war prose is continuous – so continuous that one gets used to it, as one gets used to the noise in a train and the ear picks out the singing of the innumerable larks...3
Either that day or the next he was ‘blown into the air by something’ – a high explosive shell – and landed on his face, with concussion and mouth injuries. ‘I had completely lost my memory,’ he said, so that ‘three weeks of my life are completely dead to me’. He even forgot his own name for thirty-six hours. When the battalion went into rest camp he was sent to a casualty clearing station at Corbie for treatment. He was suffering from what was becoming known as ‘shell shock’. His sense of patches of knowledge being blasted away, and the terrors and hallucinations that followed, were to become some of his most compelling subjects.
By 23 August he had rejoined the 9th battalion, which was now stationed in the Ypres Salient near Kemmel Hill. He found it ‘quiet here at its most violent compared with the Somme’ – even during the ‘strafe that the artillery got up for George V’, whom he said he’d seen strolling about on a royal visit to the Front. But Ford was still very tense and harassed. He didn’t get on with his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke, an ex-Eastbourne Town Councillor who doubted Ford’s power as a leader of men. (He thought this unfair, telling Lucy Masterman that the First Line Transport was ‘composed mostly of mules’.) He tried using the Mastermans’ influence to get transferred to a staff job, where he realised his abilities would be put to better use. But the move was blocked, not only by Cooke, who wanted Ford out of the army, but also by MI6, on the grounds that his German ancestry made him unsuitable for intelligence work.4
Ford was sent back to the first line transport, where he found the war exhilarating as well as nerve-wracking: ‘it is very hot here & things are enormously exciting & the firing all day keeps me a little too much on the jump to write composedly,’ he wrote to his mother. ‘However it is jolly to have been in the two greatest strafes of history – & I am perfectly well & in good spirits, except for money worries wh. are breaking me up a good deal – & for the
3 Letters of Ford Madox Ford, ed. Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton, 1965) – henceforth Letters
– pp. 66-7. 4 Ford’s service record is at the Public Records Office, Kew, file WO 339 / 37369. MI5
blocked Ford’s brother’s application for Intelligence work in similar terms. Oliver Hueffer’s service record is also at Kew, in file WO 339 / 44941.