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Posts Tagged ‘World War 1’

“Honestly, your writing’s terrible!”

Grandfather looks up from the fly he’s tying – a March Brown, he told me as he settled at a table covered in small boxes of silks and feathers. “What are you reading, lass?”

“It’s this” I waggle his Army Field Message book in his direction. Army Book 153.

“I had been shot in the shoulder when I was captured.” he reminds me, exasperated.

I sigh. “I know, Grandfather, forgive me. It’s just… well, I really want to be able to read it”. He looks at me – carefully excluding from his glance the book in which he’d scribbled bits of his life in 1916 . “I’d like to find out more about your time in PoW camp.”

“Well, lass.” His hands fall from his work. “I came back. It should rest there.”

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After weeks in the leafy dark, I crawl blinking, scratched and tattered from a clump of briars – a metaphorical tangle of thorns pulling me this way and that, snagging on half-formed ideas, hazy thoughts and slow-won research. So what prompted this off-blog excursion? A fox hunt and a book, that’s what. The hunt quietly trampled over my powers of reason and the books exploded my little knowledge of war into a dangerous thing.
Hmm. No wonder it’s been quiet on the relativleyfrank front…

So – the books first: two really fascinating books about the First World War I’ve been immersed in over the past couple of months are ‘Forgotten Voices of the Somme’ by Joshua Levine and ‘To End All Wars’ by Adam Hochschild. The first is a collection of verbatim reports about various aspects of the Battle of the Somme given by men who were there, of various ranks. Yes, it is tough reading in places, but it’s also wry, surprising, touching, fatalistic, uncompromising and sometimes amusing. The second puts forward a fascinating variety of viewpoints about WW1, including those of dissenters, generals, politicians, propagandists and suffragettes.

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

I’d just started reading Adam Hochschild’s observations about how officers at the turn of the last century tended to come from the Cavalry, which in turn came from the moneyed classes because only they could afford the horses and kit, and were used to riding and – of course – hunting, when also I re-read TMP’s ‘A Tale – The Cleveland Fox’.

On the face of it, in the essay (written November 1922) TMP simply reports the description of an extraordinary chase by the Sinnington Hunt in the early 1880s as related by ‘The Colonel’ who had participated. The fox they flushed was reputed to have travelled to the locality around Kirkbymoorside and Sinnington from Cleveland, and to have run about twenty miles pretty much in a straight line due north in a bid to get home to safety. The essay is well written, but not really one of his best, but the essence of it is the admiration for the extraordinary feats of endurance and instinct on the part of the quarry, expressed not only by the Colonel but also by other members of the Hunt.

At the end of the essay, TMP’s fellow SES members enter into arguments for and against fox-hunting, which are all very familiar, even a hundred years on. I confess I don’t understand how civilised people could chase a creature to exhaustion and then allow a pack of baying hounds to tear it apart. But then I’m a soft southern suburbanite – what do I know? So I had to go and research it, didn’t I – and the first briars started catching at my sleeve.

The Sinnington Hunt, which Charles Clark Frank used to run with on foot as a boy, is a renowned Hunt of long-standing in North Yorkshire. It has a very good website at: http://www.sinningtonhunt.co.uk (sadly, though, the history doesn’t mention ‘The Old Gentleman’ Tom Parrington as Master of Foxhounds, although he was apparently quite noteworthy in the area in his time – see August 2012 archive), and seems to be thriving, in spite of the ban on hunting with dogs (or “Hounds if you please, gentlemen!” as TMP insists – followed by an explanation, of course!).

On this very good website is a thorny document called ‘Hunting, Wildlife Management and the Moral Issue’ which is a revised version of a report first published in 2009 by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management and the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group. This paper is well worth reading. It states the case for hunting with dogs, and it does so very reasonably and convincingly, particularly considering is was written by vets. Check it out (at the bottom of the webpage) at: http://www.sinningtonhunt.co.uk/17.html

By the time I’d read that document, I’d also absorbed more information about the utterly inhuman attitudes of the officers and politicians waging the war against Germany, and running cunning and sophisticated propaganda campaigns at home because they needed more troops for the Front. So I became well and truly snagged, stuck and tangled in a morass of moral brambles.

The extraordinary self-belief and pompous certitude of the chateau-dwelling generals safe behind the front line are well documented, but the sheer callousness of massively promoting patriotism and viciously stamping on pacifism at home simply in order to increase the quantity bodies to be peremptorily pulped in the bloody war machine, is shocking.

