Re-reading J.G. Fuller’s very good book Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-1918 (1990) I came across this poem (or maybe it’s just a snippet from a longer text – I don’t know) quoted from a 1917 issue of The Outpost (Journal of the Glasgow Commercial Bn.) No author is given:

We are marching back from the battle,
Where we’ve all left mates behind,
And our officers are gloomy,
And the N.C.O.’s are kind, –
When a jew’s harp breaks the silence,
Purring out an old refrain;
And we thunder through the village,
Roaring ‘Here we are again.’

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Mr Muller

I like this, from the Sunday Times of 1915:


Lieutenant F.W. Nettleingham

In the Bookman for 1917 I’ve found a photo of a hero of mine – Lieutenant F. W. Nettleingham, the compiler of Tommy’s Tunes, the first and best collection of soldiers’ songs. Read More »

Kipling invents the soldier

From A Soldier’s Mamories by Major-General Sir George Younghusband K.C.M.G., K.C.I.E., F.R.G.S., etc. (1917)

And now for a curious thing. I myself had served for many years with soldiers, but had never once heard the words or expressions that Rudyard Kipling’s soldiers used. Many a time did I ask my brother Officers whether they had ever heard them. No, never. But sure enough, a few years after the soldiers thought, and talked, and expressed them-selves exactly like Rudyard Kipling had taught them in his stories! He would get a stray word here, or a stray expression there, and weave them into general soldier talk, in his priceless stories. Rudyard Kipling made the modern soldier.

Other writers have gone on with the good work, and they have between them manufactured the cheery, devil-may-care, lovable person enshrined in our hearts as Thomas Atkins. Before he had learnt from reading stories about himself that he, as an individual, also possessed the above attributes, he was mostly ignorant of the fact. My early recollections of the British soldier are of a bluff, rather surly person, never the least jocose or light-hearted, except perhaps when he had too much beer. He was brave always, but with a sullen, stubborn bravery. No Tipperary or kicking foot-balls about it.

To Rudyard Kipling and his fellow-writers the Army owes a great debt of gratitude for having produced the splendid type of soldier who now stands as the English type.

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‘The House by the River’

Last year I gave a paper at the Oxford War Poetry conference, about the ways that war poets were depicted in novels of the twenties. I gave it the title ‘I too am a murderer’(a quotation from Patrick Hamilton’s Rope) – but I had no idea then that there was a 1921 in novel in which a war poet commits a murder.
The first chapter of The House by the River by A.P. Herbert introduces us to Stephen Byrne, a poet very much in the mould of Rupert Brooke: Read More »

Eliot, Lawrence and ‘Lady Chatterley’


From the forthcoming BBC version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Last week’s Times Literary Supplement included a recently rediscovered 1927 essay by T. S. Eliot on modern British novelists. Eliot’s judgement on D. H. Lawrence is devastating: Read More »

Kate Macdonald defends Buchan

Worth listening to is the new Guardian podcast, in which Kate Macdonald and Robert McCrum talk about John Buchan and The Thirty-Nine Steps. Kate makes a good case for Buchan, and defends him against charges of Anti-Semitism.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.



John Galswortnhy’s 1922 play Loyalties includes one of the more interesting twenties portrayals of an ex-soldier.
Captain Ronald Dancey has most of the military virtues – dash, courage, resolution – but has not done well in the peacetime world. The play brings him into conflict with Ferdinand de Levis, rich and successful in everything he does, and Jewish. After a Newmarket race meeting where de Levis has done very well, both are staying at a country house, when a thousand pounds goes missing from de Levis’s room. De Levis accuses Dancey of being a thief, and things get nasty. Read More »

Unfair to Bloomsbury

In yesterday’s episode of Life in Squares, the BBC drama serial about the Bloomsbury Group, the First World War came and went.

It incommoded them slightly, one gathered. The chaps had to get themselves muddy on a farm, pretending that they were doing work of national importance to avoid conscription, and all of them got a bit miserable, but by and large the war was less important to them than their own romantic tangles. Read More »

Who is ‘A.C.A.’?

Here’s the beginning of an article in the Times for 29th September, 1914:

marching songs

In all, the paper prints six of these efforts, each putting topical words to a traditional tune. So who is ‘A.C.A.’? If he’s familiar to officers from their schooldays, does this make him the author of a textbook, or perhaps the editor of a school anthology? Read More »


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