A well-earned salute

In the course of a work project, I just got done skimming through the reminiscences of a British WWI soldier who later emigrated to the US and, well, did stuff around these parts.

He joined up in the initial mobilization in 1914.  He was wounded in 1916 and spent some time convalescing in a hospital in Ireland.  While there, he met with his fiancee and they mutually agreed to end their engagement.  She was just off a nervous breakdown and was a poor schoolteacher.  He had only a captain’s pay and, since his education was interrupted by the war, no long-term prospects.  He wanted to emigrate to one of the colonies (such as South Africa, where he had a sister) after the war,  she didn’t want to leave her own sister in England.  They exchanged gifts and sadly agreed to discontinue their correspondence.

Later, while still convalescing, he was relieved of the crushing burden of his virginity by a war widow in Ireland who took him in for a night.  After a bout of fear and conscience, he was checked out by a doctor (not the company doctor or prophylactic surgeon, oh no, the scandal!) who said he thought he was fine, but treated him preemptively anyway.  Oh, and who said “Ah, so [lady’s name] is up to her old tricks again, eh?  She’s probably surprised that you didn’t leave a few pound notes under the pillowcase.  But good on you, my lad, she usually doesn’t keep company with anyone less than a colonel!”

Next time he was in Ireland, he sent her a box of chocolates by express.

On and on it goes, really.  Quite the young man he was.  In 1917 he was in limbo between assignments, so he actually went AWOL, hopped a ship back over to England, and re-enlisted under an assumed name just to get away from all the confounded waiting around.  He confessed his story after the armistice and a friendly adjutant got his captain’s rank reinstated for him before his discharge.

He found after the war that of his college class, only three men survived.  Himself, and two men that were judged physically unfit for service.

And that’s not even counting the story of his panicked rebuffing of old militia colonel’s harelipped daughter’s advances.   I had to call my coworker over to read THAT passage.

Quite an extraordinary life, all things considered.


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