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Title: Carry On
Author: Dawson, Coningsby, 1883-1959
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Carry On

By Lieutenant


[Illustration: Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson
Canadian Field Artillery]











     At length when the war's at an end
       And we're just ourselves,--you and I,
     And we gather our lives up to mend,
       We, who've learned how to live and to die:

     Shall we think of the old ambition
       For riches, or how to grow wise,
     When, like Lazarus freshly arisen,
       We've the presence of Death in our eyes?

     Shall we dream of our old life's passion,--
       To toil for our heart's desire,
     Whose souls War has taken to fashion
       With molten death and with fire?

     I think we shall crave the laughter
       Of the wind through trees gold with the sun,
     When our strife is all finished,--after
       The carnage of War is done.

     Just these things will then seem worth while:--
       How to make Life more wondrously sweet;
     How to live with a song and a smile,
       How to lay our lives at Love's feet.

                                      ERIC P. DAWSON,
                                 _Sub. Lieut_. R.N.V.R.


The letters in this volume were not written for publication. They are
intimate and personal in a high degree. They would not now be published
by those to whom they are addressed, had they not come to feel that the
spirit and temper of the writer might do something to strengthen and
invigorate those who, like himself, are called on to make great
sacrifices for high causes and solemn duties.

They do not profess to give any new information about the military
operations of the Allies; this is the task of the publicist, and at all
times is forbidden to the soldier in the field. Here and there some
striking or significant fact has been allowed to pass the censor; but
the value of the letters does not lie in these things. It is found
rather in the record of how the dreadful yet heroic realities of war
affect an unusually sensitive mind, long trained in moral and romantic
idealism; the process by which this mind adapts itself to unanticipated
and incredible conditions, to acts and duties which lie close to horror,
and are only saved from being horrible by the efficacy of the spiritual
effort which they evoke. Hating the brutalities of War, clearly
perceiving the wide range of its cruelties, yet the heart of the writer
is never hardened by its daily commerce with death; it is purified by
pity and terror, by heroism and sacrifice, until the whole nature seems
fresh annealed into a finer strength.

The intimate nature of these letters makes it necessary to say something
about the writer.

Coningsby Dawson graduated with honours in history from Oxford in 1905,
and in the same year came to the United States with the intention of
taking a theological course at Union Seminary. After a year at the
Seminary he reached the conclusion that his true lifework lay in
literature, and he at once began to fit himself for his vocation. In the
meantime his family left England, and we had made our home in Taunton,
Massachusetts. Here, in a quiet house, amid lawns and leafy elms, he
gave himself with indefatigable ardour to the art of writing. He wrote
from seven to ten hours a day, producing many poems, short stories, and
three novels. Few writers have ever worked harder to attain literary
excellence, or have practised a more austere devotion to their art. I
often marvelled how a young man, fresh from a brilliant career at the
greatest of English Universities, could be content with a life that was
so widely separated from association with men and affairs. I wondered
still more at the patience with which he endured the rebuffs that always
await the beginner in literature, and the humility with which he was
willing to learn the hard lessons of his apprenticeship in literary
form. The secret lay, no doubt, in his secure sense of a vocation, and
his belief that good work could not fail in the end to justify itself.
But, not the less, these four years of obscure drudgery wore upon his
spirit, and hence some of the references in these letters to his days of
self-despising. The period of waiting came to an end at last with the
publication in 1913 of his _Garden Without Walls_, which attained
immediate success. When he speaks in these letters of his brief burst of
fame, he refers to those crowded months in the Fall of 1913, when his
novel was being discussed on every hand, and, for the first time, he met
many writers of established reputation as an equal.

Another novel, _The Raft_, followed _The Garden Without Walls_. The
nature of his life now seemed fixed. To the task of novel-writing he had
brought a temperament highly idealistic and romantic, a fresh and vivid
imagination, and a thorough literary equipment. His life, as he planned
it, held but one purpose for him, outside the warmth and tenacity of
its affections--the triumph of the efficient purpose in the adequate
expression of his mind in literature. The austerity of his long years of
preparation had left him relatively indifferent to the common prizes of
life, though they had done nothing to lessen his intense joy in life.
His whole mind was concentrated on his art. His adventures would be the
adventures of the mind in search of ampler modes of expression. His
crusades would be the crusades of the spirit in search of the realities
of truth. He had received the public recognition which gave him faith in
himself and faith in his ability to achieve the reputation of the true
artist, whose work is not cheapened but dignified and broadened by
success. So he read the future, and so his critics read it for him. And
then, sudden and unheralded, there broke on this quiet life of
intellectual devotion the great storm of 1914. The guns that roared
along the Marne shattered all his purposes, and left him face to face
with a solemn spiritual exigency which admitted no equivocation.

At first, in common with multitudes more experienced than himself, he
did not fully comprehend the true measure of the cataclysm which had
overwhelmed the world. There had been wars before, and they had been
fought out by standing armies. It was incredible that any war should
last more than a few months. Again and again the world had been assured
that war would break down with its own weight, that no war could be
financed beyond a certain brief period, that the very nature of modern
warfare, with its terrible engines of destruction, made swift decisions
a necessity. The conception of a British War which involved the entire
manhood of the nation was new, and unparalleled in past history. And the
further conception of a war so vast in its issues that it really
threatened the very existence of the nation was new too. Alarmists had
sometimes predicted these things, but they had been disbelieved.
Historians had used such phrases of long past struggles, but often as a
mode of rhetoric rather than as the expression of exact truth. Yet, in a
very few weeks, it became evident that not alone England, but the entire
fabric of liberal civilisation was threatened by a power that knew no
honour, no restraints of either caution or magnanimity, no ethic but the
armed might that trampled under blood-stained feet all the things which
the common sanction of centuries held dearest and fairest.

Perhaps, if Coningsby had been resident in England, these realities of
the situation would have been immediately apparent. Residing in
America, the real outlines of the struggle were a little dimmed by
distance. Nevertheless, from the very first he saw clearly where his
duty lay. He could not enlist immediately. He was bound in honour to
fulfil various literary obligations. His latest book, _Slaves of
Freedom_, was in process of being adapted for serial use, and its
publication would follow. He set the completion of this work as the
period when he must enlist; working on with difficult self-restraint
toward the appointed hour. If he had regrets for a career broken at the
very point where it had reached success and was assured of more than
competence, he never expressed them. His one regret was the effect of
his enlistment on those most closely bound to him by affections which
had been deepened and made more tender by the sense of common exile. At
last the hour came when he was free to follow the imperative call of
patriotic duty. He went to Ottawa, saw Sir Sam Hughes, and was offered a
commission in the Canadian Field Artillery on the completion of his
training at the Royal Military College, at Kingston, Ontario. The last
weeks of his training were passed at the military camp of Petewawa on
the Ottawa River. There his family was able to meet him in the July of
1916. While we were with him he was selected, with twenty-four other
officers, for immediate service in France; and at the same time his two
younger brothers enlisted in the Naval Patrol, then being recruited in
Canada by Commander Armstrong.

The letters in this volume commence with his departure from Ottawa. Week
by week they have come, with occasional interruptions; mud stained
epistles, written in pencil, in dug-outs by the light of a single
candle, in the brief moments snatched from hard and perilous duties.
They give no hint of where he was on the far-flung battle-line. We know
now that he was at Albert, at Thiepval, at Courcelette, and at the
taking of the Regina trench, where, unknown to him, one of his cousins
fell in the heroic charge of the Canadian infantry. His constant
thoughtfulness for those who were left at home is manifest in all he
writes. It has been expressed also in other ways, dear and precious to
remember: in flowers delivered by his order from the battlefield each
Sabbath morning at our house in Newark, in cables of birthday
congratulations, which arrived on the exact date. Nothing has been
forgotten that could alleviate the loneliness of our separation, or
stimulate our courage, or make us conscious of the unbroken bond of

The general point of view in these letters is, I think, adequately
expressed in the phrase "_Carry On_," which I have used as the title of
this book. It was our happy lot to meet Coningsby in London in the
January of the present year, when he was granted ten days' leave. In the
course of conversation one night he laid emphasis on the fact that he,
and those who served with him, were, after all, not professional
soldiers, but civilians at war. They did not love war, and when the war
was ended not five per cent of them would remain in the army. They were
men who had left professions and vocations which still engaged the best
parts of their minds, and would return to them when the hour came. War
was for them an occupation, not a vocation. Yet they had proved
themselves, one and all, splendid soldiers, bearing the greatest
hardships without complaint, and facing wounds and death with a gay
courage which had made the Canadian forces famous even among a host of
men, equally brave and heroic. The secret of their fortitude lay in the
one brief phrase, "Carry On." Their fortitude was of the spirit rather
than the nerves. They were aware of the solemn ideals of justice,
liberty, and righteousness for which they fought, and would never give
up till they were won. In the completeness of their surrender to a great
cause they had been lifted out of themselves to a new plane of living
by the transformation of their spirit. It was the dogged indomitable
drive of spiritual forces controlling bodily forces. Living or dying
those forces would prevail. They would carry on to the end, however long
the war, and would count no sacrifice too great to assure its triumph.

This is the spirit which breathes through these letters. The splendour
of war, as my son puts it, is in nothing external; it is all in the
souls of the men. "There's a marvellous grandeur about all this carnage
and desolation--men's souls rise above the distress--they have to, in
order to survive." "Every man I have met out here has the amazing guts
to wear his crown of thorns as though it were a cap-and-bells." They
have shredded off their weaknesses, and attained that "corporate
stout-heartedness" which is "the acme of what Aristotle meant by
virtue." For himself, he discovers that the plague of his former modes
of life lay in self-distrust. It was the disease of the age. The doubt
of many things which it were wisdom to believe had ended in the doubt of
one's own capacity for heroism. All those doubts and self-despisings had
vanished in the supreme surrender to sacrificial duty. The doors of the
Kingdom of Heroism were flung so wide that the meanest might enter in,
and in that act the humblest became comrades of Drake's men, who could
jest as they died. No one knows his real strength till it is put to the
test; the highest joy of life is to discover that the soul can meet the
test, and survive it.

The Somme battlefield, from which all these letters were despatched, is
an Inferno much more terrible than any Dante pictured. It is a vast sea
of mud, full of the unburied dead, pitted and pock-marked by
shell-holes, treeless and horseless, "the abomination of desolation."
And the men who toil across it look more like outcasts of the London
Embankment than soldiers. "They're loaded down like pack-animals, their
shoulders are rounded, they're wearied to death, but they go on and go
on.... There's no flash of sword or splendour of uniforms. They're only
very tired men determined to carry on. The war will be won by tired men
who can never again pass an insurance test." Yet they carry on--the
"broken counter-jumper, the ragged ex-plumber," the clerk from the
office, the man from the farm; Londoner, Canadian, Australian, New
Zealander, men drawn from every quarter of the Empire, who daily justify
their manhood by devotion to an ideal and by contempt of death. And in
the heart of each there is a settled conviction that the cause for which
they have sacrificed so much must triumph. They have no illusions about
an early peace. They see their comrades fall, and say quietly, "He's
gone West." They do heroic things daily, which in a lesser war would
have won the Victoria Cross, but in this war are commonplaces. They know
themselves re-born in soul, and are dimly aware that the world is
travailing toward new birth with them. They are still very human, men
who end their letters with a row of crosses which stand for kisses. They
are not dehumanised by war; the kindliness and tenderness of their
natures are unspoiled by all their daily traffic in horror. But they
have won their souls; and when the days of peace return these men will
take with them to the civilian life a tonic strength and nobleness which
will arrest and extirpate the decadence of society with the saving salt
of valour and of faith.

It may be said also that they do not hate their foe, although they hate
the things for which he fights. They are fighting a clean fight, with
men whose courage they respect. A German prisoner who comes into the
British camp is sure of good treatment. He is neither starved nor
insulted. His captors share with him cheerfully their rations and their
little luxuries. Sometimes a sullen brute will spit in the face of his
captor when he offers him a cigarette; he is always an officer, never a
private. And occasionally between these fighting hosts there are acts of
magnanimity which stand out illumined against the dark background of
death and suffering. One of the stories told me by my son illustrates
this. During one fierce engagement a British officer saw a German
officer impaled on the barbed wire, writhing in anguish. The fire was
dreadful, yet he still hung there unscathed. At length the British
officer could stand it no longer. He said quietly, "I can't bear to look
at that poor chap any longer." So he went out under the hail of shell,
released him, took him on his shoulders and carried him to the German
trench. The firing ceased. Both sides watched the act with wonder. Then
the Commander in the German trench came forward, took from his own bosom
the Iron Cross, and pinned it on the breast of the British officer. Such
an episode is true to the holiest ideals of chivalry; and it is all the
more welcome because the German record is stained by so many acts of
barbarism, which the world cannot forgive.

This magnanimous attitude toward the enemy is very apparent in these
letters. The man whose mind is filled with great ideals of sacrifice and
duty has no room for the narrowness of hate. He can pity a foe whose
sufferings exceed his own, and the more so because he knows that his
foe is doomed. The British troops do know this to-day by many infallible
signs. In the early days of the war untrained men, poorly equipped with
guns, were pitted against the best trained troops in Europe. The first
Canadian armies were sacrificed, as was that immortal army of Imperial
troops who saved the day at Mons. The Canadians often perished in that
early fighting by the excess of their own reckless bravery. They are
still the most daring fighters in the British army, but they have
profited by the hard discipline of the past. They know now that they
have not only the will to conquer, but the means of conquest. Their,
artillery has become conspicuous for its efficiency. It is the ceaseless
artillery fire which has turned the issue of the war for the British
forces. The work of the infantry is beyond praise. They "go over the
top" with superb courage, and all who have seen them are ready to say
with my son, "I'm hats off to the infantry." And in this final
efficiency, surpassing all that could have been thought possible in the
earlier stages of the war, the British forces read the clear augury of
victory. The war will be won by the Allied armies; not only because they
fight for the better cause, which counts for much, in spite of
Napoleon's cynical saying that "God is on the side of the strongest
battalions"; but because at last they have superiority in equipment,
discipline and efficiency. Upon that shell-torn Western front, amid the
mud and carnage of the Somme, there has been slowly forged the weapon
which will drive the Teuton enemy across the Rhine, and give back to
Europe and the world unhindered liberty and enduring peace.


March, 1917.


In order to make some of the allusions in these letters clear I will set
down briefly the circumstances which explain them, and supply a
narrative link where it may be required.

I have already mentioned the Military Camp at Petewawa, on the Ottawa
river. The Camp is situated about seven miles from Pembroke. The Ottawa
river is at this point a beautiful lake. Immediately opposite the Camp
is a little summer hotel of the simplest description. It was at this
hotel that my wife, my daughter, and myself stayed in the early days of
July, 1916.

