29 July 1915

29th July, 1915.

The Military Secretary presents his compliments to Mrs Calderon, and begs to thank her for her letter of July 26th, and to inform her that a form of enquiry on behalf of her husband will be sent to the American Ambassador in due course, and his name shall be added to the ‘Missing List’.

This is a transcription of a carbon copy in George’s War Office file. Kittie probably received the original at Well Walk, Hampstead, today.

One must give the War Office credit for replying to Kittie’s letter (see my post of 26 July) within three days. Moreover, she had not mentioned in her letter enquiring through the American Ambassador in Constantinople about whether George’s name was on the Turks’ list of prisoners, so it seems to imply some initiative on the War Office’s part. Doubtless they were responding to the press campaign about George’s disappearance, and the high-profile people who were taking Kittie’s part (Gertrude Bell, Coote Hedley, Sir Ronald Ross, Constance Sutton, Will Rothenstein, to name but a few).

The United States was still a neutral power in the War. In his George Calderon: A Sketch from Memory (1921) Percy Lubbock writes that ‘a friend in England sent an American agent expressly to Constantinople, a few weeks later, to follow up any clue that might be discoverable there’. There is no documentation of who this friend was and who the American citizen was who acted as ‘agent’. It is not, of course, what the War Office said they were going to do, so sending an agent to an enemy country must have been a private initiative, again possibly by a friend of Kittie’s in high places.

Judging by George’s War Office file, the W.O. literally sent a form to the U.S. Embassy in Constantinople with three questions on it about George: ‘Is he a Prisoner of War? Where is he? How is he?’ It was returned to London with the following typed in the SPACE FOR REPLY at the bottom:

According to information received from the British Foreign Office the above British officer has not been made a prisoner of war by the Imperial forces.

[signed] In Charge of British Interests
Hoffman Philip

American Embassy Constantinople
August 26, 1915.

Hoffman Philip was a career American diplomat. It seems curious that the form had gone all the way to Constantinople for him merely to supply information from the ‘British Foreign Office’ in London. This also struck someone in the War Office, who on 17 September 1915 wrote above ‘British’ the query ‘Ottoman?’. But perhaps the American Embassy had not succeeded in communicating with the relevant Turkish authorities. The ‘British Foreign Office’ seem pretty certain that George was not a prisoner. Where had the Foreign Office got their information from? Military men in the know at the War Office, as opposed to the lower-level administrators who had taken the initiative of sending the form? Or was it actually the ‘Ottoman Foreign Office’ who were so certain of the facts?

The War Office letter she received today gave Kittie the satisfaction of knowing that they had done what she asked and put George’s name on their list of Missing. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion, however, that her Calvary was only just beginning.

Next entry: 30 July 1915: ‘Ends’

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28 July 1915

Brit. Red Cross
St Mark’s Buildings
Alexandria

July 20.1915

Kitty dear

One of our workers found another Sgt Major Allan, B Company, 1st K.O.S.B. in hospital here. The report that this man gave was sent to London last week, and you will have had it from Miss Bell. I can’t in the least understand from it how anyone should have been reported missing after such an action — i.e. where the ground taken was never lost again. It is where a charge has gone beyond what it finally holds, that those who drop in front cannot be got in. Otherwise all would be got in, in time. This makes me want to hear more about the nature of the action. (I think it was June 4, and that the man saw was wrong.) But there is no doubt that it was G. that the man remembered before the action. He volunteered the fact that the officer he meant had been an Interpreter in Belgium, and was elderly for a Lieut. (Our worker, Mrs Ludolf, who saw the man, told me this.) I was in Cairo when she found the man, and only heard of it when I got back three days later. I went to the hosp. to see the man myself, but found he had been sent home to England (by the hosp. ship ‘Gurkha’, I believe). You could get at his whereabouts in England by writing to the K.O.S.B. Depôt, Berwick-on-Tweed.

We have also heard of a man, said to be in hosp. at Malta, who might be able to tell more. We have cabled to Malta for him to be interviewed.

