Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Dozen Random Quotes from the Great War

French Troops Heading for the Front

On or about December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910.
Virginia Woolf, 1924 Essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown"

We left the schoolrooms, the school desks and benches, and the few short weeks of instruction had bonded us into one great body burning with enthusiasm. Having grown up in an age of security, we all had a nostalgia for the unusual great perils. The war thus seized hold of us like strong liquor. It was under a hail of flowers that we left, drunk on roses and blood. Without a doubt, the war offered us grandeur, strength and gravity. It seemed to us like a virile exploit: the joyous combats of infantrymen in the meadows where blood fell like dew on the flowers. 
Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel

The Europeans, "torch bearers of civilization," are eating at each other, trampling down civilization, ruining Europe; and who will be the better? It is like an avalanche, growing ever more ravaging, as it falls sweeping away trees, woods, homesteads, farms. The catastrophe gets greater and greater. All know the avalanche will consume the valley but no force can stop it . . . European civilization has failed—it was rotten to the core. 
Future Nobel Laureate Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, 1916

(a) Combat power, with a rapid advance, becomes weaker and, on reaching the combat-power change-about point [where the balance shifts to favor the opponent], comes to a standstill.
(b) Confusion produced by the first impact of attack calms down with the passage of time, and the terror effect decreases with the passage of time. 
(c) The fighting spirit of the attacker is heightened by the intensity of power, being highest at the time of initial impact, and gradually weakens from enemy resistance. 
From an Imperial Japanese Army Critique of the Schlieffen Plan

When we tumbled in, I fell on top of some of the enemy, and one put his teeth in my cheek and held on. I was dragged close to him, but my arms were free, and I tried to get my thumbs into his eyes and push out his eyes, but found his throat instead, and squeezed his windpipe. I felt my cheek being released, and my enemy struggled no more. Immediately I grabbed my rifle and clubbed him with the butt. 
R.M. Luther, RFA, 20th Division, Memoir, The Poppies Are Blood Red

The Price of Glory

    Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
      Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death,
        Lest he should hear again the mad alarms.
          Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath
From "A Soldier's Grave" by Francis Ledwidge

A. E. F.
There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.
And so hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point absently and casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you're doing good work. 
 Carl Sandburg, Smoke and Steel

A mixture of contradictories which never were—perhaps could never have been—harmonized. 
John Buchan on T.E. Lawrence

We have discovered that the scheme of 'outlawing war' has made war more like an outlaw without making it less frequent and that to banish the knight does not alleviate the suffering of the peasant.
C. S. Lewis, 3rd Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

Our troops are more or less finished.
Quartermaster General Erich von Ludendorff, After the Amiens Offensive of 8 August 1918

Paris Victory Parade, 14 July 1919

At the Paris Victory Parade: 14 July 1919
Bitterness! Disgust! I have recognized the crowd. . . It is the brutish elemental crowd which does not change, which slavishly acclaims Caesar or Boulanger, which yells at the vanquished, which chooses indifferently its heroes among boxers, gladiators and captains. 
Marcel Cachin, Editor, L'Humanité

The War Summarized
It is enough, if not too much, to say that there was a great and dreadful war in Europe, and that nightmare and chaos and the abomination of desolation held sway for four horrid years. . . Men and Women acted blindly, according to their kind. . . They went to the war, they stayed home. . . they got rich, they got poor, they died, were maimed, medaled, frost-bitten, tortured, imprisoned, bored, embittered, enthusiastic, cheerful, hopeless, patient, or matter-of-fact, according to circumstances and temperament. 
Rose Macaulay, Told by an Idiot, 1923


  1. Very nice mix of perspectives and thoughts.

  2. Frederick Libby, the "Flying Buckaroo", didn't enjoy being asked about the war all the time; his audiences wanted gruesome stories, and as he put it, "We only were killed, not butchered."

  3. And here is another notable quote, written by my grandfather, war correspondent Don Martin, and published on October 13, 1918, in the Magazine Section of the New York Herald.
    "Young men they were, men who a few months past looked eagerly upon life as a glorious thing, well worth the living. Now they were volunteering for the performance of the deadliest of missions. They felt that some of them would never come back, but what of that? Volunteers were wanted, and was it not the duty of Americans to volunteer when came the call?"