Accostomed to simply massacring peoples they perceived as inferior – for example, in the Boer War – these leaders of men were apparently unable to make the intellectual leap to even entertain the possibility that perhaps their tactics were, at best, ineffective. They simply stuck to their guns and expected the enemy to ‘play the game’. Like the instance when the Germans began to gas against the Allied army – a week prior to the gas attack a German message had been intercepted requisitioning 20,000 gas masks for German troops, but no-one had thought to act on the information. Men were just numbers.

According to his son, General Douglas Haig:

“felt it his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty clearing stations, because these visits made him physically ill.”1

A hint of humanity? Or perhaps too much harsh reality for the man who wrote:

“The nation must be taught to bear losses, … Three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of the manhood of the nation is not too great a price to pay in so great a cause.”

Hochschild records that Haig could: ‘fly into a rage when he thought British losses – and so, by association, German ones – were too low.’ And ‘Hungry Haig’ taught his subordinates well: ‘On September 30 … General Rawlinson wrote in his diary “Lawford dined. In very good form. His Division lost 11,000 casualties since July 1.”2 News of these appalling losses was filtering through to those at home. But still they came, believing that there was a ’great cause’ to fight for.

(So the briars and brambles snake and tangle – what on earth drove men to enlist in their millions? Propaganda and patriotism? But can such a double-edged sword really be enough of a prod? Could a greater spur be the fear of being thought unpatriotic? Or was the propaganda so convincing that a sense of adventure could be sufficiently stirred to make a man sign up? Are any of these really sufficient incentives?)

Remoteness was what the exalted commanders excelled in, dealing only with facts and figures. Nearer the action, but still safely behind the lines, some cavalry officers, redundant in the face of a no-man’s land filled with craters and barbed wire, held competitions, a horse show, or went fox-hunting with dogs they had brought with them to France.
Some officers, and even some troops, are recorded as revelling in what Julian Grenfell called the:

“fighting-excitement [which] vitalizes everything, every sign and word and action.”3

As a keen huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ Lord’s son, Grenfell was a good shot, and took his ‘game book’ with him when he went to fight in France. In it were entries for October 1914 of ‘105 partridges’ bagged at home, followed by ‘One Pomeranian’ on November 16 and ‘Two Pomeranians’ the next day, after a raid on a German trench.4 Julian Grenfell is celebrated as a Poet of the Great War in Westminster Abbey, for, among other work, ‘Into Battle’: http://net.lib.byu.edu/english/wwi/poets/IntoBattle.html. He was killed in action in 1915.

Will it ever be possible to truly understand why men were willing to endure the appalling conditions and sacrifices they experienced in the trenches of the First World War? The sheer complexity of this animal we call human makes it possible for the decision-makers to plot their wide objectives with intellectual detachment, then stir the blood and raise the emotions to persuade men to fight to attain them, no matter what the cost, no matter whether their efforts were effective.

Enmerging from my thorny thicket, I realise I had always believed the main characteristics of both hunting and war to be oppression and callousness, and that a sort of ‘Tally Ho!’ mentality prevailed among the generals due to their privileged backgrounds. Now, although a few snags remain, I am certain that the oppression and callousness are solely attributable to those who plan and wage war. Politicians and commanders who commit men to kill each other for one ‘great cause’ or another, seem to deny their humanity to the point of blindness, rigidly sticking to their decisions, and damn the consequences, so long as their objectives (which are not always obvious or great) are achieved. Apparently, few peace negotiations were undertaken during the First World War, and both sides assumed that it would be over within months of starting, even as it continued and the human cost grew. Besides, God was on the side of the righteous.

As far as hunting goes, everything’s a lot clearer. During a chase, the fox, a ‘quarry species’ brings all its instincts to bear to evade the hounds, and does not experience fear in the manner attributed to it by humans, who do. Hounds are a ‘scenting and tracking’ species, and if a hound finds its quarry, the kill is instant, so no fox escapes to die slowly of injuries. Both animals do what comes naturally, and before hunting with dogs was banned in 2005, humans on horseback usually followed them, appreciating the thrill of the chase and admiring the tactics of the fox – and only one in six foxes were killed during any season.

Exrtacts from ‘A Tale – The Cleveland Fox’ written in 1922:
Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p2

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p3

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p4

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p5

References
1 P210, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
2 p209, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
3, 4 p126, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild

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Whatever happens I shall never be anything but glad that I did get my chance to go to the War – it robbed me of my good prospects in life, but I am still alive : where so many gave up their lives in all the splendid promise of their youth.