The hotel was full of the wives of the officers stationed in the Camp.
During the daytime I was the only man among the guests. About five
o'clock in the afternoon the officers from the Camp began to arrive on a
primitive motor ferryboat. My son came over each day, and we often
visited him at the Camp. His long training at Kingston had been very
severe. It included besides the various classes which he attended a
great deal of hard exercise, long rides or foot marches over frozen
roads before breakfast, and so forth. After this strenuous winter the
Camp at Petewawa was a delightful change. His tent stood on a bluff,
commanding an exquisite view of the broad stretch of water, diversified
by many small islands. We had a great deal of swimming in the lake, and
several motor-boat excursions to its beautiful upper reaches. One
afternoon when we went over in our launch to meet him at the Camp wharf,
he told us that that day a General had come from Ottawa to ask for
twenty-five picked officers to supply the casualties among the Canadian
Field Artillery at the front. He had immediately volunteered and been

At this time my two younger sons, who had joined us at Petewawa in order
to see their brother, enrolled themselves in the Royal Naval Motor
Patrol Service, and had to return to Nelson, British Columbia, to settle
their affairs. Near Nelson, on the Kootenay Lake, we have a large fruit
ranch, managed by my second son, Reginald. My youngest son, Eric, was
with a law-firm in Nelson, and had just passed his final examinations as
solicitor and barrister.

This ranch had played a great part in our lives. The scenery is among
the finest in British Columbia. We usually spent our summers there,
finding not only continual interest in the development of our orchards,
but a great deal of pleasure in riding, swimming, and boating. We had
often talked of building a modern house there, but had never done so.
The original "little shack" was the work of Reginald's own hands, in the
days when most of the ranch was primeval forest. It had been added to,
but was still of the simplest description. One reason why we had not
built a modern house was that this "little shack" had become much
endeared to us by association and memory. We were all together there
more than once, and Coningsby had written a great deal there. We built
later on a sort of summer library--a big room on the edge of a beautiful
ravine--to which reference is made in later letters. Some of the
happiest days of our lives were spent in these lovely surroundings, and
the memory of those blue summer days, amid the fragrance of miles of
pine-forest, often recurs to Coningsby as he writes from the mud-wastes
of the Somme.

We left Petewawa to go to the ranch before Coningsby sailed for England,
that we might get our other two sons ready for their journey to England.
They left us on August 21st, and the ranch was sub-let to Chinamen in
the end of September, when we returned to Newark, New Jersey.



OTTAWA, July 16th, 1916.


So much has happened since last I saw you that it's difficult to know
where to start. On Thursday, after lunch, I got the news that we were to
entrain from Petewawa next Friday morning. I at once put in for leave to
go to Ottawa the next day until the following Thursday at reveille. We
came here with a lot of the other officers who are going over and have
been having a very full time.

I am sailing from a port unknown on board the _Olympic_ with 6,000
troops--there is to be a big convoy. I feel more than ever I did--and
I'm sure it's a feeling that you share since visiting the camp--that I
am setting out on a Crusade from which it would have been impossible to
withhold myself with honour. I go quite gladly and contentedly, and pray
that in God's good time we may all sit again in the little shack at
Kootenay and listen to the rustling of the orchard outside. It will be
of those summer days that I shall be thinking all the time.

                    Yours, with very much love,



HALIFAX, July 23rd.


We've spent all morning on the dock, seeing to our baggage, and have
just got leave ashore for two hours. We have had letters handed to us
saying that on no account are we to mention anything concerning our
passage overseas, neither are we allowed to cable our arrival from the
other side until four clear days have elapsed.

You are thinking of me this quiet Sunday morning at the ranch, and I of
you. And I am wishing--As I wish, I stop and ask myself, "Would I be
there if I could have my choice?" And I remember those lines of
Emerson's which you quoted:

     "Though love repine and reason chafe,
     There comes a voice without reply,
     'Twere man's perdition to be safe,
      When for the Truth he ought to die."

I wouldn't turn back if I could, but my heart cries out against "the
voice which speaks without reply."

Things are growing deeper with me in all sorts of ways. Family
affections stand out so desirably and vivid, like meadows green after
rain. And religion means more. The love of a few dear human people and
the love of the divine people out of sight, are all that one has to lean
on in the graver hours of life. I hope I come back again--I very much
hope I come back again; there are so many finer things that I could do
with the rest of my days--bigger things. But if by any chance I should
cross the seas to stay, you'll know that that also will be right and as
big as anything that I could do with life, and something that you'll be
able to be just as proud about as if I had lived to fulfil all your
other dear hopes for me. I don't suppose I shall talk of this again. But
I wanted you to know that underneath all the lightness and ambition
there's something that I learnt years ago in Highbury[1]. I've become a
little child again in God's hands, with full confidence in His love and
wisdom, and a growing trust that whatever He decides for me will be best
and kindest.

[Footnote 1: We resided over thirteen years at Highbury, London, N.,
during my pastorate of the Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church.]

This is the last letter I shall be able to send to you before the other
boys follow me. Keep brave, dear ones, for all our sakes; don't let any
of us turn cowards whatever ultimately happens. We've a tradition to
live up to now that we have become a family of soldiers and sailors.

I shall long for the time when you come over to England. Where will our
meeting be and when? Perhaps the war may be ended and then won't you be
glad that we dared all this sorrow of good-byes?

     God bless and keep you,


ON BOARD, July 27th, 1916.


Here we are scooting along across the same old Atlantic we've crossed so
many times on journeys of pleasure. I'm at a loss to make my letters
interesting, as we are allowed to say little concerning the voyage and
everything is censored.

There are men on board who are going back to the trenches for the second
time. One of them is a captain in the Princess Pat's, who is badly
scarred in his neck and cheek and thighs, and has been in Canada
recuperating. There is also a young flying chap who has also seen
service. They are all such boys and so plucky in the face of certain

This morning I woke up thinking of our motor-tour of two years ago in
England, and especially of our first evening at The Three Cups in
Dorset. I feel like running down there to see it all again if I get any
leave on landing. How strange it will be to go back to Highbury again
like this! The little boy who ran back and forth to school down Paradise
Row little thought of the person who to-day masquerades as his elder

Heigho! I wish I could tell you a lot of things that I'm not allowed to.
This letter would be much more interesting then.

In seventeen days the boys will also have left you--so this will arrive
when you're horribly lonely. I'm so sorry for you dear people--but I'd
be sorrier for you if we were all with you. If I were a father or
mother, I'd rather have my sons dead than see them failing when the
supreme sacrifice was called for. I marvel all the time at the prosaic
and even coarse types of men who have risen to the greatness of the
occasion. And there's not a man aboard who would have chosen the job
ahead of him. One man here used to pay other people to kill his pigs
because he couldn't endure the cruelty of doing it himself. And now
he's going to kill men. And he's a sample. I wonder if there is a Lord
God of Battles--or is he only an invention of man and an excuse for
man's own actions.


We are just in--safely arrived in spite of everything. I hope you had no
scare reports of our having been sunk--such reports often get about when
a big troop ship is on the way.

I'm baggage master for my draft, and have to get on deck now. You'll
have a long letter from me soon.

                             Yours ever,


SHORNCLIFF, August 19th, 1916.


We haven't had any hint of what is going to happen to us--whether Field
Artillery, the Heavies or trench mortars. There seems little doubt that
we are to be in England for a little while taking special courses.

I read father's letter yesterday. You are very brave--you never thought
that you would be the father of a soldier and sailors; and, as you say,
there's a kind of tradition about the way in which the fathers of
soldiers and sailors should act. Confess--aren't you more honestly happy
to be our father as we are now than as we were? I know quite well you
are, in spite of the loneliness and heartache. We've all been forced
into a heroism of which we did not think ourselves capable. We've been
carried up to the Calvary of the world where it is expedient that a few
men should suffer that all the generations to come may be better.

I understand in a dim way all that you suffer--the sudden divorce of all
that we had hoped for from the present--the ceaseless questionings as to
what lies ahead. Your end of the business is the worse. For me, I can go
forward steadily because of the greatness of the glory. I never thought
to have the chance to suffer in my body for other men. The insufficiency
of merely setting nobilities down on paper is finished. How unreal I
seem to myself! Can it be true that I am here and you are in the still
aloofness of the Rockies? I think the multitude of my changes has
blunted my perceptions. I trudge along like a traveller between high
hedgerows; my heart is blinkered so that I am scarcely aware of
landscapes. My thoughts are always with you--I make calculations for the
differences of time that I may follow more accurately your doings. I'd
love to come down to the study summer-house and watch the blueness of
the lake with you--I love those scenes and memories more than any in the

     Good-bye for the present. Be brave.



SHORNCLIFF, August 19th, 1916.


It's not quite three weeks to-day since I came to England, and it seems
ages. The first week was spent on leave, the second I passed my exams in
gun drill and gun-laying, and this week I have finished my riding. Next
Monday I start on my gunnery.

Do you remember Captain S. at the Camp? I had his young brother to
dinner with me last night-he's just back from France minus an eye. He
lasted three and a half weeks, and was buried four feet deep by a shell.
He's a jolly boy, as cheerful as you could want and is very good
company. He gave me a vivid description. He had a great boy-friend. At
the start of the war they both joined, S. in the Artillery, his friend
in the Mounted Rifles. At parting they exchanged identification tokens.
S.'s bore his initials and the one word "Violets"--which meant that they
were his favourite flower and he would like to have some scattered over
him when he was buried. His friend wore his initials and the words "No
flowers by request." It was S.'s first week out--they were advancing,
having driven back the enemy, and were taking up a covered position in a
wood from which to renew their offensive. It was night, black as pitch,
but they knew that the wood must have been the scene of fighting by the
scuttling of the rats. Suddenly the moon came out, and from beneath a
bush S. saw a face--or rather half a face--which he thought he
recognised, gazing up at him. He corrects himself when he tells the
story, and says that it wasn't so much the disfigured features as the
profile that struck him as familiar. He bent down and searched beneath
the shirt, and drew out a little metal disc with "No flowers by request"
written on it.

I don't know whether I ought to repeat things like that to you, but the
description was so graphic. I have met many who have returned from the
Front, and what puzzles me in all of them is their unawed acceptance of
death. I don't think I could ever accept it as natural; it's too
discourteous in its interruption of many dreams and plans and loves.

          Yours with very much love,


SHORNCLIFF, August 30th, 1916.


I have just returned from sending you a cable to let you know that I'm
off to France. The word came out in orders yesterday, and I shall leave
before the end of the week with a draft of officers--I have been in
England just a day over four weeks. My only regret is that I shall miss
the boys who should be travelling up to London about the same time as I
am setting out for the Front. After I have been there for three months I
am supposed to get a leave--this should be due to me about the beginning
of December, and you can judge how I shall count on it. Think of the
meeting with R. and E., and the immensity of the joy.

Selfishly I wish that you were here at this moment--actually I'm glad
that you are away. Everybody goes out quite unemotionally and with very
few good-byes--we made far more fuss in the old days about a week-end

Now that at last it has come--this privileged moment for which I have
worked and waited--my heart is very quiet. It's the test of a character
which I have often doubted. I shall be glad not to have to doubt it
again. Whatever happens, I know you will be glad to remember that at a
great crisis I tried to play the man, however small my qualifications.
We have always lived so near to one another's affections that this going
out alone is more lonely to me than to most men. I have always had some
one near at hand with love-blinded eyes to see my faults as springing
from higher motives. Now I reach out my hands across six thousand miles
and only touch yours with my imagination to say good-bye. What queer
sights these eyes, which have been almost your eyes, will witness! If my
hands do anything respectable, remember that it is your hands that are
doing it. It is your influence as a family that has made me ready for
the part I have to play, and where I go, you follow me.

Poor little circle of three loving persons, please be tremendously
brave. Don't let anything turn you into cowards--we've all got to be
worthy of each other's sacrifice; the greater the sacrifice may prove to
be for the one the greater the nobility demanded of the remainder. How
idle the words sound, and yet they will take deep meanings when time has
given them graver sanctions. I think gallant is the word I've been
trying to find--we must be gallant English women and gentlemen.

It's been raining all day and I got very wet this morning. Don't you
wish I had caught some quite harmless sickness? When I didn't want to go
back to school, I used to wet my socks purposely in order to catch cold,
but the cold always avoided me when I wanted it badly. How far away the
childish past seems--almost as though it never happened. And was I
really the budding novelist in New York? Life has become so stern and
scarlet--and so brave. From my window I look out on the English Channel,
a cold, grey-green sea, with rain driving across it and a fleet of small
craft taking shelter. Over there beyond the curtain of mist lies
France--and everything that awaits me.

News has just come that I have to start. Will continue from France.

                    Yours ever lovingly,


Friday, September 1st, 1916, 11 am.


I embark at 12.30--so this is the last line before I reach France. I
expect the boys are now within sight of English shores--I wish I could
have had an hour with them.

I'm going to do my best to bring you honour--remember that--I shall do
things for your sake out there, living up to the standards you have
taught me.

          Yours with a heart full of love,


FRANCE, September 1st, 1916.


Here I am in France with the same strange smells and street cries, and
almost the same little boys bowling hoops over the very cobbly cobble
stones. I had afternoon tea at a patisserie and ate a great many gâteaux
for the sake of old times. We had a very choppy crossing, and you would
most certainly have been sick had you been on board. It seemed to me
that I must be coming on one of those romantic holidays to see churches
and dead history--only the khaki-clad figures reminded me that I was
coming to see history in the making. It's a funny world that batters us
about so. It's three years since I was in France--the last time was with
Arthur in Provence. It's five years since you and I did our famous trip

I wish you were here--there are heaps of English nurses in the streets.
I expect to sleep in this place and proceed to my destination to-morrow.
How I wish I could send you a really descriptive letter! If I did, I
fear you would not get it--so I have to write in generalities. None of
this seems real--it's a kind of wild pretence from which I shall
awake-and when I tell you my dream you'll laugh and say, "How absurd of
you, dreaming that you were a soldier. I must say you look like it."

     Good-bye, my dearest girl,
                   God bless you,


September 8th, 1916.


