Do you remember Captain S. at the Camp? I had his young brother to dinner with me last night-he’s just back from France minus an eye. He lasted three and a half weeks, and was buried four feet deep by a shell. He’s a jolly boy, as cheerful as you could want and is very good company. He gave me a vivid description. He had a great boy-friend. At the start of the war they both joined, S. in the Artillery, his friend in the Mounted Rifles. At parting they exchanged identification tokens. S.’s bore his initials and the one word “Violets”—which meant that they were his favourite flower and he would like to have some scattered over him when he was buried. His friend wore his initials and the words “No flowers by request.” It was S.’s first week out—they were advancing, having driven back the enemy, and were taking up a covered position in a wood from which to renew their offensive. It was night, black as pitch, but they knew that the wood must have been the scene of fighting by the scuttling of the rats. Suddenly the moon came out, and from beneath a bush S. saw a face—or rather half a face—which he thought he recognised, gazing up at him. He corrects himself when he tells the story, and says that it wasn’t so much the disfigured features as the profile that struck him as familiar. He bent down and searched beneath the shirt, and drew out a little metal disc with “No flowers by request” written on it.
I don’t know whether I ought to repeat things like that to you, but the description was so graphic. I have met many who have returned from the Front, and what puzzles me in all of them is their unawed acceptance of death. I don’t think I could ever accept it as natural; it’s too discourteous in its interruption of many dreams and plans and loves.
Yours with very much love,
Shorncliff, August 30th, 1916.
I have just returned from sending you a cable to let you know that I’m off to France. The word came out in orders yesterday, and I shall leave before the end of the week with a draft of officers—I have been in England just a day over four weeks. My only regret is that I shall miss the boys who should be travelling up to London about the same time as I am setting out for the Front. After I have been there for three months I am supposed to get a leave—this should be due to me about the beginning of December, and you can judge how I shall count on it. Think of the meeting with R. and E., and the immensity of the joy.
Selfishly I wish that you were here at this moment—actually I’m glad that you are away. Everybody goes out quite unemotionally and with very few good-byes—we made far more fuss in the old days about a week-end visit.