Betrayed by High-Sounding Phrases

Henry Williamson, “I Believe in the Men Who Died,” Daily Express (17 September 1928):

I am standing on a duckboard by a flooded and foul beek in the Salient, listening in the flare-pallid rainy darkness to the cries of tens of thousands of wounded men lost in the morasses of third Ypres. To seek them is to drown with them… The living are still toiling on, homeless and without horizons, doing dreadful things under heaven that none want to do, through the long wet days and the longer nights, the weeks, the months, of a bare, sodden winter out of doors.

The survivors are worn out; some of them, tested beyond breaking point, put the muzzles of their rifles in their mouths, in the darkness of the terrible nights, and pull the trigger.

Those at home, sitting in armchairs and talking proudly of patriotism and heroism, will never realise the bitter contempt and scorn the soldiers have for these and other abstractions; the soldiers feel they have been betrayed by the high-sounding phrases that heralded the war, for they know that the enemy soldiers are the same men as themselves, suffering and disillusioned in exactly the same way…

And in the stupendous roar and light-blast of the final barrage that broke the Hindenburg line I see only one thing, which grows radiant before my eyes until it fills all my world: the sight of a Saxon boy half crushed under a shattered tank, moaning ‘Mutter, Mutter, Mutter’, out of ghastly grey lips. A British soldier, wounded in the leg, and sitting nearby, hears the words, and, dragging himself to the dying boy, takes his cold hand and says: ‘All right, son, it’s all right. Mother’s here with you.’

Frederick Varley, For What? (1917-1919)