A musical interlude (plus war animals!)

Trench mortar school mascot on a German trench mortar Man standing next to a captured German trench mortar. There is a tiny monkey sitting on the barrel of the trench mortar. The man is holding the monkey's hand and is looking closely at the monkey's face. Many soldiers adopted animals, often abandoned or left behind by their owners, and kept them as pets or mascots. From the National Library of Scotland

Trench mortar school mascot on a German trench mortar
Man standing next to a captured German trench mortar. There is a tiny monkey sitting on the barrel of the trench mortar. The man is holding the monkey’s hand and is looking closely at the monkey’s face. Many soldiers adopted animals, often abandoned or left behind by their owners, and kept them as pets or mascots. From the National Library of Scotland

From Michael Gubser of James Madison University:

I am a professor of modern European history (including World War I) in Virginia, and I have recently had a musical that I have co-written accepted into the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) as part of its Developmental Reading Series.  The musical, entitled “Into the Sun,” takes place in World War I and is based loosely on the experiences of the British World War I poets, such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and others.  Some of the songs in the play use their poems as lyrics.

NYMF is a major festival of new musicals that takes place each year in July, and it attracts producers and theatre representatives looking for new plays to develop and produce.  As part of this festival, ‘Into the Sun’ will have three staged reading performances in New York City on July 15 and 19.  It will hopefully be a great opportunity to raise awareness of World War I and of the war pets during this centenary.

I’m sending two sites: 1) the announcement of the show on the NYMF website:  http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/sun/   and 2) our Kickstarter site which provides a succinct summary of the musical as well as two videos — one an artist’s statement and the other a documentary-style promo video — that describe the show:   https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/intothesun/into-the-sun-nymf-2015

Britain’s National Poetry Competition winner

Patricia McCarthy, winner of the National Poetry Competition, which carries a 5,000-pound prize, wrote her entry about World War I, based on her mother’s memories of the era. The poem, “Clothes that escaped the Great War,” can be found on this link at the Guardian website:


Here’s an excerpt:

“These were the most scary, my mother recalled: clothes

piled high on the wobbly cart, their wearers gone. …”


A farewell to Paul Fussell

This week, the New York Times Sunday Magazine eulogizes the famous people who died over the past year. Dwight Garner writes of Paul Fussell:

Fussell’s masterpiece is “The Great War and Modern Memory” (1975), a book that’s of permanent literary interest; his prose and quality of observation are uncommonly fine. …  A literary scholar as well as a soldier, Fussell attended to (of all things) that war’s poetry and observed how it exposed the yawning gaps between the myth and reality of armed conflict.


Here’s the link:


Another anniversary: The Battle of Richebourg

June 30 can be remembered as the anniversary of the Battle of Richebourg — intended as a feint before the Battle of the Somme. The Germans were not fooled, and the Royal Sussex Regiment (South Downs) took terrible casualties.

Here’s an account of the battle: http://battlefields1418.com/boars_head.htm

And here is a photo of some of the South Downs at training camp:


Among the South Downs men was poet Edmund Blunden, who wrote, in the piece “Can You Remember,”

And some are sparkling, laughing, singing,
Young, heroic, mild;
And some incurable, twisted,
Shrieking, dumb, defiled.


Nice photos here of an annual remembrance ceremony:


The war animals’ friend, CORRECTED

Ghosts of 1914 points out that I made a couple of mistakes when I wrote about her post “Dr. Dolittle Goes to War”:


The photo of the man in the pith helmet with all his animals is NOT Hugh Lofting, author of the Dr. Dolittle series. Lofting was a combat engineer with the Irish Guards, NOT a veterinarian.

I did wonder how a civil engineer got himself from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to a kennel on the Western Front, but I didn’t wonder enough. War is absurd; anything can happen.

Thanks for correcting me, Fiona.

The Irish Guards had a terrible war, from the first days near Mons to the Armistice, when they were also near Mons. Nearly half the officers and more than a quarter of the men were killed. Lofting served on the Front in 1917-18, when he was badly wounded.

