We follow on from Alberts wounding at High Wood, with this extract from a letter written in the 1980’s that harks back to his time in France in July 1916, and gives his thoughts on more modern ideals and wars, I will as a historian should, refrain on the whole from making heavy or biased comments based on modern ideals (and hindsight, something that most primary sources are not privy too), instead letting his words speaks for themselves across the ages. It is not often we get a Great War veteran’s thoughts on Nuclear war and deterrents, so this source must be an almost unique opportunity to hear his opinions and thoughts, no matter your political standpoint. It is however allowable to ruminate on his thoughts and to note, how even seeing the horror of some of the largest bloodiest battles in the Great War, he still held strong beliefs and a loyalty to his country and morals. Perhaps these are the signs of the values instilled by a Victorian/Edwardian education and home life?
“Last Saturday I watched and listened to the last night of the proms as I always do. The main item was, as always, “Land of Hope and Glory”. I remember singing it in the trenches in, early July, 1916. The Battalion, made up to its full strength of 1,000, was on its way up to relieve other troops taking part in the Battle of the Somme. We sang it with all our hearts, though we knew the casualty rate [would be high] – There were 100 left after we captured High Wood. On the wall of Giggleswick Chapel there is a memorial, which Robert will know (the person the letter was written to, and presumably a former pupil), to one who died in the South African War. “Dulce et Decoram est, pro patria mori”. – “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”.
The prevailing idea nowadays seems to be to get money out of one’s country.
We all volunteered, – conscription hadn’t come in then – and in the same circumstances, would do it again I’m sure.
War is a terrible thing, but so is the death toll on the rest of the world, sacrifices to the gods of pleasure and commerce. And what about the conditions of life in the Third World? I am a strong believer in the Nuclear Deterrent and am convinced that it has prevented another major war for many years past. I was given a pamphlet outside St Peter’s by a Nuclear Disarmer and told him to look at his hands from which was dripping the blood of men and women and children. The two bombs on Japan saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese men and women and children, who were planning to defend their country inch by inch, and also, of course, thousands of Americans. [Editors note: The loss of life for attacking forces was also projected to be horrendous, so much so, that they were still issuing the Purple Heart medals produced for the intended Japanese landings until the 1960s] War is a terrible thing, but there is trust and comradeship and self sacrifice. Worse things are happening in the big cities of the world. And, if we disarmed, should we become another Afghanistan or Poland? No! I am afraid that I stand on the Biblical statement of “A strong man armed”. ”
This letter shows some interesting thoughts. That despite being heavily wounded, permanently disabled, and having lost many friends and comrades, and undoubtedly, lead many men to their deaths. He says that he would still do it all again, it was his duty to his country. This does to me sum up all the hopefulness and expectation of the youth of that period. However he, unlike the modern supposition that all who took part were horrified and traumatised, and never recovered, seemingly saw it as a duty, and a job. Which although horrific; he himself admits to trepidation at seeing men mown down by machine gun fire in front of him, he does not shy away from saying war is occasionally necessary, for the greater good and he would repeat his experiences if required. One wonders how much of this was perhaps reinforced by his knowledge of what happened in the Second World War when good men did nothing, I don’t think we shall ever know the full extent for certain, but I would invite you to continue reading his story and think upon his words, if you have any comments or questions please feel free to leave a comment below.