I have been reading Pass Guard at Ypres by Ronald Gurner, thanks to the recommendation of Mr Smith (and how brilliant it is to see him back at Whitgift this term). It's one of a series of classic war books recently republished, and it is a good and sobering read. Ronald Gurner was of course Headmaster of Whitgift in the 1930s. He'd been commissioned into the Rifle Brigade during the First World War and was wounded at Arras in 1917. He later became a headmaster at the age of 30 (which puts us all in our place) and died tragically young at the age of 49.
What strikes you so clearly in the book is a stoic spirit of keeping on going, even through times which seemed perplexing, meaningless, threatening. At the start of the novel, the young officer (modelled on Gurner himself) is worried that his men might think less of him if he is seasick on the ship journey out to France. By the end he has lost much of his early optimism and even sense of purpose, keeping going simply for the sake of the men around him.
Now it would be over-dramatic to draw too many parallels to our current situation, but it does seem to me that the extraordinary absence of panic we see not just in this book but in many others (I know Mr Cook thinks In Parenthesis the best war book) has something to say to us. And too a steadfastness of purpose. ‘We know what we’re here to do’, if you like.
Well, we do and we are.