Kitty, I just write this and must leave it (eyes not good). I am with you all the time, and you know what more I say [sic]. You know many wounded are now sent straight home, without stopping here or at Malta. No doubt Miss Bell has arranged to catch these and have them questioned as to G.

Kittie received this letter from Percy Lubbock on or around this day, Wednesday 28 July 1915. Note that Percy says she should have received SM Allan’s account (see my post of 13 July) from Gertrude Bell by now. Whether he meant by the date on his letter, implying it took a week for letters to get from Alexandria to England, or by the time Kittie has received the present letter from him, we cannot tell. Either way, as I have stressed in my recent posts, there is no evidence that Bell had yet shown her SM Allan’s account as taken down by Mrs Ludolf on 13 July 1915.

The above is the complete text of Percy’s letter. It seems odd that he did not sign it. Similarly, he says that Mrs Ludolf had found ‘another’ SM Allan in hospital, but the whole point about the one he interviewed on 12 July was that his name was Allen; Percy had got the wrong sergeant-major. Moreover, Mrs Ludolf actually found SM Allan, and interviewed him, when Percy was still in Alexandria on 13 July.

When Percy says that he cannot ‘in the least understand’ from SM Allan’s account ‘how anyone should have been reported missing after such an action’ etc, it is not clear to me whether he is implying that George must therefore have been killed, or that he is on a hospital ship on his way back to Britain. If Kittie understood him to be saying the latter, she must have thought him naive, as she would certainly have heard George was on a hospital ship by now, six weeks after the Third Battle of Krithia.

Presumably the other possible witness, ‘said to be in hosp. in Malta’, is the ‘6424 Sergt. Smith’ he had cabled Gertrude Bell about, and of whom Bell had informed Kittie on 23 July (see my post of that date). As with SM Allan, there is no documentary evidence that Kittie ever met Smith when he arrived back in Britain. This is the paradoxical thing, though: perhaps the fact that she never referred to them implies that she did meet them, but was in denial about their opinions concerning George’s death.

Next entry: 29 July 1915

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The War

Im Westen nichts Neues is the title of Erich Maria Remarque’s famous novel, usually rendered in English as All Quiet on the Western Front. Its literal translation, however, is In the West Nothing New.

The deadly sniping, sapping, night raids, shelling and ‘probing’ that continued all along the Western Front this summer were indeed nothing new. But equally, since losing the Second Battle of Ypres in May Falkenhayn had undertaken nothing new in the way of a major attack. He and his generals concentrated on their eastern front, where they seriously hoped to batter Russia into capitulation. Through the summer the Russians were forced back from the Carpathians, by 4 August the Germans had taken Warsaw, and in September they entered Vilna, capital of Lithuania.

It was precisely this development, of course, that had enabled Kitchener to release five divisions for Ian Hamilton to launch his new offensive at Anzac and Suvla. This was, in Peter Hart’s words, ‘the last chance for the Gallipoli campaign’. By the end of August it had failed. On 16 October Hamilton was recalled to England, his military career over. On 9 January 1916 the evacuation of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force from the Gallipoli peninsula was completed without the loss of a single man. However, the remains of nearly 36,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen were left behind, including those of Lieutenant George Calderon, 1st KOSB.

At home, the increased Zeppelin raids and the human cost of the Germans’ policy of unrestricted submarine warfare solidified people’s hatred of the enemy and convinced them that the war must be won at any cost. A year ago, even George Calderon had spoken of the war being over by Christmas. I have the impression that by July 1915 the unparalleled, one might say truly 20th century brutality of total war, had wrought a deep change of attitude in both the Edwardian military and nation. Conscription was not far off and women’s role in the war grew ever greater.

After the Battle of Loos in September Sir John French was at last sacked, and replaced by Sir Douglas Haig as commander of the British Expeditionary Force.

*                    *                    *

Followers of this blog may recall that one set of papers I read three weeks ago at the Imperial War Museum belonged to Lieutenant J. Harley, a Trinity (Oxford) man ten years younger than George Calderon who was killed at the same time as him when B Company went over the top at the Third Battle of Krithia on 4 June. (See my post of 20 July.)

