Sunday, 8 November 2015

How the War Poets Defined the Great War

Sophie Whitehead presents the first of a three-part study of the ways in which contemporary writers portrayed the First World War and the misconceptions that people still hold about the war a hundred years later. 


Foreword

My immediate interest into studying the First World War, or the Great War, as it is more famously known, was initially the abundance of misconceptions people still hold about it today. As with any atrocity peoples’ lives will still invariably carry on, however, a piece of the past always remains and becomes carried forward into the future for people to learn from and reflect their lives to. The attraction of studying such an event is that for me, although previous battles and wars have invariably taken place, this war which consisted of over one hundred and fifty individual battles would set the epitome of the death, destruction and sacrifice for ones country that would follow in future years. Further, what made the event so intensely compelling to research was the range of material available to study, and the extent of information accessible. No generation before has ever been able to learn so much about a war as today’s and it seemed foolish to waste this opportunity. As with any great war there is always a shrouded sense of mystery as to the precise events that took place. The reason for this? Not a single person today was there. In fact in May 2010 the only living male First World War combat veteran, British-born sailor Claude Choules, died in Australia at the age of 110. Therefore we, as the public, can only rely on what we read, watch or see publicised in the media today. No one witnessed the slaughter and blood that was spilt with their own eyes so although one can empathise with those that lived during the War, we can never truly know the precise details of a war that operated and shaped people’s lives all around the world on such a grand scale. The frank line is war is a horrendous prospect to think about, no matter who you are or what you study, but the justification of war differs between individuals. One could immediately associate it with death, violence and blood shed yet another, might seek an idea of a hero complex in a contrast of this with the large amount of courage, bravery and honour it took for young men and women to sign up to fight for their country. People knew little in 1914 about war, let alone a war that would path the way for future battles to follow. This is where a keen interest into the study of the medias involvement into the publication and propaganda begins to unfold. Before 1914 the general publics’ view of war was largely down to exactly what the media wanted to convey and what it didn’t; largely the latter was the most shocking. Today’s public is entitled far larger glimpses into the lives of soldiers than those of 1914 ever were allowed before. Soldiers signed up for the First World War for a magnitude of reasons; some to escape a closeted environment at home; some to see the world; some even for the ‘joie de vivre’ but one thing remained the same in almost all cases, these war ‘heroes’ knew little about the atrocities of battle like the public today do. Even less about the emotional and physical strain on the future of their lives once they returned home from battle and the absence of knowledge their families had about the lives they had lived overseas. It was this absence of knowledge both for the soldiers signing up and the public back at home that led to the onset of an illness that to date was one of the most cruel and toyed with syndromes; the onset of ‘shell shock.’ A problem relatively undiagnosed before the Great War this illness was played with and abused by many doctors who, in the exact words of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf (which explores the issue intently) would see ‘absolutely nothing wrong’ with them. This study of literature and film as mediums for the conveyance of information intertwined with the images portrayed by the media is one of great interest to me and hence the reason why I chose to base this extended project upon this title.

Within this essay, I therefore seek to explore the key differences in how the government portrayed the war to the general public; through use of monopolising media and propaganda, with how those who fought in the war relayed their experiences both at the front and at home, in order to try and obtain a clearer picture of the harsh realities of the Great War itself. In order to do this I shall be analysing what I believe to be key fragments of literature and poetry, written both pre-war and post-war and comparing these to popular pieces of both early film and propaganda from the government published at that time. Within this exploration I will also ‘debunk’ myths that haunt us still concerning the war so that by the end of the essay a modern day audience should obtain a clearer image of both sides of the story; that from the governments and those directly involved.


Introduction

‘In these days I was very happy. This was Life, and if one was occasionally frightened out of one’s wits, a sudden fright never did a young man any harm [...]. To lie breathless in the German wire with a storming party of volunteers, armed with clubs and made invisible in the darkness by having our faces blacked was a splendid adventure […].' (Carrington, A Subaltern’s War 26)

‘The grossly mismanaged First World War, into which I plunged as soon as I left school, gave us infantryman so convenient a measuring-stick for discomfort, grief, pain, fear and horror, that nothing since has greatly daunted us. But it also brought new meanings of courage, patience, loyalty and greatness of spirit; incommunicable, we found, to later times.’ (Introduction, Graves 1)

