A good resting place
A fine place to stay: the Hotel Astoria, a short walk
from the Galeries Lafayette. Probably the most exclusive
address he ever used. Few spare rooms, but
a brisk turnover.
He stayed there one September, sent a card
marked HÃ´pital Auxiliaire, courtesy of the British Red Cross.
There was room for one sentence: Just to let you know
I am recovering very well and up and about again.
His wife was doubtless relieved. Nothing then
for six months; then three cards in the space of four days
but these were standard military issue: only
date, signature and some crossing out permitted,
with a censor’s range of possible messages:
I am quite well / I have been admitted into hospital
If the latter was effaced, all well and good;
if not, another choice:
I am sick and am going on well / I am wounded
and hope to be discharged soon.
What else could a man do (he was a man of few letters)
to counter the impression that his latest location
was open only to the healthy
the valiant sick and the walking wounded?
For four days, then, he was at least a man, quite well,
with the right to use a pencil to draw straight lines
through someone else’s sentences:
if anything else is added the postcard will be destroyed.
Six days later he was crossed out himself.
A choice of words
Some weeks after less than a regiment of cards
were sent home, dated, signed and undestroyed
there were no restraints, other than the self-imposed,
on the pages of uncensored prose written by a real soldier:
Field Marshall Sir John French, Commander in Chief,
The British Army in the Field,
to The Secretary of War
“all the roads to East and West
were subjected to a violent artillery fire
‘the hand-to-hand fighting was very severe
and the enemy suffered heavy loss.”
He did mention his men, speaking eloquently:
“splendid spirit manifested by the men in hospital
even those who are mortally wounded.” His admiration
knew no bounds: “Lips hardly able to utter a word”
he said, “ask one invariable question’.
How are things going on at the front?”
If only someone had sent him a postcard.
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by John Lane