Yup, it’s three years into the WW1 centenary and three years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 244 posts, I have documented 68 books read, over 150 monuments each Monday, and more interviews and musings.
My focus for much of this year has been eyewitness accounts of the war – a range of voices from the front lines, the home front and points in between. Male and female authors, they wrote about universal aspects of the soldiers’ experience, the readiness to serve where needed, and the price of acceptance and of dissent.
The books analysing the war from the rear view window show how perspectives can change over time.
I plan to continue my exploration of medical women in the war for a bit, digging into the work of the academics, researchers, family members and others who are bringing these fascinating, forgotten stories to light. (Bravo for their diligence in that task!) Then it will be time to turn back to fiction. I’m feeling anxious about the ticking clock … will I have time for all I want to read?
My thanks again to the authors who have generously agreed to be interviewed, and to friends willing to come along for the ride in my search for monuments. To those of you who follow my journey, thanks for your support and your comments, on and off line.
This was also the year for a long-anticipated tour of the Western Front. Over the course of a week we visited over 50 battlefields, cemeteries and monuments, under the able guidance of Norm Christie. A small but vital group of pilgrims, we were in pursuit of grand details, local histories and the graves of great uncles we’d never met.
I looked forward to evenings of reading about the war in the crucible of the war. But I didn’t count on the intensity of all that evidence of mass annihilation. My evenings were spent decompressing in quiet reflection. It was an edifying trip.
The title of this post is taken from WW1 parodies of My Little Grey Home in the West (lyrics by D. Eardley-Wilmot, music by Herman Lohr). Original parody by Tom Skeyhill, variations by others.
I’ve a little wet home in the trench,
Which the rain-storms continually drench;
Blue sky overhead, mud and clay for a bed,
And a stone that we use for a bench.
Bully beef and hard biscuits we chew;
It seems years since we tasted a stew;
Shells crackle and scare, but no place can compare
With my little wet home in the trench.
Our friends in the trench o’er the way
Seem to know that we’ve come here to stay;
They rush and they shout, but they can’t get us out,
Though there’s no dirty work they don’t play.
They rushed us a few nights ago,
But we don’t like intruders, and so
Some departed quite sore, others sleep evermore,
Near my little wet home in the trench.
So hurrah for the mud and the clay,
It’s the road to ‘Der Tag’ – that’s ‘The Day.’
When we enter Berlin, that big city of sin,
Where we’ll make the fat Berliner pay,
We’ll remember the cold and the frost,
When we scour the fat lands of the Bhost;
There’ll be shed then, I fear, redder stuff than a tear
For my little wet home in the trench.
In a little wet trench in the west,
Where the Germans cannot get at me,
It’s not very grand, and we most of us stand,
And the only good thing is our tea.
Over there where the great big shells fall,
The Huns are afraid of us—lest
We should bayonet them with true British phlegm,
Should they visit our home in the west.
There are hands that will welcome them out,
There are guns that are waiting to fire,
There are eyes that look out for a chance of a bout,
Though we’re up to our eyes in the mire.
It’s a hell upon earth for us all,
But we mean to be first on the ball.
When the kick-off takes place, we’ll be first in the race,
From our little wet trench in the west.
There are dug-outs and other things new,
Funk-holes, trench mortars, bombs and grenades,
The only thing hot is our ration of stew,
Don’t we wish we were back at our trades?
Never mind—we’re out on the job,
Though we’re not paid at Union Rates,
Oh! we shan’t rest content till we’ve made a big dent
In another wet trench in the west.
In our little wet home in a trench,
That the rainstorms continually drench,
There’s a dead cow nearby with its hooves in the sky,
And it gives off a beautiful stench.
Beneath us instead of a floor,
Is a layer of wet mud and some straw.
The Jack Johnsons we dread as they speed overhead,
In our little wet home in the trench.
Tom Skeyhill, Soldier Songs from Anzac (Melbourne: The Specialty Press Pty Ltd, 1915)
F.T. Nettleingham, Tommy’s Tunes (London: Erskine Macdonald Ltd, 1917)
Martin Pegler, Soldiers’ Songs and Slang from the Great War (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2014)