Look for the Silver Lining

British nurse Vera Brittain, in her classic memoir “Testament of Youth,” deplored the solders’ bad taste in music. They liked sentimental songs — she wondered how many men’s last memory was of a tinny “If You Were the Only Girl in the World.”


“Look for the Silver Lining” was written in 1919 for a failed musical, but became a hit in 1921. No doubt the soldiers would have liked that one also.


And they would have enjoyed this mawkish music in the trenches.

Gramophone in captured German dugout blog

“Downton Abbey” — 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month

The war ended last week on “Downton Abbey.”  Like many of you, I was questioned about the war with friends mostly asking, “Is that what the trenches were really like?”

Yes, sometimes they looked like this:

Waiting to go over the top.

But sometimes they looked like this:

British trench in the snow.

Or this:

Up to their knees in water.

Or this:

Rats, lice, decomposing remains — we can argue that this was PBS and not HBO, and the story mostly took place on the homefront. But here’s what they left out of the story on homefront:

One night during the time my brother was serving in Vietnam, my parents gave a dinner party. The guests had all arrived, everyone was chatting, and then the doorbell rang. My father says he could not bring himself to touch the doorknob. He is not a fanciful man, yet he says he felt so strongly that there was death on the other side, that if he opened the door, he would see a man in uniform come to tell him that his oldest boy had been killed.

British families lived with that sickening dread for 4-1/2 years. Every knock at the door, every time the phone rang, a telegram — some women never opened The Telegram. Families found them later tucked behind His Picture on the mantel.

The terrible fear, and the terrible cost. That’s what “Downtown Abbey” was missing.


The Princess Pats

Last night on “Downton Abbey,” a soldier turned up from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. The PPCLI — named for the daughter of Canada’s Governor General and known as the Patricias — was an independent regiment formed in Montreal in 1914.  It was the first Canadian infantry unit to reach France, in December.

In May 1915, the regiment held trenches on Bellewaerde Ridge for four days under intense shelling and fought off multiple German attacks with rifle fire. Their machine guns were knocked out, and they eventually ran out of ammunition, but not before the Germans had withdrawn. The regiment suffered 80% casualties. They had their backs to Ypres, and they held the line.

From the Bellewaerde Ridge, looking down toward Ypres.

Here’s a link with a blow-by-blow account of the Patricias in action.


Princess Patricia’s father, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught,  served as Canada’s Governor General from 1911 to 1916. Here he is talking with four American soldiers.

Duke of Connaught with Doughboys