A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War

By Jonathan Atkin | Go to book overview

8

Three individuals

A new type of warfare demanded a new type of response. Amid the jagged and broken setting, the metaphorical usage of the overwhelming effect of man's new and mechanised forms of warfare on the natural landscape became common. We have seen in Chapter 7 how this, in turn, could act as a trigger on some individuals to encompass a humanistic appreciation of the wrongness of war itself.

An awareness of the conflict's malign effects seemed to reach beyond the desolation of Nature. There now occurred a perceived alteration of the steady progress of time itself, its linear structure sometimes compressed to give the effect that time had actually halted, as in Lieutenant Wyn Griffith's account of the battle of Mametz Wood. 1 For some, the effects of the war seemed to turn time in upon itself, thereby unwinding the clock of human development to a darker age peopled by trench-dwelling brutes who had lost comprehension of what they were fighting over.

This 'throw-back' concept was highlighted by H.S. Innes of the 23rd Battalion (later 20th), the Middlesex Regiment. At the battle front, H.S. Innes found himself comparing the area around the dug-outs of the front line with that around the 'outer dug-outs' further back and hence less affected by the physical effects of battle. The scene he observed at the front during the bleak winter of early 1917 was, 'the abomination of desolation. From eaves such as primitive man might have occupied we looked out over a shell battered valley.' 2 He noted the few remaining trees on the hillside and the stench from the lower ground, and he likened the 'canyon' over which shells whirred incessantly to one from the bleakness of Arizona. By the end of the year, he wrote that the mud all around had become a normal feature of life and that, 'war without mud would not be war'.

The unnatural and blighted landscape was once again linked directly to the war's effect on a way of life and a setting that became increasingly primordial with time. The story of H.S. Innes represents an awareness of the retardation of civilised values and the idea of man being transformed to an altogether more primitive state — in addition to the concept of individuality under threat and, as Innes put it, 'the importance of each man to himself' radically reduced.

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A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • A War of Individuals - Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements and Abbreviations *
  • Introduction *
  • 1 - `Recognised' Forms of Opposition *
  • 2 - Bloomsbury *
  • 3 - Academics at War — Bertrand Russell and Cambridge *
  • 4 - Writers at War *
  • 5 - Writers in Uniform *
  • 6 - Women and the War *
  • 7 - Obscurer Individuals and Their Themes of Response *
  • 8 - Three Individuals *
  • 9 - Public Commentary on Familiar Themes *
  • Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Secondary Sources 242
  • Index *
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