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Faith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War online

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press, and of the old ladies who knew on unimpeachable
authority that this or that eminent and august person
was a "Potsdammer" or a convicted spy.

His campaigning in France lay through a period of
discouragement to the British cause. The Russians had
met their great defeat on the Dunajec before he left Eng-
land, and continued steadily to retreat during the whole
period. This great disaster reacted upon our fortunes
everywhere. The Gallipoli expedition, on which Heath
had pinned his most confident hopes, first dragged and
then slowly failed; the final disappointment at Suvla Bay
took place on August 15. On September 25 the great
Allied offensive in Champagne and towards Loos began
with terrific carnage and large success, but the losses
were too severe and the difficulties ahead increased too
fast to permit of the advance being continued. During
September it had become more clear than ever that the


Allies could not expect any armed help from America,
and by the first weeks of October the Kings of Bulgaria
and Greece had apparently made up their minds that
our cause was safely lost. Venizelos was dismissed;
Serbia betrayed by her ally and invaded by her enemies.

Meanwhile Heath's own health was not very good.
He had an attack of some sort of blood-poisoning, which
was at first taken for scarlet fever. On July 21 he was
wounded in the scalp by a splinter of shell, while resting
in billets, and insisted on returning to work before it was
healed. He remained unwell for some time afterwards.
Still he found a constant interest in the care of his pla-
toon, and a great pleasure in the men's affection. His
letters remain steadily cheerful. Discomforts, when
mentioned at all, are always treated humorously. He
describes one of his men who had just written an indig-
nant letter about "them shirkers at home" enjoying
themselves, "while we are bearing the blunt"; and ex-
plains that his own platoon at this moment is " bearing the
blunt" by lying in the sun asleep or playing cards in a
beautiful rose-garden. Another time he has just been so
bold as to give a clean shirt to a major; "rather like giv-
ing a bun to an elephant." Graver misfortunes are met
in the same way : " The poor old Grand Duke seems to be
well on his way to Nijni-Novgorod." Now and again
comes a sudden blaze of anger against the grousers and
backbiters at home: "What I should really like would
be to go down Fleet Street with a machine-gun." Just
once or twice comes a sentence revealing, like a flash of
light on an abyss, the true horror of the things he did
not speak about: "These are days when men should be
born without mothers."

Like nearly all thoughtful men he was often troubled


beforehand by the doubt whether his courage and endur-
ance would stand the strain of real war. However, at the
very beginning he distinguished himself by a solitary
scouting expedition in which he discovered a German
listening-post, and, later on, the only thing that seems
to have disturbed him much was the nerve-racking
effect of the gigantic artillery. He wished "the great
bullies of guns" would go away, and leave the infantry
to settle the war in a nice clean manner. "If I had my
way I should bar out every weapon but the rifle ; and even
then," he adds, "I should prefer brickbats at three
quarters of a mile." In the middle of August his most
intimate friend in the company, Saumarez Mann, was
very badly wounded while cutting grass in front of the
parapet. Mann was still an undergraduate at Balliol,
and Heath's letters convey echoes of the chaff that
passed between the two friends. "Mann always makes
me laugh; he is so big," says one; while another orders
with care a box of chocolates for Mann's twenty-first
birthday. Fortunately Mann's wound proved not to be
mortal. Early in September came a greater blow, the
news of G. L. Cheesman's death at Gallipoli. There was
probably not a man in the army who was more vividly
conscious than he of all that Constantinople meant in
history or more thrilled by the prospect of fighting for
its recovery.

At last, on October 8, the end came. It was Heath's
twenty-eighth birthday. The battalion held a series of
trenches in front of Vermelles, across the Hulluch road,
in that stretch of ghastly and shell-tortured black coun-
try which we now think of as the Loos Salient. For the
whole day there had been an intense German bombard-
ment, tearing and breaking the trenches, and presum-


ably intended to lead up to a general infantry attack.
It was decided, in order to prevent this plan developing,
that the Sixth Battalion should attempt an attack on
the enemy at "Gun Trench." This was a very difficult
enterprise in itself, and doubly so to troops already worn
by a long and fierce bombardment. The charge was
made by " A" Company about 6.30 and beaten back. It
was followed by a series of bombing attacks, for which
a constant supply of bombs had to be kept up across the
open. It was during this work that Arthur Heath fell,
shot through the neck. He spoke once, to say, " Don't
trouble about me," and died almost immediately.

