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24th July 14

Notes from Fussell

1. Beginning of war marked by 'innocence'. (See Larkins' 'MCMXIV')
  No major war for a century before - imagined 'an affair of marches and great battles'.
Concepts of Glory and Honour shared by populace. Christian sacrifice also.
Views of bravery and adventure from writers such as Henry, Rider Haggard, Arthurian poems of Tennyson and pseudo-medieval romances of Morris.
Feudal language = a table of equivalents

A friend is

Friendship is






Cheerfully brave


The dead

Nobly enthusiastic

The front



to die

Draft novice

To enlist


Move quickly









Legs & arms

Dead bodies

Blood of young men






The Foe






The fallen





To perish

The summons

To join the colours








The heavens




Ashes, dust

'the red/sweet wine of youth'



This 'high' diction was ultimate casualty of war, but its staying power was astonishing. Still seen in some poetry of 1918.
Pre-war summer seen with romantic retrospection - symbols of lost innocence. Innocence seen in universal commitment to the sporting spirit.
Concept of war as strenuous but 'entertaining' - seen in Brookes' letters home.
See war in terms of cricket in Newbolt's Vitai Lampada, a public school favourite since 1989. Newbolt - friend of Douglas Haig.
Hero (Newbolt man) - honourable, stoic, brave, loyal, courteous, also unironic, unintellectual.
Sporting spirit seen in kicking footballs towards enemy lines while attacking. Men full of hope and illusions.

2. Sunrises and sunsets appropriated from Romantic poetry - men up early in morning and

late at night - observations of nature/beauty from the trenches.
Contrasts between God's world and man's. See Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches'. Sassoon recovered the Great War feeling for symbolic sunsets and adjusted important emotional climaxes to make them take place at rich but melancholy moments.
Exploitation of moments of waxing or waning halflight distinct hallmark - signals a constant reaching out towards traditional significance like system of high diction at beginning of war. Attempt to make sense of the war in relation to inherited tradition.
See Hardy's 'Men Who March Away'.
Dawn - moment of hopeful beginnings (moment of greatest fear)
Sunset - death of hope - red of sunset = blood


3. Great War - soldiers very close to home in France but in exile - only 70 miles from London.
  Absurdity of situation became an obsession - contrast of security of home and horror of trenches. Gunfire heard in England. See Hardy's 'Channel Firing'.
Letters - regular post - took 2 days. Constant reminders of home comforts in poetry.

4. Pessimism crept in during 1916 - fear the war would never end. To deal with hopelessness
  - proliferation of satiric poetry.

5. Dichotomy - 'we' and 'them'. Attitudes to the enemy as a collective force. So near to enemy
  but no real contact most of the time. Enemy took on attributes of the monstrous and grotesque ' 'shadow' people.
6. Simplification - truth = casualty of war, so is ambiguity. Everything black and white, even in
  distinctions between the ranks/officers. See Sassoon's poetry 'Base Details'. Seen in views of ignorance of officers/experience of ordinary soldiers. Little interaction between the 2 groups. Also fissure between troops and civilians - post-war difficulties between the troops and 'the rest' in a nation divided; Seen in Sassoon's work 'Memoirs of an Infantry Officer' moves between trenches and home throughout for contrast, creating a binary vision of life.
7. Exaggerated imagery of battlefield confrontation - an armory of military images.
8. Myth and legend
  General human impulse to make fictions - unleashes by the novelty, immensity and grotesqueness of the proceedings. Strong oral tradition.
Stories such as 'The Angel of Mons' - a miracle image; 'The Tallow works' of the Germans - using dead bodies for fat. The crucified Canadian soldier - crucified by Germans.
Sacrificial/crucifixion scenes in Sassoon's 'The Redeemer'
Story of ghostly German Officer-spy appearing in British trenches before an attack.
Legend of wild deserters from all sides living communally in No Man's Land.
9. Frequency of 3 - developed from 3 sets of trenches, platoons divided into 3, 3 stages of
  death (man - animal - corpse), soldiers on patrols in 3s - goes back to traditional writing. See Gurney's poems 'Ballad of the 3 Spectres'.
10. The Romance Quest
  A kind of narrative - protagonist moves through successive stages involving miracles and dangers towards a crucial test. Magic numbers and ritual important. Landscape enchanted and full of perilous encounters. Testing is fixed and isolated. Hero and antagonist adept at antithetical reasonings. 2 social strata - one privileged and aloof, the other comic or grotesque. Culminates in pompous ceramonies. Those engaged in hazardous pursuits became a circle of solidarity. (Auerbach) on Medieval Romance. Pilgrim's Progress - Sherston's Progress (Sassoon). Linked to soldier of First World War. Images from Pilgrim's Progress in poetry - Slough of Despond, Valley of the Shadow of Death. Implied in Sheriff's 'Journey's End'.
Generations familiar with Bunyan's novel - understood the imagery.
See David Jones 'In Parenthesis'.
11. Great War - special historical moment - belief in classical and English literature strong, but
  also popular education and self-improvement at its peak. Working men given courses on literature - established a public respect for literature. Hence more literature from 'ordinary' soldiers. Oxford Book of English verse influential - hence use of traditional symbols - stars, moon, blossoms, nightingale, heroes of the Iliad, pastoral flowers. Men in trenches spent a lot of time reading. Hardy particularly popular because of instinct for dark and formal irony. Most popular poem 'The Man He Killed'.
12. Presumed inadequacy of language to convey the facts about trench warfare is one of the motifs

