According to the British Library Lavinia Greenlaw is “one of Britain’s most eminent literary figures.” I as a mere Arsenal supporter had never heard oif her. So I took their word. And of I went to hear her chair a symposium of writers Steger,Smith, Kehlmann,Mortier, Shamsie and Guo discuss, inspired by Graves immortal Goodbye to All That, the conflict between Life and Art. All part of the centenary of 1914. Unfortunately It was like being at some six form poetry class ,oh they could hardly articulate an original though and when they did it trickled out like tepid water from some desert tap.
Far from coming out with anything of merit about the First World war this bunch of Guardianastas long listed novelists and poets revelled and rolled in relative victimhood. The Chinese had sent 100,000 coolies to the Western Front, why wasn’t I told moaned Guo. 500,000 Indians fought for the British Empire,why oh why wailed Shamsie. The Slovenian claimed that per capita the Serbs had taken the biggest hit and they were on the losing side. The Belgian wen t through the litany of what a crazy mixed up place his country is. The German of course went through the guilt of WW2 and how that meant they hadnt got round to thinking about WW1. How one’s heart sunk.
The audience was nearly as bad. My dad was a D day, my uncle never talked about it, I represent the No More Glory pressure group, surely we must stop all war, on and on went the vegetarians. I yearned just for a small bit of a Big Mac. I remember Max Hastings promoting his WW1 book by saying that if he had been an officer in WW1 he would have shot deserters. Way to Go Max.
Give me a bleeding break. Everyone lads from the Highlands and thr Manchester c slums. Corsica and Industrial Lille joined up to get away from their tedious manual work and outside loos, and maybe a bit adventure. All wrapped up in patriotism, duty and manhood. The same reason that the warriors from the Punjab and the Sind flocked to the colours. Even today 30,000 Nepalese compete for 300 British Army places. Why-guaranteed work, escape from subsidence living and 40 per cent unemployment, and the reward of a life time pension.
Nothing has changed. Every day Muslim lads from Cardiff and Burnley g o off to Syria to prove their manhood, faith and in search of excitement.