I'm sending this to meet you on your return from Kootenay. I left
England on September 1st and had a night at my point of disembarkation,
and then set off on a wandering adventure in search of my division. I'm
sure you'll understand that I cannot enter into any details--I can only
give you general and purely personal impressions. There were two other
officers with me, both from Montreal. We had to picnic on chocolate and
wine for twenty-four hours through our lack of forethought in not
supplying ourselves with food for the trip. I shaved the first morning
with water from the exhaust of a railroad engine, having first balanced
my mirror on the step. The engineer was fascinated with my safety razor.
There were Tommies from the trenches in another train, muddied to the
eyes--who showed themselves much more resourceful. They cooked
themselves quite admirable meals as they squatted on the rails, over
little fires on which they perched tomato cans. Sunday evening we saw
our first German prisoners--a young and degenerate-looking lot. Sunday
evening we got off at a station in the rain, and shouldered our own
luggage. Our luggage, by the way, consists of a sleeping bag, in which
much of our stuff is packed, and a kit sack--for an immediate change and
toilet articles one carries a haversack hung across the shoulder. Well,
as I say, we alighted and coaxed a military wagon to come to our rescue.
As we set off through a drizzling rain, trudging behind the cart, a
double rainbow shone, which I took for an omen. Presently we came to a
rest camp, where we told our sad story of empty tummies, and were put up
for the night. A Jock--all Highlanders are called Jock--looked after us.
Next morning we started out afresh in a motor lorry and finished at a
Y.M.C.A. tent, where we stayed two nights. On Wednesday we met the
General in Command of our Division, who posted me to the battery, which
is said to be the best in the best brigade in the best division--so you
may see I'm in luck. I found the battery just having come out of
action--we expect to go back again in a day or two. Major B. is the
O.C.--a fine man. The lieutenant who shares my tent won the Military
Cross at Ypres last Spring. I'm very happy--which will make you
happy--and longing for my first taste of real war.

How strangely far away I am from you--all the experiences so unshared
and different. Long before this reaches you I shall have been in action
several times. This time three years ago my streak of luck came to me
and I was prancing round New York. To-day I am much more genuinely happy
in mind, for I feel, as I never felt when I was only writing, that I am
doing something difficult which has no element of self in it. If I come
back, life will be a much less restless affair.

This letter! I can imagine it being delivered and the shout from whoever
takes it and the comments. I make the contrast in my mind--this little
lean-to spread of canvas about four feet high, the horse-lines, guns,
sentries going up and down--and then the dear home and the well-loved

     Good-bye. Don't be at all nervous.
                Yours lovingly,


September 12th, Tuesday.


You will already have received my first letters giving you my address
over here. The wagon has just come up to our position, but it has
brought me only one letter since I've been across. I'm sitting in my
dug-out with shells passing over my head with the sound of ripping
linen. I've already had the novel experience of firing a battery, and
to-morrow I go up to the first line trenches.

It's extraordinary how commonplace war becomes to a man who is thrust
among others who consider it commonplace. Not fifty yards away from me a
dead German lies rotting and uncovered--I daresay he was buried once and
then blown out by a shell.

Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Your letters came two hours ago--the first to reach me here--and I have
done little else but read and re-read them. How they bring the old ways
of life back with their love and longing! Dear mother's tie will be worn
to-morrow, and it will be ripping to feel that it was made by her hands.
Your cross has not arrived yet, dear. Your mittens will be jolly for the
winter. I've heard nothing from the boys yet.

To-day I took a trip into No-Man's Land--when the war is ended I'll be
able to tell you all about it. I think the picture is photographed upon
my memory forever. There's so much you would like to hear and so little
I'm allowed to tell. Ask G.M.'C. if he was at Princeton with a man named
Price--an instructor there.

You ought to see the excitement when the water-cart brings us our mail
and the letters are handed out. Some of the gunners have evidently told
their Canadian girls that they are officers, and so they are addressed
on their letters as lieutenants. I have to censor some of their replies,
and I can tell you they are as often funny as pathetic. The ones to
their mothers are childish, too, and have rows of kisses. I think men
are always kiddies if you look beneath the surface. The snapshots did
fill me with a wanting to be with you in Kootenay. But that's not where
you'll receive this. There'll probably be a fire in the sitting-room at
home, and a strong aroma of coffee and tobacco. You'll be sitting in a
low chair before the fire and your fingers rubbing the hair above your
left ear as you read this aloud. I'd like to walk in on you and say, "No
more need for letters now." Some day soon, I pray and expect.

Tell dear Papa and Mother that their answers come next. What a lot of
love you each one manage to put into your written pages! I'm afraid if I
let myself go that way I might make you unhappy.

Since writing this far I have had supper. I'm now sleeping in a new
dug-out and get a shower of mould on my sleeping-kit each time the guns
are fired. One doesn't mind that particularly, especially when you know
that the earth walls make you safe. I have a candle in an old petrol tin
and dodge the shadows as I write. You know, this artillery game is good
sport and one takes everything as it comes with a joke. The men are
splendid--their cheeriness comes up bubbling whenever the occasion calls
for the dumps. Certainly there are fine qualities which war, despite its
unnaturalness, develops. I'm hats off to every infantry private I meet

God bless you and all of you.
              Yours lovingly,     Con.

The reference in the previous letter to a cross is to a little bronze
cross of Francis of Assisi.

Many years ago I visited Assisi, and, on leaving, the monks gave me four
of these small bronze crosses, assuring me that those who wore them were
securely defended in all peril by the efficacious prayers of St.
Francis. Just before Coningsby left Shorncliff to go to France he wrote
to us and asked if we couldn't send him something to hang round his neck
for luck. We fortunately had one of these crosses of St. Francis at the
ranch, and his sister--the M. of these letters-sent it to him. It
arrived safely, and he has worn it ever since.


September 15th, 1916.


Your last letter to me was written on a quiet morning in August--in the
summer house at Kootenay. It came up yesterday evening on a water-cart
from the wagon-lines to a scene a little in contrast.

It's a fortnight to-day since I left England, and already I've seen
action. Things move quickly in this game, and it is a game--one which
brings out both the best and the worst qualities in a man. If
unconscious heroism is the virtue most to be desired, and heroism spiced
with a strong sense of humour at that, then pretty well every man I have
met out here has the amazing guts to wear his crown of thorns as though
it were a cap-and-bells. To do that for the sake of corporate
stout-heartedness is, I think, the acme of what Aristotle meant by
virtue. A strong man, or a good man or a brainless man, can walk to meet
pain with a smile on his mouth because he knows that he is strong enough
to bear it, or worthy enough to defy it, or because he is such a fool
that he has no imagination. But these chaps are neither particularly
strong, good, nor brainless; they're more like children, utterly casual
with regard to trouble, and quite aware that it is useless to struggle
against their elders. So they have the merriest of times while they can,
and when the governess, Death, summons them to bed, they obey her with
unsurprised quietness. It sends the mercury of one's optimism rising to
see the way they do it. I search my mind to find the bigness of motive
which supports them, but it forever evades me. These lads are not the
kind who philosophise about life; they're the sort, many of them, who
would ordinarily wear corduroys and smoke a cutty pipe. I suppose the
Christian martyrs would have done the same had corduroys been the
fashion in that day, and if a Roman Raleigh had discovered tobacco.

I wrote this about midnight and didn't get any further, as I was up till
six carrying on and firing the battery. After adding another page or two
I want to get some sleep, as I shall probably have to go up to the
observation station to watch the effect of fire to-night. But before I
turn in I want to tell you that I had the most gorgeous mail from
everybody. Now that I'm in touch with you all again, it's almost like
saying "How-do?" every night and morning.

I daresay you'll wonder how it feels to be under shell-fire. This is how
it feels--you don't realise your danger until you come to think about it
afterwards--at the time it's like playing coconut shies at a coon's
head--only you're the coon's head. You take too much interest in the
sport of dodging to be afraid. You'll hear the Tommies saying if one
bursts nearly on them, "Line, you blighter, line. Five minutes more
left," just as though they were reprimanding the unseen Hun battery for
rotten shooting.

The great word of the Tommies here is "No bloody bon"--a strange mixture
of French and English, which means that a thing is no good. If it
pleases them it's _Jake_--though where Jake comes from nobody knows.

Now I must get a wink or two, as I don't know when I may have to start

                    Ever yours, with love,


September 19th, 1916.

Dearest Mother:

I've been in France 19 days, and it hasn't taken me long to go into
action. Soon I shall be quite an old hand. I'm just back from 24 hours
in the Observation Post, from which one watches the effect of fire. I
understand now and forgive the one phrase which the French children have
picked up from our Tommies on account of its frequent
occurrence--"bl---- mud." I never knew that mud could be so thick and
treacly. All my fear that I might be afraid under shell-fire is
over--you get to believe that if you're going to be hit you're going to
be. But David's phrase keeps repeating itself in my mind, "Ten thousand
shall fall at thy side, etc., but it shall not come nigh unto thee."
It's a curious thing that the men who are most afraid are those who get
most easily struck. A friend of G.M.C.'s was hit the other day within
thirty yards of me--he was a Princeton chap. I mentioned him in one of
my previous letters. Our right section commander got a blighty two days
ago and is probably now in England. He went off on a firing battery
wagon, grinning all over his face, saying he wouldn't sell that bit of
blood and shrapnel for a thousand pounds. I'm wearing your tie--it's the
envy of the battery. All the officers wanted me to give them the name of
my girl. It never occurs to men that mothers will do things like that.

Thank the powers it has stopped raining and we'll be able to get dry. I
came in plastered from head to foot with lying in the rain on my tummy
and peering over the top of a trench. Isn't it a funny change from
comfortable breakfasts, press notices and a blazing fire?

Do you want any German souvenirs? Just at present I can get plenty. I
have a splendid bayonet and a belt with Kaiser Bill's arms on it--but
you can't forward these things from France. The Germans swear that
they're not using bayonets with saw-edges, but you can buy them for five
francs from the Tommies--ones they've taken from the prisoners or else
picked up.

You needn't be nervous about me. I'm a great little dodger of
whizz-bangs. Besides I have a superstition that there's something in
the power of M.'s cross to bless. It came with the mittens, and is at
present round my neck.

You know what it sounds like when they're shooting coals down an iron
run-way into a cellar-well, imagine a thousand of them. That's what I'm
hearing while I write.

God bless you; I'm very happy.

               Yours ever,


September 19th, 1916.

Dearest Father:

I'm writing you your birthday letter early, as I don't know how busy I
may be in the next week, nor how long this may take to reach you. You
know how much love I send you and how I would like to be with you. D'you
remember the birthday three years ago when we set the victrola going
outside your room door? Those were my high-jinks days when very many
things seemed possible. I'd rather be the person I am now than the
person I was then. Life was selfish though glorious.

Well, I've seen my first modern battlefield and am quite disillusioned
about the splendour of war. The splendour is all in the souls of the
men who creep through the squalor like vermin--it's in nothing
external. There was a chap here the other day who deserved the V.C. four
times over by running back through the Hun shell fire to bring news that
the infantry wanted more artillery support. I was observing for my
brigade in the forward station at the time. How he managed to live
through the ordeal nobody knows. But men laugh while they do these
things. It's fine.

A modern battlefield is the abomination of abominations. Imagine a vast
stretch of dead country, pitted with shell-holes as though it had been
mutilated with small-pox. There's not a leaf or a blade of grass in
sight. Every house has either been leveled or is in ruins. No bird
sings. Nothing stirs. The only live sound is at night--the scurry of
rats. You enter a kind of ditch, called a trench; it leads on to another
and another in an unjoyful maze. From the sides feet stick out, and arms
and faces--the dead of previous encounters. "One of our chaps," you say
casually, recognising him by his boots or khaki, or "Poor blighter--a
Hun!" One can afford to forget enmity in the presence of the dead. It is
horribly difficult sometimes to distinguish between the living and the
slaughtered--they both lie so silently in their little kennels in the
earthen bank. You push on--especially if you are doing observation work,
till you are past your own front line and out in No Man's Land. You have
to crouch and move warily now. Zing! A bullet from a German sniper. You
laugh and whisper, "A near one, that." My first trip to the trenches was
up to No Man's Land. I went in the early dawn and came to a Madame
Tussaud's show of the dead, frozen into immobility in the most
extraordinary attitudes. Some of them were part way out of the ground,
one hand pressed to the wound, the other pointing, the head sunken and
the hair plastered over the forehead by repeated rains. I kept on
wondering what my companions would look like had they been three weeks
dead. My imagination became ingeniously and vividly morbid. When I had
to step over them to pass, it seemed as though they must clutch at my
trench coat and ask me to help. Poor lonely people, so brave and so
anonymous in their death! Somewhere there is a woman who loved each one
of them and would give her life for my opportunity to touch the poor
clay that had been kind to her. It's like walking through the day of
resurrection to visit No Man's Land. Then the Huns see you and the
shrapnel begins to fall--you crouch like a dog and run for it.

One gets used to shell-fire up to a point, but there's not a man who
doesn't want to duck when he hears one coming. The worst of all is the
whizz-bang, because it doesn't give you a chance--it pounces and is on
you the same moment that it bangs. There's so much I wish that I could
tell you. I can only say this, at the moment we're making history.

What a curious birthday letter! I think of all your other birthdays--the
ones before I met these silent men with the green and yellow faces, and
the blackened lips which will never speak again. What happy times we
have had as a family--what happy jaunts when you took me in those early
days, dressed in a sailor suit, when you went hunting pictures. Yet, for
all the damnability of what I now witness, I was never quieter in my
heart. To have surrendered to an imperative self-denial brings a peace
which self-seeking never brought.

So don't let this birthday be less gay for my absence. It ought to be
the proudest in your life--proud because your example has taught each of
your sons to do the difficult things which seem right. It would have
been a condemnation of you if any one of us had been a shirker.

     "I want to buy fine things for you
     And be a soldier if I can."

The lines come back to me now. You read them to me first in the dark
little study from a green oblong book. You little thought that I would
be a soldier--even now I can hardly realise the fact. It seems a dream
from which I shall wake up. Am I really killing men day by day? Am I
really in jeopardy myself?

Whatever happens I'm not afraid, and I'll give you reason to be glad of
                     Very much love,

The poem referred to in this letter was actually written for Coningsby
when he was between five and six years old. The dark little study which
he describes was in the old house at Wesley's Chapel, in the City Road,
London--and it was very dark, with only one window, looking out upon a
dingy yard. The green oblong book in which I used to write my poems I
still have; and it is an illustration of the tenacity of a child's
memory that he should recall it. The poem was called _A Little Boy's
Programme_, and ran thus:

     I am so very young and small,
     That, when big people pass me by,
     I sometimes think they are so high
     I'll never be a man at all.

     And yet I want to be a man
     Because so much I want to do;
     I want to buy fine things for you,
     And be a soldier, if I can.

       *       *       *       *       *

     When I'm a man I will not let
     Poor little children starve, or be
     Ill-used, or stand and beg of me
     With naked feet out in the wet.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Now, don't you laugh!--The father kissed
     The little serious mouth and said
     "You've almost made me cry instead,
     You blessed little optimist."