Here are details about the Irish Guards in WWI:


Another literary family contributed a son to the Irish Guards: John Kipling, son of Rudyard Kipling. The younger Kipling was declared missing, presumed killed at Loos in 1915. He was 18. Daniel Radclifffe (Harry Potter) played him in the made-for-TV movie “My Boy Jack.”

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem after the war that ended with the famous line

“If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied.”


Paul Fussell, 1924-2012

George Simmers, blogging at Great War Fiction, reports the death of Paul Fussell, who wrote the widely-read “The Great War and Modern Memory.” Simmers gives the book a quick review, pointing out what he considers its flaws, but praising it, too, saying, “Historians have rightly bashed him for his exaggerations and errors, but he was a pioneer, opening up the literature of the Great War, going beyond piety to look critically at the subject.”

It has been a long time since I read it — anyone else want to chime in?


Previous Post

I wish I’d read this in time for ANZAC Day.
Last verse:
We shall pass in summer weather,
We shall come at eventide,
When the fells stand up together
And all quiet things abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river,
Sun-distilled in dew and rain,
One with Cumberland for ever
We shall go not forth again.

Daly History Blog

Interestingly, I’ve found a young officer with Portsmouth connections who was a war poet- and a little known one at that.

Lieutenant Nowall Oxland was born in 1890. The son of a Cumbrian vicar, he entered Durham School as a Kings Scholar in September 1903. He seems to have performed very well there, becoming monitor and head of school between 1908 and 1910, rowing in the third crew in 1908 and the second crew in 1909, and playing in the Rugby XV in 1907-1909.

In 1909 Oxland left Durham for Worcester College at Oxford University, where he was studying History, showing great promise as a writer of Prose. Whilst at Oxford he played Rugby for Rosslyn Park, Richmond, Middlesex and Cumberland.

Gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in September 1914, he joined the 6th Battalion, Border Regiment, a first-line Kitchener Battalion. With that unit he sailed from Liverpool for…

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Frederic Manning as war poet

Great War Fiction

Frederic Manning is generally acknowledged as the finest novelist of the Western Front, but Her Privates We was not written until ten years after the War. During the War years he saw himself as a poet rather than a prose writer.

I find most of his poems, with their archaisms and delicate Nineties texture, difficult to appreciate, but The Trenches, one of the very few that he wrote about the War, is different, a very evocative piece of descriptive writing. It was published in 1917, I think.

The Trenches

Endless lanes sunken in the clay,
Bays, and traverses, fringed with wasted herbage,
Seed-pods of blue scabious, and some lingering blooms;
And the sky, seen as from a well,
Brilliant with frosty stars.
We stumble, cursing, on the slippery duck-boards.
Goaded like the damned by some invisible wrath,
A will stronger than weariness, stronger than animal fear,
Implacable and monotonous.

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Dead Man’s Dump – Isaac Rosenberg

Move Him Into The Sun

‘Dead Man’s Dump’

The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan,
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman,
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now.

Earth has waited for them
All the time of their growth
Fretting for their decay:
Now she has them at last!
In the strength of their strength
Suspended–stopped and held.

What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
Earth! have they gone into you?
Somewhere they must have gone,
And flung on your hard back
Is their souls’ sack,
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.

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T.S Eliot: Timeless Influence on a Modern Generation

Brushed With Mystery

I happened to overhear a conversation between two of my drama students- they were supposed to present T.S. Eliot’s work  in English that day, and they thought his poems were both boring and unintelligible. I interjected, and suggested that they look at him from a modern cultural standpoint-how have his poems affected and continue to influence modern culture?  They seemed less than amused until I suggested that they look at modern music that might use, or be inspired by,  his poetry.  At the end of the class they told me they were going to spend lunchtime researching my suggestions; their curiosity was piqued, and so was mine.

It turns out that there is quite a lot of modern culture that is influenced by T.S. Eliot, who lived from 1885 to 1965; he was a poet, playwright and publisher.  His most notable poems were: The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock

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