December 28, 2014

The madness of war

OBSERVANT READERS will have noticed that this column is called Mainly about Boats. It was given that name because people interested in boats are normally highly intelligent, and such people occasionally show interest in things other than boats.

Which brings me to the point. The news sources lately have been full of stories about the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and many have mentioned the strange situation in the front-line trenches in Europe, where fighting temporarily ceased during the Christmas and New Year holidays. There is one oft-repeated but apocryphal story about the Germans and the British arranging a soccer match in No Man’s Land in the middle of the war.

But the saddest story I know about that time comes from a book called Leaves in the Wind, by Alpha of the Plough — a collection of columns from The Star newspaper, London, published in 1919. This particular column was called ’Appy ’Einrich. It described an incident in France where the two lines of enemy trenches were only 40 yards apart. It was at a time when there was very little military activity, according to a British soldier who was there:

“We got rather chummy with the [German] fellows over the way. We’d put up a target for them and they’d do the same for us. Yes, we got quite friendly and one morning one of their men got up on the parapet over the way, bowed very low, and shouted ‘Goot morning.’ Our men answered, ‘Morgen, Fritz. How goes it?’ and so on.

“He was a big, fat fellow, with glasses, and a good-humored face, and to our great joy he began to sing a song in broken English. And after he had finished we called for more and he gave us more. He had a real gift for comedy; seemed one of those fellows who are sent into the world with their happiness ready made. He laughed a great gurgling laugh that made you laugh to hear it. Our chaps gave him no end of applause, and called for his name. He beamed and bowed, said ‘Thank you, genteel men,’ and said that his name was Heinrich something or other.

“So we called him ’Appy ’Einrich, and whenever our men were bored and things had gone to sleep someone would sing out ‘We want ’Einrich. Send us ’Appy ’Einrich to give us a song.’ And up would come Heinrich on to the parapet, red and smiling and bowing like a prima donna. And off he would start with his program.

“This went on for some time and then one day we got news that we were to be relieved at once. We were to clear out and our place was to be taken by a Scotch regiment.

“Some weeks afterwards I ran across a man in the Scotch regiment which had followed us in the trenches. ‘And how did you get one with Heinrich?’ I asked.

“’Never heard of him,’ he said. Then, after a pause, he added, ‘There was an incident the morning after we took over the line. Some of our fellows saw a bulky Boche climbing onto the parapet just across the way and had a little target practice, and he went down in a heap.’

“’That was him,’ I said, ‘that was ’Appy ’Einrich.’”

Today’s Thought
In war, you win or lose, live or die — and the difference is just an eyelash.
— General Douglas MacArthur, U. S. Army

A cynical woman author describes a platonic relationship as “the interval between the introduction and the first grope.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

DaShui said...

But here we r talking about fritz 100 years later, so he lives on in a way.