My dearest Lady Ottoline, It is with greatest sadness that I must break some grave news to you. Please excuse that awful pun, but it seems once again our armed forces have made quite a mess of affairs. I received a letter little over three weeks ago from our friend Robert Graves’ mother, breaking the tragic news of his death in the Battle of the Somme. Indeed, it shouldn’t be something to joke about, but this morning I received another letter, from Robert himself, dated over two weeks after his death, telling me he is rather badly injured, but otherwise safe and well, and recovering in a military hospital.
It would appear that somebody filed him as dead before his real demise, resulting in a lot of unnecessary grief for his poor mother, and one would assume quite a lot of paperwork for the parties involved! I regret that I haven’t been able to keep correspondence with you more often over the previous months. Since my withdrawal from the front in July, thanks to my most unfortunate case of enteritis, I have been moving between Somerville College, where I am writing at this very moment, and my home in Weirleigh, for my convalescence.
I cannot give a fair reason for why I have not written to you in so long, but this time has certainly given me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences at the front, which I can assure you I haven’t wasted. Since the death of my good friend David Cuthbert Thomas, who I never had the pleasure of introducing to you, I believe I have been becoming more and more foolhardy with myself. This may sound strange to you, but I can see it in my own actions. The men in my battalion have begun to refer to me as Mad Jack, something they tell me is not bad, but certainly is rather off-putting for me to hear.
As you may have been told by our friend Bertrand Russell, who I am ashamed to say I have been writing to with great frequency these past few months, I had been throwing myself into action with such enthusiasm that I am almost disconcerted when I think of it now. I know that you, as in opposition to the war, would not like to hear this, but I believe that my grief at losing both my brother at Gallipoli last year and now David in a truly unlucky motion whilst out on a wiring party, led to my seeking “revenge” against the Hun to staunch my loss.
Whilst the pain of my grief was unbearable, avenging my friend’s deaths did nothing to help it subside. Rather, it only added to it, with the guilt of what I have done increasing my unhappiness. It is with this in mind that I have decided to write to you. I have been wondering for quite a while where our country’s efforts in this war are going. Whilst it is obvious from the state of affairs at home, on a smaller scale everyone is doing their own bit to help at the front, sending food parcels and so on – which I know is genuinely appreciated by the troops, since their own rations tend to be meagre and unappetising, to say the least.
But from higher up such as from the government and military officials, I have not seen any input which hasn’t resulted badly. Their portrayal in the media of fighting being an honourable, patriotic act of duty is sickening. As I see it, there is a difference between dying for your country, and dying in the name of your country but in reality having fruitlessly wasted a life. There are men of only eighteen, and in fact younger also, who are going out with deluded visions of grandeur and accolade, who are dying in their thousands in the Somme, and indeed all across Europe, for no purpose.
If it were the case that these men’s deaths were serving some purpose, and helping bring the war to an end, then in a sense I could find it acceptable – although you and I differ on this point, as your pacifism is certainly far stronger than mine. But as it stands, there have been too many lives squandered, and there seems to be no end to this bloodshed as the Somme continues. It is with this in mind that I make my next point, and I make it to you personally, as I know you are a woman of great integrity and will not hesitate to assure me if I am wrong.
I believe, that as the war continues, the government are making no attempt to save lives which are otherwise unnecessarily wasted. They are pushing the men into attacks to conquer pieces of land which are already destroyed by shells and filled with debris and mud, and where perhaps twenty men will begin this small battle, only half will survive it. And for what cause? These tiny victories gain nothing, merely useless wasteland, and at the cost of these men’s lives, which can never be redeemed.
There is no space for mistakes in this war, yet hundreds, perhaps thousands of men have lost their lives for battles which have served no purpose in ending the war, whether it be a victory or a defeat. Surely the government should put life as a priority in this war, rather than this prolongation of what I can only describe as hell – and yet there seems to be no end to the warfare or the death or the suffering of the young men as they see horrors which no man should ever have to bear witness to.
I hope, as I have divulged my thoughts to you, that you may offer me some of your own thoughts on the matter. We differ in our opinions of the war, that much is true, but I feel that this is a concern that we can relate on, I would hope on multiple levels. Any light you could shed on the matter, or whether I am simply going up a dead end, would be greatly helpful to me – as I am considering writing a paper or essay of some sort on this subject to present to someone who could perhaps use it as a means to prevent the prolongation of the war.