And it might be that in the after time, by reason of my thus having simply done my duty (and God knows that it was also my pleasure!) some one who loves me may say, in charity, that ‘His life had some smatch of honour in it’
.”

So ‘Jottings from my Autobigraphy’ ends. I believe I have come as near to loving someone I’ve never met as may be possible, and now it is “the after time”, and I say – in truth, not in charity – that my grandfather’s life had an abundance of honour in it, and I give thanks for him with all my heart.

*

Can’t help wondering what on earth ‘smatch’ means. It has to be a typo, surely – but no, apparently it’s simply another word for ‘smack’!
There has been a long delay since I was last able to actually work on the essays, but during that time I was aware of a strange mixture of feelings: I’d nearly finished reading them and was keen to complete the circle, but I didn’t want to get to that apparently final point. I was also getting really frustrated that there has been no opportunity recently to get on with it!
Glimpsing my grandfather’s “richly stored and variegated rag-bag” of a mind through his essays has been a hugely rewarding and at times deeply moving experience which I started very reluctantly – and rather erratically – when I brought home several carrier bags crammed with filthy, dusty old papers, sometime in 2010, I think. There are still a few papers to sort, but I believe all the complete essays are now read, scanned, logged, labelled and filed in date order.

So now it is done.

The Essays

The Essays in their serried ranks. Behind are 4 boxes – and many photos to sort!

Or is it? I need to start sorting the photos! But that’s not the last of the essays – in fact, I now feel as though I’m starting a different phase. I shall be re-reading some of them, researching further, and continuing the blog. I wonder where the search will this lead me now?  To Wikipedia  –  and beyond!

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As I read CCF’s later essays, I’m getting a sense of strain and pressure. I’ve just read scanned and logged two more, dated 1931. The first is shorter than usual, ‘King Cups and Brown Water’- written very quickly and up against submission deadline, and ‘Remembrance’, which he actually wrote and submitted to the SES in 1923.
In 1931 CCF was 60 and struggling with the daily grind – including all the joys and difficulties of having a four-year-old son. He probably didn’t know it at the time (although I wonder if he was already wrestling with the notion) but he was to resign from the SES in 1933, as he felt he just could not continue to commit the time or energy to his writing. I think there are only three more essays left for me to read. However – I’m hoping the next session of sorting through the remaining miscellaneous papers might yield more…
‘Anticipations’ which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, was written in the spring of 1931, and delightfully captures its theme:

essays

He is, of course, anticipating a weekend’s fishing – what else! This city-dwelling countryman is joyfully looking forward to revelling in the restorative powers of his natural habitat.

essays

And who can blame him – he reveals that he is currently presiding as temporary Chairman of the Court of Referees in Hull “which is the only tribunal to allow or disallow claims, under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, to the out-of-work benefit, commonly called by the recipients (but not by the Court) ‘the Dole’.” On the day of writing the essay, he had heard – and taken all the notes for – 50 claims, and says his is an “an honourable as well as difficult position” in which he feels like “…a cat walking along a wall newly guarded with broken glass!” He is a solicitor, and is working alongside two barristers.
According to one of the many articles about the inter-war years on the internet, unemployment peaked at around 3 million in 1933 – while England was in the grip of the Great Depression – which was about approximately 20% of the working population. Many of those who had fought for their country were unable to find work.
CCF seems to have been a very altruistic and sensitive person, and being in such a position where “…it must always be borne in mind that every claimant is out of work, and that every decision of the Court is of very grave importance to him or her.” must have been a huge strain – indeed, he mentions his “tired brain and soul”.
No wonder he was looking forward to “getting away into the open air for some days, [and] to feel and hear the water rippling past my waders once more!”

