The war will bring about theocracy

Lady Mary Glyn wrote a long letter to Ralph. She had strong, if eccentric, views about politics, and was almost as shocked by Australian soldiers’ democratic nature as she was by the Easter Rising.

April 26 1916
Peter[borough]

My darling own blessed Scraps

Easter Day makes me long for you, but all days make me long for you….

I distinguished myself at Windsor by getting bad with indigestion, but it was good to be with John & Maysie, & see them so happy in another Windsor spell of work, and yet being together. He heard when we were there that another operation will not be necessary, but as his Medical Board gave him 3 months they have taken a very good house, “Essex Lodge”, the present house being required by the owner, and this is a much better one with a garden & tennis ground. John is of course very busy, and up early, & at work till late. He looks well, and is in good spirits, evidently liking his work. We saw Cecily Hardy & her Giant, and Tony & Sylvia, & a new Coldstream acquisition – a very Highland McGregor who till lately was engineering in India – quite a new type in the Brigade!

The Political Crisis made those days full of excitement, but none of these soldier people seemed to care, or to look at the papers, and were sure the King would come whatever happened. And he did, but the Crisis was supposed to be over, and the Cabinet once more firmly (?) in the saddle of Compromise. Now the Secret Session, and the result whatever it may be of that settlement is to be made known to so many talkers & plotters and schemers that it will be impossible for all the cats to be in the bag long. Meantime there is a shaken confidence, a longing for a leader other than we have, for this strange growth of freedom to know its limitation, and to recognise its own dependence on laws not made by man, but inflexible because “just and true”, and belonging to the Kingdom that will endure throughout all ages. When we really will, that will come, and its obedience, and we shall learn what freedom is. It does not lie with Democracy, or in Kaiser rule, or in a Republic, but it does in a Theocracy – and my belief is that it is to be restored through this War and “tumult of the nations”….

France is surely ahead of us in the spirit of a new vision, & Russia is invincible because of that vision long accepted – and we wait for it, and you all are bringing it nearer.

(more…)

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“Some corner of a foreign field”

Some of our parish magazines have published verse of limited literary value, although it clearly appealed to contemporary sentiments. Christ Church in Reading picked a new poem which is now regarded as a classic war poem, albeit an early one epitomising patriotism rather than the disillusionment of later poems by men like Wilfred Owen (who had been an undergraduate in Reading).

Some of our readers may be glad to read this sonnet written by Rupert Brooke who died of illness in the Dardanelles where he had gone with the Expeditionary Force. The sonnet is one of six bearing the title “1914” and is published in a small volume “1914 and other Poems”.

The Soldier
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Reading Christ Church parish magazine, November 1914 (D/P170/28A/24)

Back to the trenches

Florence Vansittart Neale recieved a letter from Frederick Septimus Kelly, a tenant and near neighbour of the Vansittart Neales, living at Bisham Grange. He was a remarkable figure, Australian born but educated at Eton and Oxford, who was an Olympic rowing medallist in 1908, a musician and composer, and a friend of the poet Rupert Brooke.He had been recently wounded, but it looks as if he was patched up and sent straight back to the Front.

13 June 1915
Letter from Sep. quite interesting. Made him straight, taken trenches.…

Russians successful again by the Dneister.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Sorry to hear about Rupert Brooke’s death

Rupert Brooke was one of the most famous of the early war poets. He died on 23 April 1915 while on active service in Greece as a naval lieutenant. Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence on hearing of Brooke’s death, revealing that his own brother the artist Stanley Spencer was a Brooke fan.

May 17, 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for all your parcels and faithful correspondence. You must think me awfully slack, but I’m not. “My King and country” is needing an alarming number of the days & hours just at present, and I have no time to write even a field postcard sometimes.

I stand the racket of the long hours very well, I think, and beyond that I am not hard worked – in fact I sometimes wonder whether I shall ever get my old speed back again.

I was sorry to hear about Rupert Brooke’s death – Stan will be sorry too, I expect, as I believe he and you both admired his poetry, and Stan liked the man. Personally I don’t think his work will be more than that of the [illegible] of the best man’s in a bad time.

We had a rare old dust-up last Sunday week – and next spring in our room at Lyme you and I will listen to the history of it all. Meanwhile if you haven’t already heard all details, read the description of our two attacks on May 9th in The Daily Mail May 15th. Its accuracy as an outline of the day’s events is remarkably accurate.

I wasn’t at the place of the postcard [Rouen Cathedral] when I sent it to you – as a matter of fact we were in action and I was off to our palatial dug-out a good deal further forward, but I have since had a night’s “rest” in the town, broken by shells which the houses opposite stopped fortunately, though one of them immediately opposite and dead in a line with our billet wiped out a poor family.

About 2 p.m. I was ordered to the cellar where all of us remained until morning.

Now we are in the line again about 6 miles due east of that town and at the present moment the din of gunfire is too awful – it fairly rattles your frame at every report.

How are you all this long time? I hope well and jolly. I hope too the people of our nation will not lose its head but deal with all [restrictions?] sanely and moderately. I don’t like the papers at all. The state of domestic affairs is not necessary.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/27)