and a GCM [General Court Martial]’, suggests another possibility. The protagonist, Gabriel Morton, is so furious after being accused of cowardice by his CO that he walks through a low gascloud in a shelled building. He is only subliminally aware that it is gas, and his repression of the fact makes the gesture virtually suicidal.
Ford was certainly ill enough for the army to send him to No. II Red Cross Hospital at Rouen, whatever the cause. As he knew, the damage wasn’t only physical. ‘I wasn’t so much wounded as blown up by a 4.2 and shaken into a nervous breakdown,’ he told his daughter Katharine, adding that it had made him ‘unbearable to myself & my kind. However, I am better now & may go up the line at any moment – tho’ I shd. prefer to remain out of it for a bit [...]’. Two days later the Medical Board said he was too unwell to return to the Front before the summer: ‘the gas of the Huns has pretty well done for my lungs – wh. make a noise like a machine gun,’ he told her:
Of course it is rather awful out here – for me at least. Of the 14 off[ice]rs who came out with me in July I am the only one left here – & I am pretty well a shattered wreck – tho’ they say my lungs will get better in time. And I sit in the hut here wh. is full of Welsh officers all going up – and all my best friends – and think that very likely not one of them will be alive in a fortnight. I tell you, my dear, it is rather awful.14
Survivor’s guilt only exacerbated his despair. ‘It wd. be really very preferable to be dead,’ he wrote to his mother: ‘but one isn’t dead – so that is all there is to it.’15
When he had a relapse on Christmas Eve, the terror he had experienced in the Casualty Clearing Station returned:
all night I lie awake & perceive the ward full of Huns of forbidding aspect – except when they give me a sleeping draft.
I am in short rather ill still & sometimes doubt my own sanity – indeed, quite frequently I do. I suppose that, really, the Somme was a pretty severe ordeal, though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time. Now, however, I find myself suddenly waking up in a hell of a funk – & going on being in a hell of a funk till morning. And that is pretty well the condition of a number of men here.
14 Ford to Katharine Hueffer, 10 and 12 Dec. 1916: Cornell. 15 Ford to Cathy Hueffer, 15 Dec. 1916: House of Lords Record Office.