I’ve written a bit about Patrick MacGill on this blog before, and given extracts from his work: Patrick MacGill and the Red Horizon and The Women of France. In the centenary year of the start of the First World War, it’s worth considering the experience of the ordinary men who took part (which was brought home to me on a visit to Arras last November). A facet of this is captured well in the following extract, set on a troop-ship crossing to France, from MacGill’s autobiographical novel The Red Horizon.
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This is an extract from Patrick MacGill’s First World War memoir, The Red Horizon.
“… Oh! ‘ang it, Pat, they’re nothin’ to the French girls, them birds at ’ome.”
“What about that girl you knew at St. Albans?” I asked. “You remember how she slid down the banisters and made toffee.”
“She wasn’t no class, you know,” said Bill.
“She never answered the verse you sent from Givenchy, I suppose,” I remarked.
“It’s not that—-”
“Did she answer your letter saying she reciprocated your sentiments?” I asked.
“Reshiperate your grandmother, Pat!” roared Bill. “Nark that language, I say. Speak that I can understand you. Wait a minute till I reshiperate that,” he suddenly exclaimed pressing a charge into his rifle magazine and curving over the parapet. He sent five shots in the direction from which he supposed the sniper who had been potting at us all day, was firing. Then he returned to his argument.
“You’ve seen that bird at the farm in Mazingarbe?” he asked. Continue reading
[First posted on MyT]
Patrick MacGill is the only person I know of who wrote books about life as an ordinary working-class British Army soldier in the First World War trenches (there may have been others).
MacGill was born in Glenties, Co. Donegal, Ireland, in 1891 … the first of eleven children of a small farmer. He left school the age of ten, and two years later was hired out as a labourer in a neighbouring county. At fourteen he went to Scotland to pick potatoes, and he later lived the hard life of an itinerant navvy, working on the railways and other big civil engineering projects. All the time he was educating himself by reading Tolstoy, Gogol, Zola and Hugo, as well as Kipling. Continue reading