by: Milton, Colin
‘Northern Visions’, edited by David Hewitt, pub. Tuckwell Press 1985
During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the near-moribund vernacular verse tradition of Scotland was beginning to show signs of new life. After the age of Scott and Hogg, poetry in Scots was dominated by unenterprising imitators of Burns, writing derivative verse. As a result, towards the end of the century many observers of the Scots literary scene believed that the vernacular tradition in poetry was not likely to survive much longer; T. F. Henderson’s judgment, in his Scottish Vernacular Literature (1898), that the death of Burns was really ‘the setting of the sun’ for that tradition and that his nineteenth century successors were mere ‘twinkling lights’, serving only ‘to disclose the darkness of the all-encompassing night’(1) is typical. Yet, as C. M. Grieve and others were to point out later, even as contemporary observers drew their gloomy conclusions there were the first stirrings of new developments which were to lead to the spectacular flowering of vernacular verse in the present century.
If the signs of this new growth were not generally detected, it was because they had their roots in things which many conventionally minded literary men did not recognise as likely sources of cultural renewal. For one thing, the new vernacular impulse drew its main
inspiration not from literature but from the Scots currently spoken by ordinary Scots people. Many literary men of the time felt that the spoken word was inferior to the written, lacking its authority and stability, and so could not serve as the basis for significant creative work. Spoken Scots was not only more fluid and changeable than the literary Scots used by the imitators of Burns, it also existed in a variety of sometimes sharply distinct regional forms—another thing which was felt to make its literary use problematic. For reasons like these, it was difficult for many members of the Scottish intelligentsia in the late nineteenth century to recognise the importance of the regional impulse which was at that time gaining strength in Scots writing and imparting new vigour to it. The problem was compounded too by the fact that the renewal had as its main, though not its only centre, a part of Scotland not hitherto notable for its contribution to the high literary tradition of the nation: it was in the North-east that the use of a current spoken Scots as the basis for a literary idiom started earliest and developed most vigorously. Even C. M. Grieve, invariably scornful about the culture of the region conceded that the first phase of the modem revival of vernacular writing began there, referring in a letter to the Scottish Educational Journal in July 1925 to ‘what may be termed the North-east Revival’.(2)
One important stimulus to the literary use of regional Scots was local patriotism; writers with particular regional loyalties were moved, in Scotland and elsewhere, to resist the powerful contemporary forces making for a cultural standardisation. It was an impulse which had more than a parochial importance. Developments in the North-east can be seen as part of that general attempt, which gathered strength among progressive writers in the second half of the last century, to escape from a literary idiom which had become banal, inert and archaic—the aim was to ‘wring the neck of rhetoric’, in Verlaine’s famous phrase, and forge a vigorous and contemporary literary medium. Writers became interested in the spoken rather than the written word, in the popular, non-standard and even ‘disreputable’ forms of language—in class and regional dialects, in slang and cant, as well as in specialist and technical vocabularies of all sorts. It might seem far-fetched to link Verlaine and Charles Murray, but in some ways they were both part of the same movement.
The impulse to ‘make it new’ was active in the mainstream English literary tradition at the turn of the century, though it was slower to develop there and generally took less radical forms than in the work of European or American writers. Indeed its main representatives and propagandists, in poetry at any rate, in London before the Great War, were Americans like Pound and Eliot. The thing which made radical dissatisfaction with and rebellion against certain kinds of conventional poetic language and forms spread widely among younger English poets was, of course, the war itself. The young poets who saw active service found themselves going through kind of experience which cried out for articulation, but they also found the rhetoric and repertoire of forms available to them unsuitable or even distorting. It is a measure of how disillusioned they felt with the poetic tradition that, in the preface intended for his war poems, Wilfred Owen should have said: ‘Above all I am not concerned with Poetry’. The most powerful and memorable expression of that rejection is the conclusion of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, with its savagely ironic juxtaposition of the horrific death of an individual soldier and the blandly consolatory Horatian phrase.
Critics and literary historians have often considered the Scots literary tradition as intrinsically earthier, less refined and ‘polite’ than the English; it has often been argued that Scots writing tends to be outspoken, or even coarse in comparison with English works. Contrasting R. L. Stevenson’s Scots and English verse in Underwoods in a contemporary review, for instance, Joseph Knight observed that ‘In Scottish...a man may venture upon freedom of expression which is denied the chaster Southern muse’.(3)
J. C. Smith, writing a little later on ‘Some Characteristics of Scottish Literature’ saw this freedom as an abiding (and deplorable) charac-teristic of Scottish writing at least up to the nineteenth century; he quotes Saintsbury’s remark that ‘Literary Scots at all times ... admitted a coarseness of actual language which is rarely paralleled in literary English’. Smith’s own endorsement of the claim neatly illustrates the enervating ‘gentility’ which was the dominant force in conventional literary circles; he went on to tell his audience (his pamphlet started life as an English Association lecture) that ‘The charge unhappily is just; but you will not expect me to illustrate it’.(4)
North-east poets active at the turn of the century, like Charles Murray, Mary Symon and Violet Jacob, were crucial figures in the forging of a new language for Scots poetry; their voices differed of course, but in each case their poetic idiom was strengthened and made more original and vigorous by its connections with the energy, flexibility and directness of popular speech. The nature of the Scots literary tradition itself and the poets’ own closeness to a current vernacular, the medium of ordinary people rather than intellectuals, gave them an advantage when they came to try to express the experience of the Great War and they produced some of the most moving and distinguished verse written by civilians about that conflict. It was precisely the characteristics of the Scots literary tradition, and of the Scots vernacular itself, which made it possible for poets writing in Scots to create war poetry of distinction. In dealing with the war, those qualities of Scots which nervous literary men saw as limitations became a source of strength. Because Scots was not— and is not— the main medium of intellectual activity in Scotland, it may lack the resources for what C. M. Grieve called ‘significant intellection’, but it is firmly rooted in the concrete and physical world of common experience and reflects the tendency of ordinary, unliterary people to deal with life in terms of the particular, personal and anecdotal. If it is weak in its power to deal with abstractions, and perhaps even resistant to them, popular speech nevertheless has ample resources for expressing kinds of experience which more ‘refined’ kinds of literary language lack. Current Scots vernacular offered, at least potentially, an apt medium for conveying the appalling truth about the war, meeting the demand of Hemingway’s lieutenant Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms for a language which deals not in abstractions, but entirely in particulars. Reflecting on the carnage he has seen during the Italian retreat from Caporetto, Henry thinks:
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice ... I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.(5)
Many serving soldiers would have agreed with the words Hemingway puts in the mouth of his fictional hero, especially after the fighting on the Somme in the summer of 1916; they came to feel that the public rhetoric of patriotic sacrifice in speech, poem, sermon or leading article, was a kind of verbal smokescreen, concealing the intolerable reality of modern, mass, mechanised warfare.
The best of the vernacular poets also had another advantage when it came to dealing with war experience; because their inspiration came from popular culture, they were in touch with the folk-song and ballad tradition, in which war and suffering are frequent subjects. The popular tradition offers a particular perspective on war, one which is realistic rather than idealising, and a way of presenting violent or atrocious events which communicates them with exceptional power. In the ballads, for instance, extreme situations are treated with great restraint, in a way which accords with our intuitive sense that certain kinds of experience are almost beyond the expressive capacity of language; in contrast to the eloquent reticence of the ballads, much of the language of Wilfred Owen’s war poetry, for example, seems overstrained and melodramatic, diminishing rather than intensifying what is described. The poem which perhaps best shows how much the vernacular poets of the early twentieth century learned from the folk-song and ballad tradition about how to portray powerful and painful feelings is Charles Murray’s ‘When Will the War Be By?’, written in 1916. A brief, song-like piece in two six-line stanzas, it has a poignancy quite disproportionate to its length. While most of the poems about the Great War which appear in modern anthologies deal with the suffering of the men at the front, and often suggest that those at home are continuing unconcerned with their lives, Murray’s lyric focuses instead on the anguish of those left at home, in this case a girl whose ‘lad’ is a soldier:
“This year, nest year, sometime, never,”
A lanely lass, bringing hame the kye,
Pu’s at a floo’er wi’ a weary sigh,
An’ laich, laich, she is coontin’ ever
“This year, neist year, sometime, never,
When will the war be by?”
“Weel, wounded, missin’, deid,”
Is there nae news o’ oor lads ava?
Are they hale an’ fere that are hine awa’?
A lass raxed oot for the list to read—
“Weel, wounded, missin’, deid”;
An’ the war was by for twa.
Murray’s poem offers a salutary reminder that in the war the pain of those left behind can sometimes be as intense as that suffered by the fighting men. With no news about her lad, the ‘lanely lass’ resorts pathetically to the child’s fortune-telling technique of pulling petals from a flower (an action usually accompanied by alternating possibilities: ‘s/he loves me, s/he loves me not’. The repeated lines in the first stanza reveal the hopelessness she feels, her helpless misery and her sense of life as repetitive and meaningless. We are reminded that in this kind of situation lack of news can be almost more difficult to bear than bad news. As well as suggesting her desperate need for some sort of answer, her pulling off of the petals also poignantly suggests just how young she is, close enough to girlhood and to children’s pastimes to revert to them in this way when she is distressed. Nevertheless she is having to cope with a situation which would be a stern test for the most mature and resilient adult. And the destruction of the flower in her hands becomes emblematic of her own loss of youth and freshness and hope.
