I've read three great books about the first world war - Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That, a scorching indictment of the Britain that raised him during the late Victorian / Edwardian era and eventually (in his eyes) rejected him and his love, Laura Riding and Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, where Brittain volunteered for active service as a VAD (nurse) in Britain and France and suffered the catastrophic loss of many men who were dear to her. The strangest thing is, it's Brittain I feel saddest for, even though Graves's ordeal must have been immense and horrific (though he describes it with blisteringly angry humour).
The third book is fiction: A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry. This novel follows the course of young, poor Dubliner Willie Dunne as he volunteers for war service (conscription was never enforced in Ireland due to rioting). It's a really powerful book.
I have enormous respect for Patch and Allingham. I was watching the documentary on Patch where Andrew Motion was interviewing him and Patch describes, in this hushed tone which would put the chills up your back, how he came across someone ripped apart from shoulder to waist by a shrapnel and begging to be shot. Patch didn't need to shoot him; he just held his hand and the man died in 30 seconds. Motion then turned this into a poem which I wasn't listening to closely but noticed that every line seemed to begin "which...who...which" etc etc which struck me as more of an Ode to Relative Pronouns and bad poetry. Harry Patch himself said it better.
But I got a biography of Keats by Andrew Motion, I couldn't finish it, and gave up. Plus I think I'm biased against Poet Laureates given that his predecessor was a rampant emotional abuser and all-round scumbag.
I have mixed feelings about Motion.
1. I don't think he's anything more than an averagely competent writer.
2. He worked very hard to make the role of poet laureate mean something.
I've dodged round his Harry Patch poem too. I don't see it needed to be written.
I've read Graves. For me the most moving artefact to come out of the Great War is the movie- All Quiet On The Western Front
yeah, good point, I've neglected the fact that d'Enemy have a point of view too. Inexcusable, given my personal history :)
And then there's Ford Madox Ford's huge tetralogy Parade's End- which deals both with life on the Western Front (Ford was a serving officer and got himself blown up) and the profound changes the War brought about in British society. A very great book.
wow, thank you. I will go check it out.
Two words about wars: Matthew Arnold
One more: Yeats
"And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."
Yeats was rather mealy-mouthed about commemorating those fallen in the *actual* wars though - and in later life his refusal to intervene or comment on behalf of a German Jewish poet who ended up deported reflects appallingly on him.
So Yeats: fine words, not so fine character.
I read a book once which examined Yeats' political affiliations towards the end of his life and concluded that although he wasn't exactly a fascist, he sailed extremely close to the wind.
This isn't Patch related, but...
I just bought, at uncharacteristically great expense, a 32 volume Collected Works of Kipling set. In googling to make sure it was complete, or close to it, I discovered something I hadn't realized -- he did a two-volume history of his son Jack's regiment and otherwise was very involved in war memorials, probably out of a combination of grief and guilt. He had encouraged his underage son to volunteer, pulled strings even, and then his son was killed. This is of course more common knowledge since the biopic starring Harry Potter.
Gorgeous! I wish I had the complete works. A test of the completeness of your collection is whether or not it contains the story "Proofs of Holy Writ" which was published in the Strand magazine just before Kipling's death.
Kipling too was a victim of the Great War. I've always thought the stories and poems he wrote about it are among his finest work.
I'll check. It does have _Something of Myself_, which was published posthumously.
Something of Myself- marvellous book. An object lesson in writing autobiography whilst giving nothing away!
It's in the index, but the listing leads to a mention of it in _Something of Myself_. I assume this means the collection didn't gather up things that hadn't previously been gathered up into a volume.
I am so, so glad that Harry Patch's beliefs meant that we didn't have a big state funeral with accompanying to do. I don't think it would have been appropriate for many reasons. We never want to forget, but at the same time, these men did other things in their lives. Why were those few years so important out of all the other years that Harry Patch lived? It seems wrong somehow to just label him as a WWI tommy, as though being caught up in that nightmare and having the luck to survive was the only thing he ever did.
I wholly agree.
From what I can gather, not having been there, the service at Wells hit most of the right notes.
it was because he felt it was his duty to bear witness.
there's nothing particularly great about being caught up in a stupid, murderous war
Every time I watch a TV show now which portrays the soldiers "over there," it brings me to tears. I cannot begin to fathom how it must feel to be in the midst of that.
And these men are most definitely MORE than just soldiers.
Rest well, Harry.
Every time I watch a TV show now which portrays the soldiers "over there," it brings me to tears.
I like to think of these people who've survived so much, not so much in terms of what they survived of war but what they would have experienced having lived so very long. I don't know much about Harry Patch, but had read a lot about Henry Allingham and remember something he said about a year before he died. Someone said, "how does it feel to be your age?" To which he replied, "same as any other age."
Yes. My mother, who is in her late 80s, says she still feels like she's 21.