Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Dublin Disturbances (A differing perspective)

The Witness, 28th April 1916

We use this phrase advisedly in order not to give the occurrences that have taken place in Dublin this week the dignity of rising or a rebellion so far as dignity can be associated with an Irish Nationalist upheaval. Some of the darkest chapters and the darkest phases of Irish history are associated with rebellions. We have had what are called risings as well as rebellions, and there has seldom been a long period in our national history that has not had a record of one or other. Within modern history, and within modern memory, we had the Cabbage Garden rising or rebellion of Smith O'Brien in '48, and we had the Fenian rising of '66. So far as any practical results were concerned both ended in fiasco, and were more subjects for ridicule than for serious consideration from an historical or practical point of view. What we have designated Dublin disturbances are much more grave and serious than either of those, and represent an extent and power of organisation which distinguish them from their two immediate predecessors. Both represented hours, but this represents days of defiance of authority and the assertion independence from Britain. We have had the Post Office and Stephen's Green Park and the hands of the rebels. We have had them entrenched in Stephen's Green. We have had them on the admission of Mr. Birrell, the so-called Irish secretary, in command of four or five points of Dublin. We have had soldiers and policemen shot at by the rebels and over a dozen deaths of uniformed representatives of British authority, who seem to have been the favourite objects of the rebel attack. We have had railway, telegraphic, telephone, and postal communication with the Metropolis practically stopped for three days. Dublin and Belfast have been as much isolated from each other as if they had been separated by countless miles of desert. We have had thousands of troops dispatched to Dublin as if it was a new theatre of the great war. We hear of places occupied by the rebels, and we hear of some of them being retaken. We hear that the Post Office and the Great Central Park and thoroughfare have been in the hands of the rebels for at least a couple of days, and we hear that they have been recaptured. We hear that a British gunboat has been shelling Liberty Hall in Dublin as if it was in an enemy's country, and of the soldiers having gained possession of it, as we might read in a report of some developments in France and Flanders. We are told in Parliament that the rebels have got command in certain cases, and that eleven insurgents have been killed. Disturbance is a mild epithet to apply to these proceedings, but when we remember that they all occurred and what Mr. Asquith once described as "the one bright spot in the kingdom," we do not like to make any reflection on Mr. Asquith as a prophet or Premier by suggesting such terrible suggestive words as rising or rebellion in a country which he so highly appreciated, and for whose rebellious elements he has done so much.

It may be asked how and why, in a country like this, such movements could have been developed or could have been permitted to be carried so far. It may be asked were were the authorities, where were their secret service agents, how was it possible, with anything like an efficient Government or an efficient staff in control, this could not have been prevented or checked earlier? It may have all come as a surprise on the authorities, but that something was brewing and preparing for Easter was as well known, or at least as generally anticipated, as was the German war by all outside Government circles before the declaration. It was known that the Sinn Feiners, the Irish volunteers, were organising great demonstrations over the country on that day, and all who had understanding of the signs of the times warned the authorities they should be prepared, not after the event, but before it, to deal with it. The authorities had been appealed to time and again to deal with the Sinn Feiners and the Irish Volunteers, who were carrying on not only a crusade against recruiting, but a crusade against everything British in the country. But the Government took no notice. Mr. Redmond had asked or demanded that nothing should be done to interfere with the Sinn Feiners on the professed ground that they were an insignificant and negligible body, and it would only advertise them or bring them into importance to interfere with them. As in duty and by habit and custom bound, the Government did not interfere. They let them go on and conspire, as the British Government let the Germans and pro-Germans do before the war. Then, like a bolt from the blue, came on Tuesday the news that a German warship, disguised as a merchantman, filled with arms and ammunition, had arrived at the Irish coast, with Roger Casement on board, and that he had been arrested and the German boat sunk – we since learned that the Germans sank the vessel themselves. About the same time we heard mysterious rumblings about an attack on Dublin, about the seizure of the Post Office and other Government offices by rebels, the hoisting of the flag of the Irish Republic over these buildings, and of soldiers being deliberately shot on making their appearance in uniform in the streets. Gradually the facts, or at least such of them as it pleased the authorities to make known, were published as summarised above. And the danger is not over yet, and, if unofficial reports can be credited, is increasing.

