Tabellae Inter Frater
19th April 1917
My dearest brother,
My apologies for not having written to you in the past few days: my experiences of late, dare I say, have been more hellish than usual.
My dear young Colin, be grateful you are not at war. The dreams, nay, nightmares afflicting me from a week hence would not be wished upon my worst enemy. My dreams are haunted terribly by the gasping young lad that died last week in the most appalling fashion. Only 23 - just one year younger than me! The guilt I feel would cripple a man not used to the horrors of war. We just flung him in the back of a wagon. We didn't know what to do, felt that we might just be able to save him in time. But it didn't happen. He died. The pain showing in his eyes was as though we were torturing him. I have no doubt that it was torture, but it was not our fault. Damn this war!
I'm sorry dear brother, from my previous paragraph I must seem to be in delirium! This is what happened: we were on our way back from the front line to rest. Our exhaustion was so great, you would not have recognised our stooping, old womanly postures. The cursed sludge wasn't lightening the load on our scraping feet either. All too suddenly, a gas bomb had been thrown by the enemy, and we had to get our helmets on. All par for the course, but this time was a rarity - we saw a man die as a result. I could describe it accurately as a living nightmare. The gas they, and we (however much I am loath to admit it), use is a fate worse than death. It latches on to any part of your body which is wet or moist; eyes, nostrils, mouth: and then kills you slowly, as if someone is holding you under water and waiting for you to drown. It melts the lungs whilst filling them with blood, so Phillips died from suffocating in his own bodily fluids, and in great agony. It is so ironic - we went to rest, and as a result Phillips is now resting forever. He had a wife, as well as two young children. How are they to be told that Daddy won't be coming home any more?
Strategically, it was the right time for the enemy to strike at us - our fingers were fumbling so much from weakness. Our nerves were so heightened and useless, and our exhaustion too great to do anything in a great hurry. You do understand, don't you? I pray every day that it is not our faults, that we did everything we could for Phillips, that he didn't die from a fault of ours. BLAST this war! BLAST the governments, BLAST everything! We should never have been put in this position!
Colin, I implore you - never sign up for war. Those like the deceitful propagandist Jessie Pope (oh how I hate her lies: they are too effective in making young men join the army) write poems to make young men like you feel cowardly if you don't 'serve your country'. Take my advice, make the most of your youth, and do not sign up for the war. Accept the white feather with pride - it is not cowardly. Do not listen to those telling you to sign up. If they call you a coward, think about it: what would you rather be - a coward, or a fool? A dead fool at that.
I have seen men, once fit and healthy, come home with arms or legs amputated. Maybe they are mostly uninjured when they return home (although the majority always have some form of scar or injury), but many will be like me - scarred on the inside.
You will be better off staying at home and getting a job - by the sounds of it you would have your pick of the lasses!
1st July, 1917
As Mother may have told you, I'm now in hospital. They say I am suffering from war neurosis. I say I'm suffering the effects of a needless war. Who doesn't? Everyone is suffering! They treat me for some bad dreams, but do they treat those who have lost their sons, their husbands, their fathers? Do they treat those whose lives they have ruined by declaring war? I think not.
I am a capable officer, but scenes of the nature I described to you in April play upon my mind, as they do on all the minds of my soldiers. The only ones not suffering are those like damned Haig who sit miles from the front line, yet dare to tell us our orders, send us to our deaths. You will not have heard of his strategy - the press at home is heavily censored, and I do not even know if my letters reach you in the condition I send them. He does not care if many men die - he believes that the side who kills the most enemy troops will win, and so be it if thousands among thousands of soldiers are sacrificed. It is a crime not to follow orders, but it is so frustrating sending soldiers out to their certain death. I wish you would never know the feeling. War is as deadly as cancer, and like cancer, it must be eliminated.
I apologise for my ranting, but war has left me with such bitter feelings against it! Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori, they say. It's all lies.
24th July, 1917
So nearly a man, aged 17! I must admit my pleasure at you being so young. It means you cannot join up for war. I would rather have my brothers with me than my brother comrades. The war cannot go on for too much longer, I hope. Here's wishing you have (or had, should I say, since I do not dare hope this reaches you in time) a worthwhile day. I expect the family will assemble for your joyous occasion, and I wish I could be there. I am still in Edinburgh at present. I also have some good news regarding myself - Craiglockhart has a magazine named The Hydra, and a poem of mine was included very recently! Enclosed is a copy, it is called "Song of Songs". I have also started writing a poem about the 'April Incident', although it needs much work. I will show you when I am satisfied with it. I already have a title for it though. Do you remember the end of my last letter? Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori. I know you know what it means, for who doesn't? But I have decided to use "Dulce et decorum est". Those reading the title will think I am in support of the war, but my intention is that it shall be ironic. The truth is, it is NOT sweet and meet to die for your country, and that is what my poem shall be about. I have dedicated it to Jessie Pope (although not in so many words: it is "to a certain poetess"). She should know what she is encouraging men to sign up for!