The whole operation was finely carried out. It failed
to take Gun Trench, but it seems to have paralyzed the
attacking power of the enemy. And the Official Report
states that the commander " considered that the 6th
R.W. Kents and 7th E. Surrey showed fine military
qualities in undertaking an attack after such a bombard-
ment continued throughout the day." As for Arthur
Heath himself, his platoon sergeant wrote to his par-
ents: "It will console you to know that a braver man
never existed. Some few minutes before he met his
death I heard the exclamation: 'What a man! I would
follow him anywhere!' These few words express the
opinion of every one who came into contact with him,
and we all feel proud to have had the honour of serving
under him." Another friend, who knew him but slightly,
wrote: "I can only think of him as one who has left a
track of light behind."

Four New College scholars of exceptional intellect and
character entered the university in 1905 and obtained
Firsts in their Final Schools in 1909 — Arthur Heath,


Leslie Hunter, R. C. Woodhead, and Philip Brown. And
now all four lie buried on the Western front. Each, of
course, had his special character and ways and aims; but
to one who knew them well, there comes from all of them
a certain uniform impression, the impression of an ex-
traordinary and yet unconscious high-mindedness. It is
not merely that they were clever, hard-working, con-
scientious, honourable, lovers of poetry and beauty; the
sort of men who could never be suspected of evading a
duty or, say, voting for their own interest rather than the
common good. It was, I think, that the standards which
had become the normal guides of life to them were as
a matter of plain fact spiritual standards, and not of
the world nor the flesh. The University of Oxford has
doubtless a thousand faults, and the present writer
would be the last to palliate them; but it has, by some
strange secret of its own, preserved through many cen-
turies the power of training in its best men a habit of
living for the things of the spirit. Its philosophy is
broad and always moving; it is rooted in no orthodoxy,
and the chief guide of its greatest school is Hellenism, not
scholasticism. Yet it keeps always living, in generation
after generation of its best students, a tone of mind like
that of some cassocked clerk of the Middle Ages, whose
mental life would shape itself into two aims : in himself
to glorify God by the pursuit of knowledge, and among
his fellow men to spread the spirit of Christ.

Such language may sound strained as applied to a
group of men who were earning their living amongst us
in perfectly ordinary ways, as teachers, writers, doctors,
civil servants, some of them in the law or in business;
but it implies nothing strained or specially high-strung
in the quality of their daily lives. There is always a


religion of some sort at the root of every man's living.
Every man is either willing or not willing to sacrifice him-
self to something which he feels to be higher than him-
self, though if he is sensible, he will probably not talk
much about it. And men of conscience and self-mastery
are fully as human, as varied, and as interesting as any
weaklings or picturesque scoundrels are.

Perhaps the first thing that struck one about Arthur
Heath was his gentleness and modesty. "It was fine,"
says one of his superior officers at Churn camp, "to see
a first-rate intellect such as his applied to a practical
matter that was strange to him. And he was so modest
about himself, and never dreamed how we all admired
him." The last words strike one as exactly true. An-
other quality was his affectionateness, or rather the large
space that affection occupied in his mind. Affection, in-
deed, is too weak a term to describe the feeling that
seems to glow behind the words of many of his letters
home; for instance, the beautiful letter to his mother,
written on July 11, about the prospect of death. He was
a devoted son and brother, interested in every detail of
home life, and not forgetting the family birthdays. And
the same quality pervaded much of his relations towards
friends and acquaintances. He was the sort of man
whom people confide in, and consult in their troubles.

He was a bold thinker; he held clear opinions of his
own on all sorts of subjects. He often differed from other
people, especially from people in authority. Yet he was
never for a moment bitter or conceited or anxious to con-
tradict. There was no scorn about him; and his irre-
pressible sense of fun, so far from being unkind, had an
element of positive affection in it.