of all who wrote about the war. Difficult to communicate physical experience in words. Tendency at times to lapse into cliches. Difficulty in finding an appropriate rhetoric. How to give meaning to meaningless events?
Straight description not powerful enough - trying to convey strong emotions.
Needed clinical or even obscene language to convey the power.

13. Censorship and British tendency towards heroic grandiosity about their war tends to inhibit the
  truth. Raised the idiom of warfare.
Language changed from jargon and verbal delicacy to euphemisms e.g. telegrams with 'died of wounds'. Authorities used it to protect the truth; the troops relied on it to soften the truth for themselves, e.g. 'the Blighty wound'.
Euphemisms for getting killed = going west, knocked out, going under.
Letters home full of euphemisms and cliches - to protect those at home.
Specialised diction developed, seen in extensive use of metaphor. Military jargon lasted until present day e.g. 'bombarded'.
14. Peculiar to military language is the use of terms with significant unintended meanings which to
  the outsider seem ironic, e.g. fatigue, mess, fall out, theatre of war.
15. British tendency to fuse memories of war with the imagery of theatre - vividness of sense of
  role - distancing of soldier from what is happening to him. Presence of Shakespeare in cultural background. References to Shakespeare are wide-spread. Elements of tragedy and comedy in the horrors. See 'Goodbye to all that' (Graves).
16. Opposite of war = peace - pastoral tradition. Highly sophisticated literary pastoralism in
  English literature. Many poems feature nature and flowers. Part of British psyche - the rural tradition.
Recourse to the pastoral is an English mode of gauging the calamities of war and imaginatively protecting oneself against them.
Seen in ideas of home and idyll of Summer 1914 - nostalgia for past.
See Owen's 'Exposure' for pastoral detail.
Pastoral allusion used for comfort or implicit description through antithesis, but also more basic function - assisting ironic perception - marks the distance between the desirable and the actual.
Features of pastorals - shepherds and sheep - ironic - generals and soldiers.
Bird and birdsong - in France abounded with larks (associated with dawn) and nightingales (associated with sunset).
Flowers - see Brookes' The Soldier.
Tradition to associate battle scars with roses. Also canoned England, loyalty, sacrifices.
'Roses of Picardy' - favourite song of the war.
Poppy - both symbolic because of colour and because common in battlefields. Symbol of blessing of sleep or oblivion (opium links) hence mock death. To Victorians it was associated with homoerotic love.
Most popular poem of the war = John McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields' (the poppies blow).
See Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches' written 7 months later - a much better poem.
Extended pastoral elegy - see Blunden's 'Undertones of War'.
17. Curious traditional link between war and love. Language of military attack = sexual - assault, thrust,
  penetration. War and sexuality always been linked - looting and rape.
Atmosphere of emergency relaxes inhibition - special hedonism.
War = sexual perversion?
Imagery linked to images of youthful erections/ejaculations.
Lack of women leading to temporary homosexuality - close relationships often celibate, characterised by mutual affection, protection and admiration.
Ex-public school officers at home in all male environment. Genuine 'love' for their men.
See 'Journey's End'.
Symbols of 'golden boys' - Focus of sentimentality.
Pre-existing motif from Victorian homosexuality and homoeroticism = soldiers particularly attractive - young, athletic, heroism, male beauty.
Great war characteristic - unique physical tenderness, readiness to admire openly the bodily beauty of young men, acceptable of male love - very different from Second World War.
See Graves 'Not Dead'
Popular book of the time 'A Shropshire Lad'.
In Great War diction 3 degrees of erotic heat - men = neutral, boys = warmer, lads = very warm.
See Owen's poetry where Victorian and early 20th Century homoeroticism merge.
'Kissing' one of his favourite images with tender intimacy he contemplates physical details of bodies - eyes, hair, fingers etc. Through his love reaches pity. It is the features of the palpable body that provide the stimulus.
C. Day Lewis ' "Owen had no pity to spare for the suffering of bereaved women. Male fellowship and self-sacrifice is an absolute value and Owen celebrates it in a manner that fuses the paternal with the erotic".
Vulnerability of naked body a common focus for many poets' works.
18. Memoirs = a kind of fiction, transitional pieces, looking back with an ironic tone. Images remain in the
  memory with special vividness.
Psychology of crisis assigns major portent to normally trivial things. Feeling the next moment may be ones last means a man observes and treasures sensory details purely for their own sake. Memories of happiness fade more easily. Revisiting these moments becomes a moral obligation.
19. Great War - ultimate origin of the insane contemporary scene - where irony and absurdity began.

