Italy. An interesting, infuriating place to live as a gin-raddled expat. Some notes and observations.
Sunday, 6 November 2011
The Great War
I've just finished reading Tommy by Richard Holmes, published by Harper Perennial. It tells the story of the British soldier on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is comprehensive but never boring. It tells of the (for us) unimaginable horror in an almost impersonal way, which somehow makes the words even more harrowing. But it is also packed with fascinating background material. Like how the army found itself so desperately short of horses in 1914 that they sent vets around the farms and smallholdings of Britain to requisition horses, many of which were more family pets than working animals. Off they were taken, the majority to die horribly in the Flanders mud. How the War saw previously unseen advances in medicine and the treatment of wounds. At the astonishment of hearing newly-arrived American soldiers describing Germans as "motherfucking cocksuckers", a particular lexical coupling that was entirely new to the average Tommy. Of particular interest is the issue (here used in its original sense if you please) of leave. Many soldiers found going on leave unpleasant and depressing, finding people in Blighty ignorant and dismissive of what was actually going on at the front ("What do you get up to in your spare time when you're not fighting? Go to a dance hall or the cinema?"), or that the pain of leaving their loved ones again was just not worth the candle, or actually missing the comradeship of the trench and returning to find out who had been killed or who had survived more important than being at home.
And then of course Armistice Day on November 11th 1918. In British cities it was marked with church bells pealing, with noisy celebrations and parties throughout the land.
The soldiers in France and Belgium noticed more than anything else the extraordinary, all-embracing silence, still to be found in the exquisitely tidy CWGC cemeteries, like the Guillemont Road Cemetery above, to be found near the Somme.