Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Officers and Gentlemen

When patriotic young men flocked to join up during the Great War, those from the upper classes were deemed to have the leadership qualities required to be officers. Not only did officers have higher pay and more privileges - including a “batman”, a military servant, to look after them and their equipment - but they also enjoyed officers-only restaurants, bars, and brothels in the British sector of the Western Front.

But officers also had greater responsibilities, and were killed in larger proportions than their men. Carrying only pistols, not bayonetted rifles, junior officers lead their troops “over the top”, and were easy for the enemy to spot and target.

Too many of the Empire’s bright young men, destined for greatness, were slaughtered.  Wilfred Owen, considered the leading war poet of his generation, was killed exactly one week before the Armistice in November 1918.
Lady Diana Manners, 1916
 Lady Diana Manners lost most of her male cohort, including Raymond Asquith, son of the Prime Minister, and married the only survivor in her circle of intellectual friends known at The Coterie. Her entertaining memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes, describes her privileged aristocratic life and friends, as well as her wartime work as a VAD (volunteer) nurse.

Vera Brittain’s more intense memoir, Testament of Youth, poignantly describes the loss of her fiancĂ©, brother, and two close male friends - virtually her entire social sphere.  Vera was also a VAD, and a movie about her is soon to be released. Here’s a link to the trailer.

On the lighter side, at least one officer had weekly hampers of goodies delivered to him in France from the famous Fortnum & Mason in London. Apparently they also supplied some Prisoners of War in Germany. Such are the vagaries of war.

My Muskoka Novels immerse readers in the lives, loves, adventures, and tragedies of the “lost generation”.

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