Women Poets of the First World War

Jessie Pope (d 1941) - Contributed 200 poems and articles to Punch. Born in Leicester
    Lived in London and Great Yarmouth. Wrote humorous fiction for popular magazines and newspapers. Married to Edward Lenton.
Nina Macdonald - No information
Eva Dobell (1867 - 1963) - Born Cheltenham. VAD nurse during war. Worked on
    correspondence with prisoners of war. Travelled extensively. Helped and encouraged young poets and campaigned in print for protection of wildlife and countrywide.
Mary Gabrielle Collins - No information
Madeline Ida Bedford - No information
M. Winifred Wedgwood - Served with the Devonshire 26th Voluntary Aid Detachment
C.A.L.T - No information
Vera Brittain (1896 - 1970) - Author, journalist, lecturer. Educated at Somerville, Oxford.
    Abandoned Oxford to work as VAD nurse during war. Experiences recorded in 'Testament of Youth', published in 1933. Wrote 29 books in all. Fiance and brother killed in war. Married G. Catlin of Cornell University. Daughter - Shirley Williams.
Mary Wedderburn Cannan (1893 - 1973) - Poet and novelist. VAD and in intelligence service during war.
    Worked for Oxford University Press and then Assistant Librarian in Athenaeum Club, London. Married Brigadier P J Slater. Engaged to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's son Bevil, who died of influenza epidemic shortly after Armistice.
Marian Allan - No information
Anna Gordan Keown (1899 - 1957) - Born London. Novelist and poet. A foreword to her collected
    poems written by Sassoon.
Teresa Hooley (1888 - 1973) - Born Derbyshire. Educated by governess, then Howard College,
Dame Margaret Postgate Cole (1893 -1980) - Born Cambridge. Educated Roedean and Girton. Involved in politics.
    Wrote several books - including many detective novels. Secretary of Fabian Society and President until death. Alderman of London 1952.
May Herschell-Clarke - No information.

Womens' Writing

At the end of war over 600,000 of younger men dead. 1.6 million were gravely mutilated. About 9% of all men under 55. Balance of females ratio to males went up.
Results of war - shattering of women/men's private lives. Narrow conventions of middle-class life also diminished.
After general election of December 1918, which brought in a Conservative dominated coalition Government under Lloyd George, the Government brought in a Sex Disqualification Act which opened jury services, the law professions, upper reaches of Civil Service. Also allowed full membership to Oxford and Cambridge.