‘He closed his eyes and had a vision of men advancing under a rain of shells. They had seemed so toy-like, so trivial and ineffective when opposed to that overwhelming wrath, and yet they had moved mechanically as though they were hypnotized or fascinated by some superior will [...]. It had seemed impossible to relate that petty, commonplace, unheroic figure, in ill fitting khaki and a helmet like the barber’s basin with which Don Quixote made shift on his adventure, to the moral and spiritual conflict, almost superhuman in its agony, within him.’ (Manning 10)

‘Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.’ (George S. Patton)

‘There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.’ (Ernest Hemingway)[1]

            In his war memoir, ‘Nothing of Importance: A Record of Eight Months at the Front’ (1917), Bernard Adams compares the experience of war to a deck of cards:
           
Spades represent the dullness, mud, weariness and sordidness. Clubs stand for another side, the humour, the cheerfulness, the jollity, and good-fellowship. In diamonds I see the glitter of excitement and adventure. Hearts are a tragic suit of agony, horror and death. And to each man the invisible dealer gives a succession of cards.’

I start my essay on this note because in many ways it is one of the fairest and most justifiable attempts to explain a war which showed itself across so many sides. In encapsulating the multifaceted nature of war, both the allure and the terror, Adams perfectly reflects the breadth of responses we find in prose narratives nowadays. From novels and short stories to memoirs and diary entries, combatants and non-combatants alike sought to depict their personal experience of war, so as not only to vent their own personal feelings in regard to it but also to allow the public a glimpse.


[2]Prose, taken namely in the form of novels and memoirs, can often be converted as a vehicle for sustained reflection on an event long after it has taken place. A clear example of this is ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks (1999) which attempts to portray the harrowing lives of soldiers in WW1, split across a timespan of three generations. This attempt to subvert the past with the future highlights the importance of learning from past mistakes in order to continue the wiser into the future.

For reasons of reliability men were able to document and tell the story directly from the front line which also acted as a way to vent the inescapable reality of the torment these soldiers had to face on a day to day basis. Because of this many accounts of the First World War come from directly during the conflict. For example many of the poems of Siegfried Sassoon were inspired from his days in the trenches, alongside his mentor and friend, Wilfred Owen; as explored in Pat Barkers ‘Regeneration’ trilogy. Siegfried Sassoon had been back in England for almost three months, recovering from a severe bullet wound, when he wrote this prognosticatory letter to his commanding officer, on 6 July 1917:

 I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it…   I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest…I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops…I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are    suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them.’

However although Sassoon understood the war to be perceived wrongly by the general public, he was unmistakably wrong himself on one point. This was that he was not ‘fully aware’ of how exactly the authorities would react and how heavily they actually took accusations that criticised the war. Indeed, earlier in the war, the war officials had handed out often brutal treatment to deserters and conscientious objectors, knowing that public opinion was wildly supportive of war and this was not to be tainted. Deserters were often given the harshest of punishments; a court martial was common for those that even neglected a duty after days on wake. However, as is common with most wars the conflict that was originally meant to be supposedly ‘over by Christmas’ (although there is a large amount of doubt over this exact phrase being used less as a supposable time frame and more as a morale ‘booster’ to encourage those who could to join the war effort) was not and this caused an influx of people, including officers serving at the front, who privately empathised with what Sassoon was saying (even if they thought he was ‘mad’ to say it) to oppose the war effort. The problem was that the war office had never had to deal with such an open disproval made publicly and from such a distinguished figure as Sassoon who was the perfect conscientious objector. Not only was he becoming renowned as one of the country’s finest young poets, he was also a war hero. It is Sassoon who also helped make the syndrome ‘shell shock’ more commonly known, as previously it had been largely a misdealt with, or certainly in a large number of cases, misunderstood disease. He was prescribed treatment at a convalescent home at Craiglockhart, near Edinburgh where he would meet his poetic admirer Wilfred Owen. Upon meeting Sassoon remarked ‘It amused me [Sassoon] to remember…that I wondered whether his poems were any good!’ They were. Their encounter is the centrepiece of Pat Barker’s war trilogy, Regeneration.