In the second verse, the repeated line of the first part of the poem undergoes a sinister transformation. It no longer raises the general question of when the war will end, but refers instead to the various fates which might have befallen the men involved in the fighting. The new list of possibilities— ‘Weel, wounded, missin’, deid’—reflects the way in which anxiety intensifies and localises as the daily newspaper reports of the war are read at home. That list, with its three-to-one chance against a man coming out of battle ‘weel’, gives quite a different impression of how civilians saw the war and what they took from their newspapers than the one usually conveyed by the work of soldier-poets like Sassoon and Owen; in fact Murray’s poem more accurately reflects how close the connections often were between soldiers and civilians in this war of mass citizen armies. The sheer extent of recruitment and regional basis meant that far from the gap between soldier and civilian increasing (as is sometimes suggested), it diminished sharply; interest in the war was far more widespread and intense than in any previous conflict and virtually everyone at home anxiously followed the fortunes of the regiments which drew men from the locality, even if they had personal involvement with anyone at the front. And after the introduction of conscription early in 1916, the already blurred distinction between soldier and civilian was weakened still further; from then on any able-bodied man in the right age-range and outside the reserved occupations could find himself in uniform.
Murray’s poem ends with the ‘lanely lass’ learning from the casual lists of the death of her lad. Unlike much of the conventional war verse of the time, the poem offers no interpretation of, or comment on, the death which would soften the blow or offer consolation to the girl (and the reader). There is no hint that the sacrifice of this particular young man is justified by the continued security of his native country or that, parted in this life, the lovers will be reunited in the next. We are left instead, as the girl is, with the stark fact of his death, and the directness, even brutality of the conclusion, its unflinching, unsentimental realism,
again reveals Murray’s debt to the folk tradition. The poem has the impersonality of much folk and popular material; there is no description of the girl or her lover, or account of their precise circumstances and there is little in the poem which ties the situation to any particular war. What it offers instead is a universal image of the separation and loss war inflicts on its civilian victims, an image which suggests, among other things, just how common such experiences have been.
Violet Jacob’s ‘The Field by the Lirk o’ the Hill’, which appeared in May 1916, deals with a later stage of the same kind of situation. While ‘When Will the War Be By?’ ends with an abruptness which mirrors the shocked numbness of the girl when she discovers her lad’s name among the list of killed, and suggests that life is over for her as much as for the dead man, Violet Jacob’s poem takes us beyond that terrible moment of discovery to the helpless misery which comes after it. In both poems we see the effect that the news of the man’s death in battle has on the person closest to him, though in Violet Jacob’s poem it is an ageing mother rather than a girl-friend or wife who is involved. Unlike Murray’s poem, ‘The Field by the Lirk o’ the Hill’ is dramatic—it is spoken by the bereaved mother—-but both poems owe much of their effectiveness to the brevity and restraint with which they treat highly charged situations and to the objectivity with which strong emotions are presented. Both poems owe these strengths to their connections with the folk-song and ballad tradition and, as is usual in that tradition, neither offers any interpretation or explanation which might help to reconcile the speakers (or the audience) to what has happened. There is just a hint in ‘The Field by the Lirk o’ the Hill’ that the mother sees her son’s death as perhaps worthwhile (‘Proud maun ye lie / Prood did ye gang’) but the emphasis in the poem as a whole is very much on unmitigated loss and grief and it ends with a repeated, anguished cry, expressing the mother’s realisation of her son’s unending absence:
Ghaists i’ the air,
Whaups voices shrill,
And you nae mair
I’ the field by the lirk o’ the hill—
Aye, bairn, nae mair, nae mair,
I’ the field by the lirk o’ the hill.
There is the same emphasis on the finality of loss in ‘Hallowe’en’ (1920) and ‘The Road to Marykirk’ (1915), but some of Violet Jacob’s poems do introduce the idea of an afterlife in heaven as a reward for dying in defence of the right. For instance, ‘Jock to the First Army’, which appeared in February 1916, takes the form of a ballad-like dialogue between the spirits of the dead Scots soldiers and a young recruit experiencing battle for the first time. The poem uses the trad-itional idea that the spirits of those who have died in a just cause can help that cause from beyond the grave, but far more striking than that reassuring idea is the extraordinarily powerful evocation in the poem of the natural and man-made horrors of the battle-field:
It’s deith comes skirlin’ through the sky,
Below there’s nocht but pain,
We canna see whaur deid men lie
For the drivin’ o’ the rain.
In its laconic, pared-down intensity, this is far more effective than many better known and wordier attempts to convey, in Wilfred Owen’s memorable phrase, ‘the hell where youth-and laughter go’.
In one of the more recent general anthologies of poetry of the Great War,(6) Dominic Hibbert and John Onions set out to challenge what they feel are the narrow principles of selection employed by editors of those collections of First War verse which have appeared since interest in the war and its effects revived in the sixties. The best-known anthologies, those edited by Brian Gardner,(7) J.M. Parsons,(8) and Jon Silkin,(9) for example, are largely devoted to poems written by men who saw active service, though they do include some poems by writers of established reputation who were not combatants (a category which includes many of the most important poets of the period including Hardy, Kipling, Pound Eliot and Yeats). However, in these anthologies there is comparatively little which reflects the impact of the war on the civilian life of the time or which shows how those at home perceived and responded to the fighting. For most present-day readers—and for anthologists and critic as well— the poetry of the Great War is essentially the body of verse produced by the best-known of the soldier-poets of the western front; the poetry, that is, of Blunden and Graves, of Owen, Rosenberg and Sassoon. One of the main reasons why few poems by civilians appear in current collections is that the soldier-poets themselves tend to suggest that theirs is the only valid testimony to the horrific events of the time and that virtually all civilian writing about the conflict is a version of the ‘old lie’ about the glory of patriotic sacrifice which they were determined to destroy. In their writing, as Brian Gardner puts it, ‘Those who had not been there were presumed to be incapable of understanding what the experience had been like and what it had meant’.(10) Those who were there often tend to portray civilians either as ignorant idealists corrupting ‘children ardent for some desperate glory’ with images of glorious death in battle, or as selfishly indifferent to the suffering of the men at the front, striking for higher wages or betraying soldier husbands with other men.
Because combat experience (and a particular kind of combat experience, at that) has been foregrounded in the creation of the current canon of Great War poetry, we have been persuaded to see one kind of war experience as somehow the essential, almost the summative experience of the Great War. We tend to feel that reading about and responding to that kind of experience takes us to the heart of the matter. It is easy enough to see why the poetry of the First World War has come to be seen in this way: the work of soldier poets offers us direct, eye-witness testimony to some of the most dramatic, horrific and heroic events of our century; it is natural to feel that their work carries a significance and authority proportional to theweight of bitter, lived experience which it embodies. The natural corollary is a temptation to ignore other kinds of war experience and other kinds of testimony, dismissing them as trivial or marginal, or even misleading, and so not worth our attention.
Hibbert and Onions suggest that it is the impulse to present the Great War as an exemplary event for the late twentieth century which lies behind the principles of selection and arrangements by most of the anthologists of the last twenty years. They argue that these collections reflect the concerns and anxieties of our own time rather than how the war was experienced by contemporaries. In the polarised, nuclear world of world politics before 1989, the Great War was turned into a ‘myth for our time’ and came to serve as a potent image of the (alleged) futility of any really large-scale military conflict in the modern world. To this end, anthologists and critics collaborated to re-edit the poetry of the war so as to make it tell, clearly and consistently, a particular story—one of ‘idealism turning to realism, satire and protest’.(11) In fact, as they show, this exemplary fable, in which uninformed patriotic enthusiasm, challenged by painful experience, turns into chastened, disillusioned wisdom, was essentially an editorial construct which radically simplified both the war itself as an event and the shifting, ambiguous and even contradictory feelings of the individuals involved in it, whether at the front or at home. Hibbert and Onions emphasise, rightly that the responses of even the best-known of the war poets, of Owen, Rosenberg and Sassoon, were nothing like as consistent, their motives as clear, or their development as conveniently progressive, as tends to be suggested. They point out too that the prevailing interpretation of the Great War, in literary if not in historical circles, depended not only on privileging certain kinds of testimony, but also on virtually excluding others.
The result is that the extensive, varied, often interesting and sometimes distinguished body of writing about the war which reflects civilian perceptions, preoccupations and experience has been virtually ignored in the currently available collections. Even editors like Hibbert and Onions, who want to offer a wider and more representative picture seem nervous about challenging the prevailing orthodoxy and though their collection has an entire section entitled ‘Civilians’, the part of their introduction which deals with it has a nervous and apologetic air and their selection of material from the home front is not large enough or various enough to do justice to the civilian response.
Because the verse which reflects the impact of the war on civilian life or which shows how non-combatants perceived and responded to the actual fighting is not easily available to us, we have been deprived of first-hand imaginative testimony about what it was like to live through one of the most crucial periods of change in the modern history of this country. It is a truism that the Great War was the first ‘total’ war in which Britain was involved (and its unprecedented character was recognised and registered in the qualifying adjective almost from the outset). More than any conflict in which this country had been engaged before, the war reached into and altered, sometimes radically and irreversibly, every corner of the national life. The social, economic and political position of women, for example, was changed out of all recognition by the war, but the feeling that ‘war poetry’ was essentially poetry written by combatants meant that work by women writers of the time was largely absent from the anthologies until the publication of Catherine Reilly’s collection of poems by women, Scars Upon My Heart, in 1981. Just how dramatically an understanding of the effects of the war is distorted by ignorance of its impact on civilian life is underlined by what J. M. Winter calls ‘the disturbing paradox’ that ‘the Great War was both an event of unparalleled carnage and suffering and the occasion of a significant improvement in the life expectancy of the civilian population, and especially of the worst-off sections of British society’.(13)
If the most recent anthologists like Hibbert and Onions have set out to give a more complete picture of the war experience than previous anthologies provide (and their principles of selection are certainly more generous than those of Gardner or Parsons), their editorial hospitality is nevertheless limited in at least two important ways. Although they set out to provide what they call ‘a readable and reliable picture of poetry by British writers’, their selection draws on a narrowly ‘literary’ range of material and includes none of the songs sung by the common soldiers (songs which, as Andrew Rutherford insists, constitute a ‘genuinely proletarian art form’.(14) And, in addition, like most English editors who have set out to record ‘British’ experience, they wholly ignore the distinguished body of verse about the war written in Scots by some of the best-known vernacular poets of the day. Most of the vernacular war poetry written by such poets as Charles Murray, John Buchan, Mary Symon and Violet Jacob shows more linguistic energy and technical accomplishment than much of the standard English material included in recent war anthologies. Until recently this dialect work has been unrepresented in the widely-circulating anthologies and is only available In regional collections like Leslie Wheeler’s Ten North-east Poets.(15) Trevor Royle’s 1990 anthology In Flanders Fields’(16) has partly remedied the situation. Royle prints a generous selection of Scottish poetry and prose of the Great War. However to gain a genuinely ‘British’ perspective on the war, Royle’s volume has to be read in association with other, largely English-based anthologies. Even then, responses to the war in indigenous languages other than English are still largely absent from the readily available collections—although Royle does include some writing in Scottish Gaelic, with accompanying translations.