Now, the first and most natural question is, what should be done to the Government that either remained ignorant of this, or allowed the movement to reach such a head? But a question behind that is, have we or have we had a Government in Ireland at all for years? All we do know or have known in regard to government in Ireland was that whenever Mr. Redmond asked was granted, whatever Mr. Redmond wanted protected was protected, whoever Mr. Redmond wanted to escape liability from serving the Empire was accorded the privilege. In fact, the government of Ireland seems to have been in the hands of Mr. Redmond, and we now see the mess that has been made of it from a British point of view. We have learned from statements that he made in the House of Commons that Mr Birrell is still Chief Secretary of Ireland. We have known and heard a little of him of late that we had forgotten his very existence, and no more thought of associating him with the government of Ireland than with the government of Timbuctoo. But having been allowed to make the official announcements, we may understand that he is still at least nominal Chief Secretary. But what is worse. He told the House of Commons the other day that he was coming over to Ireland himself. His previous presences in Ireland were generally associated with some surrenders to Nationalists and some sacrifice of Unionists, and it must be painful and paralysing to think that we are going to have him amongst us at this crisis. His position as an absentee Chief Secretary was bad enough, but his interference as a resident Secretary is, if possible, more alarming. But we have had to suffer much for our sins, and we suppose we will have to accept this additional suffering.

Now, we are not prepared to state openly that Mr. Redmond was dishonest or insincere in asking for tender treatment to the Sinn Feiners. We are prepared to admit the Sinn Feiners have one fist for the British Government they have another for Mr. Redmond. But we are prepared to say that one of the reasons for Mr. Redmond's desire for tenderness to the Sinn Feiners was this, that he knew, while professing that they were negligible, that they were really more powerful, numerically and otherwise, than his own followers, and he knew that any action taken would reveal that fact. As he had made his position by humbugging and deceiving the British public, and especially the British Radicals, he meant to do it to the end. And in that as in other respects the Irish Government gave him every assistance and encouragement. It is possible later on he will make capital as to the elements he had to fight against, and as to what he did to repress them. Now, we do not for one moment suggest that Mr. Redmond, like many others of his nominal followers, is gloating over what has taken place and then humiliation of the British Government involved. We can quite understand a sense in which he might feel that it might "his game," and insofar he would be thoughtful. But as we have all along maintained, there is very little to choose between him and his followers and Sinn Feiners. Both want rid of the British Government and its controls; both want Ireland to be free, in the words of some of the leaders, from the earth to the air. The only difference to our mind between them is that the Redmondites hope to use Home Rule as a preliminary to complete freedom afterwards, whether in the form of an Irish Republic or not we cannot say, while the Sinn Feiners do not believe in taking the two bites of a cherry, and want to secure their Irish Republic without the hypocrisy of the preliminary stage.

It is impossible to make any separation between the preparation for the landing of arms and ammunition on the eve of Easter Monday and the occurrence of Easter Monday. It is equally impossible to believe that the body that planned and organised it all is the negligible body Mr Redmond would have had us and the Government believe the Sinn Feiners were. How far German gold and German brains help the rebels we are not prepared to say, but there can be no doubt that it was all planned and arranged in conjunction with the Germans, and that the Germans hoped for great results from this emeute. Though they may not gain all they expected they have gained more than we could have wished. They have gained the opportunity of circulating in their own country and throughout the neutral word that there is that there is an Irish uprising against the British, and they have rendered it necessary to send thousands of troops to Ireland that might have been desirable or necessary for the front. That is all painful and humiliating enough, as it is painful and humiliating enough for us to have to write as we have done in regard to what is supposed to be the British Government in Ireland. But we cannot do it otherwise. They should not have allowed this movement to get ahead at all, and if they allowed it to raise its head they should have been prepared to crush it more rapidly than they have done. We refrain from any comment on the effect of all this on the future of the country. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. And the state of things in Dublin, and, we fear, in other parts of the country also, is sufficient to fill our thoughts and increase our anxieties for one week. Though it is a trite saying we cannot help using it again – the Government has some dragons teeth, and they have sprung up armed men. And the men and the arms seem to remain in more or less potency till the hour of writing.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Vale of Shadows

There is a vale in the Flemish land,
   A vale once fair to see,
Where under the sweep of the sky's wide arch,
Though winter freeze or summer parch,
The stately poplars march and march,
   Remembering Lombardy.

Here are men of the Saxon eyes,
   Men of the Saxon heart,
Men of the fens and men of the Peak,
Men of the Kentish meadows sleek,
Men of the Cornwall cove and creek,
   Men of the Dove and Dart.

Here are men of the kilted clans
   From the heathery slopes that lie
Where the mists hang gray and the mists hang white,
And the deep lochs brood 'neath the craggy height,
And the curlews scream in the moonless night
   Over the hills of the Skye.

Here are men of the Celtic breed,
   Lads of the smile and tear,
From where the loops of the Shannon flow,
And the crosses gleam in the even-glow,
And the halls of Tara now are low,
   And Donegal cliffs are sheer.

