23 October 1914

Today George wrote to Kittie from Dunkirk. It was his first letter to her for six days. ‘Dearest Mrs P.,’ he began, ‘I haven’t written, because there was nothing very gay to say.’ (See my posts of 29 August, 1 September, 2 October on linguistic matters.)

The surprising thing is that he doesn’t mention what the ‘Hospital base’ has been able to do for him. Did its medical officers simply accept the Ypres nunnery doctor’s diagnosis, that the blood in his urine was caused by gout crystals? If so, did they treat the condition, and how? If not, what was the new diagnosis? What care did he get?

Having as a biographer lived with George Calderon for some time, I feel that he was also depressed. Here he was, after all the excitement of the past month and of actually reaching the Front, suddenly far removed from the fray, ‘beached’ as it were at Dunkirk, in limbo. The haematuria must have been worrying. I am reminded of the low point of his trek round Tahiti in 1906, when he seemed trapped in a force field on the isthmus of Taravao and grew ‘despondent’ and even ‘irresolute’. Working on his travel book Tahiti in the winter of 1913/14, he had written of this moment that ‘the sense of depression close[d] over me, and of the fear of death alone on the seashore, away from England’.

However, he told Kittie that there had been a ‘development’:

As chance would have it two men arrived from the [7th Cavalry] Brigade staff; the Brigade Major and the Brigade Interpreter. I am well enough to go back, but no [sic] to ride. The Brigade Major has therefore appointed me to the Brigade Interpreter’s place; and I go back in an hour, with the supplies.

I have had all the difficulties in the world to find out how to go back. It is nobody’s business. There is no one central place where you can go and find a thing out. You have to trudge down cobbled streets and along cobbled wharfs to and fro to find out for yourself. And even then I don’t know.

But, vaguely, if I go some time this evening somewhere up the line and happen to get into the right train, I shall arrive.

Goodbye. I have had to jettison much good luggage and buy many new things. I have cashed a cheque for ₤5.

P.P.P.

[Pore Peeky Peety]

Back at Ypres, the French today made a desperate attempt to recapture Passchendaele and the Germans concentrated on weakening the 7th Division at Zandvoorde as the prelude to a massive assault planned for close by on the 28th. Dick Sutton, also in the 7th Cavalry Brigade (1st Life Guards), wrote in his diary:

At about 7 a.m. we were sent to relieve the 10th Hussars in the Zandvoorde trenches, but the trenches were being so heavily shelled that it was found impossible to relieve them until dark. We were under shell fire for some time, and our Brigadier-General (Kavanagh) had a lucky escape, as a shell burst close to him, one bullet going through his coat.

Next entry: Another ‘Russian connection’

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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