It is not quite clear from the wording of Kittie’s memoirs whether George had been coming home every weekend from Friday to Monday before starting a ‘machine gunnery course on Hayling Island’, or whether he was able to take such long weekends once he started this course. Either way, I believe that by now he would have begun it, because it must have lasted several weeks. On Gallipoli, we see him merely supervising the care of a machine gun, but presumably he would have learnt how to use it efficiently himself, and had plenty of practice firing it on a range, so that he could take over if machine gunners in his platoon or company became casualties.
Understandably, Kittie concentrates on his personal relations at Fort Brockhurst:
Capt. [Arthur] Maxwell Labouchere the adjutant (alas, killed later ) became a real friend and made a great difference — and the Peels (a young brother officer and his wife) were often a refuge; as George expressed it, their ‘little young household was such a rest from barrack life’.
It was a comfort to know that there were such bright spots — and there were many points that helped. He liked the Colonel [Hawkins], and Major Benson D.S.O. was such a splendid soldier to work with. George’s sense of camaraderie, as it was certain to, made him throw himself into the spirit of it all — be the spirit of it all. […] I also heard later how his music had counted.
Kittie’s reference to ‘bright spots’ could imply that George was not over-happy at Brockhurst — possibly even depressed, as at Ypres. Followers may remember from my post of 22 January that we know he wasn’t comfortable with the ‘hard and arid gaiety’ of the officers’ mess sitting-room, and sought refuge from it outside Fort Brockhurst when he could. He was entitled as a married officer to live in digs, and Kittie would have set up a home for him there, but he felt that if they did this he wouldn’t learn ‘one quarter as much of soldiering as by living in Barracks’, and Kittie agreed (see my post of 16 January).
Incidentally, I have made little progress in deciphering the five ‘appled out’ lines in George’s letter of 10 May 1915 that may describe the less positive side of his stay at Brockhurst (see post of 22 January). I have consulted a university library manuscripts section, the forensic department of one university, the criminology department of another, and a retired chief constable, but they have not come up with a solution. Examination both magnified and under ultraviolet light has revealed only six words. The way forward appears to be to make a word-by-word ‘grid’ of these lines, put in what we have, and turn it over to a team of cryptologists.
What we can presume is that George received a lot of letters from a wide range of friends such as William Rothenstein, Henry Newbolt and Manolo Ordoño de Rosales, and we know for a fact that he had with him at Fort Brockhurst a ‘large number’ of books from the ‘London Library’. Both letters and books were lost when the battalion moved out.
Within the battalion, Labouchere wrote later, George took ‘everyone’s heart by storm’. He was particularly valued for what Kittie called ‘his unending invention and energy in getting up sham fights’, i.e. field exercises. Not surprising, perhaps, for a dramatist and expert pantomime-stager, and perhaps that is what he enjoyed as a lieutenant most!
Next entry: Tahiti: The book’s reception (1921)