And never a word does one man speak,
   Each in his narrow bed,
For this is the Vale of Long Release,
This is the Vale of the Lasting Peace,
Where wars, and the rumors of wars, shall cease,
   The valley of the dead.

No more are they than the scattered scud,
   No more than broken reeds,
No more than shards or shattered glass,
Than dust blown down the winds that pass,
Than trampled wefts of pampas-grass
   When the wild herd stampedes.

In the dusk of death they laid them down
   With naught of murmuring,
And laughter rings through the House of Mirth
To hear the vaunt of the high of birth,
For what are all the kings of earth
   Before the one great King!

And what shall these proud war-lords say
   At foot of His mighty throne?
For there shall dawn a reckoning day,
Or soon or late, come as it may,
When those who gave the sign to slay
   Shall meet His face alone.

What, think ye, will their penance be
   Who have wrought this monstrous crime?
What shall whiten their blood-red hands
Of the stains of riven and ravished lands?
How shall they answer God's stern commands
   At the last assize of Time?

For though we worship no vengeance-god
   Of madness and of ire,
No Presence grim, with a heart of stone,
Shall they not somehow yet atone?
Shall they not reap as they have sown
   Of fury and of fire?

There is a vale in the Flemish land
   Where the lengthening shadows spread
When day, with crimson sandals shod,
Goes home athwart the mounds of sod
That cry in silence up to God
   From the valley of the dead!

Clinton Scollard

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Sons of the Manse (1916)

"I was ever of opinion that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population." It is with this naive sentence that the Vicar of Wakefield begins his immortal narrative in Goldsmith's deathless story. It was quite natural that my mind should at once recall the sentence when I perused the wonderful roll of honour in connection with the Irish Manse which appeared in the columns of "The Witness" on March 31st. It is true that the roll is incomplete, and important additions will yet be made to it. But it is beyond dispute that Irish Manses have sent into the military service of the Empire at least two hundred and fifty of their sons to do what they can in defence of King and country. We are not a very big Church, and the Manses do not bulk large in the eyes of the world; but a contingent of two hundred and fifty stalwart young men in the present emergency who are all sure to give a good account of themselves in the war will be regarded as a noble contribution on the part of Irish Presbyterian Manses. If we add to this the roll of daughters of the Manse who have volunteered to serve as nurses, about twenty already, we get some idea of the effective help which our Manses are rendering to the Empire. It is quite evident that the opinion of the Vicar of Wakefield, that "the honest man who married and brought up a large family did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population," is one which is widely shared by the ministers of our Church. Clerical celibacy is a survival of Paganism, and it is not only a Scriptural doctrine that the minister of religion should be the husband of one wife, but it now becomes clear that the marriage of the clergy is a strength and a fountain of power both to the Church and to the State. The Manses have taken their proper place in the economy of the nation, and are responding with splendid liberality to the call of the Empire. The whole Church has good reason to be proud of the record, and pleased with the patriotic spirit which animates her Manses. A minister's son is as brave as the bravest to fight the foe, and a minister's daughter is as ready as the readiest to leave her happy home and to face the hardships of the hospital or the perils of the battleship to dress the wounds of soldiers. The facts speak volumes for the character of the Manse, and for the domestic atmosphere which pervades it.

There was a time not so very long ago when there was a popular belief that a minister's son was not very well cut out for facing the battle of life; and not much was expected of him in the ordinary competitions of the world. He might hold his own at school, or earn distinction at college, for he was brought up amongst books; but unless he grew into a student and a recluse he broke down in secular pursuits, and was altogether too soft for the rough and tumble of the arena. He was supposed to be sheltered from the rough blasts of the world, and he was not expected to seize his oar and pull his share in the contrary winds and cross currants of life. If, unhappily, he went astray, he was singled out as a melancholy warning to all his youthful contemporaries, and a sample of the sort of milky manhood which Manses wens alone able to produce. All that is now a thing of the past. All lines of life are now open to ministers' sons, and happily Manses have placed themselves in healthy touch with the professions, with the civil service, with commerce, with agriculture, and with all the active pursuits of men. Ministers' sons are now not only training themselves for the ranks of the clergy, but they are forging ahead at the Bar, in the medical profession, in engineering, in business, in farming, and in the army. We have but to look around us, and we see ministers' sons on the bench, the leading luminaries in surgery and medicine, merchant princes, enterprising agriculturists, brilliant engineers, trustworthy solicitors, artists, soldiers, members of Parliament, and they easily hold their own in all the legitimate competitions of life. I am not surprised, therefore, that now in the Empire's great agony the Manses are turning out their sons and daughters in scores and hundreds to take their full share in the stern work of war. It has been now established as a matter of observation and experience that a Manse is a first-rate place for a man or a woman to be born in; and anybody who has had an opportunity of knowing what the life of a Manse is from the inside has no trouble in accounting for the fact.

