Three writers on the strength is a potential embarrassment for any fighting unit. In the Great War the Second Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers could muster Robert Graves (Good-bye to All That), Siegfried Sassoon (Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer) and Frank Richards (not, as some have supposed, the creator of Billy Bunter but the author of Old soldiers never die, an excellent view of the war by a Regular in the ranks). As many will know, Good-Bye to All That, published in 1929, erupted like a burst of mustard gas; much of the book turned out not to be the plain truth but the treacherous higher truth. Among those who took exception, on personal grounds, was Sassoon, to propitiate whom the publishers carried out last-minute surgery on the book. Another who objected to its 'hyperbole' and inaccuracies was Captain J.C. Dunn, the veteran and outstandingly fearless medical officer (a former combatant in South Africa) who had been attached to the Battalion. As a corrective to Graves, and perhaps as some sort of answer to war poets in general, he produced a magnificent tour de force, the length of three ordinary books, called The war the Infantry knew, which was published anonymously in a limited edition late in 1938, when people were preparing for the next instalment of Armageddon. Its reissue is most welcome, as is the well-informed Introduction.
LRB 1 October 1987 | PDF Download