Living Well in 1915

October 15, 2015 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

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 Hôpital 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

June 15th1915

“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.

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This post was written by John Lane

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