End 1919 establishment of State Register of Nurses - 1st time nursing recognised as a profession.
National Insurance Acts of 1918/20/21 - women wage-earners eligible for national insurance benefits.
1928 all women over 21 were given the vote.
In 1914 less than 6 million women in paid employment in Great Britain and Ireland. End of war - 7.5 million. By 1920 almost 2/3 of those who entered employment during war had left it again. A year later, with onset of long period of trade depression and unemployment, the figure for women's employment not much higher than in 1914. Slump drove many women back into domestic service.

In 1921 there were 213 women police, but these were axed in economy cuts in 1922. Small increases remained in profession.

Problem - women worked on understanding - temporary jobs for the war effort. Obligation to find jobs for soldiers from the trenches. Prejudices remained. Clearly ambition of majority of women to be wife and mother - tragedy of war not that realistic for many.

War marked a loosening of standards of conventional morality. Feb 1918 - National Council for unmarried mother and child founded.
After war - Marie Stopes founded first birth control clinic. Changes for women remained within a framework of 'traditional' concept of women's role in society. Setting aside terrible losses - possibilities of a happier and more fulfilled life were much greater. Marriage rate took an upward leap in 1915 and has been sustained since.
New provisions for child nurture and child care.
New professional opportunities.
Women who went back into domestic service insisted on less degrading conditions; many no longer lived in.
Same was true of shop assistants.
Many of the effects of course were concealed by the onset of the depression but changes developed slowly.


Work - difficult for women to supervise children. Fathers away.
1915 - increase in juvenile delinquency.
Long term - war brought educational reform.
Short term - suspension of school attendance by-laws - children needed to work and for extra money for families.

Cinemas - used for propaganda - encouraged middle class as well as working class to attend - new place for courtship.

Problem of drunkenness- Defence of the Realm Act -State management of pubs in Carlisle because of giant munitions factory in Eastriggs (Devil's Porridge')
First World War - new system of opening hours of pubs - need for national efficiency - instead of opening early in morning, opened later, were closed throughout afternoon and closed at 10 or 11 instead of midnight.
Advent of respectable women into pubs.

'Moral' changes
Increased sexual freedom - move from sheltered family environments. Chaperons had disappeared.
Illegitimacy rate up 30% on pre-war figures.
More sympathetic attitude towards unmarried mothers and babies. Men and women separated, fear of loss - threw aside restraints more easily.
1913 Royal Commission on Venereal diseases established - calling for wider public knowledge and education.

Growth of Health Education
First World War marked a turning point - came to be regarded as normal and acceptable for women, as well as men, to acknowledge their sexual appetites.

Conventional thought - a successful career for a women was not compatible with marriage.

All male juries meant that women were not given fair treatment in court, particularly over 'sexual' cases like assault and rape. Vast majority of women who took up employment - not consciously working for women's movement, but by doing new jobs and doing them well, they achieved much.
Women's Interests Committee of the NUWSS played a key role in agitating on behalf of job opportunity and equal pay.


Because right to vote was still based on residential qualifications - many men had lost right by being abroad in army. Thousands of others hadn't had right in the first place. Consideration of these problems brought up right of women to vote as well. Worry that if they gave votes to women they might hold the majority.

June 1917 - women over 30 to have vote/all adult males to have vote

Made law Feb 1918.

The war generated a tremendous mood favourable to change and democratic innovations.


1915 - Chief Factory Inspector
"Wartime welfare schemes would be likely to be felt and to spread long after the war has ended, and to leave behind a permanent improvement in factory life."
- Medical services in factories
- canteens
- hygienic lavatory and washroom facilities.

Changes in fashion
Women - smoking, shorter skirts - need to work, shortage of dress materials (6" above the ankle!)
Girls in land army - trousers
Greater use of cosmetics - women had more money to spend.
Introduction of the 'bra' as a generally fashionable garment.

Decline in number of prostitutes

Land Army
WAAC - Womens Army Auxiliary Corps
VAD - Voluntary Auxiliary Detachment.