September 21st, 1916.

My Very Dear M.:

I am wearing your talisman while I write and have a strong superstition
in its efficacy. The efficacy of your socks is also very noticeable--I
wore them the first time on a trip to the Forward Observation Station. I
had to lie on my tummy in the mud, my nose just showing above the
parapet, for the best part of twenty-four hours. Your socks little
thought I would take them into such horrid places when you made them.

Last night both the King and Sir Sam sent us congratulations--I popped
in just at the right time. I daresay you know far more about our doings
than I do. Only this morning I picked up the _London Times_ and read a
full account of everything I have witnessed. The account is likely to be
still fuller in the New York papers.

"Home for Christmas"--that's what the Tommies are promising their
mothers and sweethearts in all their letters that I censor. Yesterday I
was offered an Imperial commission in the army of occupation. But home
for Christmas, will be Christmas, 1917--I can't think that it will be
                    Very much love,


Sunday, September 24th, 1916.


Your locket has just reached me, and I have strung it round my neck with
M.'s cross. Was it M.'s cross the other night that accounted for my
luck? I was in a gun-pit when a shell landed, killing a man only a foot
away from me and wounding three others--I and the sergeant were the only
two to get out all right. Men who have been out here some time have a
dozen stories of similar near squeaks. And talking of squeaks, it was a
mouse that saved one man. It kept him awake to such an extent that he
determined to move to another place. Just as he got outside the dug-out
a shell fell on the roof.

You'll be pleased to know that we have a ripping chaplain or Padre, as
they call chaplains, with us. He plays the game, and I've struck up a
great friendship with him. We discuss literature and religion when we're
feeling a bit fed up. We talk at home of our faith being tested--one
begins to ask strange questions here when he sees what men are allowed
by the Almighty to do to one another, and so it's a fine thing to be in
constant touch with a great-hearted chap who can risk his life daily to
speak of the life hereafter to dying Tommies.

I wish I could tell you of my doings, but it's strictly against orders.
You may read in the papers of actions in which I've taken part and never
know that I was there.

We live for the most part on tinned stuff, but our appetites make
anything taste palatable. Living and sleeping in the open air keeps one
ravenous. And one learns to sleep the sleep of the just despite the
roaring of the guns.

God bless you each one and give us peaceful hearts.

                    Yours ever,


September 28th, 1916.

My Dears:

We're in the midst of a fine old show, so I don't get much opportunity
for writing. Suffice it to say that I've seen the big side of war by now
and the extraordinary uncalculating courage of it. Men run out of a
trench to an attack with as much eagerness as they would display in
overtaking a late bus. If you want to get an idea of what meals are like
when a row is on, order the McAlpin to spread you a table where 34th
crosses Broadway--and wait for the uptown traffic on the Elevated. It's
wonderful to see the waiters dodging with dishes through the

It's a wonderful autumn day, golden and mellow; I picture to myself what
this country must have looked like before the desolation of war struck

I was Brigade observation officer on September 26th, and wouldn't have
missed what I saw for a thousand dollars. It was a touch and go
business, with shells falling everywhere and machine-gun fire--but
something glorious to remember. I had the great joy of being useful in
setting a Hun position on fire. I think the war will be over in a

Our great joy is composing menus of the meals we'll eat when we get
home. Good-bye for the present.


October 1st, 1916.


Sunday morning, your first back in Newark. You're not up yet owing to
the difference in time--I can imagine the quiet house with the first of
the morning stealing greyly in. You'll be presently going to church to
sit in your old-fashioned mahogany pew. There's not much of Sunday in
our atmosphere--only the little one can manage to keep in his heart. I
shall share the echo of yours by remembering.

I'm waiting orders at the present moment to go forward with the Colonel
and pick out a new gun position. You know I'm very happy-satisfied for
the first time I'm doing something big enough to make me forget all
failures and self-contempts. I know at last that I can measure up to the
standard I have always coveted for myself. So don't worry yourselves
about any note of hardship that you may interpret into my letters, for
the deprivation is fully compensated for by the winged sense of
exaltation one has.

Things have been a little warm round us lately. A gun to our right,
another to our rear and another to our front were knocked out with
direct hits. We've got some of the chaps taking their meals with us now
because their mess was all shot to blazes. There was an officer who was
with me at the 53rd blown thirty feet into the air while I was watching.
He picked himself up and insisted on carrying on, although his face was
a mass of bruises. I walked in on the biggest engagement of the entire
war the moment I came out here. There was no gradual breaking-in for me.
My first trip to the front line was into a trench full of dead.

Have you seen Lloyd George's great speech? I'm all with him. No matter
what the cost and how many of us have to give our lives, this War must
be so finished that war may be forever at an end. If the devils who plan
wars could only see the abysmal result of their handiwork! Give them one
day in the trenches under shell-fire when their lives aren't worth a
five minutes' purchase--or one day carrying back the wounded through
this tortured country, or one day in a Red Cross train. No one can
imagine the damnable waste and Christlessness of this battering of
human flesh. The only way that this War can be made holy is by making it
so thorough that war will be finished for all time.

Papa at least will be awake by now. How familiar the old house seems to
me--I can think of the place of every picture. Do you set the victrola
going now-a-days? I bet you play Boys in Khaki, Boys in Blue.

Please send me anything in the way of eatables that the goodness of your
hearts can imagine--also smokes.


I came back from the front-line all right and have since been hard at it
firing. Your letters reached me in the midst of a bombardment--I read
them in a kind of London fog of gun-powder smoke, with my steel helmet
tilted back, in the interval of commanding my section through a

Don't suppose that I'm in any way unhappy--I'm as cheerful as a cricket
and do twice as much hopping--I have to. There's something
extraordinarily bracing about taking risks and getting away with
it--especially when you know that you're contributing your share to a
far-reaching result. My mother is the mother of a soldier now, and
soldiers' mothers don't lie awake at night imagining--they just say a
prayer for their sons and leave everything in God's hands. I'm sure
you'd far rather I died than not play the man to the fullest of my
strength. It isn't when you die that matters--it's how. Not but what I
intend to return to Newark and make the house reek of tobacco smoke
before I've done.

We're continually in action now, and the casualty to B. has left us
short-handed--moreover we're helping out another battery which has lost
two officers. As you've seen by the papers, we've at last got the Hun on
the run. Three hundred passed me the other day unescorted, coming in to
give themselves up as prisoners. They're the dirtiest lot you ever set
eyes on, and looked as though they hadn't eaten for months. I wish I
could send you some souvenirs. But we can't send them out of France.

I'm scribbling by candlelight and everything's jumping with the stamping
of the guns. I wear the locket and cross all the time.

                    Yours with much love,


October 13th, 1916.


I have only time to write and assure you that I am safe. We're living in
trenches at present--I have my sleeping bag placed on a stretcher to
keep it fairly dry. By the time you get this we expect to be having a
rest, as we've been hard at it now for an unusually long time. How I
wish that I could tell you so many things that are big and vivid in my
mind-but the censor--!

Yesterday I had an exciting day. I was up forward when word came through
that an officer still further forward was wounded and he'd been caught
in a heavy enemy fire. I had only a kid telephonist with me, but we
found a stretcher, went forward and got him out. The earth was hopping
up and down like pop-corn in a frying pan. The unfortunate thing was
that the poor chap died on the way out. It was only the evening before
that we had dined together and he had told me what he was going to do
with his next leave.

               God bless you all,


October 14th, 1916.


I'm still all right and well. To-day I had the funniest experience of my
life--got caught in a Hun curtain of fire and had to lie on my tummy
for two hours in a trench with the shells bursting five yards from
me--and never a scratch. You know how I used to wonder what I'd do under
such circumstances. Well, I laughed. All I could think of was the sleek
people walking down Fifth Avenue, and the equally sleek crowds taking
tea at the Waldorf. It struck me as ludicrous that I, who had been one
of them, should be lying there lunchless. For a little while I was
slightly deaf with the concussions.

That poem keeps on going through my head,

     Oh, to come home once more, when the dusk is falling,
       To see the nursery lighted and the children's table spread;
     "Mother, mother, mother!" the eager voices calling,
       "The baby was so sleepy that he had to go to bed!"

Wouldn't it be good, instead of sitting in a Hun dug-out?

            Yours lovingly,


October 15th, 1916.

Dear Ones:

We're still in action, but are in hopes that soon we may be moved to
winter quarters. We've had our taste of mud, and are anxious to move
into better quarters before we get our next. I think I told you that
our O.C. had got wounded in the feet, and our right section commander
got it in the shoulder a little earlier--so we're a bit short-handed and
find ourselves with plenty of work.

I have curiously lucid moments when recent happenings focus themselves
in what seems to be their true perspective. The other night I was
Forward Observation officer on one of our recent battlefields. I had to
watch the front all night for signals, etc. There was a full white moon
sailing serenely overhead, and when I looked at it I could almost fancy
myself back in the old melancholy pomp of autumn woodlands where the
leaves were red, not with the colour of men's blood. My mind went back
to so many by-gone days-especially to three years ago. I seemed so
vastly young then, upon reflection. For a little while I was full of
regrets for many things wasted, and then I looked at the battlefield
with its scattered kits and broken rifles. Nothing seemed to matter very
much. A rat came out-then other rats. I stood there feeling
extraordinarily aloof from all things that can hurt, and--you'll
smile--I planned a novel. O, if I get back, how differently I shall
write! When you've faced the worst in so many forms, you lose your fear
and arrive at peace. There's a marvellous grandeur about all this
carnage and desolation--men's souls rise above the distress--they have
to in order to survive. When you see how cheap men's bodies are you
cannot help but know that the body is the least part of personality.

You can let up on your nervousness when you get this, for I shall almost
certainly be in a safer zone. We've done more than our share and must be
withdrawn soon. There's hardly a battery which does not deserve a dozen
D.S.O.'s with a V.C. or two thrown in.

It's 4.30 now--you'll be in church and, I hope, wearing my flowers. Wait
till I come back and you shall go to church with the biggest bunch of
roses that ever were pinned to a feminine chest. I wonder when that will

We have heaps of humour out here. You should have seen me this morning,
sitting on the gun-seat while my batman cut my hair. A sand-bag was
spread over my shoulders in place of a towel and the gun-detachment
stood round and gave advice. I don't know what I look like, for I
haven't dared to gaze into my shaving mirror.

             Good luck to us all,


October 18th, 1910

Dearest M.:

I've come down to the lines to-day; to-morrow I go back again. I'm
sitting alone in a deep chalk dug-out--it is 10 p.m. and I have lit a
fire by splitting wood with a bayonet. Your letters from Montreal
reached me yesterday. They came up in the water-cart when we'd all begun
to despair of mail. It was wonderful the silence that followed while
every one went back home for a little while, and most of them met their
best girls. We've fallen into the habit of singing in parts. Jerusalem
the Golden is a great favourite as we wait for our breakfast--we go
through all our favourite songs, including Poor Old Adam Was My Father.
Our greatest favourite is one which is symbolising the hopes that are in
so many hearts on this greatest battlefield in history. We sing it under
shell-fire as a kind of prayer, we sing it as we struggle knee-deep in
the appalling mud, we sing it as we sit by a candle in our deep captured
German dug-outs. It runs like this:

     "There's a long, long trail a-winding
     Into the land of my dreams,
     Where the nightingales are singing
     And a white moon beams:

     There's a long, long night of waiting
     Until my dreams all come true;
     Till the day when I'll be going down
     That long, long trail with you."

You ought to be able to get it, and then you will be singing it when I'm
doing it.

No, I don't know what to ask from you for Christmas--unless a plum
pudding and a general surprise box of sweets and food stuffs. If you
don't mind my suggesting it, I wouldn't a bit mind a Christmas box at
once--a schoolboy's tuck box. I wear the locket, cross, and tie all the
time as kind of charms against danger--they give me the feeling of
loving hands going with me everywhere.

     God bless you.
                    Yours ever,


October 23, 1916

Dearest All:

As you know I have been in action ever since I left England and am
still. I've lived in various extemporised dwellings and am at present
writing from an eight foot deep hole dug in the ground and covered over
with galvanised iron and sand-bags. We have made ourselves very
comfortable, and a fire is burning--I correct that--comfortable until it
rains, I should say, when the water finds its own level. We have just
finished with two days of penetrating rain and mist--in the trenches the
mud was up to my knees, so you can imagine the joy of wading down these
shell-torn tunnels. Good thick socks have been priceless.

You'll be pleased to hear that two days ago I was made Right Section
Commander--which is fairly rapid promotion. It means a good deal more
work and responsibility, but it gives me a contact with the men which I

I don't know when I'll get leave--not for another two months anyway. It
would be ripping if I had word in time for you to run over to England
for the brief nine days.

I plan novels galore and wonder whether I shall ever write them the way
I see them now. My imagination is to an extent crushed by the
stupendousness of reality. I think I am changed in some stern spiritual
way--stripped of flabbiness. I am perhaps harder--I can't say. That I
should be a novelist seems unreasonable--it's so long since I had my own
way in the world and met any one on artistic terms. But I have enough
ego left to be very interested in my book. And by the way, when we're
out at the front and the battery wants us to come in they simply phone
up the password, "Slaves of Freedom," the meaning of which we all

You are ever in my thoughts, and I pray the day may not be far distant
when we meet again.



October 27th, 1916.

Dearest Family:

All to-day I've been busy registering our guns. There is little chance
of rest--one would suppose that we intended to end the war by spring.

Two new officers joined our battery from England, which makes the work
lighter. One of them brings the news that D., one of the two officers
who crossed over from England with me and wandered through France with
me in search of our Division, is already dead. He was a corking fellow,
and I'm very sorry. He was caught by a shell in the head and legs.

I am still living in a sand-bagged shell-hole eight feet beneath the
level of the ground. I have a sleeping bag with an eider-down inside it,
for my bed; it is laid on a stretcher, which is placed in a roofed-in
trench. For meals, when there isn't a block on the roads, we do very
well; we subscribe pretty heavily to the mess, and have an officer back
at the wagon-lines to do our purchasing. When we move forward into a new
position, however, we go pretty short, as roads have to be built for the
throng of traffic. Most of what we eat is tinned--and I never want to
see tinned salmon again when this war is ended. I have a personal
servant, a groom and two horses--but haven't been on a horse for seven
weeks on account of being in action. We're all pretty fed up with
continuous firing and living so many hours in the trenches. The way
artillery is run to-day an artillery lieutenant is more in the trenches
than an infantryman--the only thing he doesn't do is to go over the
parapet in an attack. And one of our chaps did that the other day,
charging the Huns with a bar of chocolate in one hand and a revolver in
the other. I believe he set a fashion which will be imitated. Three
times in my experience I have seen the infantry jump out of their
trenches and go across. It's a sight never to be forgotten. One time
there were machine guns behind me and they sent a message to me, asking
me to lie down and take cover. That was impossible, as I was observing
for my brigade, so I lay on the parapet till the bullets began to fall
too close for comfort, then I dodged out into a shell-hole with the
German barrage bursting all around me, and had a most gorgeous view of
a modern attack. That was some time ago, so you needn't be nervous.