Many sides to war have been explored since then and indeed whilst some chose to focus on the bravery and honour, others sought solace in unearthing the harsh realities of war itself. Indeed the French author Henri Barbusse in his translated novel ‘Le Feu' (Under Fire), published in French in 1916, provided a vehement denunciation of militarism, seeking to side with Sassoon's unshaken belief in the misconduct of war. Known for his brutal realism, Barbusse monopolised stark, graphic language to present the appalling horror of mechanical warfare. In this account, soldiers are not ‘adventurers or warriors’ but rather ‘civilians uprooted’, who ‘await the signal for death or murder.’ Barbusse speaks of ‘men of culture and intelligence’ being forced into a war where a topsyturvyedom accompanies every route. “‘Germany must win’ says the Englishmen. Austria’s act is a crime,’ says Austria.” Barbusse speaks of war as a place ‘detached from the world itself, whose faculties are deepened by suffering and mediation as far remote from their fellow man as if they were already of the future.’

Other mediums of information have been film, both in the commercial sense such as the coloured images we see today but also war propaganda and VCR regarding the publication of individual governmental missions, such as Arthur Hurst's famous ‘War Neuroses’ clip which featured shell shock victims miraculously cured by various treatments over a short period of time. In truth the government would only show what they felt would be helpful for them to broadcast to encourage morale both within the troops but also what would stir patriotism back at home. A war could only be fought if England and Britons would support it from the home front and this unescapable force of patriotism was a strength to be reckoned with throughout the period of 1914 to 1918.

Debunking the Myths of World War One

World War One: The First Total War

            Amongst any major event rumours will always fly. Indeed when faced with such a large spectacle to document it can be very hard to decipher and decode every rumour that can arise out of a situation such as that of the Great War. No war in history attracts more controversy and myth than World War One because it is seen to be set apart from previous wars in so many ways. For one it is seen as the worlds first war since the Industrial Revolution and marked the end in many ways of the Romantic poets once and for all as well as the era of enlightenment. To understand why the war itself was so notable, one must understand the raw definition of a ‘Total War.’ This is a war which combines all aspects of living and affects all people. Everybody was affected by some form of debris from this conflict; whether it be the families who were stranded without sons back at home or the soldiers who had to witness the bloodshed and the monotony of trench life day by day abroad, in Verdun or the Somme for example. However it is important that we don't stereotype WW1 as the ‘worst’ war to be fought or the ‘most’ dangerous because for some it was not.  For the soldiers who fought, it was in some ways better than previous conflicts, and in some ways worse. It simply depended on where you were at any given moment. Unfortunately by overtly distinguishing and thereby setting one war apart from another as ‘the most’ awful we are blinding ourselves to the reality of not just WW1 but war in general. The reason for this is that it is very important that we, as the future generation, use the knowledge that we are now entitled to, to create a broad picture of a war that ruined so many peoples lives and yet helped many others. To have too narrower mind on any event runs one into the danger of belittling the experience of soldiers and civilians caught up in countless other appalling conflicts throughout history and the present day.

Of course, saying this, it is important to appreciate that this war was unlike others experienced up until 1914. The Industrial Revolution had seen the introduction of railways which immediately sped up transportation and meant that soldiers could move from one country to the next far more easily than had been seen before. The use of trains as vehicles for transportation was heavily monopolised by the war effort which saw both soldiers being sent from England overseas and back again as well as the movement of ammunition and heavy industry.

This was the first mass global war of the industrialised age, a demonstration of the prodigious strength, resilience and killing power of modern states. The war also coincided incidentally with a high sprout of patriotism which had amounted during the 19th century with a fear of a changing world and an attempt to cling to the old norm. These beliefs which many held sacred when they entered war would be the exact beliefs in which the war would help destroy in a blurring between civilian and soldier. This had begun more than a century before with the French Revolution of 1789 which had seen the first attempts to harness citizenship and patriotism to a national war effort. In the ideology of revolutionary France, young men were conscripted into the armed forces as part of their duty as citizens, but the remaining population was also expected to make personal sacrifices for the war. Known at first as 'People's War', this idea developed in the 19th century as part of a growing sense of national identity. By the middle of World War One it was known as 'Total War' - the organisation of entire societies for war in a social, economic, and even spiritual sense. There were, of course, protests and debates, but the vast majority of people fought in World War One, or supported it with the 'Home Front' because they believed that victory for their own country was worth the cost.[3]

Accompanied with this changing tide of spirits, introductions of new railways, adaptations in the ammunition and armoury used to fight and developments in metallurgy, chemicals and electricity leading to new forms of explosives and propellants for improved firearms and artillery altogether created a tumultuous environment which people had not witnessed before. This changing environment created an ideal place for young authors and poets to document and to arise; much as the Romanticists such as Wordsworth had documented the changing effects of the early Industrial Revolution, poets such as Sassoon and Owen were able to capture the end. However the atmosphere in which soldiers were inflicted to fight in had changed unwittingly. No one had ever fought with a modern pistol or artillery weapon before and the days of hand to hand combat were dying out, replaced instead with crueller, more sinister dead mate trench battle.

