Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Chemical Warfare Protection, 1938

An interesting photo from a historical database. From 1938, it highlights the fact that most commentators were convinced that aerial attack in the next war would include a widespread use of deadly gas and chemical warfare:

From the website:

"A photograph of a sentry outside Wellington Barracks, London, dressed in a full chemical protection suit and a gas mask, taken by Sayers for the Daily Herald newspaper on 10 February, 1938. The sentry was taking part in an air raid precautions exercise. A piece of specially-treated paper is attached to his bayonet. This acts as a detector which changes colour when gas is present, enabling the sentry to raise the alarm. The man in the background is a newsreel photographer who is carrying a cine camera. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers."
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In Collection of: National Museum of Photography Film & Television

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Sword of Honour: He Also Serves Who Only Stands and Waits

In the recesses of Guy's conscience there lay the belief that somewhere, somehow, something would be required of him; that he must be attentive to the summons when it came. They also served who only stood and waited. He saw himself as one of the labourers in the parable who sat in the market-place waiting to be hired and were not called into the vineyard until late in the day. They had their reward on an equality with the men who had toiled since dawn. One day he would get the chance to do some small service which only he could perform, for which he had been created. Even he must have his function in the divine plan. He did not expect a heroic destiny. Quantitative judgements did not apply. All that mattered was to recognize the chance when it offered. Perhaps his father was at that moment clearing the way for him. 'Show me what to do and help me to do it,' he prayed.
~Book II, Unconditional Surrender, Evelyn Waugh

Such are the thoughts which accompany Guy Crouchback as he sits listening to the funeral mass for his departed father - the last member of his aristocratic Catholic line to occupy the ancestral family seat, economic difficulties having forced its lease to a convent. As we are all wont to do even at the gravest of such moments, Guy finds himself thinking of his own future. And so Waugh pens this extraordinary paragraph that expresses great pathos, longing, hope, and despair all at once.

The Sword of Honour trilogy ends with Unconditional Surrender, in some ways an unsatisfactory novel, but in others perhaps the slow drip of both meaningful and meaningless events that round off Guy Crouchback's War are in themselves poignant. He attempts a last stab at redemption, believing that he can save some Jewish refugees in Yugoslavia from an uncertain fate, and confesses to one of the elderly women that he was one of those who had initially viewed the war as a means to confirm his manhood and private honour: "'God forgive me,' said Guy, 'I was one of them.'"

The trite reality of the war he has known versus the singular task which he believes the war will assign to him. His affirmation of the promise that they also serve who only stand and wait is a talisman that he clings to. It provides a respite for his sense of hopelessness and uselessness and touches some deep aspect of human need and desire. We all wish to have our moment of importance, however fleeting. And we all wish to belief that, in the meantime, we also serve who only stand and wait.

[Part One on Evelyn Waugh in the army here.]

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

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