Sunday, 11 November 2018

1914-18: things to reflect on.


 On Tuesday 4th August 1914 the Vicar of New Mill, near Huddersfield, called a meeting, summoned by the local "bellman."  About 500 people, almost the entire population of the village, met outside the church and unanimously resolved:

That this meeting of inhabitants of the Holmfirth Division of New Mill and district  urges the Government to maintain Britain's neutrality  in the present crisis unless her interests are clearly and plainly attacked. *

. . . [T] First Word War was in may ways more disastrous  for Russia than the second..  In 1914 she was not nearly prepared.  Even by the standards of the time he army was poorly commanded, antiquated in its methods and administered by  a Minister for War [General Vladimir Sukhomlinov] who was a military fossil . . . .  [H]e is said to have boasted that he had not read a military manual for twenty-five years: he believed in the bayonet. . . [He] had good reason to believe in the bayonet since all the other weapons were in hopelessly short supply.  In rifles, machine-gun, artillery and ammunition  there were deficiencies of every kind., and even the means of getting the soldiers up to the front were lacking. When the railways broke down  horses were used and the men marched.**

I can't give a reference as I can't find the book, but I clearly remember reading in another Readers Union book of the 1960s, "In Flanders Fields,"  that Britain's General Haig believed that  whilst a machine gun bullet could stop a man it couldn't' stop a horse.

Virtually every morning there are two or three new bodies dangling from telegraph poles and other improvised gallows around the Holy City.  Most of them are Arabs who have been caught after deserting from the Ottoman army . . . They represent the silent majority of those now in uniform . . they are men who have been forced into it reluctantly, questioningly, unenthusiastically and - last but not least -  mutely.. . .

 [T]he latest deserter  will be given a very public execution  by firing squad and die before the eyes of his comrades in the Jerusalem garrison.  The execution is to take place today.  The condemned man is yet another Arab, this time an imam . . . [He] is made to stand up and be tied to a post. .He seems "very little concerned by the fate that is awaiting him and is calmly smoking a cheroot.with all the scorn for death that is characteristic of Muslims.".   

A blindfold is put over his eyes.  He continues smoking calmly throughout the procedure.   When the command "Ready" is given  and the squad raises its rifles into firing position and takes aim, the man quickly moves his cheroot up to his lips.  The shots ring out, the two shades of red in the kaftan  and the body meet and the man crumples, his had pinned to his mouth by a bullet. ***

The officers and crew [in ships of the German High Seas Fleet] live together, are both metaphorically and  literally in the same boat,  but their living conditions are actually grotesquely different.  This is true of everything from their food and their living quarters (officers' cabins are furnished like upper-class homes with oriental rugs, padded leather armchairs and original art) to their working conditions and leisure (ordinary seamen are rarely given leave whereas officers can sometimes be excused from duty for months on end and, when in port, often sleep in their own homes.)  The proximity which is inevitable on board ship has revealed  these hitherto hidden distinctions with  unprecedented clarity.    At the same time the absence  of activity, of battles and victories - in short of blood - has made it possible to question the differences. ****



Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?

Man raised his sword, once God had gone,
To slay his brother, and the roar
Of battlefields now casts upon
Our homes the shadow of the war.

The harps to which we sang are hung,
On willow boughs, and their refrain
Drowned by the anguish of the young
Whose blood is mingled with the rain

This poem was originally written in Welsh.  The author, Ellis Humphrey Wyn, was killed on the first day of Passchendaele. *****

In [the mud of Passchendaele] even the much sought-after 'Blighty' wound could prove a calamity.  The commander of the 7 Seaforth Highlanders reported:

One man left the front line wounded slightly at dusk on the 12th and on the morning of the 13th was discovered stuck fast in a shell hole a few yards from where he started.  Repeated efforts were made to get him out with spades, ropes etc.  At one time 16 men were working at once  under enemy view,  but he had to be left there when the Battalion was relieved  on the night of the 13th/14th. 

His fate can only be surmised.******

The above random selection is offered to contract the "shallahumps and shallahoops" which often accompany  Remembrance observations, and to give support to:
                           
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.*******



 *  Cyril Pearce :Comrades in Conscience; Francis Boutle Publishers, 2001, page 68

**Alan Moorhead: the Russian Revolution; Readers Union edition 1960, pages95/6

*** Account by Rafael deNogales, a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army, quoted in Peter Englund; The Beauty and the Sorrow;Profile books 2011, pages 276/7

**** Observations relating to German High Seas Fleet seaman Richard Stumpf, ibid

.*****.https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/30/hedd-wyn-welsh-poet-first-world-war

****** Prior and Wilson: Passchendaele; Yale University Press, 2002,pages 168/9

*******https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46560/dulce-et-decorum-est

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