I remember seeing a man struggling painfully along with an above-the-knee leg, obviously his first day out. A group of men watched his efforts. “Pick it up, Charlie!” they called, “we’ll race you to the cedars!” but Charlie only smiled, not a bit offended, and patiently continued along the terrace.
At last I was officially “passed out” by the surgeon, and after eighteen months was free from hospitals. What a relief! No longer anyone to reproach me because I wasn’t a man! It was my great wish to go out to the F.A.N.Y.s again when I had got thoroughly accustomed to my leg. I tried riding a bicycle, and after falling off once or twice “coped” quite well, but it was not till November that I had the chance to try a horse. I was down at Broadstairs and soon discovered a job-master and arranged to go out the next day. I hardly slept at all that night I was so excited at the prospect. The horse I had was a grey, rather a coincidence, and not at all unlike my beloved grey in France. Oh the joy of being in a saddle again! A lugubrious individual with a bottle nose (whom I promptly christened “Dundreary” because of his long whiskers) came out with me. He was by way of being a riding master, but for all the attention he paid I might have been alone.
I suggested finding a place for a canter after we had trotted some distance and things felt all right. I was so excited to find I could ride again with comparatively little inconvenience I could hardly restrain myself from whooping aloud. I presently infected “Dundreary,” who, in his melancholy way, became quite jovial. I rode “Bob” every day after that and felt that after all life was worth living again.
On November 11th came the news of the armistice. The flags and rejoicings in the town seemed to jar somehow. I was glad to be out of London. A drizzle set in about noon and the waves beat against the cliffs in a steady boom not unlike the guns now silent across the water. Through the mist I seemed to see the ghosts of all I knew who had been sacrificed in the prime of their youth to the god of war. I saw the faces of the men in the typhoid wards and heard again the groans as the wounded and dying were lifted from the ambulance trains on to the stretchers. It did not seem a time for loud rejoicings, but rather a quiet thankfulness that we had ended on the right side and their lives had not been lost in vain.
The words of Robert Nichols’ “Fulfilment,” from Ardours and Endurances (Chatto & Windus), rang through my brain. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce them:
Was there love once?
I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
Other loves I have, men rough, but men who stir
More grief, more joy, than love of thee and mine.
Faces cheerful, full
of whimsical mirth,
Lined by the wind, burned by the sun;
Bodies enraptured by the abounding earth,
As whose children we are brethren: one.