In the first place, the piety of the Manse has ceased to be of the cloistered kind, as it used to be a generation ago. The Manse has thrown open its windows and doors to the free social breath of the whole world. Ministers do not want any longer to be treated as if they stood outside the great currents of active life. Their families desire simply to be regarded like the families of other people, to enter into the same healthy pursuits, to share the same duties, to bear the same responsibilities, to enjoy the same innocent pleasures, to be taken at the same intrinsic estimates, to be exempt from none of the ordinary privations, "fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled bv the same winter and summer." From this point of view I regard the Manse as on the whole the most natural and simple and healthy home in the parish ,and an ideal place and daughters. This change has been gradual and almost imperceptible; but it has taken place, and so far from the ancient piety of the Manse having suffered in consequence it has vastly improved in health, in strength, in
all gracefulness and beauty.

But in the second place, the Manse is a hive of hard work. A minister who does his duty must be a very hard-working man. He has to preach twice on the first day of the week, and he must be fresh and interesting every time if he is to hold his own with the people; and then his engagements through the other six days of the week are innumerable and boundless. Talk of working hours, eight hours in the twenty-four, as other workers talk; a minister is literally on the go all the twenty-four hours round. He is in perpetual danger of sinking into a drudge, and if he does not take the greatest care he will develop into a mere, clerical machine. He must study earnestly; he must keep abreast of his pastoral visitation; he must meditate profoundly on all the questions of the day; he must give himself out perpetually in sympathy, in counsel, in oversight, and above all he must direct and inspire his whole congregation. Even in small and rural charges, perhaps, his duties are the most exacting of all. I once heard the late Dr. Donald Fraser, of Marylebone, say in the English Synod, and he said the truth, "The troubles of a minister are usually in the inverse ratio of the size of his congregation." Then the minister's wife is usually the busiest woman in the whole congregation; most busy if she abstains from parochial work, looking after the affairs of the Manse where she is financier, manager, wife and mother all in one. It is hers to solve the almost insoluble problem of how to support the refined hospitalities of the Manse on a very limited income, and how to maintain the character of a lady in a community where she is the observed of all observers. In this atmosphere of hard work the children grow up, the sons to prepare themselves for taking their place afterwards in life, and the daughters to qualify for an honourable role in the future.

In the third place, the Manses are now universally conducted on strictly teetotal principles. I believe this is most true in Ireland. It has been my good fortune to have been the guest at one time or another in nearly all the Manses of the General Assembly, and I never saw a decanter on the table of one of them. I think it will be acknowledged that this is a good atmosphere for the rearing of young men. At any rate it is a fact that the vast majority of our ministers' sons are pre-eminently sober, if not total abstaining men.

In the fourth place, the sanctity of the Sabbath is established in the Manse, and above all there is the daily observance of family worship. Both these are essential for the formation of a Christian home, and the Manse is a Christian home in the proper sense of the word. The sons of the Manse are members of a home, not of a lodging-house, and the home feeling gets into their blood. This is the very finest inheritance on which they can enter. Usually the father is a boy with his boys, and the mother is a girl with her girls, and there are no households so happy, so full of love, so bright with mirth, so pure from the taint of selfishness, so united with happy memories, so braced by mutual co-operation as those that grow up in a Manse. I have known many large families in Manses, large enough to satisfy the ideal of even the Vicar of Wakefield, and I have not known one with a black sheep among them. If there are any black sheep I have only heard of them; I have not known them.