The fact that the Scots vernacular tradition is usually invisible to observers south of the border is one of the reasons why the Scots poetry of the war has been ignored, but there are other reasons why the work of the best Scots poets of the period was ineligible for inclusion in the canon. All, with the exception of John Buchan were civilians; Violet Jacob and Mary Symon were not, of course, liable for military service and Charles Murray was ineligible because of his age—he was already fifty when the war broke out and the nearest he got to soldiering was a spell in the active section of the Pretoria Guard, formed to help in the suppression of de Wet’s short-lived rebellion. As well as belonging to the inferior category of ‘civilian’ poets, Violet Jacob and Mary Symon have probably also suffered from the prejudice against women encouraged by the two most influential soldier poets, Sassoon and Owen. They tend to present women as the most enthusiastic glamourisers of the war, guilty of sending impressionable young men to suffering and death in the trenches, and in poems like ‘Disabled’ or ‘The Dead-Beat’ they are also represented as treacherous and unfaithful. The exclusion of the best Scots vernacular work from the anthologies is doubly ironic because the Scots poets are by far the most successful exponents of something the soldier poets are often praised for doing; in their best work the vernacular poets employ a poetic idiom which is closely related to contemporary popular speech and which is generally more convincing and authentic than attempts by officer poets to capture the regional or class dialects of their men. That ‘use of contemporary speech and vocabulary’ which Silkin(17) points to as a strength of Owen, Sassoon and the rest tends to seem uncertain and patronising in comparison with the linguistic consistency and integrity of the Scots poems.
In the period just before the First World War, Alford-born Charles Murray was much the most admired vernacular poet; even allies of MacDiarmid, like Robert Bain in his 1926 survey of recent Scots poetry, conceded his pre-eminence.(18) His reputation was established by the expanded Hamewith, published by Constable and Company in 1909, which made his poetry more widely available than it had been through the original, locally-published edition of 1900, and it made him a writer of national rather than merely regional significance. It was Murray’s achievement above all which suggested that the vernacular verse tradition still had life left in it and his work was a major stimulus to further literary activity in north-east Scots and in other varieties of the vernacular. Just how celebrated he was at the time war broke out can be gauged from the fact that his first war verses were published on the leader page of the Times. His poem, ‘A Sough o’ War’, which appeared on 12 November 1914 (Murray used the same title for the slim collection of war poems which appeared in 1917), was in distinguished company— poems by several of the best-known literary figures of the day including Kipling, Hardy, ‘A.E.’, Binyon and Noyes also appeared in the Times in the early months of the war. Writing to Alexander Mackie, first editor of theAberdeen UniversityReview, from Pretoria in January 1915, Murray described his Times verses as ‘an honest expression of the pride Scots here felt when they saw in the cables how Scotland headed the percentage list in recruiting’.(19)
This makes ‘A Sough o’ War’ sound like a familiar kind of celebration of the Scots martial tradition and, indeed, it is largely couched in the vernacular equivalent of that stereotyped idiom used for conventional patriotic verse; however it is a rather more interesting poem than Murray’s own comment on it suggests. Despite the fact that it was written at the very beginning of the war and by a man whose age and position kept him far from the hazards of active service, there is no sign in it of the confidence in rapid and easy victory which was being widely voiced at the time. Nor does it show any enthusiasm for the sacrificing of lives; Murray claims no enobling or redemptive power for war in the manner of Rupert Brooke and other poets at the beginning of the war. On the contrary, he presents war as a grim necessity, a destructive and wasteful interruption to the normal and natural pattern of existence. It is something which disrupts the natural rhythm of things, ironically just as it reaches its most fruitful phase; it forces essentially peaceable men to abandon their proper tasks and propels them with resolution, but without enthusiasm, towards a conflict which they have not sought. The most effective part of the poem is the opening, with its evocation of an abundantly fertile landscape just before harvest-time:
The corn was turnin’, hairst was near,
But lang afore the scythes could start
A sough o’ war gaed through the land
An’ stirred it to its benmost heart.
In fact the majority of Scots volunteers came from the alleys and closes of urban south and central Scotland rather than from the agricultural districts, but despite that the rural imagery is appropriate and effective because as well as creating a picture of wasted natural plenty, it also suggests, more obliquely, a ‘lost harvest’ of human potentialities which will never now be gathered. If the scythe was an indispensable harvesting tool of the time, it is also, we remember, the implement of the Grim Reaper himself. ‘Sough’ refers most obviously to the news of the outbreak of war spreading through the community, but its primary sense of ‘breath’ and its onomatopoeic character remind us that one of its commonest meanings is a ‘deep and audible sigh’; so if the initial impression is of something ‘stirring’ in the sense of enlivening, there is a strong underlying suggestion of an almost opposite feeling of grief and mourning. And the reader familiar with Scots idioms may be reminded by the third line of the poem of the phrase which denotes the first warning of some cataclysmic event to come—‘the first sough afore the storm’.
The second, central, stanza emphasises the scale of the losses suffered even at this very early stage of the struggle and their serious effects at every social level; the castle banner droops at half mast for the death of the laird, while ‘mony a widowed cottar wife / Is greetin’ at her shank aleen’. ‘A Sough o’ War’ does not question the necessity for the war, but it is entirely free of the elation, optimism or chauvinistic triumphalism which can be found in some of the patriotic verse of the time. The at-mosphere of Murray’s poem is ominous; war is presented as a grim, destructive and prolonged ordeal. And despite the claims made by the soldier poets about the ‘bellicosity’ of civilian verse, the best of the vernacular poems recognise and lament the scale of the slaughter in just this way. Mary Symon’s ‘The Glen’s Muster-Roll’ and Violet Jacob’s ‘Jock, to the First Army’ were written later than Murray’s poem, so it is perhaps rather less surprising that they emphasise horror, suffering and loss; at the same time both were printed in the early months of 1916 and so predate the Somme fighting, which is often said to have been decisive in altering attitudes to the war.
The fact is that intelligent observers realised, almost from the outset, that the war would be a very long and destructive one: as early as the first week of September 1914, a Times leader warned that ‘This war is going to be a long one’, while in October of the same year, another leading article correctly predicted that this would be a war of attrition, which would be won not by decisive victories but by the side which was able to ‘gradually exhaust the enemy’. From time to time events occurred which raised hopes of a quicker and less expensive end to the fighting; the initial success of the ‘Russian steamroller’, the Gallipoli landings in April 1915, the ‘big push’ on the Somme in July 1916, all gave rise to bouts of optimism, even if in each case the hopes were dashed almost immediately.
Feelings about the war, both at home and at the front, fluctuated, often quite sharply, in the course of the fighting. Feelings varied, too, ac-cording to whether local units were currently engaged; the regional basis of British (as against French) recruiting both before and after the introduction of conscription early in 1916, meant that the way any particular phase of the war was perceived could vary quite considerably from one part of the country to another. Assessments of the progress of the war in the Times as early as September 1914 already show con-siderable awareness of its terrible cost; no doubt Murray’s sense of its destructiveness in ‘A Sough o’ War’ reflects such reports, but it probably also reflects the fact that some of the worst of these early losses were sustained by the local regiment, the Gordon Highlanders. In the fighting round Ypres in October in particular, a month before Murray’s poem appeared, the second Gordons suffered what the official historian describes as ‘terrible losses’(20) and by 1 November the battalion was reduced to three officers and two hundred and five men out of an original strength of nearly a thousand. Those with north-east connections would have been even more sharply aware of the grimness of the fighting at times like these than someone who felt less directly involved. And, as already indicated, the mass character of recruiting and the local basis on which it was organised meant that in this war the relationship between the military and the civilian community was different from what it had been in the past. Although Britain’s small professional army—effec-tively destroyed in the fighting retreat towards Paris in the opening phase of the war—was organised into locally recruited regiments, its small size, migratory habits and its tendency to serve as the last resort of the disgraced or delinquent meant that there was usually no very intimate relationship between units and the areas from which they drew their strength. During the Great War that rather distant relationship between soldier and civilian changed very considerably.