In comparing him with other men who have fought


and fallen in this war, I feel that one of his most marked
characteristics was his instinct for understanding. In
the midst of strong feeling and intense action his quiet,
penetrating intelligence was always at work. Even at
the front, where most men become absorbed in their im-
mediate job, he was full of strategical problems, of the
war as a whole and the effect of one part of it on another,
of home politics, and the influences he believed to be
baneful or salutary. His courage was like that of the
Brave Man in Aristotle, who knows that a danger is
dangerous, and fears it, but goes through with it be-
cause he knows that he ought. He liked to understand
what he was doing. He was ready, of course, to obey
without question, but he would then know that he was
obeying without question. He was ready to give his life
and all the things that he valued in life, his reading and
music and philosophy, but he liked to know what he was
giving them for. After a study of the causes of the war,
he writes from France : " One of the few things in all these
intrigues and ambitions that can be considered with
pleasure is the character of Sir Edward Grey. ... I am
very puzzled about home politics; cannot understand
the Welsh miners or the Coalition, and feel all convic-
tions shaken except a profound belief in Mr. Asquith."
After his first wound : ' ' Fear is a very odd thing. When
I was up in the trenches about thirty yards from them
[the enemy], I got over the parapet and crawled out to
examine a mine-crater without anything worse than a
certain amount of excitement. But when we are back
here [in Brigade Reserve] and the shells start screaming
over, I feel thoroughly afraid, and there is no denying
it." A superior officer once warned him not to think so
highly of his men: he should accept it as a fact that


" theso men arc damned stupid, and what 's more, they 're
not anxious to do more than they can help." Heath
bowed to the officer's superior knowledge; yet he did
think he found in even the less promising men a certain
intelligence and keenness: "In fact I am like the man
who tried to be a philosopher, but found that cheerful-
ness would break in."

He never groused about hardships, nor yet about the
evils of war. The war was something he had to carry
through, and he would make the best of it until it killed
him. He realized the horror of a war of attrition, and
the true nature of these days when " men should be born
without mothers." Yet he took considerable interest in
numerical calculations about the length of time that
would be necessary, at the existing rate of wastage, to
make the German line untenable. And his calculations
always pointed towards the certainty of our ultimate
victory. When a phrase of poignant pathos occurs in the
letters, it is never by his own intention. Thus, in speaking
of some particular operation of trench warfare he writes :
"Gillespie taught it to me, and now I am teaching
Geoffrey Smith." Gillespie, Heath, Geoffrey Smith; it
was in that order, too, that they taught one another a
greater lesson. A. D. Gillespie died a brave death in
September, 1915, Heath in October of the same year,
and Geoffrey Smith in the July following. But the full
tragedy underlying the words can be realized only by
one who knew those three rare spirits.

A wonderful band of scholars it was that went out in
these days from William of Wykeham's old foundation,
young men quite exceptional in intellectual powers, in
feeling for the higher values of life, in the sense of
noblesse oblige, and in loving-kindness towards the world


of men. The delicate feeling which forms the founda-
tion of scholarship was in them not a mere function of
the intellect, but a grace pervading all their human rela-
tions. No grossness or graspingness ever found a foot-
hold in them, no germ of that hate which rejoices to be-
lieve evil and to involve good things with bad. Heath
played his beloved German music the night before he
left Oxford. Cheesman's latest letter to me was a de-
fence of the Turks in Gallipoli from some misconception
which he thought was in my mind. Woodhead, waiting
to advance under machine-gun fire and knowing that the
first man to rise would be a certain victim, chose care-
fully the right moment and rose first. The only words
that Philip Brown spoke after he was mortally wounded
were words of thought and praise for his servant. Leslie
Hunter, on the day before he died, spoke to a friend of
his presentiment that death was coming, and then lay
for a while in a grassy meadow, singing, "Ira wunder-
schonen Monat Mai"

While I was writing these lines came the news of an-
other of the band, a most brilliant young scholar and his-
torian, Leonard Butler, together with his colonel's state-
ment in the "Times" notice : " I never saw a finer death."
And this morning, as I revise them, yet another: not
indeed a member of this group, since he was older and
had already achieved fame on a wider field of action, but
one whom I think of still as a young Wykehamist under-
graduate and Ireland Scholar, by nature and fortune
perhaps the most richly gifted of all, and as swift as any
to give up to the cause that summoned him all the shin-
ing promise of his life — Raymond Asquith.