But lastly, there is a characteristic of the Manse which I think contributes more than all else to the manhood of its sons to which I have only incidentally referred. I mean its restricted financial resources. I refuse to speak of the poverty of the Manse, for poverty is after all a relative term. There are men and women who do not account themselves wealthy, but to whom the whole yearly revenue of a Manse would not serve for a single day's pleasure; and there are multitudes of honest folk in the world who do not own themselves poor to whom the income of the Manse would look like a mine of gold. The fact is, that if we consider only the bare necessities of life Manses cannot be said to be poor; and if we consider the luxuries they cannot be said to be rich. Ecclesiastical finance has so managed it that if Agur, the son of Jakeh, himself were an Irish Presbyterian minister his prayer would be almost perfectly answered -- "Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee, and say who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." One thing is certain, that if any young man has a lust for acquiring riches he ought not to seek the ministerial office. At the same time so skilfully managed is the exchequer of the Manse that for the ordinary visitor it is impossible to judge whether it is poor or rich. Most ministers' wives are perfect queens in their own homes, and they can be open-handed and generous on little as on much. Besides, when a house is rich in refinement, in culture, in courtesy, and in good breeding, it is astonishing how attractive frugality can be made to look and how extremely little coarse extravagance will be really missed. It is in these higher riches that Manses excel, and nothing is better for the rearing of sons and daughters. The worship of mammon does not coarsen the young spirit, and the higher faculties both of mind and body find a pure atmosphere for their exercise. At the same time I do not endorse the view that straitened means are best for ministerial life. I believe that as the general standard of living improves the salaries of ministers ought to improve with it. Presbyterians have never accepted the ascetic doctrine that poverty is a grace of the spirit. Long years ago, I heard of a man who at a visitation in his church, when the Presbytery came to inquire into the ministerial income, cried out to the Court, "O you keep our minister orthodox, and we shall see to keep him poor." And they kept him poor, until at last the very congregation ceased to exist. I believe the very best test of a congregation's spiritual life is its generosity towards its minister; and everybody knows that in a Manse there are legitimate ambitions both in the minister and in his wife, both in their sons and in their daughters, which must be simply and sternly repressed by reason of the res angustae domi. I wonder very much why the Sustentation Fund does not become the most popular fund of the Church. It ought to be, and it will be I think as soon as this war is over. Ten or twenty pounds a year added to the equal dividend would bring sunshine into many a Manse, would bring joy to the heart of many a careful minister's wife, would lighten the load of many a hardworking minister, and would greatly smooth the road of many a son and daughter of the Manse as they struggled forward into the battle of life.

For all these reasons we can understand well how it is that the Manses have responded so nobly to the call of the nation in this war. They have done what they could, and the gift they have laid upon the altar is their sons and daughters. We look for good fruit to grow on a good tree, and the Manses are good trees. When we witness the noble procession of brave sons and daughters who are going forth now from the Manses of the Church with their lives in their hands to serve King and country in the war we shall all stir ourselves to a fresh interest in their welfare. I believe that in no Church in Christendom are the relations between pastors and people more healthy, more cordial, or more Scriptural than in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at the present time. It only needs that a few influential wealthy men shall look into their chequebooks in a prayerful spirit, and as God's stewards to kindle a fire of generosity in favour of the Sustentation Fund, which will bring joy into every Manse of the Assembly, and be an adequate thankoffering for the heroic sacrifices which these Manses are now making for their country.

by "Southern Presbyterian."

From The Witness, 14th April 1916.
Image: Painting by Chris Collingwood

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Belfast Doctors at the Front

Ulster Minister's Tribute to their Fine Work.

Writing to his brother (Rev. W. A. Wilson, M.A., Coleraine) from the Y.M.C.A. quarters somewhere with the British Expeditionary Force, Rev. George Wilson, B.A., of Ballygoney, in a recent letter, describing an entertainment in one of the huts, wrote -- The concert and play were being given -- the one by the nurses, the other by the male staff of the St. John's Hospital. The hut was a wild scene. It was crowded beyond description. There were six ladies in the first half -- a sort of troupe -- who sang and tripped about most daintily. One of them recited very well. The second half was Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury," and was simply great. The get-up of the men in itself was enough to set you into a roar, and when the jurymen got into the box and carried on their antics laughed till my sides were sore. The judge was a superb get-up, and his singing and acting were the same. At the close I went round to the dressing-room to see the men, and I asked to be introduced to the judge that I might congratulate him. He was disrobed by this time, and dispainted, and when he turned round where he stood pitting on his boots who should it be but Dr. Percy Crymble! That started us to talk! Crymble asked me to go in and see Tom Houston at work on his laboratory, and there I found M'Cloy. another Belfast man. It was delightful to see the old familiar faces, and to find them all doing such fine work. I began to move towards home about 10-30, refusing Tom Houston's invitation to remain till 11-30 to see the arrival of a convoy of wounded. Half-way towards home, however, I had to pass the "Walton" hut, which lies at the foot of a steep railway embankment, and we were able to wait with Corkey until we saw the ambulance train come past to the siding. Grisson had his lorry, and we motored up the hill to the hospital.

