One talks about splendour—but war isn’t splendid except in the individual sense. A man by his own self-conquest can make it splendid for himself, but in the massed sense it’s squalid. There’s nothing splendid about a battlefield when the fight is ended—shreds of what once were men, tortured, levelled landscapes—the barbaric loneliness of Hell. I shall never forget my first dead man. He was a signalling officer, lying in the dawn on a muddy hill. I thought he was asleep at first, but when I looked more closely, I saw that his shoulder blade was showing white through his tunic. He was wearing black boots. It’s odd, but the sight of black boots have the same effect on me now that black and white stripes had in childhood. I have the superstitious feeling that to wear them would bring me bad luck.
Tonight we’ve been singing in parts, Back in the Dear Dead Days Beyond Recall—a mournful kind of ditty to sing under the circumstances—so mournful that we had to have a game of five hundred to cheer us up.
It’s now nearly 2 a.m., and I have to go out to the guns again before I go to bed. I carry your letters about in my pockets and read them at odd intervals in all kinds of places that you can’t imagine.
Cheer up and remember that I’m quite happy. I wish you could be with me for just one day to understand.
December 3rd, 1916.
By this time you will be all through your exams and I hope have both passed. It’ll be splendid if you can go together to the same station. You envy me, you say; well, I rather envy you. I’d like to be with you. You, at least, don’t have Napoleon’s fourth antagonist with which to contend—mud. But at present I’m clean and billeted in an estaminet, in a not too bad little village. There’s an old mill and still older church, and the usual farmhouses with the indispensable pile of manure under the front windows. We shall have plenty of hard work here, licking our men into shape and re-fitting.