One after another, a sacrifice greater than can be
counted, they go; and will go until the due end is won.


At the close of the Michaelmas Term of 1914 there was
a memorial service at New College, as in other colleges,
for those of its members who had fallen in the war. It
seemed a long list even then, though it was scarcely at its
beginning. And those who attended the service will not
forget the sight of the white-haired warden, full of blame-
less years, kneeling before the altar on the bare stones,
and praying that it might be granted to us, the survivors,
to live such lives as these young men who had gone be-
fore us. His words interpreted, I think, the unconscious
feeling of most of those who heard him. It certainly
changes the whole aspect of the world, even to a man
whose life is advanced and his character somewhat set,
when the men who were his intimate friends are proved
to have had in them, not merely the ordinary virtues and
pleasantnesses of common life, but something high and
resplendent which one associates with the stories of old
saints or heroes; still more when there is burned into
him the unforgettable knowledge that men whom he
loved have died for him.



(March, 1917)

Ladies and Gentlemen: —

I have seldom had a more difficult speech to deliver
than that which lies before me this evening. Often
enough since choosing the subject, I have had an impulse
to turn tail and fly for refuge to some comparatively
simple and undisturbing question, like the internal re-
lations of the Ukrainian peoples or the Serbs-Bulgarian
Dialects of the district of Monastir. But in times like
these if a man undertakes to speak to his fellow citizens
in such a society as this, serious and half-religious in its
outlook, it seems a clear duty that he should speak
sincerely of the sub j ect that is most in his mind. I choose
the subject about which I feel most uncomfortable hour
by hour of my life; and though I have little to say that
we have not all of us thought and said before, I dare say
there will be some comfort to me and to others who feel
as I do in our having tried to puzzle the matter out

The objects of this society are two, and are expressed
in its name. First, we are ready to Fight; we are not
pacifists; we believe in the duty of fighting. But sec-
ondly, we fight only for the Right. We dedicate our
effort as a society to the Right and all that it implies:
public faith between States and Governments, justice

1 Address to the Fight for Right League, March 4, 1917.


between the strong and the weak, peace and good-will
between man and man, between nation and nation. We
oppose with all our strength the rule of naked Force, as
it seems to us to be asserted by the German Govern-
ment. And, deliberately and, as we believe, of neces-
sity, in order to overthrow this assertion of the rule of
Force, we appeal to Force as our champion. This sounds
illogical, but it is not so. We appealed first to all other
means. We began with no ill-will, with no touch of
secret ambition. We tried to maintain the power of
Right by arbitration or conciliation between us and our
neighbours. And in the last resort, when we did appeal
to Force, it was not to mere naked Force, not to Force
as a master. We did not put the sword upon the throne.
The Force we appealed to was the obedient minister of
a free and constitutional State, which was seeking not
conquest nor its own aggrandizement, but the reestab-
lishment of Right among the nations of Europe. That
was the attitude in which Great Britain took up the gage
of battle. "We hope," said our great Prime Minister in
November, 1914, "that the longer the trial lasts and the
more severe it becomes, the more clearly shall we emerge
from it the champions of a just cause; and we shall have
achieved, not only for ourselves, — for our direct and
selfish interests are small, — but for Europe and for
civilization and for the great principle of small nation-
alities, and for liberty and justice, one of their most
enduring victories. "

Let us take those aims, for a moment, one by one. We
shall "achieve an enduring victory," first, "for our-
selves, but our own interests are small." That has been
made plain, for example, in the Allied Note to President
Wilson about our war aims. In that rehearsal of the


larger aims of all the Allied Powers, Great Britain was
conspicuous in that she asked for nothing. (I do not, of
course, say that we shall in the end acquire nothing. But
if we end by allowing our colonies to annex certain of
the conquered German colonies, or if we ourselves con-
tinue to hold the district of Bagdad and Kut, it will cer-
tainly not be due to any deliberate plan conceived from
the beginning.)