When I searched out Dr. Houston, where he pored over his microscope, I found yet another Belfast man -- Dr. John E. M'Ilwaine, the officer deputed to receive the convoy. M'Ilwaine took me up to the receiving shed, and showed us all the arrangements for the various kinds of cases -- the undressing and bathing and redressing rooms for the "sitting" cases, and the stretcher carriers for the lying-down ones. The R.A.M.C. men were all sitting about, awaiting the order to fall in on the approach of the first ambulance. On a table in the undressing room one of them was asleep. He woke up and rose when we entered, and who should it be but our friend "Angelina," out of "Trial by Jury" -- a gentle-looking lad who made up into one of the loveliest women I ever saw! We had just finished a hurried round when the signal was given, and all the men stood to their posts. The clerks sat two and two behind each of four small tables. On the opposite side of the table were the trestles for receiving the stretchers (in the trestles let-down seats were fixed for men able to walk). The man who had worn the kilts, the Scotchman of the jury, was at the door with notebook in hand; his work seemed to be the noting of the number of blankets on each stretcher as it was unloaded, and then attending to any kit the men had with them. The officers were all assembled.

When I was introduced to Major Trimble, the senior on the spot, and congratulated him on his fine collection of Belfast specimens, it was to be told he was himself another old Instonian! With him was a very gentle, quiet man, Major Smith, the chief surgeon. The first thing that struck me was the healthy look and cheery spirits of the men. They had not all been wounded -- some were suffering from trench fever, one or two from tubercular troubles. One man with trench fever had been in the landing at Suvla Bay. On a board hung discs showing the number and place of all the vacant beds. The doctors gave the orders for the locating of each case; a disc was taken off the board and pinned to the man's coat, and then two men brought in the light hand-carriages, and in silence the stretcher was laid on and wheeled off. The officers were every one most kind to us. Major Smith asked us to follow one case to the ward. We were in the ward in a few moments, and the sight we saw would have touched the hardest-hearted. The electric lamp was covered with red muslin, and the ward was all dim and silent. The sister in charge came noiselessly down the ward to meet the stretcher-bearers. Then two of them and the ward orderly lifted him on to the clean white bed. He stretched himself, poor chap -- it was a long time since he had lain on a bed like that -- the sister and the orderly took charge, and we went out again. And so silently had all been done that not a single patient moved in those two long rows of beds. But all the cases were not like those first four. Soon I noticed a man whose face was blanched and bloodless. Major Smith moved over and lifted up the edge of the blanket -- one leg amputated! In another ambulance came two cases with bandaged head and eyes. One was marked "Urgent" by a label pinned to the bandage. The other had no label. The oculist was in the shed along with the other officers. He came a across, peeped under the bandage of this second man, replaced the bandages, and then turned round and said to us, "That man will never see again." He then came up to the "Urgent" case. The man was singularly cheery, and was giving out his name and number in fine style. The oculist looked at one eye and told the man that it did not seem so bad. "That's right, sir. They fixed me up champion yesterday, and I'm all right now." And so on all through the thirty-two cases. The discipline and arrangements were perfect.

In Houston's laboratory (at its snug little stove) followed one of the evenings of my life. I happened to start them on the bacteriological problems caused by the strange conditions of the war, and the four men proceeded to hammer out, each from his own point of view, the various theories that had been propounded in answer to them. The most striking thing said was by Houston at the very outset of our talk -- namely, that we are back again one hundred years, and facing the problems our forefathers had to face a century ago. The two main problems, they said, wore those caused by secondary haemorrhage and by gas gangrene. The talk then turned wholly to the haemorrhage question, and it was an education to hear those fellows talk.

Crymble's X-Rays.

The surgeons cannot explain the bleeding which is following in so many cases after an operation has seemed for a time to be most successful. Houston is trying to solve it from the bacteriological side, and is inclined to think that the time that elapses before the bleeding is "the period of incubation" of some miscrobe. Crymble, on the other hand, ascribes it to some surgical shortcoming, and is at work on it with X-rays and dissection. M'Ilwaine is, of course, a medical man. It was a great treat to sit by and hear these skilled exports talk. Cases were quoted and, looked up, and at one stage M'Cloy prepared a miscroscopic slide to illustrate some point that had been raised. The talk went on in the laboratory till about 11-30, and then when I rose to get home Crymble asked me to go and see his X-ray apparatus. Houston came with us, and that meant another interesting hour. We scarcely glanced at the apparatus; but Crymble showed us some of his most interesting plates, fixing them in an ingenious arrangement of mirrors in order to bring up the stereoscopic effect of the plates -- the photos are all taken in stereoscopic pairs. All were interesting; but perhaps the most wonderful was one of a brain injured by a bullet that had grazed the cranium and driven some of the bone into the brain. The wonderful thing was that Crymble was able from his photo to diagnose the presence of gas gangrene. (Gas gangrene has nothing to do with asphyxiating gas, but is the old name for gangrene which gives off gaseous matter). The insertion of a tube proved Crymble to be correct. Altogether I came away feeling very proud of my fellow townsmen and the fine work they are doing.

