Monday, October 6, 2014

Enlisting for a soldier.



Settings:A Soldier-Poet: Edward Thomas enlists and trains.

Artists' Rifles HQ, 17 Duke Street, Euston: The recruiting office was in Albemarle Street.
An extract:
'He travelled up to London by train and walked fast to Albemarle Street, hunting for a brass nameplate – ‘The Artists’ Rifles.’ A printed poster was pinned to a sandwich board on the pavement, announcing ‘Recruiting Office.’ The regimental symbol printed at the head showed Mars and Minerva intertwined. He looked up at the sky for a moment, then turned, breathed deeply and walked through the open door.

He was attested fit by the Medical Officer the following day. He had passed the first test that he’d set himself.'    (A Conscious Englishman.)                                             *
On the day he 'passed the doctor' he completed the important poem below, For These. Edward describes it as 'a prayer'.
He had agonised for months about whether he should follow Robert Frost to America or enlist or at least 'do something' for his country threatened and injured by war.

'All I can tell is, it seemed to me that either I had never loved England, or I had loved it foolishly, aesthetically. Something, I thought, had to be done before I could look composedly again at English landscape, at the elms and poplars about the houses, at the purple-headed wood-betony with two pairs of leaves on a stiff stem, who stood sentinel among the grasses or bracken by hedge-side or woods-edge. at he stood sentinel for I did not know, any more than what I had to do.’   E.T.

His journey through the cities of the Midlands and  the North, collecting the thoughts expressed by ordinary people during the early months of war, led to him speculating about why a man volunteered:
'On his last day he saw some recruits, lean pale young men in their dark clothes and caps, with occasionally the tanned face of a farm worker among them. Why had they enlisted – because of the posters, urging them to fight for King and country? Under pressure from employers? From girl-friends? Or to follow their friends?

He had a sense that a man joined up for inexplicable reasons, making a leap beyond rational thought. Then afterwards he would explain himself to his parents and friends in the old conventional terms about fighting for king and country – but surely that was simply too poetical and too self-conscious to be real? (A.C.E)'

 So many reasons why Edward Thomas took that first step toward his death at the Battle of Arras. Some would add an episode of cowardice/ common-sense witnessed by Robert Frost in confrontation with a game-keeper.

After initial training on Hampstead Heath where his map-reading skills were recognised he was sent first to High Beech, Epping Forest, training camp. No doubt he spent some  leisure time here in the  King's Oak.

Then he was sent to Hare Hall Camp, near Romford , Essex, where he was to stay for a year and a half.

From Liverpool Street station the train took him east through gentle, orderly countryside to Romford and on to Gidea Park halt. November trees were black and bare against the horizon.

Hare Hall camp was built in the grounds of a Georgian mansion. Tall elms and horse-chestnuts at the entrance, instead of the barren wire he expected, declared its past as a country estate. There were guard boxes certainly, but a pretty eighteenth-century lodge too. Planted all over the gracious parkland between some great oaks were new white bell tents. A line of wooden barrack huts stood at the centre of the camp.


'His first impression of a great house and park soon faded as he was drawn into the changed life of Hare Hall. Exercises, parades, routines, the new way of passing time. Much of his life was spent in lecture huts, the canteen, the reading room and the mess. Hut Number 3, a sound wooden hut sleeping twenty-five men, was home. The park became a site for compass exercises, and the great Georgian house was the remote home of the most senior officers, of whom he was in awe.' (A.C.E)

The Poem: For These
Edna Longley sees irony in the poem. I wouldn't want to quarrel with Edna Longley, goodness knows, but I think I'd call it realism.

For These
An acre of land between the shore and the hills,
Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,
The lovely visible earth and sky and sea
Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well-hedged, and honoured by a few ash trees
That linnets, greenfinches, and goldfinches
Shall often visit and make love in and flit:

A garden I need never go beyond,
Broken but neat, whose sunflowers every one
Are fit to be the sign of the Rising Sun:
A spring, a brook's bend, or at least a pond:

For these I ask not, but, neither too late
Nor yet too early, for what men call content,
And also that something may be sent
To be contented with, I ask of Fate.