Have I mentioned rum to you? I never tasted it to my knowledge until I
came out here. We get it served us whenever we're wet. It's the one
thing which keeps a man alive in the winter--you can sleep when you're
drenched through and never get a cold if you take it.

At night, by a fire, eight feet underground, we sing all the dear old
songs. We manage a kind of glee--Clementina, The Long, Long Trail, Three
Blind Mice, Long, Long Ago, Rock of Ages. Hymns are quite favourites.

Don't worry about me; your prayers weave round me a mantle of defence.

Yours with more love than I can write,



October 31st, 1916.

Dearest People:

Once more I'm taking the night-firing and so have a chance to write to
you. I got letters from you all, and they each deserve answers, but I
have so little time to write. We've been having beastly weather--drowned
out of our little houses below ground, with rivers running through our
beds. The mud is once more up to our knees and gets into whatever we
eat. The wonder is that we keep healthy--I suppose it's the open air. My
throat never troubles me and I'm free from colds in spite of wet feet.
The main disadvantage is that we rarely get a chance to wash or change
our clothes. Your ideas of an army with its buttons all shining is quite
erroneous; we look like drunk and disorderlies who have spent the night
in the gutter--and we have the same instinct for fighting.

In the trenches the other day I heard mother's Suffolk tongue and had a
jolly talk with a chap who shared many of my memories. It was his first
trip in and the Huns were shelling badly, but he didn't seem at all

We're still hard at it and have given up all idea of a rest--the only
way we'll get one is with a blighty. You say how often you tell
yourselves that the same moon looks down on me; it does, but on a scene
how different! We advance over old battlefields--everything is blasted.
If you start digging, you turn up what's left of something human. If
there were any grounds for superstition, surely the places in which I
have been should be ghost-haunted. One never thinks about it. For myself
I have increasingly the feeling that I am protected by your prayers; I
tell myself so when I am in danger.

Here I sit in an old sweater and muddy breeches, the very reverse of
your picture of a soldier, and I imagine to myself your receipt of this.
Our chief interest is to enquire whether milk, jam and mail have come up
from the wagon-lines; it seems a faery-tale that there are places where
milk and jam can be had for the buying. See how simple we become.

Poor little house at Kootenay! I hate to think of it empty. We had such
good times there twelve months ago. They have a song here to a nursery
rhyme lilt, Après le Guerre Finis; it goes on to tell of all the good
times we'll have when the war is ended. Every night I invent a new story
of my own celebration of the event, usually, as when I was a kiddie,
just before I fall asleep--only it doesn't seem possible that the war
will ever end.

I hear from the boys very regularly. There's just the chance that I may
get leave to London in the New Year and meet them before they set out. I
always picture you with your heads high in the air. I'm glad to think of
you as proud because of the pain we've made you suffer.

Once again I shall think of you on Papa's birthday. I don't think this
will be the saddest he will have to remember. It might have been if we
three boys had still all been with him. If I were a father, I would
prefer at all costs that my sons should be men. What good comrades we've
always been, and what long years of happy times we have in memory--all
the way down from a little boy in a sailor-suit to Kootenay!

I fell asleep in the midst of this. I've now got to go out and start the
other gun firing. With very much love.



November 1st, 1916.

My Dearest M.:

Peace after a storm! Your letter was not brought up by the water-wagon
this evening, but by an orderly--the mud prevented wheel-traffic. I was
just sitting down to read it when Fritz began to pay us too much
attention. I put down your letter, grabbed my steel helmet, rushed out
to see where the shells were falling, and then cleared my men to a safer
area. (By the way, did I tell you that I had been made Right Section
Commander?) After about half an hour I came back and settled down by a
fire made of smashed ammunition boxes in a stove borrowed from a ruined
cottage. I'm always ashamed that my letters contain so little news and
are so uninteresting. This thing is so big and dreadful that it does not
bear putting down on paper. I read the papers with the accounts of
singing soldiers and other rubbish; they depict us as though we were a
lot of hair-brained idiots instead of men fully realising our danger,
who plod on because it's our duty. I've seen a good many men killed by
now--we all have--consequently the singing soldier story makes us smile.
We've got a big job; we know that we've got to "Carry On" whatever
happens--so we wear a stern grin and go to it. There's far more heroism
in the attitude of men out here than in the footlight attitude that
journalists paint for the public. It isn't a singing matter to go on
firing a gun when gun-pits are going up in smoke within sight of you.

What a terrible desecration war is! You go out one week and look through
your glasses at a green, smiling country-little churches, villages
nestling among woods, white roads running across a green carpet; next
week you see nothing but ruins and a country-side pitted with
shell-holes. All night the machine guns tap like rivet-ting machines
when a New York sky-scraper is in the building. Then suddenly in the
night a bombing attack will start, and the sky grows white with signal
rockets. Orders come in for artillery retaliation, and your guns begin
to stamp the ground like stallions; in the darkness on every side you
can see them snorting fire. Then stillness again, while Death counts his
harvest; the white rockets grow fainter and less hysterical. For an hour
there is blackness.

My batman consoles himself with singing,

     "Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
     And smile, smile, smile."

There's a lot in his philosophy--it's best to go on smiling even when
some one who was once your pal lies forever silent in his blanket on a

The great uplifting thought is that we have proved ourselves men. In our
death we set a standard which in ordinary life we could never have
followed. Inevitably we should have sunk below our highest self. Here we
know that the world will remember us and that our loved ones, in spite
of tears, will be proud of us. What God will say to us we cannot
guess--but He can't be too hard on men who did their duty. I think we
all feel that trivial former failures are washed out by this final
sacrifice. When little M. used to recite "Breathes there a man with soul
so dead, who never to himself had said, 'This is my own, my native
land,'" I never thought that I should have the chance that has now been
given to me. I feel a great and solemn gratitude that I have been
thought worthy. Life has suddenly become effective and worthy by reason
of its carelessness of death.

By the way, that Princeton man I mentioned so long ago was killed forty
yards away from me on my first trip into the trenches. Probably G. M'C.
and his other friends know by now. He was the first man I ever saw
snuffed out.

I'm wearing your mittens and find them a great comfort. I'll look
forward to some more of your socks--I can do with plenty of them. If any
of your friends are making things for soldiers, I wish you'd get them to
send them to this battery, as they would be gratefully accepted by the

I wish I could come to _The Music Master_ with you. I wonder how long
till we do all those intimately family things together again.

Good-bye, my dearest M. I live for home letters and am rarely

God bless you, and love to you all.

                   Yours ever,


November 4th, 1916.

My Dearest Mother:

This morning I was wakened up in the gunpit where I was sleeping by the
arrival of the most wonderful parcel of mail. It was really a kind of
Christmas morning for me. My servant had lit a fire in a punctured
petrol can and the place looked very cheery. First of all entered an
enormous affair, which turned out to be a stove which C. had sent. Then
there was a sand-bag containing all your gifts. You may bet I made for
that first, and as each knot was undone remembered the loving hands that
had done it up. I am now going up to a twenty-four-hour shift of
observing, and shall take up the malted milk and some blocks of
chocolate for a hot drink. It somehow makes you seem very near to me to
receive things packed with your hands. When I go forward I shall also
take candles and a copy of _Anne Veronica_ with me, so that if I get a
chance I can forget time.

Always when I write to you odds and ends come to mind, smacking of local
colour. After an attack some months ago I met a solitary private
wandering across a shell-torn field, I watched him and thought something
was wrong by the aimlessness of his progress. When I spoke to him, he
looked at me mistily and said, "Dead men. Moonlit road." He kept on
repeating the phrase, and it was all that one could get out of him.
Probably the dead men and the moonlit road were the last sights he had
seen before he went insane.

Another touching thing happened two days ago. A Major turned up who had
travelled fifty miles by motor lorries and any conveyance he could pick
up on the road. He had left his unit to come to have a glimpse of our
front-line trench where his son was buried. The boy had died there some
days ago in going over the parapet. I persuaded him that he ought not to
go alone, and that in any case it wasn't a healthy spot. At last he
consented to let me take him to a point from which he could see the
ground over which his son had attacked and led his men. The sun was
sinking behind us. He stood there very straightly, peering through my
glasses--and then forgot all about me and began speaking to his son in
childish love-words. "Gone West," they call dying out here--we rarely
say that a man is dead. I found out afterwards that it was the boy's
mother the Major was thinking of when he pledged himself to visit the
grave in the front-line.

But there are happier things than that. For instance, you should hear
us singing at night in our dug-out--every tune we ever learnt, I
believe. Silver Threads Among the Gold, In the Gloaming, The Star of
Bethlehem, I Hear You Calling Me, interspersed with Everybody Works but
Father, and Poor Old Adam, etc.

I wish I could know in time when I get my leave for you to come over and
meet me. I'm going to spend my nine days in the most glorious ways
imaginable. To start with I won't eat anything that's canned and, to go
on, I won't get out of bed till I feel inclined. And if you're there--!

Dreams and nonsense! God bless you all and keep us near and safe though
absent. Alive or "Gone West" I shall never be far from you; you may
depend on that--and I shall always hope to feel you brave and happy.
This is a great game--cheese-mites pitting themselves against all the
splendours of Death. Please, please write well ahead, so that I may not
miss your Christmas letters.

                    Yours lovingly,


November 6th, 1916.

My Dear Ones:

Such a wonderful day it has been--I scarcely know where to start. I came
down last night from twenty-four hours in the mud, where I had been
observing. I'd spent the night in a hole dug in the side of the trench
and a dead Hun forming part of the roof. I'd sat there re-living so many
things--the ecstatic moments of my life when I first touched fame--and
my feet were so cold that I could not feel them, so I thought all the
harder of the pleasant things of the past. Then, as I say, I came back
to the gun position to learn that I was to have one day off at the back
of the lines. You can't imagine what that meant to me--one day in a
country that is green, one day where there is no shell-fire, one day
where you don't turn up corpses with your tread! For two months I have
never left the guns except to go forward and I have never been from
under shell-fire. All night long as I have slept the ground had been
shaken by the stamping of the guns--and now after two months, to come
back to comparative normality! The reason for this privilege being
granted was that the powers that he had come to the conclusion that it
was time I had a bath. Since I sleep in my clothes and water is too
valuable for washing anything but the face and hands, they were probably
right in their guess at my condition.

So with the greatest holiday of my life in prospect I went to the empty
gunpit in which I sleep, and turned in. This morning I set out early
with my servant, tramping back across the long, long battlefields which
our boys have won. The mud was knee-deep in places, but we floundered on
till we came to our old and deserted gun-position where my horses waited
for me. From there I rode to the wagon-lines--the first time I've sat a
horse since I came into action. Far behind me the thunder of winged
murder grew more faint. The country became greener; trees even had
leaves upon them which fluttered against the grey-blue sky. It was
wonderful--like awaking from an appalling nightmare. My little beast was
fresh and seemed to share my joy, for she stepped out bravely.

When I arrived at the wagon-lines I would not wait--I longed to see
something even greener and quieter. My groom packed up some oats and
away we went again. My first objective was the military baths; I lay in
hot water for half-an-hour and read the advertisements of my book. As I
lay there, for the first time since I've been out, I began to get a
half-way true perspective of myself. What's left of the egotism of the
author came to life, and--now laugh--I planned my next novel--planned it
to the sound of men singing, because they were clean for the first time
in months. I left my towels and soap with a military policeman, by the
roadside, and went prancing off along country roads in search of the
almost forgotten places where people don't kill one another. Was it
imagination? There seemed to me to be a different look in the faces of
the men I met--for the time being they were neither hunters nor hunted.
There were actually cows in the fields. At one point, where pollarded
trees stand like a Hobbema sketch against the sky, a group of officers
were coursing a hare, following a big black hound on horseback. We lost
our way. A drenching rainstorm fell over us--we didn't care; and we saw
as we looked back a most beautiful thing--a rainbow over green fields.
It was as romantic as the first rainbow in childhood.

All day I have been seeing lovely and familiar things as though for the
first time. I've been a sort of Lazarus, rising out of his tomb and
praising God at the sound of a divine voice. You don't know how
exquisite a ploughed field can look, especially after rain, unless you
have feared that you might never see one again.

I came to a grey little village, where civilians were still living, and
then to a gate and a garden. In the cottage was a French peasant woman
who smiled, patted my hair because it was curly, and chattered
interminably. The result was a huge omelette and a bottle of champagne.
Then came a touch of naughtiness--a lady visitor with a copy of _La Vie
Parisienne_, which she promptly bestowed on the English soldier. I read
it, and dreamt of the time when I should walk the Champs Elysées again.
It was growing dusk when I turned back to the noise of battle. There was
a white moon in a milky sky. Motor-bikes fled by me, great lorries
driven by Jehus from London buses, and automobiles which too poignantly
had been Strand taxis and had taken lovers home from the Gaiety. I
jogged along thinking very little, but supremely happy. Now I'm back at
the wagon-line; to-morrow I go back to the guns. Meanwhile I write to
you by a guttering candle.

Life, how I love you! What a wonderful kindly thing I could make of you
to-night. Strangely the vision has come to me of all that you mean. Now
I could write. So soon you may go from me or be changed into a form of
existence which all my training has taught me to dread. After death is
there only nothingness? I think that for those who have missed love in
this life there must be compensations--the little children whom they
ought to have had, perhaps. To-day, after so many weeks, I have seen
little children again.

And yet, so strange a havoc does this war work that, if I have to "Go
West," I shall go _proudly_ and quietly. I have seen too many men die
bravely to make a fuss if my turn comes. A mixed passenger list old
Father Charon must have each night--Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Huns.
To-morrow I shall have another sight of the greenness and then--the

I don't know whether I have been able to make any of my emotions clear
to you in my letters. Terror has a terrible fascination. Up to now I
have always been afraid--afraid of small fears. At last I meet fear
itself and it stings my pride into an unpremeditated courage.

I've just had a pile of letters from you all. How ripping it is to be
remembered! Letters keep one civilised.

It's late and I'm very tired. God bless you each and all.



November 15th, 1916.