‘Over by Christmas’

It was clear that a war which had on hand so many ways to manoeuvre between countries and such skilled artillery would certainly be no ordinary war. Some feared that the stakes for a war had got too high and that there was simply too much to lose by too higher powers; countries could be bankrupt or worst defeated at a terrifying cost not only economically and geographically but socially as well. Many argued that this would make a war on such a large scale impossible. Due to this military plans were based not on being properly equipped for a stalemated and attritional war of trenches, for the excellent reason that this was not the kind of war that any country wanted to fight but rather instead, each placed its hopes in winning a quick victory by rapid manoeuvres, to end the war and have it ‘over by Christmas.’

Barbara Tuchman highlights in her book ‘Guns of August’ that the Kaiser of Germany instructed his troops that they would be home ‘before the leaves fall’ because the Schlieffen Plan predicated the defeat of France within six weeks. With France defeated, the force of an united German and Austro-Hungarian arms would be facing Russia, who would then be persuaded to accept a negotiated peace. However the reality was somewhat different. The Schlieffen Plan failed and the war was not over by Christmas, rather it would last another four years. The air of optimism that surrounded the Great war at the beginning meant neither side was prepared for a cruel and gruelling battle that they would enface nonetheless.

Papers monopolised the statement ‘over by Christmas’ in the early months of 1914 to try and maintain a high level of patriotism amongst both the people at home and the troops that would be sent overseas. After all, a troop which believed in the reasons of its fighting would be likely to want to continue on fighting for longer - the days of conscription had not yet been introduced and would not be for another year. The media carefully broadcasted exactly what it wanted to appear in the papers in accordance to exactly what the people at home would want to hear. The true harrowing images of a war-stricken soldier dying in a trench at Verdun would not inspire people to want to fight, nor would it fill Britain with a sense of ‘Queen and Country’ so this was carefully removed from appearing on any media portrayal of the war.

Nowadays it is common to see the phrase ‘Over by Christmas’ as one coined to being what would follow as an early, delusional tag line of WW1. It is often used as a classic example of the media more or less ‘lying’ to the public back at home, who would be none the wiser of the actual war that would take place over seas. After all, there is reason to believe Kitchener believed that the war would be a long one, and Charteris tells us that Haig believed the same; seen clearly from Charteris, Field-Marshall Earl Haig (page 110): ‘At the Council of War on August 5th 1914, [Haig] had pointed out that since Great Britain and Germany were fighting for their existence the war would inevitably be a prolonged struggle, and would require the development of the full force of the British Empire to achieve success.’ Lloyd George, in a speech on 19th September 1914 reinforced this message when he stated that, ‘They think we cannot beat them. It will not be easy. It will be a long job. It will be a terrible war. But in the end we shall march through terror to triumph. We shall need all our qualities, every quality that Britain and its people possess. Prudence in council, daring in action, tenacity in purpose, courage in defeat, moderation in victory, in all things faith, and we shall win.’

True realities of the war were far more common in the ‘outrageous’ images of those actually on the front line who would describe their often life shattering experiences as they sought to ‘tell all’ in their novels and poems. Poets such as Siegfried Sassoon who would witness the action on the Western Front himself, used the inspiration from the war behind many of his later works. Pat Barker, the author of Regeneration explains how it was the meeting of Sassoon from young and doting Owen that inspired not simply an aspiring friendship for the rest of their lives but also some of the best war poetry the world has ever known.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) himself, wrote on the opening days of WW1 and sets out to reveal the feelings of cheerful, upbeat soldiers enlisting in a war which was supposed to be ‘over by Christmas.’ This is seen most notably in his poem ‘Men who march away.’

            In our hearts of hearts believing
            Victory crowns the just,
            And that braggarts must
            Surely bite the dust,
            Press we to the field ungrieving,
            In our heart of hearts believing
            Victory crowns the just.         