Of course it was much easier for poets like Murray—and Mary Symon and Violet Jacob—to portray civilian reactions to the war than to write convincingly about the fighting itself. Nevertheless, like many of their contemporaries they were genuinely concerned to try to understand, and even participate imaginatively in, the experience of the men at the front. There are a number of poems like Murray’s ‘Fae France’ which are written from the point of view of the soldier rather than the civilian. Mary Symon’s ‘After Neuve Chapelle’, one of a handful of war poems in Scots which brought her considerable prominence at the time, is another such attempt. First printed in the illustrated weekly, the Graphic, on 2 April 1915, the poem was written in the aftermath of the fighting round Neuve Chapelle village in which the Gordon Highlanders played a prominent part. Brilliantly successful at first, the action quickly deteriorated into the kind of stalemate all too familiar on the western front. The poem is spoken by a soldier who has fought (and been wounded) in the battle and Mary Symon uses a convincing colloquial, regional Scots, but not surprisingly perhaps, we are told very little about the fighting itself, except that it has been extremely bitter. Mary Symon makes her speaker’s reflections centre not on what he has experienced, but on how the news of the battle might have been received back in the glen—so she avoids any extended treatment of combat and focuses instead on the familiar world of home.
We might suppose that this failure to present life at the front is the inevitable consequence of civilian ignorance of what conditions there were like; we know that this was the first war in which the authorities made determined and systematic attempt to control news and we tend to be too ready to believe the claims made by the soldier poets that home opinion was manipulated with almost total success. Certainly the press, especially the mass-circulation press, was full of inspiring reports of allied successes and the cowardliness and perfidy of the Hun, but because of the very large numbers of men involved in the fighting, many people at home had access, through fathers, husbands or brothers, to authentic, first-hand information. The more responsible newspapers carried a curious mixture of different kinds of war reporting, ranging from obvious propaganda pieces, written at a safe distance from the front (these can usually be recognised by their Boy’s-Own-Paper headlines— ‘A Brilliant Affair’ or ‘Smart Work with the Bayonet’) to letters and reports from serving soldiers which are quite clearly authentic, expressive and moving. Civilians also learned about the war in the press through official communiques and, of course, through the lists of casualties which, in their dense small print columns, must often have made an impression on readers which outweighed the optimism of reports on other pages. The scale of casualties, even in the first phase of the war, made a tremendous impact on informed civilian reports of the fighting, which emphasised that this was a far more destructive war than any of the previous ones in which Britain had been involved. The Somme offensive offered tragic confirmation of this fact, but did not really alter the way in which the war was seen: much of the vernacular verse I will be referring to was written before July 1916, but nevertheless shows a sharp awareness of the destructiveness of the fighting and the strongest, though not the only note in it, is an elegiac one.
Looking back, we tend to assume that patriotic fervour and enthusiasm for the war was virtually universal at the time, especially during the early months, when many people thought that the fighting would be over by Christmas. Recruiting figures lend support to this view: by the end of 1914 alone, over a million men had joined the colours and nearly two and a half million had enlisted before conscription was introduced early in 1916. The public response was so great that pacifists and military alike were quite unprepared for it:
It was the hope of pacifists in the pre-war period that military mobilisation on such a scale was impossible. They were profoundly wrong because they misjudged completely the strength of patriotic sentiment among the population as a whole at the beginning of the war. Military planners, too, had no idea that such an enterprise as the voluntary recruitment of over two million men was a feasible proposition.(21)
Statistics like these make it difficult to understand the anxieties about recruiting and about the level of popular support for the war which were being expressed, but there is contemporary evidence, both of a literary and a factual kind, which indicates the popular response to the war was less monolithic than it seems.
On 26 November 1914, the popular novelist Stanley Weyman wrote to the Times from his home near Ruthin in North Wales. What he had to say about popular support for the war, in his area at least, is likely to startle the present-day reader:
I live the year round in the country, and can gauge what my neighbours are thinking and what they know. They know that there is a war in France and Belgium or in some distant part. They know that we are mixed up in it as we have been mixed up in wars before. They know that the gentry are keen on it, but the gentry are apt to be keen on wars—they suspect vaguely that the gentry get something out of wars. And this is pretty well the sum of their knowledge—a war, dim, distant, somewhere in foreign parts, in which we are engaged. The upshot is that from the three eastward parishes, covering a large spread of hill country, barely one man, if one man, is serving in England or at the front; and of other parishes, up and down, the same may be said. The small town to the west has done its part, has done not unworthily. But the farmers and the farmer’s sons and the farmer’s men shrug their shoulders and think, ‘Wars are for the wastrels; it’s no business of ours.’(22)
Weyman’s letter suggests that indifference and even hostility to the war was widespread among certain groups and in certain areas. It implies that outright opposition to the war from the outset was not confined, as we usually imagine it was, to insignificant minorities animated by religious, moral or political principles. My maternal grandfather bel-onged to one such group, the Marxist Social Democratic Federation, and believed that bearing arms against his fellow-working men in field-grey would be a betrayal of international proletarian solidarity. Leaving his job as a building mason in Aberdeen, he took refuge in the country round about, where he found work for a time with local farmers prepared to turn a blind eye to his desertion of the national cause. Evidently the attitudes described by Stanley Weyman were to be found in rural Scotland as well as rural Wales and the mordant satire of Charles Murray’s ‘Dockens More His Peers’ had a basis in real local circum-stances.
Weyman’s letter is a reminder of just how confined the world of ordinary people could be, particularly in rural districts, in the earlier part of the present century—despite the nineteenth century revolution in transport, the extension of schooling and the rise of the mass-circulation press. Many ordinary citizens of the most successful imperial nation in history had only a dim and generalised sense of the world beyond their own locality. For such people, foreign countries seemed impossibly vague and distant places and they could not imagine how anything that happened there—even if it was a war in which Britain was involved— could directly effect their lives. It was an attitude which recent British military experience had done much to reinforce; most of the wars in which British troops had been involved had happened in far-off places against technologically inferior native opposition. Meanwhile, the territorial integrity of Britain itself was guaranteed by the most powerful navy in the world. Wars could safely be left to a small professional army largely composed of its two traditional elements—the gentry and the wastrels—while the rest of the population went about their normal business.
Weyman’s concern was that the unprecedented nature of the Great War, the fact that it was a radically different kind of conflict from any in which Britain had been engaged before, had not got through to a sig-nificant section of the population. As a result, they were unaware of the serious and immediate danger the country was in and unaware too of the ideological threat which German expansionism presented to the best values of European culture. His letter is not merely describing a state of affairs of course; it is part of a current debate about the effectiveness with which the government was presenting the case for the war to the public and there may be an element of exaggeration in it. Nevertheless there is no reason to doubt its fundamental accuracy. Some of the literary evidence certainly supports his claims. Weyman suggests that both class and the sort of community people belong to had a significant influence on their perception of the war. While ordinary, working people were aware that the gentry were ‘keen’ on it, they were inclined to dismiss this as merely a familiar idiosyncrasy of that class. The other main contrast is between townsman and countryman; the social psychology of urban and rural communities is different and the ‘farmers and farmer’s sons and the farmer’s men’ were far less responsive to official propaganda than the excitable townsman (it is significant that Sassoon’s ‘Blighters’, one of the best-known attacks on popular chauvinism, has an urban, music-hall setting). Actual numbers of men enlisting were not, of course, released at the time, but such con-temporary statistics as were generally available seem to confirm Wey-man’s assertions because they show sharply different levels of response in different areas. In a speech to the House of Lords on 8 January 1915, reported in the Times on the following day, Lord Middleton quoted official percentages of recruits by region for the first three months of the war. In all urban regions of the country, a significantly higher percen-tage of men of military age volunteered in this period than did so from the rural regions. Figures for the first ranged from southern Scotland with 237 per 10,000 down to northern Ireland with 127 per 10,000; in rural areas, the north of Scotland led with 93 per 10,000, while the south-west of Ireland was (unsurprisingly) last with 32 per 10,000.
This anecdotal and statistical evidence is supported by literary evidence; Charles Murray’s ‘The Wife on the War’, for instance, reads like a domestic instance of the contrasting views which Weyman links with entire social groups. It is a poem which has its roots as much in a certain traditional kind of contrast between male and female outlooks as in grim contemporary realities; in it Murray sets the woman’s absorption in the concrete, domestic and local against the man’s interest in the world of politics and social events, contending principles and conflicting ideologies. Murray presents the contrast through a familiar kind of comic narrative; essentially the poem tells the same story as ‘The Wee Cooper o’ Fife’ or The Taming of the Shrew. In all these stories, an assertive, unco-operative woman, who challenges male authority, is put in her place by a usually patient man who has been provoked beyond endurance. In ‘The Wife on the War’, as in ‘The Wee Cooper o’ Fife’, the wife ‘reforms’ when the husband outlines the violent consequences which will follow if she persists in her present attitudes and in both cases a comic volte-face ensues which puts the relationship back on its ‘natural’ footing. But the wife’s inability to see the relevance of the war to her own life in Murray’s poem is not an example of some uniquely feminine kind of blindness—the prosperous farmer, John Watt of Dockenhill in ‘Dockens More His Peers’ shows an even more stubborn refusal to recognise its importance. ‘Dockens’ is a dramatic monologue In which Watt, addressing the local Exemption Tribunal, finds all sorts of reasons why he cannot spare any of the men on the farm—and especially his sons—for war service. The tone of the two poems is very different, with the wife being treated in a genially comic spirit and Watt in a mordantly satiric one, but the characters are alike in regarding the war as a personal inconvenience and in resenting the changes it threatens to make in their accustomed way of life. Both are reluctant to make the smallest sacrifice to help the national cause and in this, both represent an outlook which Weyman suggested was deeply-rooted among country people.