Dear Father:

I've owed you a letter for some time, but I've been getting very little
leisure. You can't send steel messages to the Kaiser and love-notes to
your family in the same breath.

I am amazed at the spirit you three are showing and almighty proud that
you can muster such courage. I suppose none of us quite realised our
strength till it came to the test. There was a time when we all doubted
our own heroism. I think we were typical of our age. Every novel of the
past ten years has been more or less a study in sentiment and
self-distrust. We used to wonder what kind of stuff Drake's men were
made of that they could jest while they died. We used to contrast
ourselves with them to our own disfavour. Well, we know now that when
there's a New World to be discovered we can still rise up reincarnated
into spiritual pirates. It wasn't the men of our age who were at fault,
but the New World that was lacking. Our New World is the Kingdom of
Heroism, the doors of which are flung so wide that the meanest of us may
enter. I know men out here who are the dependable daredevils of their
brigades, who in peace times were nuisances and as soon as peace is
declared will become nuisances again. At the moment they're fine,
laughing at Death and smiling at the chance of agony. There's a man I
know of who had a record sheet of crimes. When he was out of action he
was always drunk and up for office. To get rid of him, they put him into
the trench mortars and within a month he had won his D.C.M. He came out
and went on the spree--this particular spree consisted in stripping a
Highland officer of his kilts on a moonlight night. For this he was
sentenced to several months in a military prison, but asked to be
allowed to serve his sentence in the trenches. He came out from his
punishment a King's sergeant--which means that whatever he did nobody
could degrade him. He got this for lifting his trench mortar over the
parapet when all the detachment were killed. Carrying it out into a
shell-hole, he held back the Hun attack and saved the situation. He got
drunk again, and again chose to be returned to the trenches. This time
his head was blown off while he was engaged in a special feat of
gallantry. What are you to say to such men? Ordinarily they'd be
blackguards, but war lifts them into splendour. In the same way you see
mild men, timid men, almost girlish men, carrying out duties which in
other wars would have won V.C.'s. I don't think the soul of courage
ever dies out of the race any more than the capacity for love. All it
means is that the occasion is not present. For myself I try to analyse
my emotions; am I simply numb, or do I imitate other people's coolness
and shall I fear life again when the war is ended? There is no
explanation save the great army phrase "Carry on." We "carry on"
because, if we don't, we shall let other men down and put their lives in
danger. And there's more than that--we all want to live up to the
standard that prompted us to come.

One talks about splendour--but war isn't splendid except in the
individual sense. A man by his own self-conquest can make it splendid
for himself, but in the massed sense it's squalid. There's nothing
splendid about a battlefield when the fight is ended--shreds of what
once were men, tortured, levelled landscapes--the barbaric loneliness of
Hell. I shall never forget my first dead man. He was a signalling
officer, lying in the dawn on a muddy hill. I thought he was asleep at
first, but when I looked more closely, I saw that his shoulder blade was
showing white through his tunic. He was wearing black boots. It's odd,
but the sight of black boots have the same effect on me now that black
and white stripes had in childhood. I have the superstitious feeling
that to wear them would bring me bad luck.

Tonight we've been singing in parts, Back in the Dear Dead Days Beyond
Recall--a mournful kind of ditty to sing under the circumstances--so
mournful that we had to have a game of five hundred to cheer us up.

It's now nearly 2 a.m., and I have to go out to the guns again before I
go to bed. I carry your letters about in my pockets and read them at odd
intervals in all kinds of places that you can't imagine.

Cheer up and remember that I'm quite happy. I wish you could be with me
for just one day to understand.



December 3rd, 1916.

Dear Boys:

By this time you will be all through your exams and I hope have both
passed. It'll be splendid if you can go together to the same station.
You envy me, you say; well, I rather envy you. I'd like to be with you.
You, at least, don't have Napoleon's fourth antagonist with which to
contend--mud. But at present I'm clean and billeted in an estaminet, in
a not too bad little village. There's an old mill and still older
church, and the usual farmhouses with the indispensable pile of manure
under the front windows. We shall have plenty of hard work here, licking
our men into shape and re-fitting.

You know how I've longed to sleep between sheets; I can now, but find
them so cold that I still use my sleeping bag--such is human
inconsistency. But yesterday I had a boiling bath--as good a bath as
could be found in a New York hotel--and I am CLEAN.

I woke up this morning to hear some one singing Casey
Jones--consequently I thought of former Christmases. My mind has been
travelling back very much of late. Suddenly I see something here which
reminds me of the time when E. and I were at Lisieux, or even of our
Saturday excursions to Nelson when we were all together at the ranch.

Did I tell you that B., our officer who was wounded two months ago, has
just returned to us. This morning he got news that his young brother has
been killed in the place which we have left. I wonder when we shall grow
tired of stabbing and shooting and killing. It seems to me that the war
cannot end in less than two years.

I have made myself nice to the Brigade interpreter and he has found me
a delightful room with electric light and a fire. It's in an old
farmhouse with a brick terrace in front. My room is on the ground floor
and tile-paved. The chairs are rush-bottomed and there are old quaint
china plates on the shelves. There is also a quite charming
mademoiselle. So you see, you don't need to pity me any more.

Just at present I'm busy getting up the Brigade Christmas Entertainment.
The Colonel asked me to do it, otherwise I should have said _no_, as I
want all the time I can get to myself. You can't think how jolly it is
to sit again in a room which is temporarily yours after living in
dug-outs, herded side by side with other men. I can be _me_ now, and not
a soldier of thousands when I write. You shall hear from me again soon.
Hope you're having a ripping time in London.

                              Yours ever,


December 5th, 1916.


I've just come in from my last tour of inspection as orderly officer,
and it's close on midnight. I'm getting this line off to you to let you
know that I expect to get my nine days' leave about the beginning of
January. How I wish it were possible to have you in London when I
arrive, or, failing that, to spend my leave in New York!

To-morrow I make an early start on horseback for a market of the
old-fashioned sort which is held at a town near by. Can you dimly
picture me with my groom, followed by a mess-cart, going from stall to
stall and bartering with the peasants? It'll be rather good fun and
something quite out of my experience.

Christmas will be over by the time you get this, and I do hope that you
had a good one. I paused to talk to the other officers; they say that
they are sure that you are very beautiful and have a warm heart, and
would like to send them a five-storey layer cake, half a dozen bottles
of port and one Paris chef. At present I am the Dives of the mess and
dole out luxuries to these Lazaruses.

Good-bye for the present.

               Yours ever lovingly,


December 6th, 1916.

Dearest M.:

I've just undone your Christmas parcels, and already I am wearing the
waistcoat and socks, and my mouth is hot with the ginger.

I expect to get leave for England on January 10th. I do wish it might be
possible for some of you to cross the ocean and be in London with
me--and I don't see what there is to prevent you. Unless the war ends
sooner than any of us expect, it is not likely that I shall get another
leave in less than nine months. So, if you want to come and if there's
time when you receive this letter, just hop on a boat and let's see what
London looks like together.

I wonder what kind of a Christmas you'll have. I shall picture it all.
You may hear me tiptoeing up the stairs if you listen very hard. Where
does the soul go in sleep? Surely mine flies back to where all of you
dear people are.

I came back to my farm yesterday to find a bouquet of paper flowers at
the head of my bed with a note pinned on it. Over my fire-place was hung
a pathetic pair of farm-girls' heavy Sunday boots, all brightly
polished, with two other notes pinned on them. The Feast of St. Nicholas
on December 7th is an opportunity for unmarried men to be reminded that
there are unmarried girls in the world--wherefore the flowers. I enclose
the notes. Keep them,--they may be useful for a book some day.

I'm having a pretty good rest, and am still in my old farmhouse.

                              Love to all.


December 15th, 1916.

Dearest All:

At the present I'm just where mother hoped I'd be--in a deep dug-out
about twenty feet down--we're trying to get a fire lighted, and
consequently the place is smoked out. Where I'll be for Christmas I
don't know, but I hope by then to be in billets. I've just come back
from the trenches, where I've been observing. The mud is not nearly so
bad where I am now, and with a few days' more work, we should be quite
comfortable. You'll have received my cable about my getting leave
soon--I'm wondering whether the Atlantic is sufficiently quiet for any
of you to risk a crossing.

Poor Basil! Your letter was the first news I got of his death. I must
have watched the attack in which he lost his life. One wonders now how
it was that some instinct did not warn me that one of those khaki dots
jumping out of the trenches was the cousin who stayed with us in London.

I'm wondering what this mystery of the German Chancellor is all
about--some peace proposals, I suppose--which are sure to prove
bombastic and unacceptable. It seems to us out here as though the war
must go on forever. Like a boy's dream of the far-off freedom of
manhood, the day appears when we shall step out into the old liberty of
owning our own lives. What a celebration we'll have when I come home! I
can't quite grasp the joy of it.

I've got to get this letter off quite soon if it's to go to-day. It
ought to reach, you by January 12th or thereabouts. You may be sure my
thoughts will have been with you on Christmas day. I shall look back and
remember all the by-gone good times and then plan for Christmas, 1917.
God keep us all.

                              Ever yours,


December 18th, 1916.

My Dearest M.:

I always feel when I write a joint letter to the family that I'm
cheating each one of you, but it's so very difficult to get time to
write as often as I'd like. It's a week to Christmas and I picture the
beginnings of the preparations. I can look back and remember so many
such preparations, especially when we were kiddies in London. What good
times one has in a life! I've been sitting with my groom by the fire
to-night while he dried my clothes. I've mentioned him to you before as
having lived in Nelson, and worked at the Silver King mine. We both grew
ecstatic over British Columbia.

I am hoping all the time that the boys may be in England at the time I
get my leave--I hardly dare hope that any of you will be there. But it
would he grand if you could manage it--I long very much to see you all
again. I can just imagine my first month home again. I shan't let any of
you work. I shall be the incurable boy. I've spent the best part of
to-day out in No Man's Land, within seventy yards of the Huns. Quite an
experience, I assure you, and one that I wouldn't have missed for
worlds. I'll have heaps to write into novels one day--the vividest kind
of local colour. Just at present I have nothing to read but the
Christmas number of the _Strand_. It makes me remember the time when we
children raced for the latest development of _The Hound of the
Baskervilles_, and so many occasions when I had one of "those sniffy
colds" and sat by the Highbury fire with a book. Good days, those!

I'm just off to bed now, and will finish this to-morrow. Bed is my
greatest luxury nowadays.

December 19th.

The book and chocolate just came, and a bunch of New York papers. All
were most welcome. I was longing for something to read. To-morrow I have
to go forward to observe. Two of our officers are on leave, so it makes
the rest of us work pretty hard. What do you think of the Kaiser's
absurd peace proposals? The man must be mad.

                         The best of love,


December 20th, 1916.

Dear Mr. T.:

Just back from a successful argument with Fritz, to find your kind good
wishes. It's rather a lark out here, though a lark which may turn
against you any time. I laugh a good deal more than I mope. Anything
really horrible has a ludicrous side--it's like Mark Twain's humour--a
gross exaggeration. The maddest thing of all to me is that a person so
willing to be amiable as I am should be out here killing people for
principle's sake. There's no rhyme or reason--it can't be argued. Dimly
one thinks he sees what is right and leaves father and mother and home,
as though it were for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. Perhaps it is. If
one didn't pin his faith to that "perhaps"--. One can't explain.

A merry Christmas to you.
          Yours very sincerely,
                    CONINGSBY DAWSON.


December 20th, 1916.

Dear Mr. A.D.:

I've just come in from an argument with Fritz when your chocolate formed
my meal. You were very kind to think of me and to send it, and you were
extraordinarily understanding in the letter that you sent me. One's life
out here is like a pollarded tree--all the lower branches are gone--one
gazes on great nobilities, on the fascinating horror of Eternity
sometimes--I said horror, but it's often fine in its spaciousness--one
gazes on many inverted splendours of Titans, but it's giddy work being
so high and rarefied, and all the gentle past seems gone. That's why it
is pleasant in this grimy anonymity of death and courage to get
reminders, such as your letter, that one was once localised and had a
familiar history. If I come back, I shall be like Rip Van Winkle, or a
Robinson Crusoe--like any and all of the creatures of legend and history
to whom abnormality has grown to seem normal. If you can imagine
yourself living in a world in which every day is a demonstration of a
Puritan's conception of what happens when the last trump sounds, then
you have some idea of my queer situation. One has come to a point when
death seems very inconsiderable and only failure to do one's duty is an
utter loss. Love and the future, and all the sweet and tender dreams of
by-gone days are like a house in which the blinds are lowered and from
which the sight has gone. Landscapes have lost their beauty, everything
God-made and man-made is destroyed except man's power to endure with a
smile the things he once most dreaded, because he believes that only so
may he be righteous in his own eyes. How one has longed for that sure
confidence in the petty failings of little living--the confidence to
believe that he can stand up and suffer for principle! God has given all
men who are out here that opportunity--the supremest that can be hoped
for--so, in spite of exile, Christmas for most of us will be a happy
day. Does one see more truly life's worth on a battlefield? I often ask
myself that question. Is the contempt that is hourly shown for life the
real standard of life's worth? I shrug my shoulders at my own
unanswerable questions--all I know is that I move daily with men who
have everything to live for who, nevertheless, are urged by an
unconscious magnanimity to die. I don't think any of our dead pity
themselves--but they would have done so if they had faltered in their
choice. One lives only from sunrise to sunrise, but there's a more real
happiness in this brief living than I ever knew before, because it is so
exactingly worth while.

Thank you again for your kindness.
          Very sincerely yours,

The suggestion that we might all meet in London in January, 1917, was a
hope rather than an expectation. We received a cable from France on
Sunday, December 17th, 1916, and left New York on December 30th. We were
met in London by the two sailor-sons, who were expecting appointments at
any moment, and Coningsby arrived late in the evening of January 13th.
He was unwell when he arrived, having had a near touch of pneumonia. The
day before he left the front he had been in action, with a temperature
of 104. There were difficulties about getting his leave at the exact
time appointed, but these he overcame by exchanging leave with a
brother-officer. He travelled from the Front all night in a windowless
train, and at Calais was delayed by a draft of infantry which he had to
take over to England. The consequence of this delay was that the meeting
at the railway station, of which he had so long dreamed, did not come
off. We spent a long day, going from station to station, misled by
imperfect information as to the arrival of troop trains. At Victoria
Station we saw two thousand troops arrive on leave, men caked with
trench-mud, but he was not among them. We reluctantly returned to our
hotel in the late afternoon and gave up expecting him. There was all the
time a telegram at the hotel from him, giving the exact place and time
of his arrival, but it was not delivered until it was too late to meet
him. He arrived at ten o'clock, and at the same time his two brothers,
who had been summoned in the morning to Southampton, entered the hotel,
having been granted special leave to return to London. A night's rest
did wonders for Coningsby, and the next day his spirits were as high as
in the old days of joyous holiday. During the next eight days we lived
at a tense pitch of excitement. We went to theatres, dined in
restaurants, met friends, and heard from his lips a hundred details of
his life which could not be communicated in letters. We were all
thrilled by the darkened heroic London through which we moved, the
London which bore its sorrows so proudly, and went about its daily life
with such silent courage. We visited old friends to whom the war had
brought irreparable bereavements, but never once heard the voice of
self-pity, of murmur or complaint. To me it was an incredible England;
an England purged of all weakness, stripped of flabbiness, regenerated
by sacrifice. I had dreamed of no such transformation by anything I had
read in American newspapers and magazines. I think no one can imagine
the completeness of this rebirth of the soul of England who has not
dwelt, if only for a few days, among its people.

