Robert Graves: Accommodations for a million men killed in war
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)
We packed a few things and rode off in the general direction of Devon. The nights were coldish and, not having brought any blankets, we bicycled by night and slept by day. We rode across Salisbury Plain in the moonlight, passing Stonehenge and several deserted Army camps which had an even more ghostly look. They could provide accommodations for a million men: the number killed in the British and Overseas Forces during the War. Finding ourselves near Dorchester, we turned aside to visit Thomas Hardy…
My mother had me take the trouble to call on the Rector when she viewed the property, and he later asked me to speak from the chancel steps of the village church at a War Memorial service. He suggested that I should read war-poems. But instead of Rupert Brooke on the glorious dead, I read some of the more painful poems by Sassoon and Wilfred Owen about men dying from gas-poisoning, and about buttocks of corpses bulging from the mud. I also suggested that the men who had died, destroyed as it were by the fall of the Tower of Siloam, were not particularly virtuous or particularly wicked, but just average soldiers, and that the survivors should thank God they were alive, and do their best to avoid wars in the future. Though the Church party, apart from the liberal-minded Rector, professed to be scandalized, the ex-service men had not been too well treated on their return, and liked to be told that they stood on equal terms with the glorious dead. They were modest men: I noticed that though respecting the King’s desire to wear their campaign medals on this occasion, they kept them buttoned up inside their coats.