The main difference between the two characters is that while the wife’s attitude is based on ignorance, ‘Dockens’ is fully aware of the national peril but determined that other people should make the sacrifices needed to avert it. Like the farmers in Weyman’s letter, Watt regards the war effort as having no claim on himself or his family and he carries his point partly by the crude device of reminding the tribunal members of their debts to him (‘peers’ ironically suggests that Watt and his judges are morally indistinguishable and that all the local worthies share his selfish attitudes). He complains, as farmers did regularly from early in the war, about the difficulties created by men leaving for the front:
Ye’ve grun yersel’s an’ ken the tyauve it is to wirk a ferm,
An’ a’ the fash we’ve had wi’ fouk gyaun aff afore the term;
We’ve nane to spare for sojerin’, that’s nae oor wark ava’.
In fact, the details we are given about him make it clear that far from ‘tyauvin” with the land, or struggling (as he implies) to find his rent, he is very prosperous indeed, with two grown sons, three feed men and the deemie to help with the work of the farm—and he himself is clearly in the prime of life.
The couple in ‘The Wife on the War’ are in a very different position; they are an ageing cottar couple and only employ one man and a girl. The wife has to struggle with the multitude of jobs which the wife of a small farmer has to do, so we have considerably sympathy for her out-burst when her husband injudiciously refers to the military struggle going on in Europe:
The wifie was thrang wi’ the coggin’ o’ caur,
An’ makin’ new cheese an’ the yirnin’ o’t,
But when the guidman loot a wird aboot war
She fairly got on to the girnin’ o’t.
Her girns are an entertaining mixture of the trivial and the serious, from the want of ‘bear-meal’ for bannocks (the miller has enlisted) and the fact that shopkeepers now charge for pins, to the genuinely difficult question of how they will be able to keep the croft going:
There’s nae teucher ley than oor ain on the Don
An’ fa’s gyaun to tackle the plooin’ o’t?
It becomes clear as her list of complaints continues that the main reason for her irritation is the fact that the aul’ man’s intense interest in the war news has left her with even more to do than usual—and has also involved extra expense; she reproaches him with:
…the fite siller on papers ye spen’,
The time that ye connach at readin’ o’t,
Wi’ specs on, ye hunker for ‘oors upon en’,
The wark’s left to me an’ the speedin’ o’t.
Even after many decades of inflation, this North-east reader still res-ponds sympathetically to the scandalised force of fite siller—an’ nae jist coppers—being squandered on newspapers.
At this point, the aul’ man responds; evidently his wife’s comments have hit the mark, because it is noticeable in what follows that though he first silences her, then converts her to his point of view, he does not actually deny her charges. What he does say reads like a domestic equivalent of the kind of arguments which Weyman urges the authorities to adopt so as to get through to those who have not yet realised the seriousness of the situation. At the end of his letter, the novelist suggested that:
…if the government were to let my neighbours know that in certain contingencies the Germans may land on our shores, that here in England corn stacks and hay stacks may go up in smoke, farms be stripped, farmhouses burned, small towns be shelled…then my neighbours’ knowledge and their conduct would be wholly different.
If official propaganda is to succeed, it must present the war as a direct and serious threat to the everyday lives of ordinary, unidealistic people; the conventional rhetoric of a struggle between opposing moral principles or the vindication of national honour will not move people whose thought processes are rooted in the particular and concrete and whose patriotism is not an abstract political commitment but an intense attachment to a specific locality and way of life. So the aul’ man makes clear to his wife that the apparently irrelevant large-scale political events reported in the newspapers may have serious effects on their own immediate circumstances and he paints a comic picture of her flight from the invading Hun:
Lord! I can see ye, gyaun doon the neep dreels,
Wi’ barely a steek for the happin’ o’t,
An’ a lang soople sodjer that’s hard at your heels
Wi’ a dirk i’ your ribs for the stappin’ o’t.
The poem goes on to make a joke of reports of German ill-treatment of civilians in a way that suggests that shrewd observers like Murray recognised them as, for the most part, journalistic fabrications; the aul’ man clinches his argument by saying that his wife’s property will be at risk as well as her person, especially her cherished hand-reared stock, and it is this last threat, as much as anything else which changes her view:
They’ll nail your twa lugs to the muckle mill door,
Like a futtrat that’s come to the skinnin’ o’t,
An’ thraw your deuks’ necks an’ mak’ broth o’ your caur—
Pit that on your reel for the spinnin’ o’t.
At this appalling prospect, the wife surrenders and at once becomes even more zealously patriotic than the aul’ man.
Though the poem ends with the wife’s ‘conversion’, her pungent, reductive comments on the war continue to reverberate. She is the voice of one kind of enduring popular perspective on high politics, expressing a suspicion of the motives of those in authority which has its roots in centuries of folk-experience, and she cuts through the conventional, dignifying rhetoric with her telling image of the war as a brawl in the street between two young louts:
Dyod! the nation that winna let ithers aleen
Deserves a lang knife in the wizzen o’t.
But it blecks me to see fit it maitters to hiz
Gin Kaiser or Tsar hae the wytin’ o’t,
Gin the tane tak’s a tit at the tither chiel’s niz
Need ye hae a han’ at the snytin’ o’t?
No doubt Murray was wholly committed to the war on a conscious level, but the vigorous way in which the wife’s point of view is presented (and it is her view of things which gives the poem its title after all) suggests that at some level his attitude was more ambivalent, and that the sceptical folk-voice of the wife speaks for a submerged, but still active, part of his own nature; inside the establishment Charles Murray, high public official in South Africa, the son of the Donside carpenter lived on. In real life, the kind of peasant outlook which the wife represents is extremely resilient—only in something like a comic poem can it be altered instantaneously—and observers at the front in northern France and Belgium, in the early stages of the war at least, were astonished to see peasant farmers continuing to cultivate their land even when the area had become a battle-zone. Contemporary newspaper reports in 1914 and 1915 contain references to such behaviour. On the surface Murray’s poem presents such attitudes as ignorant and irrational but it is possible to see them in quite a different way, as things to be celebrated, as Hardy did in one of the finest of all poems to come out of the war, ‘In Time of “The Breaking of Nations”’. In it, high politics are seen as ephemeral against the fundamental and enduring human activities—the farmer harrowing clods and burning couch-grass, maintaining the fertility of the earth, the young lovers disappearing into the woods, maintaining another kind of fertility; these, Hardy says ‘... will go onward the same / Though Dynasties pass’.
Anxiety about the level of popular support for the war, particularly as reflected in the numbers enlisting, was recurrent before the introduction of conscription and it was increased by the secrecy which the gov-ernment maintained over recruiting. The Times leader of 7 November 1914, is fairly typical in the fears it expresses about recruiting falling off because of a general feeling that the greatest danger has passed. The writer argues that this complacency must be attacked because:
The need for men is just as urgent as it was in the days after the retreat from Mons, when the patriotic impulse brought so many thousands to the colours ... Britain can have as many volunteers as she wants, if the danger of the present situation is brought home to the minds of the present generation.
But, he says, the government has failed to convey just how great that danger is:
The men are there. They are ready and willing, if the realities of the situation are brought home to them. The bulk of the people do not understand that we are in the first stages of a grapple for life and death with two vast military Monarchies who will destroy us if they can. They seem to think that the issue is virtually decided and decided in our favour. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Now that we know the scale on which volunteers came forward, especially at this stage of the war, we feel surprised at this kind of worry; as it was, the army had a great deal of difficulty in accommodating, clothing and training the flood of recruits. Unfounded though the anxiety now seems, it persisted and grew stronger through 1914 and 1915 as it became clear that the war would be a long one and as the enormous scale of the casualties became more and more apparent. Many newspapers published casualty lists from very early in the war—the first appeared in the Times on 3 September 1914—and as the number of readers with ties to men at the front increased, these became among the most important items of news, as it is in ‘When Will the War Be By?’.
If Murray’s ‘A Sough o’ War’ had been inspired by the enthusiasm of his fellow Scots for joining up, by the time he came to write ‘Wha Bares a Blade for Scotland’ in the following year his confidence in the martial ardour of his countrymen had waned. While the earlier poem had ended with a confident assertion that whatever their losses, the Scots would continue to offer themselves till the struggle was successfully concluded and the predator driven off, ‘Wha Bares a Blade’ is one of that generally despised category, the ‘recruiting poem’, written to persuade the reluctant to enlist. Many such poems were written, particularly in the early part of the war, but though they are a large group they are not, as people sometimes suppose, the dominant kind of civilian verse. Only three or four of the poems written by the three poets under discussion could be classed as ‘recruiting’ verse and none of this handful of poems—Murray’s ‘Wha Bares a Blade’ or ‘Bundle an’ Go’, Mary Symon’s ‘After Neuve Chapelle’ or ‘A Recruit for the Gordons’—is bellicose or militaristic; there is no sign in them of that quasi-mystical glorification of blood-sacrifice which is sometimes said to be the characteristic mood of such poetry.
True, they are not particularly good poems either, but they are interesting as illustrations of the persuasive strategies which poets of the time thought might encourage men to enlist and therefore as evidence of how contemporaries saw the moral and political issues raised by the war. One striking thing in these poems is that they invoke Scotland or a specific locality in Scotland; they do not set out to rally men to the cause of Britain or of the Empire. No doubt poets wanted to invoke the romance which surrounded (and to some extent still surrounds) the Scottish soldier, but they also understood that ordinary people feel attached not to large and fairly abstract political entities, but to particular and familiar localities and traditions and it is the sense that these are threatened which will rouse them. The point is made with characteristic brevity and force by J. C. Milne:
Fecht for Britain? Hoot awa!
For Bonnie Scotland? Imph, man, na!
