Thinking about Old Soldiers

Discussion in 'Films, Music, TV & All Things Artsy' started by Val the Gal, Jun 8, 2014.

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  1. Slowly but surely reading an interesting tome called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose. Here's a line that struck me: "In the First World War, he was one of those soldiers, noted by Paul Fussell,who marched to the front with a volume of poetry in his kit."
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2014
  2. Short book,is it? :study: :)
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  3. This was by no means unusual. The Edwardian man would routinely had attended poetry evenings and joined clubs, including the newly formed Territorial Army. This is what people did before the advent of the soul sucking box in the corner of the room.

    One of the most popular works was A.E Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad'. Written before the War (1896), the 63 poems of the work have some chilling resonance with what went on in the trenches. For example:


    'Is my team ploughing,
    That I was used to drive
    And hear the harness jingle
    When I was man alive?'
    Ay, the horses trample,
    The harness jingles now;
    No change though you lie under
    The land you used to plough.
    'Is football playing
    Along the river shore,
    With lads to chase the leather,
    Now I stand up no more?'
    Ay, the ball is flying,
    The lads play heart and soul;
    The goal stands up, the keeper
    Stands up to keep the goal.
    'Is my girl happy,
    That I thought hard to leave,
    And has she tired of weeping
    As she lies down at eve?'
    Ay, she lies down lightly,
    She lies not down to weep:
    Your girl is well contented.
    Be still, my lad, and sleep.
    'Is my friend hearty,
    Now I am thin and pine,
    And has he found to sleep in
    A better bed than mine?'
    Yes, lad, I lie easy,
    I lie as lads would choose;
    I cheer a dead man's sweetheart,
    Never ask me whose.

    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
  4. XXV

    The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,
    There's men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
    The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
    And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.
    There's chaps from the town and the field and the till and the cart,
    And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,
    And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,
    And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.
    I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell
    The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;
    And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell
    And watch them depart on the way that they will not return. But now you may stare as you like and there's nothing to scan;
    And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told
    They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
    The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.
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  5. Some of these works were set to music. George Butterworth, who himself was killed on the Somme, set 'The Lads in their 100s', and his great friend Ralph Vaughan Williams (who despite his advanced age and status, served as a stretcher bearer, before becoming an artillery officer and deafening himself for life) also set several, including 'Is my team ploughing'.

    If you go to Thiepval on the Somme, the commentary film at the interpretation centre, is set to Butterworths 'Shropshire Lad', itself based on a theme from 'Loveliest of Trees', one of the poems therein. Butterworth, the eternal perfectionist, detroyed a quantity of his scores before setting off to war. Therefore his surviving corpus of work is not huge, but rather lovely to listen to.

    In fact, I've just put some on and am feeling much calmer already, before the day's grind.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
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  6. Blackrat

    Blackrat War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

    I am a huge fan of Siegfried Sassoon myself. He wrote brilliant war poems.

    ‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
    When we met him last week on our way to the line.
    Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
    And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
    ‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
    As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

    . . . .
    But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
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  7. Just short of 500 pages short. The favourite authors of working men in the 1800s and early 1900s - and working women when they gained literacy later - were Milton, Shakespeare, Dafoe, Dickens, Byron, G.B. Shaw, Shelley, Keats, Austen, the Brontes, Boswell ... People only got stupid with the advent of tabloids and television.
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  8. Flasheart.jpg Ironic that poor old Rick Mayall, AKA Lord Flashheart shuffled off today.. ' You don't think I'm too,not sick of it.The blood, the mud, the killing, the endless poetry'.=) RIP Flashy.
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  9. My favourite:

    "Well, well, if it isn't little Bobby Pankhurst: more saucier than a direct hit on the Heinz factory!"

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  10. VtG
    It wasn't just the upper classes that expressed or appreciated poetry and prose.

    During the early part of 20th Century (and particularly for those from the industrial north) there were a lot of institutions aimed at offering further education to working class men, who would have left school at 12 or 13.

    For many, self improvement was a way out of the poverty and trap of being an underdog.
  11. Yes, this book talks all about Working Men's Clubs and Self-Improvement Societies. Some were socialist and evolved into the early Labour Party (when they were a real Labour Party with labourers in it, entering politics). My favourite story is the one about the illegitimate daughter of a workhouse washerwoman who also became a laundress for a time, but who had a passion for reading and scrounging books wherever she could get them. Taught herself Middle English so she could read Chaucer. She went on to become Catherine Cookson, one of the best-selling authors in the world and at one time responsible for a third of all books taken out of British libraries.

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