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  Carry On Coningsby Dawson

Letter XXV

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November 1st, 1916.

My Dearest M.:

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Peace after a storm! Your letter was not brought up by the water-wagon this evening, but by an orderly--the mud prevented wheel-traffic. I was just sitting down to read it when Fritz began to pay us too much attention. I put down your letter, grabbed my steel helmet, rushed out to see where the shells were falling, and then cleared my men to a safer area. (By the way, did I tell you that I had been made Right Section Commander?) After about half an hour I came back and settled down by a fire made of smashed ammunition boxes in a stove borrowed from a ruined cottage. I'm always ashamed that my letters contain so little news and are so uninteresting. This thing is so big and dreadful that it does not bear putting down on paper. I read the papers with the accounts of singing soldiers and other rubbish; they depict us as though we were a lot of hair-brained idiots instead of men fully realising our danger, who plod on because it's our duty. I've seen a good many men killed by now--we all have--consequently the singing soldier story makes us smile. We've got a big job; we know that we've got to "Carry On" whatever happens--so we wear a stern grin and go to it. There's far more heroism in the attitude of men out here than in the footlight attitude that journalists paint for the public. It isn't a singing matter to go on firing a gun when gun-pits are going up in smoke within sight of you.

What a terrible desecration war is! You go out one week and look through your glasses at a green, smiling country-little churches, villages nestling among woods, white roads running across a green carpet; next week you see nothing but ruins and a country-side pitted with shell-holes. All night the machine guns tap like rivet-ting machines when a New York sky-scraper is in the building. Then suddenly in the night a bombing attack will start, and the sky grows white with signal rockets. Orders come in for artillery retaliation, and your guns begin to stamp the ground like stallions; in the darkness on every side you can see them snorting fire. Then stillness again, while Death counts his harvest; the white rockets grow fainter and less hysterical. For an hour there is blackness.

My batman consoles himself with singing,

    "Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
    And smile, smile, smile."

There's a lot in his philosophy--it's best to go on smiling even when some one who was once your pal lies forever silent in his blanket on a stretcher.

The great uplifting thought is that we have proved ourselves men. In our death we set a standard which in ordinary life we could never have followed. Inevitably we should have sunk below our highest self. Here we know that the world will remember us and that our loved ones, in spite of tears, will be proud of us. What God will say to us we cannot guess--but He can't be too hard on men who did their duty. I think we all feel that trivial former failures are washed out by this final sacrifice. When little M. used to recite "Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself had said, 'This is my own, my native land,'" I never thought that I should have the chance that has now been given to me. I feel a great and solemn gratitude that I have been thought worthy. Life has suddenly become effective and worthy by reason of its carelessness of death.

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Carry On
Coningsby Dawson

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