Coningsby's brief leave expired all too soon. We saw him off from
Folkestone, and while we were saying good-bye to him, his two brothers
were on their way to their distant appointments with the Royal Naval
Motor Patrol in the North of Scotland. We left Liverpool for New York on
January 27th, and while at sea heard of the diplomatic break between
America and Germany. The news was received on board the _S.S. St. Paul_
with rejoicing. It was Sunday, and the religious service on board
concluded with the Star-Spangled Banner.


December 28th, 1916.

Dearest All:

I'm writing you this letter because I expect to-night is a busy-packing
one with you. The picture is in my mind of you all. How splendid it is
of you to come! I never thought you would really, not even in my wildest
dream of optimism. There have been so many times when I scarcely thought
that I would ever see you again--now the unexpected and hoped-for
happens. It's ripping!

I've put in an application for special leave in case the ordinary leave
should be cut off. I think I'm almost certain to arrive by the 11th.
Won't we have a time? I wonder what we'll want to do most--sit quiet or
go to theatres? The nine days of freedom--the wonderful nine days--will
pass with most tragic quickness. But they'll be days to remember as long
as life lasts.

Shall I see you standing on the station when I puff into London--or will
it be Folkestone where we meet--or shall I arrive before you? I somehow
think it will be you who will meet me at the barrier at Charing Cross,
and we'll taxi through the darkened streets down the Strand, and back to
our privacy. How impossible it sounds--like a vision of heart's desire
in the night.

Far, far away I see the fine home-coming, like a lamp burning in a dark
night. I expect we shall all go off our heads with joy and be madder
than ever. Who in the old London days would have imagined such a nine
days of happiness in the old places as we are to have together.

          God bless you, till we meet,


January 4th, 1917.

10.30 p.m.


This letter is written to welcome you to England, but I may be with you
when it is opened. It was glorious news to hear that you were coming--I
was only playing a forlorn bluff when I sent those cables. You're on the
sea at present and should be half way over. Our last trip over together
you marvelled at the apparent indifference of the soldiers on board, and
now you're coming to meet one of your own fresh from the Front. A

O what a nine days we're going to have together--the most wonderful that
were ever spent. I dream of them, tell myself tales about them, live
them over many times in imagination before they are realised. Sometimes
I'm going to have no end of sleep, sometimes I'm going to keep awake
every second, sometimes I'm going to sit quietly by a fire, and
sometimes I'm going to taxi all the time. I can't fit your faces into
the picture--it seems too unbelievable that we are to be together once
again. To-day I've been staging our meeting--if you arrive first, and
then if I arrive before you, and lastly if we both hit London on the
same day. You mustn't expect me to be a sane person. You're three
rippers to do this--and I hope you'll have an easy journey. The only
ghost is the last day, when the leave train pulls out of Charing Cross.
But we'll do that smiling, too; C'est la guerre.

               Yours always and ever,   CON.


January 6th, 1917.


I have just seen a brother officer aboard the ex-London bus en route for
Blighty. How I wished I could have stepped on board that ex-London
perambulator to-night! "Pickerdilly Cirkuss, 'Ighbury, 'Ighgate, Welsh
'Arp--all the wye." O my, what a time I'll have when I meet you! I shall
feel as though if anything happens to me after my return you'll be able
to understand so much more bravely. These blinkered letters, with only
writing and no touch of live hands, convey so little. When we've had a
good time together and sat round the fire and talked interminably you'll
be able to read so much more between the lines of my future letters.
To-morrow you ought to land in England, and to-morrow night you should
sleep in London. I am trying to swop my leave with another man,
otherwise it won't come till the 15th. I am looking forward every hour
to those miraculous nine days which we are to have together. You can't
imagine with your vividest imagination the contrast between nine days
with you in London and my days where I am now. A battalion went by
yesterday, marching into action, and its band was playing I've a
Sneakin' Feelin' in My Heart That I Want to Settle Down. We all have
that sneaking feeling from time to time. I tell myself wonderful stories
in the early dark mornings and become the architect of the most
wonderful futures.

I'm coming to join you just as soon as I know how--at the worst I'll be
in London on the 16th of this month.

                              Ever yours,

_The following letters were written after Coningsby had met his family
in London._


January 24th, 1917.


I have had a chance to write you sooner than I expected, as I stopped
the night where I disembarked, and am catching my train to-day.

It's strange to be back and under orders after nine days' freedom.
Directly I landed I was detailed to march a party--it was that that made
me lose my train--not that I objected, for I got one more sleep between
sheets. I picked up on the boat in the casual way one does, with three
other officers, so on landing we made a party to dine together, and had
a very decent evening. I wasn't wanting to remember too much then, so
that was why I didn't write letters.

What good times we have to look back on and how much to be thankful for,
that we met altogether. Now we must look forward to the summer and,
perhaps, the end of the war. What a mad joy will sweep across the world
on the day that peace is declared!

This visit will have made you feel that you have a share in all that's
happening over here and are as real a part of it as any of us. I'm
awfully proud of you for your courage.

                    Yours lovingly,


January 26th, 1917.


Here I am back--my nine days' leave a dream. I got into our wagon-lines
last night after midnight, having had a cold ride along frozen roads
through white wintry country. I was only half-expected, so my
sleeping-bag hadn't been unpacked. I had to wake my batman and tramp
about a mile to the billet; by the time I got there every one was
asleep, so I spread out my sleeping-sack and crept in very quietly. For
the few minutes before my eyes closed I pictured London, the taxis, the
gay parties, the mystery of lights. I was roused this morning with the
news that I had to go up to the gun-position at once. I stole just
sufficient time to pick up a part of my accumulated mail, then got on my
horse and set out. At the guns, I found that I was due to report as
liaison officer, so here I am in the trenches again writing to you by
candle-light. How wonderfully we have bridged the distance in spending
those nine whole days together. And now it is over, and I am back in the
trenches, and to-morrow you're sailing for New York.

I can't tell you what the respite has meant to me. There have been times
when my whole past life has seemed a myth and the future an endless
prospect of carrying on. Now I can distantly hope that the old days will

When I was in London half my mind was at the Front; now that I'm back in
the trenches half my mind is in London. I re-live our gay times
together; I go to cosy little dinners; I sit with you in the stalls,
listening to the music; then I tumble off to sleep, and dream, and wake
up to find the dream a delusion. It's a fine and manly contrast,
however, between the game one plays out here and the fretful
trivialities of civilian life.


January 27th.

I got as far as this and then "something" happened. Twenty-four hours
have gone by and once more it's nearly midnight and I write to you by
candle-light. Since last night I've been with these infantry
boy-officers who are doing such great work in such a careless spirit of
jolliness. Any softness which had crept into me during my nine days of
happiness has gone. I'm glad to be out here and wouldn't wish to be
anywhere else till the war is ended.

It's a week to-day since we were at _Charlie's Aunt_--such a cheerful
little party! I expect the boys are doing their share of remembering too
somewhere on the sea at present. I know you are, as you round the coast
of Ireland and set out for the Atlantic.

I've not been out of my clothes for three days and I've another day to
go yet. I brought my haversack into the trenches with me; on opening it
I found that some kind hands had slipped into it some clean socks and a
bottle of Horlick's Malted Milk tablets.

The signallers in a near-by dug-out are singing Keep the Home-Fires
Burning Till the Boys Come Home. That's what we're all doing, isn't
it--you at your end and we at ours? The brief few days of possessing
myself are over and once more stern duty lies ahead. But I thank God for
the chance I've had to see again those whom I love, and to be able to
tell them with my own lips some of the bigness of our life at the Front.
No personal aims count beside the great privilege which is ours to carry
on until the war is over.

All my thoughts are with you--so many memories of kindness. I keep on
picturing things I ought to have done--things I ought to have told you.
Always I can see, Oh, so vividly, the two sailor brothers waving
good-bye as the train moved off through the London dusk, and then that
other and forlorner group of three, standing outside the dock gates with
the sentry like the angel in Eden, turning them back from happiness.
With an extraordinary aloofness I watched myself moving like a puppet
away from you whom I love most dearly in all the world--going away as if
going were a thing so usual.

I'm asking myself again if there isn't some new fineness of spirit which
will develop from this war and survive it. In London, at a distance
from all this tragedy of courage, I felt that I had slipped back to a
lower plane; a kind of flabbiness was creeping into my blood--the old
selfish fear of life and love of comfort. It's odd that out here, where
the fear of death should supplant the fear of life, one somehow rises
into a contempt for everything which is not bravest. There's no doubt
that the call for sacrifice, and perhaps the supreme sacrifice, can
transform men into a nobility of which they themselves are unconscious.
That's the most splendid thing of all, that they themselves are unaware
of their fineness.

I'm now waiting to be relieved and am hurrying to finish this so that I
may mail it as soon as I get back to the battery. There's a whole sack
of letters and parcels waiting for me there, and I'm as eager to get to
them as a kiddy to inspect his Christmas stocking. I always undo the
string and wrappings with a kind of reverence, trying to picture the
dear kneeling figures who did them up. In London I didn't dare to let
myself go with you--I couldn't say all that was in my heart--it wouldn't
have been wise. Don't ever doubt that the tenderness was there. Even
though one is only a civilian in khaki, some of the soldier's sternness
becomes second nature.

All the country is covered with snow--it's brilliant clear weather,
more like America than Europe. I'm feeling strong as a horse, ever so
much better than I felt when on leave. Life is really tremendously worth
living, in spite of the war.


January 28th.

I'm back at the battery, sitting by a cosy fire. I might be up at
Kootenay by the look of my surroundings. I'm in a shack with a really
truly floor, and a window looking out on moonlit whiteness. If it wasn't
for the tapping of the distant machine guns--tapping that always sounds
to me like the nailing up of coffins--I might be here for pleasure. In
imagination I can see your great ship, with all its portholes aglare,
ploughing across the darkness to America. The dear sailor brothers I
can't quite visualise; I can only see them looking so upright and pale
when we said good-bye. It's getting late and the fire's dying. I'm half
asleep; I've not been out of my clothes for three nights. I shall tell
myself a story of the end of the war and our next meeting--it'll last
from the time that I creep into my sack until I close my eyes. It's a
glorious life.

                    Yours very lovingly,


January 31st, 1917.


It was extremely good of you to remember me. I got back from leave in
London on the 26th and found the cigarettes waiting for me. One hasn't
got an awful lot of pleasures left, but smoking is one of them. I feel
particularly doggy when I open my case and find my initials on them.

I expect you'll have heard all the news of my leave long before this
reaches you. We had a splendid time and the greatest of luck. My sailor
brothers were with me all but two days, and my people were in England
only a few days before I arrived.

This is a queer adventure for a peaceable person like myself--it blots
out all the past and reduces the future to a speck. One hardly hopes
that things will ever be different, but looks forward to interminable
years of carrying on. My leave rather corrected that frame of mind; it
came as a surprise to be forced to realise that not all the world was
living under orders on woman less, childless battlefields. But we don't
need any pity--we manage our good times, and are sorry for the men who
aren't here, for it's a wonderful thing to have been chosen to
sacrifice and perhaps to die that the world of the future may be happier
and kinder.

This letter is rather disjointed; I'm in charge of the battery for the
time, and messages keep on coming in, and one has to rush out to give
the order to fire.

It's an American night--snow-white and piercing, with a frigid moon
sailing quietly. I think the quiet beauty of the sky is about the only
thing in Nature that we do not scar and destroy with our fighting.

Good-bye, and thank you ever so much.

                    Yours very sincerely,
                              CONINGSBY DAWSON.


February 1st, 1917.

11 p.m.


Your picture of the black days when no letter comes from me sets me off
scribbling to you at this late hour. All to-day I've been having a cold
but amusing time at the O.P. (Forward Observation Post). It seems brutal
to say it, but taking potshots at the enemy when they present themselves
is rather fun. When you watch them scattering like ants before the
shell whose direction you have ordered, you somehow forget to think of
them as individuals, any more than the bear-hunter thinks of the cubs
that will be left motherless. You watch your victims through your
glasses as God might watch his mad universe. Your skill in directing
fire makes you what in peace times would be called a murderer. Curious!
You're glad, and yet at close quarters only in hot blood would you hurt
a man.

I'd been back for a little over an hour when I had to go forward again
to guide in some guns. The country was dazzlingly white in the
moonlight. As far as eye could see every yard was an old battlefield;
beneath the soft white fleece of snow lay countless unburied bodies.
Like frantic fingers tearing at the sky, all along the horizon, Hun
lights were shooting up and drifting across our front. Tap-tap-tappity
went the machine-guns; whoo-oo went the heavies, and they always stamp
like angry bulls. I had to come back by myself across the heroic
corruption which the snow had covered. All the way I asked myself why
was I not frightened. What has happened to me? Ghosts should walk here
if anywhere. Moreover, I know that I shall be frightened again when the
war is ended. Do you remember how you once offered me money to walk
through the Forest of Dean after dark, and I wouldn't? I wouldn't if
you offered it to me now. You remember Meredith's lines in "The Woods of

     "All the eyeballs under hoods
     Shroud you in their glare;
     Enter these enchanted woods
     You who dare."

Maybe what re-creates one for the moment is the British officer's
uniform, and even more the fact that you are not asked, but expected, to
do your duty. So I came back quite unruffled across battered trenches
and silent mounds to write this letter to you.

My dear father, I'm over thirty, and yet just as much a little boy as
ever. I still feel overwhelmingly dependent on your good opinion and
love. I'm glad that they are black days when you have no letters from
me. I love to think of the rush to the door when the postman rings and
the excited shouting up the stairs, "Quick, one from Con."

February 2nd.