From The Witness, 7th April 1916.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Immortal Deed of 500 Australians

Charge to Certain Death.

Mr. W. M. Hughes, the Premier of Australia, at a banquet of the Pilgrims' Club at the Savoy Hotel, London, on Friday, told of Anzac heroism in Gallipoli which will live.

It was a story of the charge to sure death of 500 men of the 8th Light Horse of Australia, not in the heat of fighting, but in cold blood after hours of waiting and suspense. Mr. Hughes, who has called for a decisive Empire policy without delay, in pointing the moral of the deed, said that the only way in which a great democratic Empire could remain free was by every citizen being trained to fight for his liberty.

I feel I stand here to-day, he said, in the reflected glory of the Australian soldier. I never speak – I cannot speak – of their bravery but I choke with emotion. You speak of the charge of Balaclava. These men went out in the broad light of day with all the impetus and stimulus that a knee-to-knee charge on the gallop gives to men. But the story of the 8th Light Horse of Australia is one by which the charge of the Light Brigade must pale its ineffectual fires.

These men – there were some 500 of them – were to attack in three waves. They were given these others six, eight, ten hours before. Every man knew when he got that order that it was certain death. They went. They made their preparations. They handed to those who were to remain in the trench their poor, brief messages of farewell, and they went out wave after wave.

At the whistle the first wave leaped from the trench. Most of them fell back dead upon their fellows who were waiting their turn in the trench. In the face of this awful sight the second line leaped out to meet what they knew was certain death. Of these only five or six remained on their feet after they had gone ten or twelve yards.

All the wounded lay exposed to the pitiless machine-gun fire of the Turks, which poured a veritable hail of death into their poor, bleeding bodies. The man who got farthest was the colonel; he got fifty yards. Out of those who went there were eighteen officers; two officers only got back, and of the men only the merest handful survived. We must look back in the grey dawn of history before we find a parallel with that.

The Spartans at Thermopylae have left a name imperishable, which shall remain when the Pyramids shall crumble to dust; but, surely, what these men did that day – these citizen soldiers of a new nation, the last but one in the family of the great British Empire – will never die.

We have fought and we are fighting this battle as if it were a battle of life and death. It is a battle of life and death. We did not enter it lightly, nor shall we quit it while life remains in us.

Australia has been able to do what she has done because we adopted as the cornerstone of our democratic edifices the system of compulsory military training. We believe that there is but one way by which a nation, being free, can remain so, and that is that every man shall not only be willing to defend his country, but shall be able to do so. We think that the State should train the citizen so that he may be able to defend his country, his home, and his liberties. The defence of one's country is the primary duty of citizenship, the first duty of free men.

Text: The Witness, 23rd March 1916.
Image: 8th Light Horsemen Marching Along Collins Street, Melbourne, 20th January 1915.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Comrade in White

A touching story is passing round
That a figure in white was seen
By our soldiers in the battlefield,
Who assert is was not a dream.

They gave the name of "Comrade in White,"
And told how He bent quite low
Over the suffering and dying men,
Who were wounded by the foe.

We think He tenderly watched them;
He would whisper in their ear
Words of wonderful blessing and comfort
Which then they would gladly hear.

He would tell how He, too, had suffered
Through life to the very end –
"Greater love hath no man than this
That he lay down his life for his friend."

Better than mother or father,
Better than all beside,
Was the presence of the "Comrade in White"
Ere the suffering soldier died.

The soldiers believe that "Comrade in White"
Was our tender, loving Lord,
Who came to minister comfort
And give peace by His precious word.

The dying soldier would rest
On the work that Christ had done,
And would gladly finish the battle of life,
And could say that victory was won.

The mourners for their loved ones
Should believe that all is right
With their dear ones who were ministered to
By the loving "Comrade in White."

This thought should be a solace,
And act like Gilead's balm
To heal the broken-hearted
And bring perfect peace and calm.

Jane Thomson.
Cullycapple, Aghadowey.

From The Witness, 24th March 1916

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Young Citizens in the Trenches

"Mud, Sweet Mud."