In a letter to his father written 1-3 June 1915, Harley reveals himself to be completely anti-war. He was appalled by this particular war and had absolutely no time for what he called the ‘death-and-glory’ ethos of the Edwardian army he served in. But he believed passionately that the ‘Prussians’, as he called them, had to be defeated. Therefore, he told his father, he must ‘do his duty’ and fight in the British Army.

Where direct moral responsibility for the outbreak of World War I is concerned, the necessity of Britain fighting it, and the heroism of those who stuck it out, my views have not changed in the past year (see particularly my post of 9 November 2014). But I have come to regard the mere existence of the British and French empires as implicated in its causation. That is not, of course, to say that I see it as the Leninist ‘Great Imperialist War’. However, I now feel that the especially devious, successful and self-righteous nature of the vast British Empire was a contributory factor.

Further, my engagement with the Gallipoli campaign in particular has convinced me that hierarchy and attitudes of class difference were more real in Edwardian society, and more pernicious in their impact on the British Army’s conduct of the war, than I had wanted to believe at the beginning of this blog. I was probably misled by the fact that George Calderon and most of his circle were free of such prejudices.

I believe that by the end of 1916 the War had in effect destroyed Edwardianism.

Next entry: 28 July 1915

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26 July 1915

K.C. Letter to War Office, 26. July 1915

Letter from Kittie to the War Office 26 July 1915

Today, Monday 26 July 1915, Kittie wrote the above letter to Military Secretary 3 (Casualties) at the War Office. I have not transcribed it, as she has written it as clearly as possible. Even so, she has omitted an apostrophe and all full stops, which she did not usually do. Various features in it suggest it was written under great strain.

Whether she has seen Sergeant-Major Allan’s report or not, met Sergeant Smith or not, she has evidently decided to adopt an official position of believing George missing, ‘probably prisoner of war in Turkey’…

Next entry: The War

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25 July 1915

Today Kittie received a long letter from the Liberal historian, journalist and political advisor John Lawrence Le Breton Hammond (usually known as Lawrence Hammond). I cannot reproduce it, because it is still in copyright, but I will précis it and quote some phrases from it.

As I interpret Hammond’s biography, he was well to the left in the Liberal Party, so it is rather unlikely that he was a personal friend of George’s. However, his wife Barbara, who was also a Liberal social historian, had attended a famous boarding-school for girls at St Andrews, Fife, at the very time that Kittie was living there with her mother and father. Although Barbara Hammond was six years younger than Kittie, this could be the connection between the two families. Barbara Hammond was née Bradby and the Bradby clan of teachers at Rugby was well-known to George. Another possibility is that, as I have often speculated, Kittie was more Liberal than George and had met the Hammonds through politics. (On her thirty-seventh birthday, 5 March 1904, William Rothenstein gave Kittie his portrait of John Morley, the Liberal politician strongly in favour of Irish Home Rule, as was Kittie’s father, the Irish landlord John Hamilton.)

Hammond begins his letter by saying that he and his wife think of her every day ‘under this terrible ordeal’. Many others think of her, too, and pray that the cloud of uncertainty will lift. For ‘no woman has had more to bear than you’. The ‘staunch and splendid spirit’ in which she has accepted the sacrifice of her peace of mind and the ‘limit of your great happiness’ is, Hammond writes, ‘the admiration of your friends’. By ‘your great happiness’ he presumably means the almost symbiotic closeness of the Calderons’ marriage.

Hammond then tells Kittie that, at the age of forty-two, he has been offered a commission in the ‘Territorial Artillery’. Kittie must have known that after much political soul-searching he had decided to join up, because she had apparently questioned in a letter to Barbara Hammond whether (a) he would pass the medical and (b) he ought to sacrifice his intellectual life for the Army. Reading between the lines, Kittie had advised his wife to restrain him from going. But Hammond produces an unanswerable argument in this letter: ‘After all, if any of us ought to stop to consider whether he has other gifts that should check him from risking his life, what should be thought of George’s going?’