You see by the writing how tired I was when I reached this point. It's
nearly twenty-four hours later and again night. The gramophone is
playing an air from _La Tosca_ to which the guns beat out a bass
accompaniment. I close my eyes and picture the many times I have heard
the (probably) German orchestras of Broadway Joy Palaces play that same
music. How incongruous that I should be listening to it here and under
these circumstances! It must have been listened to so often by gay
crowds in the beauty places of the world. A romantic picture grows up in
my mind of a blue night, the laughter of youth in evening dress, lamps
twinkling through trees, far off the velvety shadow of water and
mountains, and as a voice to it all, that air from _La Tosca_. I can
believe that the silent people near by raise themselves up in their
snow-beds to listen, each one recalling some ecstatic moment before the
dream of life was shattered.

There's a picture in the Pantheon at Paris, I remember; I believe it's
called _To Glory_. One sees all the armies of the ages charging out of
the middle distance with Death riding at their head. The only glory that
I have discovered in this war is in men's hearts--it's not external.
Were one to paint the spirit of this war he would depict a mud
landscape, blasted trees, an iron sky; wading through the slush and
shell-holes would come a file of bowed figures, more like outcasts from
the Embankment than soldiers. They're loaded down like pack animals,
their shoulders are rounded, they're wearied to death, but they go on
and go on. There's no "To Glory" about what we're doing out here;
there's no flash of swords or splendour of uniforms. There are only very
tired men determined to carry on. The war will be won by tired men who
could never again pass an insurance test, a mob of broken
counter-jumpers, ragged ex-plumbers and quite unheroic persons. We're
civilians in khaki, but because of the ideals for which we fight we've
managed to acquire soldiers' hearts.

My flow of thought was interrupted by a burst of song in which I was
compelled to join. We're all writing letters around one candle; suddenly
the O.C. looked up and began, God Be With You Till We Meet Again. We
sang it in parts. It was in Southport, when I was about nine years old,
that I first heard that sung. You had gone for your first trip to
America, leaving a very lonely family behind you. We children were
scared to death that you'd be drowned. One evening, coming back from a
walk on the sand-hills, we heard voices singing in a garden, God Be With
You Till We Meet Again. The words and the soft dusk, and the vague
figures in the English summer garden, seemed to typify the terror of all
partings. We've said good-bye so often since, and God has been with us.
I don't think any parting was more hard than our last at the prosaic
dock-gates with the cold wind of duty blowing, and the sentry barring
your entrance, and your path leading back to America while mine led on
to France. But you three were regular soldiers--just as much soldiers as
we chaps who were embarking. One talks of our armies in the field, but
there are the other armies, millions strong, of mothers and fathers and
sisters, who keep their eyes dry, treasure muddy letters beneath their
pillows, offer up prayers and wait, wait, wait so eternally for God to
open another door.

To-morrow I again go forward, which means rising early and taking a long
plod through the snows; that's one reason for not writing any more, and
another is that our one poor candle is literally on its last legs.

Your poem, written years ago when the poor were marching in London, is
often in my mind:

     "Yesterday and to-day
       Have been heavy with labour and sorrow;
     I should faint if I did not see
       The day that is after to-morrow."

And there's that last verse which prophesied utterly the spirit in which
we men at the Front are fighting to-day:

     "And for me, with spirit elate
       The mire and the fog I press thorough,
     For Heaven shines under the cloud
       Of the day that is after to-morrow."

We civilians who have been taught so long to love our enemies and do
good to them who hate us--much too long ever to make professional
soldiers--are watching with our hearts in our eyes for that day which
conies after to-morrow. Meanwhile we plod on determinedly, hoping for
the hidden glory.

                    Yours very lovingly,


February 3rd, 1917.

Dear Misses W.:

You were very kind to remember me at Christmas. _Seventeen_ was read
with all kinds of gusto by all my brother officers. It's still being

I've been back from leave a few days now and am settling back to
business again. It was a trifle hard after over-eating and undersleeping
myself for nine days, and riding everywhere with my feet up in taxis. I
was the wildest little boy. Here it's snowy and bitter. We wear scarves
round our ears to keep the frost away and dream of fires a mile high.
All I ask, when the war is ended, is to be allowed to sit asleep in a
big armchair and to be left there absolutely quiet. Sleep, which we
crave so much at times, is only death done up in sample bottles. Perhaps
some of these very weary men who strew our battlefields are glad to lie
at last at endless leisure.

Good-bye, and thank you.

               Yours very sincerely,


February 4th, 1917.

My Dearest Mother:

Somewhere in the distance I can hear a piano going and men's voices
singing A Perfect Day. It's queer how music creates a world for you in
which you are not, and makes you dreamy. I've been sitting by a fire and
thinking of all the happy times when the total of desire seemed almost
within one's grasp. It never is--one always, always misses it and has to
rub the dust from the eyes, recover one's breath and set out on the
search afresh. I suppose when you grow very old you learn the lesson of
sitting quiet, and the heart stops beating and the total of desire comes
to you. And yet I can remember so many happy days, when I was a child in
the summer and later at Kootenay. One almost thought he had caught the
secret of carrying heaven in his heart.

By the time this reaches you I'll be in the line again, but for the
present I'm undergoing a special course of training. You can't hear the
most distant sound of guns, and if it wasn't for the pressure of study,
similar to that at _Kingston_, one would be very rested.

Sunday of all days is the one when I remember you most. You're just
sitting down to mid-day dinner,--I've made the calculation for
difference of time. You're probably saying how less than a month ago we
were in London. That doesn't sound true even when I write it. I wonder
how your old familiar surroundings strike you. It's terrible to come
down from the mountain heights of a great elation like our ten days in
London. I often think of that with regard to myself when the war is
ended. There'll be a sense of dissatisfaction when the old lost comforts
are regained. There'll be a sense of lowered manhood. The stupendous
terrors of Armageddon demand less courage than the uneventful terror of
the daily commonplace. There's something splendid and exhilarating in
going forward among bursting shells--we, who have done all that, know
that when the guns have ceased to roar our blood will grow more
sluggish and we'll never be such men again. Instead of getting up in the
morning and hearing your O.C. say, "You'll run a line into trench
so-and-so to-day and shoot up such-and-such Hun wire," you'll hear
necessity saying, "You'll work from breakfast to dinner and earn your
daily bread. And you'll do it to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
world without end. Amen." They never put that forever and forever part
into their commands out here, because the Amen for any one of us may be
only a few hours away. But the big immediate thing is so much easier to
do than the prosaic carrying on without anxiety--which is your game. I
begin to understand what you have had to suffer now that R. and E. are
really at war too. I get awfully anxious about them. I never knew before
that either of them owned so much of my heart. I get furious when I
remember that they might get hurt. I've heard of a Canadian who joined
when he learnt that his best friend had been murdered by Hun bayonets.
He came to get his own back and was the most reckless man in his
battalion. I can understand his temper now. We're all of us in danger of
slipping back into the worship of Thor.

I'll write as often as I can while here, but I don't get much time--so
you'll understand. It's the long nights when one sits up to take the
firing in action that give one the chance to be a decent correspondent.

My birthday comes round soon, doesn't it? Good heavens, how ancient I'm
getting and without any "grow old along with me" consolation. Well, to
grow old is all in the job of living.

Good-bye, and God bless you all.

                              Yours ever,


February 4th, 1917.

Dear Mr. B.:

I have been intending to write to you for a very long time, but as most
of one's writing is done when one ought to be asleep, and sleep next to
eating is one of our few remaining pleasures, my intended letter has
remained in my head up to now. On returning from a nine days' leave to
London the other day, however, I found two letters from you awaiting me
and was reproached into effort.

War's a queer game--not at all what one's civilian mind imagined; it's
far more horrible and less exciting. The horrors which the civilian mind
dreads most are mutilation and death. Out here we rarely think about
them; the thing which wears on one most and calls out his gravest
courage is the endless sequence of physical discomfort. Not to be able
to wash, not to be able to sleep, to have to be wet and cold for long
periods at a stretch, to find mud on your person, in your food, to have
to stand in mud, see mud, sleep in mud and to continue to smile--that's
what tests courage. Our chaps are splendid. They're not the hair-brained
idiots that some war-correspondents depict from day to day. They're
perfectly sane people who know to a fraction what they're up against,
but who carry on with a grim good-nature and a determination to win with
a smile. I never before appreciated as I do to-day the latent capacity
for big-hearted endurance that is in the heart of every man. Here are
apparently quite ordinary chaps--chaps who washed, liked theatres, loved
kiddies and sweethearts, had a zest for life--they're bankrupt of all
pleasures except the supreme pleasure of knowing that they're doing the
ordinary and finest thing of which they are capable. There are millions
to whom the mere consciousness of doing their duty has brought an
heretofore unexperienced peace of mind. For myself I was never happier
than I am at present; there's a novel zip added to life by the daily
risks and the knowledge that at last you're doing something into which
no trace of selfishness enters. One can only die once; the chief concern
that matters is _how_ and not _when_ you die. I don't pity the weary men
who have attained eternal leisure in the corruption of our
shell-furrowed battles; they "went West" in their supreme moment. The
men I pity are those who could not hear the call of duty and whose
consciences will grow more flabby every day. With the brutal roar of the
first Prussian gun the cry came to the civilised world, "Follow thou
me," just as truly as it did in Palestine. Men went to their Calvary
singing Tipperary, rubbish, rhymed doggerel, but their spirit was equal
to that of any Christian martyr in a Roman amphitheatre. "Greater love
hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." Our
chaps are doing that consciously, willingly, almost without bitterness
towards their enemies; for the rest it doesn't matter whether they sing
hymns or ragtime. They've followed their ideal--freedom--and died for
it. A former age expressed itself in Gregorian chants; ours, no less
sincerely, disguises its feelings in ragtime.

Since September I have been less than a month out of action. The game
doesn't pall as time goes on--it fascinates. We've got to win so that
men may never again be tortured by the ingenious inquisition of modern
warfare. The winning of the war becomes a personal affair to the chaps
who are fighting. The world which sits behind the lines, buys extra
specials of the daily papers and eats three square meals a day, will
never know what this other world has endured for its safety, for no man
of this other world will have the vocabulary in which to tell. But don't
for a moment mistake me--we're grimly happy.

What a serial I'll write for you if I emerge from this turmoil! Thank
God, my outlook is all altered. I don't want to live any longer--only to
live well.

Good-bye and good luck.

                    Coningsby Dawson.


February 5th, 1917.

My Dearest Mother:

Aren't the papers good reading now-a-days with nothing to record but
success? It gives us hope that at last, anyway before the year is out,
the war must end. As you know, I am at the artillery school back of the
lines for a month, taking an extra course. I have been meeting a great
many young officers from all over the world and have listened to them
discussing their program for when peace is declared. Very few of them
have any plans or prospects. Most of them had just started on some
course of professional training to which they won't have the energy to
go back after a two years' interruption. The question one asks is how
will all these men be reabsorbed into civilian life. I'm afraid the
result will be a vast host of men with promising pasts and highly
uncertain futures. We shall be a holiday world without an income. I'm
afraid the hero-worship attitude will soon change to impatience when the
soldiers beat their swords into ploughshares and then confess that they
have never been taught to plough. That's where I shall score--by beating
my sword into a pen. But what to write about--! Everything will seem so
little and inconsequential after seeing armies marching to mud and
death, and people will soon get tired of hearing about that. It seems as
though war does to the individual what it does to the landscapes it
attacks--obliterates everything personal and characteristic. A valley,
when a battle has done with it, is nothing but earth--exactly what it
was when God said, "Let there be Light;" a man just something with a
mind purged of the past and ready to observe afresh. I question whether
a return to old environments will ever restore to us the whole of our
old tastes and affections. War is, I think, utterly destructive. It
doesn't even create courage--it only finds it in the soul of a man. And
yet there is one quality which will survive the war and help us to face
the temptations of peace--that same courage which most of us have
unconsciously discovered out here.

Well, my dear, I have little news--at least, none that I can tell. I'm
just about recovered from an attack of "flu." I want to get thoroughly
rid of it before I go back to my battery. I hope you all keep well. God
bless you all.

                    Yours ever,


February 6th, 1917.

My Very Dear M.:

I read in to-day's paper that U.S.A. threatens to come over and help us.
I wish she would. The very thought of the possibility fills me with joy.
I've been light-headed all day. It would be so ripping to live among
people, when the war is ended, of whom you need not be ashamed.
Somewhere deep down in my heart I've felt a sadness ever since I've been
out here, at America's lack of gallantry--it's so easy to find excuses
for not climbing to Calvary; sacrifice was always too noble to be
sensible. I would like to see the country of our adoption become
splendidly irrational even at this eleventh hour in the game; it would
redeem her in the world's eyes. She doesn't know what she's losing. From
these carcase-strewn fields of khaki there's a cleansing wind blowing
for the nations that have died. Though there was only one Englishman
left to carry on the race when this war is victoriously ended, I would
give more for the future of England than for the future of America with
her ninety millions whose sluggish blood was not stirred by the call of
duty. It's bigness of soul that makes nations great and not population.
Money, comfort, limousines and ragtime are not the requisites of men
when heroes are dying. I hate the thought of Fifth Avenue, with its
pretty faces, its fashions, its smiling frivolity. America as a great
nation will die, as all coward civilisations have died, unless she
accepts the stigmata of sacrifice, which a divine opportunity again
offers her.

If it were but possible to show those ninety millions one battlefield
with its sprawling dead, its pity, its marvellous forgetfulness of self,
I think then--no, they wouldn't be afraid. Fear isn't the emotion one
feels--they would experience the shame of living when so many have shed
their youth freely. This war is a prolonged moment of exultation for
most of us--we are redeeming ourselves in our own eyes. To lay down
one's life for one's friend once seemed impossible. All that is altered.
We lay down our lives that the future generations may be good and kind,
and so we can contemplate oblivion with quiet eyes. Nothing that is
noblest that the Greeks taught is unpractised by the simplest men out
here to-day. They may die childless, but their example will father the
imagination of all the coming ages. These men, in the noble indignation
of a great ideal, face a worse hell than the most ingenious of fanatics
ever planned or plotted. Men die scorched like moths in a furnace, blown
to atoms, gassed, tortured. And again other men step forward to take
their places well knowing what will be their fate. Bodies may die, but
the spirit of England grows greater as each new soul speeds upon its
way. The battened souls of America will die and be buried. I believe the
decision of the next few days will prove to be the crisis in America's
nationhood. If she refuses the pain which will save her, the cancer of
self-despising will rob her of her life.

This feeling is strong with us. It's past midnight, but I could write
of nothing else to-night.

God bless you.

                    Yours ever,

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