will enjoy myself and be no scorner
Of any nice girl giggling in a corner.
A blog reader alerts me to an exhibition in South London, which promises to be worth seeing. It is Remembering 1916: Life on the Western Front at the Whitgift Centre, Croydon. The website includes a fascinating photo gallery of artefacts, including the British gas helmet and rattle pictured here. The rattle was used to sound warning of a gas attack.