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Lieutenant H. V. Routh

Part of letter written by Lieut H. V. Routh, Royal Field Artillery (formerly Professor H. V. Routh MA, Univ of London, contributor of many sections of the Cambridge History of Literature. This letter was written from Leipzig Barracks, Ewshott.

19 March 1915

The war broke out at a time when I was thoroughly overworked so I walked into Scotland Yard and enlisted as a gunner. I shall never forget the feeling of infinite relief at the thought that whatever was going to happen I was quit of academic life for a while. I had a stormy and varied career in the ranks among ‘corner-boys’, mechanics, gypsies, goalbirds, miners, ostlers, workmen and policemen. The army is a great leveller and as they had swept all the roughest specimens of humanity into the RFA I learned to know the lower classes thoroughly. It was the chance of a life time, because all social distinctions vanished as we were all doing the same work in the same clothes under the same discipline. We never though or talked about the war the pre-occupations of the hour consisting of such vital questions as how to kill lice and get enough to eat. This type of man improves enormously on close acquaintance. Their readiness to help each other and forget animosities and their very real fortitude under the hardships of a makeshift existence were all the more admirable as being virtuous of which they are quite unconscious. The best mot I heard was addressed to a battery mule. After using the customary guttural and inarticulate abjurations which are popularly believed to impress quadrupeds, a cockney driver burst out with – 'S’pose you think you were the ass wot Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on.’

After about six months of this life in which the only one of my few accomplishments which proved any use was boxing, a commission was more or less forced upon me. I was really quite happy as an NCO and was thriving on bread and margarine and I believe that I should have refused the promotion to the end, if I had not grown sick of barrack and service kit inspections. I find the society of officers and unmistakable retrogression. The men were always picturesque while most of the lieutenant succeed in being vulgar without being funny. However here I am for the better or for worse and I believe that the whole of the K.I. will really be at the front in a few weeks.. I have recently been frequently invited by publishes and editors to write for them. However for the moment, I am thinking more of my two latest acquirements i.e. how to work a gun and how to groom a horse.

H. V. Routh

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