Monday, November 11, 2013

`I Thought All Was As Lucky As It Should Be'

At his boarding school in Ontario, as part of its Remembrance Day observance, our thirteen-year-old and his classmates made memorial cards for alumni who died in World War I, which ended ninety-five years ago today, on Armistice Day. Go here for an explanation and click on the link to see a selection of the cards, including Michael’s for Leslie A. Hyde, born in Toronto in 1896. The boys researched the lives of the soldiers in the school archives. Hyde attended St. Andrew’s College from 1912 to 1915, served as a second lieutenant in the Royal Horse Artillery, B Reserve Brigade, and died of blood poisoning on Oct. 26, 1915. He was nineteen. Almost 67,000 Canadians died in the Great War, and that doesn’t even begin to tell the story. 

Reading this sketchy portrait of Hyde, learning that he was a Congregationalist, played piano and was a member of the orchestra at St. Andrew’s, makes his death even more appalling and incomprehensible. So much promise erased, gone now almost a century, and yet the war would drag on another three years after his death. A contemporary of Hyde’s, the poet Edmund Blunden (1896-1974), survived and wrote the war’s best memoir (better than Graves’, better than Sassoon’s), Undertones of War (1928). Blunden was a remarkably sensitive but sturdy soul, an utterly attractive man and writer. He’s superb at almost domesticating the unthinkable. Take this passage: 

“A young and cheerful lance-corporal of ours was making some tea [in a trench] as I passed one warm afternoon. Wishing him a good tea, I went along three fire-bays; one shell dropped without warning behind me; I saw its smoke faint out, and I thought all was as lucky as it should be. Soon a cry from that place recalled me; the shell had burst all wrong. Its butting impression was black and stinking in the parados [“a bank behind a trench or other fortification, giving protection from being fired on from the rear”] where three minutes ago the lance-corporal’s mess-tin was bubbling over a little flame. For him, how could the gobbets of blackening flesh, the earth-wall sotted with blood, with flesh, the eye under the duckboard, the pulpy bone be the only answer?” 

The horror only grows: 

“At this moment, while we looked with dreadful fixity at so isolated a horror, the lance-corporal’s brother came round the traverse.”

1 comment:

Buce said...

Got a view on Her Privates We by Frederic Manning?