Plastered in Mud and Stuck in a Trench? Darned Unpleasant.


During the First World War, it was quickly noted how the majority of British soldiers had a general air of sang-froid, a reserved, stoical reticence explained by artillery office P.H. Pilditch as being a product of training in the public-schools: “Everything is toned down. … Nothing is ‘horrible.’ That word is never used in public. Things are ‘darned unpleasant,’ ‘Rather nasty,’ or, if very bad, simply ‘damnable.’”

General James Jack reported, “On my usual afternoon walk today a shrapnel shell scattered a shower of bullets around me in an unpleasant manner.” When Private R.W. Mitchell moved to trenches in Hebuterne in June 1916, he complained of “strafing and a certain dampness.” Professional soldier and poet Julian Grenfell even reported in October 1914 that “I adore war. It is like a big picnic without the objectlessness of a picnic. I’ve never been so well or so happy. No one grumbles at one for being dirty.”

If and when soldiers returned after a dangerous engagement, the Field Service Post Card to be send to loved ones back home was the essence of optimism:

I am quite well.

I have been admitted into hospital (sick) (wounded) (and am going on well) (and hope to be discharged soon).

I am being sent down to base.

I have received your (letter dated ____) (telegram dated ____) (parcel dated ____)

Letter follows at first opportunity.

I have received no letter from you (lately) (for a long time).

(Signature only)

(Date)

Any text that didn’t apply was crossed out, even if it meant leaving only the line “I am quite well.” (Even if this only meant that you were alive, perhaps missing a leg or unable to ever completely recover.) This lack of options meant soldiers often improvised.One soldier agreed beforehand with his mother that if he sent a card with a double line on “I am being sent down to base,” that he was going up to the front again.

This constant positive outlook on the war, of course, was great for morale both on the front and back home.

(via)

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