There are no letters from George to Kittie on 23 or 24 September 1914. At first this seems odd, since he had been writing to her every day. They were a Wednesday and a Thursday, and you would expect him to get leave only at the weekend. However, in his letter of 22nd he had said that there was a rumour the ‘Blues’ were going on a weekend exercise near Southampton. The beginning of his letter of 25 September, which I shall give almost in full tomorrow, confirms that he had indeed returned to Hampstead for the 23rd to 24th.
But since he was at home, he did not write any letters. So what happened? One can be fairly sure that he visited Coote Hedley (see blog for 16 August) to relate his recent experiences and promotion to Second Lieutenant. That, however, would inevitably raise the question of when he was going to become ‘combatant’… At what point would he be regarded as a fighter rather than an interpreter?
The status of interpreters was indeed ill-defined. Preparations had been made years before in British-French military agreements, for the French to supply the interpreters to liaise between the armies once the B.E.F. arrived on French soil, and thousands had been recruited in France. As Franziska Heimburger has described in a fascinating article (‘Fighting Together: Language Issues in the Military Coordination of First World War Allied Coalition Warfare’, in Languages and the Military, eds Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly, 2012), these French military interpreters were put into ‘the position which the British Army had reserved for its orderlies’, who were used for carrying messages when communication by signal was not possible.
This probably explains why in his letter to Kittie of 22 September George wrote that during ‘two fancy battles’ on Salisbury Plain, ‘trotting and galloping all over the shop’,
The Colonel sent me with a message to a Squadron; but I disgraced myself by never finding them; scooted at full gallop for miles and missed them. I told him [!] to do it again other times: I might be quite useful in the field. I find I can ride further than my horse, which makes me happy about myself, but less proud of the horse. I’m sure the whip [which Kittie had bought for him] is lovely; the Colonel recommended me to have one today.
According to Heimburger, in the field the interpreters’ duties were mainly liaising with civilians over billeting, food, and compensating damages. At this point in time George was still the only interpreter the Blues had. As he mentions elsewhere, Colonel Wilson was also ‘always impressing the study of billeting on me’.
All this did not augur well for George’s ‘status’ on the field and his plans to fight in the front line. It must have been a subject of discussion, therefore, with Hedley, if not with Kittie too. His next letter home suggests he was preoccupied with it, and perhaps it explains the sense of irritation near the surface.
Next entry: 25 September 1914