Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Going 'Over the Top'

Arnold Bennett's war journal - Monday, October 9th 1917– Clegg [A British officer] brought a Capt. B. (of his battery) to lunch. Had been out at Ypres ten months and then wounded in the head, in front of right ear. He carries a good scar. He talked well, and said he should like to write if he could. I told him he could.

   He said the newspaper correspondents’ descriptions of men eager to go up over the parapet made him laugh. They never were eager. He related how he had seen a whole company of men pale with apprehension and shaking so that they could hardly load their rifles. Then he said that nevertheless men who did go  over in that state were really brave. He told us how his battery saw hundreds, thousands of grey figures coming alone only 1000 yards off, and every man thought he would be a prisoner in ten minutes, when suddenly thousands of Canadians appeared from nowhere, and the Boches fled. The cheering was delirious. He told this very dramatically, but without any effort to be effective, He said he really wanted to be back with the battery. For a long time the fellows wrote to him regularly once a fortnight, and every letter ended with ‘When are you coming back?’ He said they had had glorious times now and then glorious. He said that to sit on a factory chimney and see the Boches going over was better than big game shooting. He said the Boches had any amount of pluck and grit. And Clegg said that even in hospital they would stand thigs that an Englishman probably wouldn’t. Both Clegg and B. facetiously contrasted the rough, anyhow, bumping treatment the wounded get on their way from the firing line (when they really are ill) with the hushed, tender, worshipping treatment they get on arriving in London when many of them are dong pretty well.

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