Friday, November 11, 2011

Letters From Their Eleventh Hour: Ivar Campbell (1891-1916)

Captain Ivar Campbell
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,
Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford.
Killed in action at Mesopotamia, January 8, 1916, aged 25 years.

Campbell survived earlier action in France, to which this letter refers:
France, 1915 
...It is difficult to write things out here. Journalists do it, yet miss the note of naturalness which strikes me. For these things are natural. I suppose we have been fighting a thousand years to a thousand years' peace; they miss, too, the beauty of the scene and action as a whole--that beauty defined as something strange, rarefied; our deep passions made lawful and evident; our desires made acceptable; our direction straight. Such will be the impressions to linger, to be handed on to future generations, as the Napoleonic wars are adventures to us. Here, present and glaring to our eyes in trenches and billets, etc., the more abiding and deeper meanings of the war are readable. 
Here is the scene I shall remember always: A misty summer morning--I went along a sap-head* running towards the German line at right-angles to our own. Looking out over the country, flat and uninteresting in peace, I beheld what at first would seem to be a land ploughed by the ploughs of giants. In England you read of concealed trenches--here we don't trouble with that. Trenches rise up, grey clay, three or four feet above the ground. Save for one or two men--snipers--at the sap-head, the country was deserted. No sign of humanity--a dead land. And yet thousands of men were there, like rabbits concealed. The artillery was quiet; there was no sound but a cuckoo in a shell-torn poplar. Then, as a rabbit in the early morning comes out to crop grass, a German stepped over the enemy trench--the only living thing in sight. 'I'll take him,' says the man near me. And like a rabbit the German falls. And again complete silence and desolation...
*A Sap-head was a smaller trench running forward from and perpendicular to a main trench and was used for spying and for sniping.

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