Civil Life v Army Life
Many men who enlisted during the First World War must have experienced a culture shock when entering military life. No doubt some found it easier than others. Bombadier Thomas F Chard of the Cheshire Brigade Royal Field Artillery, one of the “Hanwood Boys”, committed his initial impressions to paper.
Civil Life v Army Life
‘I feel rather nervous in approaching the subject from my point of view. I feel I am “up against” it as they say, and the British Army of today is no small thing to be “up against, as our friends the enemy are beginning to find out.
I have been tempted to deal with minor details, those first things that strike one when first joining up, and those things which one first misses when we leave home. I feel I am too near Civil Live to give it its true perspective and too near to Army Life to weight it up correctly. If I say things that are out of proportion don’t let them pass unchallenged. Most of what I say is based on my own impressions, but I have gathered a few ideas from others.
My first night in Camp was one of horror. The language was new and strange. It was one stream of filth. I need say no more on that score at present. My first meal consisted of a few scraps that had been overlooked in the mad scramble (as it appeared to me then) when the food was brought into the hut. The first drill was one in which cursing and bitterness were hurled right and left. I began to wonder where I was. Had my Patriotism led me to this? What did Patriotism mean?
However things began gradually to clear, and I began to see that a good many things depended on myself – and so acquired some degree of self-reliance. “Good” you see out of evil:
It was not long before I realised that I had lost the protection of Civil Law. Military Law loomed up before me as a monster seeking whom he may devour. I vaguely remember hearing such phrases as this – “Shall suffer death or such less punishment as is this act mentioned.” I heard of this one having so many days CB for some trivial error, of another having so much money stopped under Royal Warrant and I thought of wife + children suffering for the errors of their men folk. I had hardly thought that the sins of the fathers were visited upon the children in such a literal sense.
I then arrive at this conclusion – In Civil Life you are protected by the Civil Laws, but in Army Life the Army Laws are not for protection but punishment.
Then again. In Army Life I have greatly missed the refining influence of woman. Of course you will say that War is men’s work. Quite so. It is. But our women suffer equally with their men.
The presence of a woman in Camp is taken by some soldiers to bear indication of a certain profession. Where woman is the subject of conversation among the soldiers their expressions leave no doubt as to the value which they place upon her – that of brute blasts. Our finer feelings are first shocked + then blunted, and it needs much care lest the cleaner soldier should be dragged into the mire of filth. This leads me to the observation that Army Life tends to destroy the finer emotions of life.
Again you say – Oh! That could easily happen if Civil Life. I agree. But in Civil Life you may choose your own companions which are generally your wife + children or your sweetheart, or, if you have not yet fallen under the spell of love and so fallen a victim to a fair one on whom you dote, then it is your special pal – your boom companion who shares your company.
In the Army you have to associate with the “boys” in your sub or your company, and often there are some rotters among them – men who in Civil Life you would pass by on the other side and yet be blameless. In my hut there are two of the filthiest fellows it has ever been my misfortune to meet. Nightly I witness their horrible performances, hourly I hear their horrible words and yet they are my companions. I eat with them, I sleep near them – I was going to say with them. I am as yet spared that.
And so Civil Life scores again here – in that you can choose your own companions – and a man is known by the company he keeps – in Civil Life – in the Army it doesn’t count.
Many minor points I am purposely omitting – they many come out in the subsequent debate, but my great point is this – one before which all the others meet away. The foundation of Life is Love. That is a principle which cannot be denied. Love gives us Life and Life gives us Love.
We are links in a chain to bind us
Which is forged to remain
And unite to Love from its birth.
Army life with its inner meaning stands for the very opposite of that. Death + Hate. “Battle murder and sudden death.” I leave it with you to think about.
There are many other points to be dealt with and are open to discussion. Briefly they are:-
The discipline of Civil Life is based on self-respect; in Army Life, on punishment – swift + sure.
In the Army we must first lose our individuality, and we are very fortunate if we find it again.
This is not my own – but I am fathering it – In Civil Life you get a weekend every week – and a late pass every night.
Yet another adopted child. In Civil Life you get what you earn. In Army Life you get what they give you.
I close with 2 good points for the Army.
One finds true religions in the army, ceremony is stripped of its trappings and a man finds the true relationship with his maker.
Another and of course lesser point is this – A man becomes more domesticated in the army than in civil life.
What is the conclusion of the whole matter?
The answer lies in Tommy’s own song “When I get my civvy clothes on, no more soldiering for me.”’
This document was transcribed by Philip Jones and is held at Shropshire Archives, ref. no. 9155/1/38