FALL IN, GHOSTS
Sassoon mentions receiving a copy in a letter of 24 October 1930, but any comment on it goes unrecorded.11
Blunden probably did not have it with him in Japan where, relying on memory and a couple of maps, he wrote his second prose assay, ‘going over the ground again’, as he knew he would always. He was dismissive of De Bello Germanico in the ‘Preliminary’ to Undertones of War:
I tried once before. True, when events were not yet ended, and I was drifted into a backwater. But what I then wrote, and little enough I completed, although in its details not much affected by the perplexities of distancing memory, was noisy with a depressing forced gaiety then very much the rage. To call a fellow creature ‘old bean’ may be well and good; but to approach in the beanish style such mysteries as Mr Hardy forthshadowed in The Dynasts is to have misunderstood, and to pull Truth’s nose. (Undertones, p. xli)
Readers now will scarcely accuse Blunden of ‘the beanish style’; the account has a vivacity that seems neither ‘forced’ nor ‘depressing’ but wonderfully composed – in both senses of the word, both artful and astonishingly serene. It is hard to believe that it was written by a man of twenty-two, immediately after the war.
It begins in medias res, in contrast to Undertones’ considered opening declaration ‘I was not anxious to go’. Here there is no hint of volition: men are sent like parcels at the direction of an unseen hand. The reader arrives in Béthune alongside the innocent abroad, and there is Dickensian brio in the narrator’s immediate encounters: the ‘betabbed encyclopaedia’ directing them, the misinformation, the chaos, the men ribbing the conductor, all in contrast to the preceding night’s ‘singularly horrible counterfeit sleep’. Blunden’s adjectives – ‘gilded but scorbutic youth’ (suffering from scurvy, so both decorated and yellow) – have a nineteenth-century tang, and this alerts us to his mindset. Here is a sheltered boy of nineteen, brought up in a