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0100_005E The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

God As We See Him

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There was a line from William Morris's Earthly Paradise which used to haunt me, especially in the early days when I was first experiencing what war really meant. Since returning for a brief space to where books are accessible, I have looked up the quotation. It reads as follows:--

"Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
    I cannot ease the burden of your fears
    Or make quick-coming death a little thing."

It is the last line that makes me smile rather quietly, "Or make quick-coming death a little thing." I smile because the souls who wear khaki have learnt to do just that. Morris goes on to say that all he can do to make people happy is to tell them deathless stories about heroes who have passed into the world of the imagination, and, because of that, are immune from death. He calls himself "the idle singer of an empty day." How typical he is of the days before the war when people had only pin-pricks to endure, and, consequently, didn't exert themselves to be brave! A big sacrifice, which bankrupts one's life, is always more bearable than the little inevitable annoyances of sickness, disappointment and dying in a bed. It's easier for Christ to go to Calvary than for an on-looker to lose a night's sleep in the garden. When the world went well with us before the war, we were doubters. Nearly all the fiction of the past fifteen years is a proof of that--it records our fear of failure, sex, old age and particularly of a God who refuses to explain Himself. Now, when we have thrust the world, affections, life itself behind us and gaze hourly into the eyes of Death, belief comes as simply and clearly as it did when we were children. Curious and extraordinary! The burden of our fears has slipped from our shoulders in our attempt to do something for others; the unbelievable and long coveted miracle has happened--at last to every soul who has grasped his chance of heroism quick-coming death has become a fifth-rate calamity.

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In saying this I do not mean to glorify war; war can never be anything but beastly and damnable. It dates back to the jungle. But there are two kinds of war. There's the kind that a highwayman wages, when he pounces from the bushes and assaults a defenceless woman; there's the kind you wage when you go to her rescue. The highwayman can't expect to come out of the fight with a loftier morality--you can. Our chaps never wanted to fight. They hate fighting; it's that hatred of the thing they are compelled to do that makes them so terrible. The last thought to enter their heads four years ago was that to-day they would be in khaki. They had never been trained to the use of arms; a good many of them conceived of themselves as cowards. They entered the war to defend rather than to destroy. They literally put behind them houses, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, lands for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake, though they would be the last to express themselves in that fashion.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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