A ghastly pantomime

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith with news of a visit from a distinguished former pupil; reactions to a threatened air raid; and a book he had read by ‘Ian Hay’ (the pseudonym of a serving officer).

29 Barton Road, [Cambridge]
3 April ‘16
My most dear old man

That was a tumultuous week just passed. Tuesday’s blizzard came on in an undreamed of fury. We were delightedly entertaining an old pupil – now CE and General Commanding a Brigade of Cavalry, who passing thro’ C[ambridge] on the day previous, had learnt my marriage, and came off at once with his congratulations and the remembrances he was charged with by his brother – another pupil and now Colonel of an Infantry Battalion and DSO. It was a happy meeting. Florence apologised for having to put his teacup in a writing table in our tiny drawing room, because we had not yet set up one of those cunning nests of teatables. Next day arrived a beauty from him, begging we would accept it as a belated wedding present. A day later, and he was ordered away again: but the flying call was such a delicious whiff out of the early past.

I never saw such blinding snow before, and oh the prostrate treeboles next day – like spillikins on the grass. I counted 50 khakis labouring on their trunks in our paddocks, and at least as many in St John’s…

On Friday evening I was finishing a letter when suddenly the electric light went down, then rose, then sank – three times altogether, and left us with the faintest glimmer, just shewing enough that someone else was in the room. The official C. warning of Zepps. We packed the servants in snug armchairs by the kitchen fire: and ourselves went out into Barton Rd, where were sundry residents, chattering under the stars, – and a Trinity friend of mine in khaki, stopping all cyclists and compelling them to put out their lights. The sharp military “Halt” in the dark made at least one fellow tumble off his bike in terror! People said they heard bombs. I heard nothing, not even the drone of a Zeppelin – though one or more did pass over C – but innocuous. The Berlin news claims, I see, C among its victims.

Yesterday, at 11 pm, I was pulling off my trousers for bed, when down once more went the ghastly pantomime of the lowered lights and I had to rouse those integuments and go forth to see what was to be seen. On both nights the lights were kept down till 4 am. This morning the sudden raised flash woke me up from the sweetest slumber.

I hear from our carpenter that much damage has been done at Woolwich, where he has a couple of sons. Not a hint of this is suffered to appear in the Press….

“In Germany the devil’s forge at Essen was roaring night and day: in Great Britain Trades Union bosses were carefully adjusting the respective claims of patriotism and personal dignity before taking their coats off.

Out here we are reasonable men, and we realise that it requires some time to devise a system for supplying munitions which shall hurt the feelings of no pacifist, which shall interfere with no man’s holiday or glass of beer, which shall insult no honest toiler by compelling him to work side by side with those who are not of his industrial tabernacle, and which shall imperil no statesman’s seat in parliament.”

Read “The First Hundred Thousand” by Ian Hay (of Joh.[St John’s College]. I Hay (I forget his patronymic) is at the Front and describes the training and subsequent war experiences of a Kitchener’s Battalion so graphically that I have never seen it better done.

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)