Lawrence Hammond then pays tribute to George’s ‘brilliant and original mind’. He and George had evidently crossed political swords over ‘lunch’ more than once, and Hammond blames his own ‘petty irritability and intolerance’ for preventing him from enjoying George’s ‘society’ to the full. He considers Act 1 of The Fountain to be ‘as perfect a display of wit as anything I know’, and would even have liked to have gone into the army with George, as his company would have been ‘stimulating and comforting’.

Hammond ends his letter: ‘Barbara sends you her best love and we both send you our most anxious and affectionate sympathy.’

Next entry: 26 July 1915

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REVIEW. Lorna C. Beckett, The Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner (British Library, 2015), 208 pp.

The chance sight of an email that I sent my military research assistant on 22 July 2014 recalls me with a start to the fact that I began researching the last year of George Calderon’s life exactly a year ago! All I can say is, thank goodness the other thirteen chapters of my biography didn’t take so long…

I actually finished writing that chapter on 15 February 2015, but I have been tweaking it ever since — sometimes substantially — in the light of the day-to-day writing of this blog. The blog’s intense focus on specific days actually led to me changing my focus in places within the longer narrative of the book.

In the year that is gone I have read dozens of works relevant to my subject. Some of them I have discussed and recommended on this blog. In the early months I relied heavily on Mark Bostridge’s The Fateful Year: England 1914 and Max Hastings’s Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914. Those are new books, and in my view unsurpassable. Another was Martin Pegler’s Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War, which is invaluable for reference and marvellously evokes the mentality and ethos of the British combatants. Among ‘classic’ studies, I have read and often revisited Adrian Gregory’s The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (2008) and Santanu Das’s Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (2005), and would never have been without Ian Beckett’s Ypres: The First Battle 1914 (2004) and Peter Hart’s Gallipoli (2011).

But the sub-title of my biography of George Calderon is Edwardian Genius. I am investigating the somewhat paradoxical notion of an Edwardian species of genius, and that means I am passionately interested in the Edwardian world and who the Edwardians were. Historically speaking, of course, Calderon was also a Georgian ‘genius’, because George V acceded to the throne in 1910, but let’s not go into that now.

Where the Edwardian context of my biography’s subject is concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that the most stimulating, evocative and informative book I have read in the past year is Lorna Beckett’s The Second I Saw You, which was published by the British Library and launched at the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, in April 2015. Several of my friends have read it and argued with me about it. I have read it twice. As a book, it has some quite serious technical flaws, but I will stick my neck out and say that you will learn more about the Edwardians and their values from this book than any other published this year.

Not that you will learn anything from this book about Brooke’s poetry, except perhaps that some of his letters to Phyllis Gardner display an over-interest in traditional metres and forms compared with brevity, naturalness, innovation or thought. But has anyone ever undertaken a serious critical evaluation of Brooke’s poetry?

As Chair of the Rupert Brooke Society, Lorna Beckett knows her Brooke biography inside out. This enables her always to give authoritative substance to the context of her subject — which, as the sub-title explains, is The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner. This story is based on a memoir of their relationship written by Gardner in 1918 and over a hundred letters between them from 1912-15. All of these manuscripts were de-reserved at the British Library only fifteen years ago.

Phyllis Gardner’s memoir is well written. She was clearly an original young woman, an intelligent wordsmith, and a serious painter. By and large her account has a simplicity that utterly wins you over and inspires trust in its veracity. The letters of both ‘lovers’ are truly vibrant, viva voce, and full of delight, directness, passion, pain, anger, regret — a wide, youthful range. Beckett interweaves the memoir, letters, and her own commentary, extremely well, so that you get a gripping story that happens also, you are constantly aware, to be true. Her commentary itself is penetrating and psychologically wise.

