Saturday July 19, 2008
Good-Bye To All That: Something to be said for blitzkrieg
I spent the morning in bed with Robert Graves. Since I liked I, Cladius so much I borrowed Good-Bye To All That, the autobiography he wrote in his late 20s, from my father, but the last few days were busy ones and I'd lost the thread. I wanted to pick it up again with a bout of sustained reading.
At the moment Graves is in the trenches of northern France. Volunteered. Raring to go. At school he was an iconoclast who didn't get along with the bullying sportsmen but as soon as war was declared he wanted to join the mass. Along with many others. Once they realized what it was they shifted to survival tactics, which might include a “cushie,” or flesh wound, that would take them away from the lines and maybe back home. One wonders about this desire to go to war. It's probably less patriotism than a wish to be where the action is; a wish to be involved in something greater than yourself. Once the action is revealed to be what it is, and the “something” not so great, other instincts take over.
There’s a great vignette about being stationed in Vermelles:
The old Norman church here has been very much broken. What remains of the tower is used as a forward observation post by the Artillery. I counted eight unexploded shells sticking into it. Jenkins and I went in and found the floor littered with rubbish, broken masonry, smashed chairs, ripped canvas pictures... Only a few pieces of stained glass remained fixed in the edges of the windows. I climbed up by way of the altar to the east window, and found a piece about the size of a plate. I gave it to Jenkins. “Souvenir,” I said. When he held it to the light it was St. Peter's hand with the keys of heaven. “I'm sending this home,” he said. As we went out, we met two men of the Munsters. Being Irish Catholics, they thought it sacreligious for Jenkins to be taking the glass away. One of them warned him: “Shouldn't take that, sir, it will bring you no luck.” Jenkins got killed not long after.
Much of the book is like this. Beautiful writing. Worlds contained in a paragraph.
I was reminded of our trip to France last summer and all of the memorials we saw in the small towns. In a church vestibule in Capestang: A la memoire del nos heroes morts pour la France: 1914-1918. Then 120 names. Outside a chuch in Manigod: Aux Enfants de Manigod Morts Pour La France. Then 56 names for World War I and five names for World War II. Something to be said for blitzkrieg.