"A victory for the independence of small nationali-
ties" : is that too much to claim? No. For clearly the
freedom of every nation in Europe is menaced by the
policy which forced war upon Serbia in spite of all con-
cessions, and destroyed Belgium in spite of her absolute
innocence and her explicit treaty. If that policy tri-
umphed, how much freedom would remain to Holland,
Denmark, Switzerland, or any other of the smaller na-

"A victory for civilization": is that too much? No.
The appalling barbarization of warfare, the atmosphere
of deliberate and obscene terrorism, the studied con-
tempt for international movements and Public Right
which Germany has introduced as an essential element
in her war-policy, are not only a danger to civilization
in the future, but are in themselves the absolute denial
and destruction of civilization. Nor could any move-
ment be compatible with the future of civilization which
rested on the exaltation of Turkey, by war in Europe
and in Asia by hideous massacre.

"A victory for Europe": is that too much? At least
it is clear that almost all free Europe believes we are
fighting for her. Germany and the Austrian Govern-
ment and apparently the Swedish Government think
otherwise. France, Russia, Portugal, Italy, Serbia,


Montenegro, Rumania, a large proportion of the sub-
jects of Austria, and most of the peoples of Holland,
Norway, Denmark, and Spain are with us, as well as the
greatest and most fearless of all neutrals, the United
States of America. There might be a Europe, there
might be a rich and fairly peaceful Europe, under Ger-
many's domination; but the peace would be, as Lord
Grey has called it, "an iron peace," and the riches would
be produced for German masters by masses of men
without freedom and almost without nationality.

"A victory for liberty and justice" : that is the clear-
est claim of all. No liberty could live either under or
beside a victorious Prussia, and it was only Germany's
set and deliberate refusal to consider the claims of justice
that precipitated the war. Since I wrote these words our
claim to represent the cause of liberty has received a
tremendous confirmation. Our ally Russia has become
a free nation. The event has shown that the cause of
autocracy and the cause of the Allies could not remain
permanently reconciled; the Russia that is our natural
comrade in arms must be Russia free.

The case seems clear. The policy of this League seems
both intelligible and justified. We will fight, we will kill
and suffer and die, rather than willingly see all con-
science banished from international policy, or betray
ourselves and weaker nations to the mercy of trium-
phant wrong.

And yet — is it so plain as all that? We know it is
not. We all know — or, if we do not, Thucydides did his
best two thousand years ago to explain it to us — that
war, at any rate between States of approximately equal
power, is not an instrument that can be directed with


precision to a perfectly definite aim and turned off and
on like a garden hose. It is a flood on which, when once
the flood-gates are opened, those who have opened them
will be borne away. In August, 1914, for the sake of our
own rights, of justice and of humanity, we appealed to
Force. Force entered and took the centre of the stage.
It became a struggle, not of Right against Force, but of
one Force against another. The struggle deepened, be-
came closer, more terrible, more fraught with anxiety.
It became very nearly a struggle for existence. We gave
all our minds to it. Gradually, inevitably, increasingly,
the fight began to absorb us. And while the men who
guided England and expressed the spirit of England in
the early days of the war were men of lofty spirit and a
profound sense of responsibility, idealists like Sir Ed-
ward Grey and philosophers like Mr. Asquith and later
on Mr. Balfour, as the war proceeded, there came a
change. England ceased to be occupied with questions
of right and wrong; she became occupied with the ques-
tions of fighting and killing. We turned, so to speak,
from the men who could give wise counsel; we called on
all who could fight, and we liked best those who could
fight hardest.

And here comes the subject of my address, a subject
that is rather terrible to a man of conscience. Do you
remember how Sir Francis Drake once had to hang one
of his officers ; and how before executing the sentence he
passed some time in prayer, and then shook hands with

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 17 of 19)