In a letter home a private in the 14th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles gives the following graphic description of life in the trenches:—

It is a long time since I started to write a letter under such extraordinary conditions, and I don't know when it will reach you, or how it will look when it arrives. I am writing it from a dug-out in the reserve line, with a sandbag full of mud for a writing desk, with mud as my inspiration, and mud-caked hands directing a muddy pencil. We came up here a couple of days ago, and I have not had a moment for writing; indeed, in the last seventy-two hours I have I only managed to get about nine hours' sleep, but what men have done men can do. The trenches are in a desperate state of mud slime and water in consequence of the recent snows, thaws, and rain, in many places reaching up to the waist. And so we have to wear trench boots, which cover the whole leg, though, unfortunately, a great number of them are not watertight. The front line trench is much worse still, and our progress thither on a working party at night was most exciting.

We walked in single file, the leading man passing back word as regards boards, sump holes, stones, and other obstacles and so a running fire of conversation was kept up which must have been, and, indeed, often was, very amusing. A sample — "Keep to centre of board," "Hole in centre," "Mind rocks," "Sump hole on right," "Up a little," "Two steps down," "Very slippery here," "Mind the mud," "Keep out of the water," &c. I myself found it a much safer way to sample the information passed down, and so when I received word of a sump hole, I generally succeeded in falling into it, to the edification of those behind. Once so deep was the river of muddy water it reached right above the boot, and washed the contents of my trouser pocket. However, the best part, from a spectacular point of view, was the thick sticky mud, about two and a half to three feet deep. You put one leg in, then heaved and shoved, and got the other one out, and so progressed. If there was a slight halt assistance in the shape of a spade had to be called upon. One poor fellow stuck altogether, and so stopped all those behind him, a circumstance which brought quite a number of suggestions, such as ropes, more spades, fatigue parties, &c. Another fellow had to leave his boots stuck in the mud, and mount the parapet in stocking soles while we dug out his boots for him.

Into the Wilderness.

Our journey that night took us over three hours, and as we hod only five hours altogether for working, and going there and back, the work done was the minimum. The further we went the deeper the mud become, and really the sight of it inspired me with a great longing to make mud pies. There was thick stuff suitable for cakes, slightly thinner resembling soda bread dough; then, of course the beautiful "batter" mud, and the more universal pancake species; and then, lastly, the liquid mud, mainly water. But, really, I believe I could write a book on the subject of mud, its advantages and disadvantages, its effect on warfare, its effects on foods; or we could advertise it as mud the great substitute for butter, dripping, jam, cheese, and soup. I am sure you will think this lengthy dissertation on mud very inconsistent with my principles; but, after all, "local colour" is the thing in description. Our dug-out rather baffles description, as it resembles a tunnel, a sewer pipe, and a large flue. The roof is convex, and is made of castiron, like the inside of the funnel of a large steamship. The floor is of mud, to which every entrant contributes something. It is reached by a narrow trench of the first species of mud, with a kind of watershoot at the end, with three steps down to the dug-out level. Here we eat, drink, sleep, reed, write, and talk.

The trenches about here are all called by well-known names, and there are Pompadour, Essex Street, Broadway, The White City, The Crater, and numerous others, intended, I suppose, to make the trenches a home from home. Oh, the irony! Home, sweet home, and mud, sweet mud! However, we manage to enjoy ourselves fairly well, though at times certainly the language is by no means patriotic and parliamentary. When one is sent on four separate occasions for a two-hour walk through mud to clear two feet of water from a trench by means of shovels, one thinks and says volumes about the intelligence of one's superiors, but generally humour takes over the situation and we enjoy it.

During the day we see and hear several shells bursting, and the rattle of the machine guns in now like music in our ears. On sentry go this morning at stand-to, when the rival forces were venting their spite in shells and bullets, a couple of larks began to sing their beautiful morning song as they rose higher and higher towards the heaven, seemingly oblivious of the deafening clashes on all sides. To them it mattered not that men were set on one another's destruction, and that they were wasting money and material in their diabolical instruments, and their very indifference did not pay a high compliment to the super-intelligence of man.

A Dinner — And a Good One Too.

I have just had dinner, and a really good one too, with plenty of vegetables in it, one of the best I have had since I joined. There's nothing bucks you up like your grub. After a very restless night usually we make use of our privilege of grousing, and you bet we are some grousers once we start, but the arrival of breakfast always brightens everybody up, and we think how much worse we might be if had no dug-out to go to, no brazier to warm our feet, and a hot part of the line. The real danger here is the state of the trench, for when one stands for hours up to the knees in water, without being able to move either way, "nuff said." One fellow in the firing line in another company had to do twenty-one hours duty on end, and collapsed completely, while another fellow fell into the mud, rifle and all, and had to be carried away suffering from sleeping sickness. Perhaps the "Chocolate Soldiers," as we are called, have shown themselves now to be more than mere parade swanks, and to be able to do their bit as well as any other battalion in the division.

From The Witness, 24th March 1916.