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Friday, January 26, 2018

Laughter and death


from the War Diary of Arnold Bennett

Friday, December 4th  1914 - Patriotic concert last night in village schoolroom. All the toffs of the village were there. Rev. Mathews and wife dine with us before it. Most of the programme was given by soldiers, except one pro. It was far more amusing than one could have expected. Corporal Snell, with a really fine bass voice, sang two very patriotic, sentimental songs, sound in sentiment but extremely bad in expression. They would have been excruciating in an ordinary voice, but he was thrilling in them. Our Lieutenant Michaelis was there, after missing the roads, together with a number of his men. The great joke which appealed to parsons and everyone else was of a fat lady sitting on a man’s hat in a bus. ‘Madam, do you know what you’re sitting on?’ ‘I ought to, I’ve been sitting on it for 54 years.’
Tuesday, December 22nd  1914 – Today I heard firing at sea which seemed to be like a battle and not like firing practice. The first time I have had this impression since the war began, though we have heard firing scores of times.

   This is the most gruesome item I have seen in any newspaper. It is from an account of life in Brussels in Daily Telegraph, December 15th: Since the fatal attacks on Ypres and the Yser a new recreation has been created for the Bruxellois, namely the trains of the dead. These pass through the suburb of Laeken, and go by way of Louvain and Liège to Germany, to be burned in the blast furnaces. The dead are stripped, tied together like bunches of asparagus, and stacked upright on their feet, sometimes bound together with cords, but for the most part with iron wire. Two to three thousand pass with each train, sometimes in closed meat-trucks, sometimes in open trucks, just as it happens. The mighty organisation will not suffer a truck to go back empty; a dead man has no further interest for them.’

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