The first thing to be said is that in my opinion this book does not show that Brooke was the ‘womaniser’, ‘philanderer’ and ‘woman-hating sadist’ that some reviewers have claimed. In the less than four years that his relationship with Gardner encompassed, he had partially coinciding consummated affairs with Katharine Cox, Elisabeth van Rysselberghe, and Cathleen Nesbitt. He did compartmentalise his life somewhat, but it is hardly news that poets are erotomaniacs (because they have to explore beauty), or that young people (Brooke was twenty-four in 1911, Gardner twenty-one) have to experiment with relationships before they marry. Beckett has the balance exactly right:

Brooke was a complex, intense and frequently confused young man who in many ways was trying to construct an individual lifestyle, liberated from the conventions of the Edwardian era, and in doing so was often in conflict with himself.

Brooke knew about and practised contraception and today the idea that having three sexual relationships in four years before the age of twenty-five made him a ‘womaniser’ would be laughable. Moreover, as a socialist he could hardly have opposed women’s suffrage in principle: what really made him rage against feminists, it seems, was their denial of gender difference. ‘He is out to declare that men are men and women women’, he wrote of Strindberg. ‘It sounds an easy thing to say, but it’s not. The pain of the statement nearly drove him mad.’

However, where Edwardian mores are concerned the most pernicious aspect illustrated by this book is the extreme, controlling interference of mothers in their children’s lives. Both Phyllis’s and Rupert’s fathers were career academics deeply embedded in the Edwardian male woodwork and hardly ever feature in the book. Either they had no real hands-on interest in their children’s lives, or their wives assiduously distanced them from the latter. Phyllis’s mother, Mary Gardner, quite clearly derived a vicarious pleasure from her daughter’s relationship with Brooke. Indeed she seems to have yearned to be in her daughter’s place. She asks Phyllis pointblank: ‘Has Rupert been making love to you [not in modern sense]?’, and even writes a poem in her daughter’s persona when the affair is over. When news comes of Brooke’s death in a letter to Mary Gardner, she rushes upstairs in tears and won’t show it to her daughter for half an hour; when Phyllis is affected, she lies down on her mother’s bed. Brooke’s own mother was just as determined to live her life through her son, and had the advantage of holding his purse strings.

Add to this that Phyllis was meant to be chaperoned everywhere, or at least accountable for every minute of her day, and that Brooke found Cambridge society impossibly nosey, and you gain a palpable sense of the paranoia and secrecy that infested Edwardian society. If these were the pressures that assailed Edwardians when young, it is hardly surprising that they grew up obsessed with keeping up appearances, presentation and ‘spin’.

But the most fascinatingly awful aspect of the story is how a bone-dry conventional morality, a sterile degeneration of Christianity, blighted both young lives. Phyllis’s descriptions of them taking all their clothes off, swimming across the river at Grantchester, then drying each other with their long hair, or later divesting themselves in Edward Marsh’s flat and stroking each other, are magical, Lawrentian, unforgettable. Phyllis felt in ‘a sort of heaven’ and Brooke surely did too. They were both young, beautiful and in different ways in love with each other. So then..?

The affair was never consummated. They never made love. How on earth, one involuntarily asks in 2015, did they manage to resist it? Was there, as a Russian friend of mine used to say in such circumstances, chto-to ne to s seksom, i.e. a sexual dysfunctionality? Given the probably repressive childhoods of both of them, you might think it was as Freudian as that. But the truth, this book amply makes clear, was simpler, nobler, yet in some ways more terrible.

There came a time when Brooke knew he would not be able to control himself any longer. To quote Gardner’s memoir:

‘I must have you, here,’ he said, laying a hand over what is delicately referred to by artists as ‘the central point of the figure.’ ‘Yes — some time,’ I said. ‘It had occurred to me.’

But he knew she was still sexually naive. She was in fact piling the pressure on him herself, and conversely knew that she was ‘wax in his hands’ and might ‘surrender myself unconditionally to him’. When Brooke was staying at her parents she stole out of her room in the night, sat on his bed, then began to fear she had gone too far; but Brooke said: ‘Are you frightened?’  ‘Yes,’ said I. ‘You needn’t be,’ he said: ‘I wouldn’t do anything you wouldn’t like.’ Personally, I think this does the ‘womaniser’ great credit.