River Dove, Ryedale Yorkshire

Not fishing but eating – a pause in our walk along the River Dove

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Well now. I’ve read, scanned and logged six more essays (‘Cats’, ‘The SES’, ‘Laughter’ and ‘A Dramatic Situation’ all written in 1929 and ‘Anticipations’ and ‘School Days’, both 1931), but I haven’t posted on the blog for a few days. I confess, I had become distracted by the temptations of daily blogging to the detriment of the main job in hand – namely reading, scanning, logging and researching the essays. But balance has now been restored.
So this is where I’m at now: ‘Cats’ and ‘Laughter’ are self-explanatory and a pleasure to read, but ‘A Dramatic Situation’ is somewhat darker. It is the story of CCF’s capture on the battlefield of the Somme in July 1916, told in the third person (he assumes the name of ‘Jim Strickland’), 13 years after the event. It almost has the air of a confession, particularly as he has written a slightly defensive note on the front of the essay:

Qoute from A Dramatic Situation 1

After all, it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in those days to admit to feelings or talk through emotions – and the nation is suffering as a consequence, even now. CCF reports ‘Jim’s’ thoughts in a bluff, almost hearty style – almost like the ‘speech bubbles’ of a comic book character. The account is workmanlike, bare and factual. He describes ‘Jim’ waking up disorientated in a shell hole and blundering into an enemy trench, shooting, killing and being wounded and captured.
When the word ‘sobbing’ suddenly appears, we get an abrupt and shocking insight into the lonely terror countless thousands of soldiers must have experienced in the hell of the trenches:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

On a lighter note, I had high hopes of finding out about the background of the Scarborough Essay Society when I started reading ‘The SES’ – but, although the essay is entertaining and interesting, it didn’t help much with my research! It does, however, show the great comradeship which existed between the members:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

I have found another avenue of enquiry, though. Apparently ‘Paul Pry’ called the Society ‘out of abeyance’ after the War by sending a ‘judicious letter’ to the Spectator (it seems the response was so great that at least one other similar group had to be formed!). Frustratingly, that’s all I have though, and I suspect many man-hours of searching through Spectator archives would be required to yield any more information.
As is the strange way of serendipity, TMP mentions his ‘defective education’, and the next essay I read was ‘School Days’. Actually, I lie. It was ‘Anticipations’, – but more on both of these stories later… 😉
So – at last, here’s a post. I have actually missed making my little daily forays into the blogosphere (in a masochistic sort of way). However, I like to take time over what I write, although whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. The benefit of entering the Family History Writing Challenge was derived from trying to write to a deadline, which is good practice. However, in order to post every day as required by the challenge – I simply wittered. So, while my grey matter’s been galvanised by entering FHWC, I am releasing myself from the challenge’s benign repression, with a positive and hearty metaphorical pat on the back!

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It’s weird up here in the blogosphere. It’s strange to think there are millions of us tapping away at keyboards worldwide (over 61 million WordPress blogs alone, apparently!) Some blogs have been going since 2003 – unimaginable verbiage! I wonder what happens to the ones that fade. Maybe they’re invisibly gathering dust in some celestial garage. Or perhaps they’re lost forever. But what gems may be among them?

Who cares! Does it really matter?

When I started the blog, it was just a sort of repository of ‘stuff’ that occurred to me as I read the essays – things to research, points to ponder, that kind of thing. I had no idea about the actual workings of it. I was quite happy just doin’ my own thing.

Then I joined the Family History Writing Challenge and felt a little gentle pressure to ‘perform’. It was good – it made me sit and write every day. Then I read some blogs and Pandora’s Box was well and truly opened. I’ve been swept along in a delicious current of cyber soup – there’s so much out there! It’s VERY time-consuming!

I’ve had a mad day today – I found myself adding tags to old blog posts – like it mattered! I then realised I’m getting sucked into the ‘pick me, pick me’ (I want a donkey like Donkey in Shrek!) shenanigans of blogging. I gotta get a grip!

So – it’s back to basics. Focus. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest! These essays have mouldered away in any number of real (as opposed to celestial) garages for the best part of a hundred years. Instead of being buried in the dust, they’ve surfaced, and I find that I do care, and it does matter, and I believe there are gems among them.

Still gonna tag stuff, though 🙂

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I’ve finally got back to reading and scanning the essays (80 down, 13 or so to go!) and I was well rewarded today – what a cracker! Called ‘An Ancre Trout’ (written in 1928) it’s the cheery tale of a sunny Sunday on the Somme in June 1916.
Grandfather is roused from a snooze by his captain, Norman, as a fellow soldier – ‘Cossack’ – has sought him out for his fishing expertise. Cossack proposed a fishing trip as “… it seems a pity to miss a good chance of trying for a decent trout” – much to the interest of grandfather’s fellow subalterns (or ‘the Children’ as he calls them!). So off they jolly well trot, with a makeshift rod and line, for an afternoon’s sport.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

After heroic struggles by both hunter and quarry, they landed a whopper.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

How I wish I’d known my grandfather. How about that – going fishing while you’re under enemy fire. The hunter hunted.

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