Hardy’s detachment in his work shows moreover through a lexical field of quaint and unrealistic war language, which to a modern audience today would seem rather strange and even then would not have reflected a true authentic voice of an army. Hardy’s works straddled across the pendulum between the 19th and 20th centuries and seems to do the same in its opinions about war. Hardy does not seem to portray war as a glamorous event, but rather views it with a wary sense of detachment. His poem ‘In Time of ‘The Breaking of the Nations’’’ (1915) goes as far as to foretell the monotony and triviality of war compared to the rivalrous occasions of day to day life; an irony which is very rarely induced - in fact if anything it is usually the other way round.

            Yonder a maid and her wight,
            come whispering by:
            Wars annuals will cloud into night
            Ere their story die.

Hardy induces an immediate time phrase with his use of archaic diction to provide an old fashioned feel upon the poem; to in some way set it apart from his life and to increase the detachment between himself and the war happening elsewhere.

Blood and the Boer War

The Boer War would mark the end of a century, the war which would bring Britain into the next stage of modern discovery. It was the longest, the bloodiest and the most expensive war fought by the British army before World War One. While most critical studies have resorted to the First World War as the main agent of radical change in British consciousness, the power of the Boer War to shape popular imagination and counter inherited stereotypes has been somewhat neglected. First-hand accounts are centred on battles and generals, rarely evaluating the complexity of a war that not only embodied tragedy, heroism and military and political inefficiency on a large scale, but marked the end of an era. Beginning in 1899 and finishing in 1902, the Boer War connected two centuries. This position in time makes it highly symbolic for being both traditional and modern in terms of both military strategies and its impact on literature and the arts.

The Boer war perhaps provided the beginning sign that the world was changing and an industrial revolution was definitely on the horizon and with it would accompany crucial alterations, most notably seen in the class system, which will be covered further on.  The previously-undefeated British empire was beginning to weaken and moreover, seeing how strongly the Boer’s were prepared to fight for independence from the ruling Britons - and more, how strongly and harshly the British were prepared to crush rebellion led many to see the behaviour inflicted on the Boer’s as unjustified and cruel. The Boer War produced one of the earliest signs of anti-imperialism from the colonial people. Across the rest of the world as well, Britain’s empire was seen in a new way and its morality as a world power was questioned. Until the war, Britain had shown little trouble defeating any colonial uprisings but the war began to show that they were not as strong as they had appeared – the amount of men, resources and effort that had to be put into the war showed Britain’s weaknesses and suggested that it might one day be possible to defeat them. This backdrop provided a perfect start to what would be a new classification, and a new generation of warfare; one that even the ‘almighty’ Britain would be unable to fight singlehandedly. In many ways the Boer war was described as a mere ‘dress-rehearsal’ for World War One which would happen just over ten years later. It marked a changing of attitudes and with improved technology and medical equipment, the world was ready for a change.

Often when studying a period of history, Literary scholars like to label the time according to who lived or who ruled and what major successes each time period experienced; the Victorian era for example with the introduction of modern technology for the first time. Such follows that writers and poets can be fit into these time periods and act as an embodiment of the time they exist in. Lord Alfred Tennyson, for example, can be clearly seen to link best with the Victorian period of rule. His famous poem ‘Charge of the light brigade,’ about a tragic incident which occurred in the Crimean war (1854) seems to epitomise Victorian values, especially that of ‘Queen and Country.’ It promotes feelings of patriotism and of fighting for a clear cause; an old fashioned value that the government always knew what it was doing and the plan it had set across. Although this spirit of battle was slowly dying out, the same sort of anguish is mirrored in a poem by what was probably the best example of a woman exhorting young men to fight by the use of emotive actions and cowardice if they didn’t in World War One. Jesse Pope’s reputation, made famous by ’The Call’ was so far proceeded that Wilfred Owen originally wrote his infamous poem, ‘Dulce et decorum est’ ‘to Jesse Pope.’

            Who’s for the trench?
            Are you, my laddie?
            Who’ll follow French?
            Will you, my laddie?
            Who’s fretting to begin?
            Who’s going out to win?
            Who’s keen on getting fit?
            Who means to show his grit?

            Who’ll earn the empire thanks?
            Will you, my laddie?
            Who’ll swell the victors ranks?
            Will you, my laddie?