For Lochnagar? Wi’ clook and claw!(23)
For Charles Murray and Mary Symon it was this local and regional rootedness and the cultural diversity it supported which was one of the most important things at risk in the war; it was one of the main things the nation was fighting for against the ‘tendencies to road-roller everything and everybody to a dead level and to “standardise” life’. Such tendencies were present in Britain itself, of course, and the ver-nacularists were active in resisting them, but it was widely felt that they had found their most menacing expression in an expansionist Germany. Contemporaries were very conscious of the way in which the individual German States had been reshaped in the authoritarian, militaristic image of Prussia when the unified German state was created; many saw the German aggression of 1914 as an attempt to extend the process of ‘prussianisation’ beyond the borders of Germany itself, refashioning Europe’s peoples to one pattern and establishing ‘one general scheme of Kultur’.(24) Against that attempt, the particularist and nationalist spirit had risen in ‘implacable revolt’ and it was this spirit which Britain represented and was defending. The strong emphasis on local identity— and the use of regional vernacular—in these poems both expresses such feelings and is intended to play on them. Several of Violet Jacob’s elegiac poems, ‘The Road to Marykirk’ and ‘Montrose’ for example, underline this love of place by suggesting that heaven itself could hardly compensate for the loss of landscape of home even if, as in the latter, the location and climate seem far from paradisal. The speaker offers a prayer that ‘Gin! should fa ... /And thae houms o’ France / Haud me for guid an’ a”, he might be allowed to revisit Angus briefly where:
I’ll hear the bar
Loupin’ in its place,
An’ see the steeple’s face
Dim i’ the creepin haar;
And the toon clock’s sang
Will cry through the weit,
And the coal-bells ring, aye ring, on the cairts as they gang
I’ the droukit street.
‘Heaven’s hames’ in contrast are ‘bricht’ but, the speaker says, ‘... my he’rt’s aye back / Whaur my am toon stands’.
Germanic ‘Kultur’ was seen as intrinsically militaristic as well as hostile to cultural diversity, so British war poetry—even ‘recruiting’ verse—is often consciously anti-militaristic; poets had the difficult task of arousing and maintaining the fighting spirit in defence of a cultural ethos which was generally seen as peaceable, tolerant and unfanatical. Contemporaries often contrasted what they saw as the traditional British attitude to wars and fighting—things reluctantly undertaken when fundamental values are at stake—with what they felt was a sinister German enthusiasm for war for its own sake, as a legitimate expression of racial or national dynamism; the letter from a correspondent to the Times in September which defines the force animating modern Germany as ‘Darwinism turned into a rule of life for men and nations’ is typical of many such comments at the time. ‘A Recruit for the Gordons’ and ‘Bundle an’ Go’ illustrate the ‘unmilitaristic’ tone appropriate to this contrast between kultur and culture. Both are spoken by farm-workers about to leave their jobs and enlist (two of Dockens’s men leaving before the term, perhaps) but neither speaker sees war primarily in terms of honour and glory. The speaker of Mary Symon’s poem does refer to the political situation in familiar terms (‘Wi’ Huns upon wir thrashel-stane /An’ half the world red wud’), but becoming a soldier is not something that comes easily to him even in these threatening circumstances. His feelings when he first tries his uniform on are of self-consciousness and embarrassment and evidently his fellow farm workers feel the same way about soldiering because their reaction is one of friendly mockery:
…sae I paumered back an’ fore
Practeesin’ in my kilt,
An’ Sownock fae the bothy door
Kame-sowfed a martial lilt
They leuch till howe an’ hill-tap rang.
But wearing the uniform brings about a change in the speaker, making him aware of a war-like side he never knew he possessed till now:
I steppit saft mysel’
For aye anaith my bonnet sang
Bit things I couldna tell.
The transformation is all the more startling because for all his ‘six feet ane o’ brawn and bane’, Mary Symon’s plooman has been unusually soft-hearted for a countryman—he has ‘never shot a craw / Nor killed a cushy-doo’; the picture we get is of someone who is naturally peaceable, but who has formidable fighting qualities once aroused and in this the speaker is intended as a representative figure, standing for the ordinary Scotsman (or Briton). The war-like qualities, the poem suggests, are only called forth in situations like the present one, when an aggressive power attempts to impose its will on free men. In discovering his latent martial instincts, the plooman is also discovering his intimate connections with his forebears because ‘aul’ granda / Did things at Waterloo’, and in this way he is made to embody a long tradition of resistance to Continental tyranny.
In Charles Murray’s ‘Bundle an’ Go’, the speaker’s motives seem to have even less to do with politics; on the face of it, the speaker’s decision to enlist has more to do with his present struggles with ‘the weather, the wark an’ the weemen’—humorously seen as providing training for the business of ‘sodgerin’—than with any patriotic motive. In fact, there is nothing in the poem which links it specifically with the Great War and it is best seen—as its title suggests—as belonging to a familiar folk-mode, with its immediate roots in the bothy ballad, in which similar complaints about farms and farm work, north-east weather (and north-east women) occur:
The snaw’s lyin’ deep by the dyke faur it driftit,
The spring fan it comes will be cankert an’ weet,
The yokin’ half throu’ aye afore the mist’s liftit,
There may be a sun, but it’s seldom we see’t.
Seldom we see’t.
We hear o’ the sun but it’s seldom we see’t.
The lass I was coortin’ has mairiet the miller,
A dusty dour deevil, as bide ye she’ll see,
Bit noo she’s awa’ it’s a savin’- o’ siller,
Nae mair she’ll get fine readin’ sweeties fae me.
Sweeties fae me.
The times she got quarters o’ sweeties fae me!
‘Bundle an’ Go’ might seem to trivialise what is involved in sodgerin’, particularly in the way in which it suggests that ‘facin’ the fae’ is no much worse than facing the other things mentioned but, appropriately enough for a dramatic poem, it reflects the ordinary man’s reluctance to admit to grand or idealistic motives for joining up. Ordinary men are moved by idealism but, as the soldiers’ songs of the Great War show, they usually conceal it under humorous self-deprecation or an ap-pearance of cynicism. It is only in the last lines of Murray’s poem that the speaker’s sense of the importance and urgency of the situation surfaces:
…waukin’ or dreamin’ I hear the pipes screamin’
‘Hie, Jock, are ye ready to bundle an’ go?’
Bundle an’ go.
Wha bides whan the pipes bid him ‘Bundle an’ Go’?
In the verses prefaced to his 1915 novel, ‘The First Hundred Thousand,’(25) written in tribute to the men of the first ‘Kitchener Army’, Ian Hay captures the same humorously stoical tone and disavowal of ‘grand’ motives:
yesterday, we said farwell
To plough; to pit; to dock; to mill.
For glory? Drop it! Oh well—
To have a slap at Kaiser Bill.
It is important when considering this kind of verse to realise that encouraging men to volunteer had usually nothing to do with any desire to keep the war going or with any quasi-mystical exaltation of combat. Those who were most aware of the unprecedented destructiveness of this war were convinced, with reason, that the way to end the murderous stalemate, and thus to shorten the war, was to confront the enemy in overwhelming numbers. It is not enthusiasm for war in itself which lies behind the recruiting poems but the recognition, summed up in the Times report from the front just after the capture of Neuve Chapelle village in March 1915 that, because of the fighting qualities of the enemy, he would succumb only to the ‘ever-increasing pressure of vast numbers of men and guns’.
The vernacular idiom used by Charles Murray, Violet Jacob and Mary Symon, particularly in these poems which are closest to the colloquial spoken Scots of the north-east, gives their work a concreteness, realism and energy which distinguishes it sharply from conventional patriotic verse, with its banal rhetoric, its parade of abstractions and its emblems drawn from vanished modes of warfare. Their language resisted such things because it was rooted in the speaking voices of people who did not think in that kind of way—unlike many of the educated, middle-class volunteers of the time who were seduced by the ‘old lie’. Even in their recruiting poems, the three vernacular poets we are considering based their appeal on a tradition which is not a militaristic one; despite the distinction of the Scots fighting tradition, they suggest that the modern Scot is a reluctant warrior whose fighting qualities are buried deep and only reappear when his homeland and way of life are directly threatened. When they do reappear they are formidable, but even when he is in uniform, the ordinary Scotsman refuses to take the honour and glory aspect of war seriously.
In the early part of the war at least, according to Weyman, many country people continued to feed that the war was irrelevant to their lives and that military service was for those who were wild and unsettled and unable to fit into ordinary life. Charles Murray’s ‘Fae France’ might almost be an illustration of this belief, because the speaker—or the writer, rather, because the poem purports to be a letter from a field-hospital—is the scape-grace of a small north-east community. By his own account, fighting has been his main interest since his early childhood:
There’s me, fan but a bairn in colts, nae big aneuch to herd,
Would seener steek my nieves an’ fecht, than dook or ca’ my gird.
This violent streak is so fundamental to his nature that even repeated punishment does nothing to moderate it and he continues to fight incessantly as a young man until one particular encounter with ‘Main’s man ... about a queyn’ leads to an appearance before the sheriff and a heavy fine. Ironically Sandy is able to pay without resorting to desperate measures like selling his watch or giving up his pipe because he is an expert poacher and the ‘fleein’ merchant’ buys game without asking where it comes from. The poem centres on the paradox of this lawless, violent, anarchic figure fighting to preserve the very community he is usually at odds with, and doing it with distinction. Murray underlines the fact that it is the very qualities which make him such a disruptive figure in peacetime society which also make him a fine soldier—an irony which he underlines wryly himself; while at home:
mony a yark an’ ruggit lug I got to gar me gree,
But here, oonless I’m layin’ on, I’m seldom latten be.
And in a reversal of the usual way of seeing things, Sandy sees life at the front in terms of the farming life he has left, as if were the life in the trenches which is the natural kind of existence for him:
never toon nor fee afore has shootit me sae weel;
They gie me maet, an’ beets an’ claes, wi’ files an antrin dram
— Come term-time let them flit ‘at likes, I’m bidin’ faur I am.
