June 10, 2006

Bedevilled by the pox

    I cannot give you any dim conception of what the battlefield is now. But if you will imagine any 13 miles by 9 miles known to you, say from Goring to Abingdon, rolling in Dorchester, Wallingford, Wettlebed and the Chilterns above Goring, you will get a hint of its extent. Then imagine in all that expanse no single tree left intact, but either dismembered or cut off short and burnt quite black. Then imagine that in all that expanse no single house is left, nor any large part of a house, except one iron gate and half a little red chapel, and that all the other building is literally blasted into little bits, so that no man can tell where villages were, nor how they ran, nor what they were like. Here and there are cellars, in one place there is a well, in several places there are mangles, farm implements and bundles of burnt plank, but the rest is fone. Then imagine that in all that expanse there is no patch of ground 10 feet square that has not got its shell hole. To say that the ground is "ploughed up" with shells is to talk like a child. It is gouged and blasted and bedevilled by the pox of war, and at every step you are in the wreck of war, and up at the top of the ridge there is no ground, there is nothing but a waste of big holes 10 feet deep and 10 feet broad, with defilement and corpses and hands and feet and old burnt uniforms and tattered leather all flung about and dug in and dug out again like nothing else on God's earth.
John Masefield (later Poet Laureate, 1878-1967) in a letter to his wife, describing the battlefield of the Somme, October 1916.


Those lines always remind me of this one:
    Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.
George Jean Nathan, author and editor (1882-1958).

1 comment:

Dilip D'Souza said...

Tanuj: Yes, I do agree with India fighting for freedom from the Brits. Gandhi and the rest should indeed have bothered. Real estate and principles certainly overlap sometimes.

What Masefield describes, it's hard to see where the principles and patriotism are.