            When that procession comes,
            Banner and rolling drums

Pope enforces the use of a jingoistic, patriotic narrative undertone throughout the piece, very similar to that of Tennyson’s view of war. Her attitude in fact appears dated, enlightened with chivalric undertones and a basic view of heroism; one which in the end simply portrayed a naivety and ignorance and a blatant unrealistic view of what fighting an actual war was like. Her false allegations of war and a stereotypical image of ‘rolling drums’ and a ‘procession [that] comes’ can be explored to show a lack of actual knowledge of the general public at the time on what the conditions of war were like, and hence further show perhaps a gullible ignorance the media and propaganda at the time would show of a war they wanted to only reveal part of.

As Siegfried Sassoon comments however, by the middle of the First World War, ideologies changed and ‘the war upon which I [Siegfried] entered as a war of defence and liberation [had] now become a war of aggression and conquest.’ He rejects the idea that Pope enforced, that ‘chivalry redeems the wars disgrace (‘The Glory of Women’) and enforces instead the idea that the glamour surrounding chivalry found in previous wars, was not to be found in the Great War. Such works by Pope inspired many to write against her who criticised the irony in her writing; she condemned those who wouldn't fight - but then did not fight herself. It was this view that Helen Hamilton stressed greatly in her poem ‘The Jingo Woman:’

            Oh! Exasperating woman,
            I’d like to wring your neck,
            I really would:
            You make all women seem like such duffers.

            Can’t you see it isn’t decent,
            To flout and goad men into doing,
            What is not asked of you?

Soldiers signed up only to be met with horrifying conditions in trench warfare; not at all the perfect ideal they had envisaged when signing up to fight.

As Tennyson writes:
           
            Theirs not to reason why,
            Theirs but to do and die:
            Into the valley of death,
            Rode the six thousand.

Although the general lyric may hold true to the war poetry the modern audience can see today, there is a general tone to the poem that slowly changed. People no longer felt comfortable talking about the Great War in such an epic attempt of heroism (as witnessed in Tennyson’s work: ‘Honour the light brigade! Oh, the wild charge they made!) perhaps due to the fact that the war seemed to be never ending compared to its ‘over by Christmas’ origins; or perhaps people felt like war strategy itself had changed and with this brought a more depressive tone to the pieces written, especially those by Sassoon and Owen.

A graduation of morale changed throughout the poetry; cheerful and flamboyant in the Victorian era and slowly seeing a change at the start of the century with the Boer War. As Henry Newbolt, ‘Vitai Lampada’ writes on images from the Boer war, although the sentiment remains the same as those seen by Tennyson, for example, there is a slow integration of the harsh reality of life itself.

            The sand of the desert is sodden red -
            Red with the wreck of a square that broke -
            The Gatlings jammed and the Colonel dead -
            And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.

            The river of death has brimmed its banks,
            And England’s far, and Honour a name,
            But the voice of a school boy rallies the ranks:
            ‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!’

Newbolt sets the beginning of the actuality of war poetry that would follow. Multitudes of images of ‘regiment[s] blind’ and ‘river[s] of death’ can be seen as almost a literary foreshadowing of the horrors of the Battle of the Somme which saw millions plummet ‘over the top’ blinded by mustard gas and ‘dust and smoke’ to face a possibly tragic end. Newbolt also draws to attention the infancy of many actually in charge of the troops, and this is true. Many of the leading officers were in fact the younger members of the battalion; some just left school affected by patriotic fervour at the outbreak of war. Either way, whether this ‘school boy’ be in terms of age or even just a childlike fear of being confronted by an unknown enemy, soldiers resorted back to their youth like ways; often calling out to their mothers in their last breaths for safety. However the clear point is that this poetry was not uncommon, and the Boer war provided this mere shift in view. It did not seem strange to those who read it then, or even throughout WW1 and for years afterwards. The Victorian public held high a vision of service to ones country and to ones throne; a statute of sacrifice and an undying sense of loyalty - features themselves which could be used to explain and justify a war with just so many dead.

Although it is important to note that neither Newbolt, nor Tennyson (as mentioned earlier) actually fought in the Great War it would be their poetry that was read by the generation of young men destined to be either the survivors or casualties of the Western Front.




[1] War, although a unified experience, can be very unique for each person that is part of it. These quotes help to portray the ways in which war is interpreted by each individual to provide a well rounded viewpoint of the First World War.
[2] Picture: The true spirit of comradeship as a soldier offers a helping hand to another as he carries a wounded comrade across a trench at the Battle of Ginchy

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