We’re aware from the outset that this kind of enthusiasm has little in common with the idealistic kind expressed most famously by Rupert Brooke. Sandy does refer briefly to the origins of the war, comically describing them in terms derived from the kind of situation he is all too familiar with; Scotland is presented as a formidable village matron intervening to stop a fight between two lads in the street. But Sandy doesn’t lay claim to any real understanding of the political issues and is content to leave them to cleverer people ‘wi’ better thooms than me’ who can ‘redd the raivell’t snorl’. According to Weyman, ordinary country people thought that the gentry had a curious enthusiasm for war and Sandy’s account seems to confirm this, because the fire-eating young officer with an impressive command of vernacular abuse who takes him on a two-man raid on the German trenches is the son of the sheriff who sentenced him for brawling. While the father punishes him for knocking down Mains’s man, the son berates him for not being violent enough when there are Germans ‘cryin’ to be killed’. Murray can hardly have been unaware of the irony of the situation. The des-rcription that follows of a grenade attack on an enemy dug-out has one very striking feature; Sandy compares the singing of the unsuspecting Germans to that of a Scots church choir:
They bummed an’ droned some unco tune as we crap up; it raise Like fae the daft I’ve hard the quire lift up some paraphrase.
It is a comparison which is disturbing because it suggests that German and Scots culture are similar in fundamental ways and that the enemy are far from being the monsters or barbarians of official propaganda. The men on the other side are very much like the Scots themselves, and the reader can see this, even if the unperceptive speaker cannot. Sandy’s glee at the success of the raid is psychologically accurate - many contemporary accounts record the satisfaction men felt at mastering military skills and putting them into action—but it also reminds us that he is someone who has been in constant conflict with the sober and godly members of his own community. There is a hint of the scapegrace taking a kind of vicarious revenge on the singers of paraphrases and the forces of respectability generally.
Sandy’s letter has a vigour which represents his turbulent energy rather than any mastery of the written word—in the light of what we learn about his early life it is difficult to imagine him writing at length at all, let alone writing as fluently and vividly as he does. We respond to the kind of amoral vitality he represents, but, at the same time, Murray makes him describe the raid in a way which also suggests his moral immaturity and inadequacy. For Sandy the whole business has been like lads playing truant at school to pursue these casually cruel activities which country boys often delighted in; for him, killing men is like going ‘to stane young puddocks i’ the stank’. In Mary Symon’s ‘The Glen’s Muster-Roll’, the old dominie remembers two of his pupils asking excitedly if they can ‘win oot to droon a fulp’ and references like these remind us of the unthinking callousness of aspects of country life at the time and are designed partly to suggest that it would be unfair to judge Sandy and those like him by the standards we might apply to those from different backgrounds. Despite what he does—and the relish with which he describes it—we feel that Sandy is morally undeveloped rather than brutal and he retains our sympathy. And we find it easier to sympathise because the poem also suggests that Sandy is being changed by his war experience. He is now in hospital after being wounded in a counter-attack after his unit has been gas-shelled (a detail which establishes that the poem must have been written after the first large-scale use of gas at Ypres in April 1915) and he finds himself, for all his relish for fighting, thinking for the first time in his life, of the attractions of a steady, settled, domestic life. Of course the attractive nurse attending him has something to do with the change as well. In his lack of interest in the moral or political aspects of the war, Sandy is a more representative figure than we might think: contemporary sources, both fictional and non-fictional confirm just how important was the feeling that military service was a great adventure, a holiday from the routine and familiar. It is this which explains why there was often a kind of holiday spirit among men in training and even, at times, when they were on active service.
But the relish for combat which Sandy expresses is not the dominant sentiment in the vernacular war poetry of the North-east; the strongest note is the elegiac one. Mary Symon’s ‘The Glen’s Muster-Roll’, which first appeared in the Aberdeen University Review in February 1916, is perhaps the finest vernacular elegy to come out of the Great War and was certainly the poem which aroused the greatest response at the time among people in the North-east. Leslie Wheeler says of it that in few works ‘will one find the sheer awfulness and horror of war more simply, but impressively, portrayed.’(26) As its title suggests, ‘The Glen’s Muster-Roll’ is not an elegy for an individual but for all the young men of a particular community who have gone to war and it suggests the loss not just of a number of individuals, but of an entire generation. Mary Symon confronts here the grimly ironic fact that fighting to defend the values this kind of community represents has damaged or destroyed a great many of those who represent its future. Like all elegies, its starting point is not the simple fact of death itself, but the problematic and tragic busi-ness of premature death, in this case overtaking young men who are just beginning their adult lives and we are faced too with the even more appalling situation of the victim of war who has survived, but whose physical and mental injuries have condemned him to a kind of living death.
We follow the recollections of the village dominie as he hangs up the muster-roll on the wall of the school-room; seeing the names of the men who have enlisted from the scattered rural community, he remembers them as boys and young men, nearly all pupils of his at the village school. Mary Symon’s choice of the dominie as her narrator rules out any kind of jingoistic response to the war, because he is the man in the community most intimately concerned with the young and their potentialities. True, the dominie does begin by expressing familiar feelings of patriotic pride at the number of his pupils who have enlisted—the roll has ‘Near han’ a hunner fechtin’ men, an’ they a’ were loons o’ mine’—but as he remembers, with mingled affection and amusement, the varied personalities and aptitudes of his ‘loons’, his feelings and the poem become more sombre. Because the poem focuses on individuals personally known to the speaker (even if imaginary ones) and because they come vividly to life for us as readers when the dominie recalls a characteristic gesture or habit or incident, neither he nor we can find refuge in the generalisations and abstractions of conventional patriotic rhetoric.
Though the dominic’s fondest (and bitterest) memory is of Robbie, his most promising ‘classic’, with his ‘Homer men’t wi tow’, he also recalls his wilder, quite unacademic pupils with affection, in a way which suggests that he is not devoted to academic interests at the expense of everything else, but values the sheer variety of personality and interests around him. The picture of the school we get from his recollections is a strikingly democratic one—pupils work at their own pace and at app-ropriate tasks, the poor ‘lad o’ pairts’ is encouraged and if neither the laird’s not the minister’s son attends, the school caters for the whole of the rest of the social range of the area. But it is a picture of something valuable which may have gone for good, because with the sacrifice of so many of its young men, the community may have no future.
In its references to events in the war (and this poem comes closer than any other I have met to dealing with the war in the terms Hemingway’s Frederic Henry lays down—it is densely particular in its use of the actual names of places, units and engagements), the poem emphasises suffering, defeat and death rather than victory. After the confident patriotic swing of the opening lines, the dominie’s first personal memory is of Dysie, ‘deid an’ drooned lang syne’ in the torpedoed cruiser Cressy. For the contemporary reader, the ship’s name would have immediately called up one of the most traumatic events of the first months of the war, the sinking by a single German submarine, of no less than three armoured cruisers (the others were the Hogue and the Aboukir) off the Dutch coast on 22 September 1914. Less than 800 men, out of a total complement of 1459 on the three ships, were saved; a sub-head in the Aberdeen Journal report on the following day which reads ‘Aberdeen man on the Cressy’ may account for Mary Symon’s use of that particular ship. Dysie’s is the first death that comes to mind and perhaps because of that, the dominic is able to invoke the conventional idea of the necessary sacrifice of life to protect the peace and security of home. In the process, the master’s picture of the ordinary life of the community is allegorised and the dead man and those like him are turned into emblems, abstracting and distancing what has happened:
It’s Peace, it’s Hame—but owre the Ben the coastal
And we ken that Britain’s bastions mean—that sailor Loon o’mine.
Thinking about Dysie makes him puzzle about why this landward community has produced so many wanderers; his reference to the three young men, ‘exiles on far Australian plains’, who have been involved in the Gallipoli fighting, is a reminder that the years just before the war were marked by very heavy out-migration from the North-east, mainly of young men. Gallipoli too was a bitter failure, despite the initial hopes raised by the landings in April 1915, that the operation might shorten the war. The dominie’s specific references—to Chanak Bahr (presumably his inaccurate recollection of Chunuk Bair, the rugged massif to the north of Anzac), to Anzac and Lone Pine, are to the scenes of some of the most bitter fighting in an exceptionally bitter campaign and the stanza ends with the winds wailing a requiem over the many dead.
Memories begin to crowd in now—of the two lads begging off school to drown a mongrel puppy (ironically still alive at the dominie’s feet, whereas both boys are dead), then, more happily of the three ‘haloes’, medals for valour, which have come to the glen—including the Victoria Cross awarded to the illegitimate Jeemack. Jeemack’s feting by the local aristocracy leads to some sharp comments on the class system; the master has been irritated by their patronising—and under the circumstances unfortunate—enquiry about the hero’s family. The next stanza, which deals with the socially superior young men who have not attended the village school does raise the possibility that the war may do some good by breaking down the rigid class-divisions and privileged complacency of pre-war society. The dominie refers to the young laird, with friendly derision, as ‘wir lairdie’ and ‘the puddock’—the latter because of his present amphibious habits, ‘stanin’ owre his middle in the Flanders clort an’ dub’; the ‘Manse loon’ is working like a labourer ‘dellin’ divots on the weary road to Lille’—both privileged young men, accustomed to ease and comfort are facing up to squalor, hardship and danger along with the ordinary soldiers they command. So while they have not had the inestimable benefit of a village schooling ‘there’s nae a wanworth o’ them, though they werena Loons o’ Mine’. This part of the poem reflects a widespread contemporary hope that despite (or rather because) of its destructiveness the war might help to break down the barriers dividing class from class and bring about a more fraternal future.
