Patterico's Pontifications


The Great War One Hundred Years Ago Today, Part 2

Filed under: General — JVW @ 12:40 pm

[guest post by JVW]

By the beginning of September 1918 the Second Battle of the Marne had been won by Allied forces, the German lines had been pushed back across the Aisne River towards the borders with Belgium and Luxembourg, and only a small portion French territory remained in the hands of the Hun. British Expeditionary Forces under General Alexander Haig combined with Belgian forces commanded by King Albert were preparing for a push to Brussels as a key component of the Hundred Days Offensive, which would cause the Germans to abandon the city shortly before the armistice was signed. Though the end was at hand, the fighting remained fierce and harrowing.

Since the very beginnings of the war the belligerents had come to realize that they needed to swell the ranks of their armed forces, first through encouraging volunteerism and ultimately by imposing conscription. The officer class would no longer be mostly comprised of men who had studied at various European military academies such as Sandhurst, Woolwich, Saint-Cyr, the Prussian War College, and the Theresianum; now it included men drawn from Cambridge, Oxford, the Sorbonne, Heidelberg, and Eötvös Loránd. Instead of backgrounds in engineering and soldiering, many of these new gentlemen officers were trained in the arts and humanities.

This led to a number of literary figures seeing combat action on the Western Front. In my previous post I mentioned that the American poet Joyce Kilmer was killed at the Second Battle of the Marne. Similarly, a number of British poets fought for His Majesty during the war, including such notables as Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, and Wilfred Owen, the latter of whom was killed one week before Armistice Day. The writers A.A. Milne and J.R.R. Tolkien survived the war to go on and create, respectively, Winnie the Pooh and Bilbo Baggins. And everyone who has read the first thing about Ernest Hemingway knows that he served as an ambulance driver on the Italian front.

One unheralded poet was a young man from Chelteham, Gloucestershire attached to the 4th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment. Alec de Candole, son of an Anglican priest, was an outstanding young scholar whose work had won him a place at Trinity College, Cambridge for the fall of 1916. His plan had been to follow in his father’s footsteps and prepare for a life in the ministry, but in April 1916 he postponed his studies to set off for cadet school at Oxford. By the start of the following spring, Lieutenant de Candole found himself on the battlefields of France.

One hundred years ago today, September 2, 1918, Alec de Candole jotted down a poem reflecting on his hopes for the end of the war. By then he had been with the army for sixteen months, and though the stalemated war seemed to be drawing to a conclusion there was no real way for the men in the trenches to know for certain when it would all end. In a somber yet hopeful mood, the 21-year-old officer dreamt of pastoral England and published perhaps the best poem of the entire war:

When the last long trek is over,
  And the last long trench filled in,
I’ll take a boat to Dover,
  Away from all the din;
I’ll take a trip to Mendip,
  I’ll see the Wilshire downs,
And all my soul I’ll then dip
  In peace no trouble drowns.

Away from noise of battle,
  Away from bombs and shells,
I’ll lie where browse the cattle,
  Or pluck the purple bells.
I’ll lie among the heather,
  And watch the distant plain,
Through all the summer weather,
  Nor go to fight again.

Two days later, Lt. Alec Corry Vully de Candole was killed in a raid on German trenches.

Alec deC


16 Responses to “The Great War One Hundred Years Ago Today, Part 2”

  1. A collection of Alec de Candole’s poetry can be found here. This is another poem he wrote during his wartime experience:

    And if a bullet in the midst of strife
    Should still the pulse of this unquiet life
    Twere well: be death an everlasting rest,
    I oft could yearn for it, by cares opprest ;
    And be ‘t a night that brings another day,
    I still could go rejoicing on my way,
    Desiring in no phantom heav’n to dwell.
    Nor scared with terror of any phantom hell.
    But gazing now I find not death a curse
    Better than life perchance, at least not worse ;
    Only the fierce and rending agony,
    The torment of the flesh about to die.
    Affrights my soul ; but that shall pass anon,
    And death’s repose or strife be found, that gone;
    Only with that last earthly ill to cope
    God grant me strength, and I go forth with hope.

    JVW (42615e)

  2. What was the point of that war, I’ve come around to niall fergusons view on this.

    narciso (d1f714)

  3. This verse from A. E. Housmann’s poem, Reveillé evokes WWI’s gruesome trench warfare.

    Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover;
    Breath’s a ware that will not keep.
    Up, lad: when the journey’s over
    There’ll be time enough to sleep.

    Stu707 (e2fb68)

  4. In hindsight, America’s entry into the war was a disaster for the 20th Century. Had Germany, Austria, France and England fought on to a negotiated settlement, the emergence of Hitler and the Nazis would have been unlikely at best, and we might have avoided WW II.

    Gary Hoffman (7ec1de)

  5. I can’t say that’s for certain but what was it for, could the German have really conquered France for instance could turkey have retain egypt,

    Narciso (c5ae32)

  6. Here’s a copy (for another soldier) of the certificate my grandfather got for serving and being wounded in action. I still have it, plus his Purple Heart and the telegram saying he was missing in action.

    harkin (0f0199)

  7. What a beautiful keepsake, harkin. I’m sure you are rightly proud to own it.

    JVW (42615e)

  8. My favorite (let’s just pretend for the sake of discussion) martial poet is Archilochos, in his own words “a servant of Ares and skilled in the gift of the Muses”. His own sentiments varied from the Spartan “With it or on it” ethos:

    “Some Saian mountaineer
    Struts today with my shield.
    I threw it down by a bush and ran
    When the fighting got hot.
    Life seemed somehow more precious.
    It was a beautiful shield.
    I know where I can buy another
    Exactly like it, just as round.”

    nk (dbc370)

  9. I am an Owenite, as in Wilfred O.

    Perhaps the greatest use of Owens’s poetry was in Britten’s War Requiem. True Britten was a gay pacifist who tried to sit out WWII, but the War Requiem is one of the greatest pieces of music and uses Owens’s poetry to parallel the Latin Requiem. Favorite recording is the one conducted by Britten.

    kishnevi (170c4a)

  10. Jeeze, nk, so Archilochos was apparently the Peter, Paul, and Mary of his era?

    JVW (42615e)

  11. JVW
    No he wasn’t.
    Because PPM never actually fought anyone and Archilochos apparently did.

    Kind of like people respect the coward who has been under fire more than the hero who hasn’t.

    kishnevi (170c4a)

  12. I don’t know about Peter, Paul and Mary, but it was the same sentiment that moved B.B. King to name all his guitars “Lucille”.

    nk (dbc370)

  13. In 2016 I and a friend did a tour group tour of the Western Front, from Brussels/Ypres to Verdun. What a trip. The tour group is Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. Yes, that Ambrose. They have great historical tours.

    LYNN HARGROVE (740caa)

  14. Archilochos was a mercenary. His name may be a “nom de guerre” since a “lochos” was a military unit equivalent to a modern company. His job was not to die for his employer, it was to make “the other poor sonuvab!thch” die for his employer.

    nk (dbc370)

  15. My great uncles Albert and Ben were KIA in the British Army

    I’m told by my mother that several of my German relatives were KIA as well

    steveg (a9dcab)

  16. My two half-uncles fought throughout the war with the Queen Victoria’s Rifles. Both survived. My grandfather erected a lychgate at his church in thanksgiving.

    Golden Eagle (841888)

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