It’s a fortnight to-day since I left England, and already I’ve seen action. Things move quickly in this game, and it is a game—one which brings out both the best and the worst qualities in a man. If unconscious heroism is the virtue most to be desired, and heroism spiced with a strong sense of humour at that, then pretty well every man I have met out here has the amazing guts to wear his crown of thorns as though it were a cap-and-bells. To do that for the sake of corporate stout-heartedness is, I think, the acme of what Aristotle meant by virtue. A strong man, or a good man or a brainless man, can walk to meet pain with a smile on his mouth because he knows that he is strong enough to bear it, or worthy enough to defy it, or because he is such a fool that he has no imagination. But these chaps are neither particularly strong, good, nor brainless; they’re more like children, utterly casual with regard to trouble, and quite aware that it is useless to struggle against their elders. So they have the merriest of times while they can, and when the governess, Death, summons them to bed, they obey her with unsurprised quietness. It sends the mercury of one’s optimism rising to see the way they do it. I search my mind to find the bigness of motive which supports them, but it forever evades me. These lads are not the kind who philosophise about life; they’re the sort, many of them, who would ordinarily wear corduroys and smoke a cutty pipe. I suppose the Christian martyrs would have done the same had corduroys been the fashion in that day, and if a Roman Raleigh had discovered tobacco.
I wrote this about midnight and didn’t get any further, as I was up till six carrying on and firing the battery. After adding another page or two I want to get some sleep, as I shall probably have to go up to the observation station to watch the effect of fire to-night. But before I turn in I want to tell you that I had the most gorgeous mail from everybody. Now that I’m in touch with you all again, it’s almost like saying “How-do?” every night and morning.
I daresay you’ll wonder how it feels to be under shell-fire. This is how it feels—you don’t realise your danger until you come to think about it afterwards—at the time it’s like playing coconut shies at a coon’s head—only you’re the coon’s head. You take too much interest in the sport of dodging to be afraid. You’ll hear the Tommies saying if one bursts nearly on them, “Line, you blighter, line. Five minutes more left,” just as though they were reprimanding the unseen Hun battery for rotten shooting.
The great word of the Tommies here is “No bloody bon”—a strange mixture of French and English, which means that a thing is no good. If it pleases them it’s Jake—though where Jake comes from nobody knows.
Now I must get a wink or two, as I don’t know when I may have to start off.
Ever yours, with