Brooke was desperately looking for the love of his life, to whom he might even get married, but suspected increasingly that he was just a ‘wanderer’. Gardner could not bear the idea of contraception, was from an exasperatingly ‘pi’ family, and believed only in marriage and the life-partner. Egged on by her mother’s utterly conventional and sterile class morality, in her conversation and letters Phyllis inveighed more and more angrily against Brooke’s perceived irreligion, hedonism and ‘German’ values. The relationship was doomed. In his own desperate disorientation Brooke was as much the victim of Edwardian convention as she was. He found emotional and sexual satisfaction with Taatamata on Tahiti, but as soon as she became pregnant he was off to England again. Phyllis’s life after Brooke was one of marriageless sexual unfulfilment, love transferred to Irish wolfhounds, and cancer. The last chapter is black. To some extent the decline of the Gardner family is as much an epitaph on the Edwardian world as Brooke’s own death.

The British Library deserve enormous thanks and credit for publishing this book, but the way it has been done (under their own imprint) leaves a lot to be desired. The proofreading is very wobbly, the design curiously amateurish, and the perfect binding not perfect enough to prevent numerous pages from falling out. Lorna Beckett makes much of the fact that this is her ‘first book’; she absolutely need not, but there are a few things in her style that, for my taste at least, should have been ironed out, e.g. her thoroughly Edwardian over-use of the adjective ‘charming’. But it is a valuable, absorbing, sometimes visceral portrait of a relationship and the last four years of a remarkable young man’s life. It deserves to be rigorously re-edited, and published as fast as possible in paperback.

PATRICK MILES

Next entry: 25 July 1915

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23 July 1915

British Red Cross and Order of St John
Enquiry Department for Wounded and Missing
20, Arlington Street,
S.W.

July 23

Dear Mrs Calderon,

Mr Lubbock telegraphs to us from Alexandria that 6424 Sergt. Smith, K.O.S.B. returning on the hospital ship Delta can give some information about Mr Calderon. Perhaps you have already been put into communication with Sergt. Smith? If not the War Office will be able to tell you into what hospital he goes in England.

I fear it cannot be definitely good news he has to give; if so Mr Lubbock would have telegraphed it.

Believe me yours sincerely

Gertrude Bell

Clearly Gertrude Bell is preparing Kittie for the worst; this rather reinforces the idea that she has not yet broken to her the contents of Mrs Ludolf’s statement from SM Allan, whose opinion was that George had been killed outright and his body ‘left on the open ground’.

We do not know if Kittie tried to contact the Sergeant Smith Gertrude Bell refers to, whether she was successful, and what the upshot was. Curiously, there is also no evidence that Percy Lubbock telegraphed Bell with the name of the ship (the Gurkha, apparently) that the ‘real’ SM Allan was returning to England on. If Percy had, obviously Kittie could have met him and questioned him herself.

This is the last letter from Gertrude Bell in Kittie’s archive.

On this same day, Friday 23 July 1915, George’s play The Maharani of Arakan, adapted from a story by Rabindranath Tagore (see my posts of 9 and 13 April), was performed twice at the Hampstead Conservatoire by members of the Indian Art and Dramatic Society ‘in aid of the wounded Indian troops’, as the press explained. The Morning Post reported that the distinguished actor Martin Harvey ‘complimented Mr Das Gupta [q.v.] and the other players upon the charming performance’ and ‘urged that further efforts should be made on behalf of the Indian soldiers who were lying wounded in this country’.

The Hampstead Conservatoire was a private college for music and the arts, of which Cecil Sharp had been Principal 1896-1905. According to Wikipedia, ‘the building is now part of the Central School of Speech and Drama’.

It would be good to know whether Kittie attended one of the performances. It is a reasonable guess that she did, because she and George had so many friends amongst the members of the Indian Art and Dramatic Society. But if so, it must have been trying for her. Everyone present would know that George was ‘missing’, and what that all too often meant.

Next entry: REVIEW. Lorna C. Beckett, The Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner (British Library, 2015), 208 pp.

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