155 page book, supplied as a PDF document on CD-ROM.
All Ranks of The
SECOND-FIFTH LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS
WHO FELL AT YPRES
On the Thirty-First of July, 1917
I Dedicate this Book
No doubt it will be thought that some apology is necessary for thrusting upon the public all this mass of matter, relating to many persons and episodes with whom and with respect to which they may feel that they are in no way concerned. I quite realize that my action may appear strange and uncalled for to the superficial observer. But I do not hold that view. I, personally, have always felt a desire to read this kind of literature. The Press does not cease to pour forth volumes of memoirs by leading and prominent persons—matter which is all wanted for a true understanding of the history of our times. But this is not enough. We require all the personal narratives we can get; and, in my opinion, the more personal and intimate, the better. We want narratives by obscure persons: we want to know and appreciate everybody's outlook upon public events, whether that outlook be orthodox or unorthodox, conventional or unconventional. Only thus can we see the recent war in all its aspects.
The motives which have prompted me to publish this book have been well expressed by Dr. A. C. Benson in his essay on Authorship in From a College Window. In that volume there occurs the following striking passage:
"The wonderful thing to me is not that there is so much desire in the world to express our little portion of the joy, the grief, the mystery of it all, but that there is so little. I wish with all my heart that there was more instinct for personal expression; Edward Fitzgerald said that he wished that we had more lives of obscure persons; one wants to know what other people are thinking and feeling about it all; what joys they anticipate, what fears they sustain, how they regard the end and cessation of life and perception which waits for us all. The worst of it is that people are often so modest, they think that their own experience is so dull, so unromantic, so uninteresting. It is an entire mistake. If the dullest person in the world would only put down sincerely what he or she thought about his or her life, about work and love, religion and emotion, it would be a fascinating document. My only sorrow is that amateurs of whom I have spoken above will not do this; they rather turn to external and impersonal impressions, relate definite things, what they see on their travels, for instance, describing just the things which anyone can see. They tend to indulge in the melancholy labour of translation, or employ customary, familiar forms, such as the novel or the play. If only they would write diaries and publish them; compose imaginary letters; let one inside the house of self, instead of keeping one wandering in the park!"
These memoirs, then, consist mainly of extracts from my private diary and my letters home during those memorable days, spent in the Salient and its vicinity, between the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres. The letters cover a definite period in the history of a great battalion and in the course of the war. As will speedily be noticed, the whole period was one of looking forward, practising and awaiting a great day which we all knew was not far off, but the actual date of which none of us knew until it was almost upon us. All this time our interests (and, perhaps, our fears!) were centred upon one man, the unpopular Colonel who, few of us guessed in those days, was destined to win the V.C. on "the day," going down in a blaze of glory which should ever associate his name with that battle. With that "day," which was for many of us the end of all earthly troubles and hopes and fears, or, at any rate, an end for many months, the story reaches its natural termination.
In these pages I give to the public, for what they are worth, my own personal impressions of the people and things I saw and with whom I came into contact. I hope I have revealed the late Colonel Best-Dunkley to the public just as he was—as he appeared to me and as he appeared to others. I believe that in this I am doing right. "Paint me in my true colours!" exclaimed Cromwell to Lely. That is all that any hero—and Best-Dunkley was certainly a hero—can conscientiously ask. And I am sure it was all Best-Dunkley himself would ever have asked. He was a brilliant young man, endowed with a remarkable personality. It is right that his memory should be preserved; and if his memory is to be preserved it must be the memory of the Best-Dunkley we knew.
The battalion which Best-Dunkley commanded has, since his death, achieved great things and acquired great fame under the still more brilliant leadership of his successor, Colonel Brighten; but we must never forget that it was Best-Dunkley who led it on the glorious day of Ypres and that it was the tradition which he inspired which has been one of the strongest elements of esprit de corps in the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers. All who served under Best-Dunkley remember the fact with a certain amount of pride, however unfavourably his personality may have impressed itself upon them at the time—for "All times are good when old!"
I am fully aware of the many imperfections of this book; but if it succeeds at all in vividly recalling to those who were in the Ypres Salient in 1917 the atmosphere of that time, and if it should encourage others to risk a similar venture, I shall feel amply rewarded.