The last of the loons to be remembered—it is the last memory because the most important and also the most painful—is Robbie, the lad o’ pairts, the boy from the croft with the makings of a fine scholar or divine. He has just started his university studies when the war breaks out and his natural idealism leads him to enlist. Robbie’s is the last individual history in the poem; placed very near the end for emphasis, it leaves us as it leaves the dominie with a situation which in some ways is even more difficult to confront than death in battle—where distance and time help to soften the pain of loss. And, with cruel irony, it is the most promising of all the loons who suffers the worst fate. Robbie will return to the glen alive, but permanently maimed; he is a survivor, but one who is physically and mentally broken. Suffering a kind of living death himself, he will also be constant reminder to the community of the grim price paid to ensure their security. In the face of a fate like his, the conventional consolations, which were effective at the beginning of the poem, are bitterly dismissed—they are now seen contemptuously as the ‘nimble nostrum’ and the ‘dogma fair and fine’, easy platitudes with no power against the anguish the master feels.
The poem finishes with a moving scene, a kind of last lesson, in which the dead and wounded come trooping back into the class-room in a visionary procession to ask the intellectual of the little community, the man who once seemed to know all the answers, what the meaning of the multitude of wasted and damaged lives has been. There is no sense now of the positive side of war, of the valour it brings out, or the barriers it breaks down—instead it is seen as wholly negative and destructive, as something which has damaged everyone who has experienced it:
An’ as I sit a vision comes: Ye’re troopin’ in aince mair,
Ye’re back fae Aisne an’ Marne an’ Meuse, Ypres an’ Festubert;
Ye’re back on weary, bleedin’ feet—you, you that danced an’ ran—
For every lauchin’ loon I kent I see a hell-scarred man.
Then, in a poignant reversal of roles, the pupils ask the hard question and the dominic, ‘Blawin’ Beelie’ himself, for once has no answer.
It is not just that the dominie himself can offer no explanation or justification for what has happened; his ‘Fa does?’ effectively dismisses the ‘official’ case for the war as well. The poem ends with the rejection of all answers, and of all the ‘adult’ language, the political and moral rhetoric with which wars are justified. The adult claim to knowledge and authority has collapsed in the face of suffering and loss and only the ‘bairn words’ expressing ignorance and helplessness are left:
Not mine but yours to question now! You lift unhappy eyes—
Ah Maister, tell’s fat a’ this means.’ And I, ye thocht sac wise,
Maun answer wi’ the bairn words ye said tae me langsyne:
‘I dinna ken, I dinna ken. Fa does, oh, Loons o’ Mine?’
In its painful bafflement, this is a conclusion which is both truer to experience and more genuinely tragic than the opposing certainties of either ‘patriotic’ or ‘anti-war’ verse. Douglas Jerrold is surely right to point out that the Great War can only have been tragic if it was also inevitable(27) and ‘The Glen’s Muster-Roll’ comes closer to recognising that tragic quality than almost any other Great War poem.
Mary Symon’s war poems, originally in Deveron Days (Aberdeen, 1933) are included in Leslie Wheeler’s Ten North-East Poets, published by Aberdeen University Press in 1985. Charles Murray’s ‘Dockens More His Peers’ is included in the same volume; his complete war poetry can be found in Hamewith: the Complete Poems of Charles Murray (Aberdeen University Press, 1979). Wheeler also includes Violet Jacob’s ‘Hallowe’en’; her complete war poems can be found in the final section of the Scottish Poems of Violet Jacob (Edinburgh,
1944). Trevor Royle In Flanders Fidds: Scottish Poetry and Prose of the First World War, includes generous selections from Charles Murray,Violet Jacob and Mary Symon. Royle’s introduction offers a useful outline of the historical and literary background.
Duncan Glen’s The Poetry of the Scots (Edinburgh, 1991) is an admirably comprehensive bibliographical guide to the Scottish poetic tradition. Glen gives separate entries for Violet Jacob and Charles H Murray, but refers only in passing to Mary Symon. The north-east poets discussed in this essay appear in The Poetry of the Scots as ‘forerunners to a Renaissance’ because for Glen they are important largely as precursors of MacDiarmid. Such a perspective inevitably underestimates the intrinsic individuality and interest of their work. In the case of Charles Murray it is difficult to see why Glen has accorded him even the faint praise of being a forerunner, since he dismisses Murray as essentially a ‘kailyard’ figure (‘his poems are heavy with the exile’s nostalgic sentimentality’), allowing only that, with Stevenson, he ‘restored some little dignity to the vernacular’.(28) These assertions simply repeat the judgments offered in Glen’s 1963 Hugh MacDiarmid and the Scottish Renaissance and, as in the earlier volume, they are unsupported by argument from the poems themselves. Demonstration is not needed, of course; Glen takes Murray’s popularity after the publication of the expanded Hamewith in 1909 as proof that his poetry must be easy, undemanding and sentimental. He is apparently unaware of the evidence contained in the Murray papers held by the National Library that the poet had great difficulty in finding a publisher for that volume.(29)
So while Glen pays general tribute in The Poetry of the Scots
to the new work which has added to our understanding of the cultural situation in the period preceding the inter-war Renaissance, there is little sign that he has allowed it to influence his judgments on particular poets.
On the importance of north-east writers generally for the revitalisation of the vernacular tradition from the mid-nineteenth century on, the articles listed below should be read in conjunction with William Donaldson’s Popular Literature in Victorian Scotland (Aberdeen, 1986) and The Language of the People (Aberdeen, 1989). William Findlay’s essay ‘Reclaiming Local Literature: William Thom and Janet Hamilton’ in The History of Scottish Literature, Vol. 3 (Nineteenth Century), pp. 353-375, makes an eloquent case for the importance of a kind of inspiration rooted in regional and popular experience as a creative force in Scottish poetry in the mid-nineteenth century and after. Tom Leonard’s Radical Renfrew (Edinburgh, 1990), subtitled ‘poetry from the French Revolution to the First World War by poets born, or sometime resident in the County of Renfrewshire’, illustrates this contention more fully in relation to one Scottish region. Scots itself in less important as a medium in Leonard’s collection than in comparable gatherings of material from the North-east since large-scale immigration made a substantial part of south-west Scotland linguistically heterogeneous and unstable for much of the period covered. Some aspects of the relations between this flourishing regional tradition and MacDiarmid’s Renaissance ideals are explored in Colin Milton’s article ‘Hugh MacDiarmid and North-east Scots’ in Scottish Language 5, Autumn 1986, pp. 39-47.
The most substantial discussions of the north-east contribution to modern vernacular poetry are by Colin Milton:
‘Modern Poetry in Scots before MacDiarmid’, in The History of Scottish Literature, Vol. 4 (The Modern Age), ed. Cairns Craig (Aberdeen, I987),pp.fl-36.
‘From Charles Murray to Hugh MacDiarmid: Vernacular Revival and Scottish Renaissance’, in Literature of the North, ed. David Hewitt and Michael Spiller (Aberdeen, 1983), pp. 82-108.
‘Hugh MacDiarmid and North-East Scots’, Scottish Language, no. 5, Winter 1986, 39-47.
1.T. F. Henderson, Scottish Vernacular Literature: a Succinct History (London, 1898), p. 458.
2.Hugh MacI)iarmid, Contemporary Scottish Studies (Edinburgh, 1976), p. 12.
3) Joseph Knight, review of Underwoods, Atheneum, 10 September 1887, 333-4.
4) J.C. Smith, ‘Some Characteristics of Scottish Literature’, English Association Leaflet, no. 22 (London, 1912).
5) Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (London, 1986), p. 133.
6) Dominic Hibbert and John Onions (eds), Poetiy of the Great War: an Anthology (London, 1986).
7) Brian Gardner (ed.), Up the Line to Death: the War Poets 1914-1918 (London, 1964).
8) I.M. Parson., (ad.), Men Who March Away: Poems of the First World War (London, 1965).
9) Jon Silkin (ed.), The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
10) Gardner, p. xx.
11) Hibbert and Onions, p. 3.
12) Hibbert and Onions, p. 19.
13) J.M. Winter, The Great War and the British People (London, 1986), p.4.
14) Andrew Rutherford, TheLiterature of War: Five Studies in Heroic vVirtue (London, 1978), p. 73.
15) Leslie Wheeler (ad.), Ten North-East Poets (Aberdeen, 1985).
16) Trevor Royle (ad.), In Flanders Fields (Edinburgh, 1990).
17) Jon Silkin, Out of Battle: the Poetry of the Great War (London, 1972), p.343.
18) Robert Bain, ‘Scottish Poetry of Today’, BurnsChronicle, second series, I, 1926,44-56.
19) Charles Murray, letter to Alexander Mackie, 16 December1914, Aberdeen University MS U 614.
20) Cyril Falls, The Gordon Highlanders in the First World War (Aberdeen, 1958), p. 20.
21) Winter, pp. 27-8.
22) Stanley Weyman, letter to the Times, 26 November 1914, p. 9.
23) J.C. Milne, ‘The Patriot’, in Poems (Aberdeen, 1976), p. 131.
24) J.M. Bulloch, introduction to John Mitchell, Bydand (Aberdeen, 1918), p.VI’.
25) ‘Ian Hay’ (John Hay Beith), The First Hundred Thousand (Glasgow,1985), p. 4.
26) Wheeler, p. 135.
27) Douglas Jerrold, The Lie About the War (London, 1930), p. 18.
28) Duncan Glen, The Poetry of the Scots: an lntroduction and Bibliographical Guide to Poetry in Gaelic, Scott, Latin and English (Edinburgh, 1991), p.88
29) national Library of Scotland Accession 53667, Box 4, Folder 4 contains letters written to Charles Christie who was acting for Murray in his efforts to find a publisher for an expanded Hamewith. initial responses from Blackwoods and from the literary agents A. P. Watt were unenthusiastic.