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.
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 'Spose you think
you were the ass wot Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on.
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.