On the night of 8 July 1918, an 18-year-old ambulance driver for the American Red Cross was struck by a mortar shell while handing out chocolates and cigarettes to soldiers in a dugout on the Italian front. The blow knocked him unconscious and his shrapnel-torn body was buried under cascading earth. Of the three Italian soldiers who had stood between him and the point of impact of the shell, one was instantly killed; another had his two legs blown off and died soon after. The third one was seriously wounded and was carried into safety by the young wounded American when he regained consciousness. For his valour, he was awarded the Italian War Merit Cross (Croce al Merito di Guerra). The young man was Ernest Hemingway, and his wartime experiences were to form an integral part of his great novel A Farewell to Arms (1929). Hemingway was not the only writer to turn his wartime experiences into art. Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) became one of the leading poets of the war, his angry verses describing the horrors of the war in terms too realistic for many readers to stomach and revealing his disillusionment with the war and cynicism towards patriotic pretensions. His friend and fellow officer Robert Graves (1895-1995) achieved fame not only for his war poetry but for his war-time memoirs Good-Bye to All That which has never been out of print since its publication in 1929. The patriotic and sentimental sonnets of Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) remain popular to this day, and his death from sepsis caused by an infected mosquito bite on his way to Gallipoli has become a symbol of the tragic loss of talented youth caused by the war. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is recognised as one of the greatest voices of the First World War, although he published just four poems before his death in action one week before the Armistice. Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) immortalised the German experience of the war in his remarkable protest novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1928).
Monday 8 July
Worked at my breeches nearly all day, & Muz & Heppie worked at the mats. Ione & Tom rode the bikes in to Malvern. I worked with Muz, & cut wool for the mats, & we got a lot done. Then Muz & I went for a walk, & met the others coming back. It was awfully hot all day. I got my breeches nearly finished.
Tuesday 9 July
I went off on my bike to the dressmaker, after breakfast but she hadn’t got Muz’s dress done, so I waited there till she had finished it, & got back at about lunch time. After lunch Muz wrote letters, & she made me lie down & Ione lay down too. Tom wrote letters & Heppie worked at the mat. After tea Muz, Ione & I walked to the dressmaker across the fields, to have Muz’s dress altered & sat under a haystack on the way back. It was lovely & cool all day, & rained for a bit, but not nearly enough, as the country wants it badly. Went to bed at about ten, & Muz came up with me.
Wednesday 10 July
Huff arrived unexpectedly after breakfast, we sat with him in the garden for a bit, then he, Ione & Tom went to get potatoes & eggs, & Muz wrote letters, & I worked at my breeches, & then Muz got things ready for lunch. After lunch Huff, Tom & I went on our bikes up to Bakers to get his mended, & we sat in a field, then came round by Bayliss’, & Huff’s bike was broken in front so we walked back across the fields, & Muz met us with tea in the cowslip field & just as we had finished it began to pelt & we had to change everything when we got in! After dinner I worked at the breeches & learnt to featherstitch, & Ione Tom & Huff went for a walk. He is going to sleep with the Baylises [sic]. Muz brought me up Bovril.
Huff Lewes and his bike
Thursday 11 July
Huff came round at about eleven, & he, Tom & I went to the dressmaker, we both rode our bikes, & he walked. We got onions on the way back. After lunch Muz got things ready for dinner, & I worked at my breeches, & Tom & Huff talked, then they went to the post, & Muz & I took the dogs for a walk. After tea I did some mending, & Tom & Huff went & sat in the wood till dinner time, & afterwards they walked to Roxburghs to get eggs. It was quite cold all day, but only rained a bit. I got quite a lot of mending done.
Friday 12 July
I did a lot of mending & washing in the morning, Muz was cooking. Huff came round at about eleven, & he, Tom & I went down to the cowslip field & sat there, but had to come back, as there was a heavy thunder storm. After lunch Tom & Huff rode their bikes in to Malvern, & Muz & I walked to Mrs Bayliss, across the fields. After tea I mended & Muz & Heppie walked up to Mrs Baker. We were going to drive to Malvern this morning, but are going tomorrow instead. Huff & Tom sat & talked, & after dinner they & Muz & I went for a walk up the lane, but we came back earlier, & I went to bed at about ten. Louise Troubridge is engaged to a Mr Shennan in the Household Cavalry, it was in yesterday’s paper.
Saturday 13 July
I had breakfast early, & went to the dressmaker on my bike, to try on the velveteen dress, & then met the others at the corner, & we drove in to Malvern, & shopped. I rode back on my bike from the corner. We had lunch late, & afterwards Tom & Huff talked, Muz wrote letters & I sewed. Ione has moved up to my room today as Mrs Reynolds wants hers. After tea Muz, Tom, Huff & I walked across the fields to Mrs Russell, & I tried on my dress again. Muz & I left them in a field, & then Muz sat in another field, till I came back. It was awfully hot all day. After dinner Tom, Huff, & I went for a walk, & sat in a field off the lane, till about ten, it was rather cold.
Sunday 14 July
Muz, Tom, Huff & I went to church, & it rained most of the morning, then I did some sewing, & sewed again after lunch, till tea time. Muz wrote letters & Ione did too, & Tom & Huff went for a bike ride. After tea Tom, Huff & I rode to the dressmaker, & I went & called for my velveteen dress, & was to meet them on the way back, but missed them, so I came on home. After dinner Muz & I went for a walk, & afterwards Tom, Huff & I went up the lane, but I came back early & they went on. We waited up for them, & had cocoa when they came back, & went to bed at about twelve.
Thank you ever so much for your letter and kind wishes. Helen & I were very quietly married last Thursday in town only Lord Airlie & my own brother being there. I know our Pat will be most awfully pleased as he will also be about Ione. I will write again before long.
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