I will write again soon dear boy,
29th August, 1917
At last my literary work is soaring! It is so easy to concentrate here: how I wish I never have to go back to war! Earlier this month, the magazine I was published in, The Hydra, asked me if I would like to become editor, and it was an honour I could not surpass. I have now met one of my heroes, Siegfried Sassoon, too! He is in this very hospital! He is a very stately man, and definitely knows his stuff. He is already helping me improve my poetic style, and I am assured that he knows many other affluent poets. He has looked over "Dulce et decorum est" for me, and has suggested many changes. They make complete sense, and I do not know why I didn't think of them before. Although, I am not sure about what to put in the last line of third stanza: "gurgling", or "goggling"? What do you think? There is also a whole stanza which Siegfried thinks I should omit, but I must confess I am reluctant. It is the second stanza;
"Then somewhere near in front: Whew, fup, fop, fup,
Gas shells or duds? We loosened masks, in case -
And listened, Nothing, For rumouring of Krupp,
Then stinging poison hit us in the face,"
Please give your much valued opinion - it shall be fellows like you who will be reading this. If you think the poem better off without these lines, tell me and I shall cut them out.
However, with good news comes the bad, and my experiences of the 'April Incident' were renewed about a week ago. I saw one of my old friends on a stretcher in the hospital. His name was/is (I am so confused; I do not want to think of him as dead - his memory should be kept alive). His name is James Constable, and he was with me when I first joined the army - we were extremely close. What's worse is that he died in the same way Phillips did in April - he was gassed. I keep picturing him with the same writhing eyes that Phillips possessed in the throes of death, the gargling you could hear which came from his diseased lungs. My grief for Jimmy is intolerable - he was a fine soldier, a finer man, and did not deserve to die in the most agonising way possible. I do not know where he is buried - probably in a mass grave somewhere. But wherever he is, may he rest in peace.
His death has strengthened my resolve to write the poem well - I have to do these soldiers, these men, justice, and inspire guilt in those who are sending our generation of men to death.
"Dulce et Decorum est" is enclosed, please read it and let me know what you think. Your opinion is important. Please keep yourself safe, and tell the family to do so too.
I shall write again soon,
25th June, 1918
It has been too long since I wrote to you last, and I apologise. Thank you for the comments you made about my poem; I greatly appreciate it, and will do my best to incorporate them into the changing of my cherished piece. The word "guttering" you suggested is a work of pure genius - I think we have another poet in the family! Furthermore, as promised, I took your advice and erased the stanza from my poem. I am sure it shall be all the better for it!
Inevitably, with time comes lots of new news. Siegfried was as good as his word and did indeed introduce me to several affluent poets; namely, Robert Graves, Herbert Wells, and Arnold Bennett. They have all given me much inspiration as a poet, although none quite surpass the greatness of my fellow soldier, Siegfried. In January I got a few poems published in "Nation", and there are the copies enclosed in this letter. The poems were "Miners" in January; and "Hospital Barge at Cerisy" and "Futility" were published just 10 days ago!
I got posted back to war with the 5th Manchester's a few months after my last letter. I have now been back at the drudgery and hell of war since the end of November last year, and it did not take long for my thoughts about the 'April Incident' to start returning. I wish never to see a casualty of that torturous death again! My mind is a burning hatred of war and those who started it. I remember the froth coming from Phillips's mouth. It was like the cud that comes forth from the mouth of a cow; sickening, putrid, vile.
Do you ever read the papers? The censorship and propaganda sickens me. I wrote a poem about it recently; it is called "Smile, Smile, Smile." I created this from one of the songs we sing whilst marching - "Pack up your troubles." The second line is "Smile, smile, smile"; and so I took it, and made it symbolise what I feel about the war. I wrote how the bloody propaganda changes everything, and how it really is. I hope people like you at home will be able to read it and let it stop you wanting to go to war. I have enclosed a copy - I am very proud of it. Please show your friends - I want the best for them too. They shall already be 18 no doubt, you only have a month to go. But I saw a newspaper article recently. Just because they were smiling, the caption was 'Happy'. Such assumptions! Do those people really think that we are happy when we are being shot at, when our friends are dying beside our feet, when men like Phillips have their lungs melted by gas? Do they not think that we want to be at home with our mothers, our girlfriends and wives? No, we'd much rather be killing Germans, of course!
Anyway young Colin, if you do not get a letter from me before your birthday, then many happy returns! That is all the news I have to give - in my next letter I shall enclose my final copy of "Dulce et Decorum est".
I remain your older brother
11th November, 1918
My dearest Wilfred,
It is a day of much happiness and yet you are not here to see it. People are celebrating the signing of the Armistice, and it is heartbreaking - they have all lost someone - we are not special in our loss. While the bells ring, we will think of you always.
Mother says she will keep your letters even to the grave. As will I, of course. The one you sent on the nineteenth of April last year is written across my heart. I always took your advice, and you probably saved my life that day.
My letter from you this year was also very useful. I read the poem you wrote, and it was very touching, whilst also very eye-opening. I showed it to all my friends who had not signed up for war, and we got the white feather together - it is so much easier when you are in a group.
Oh cursed war! I hope the atrocity never occurs again. It took your life, and also those of many others (I think you shall meet Roger, wherever you both have gone). Pope should be accused of war crimes for the lies she told! It could be argued that her sex means she is not lying on purpose, but who writes about a subject they have no experience of?
I had my 18th by the way, now so much nearer to becoming a man! Just three years left. Seven until I get to your age. I shall live the rest of your life for you, and try to live it well. Harold has already said he shall publish your works - you shall be posthumously famous, although how I'd prefer you were alive!
I know you will never read this, but if I could, I would send it to you in Heaven to remind you of your