Life During World War One

As part of our research, Stu (our artist) lent me a book about the experiences of a solider during World War 1.  Its called ‘The Bells of Hell Go Ting-A Ling-A Ling’ by Eric Hiscock (the title seems to be a reference to a popular song of the era) who signed up to fight when he was very young, then became disillusioned with it.  This first extract is from a section where he talks about the confusion of rumour and the anger at the British military leader of the British Expeditionary Forces, Douglas Haig

Rumours flowed from trench to trench that there was going to be a final, bloody great push and we were going out to rest to prepare for it. That wasn’t quite true of us. Suddenly the word came we were leaving our fairly comfortable support trenches to take over from the French, again, in the front line not far from Kemmel where we had been before. In my tiny way I couldn’t help but think that machine-guns, barbed wire, heavy guns, shells had all led to stalemate, and what we were going into now was not much more than that. Haig (how we hated him and all his lot!) had certain disastrous failings. An optimist of optimists, he refused to acknowledge failure. In a daft way he was an inspired man, with the dire conviction he was never wrong. Of imagination he had none. ‘The well-bred horse,’ he said, years after the cataclysm of the Kaiser’s War, ‘will always be important in war.’ He can’t have seen the wretched brutes blown to pieces by shell as they pulled guns to the front line before the caterpillar came in. Another thing he said was: ‘We should force our adversary to throw his hand in. We should follow the principle of the gambler and make him spend until he’s a pauper.’ Stupid sod, he should have been in trenches up to his navel in mud and water, with nothing but chlorinated tea to drink and dog biscuits and bully-beef to eat, and have to piss in the place where he slept. He might then have noticed that the men under his sad command had dropped shoulders, bulging eyes, unshaven faces, and that they staggered more often than they stepped, on their ways to the jaws of death.

Here is another quote, this time talking about how it felt to be in the midst of battle…

I had forgotten in my complete disorientation, which stemmed from panic started b the barbed-wire experience, that the object of the raid was to secure a German prisoner or two. Only when I saw what looked like Jackson and the Company Sergeant-Major hurl their last bombs and dash behind the pillboxes did I remember. The fire from machine-guns was now creating a nerve-wracking, staccato cacophony and I dropped to the ground and stayed there, hoping that the bullets’ trajectory would be too high to part my hair which was, I suspect, standing on end. Bemused and at this safe distance in time I realize that from that moment I did nothing to help anyone, let alone myself. The Oxford glamour of donning uniform was at last in shreds, the mud and fearful noise and incomprehensible action that was surrounding me had stilled for ever any semblance of brain. War, I knew at last, was run for fools by fools on office stools, and the sooner I got out of it the better for all concerned, which meant me, my parents in Oxford, and the girl I’d left behind me – a plumpish flapper called Doris who sold bags and suit-cases over the counter of a smart leather merchant’s shop in Oxford’s Queen Street.

I’ve enjoyed reading the book, though I believe it was written some time after the event. Still it helps us to get a feel for the event itself, in some small way.

About Tomas

Design & Production Director at Auroch Digital. Designer of Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Writing and blogging things that surprise, entertain and interest me...
This entry was posted in game narrative, World War One and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Life During World War One

  1. Visit Soldier’s Mail for a great collection of letters home from the front lines of American involvement in the Great War.

  2. Tomas says:

    Interesting link, thanks for that.

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