Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – September the 4th

How quickly Bookshelf Travelling in Insame Times comes around. This meme was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but I’ve taken it over for the moment.

Topshelf Books

This week’s bookshelf is in a glass doored bookcase, another one from Jack’s parents and it’s situated in our living room. Click on it to enlarge the picture. It has a variety of books in it, some really old library discards from a library I used to work in, those are the natural history books, ancient but nicely illustrated so still useful. All of the books are worth reading. The World War 1 poet Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer are great reads and my copies are published by Folio Books, as is Crime Stories from the Strand. This is a compilation of short stories featuring Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Carter Dickson and several more crime writers.

The small read volume to the far right of the bookshelf is a Bradshaw’s Continental Railaway Guide, illustrated and complete with several maps. It cost all of 3/6 or 17 and a half pence in ‘new money’. It dates from the early 1900s and apart from the continental railway guides it also gives lots of information on the towns and villages in Europe – including Russia – that are worth visiting, what you can see and recommendations on where to stay. It also has lots of adverts for hotels, many of which are called The Grand Hotel. There are lots of adverts for shipping lines too. It might interest you to know that if you sailed from Liverpool to Boston first class it would cost you £12. Second class was £8 and 10 shillings. I found this lovely book when I was having a rake around in an antique/junk shop which just had a few books. When I asked the owner how much the book was she said – Just give me a couple of quid (pounds). She explained to me that so many copies of the book had been published it wasn’t worth any more than that. It felt like theft but I gave her the £2 and departed with my treasure. Michael Portillo’s TV series Great Continental Railway Journeys was already very popular at the time and as he uses these guides during his travels they’re become highly desirable, but I’m holding on to mine.

If you don’t know about the TV series you might want to have a look at the You Tube video below, you also might want to wear sunglasses as Portillo is known for his bright and clashing colours.

Will you be Bookshelf Travelling this week?

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are :

A Son of the Rock

The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon

Still on the subject of the First World War: My husband’s grandfather bought this slim volume of Siegfried Sassoon poems in 1919 and it’s one of the many books which we inherited from him. I found myself leafing through it when I was on one of my frequent hunts for a particular book. How many months of my life have been used up in searches for books?

Anyway, for some reason the poem below caught my attention.

Arms and the Man

Young Croesus went to pay his call
On Colonel Sawbones, Caxton Hall:
And, though his wound was healed and mended,
He hoped he’d get his leave extended.

The waiting-room was dark and bare.
He eyed a neat-framed notice there
Above the fireplace hung to show
Disabled heroes where to go
For arms and legs; with scale of price,
And words of dignified advice
How officers could get them free.

Elbow or shoulder, hip or knee,
Two arms, two legs, though all were lost,
They’d be restored him free of cost.
Then a Girl Guide looked to say,
‘Will Captain Croesus come this way?’

It seems to be saying that officers could get free artificial limbs, which implies that the other ranks had to pay for them. If this is so, I’m outraged. I know, it’s 90 years too late to do anything about it, but how could they justify such inequality, particularly when most of the ordinary soldiers would have been really poor and people like munitions workers were being paid far more than the men at the Front. All that suffering and then they were treated like muck.

The National Health Service came into being in 1948, so I’m now wondering what happened to anyone who lost a limb in World War 2.

There has been quite a lot of talk in the newspapers recently about injured military personnel having a bad time of it in hospitals, and just not getting the kind of treatment which they deserve. They shouldn’t have closed down military hospitals for one thing, but at least they don’t have to pay for anything nowadays.

Back to Siegfried and if you are interested in him you should read his books Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

This book was first published in 1991 and I’ve been meaning to read it since then. I’m glad that I got around to it at last as I really enjoyed it although it is quite harrowing in parts.

It is set mainly in Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland in 1917. It seems that just about every book I have picked up recently has a local flavour to it, sometimes to my surprise.

Army psychiatrist William Rivers has the job of treating shell-shocked soldiers and making them fit enough to be sent back to the front. We hear the stories of several of the patients as they are treated but the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are the most prominent characters.

By 1917 Sassoon had had enough of the war and the stupidity of the politicians and generals. He wrote A Soldier’s Declaration which was going to be read out in the House of Commons which would have meant that it would have ended up in the newspapers which was just what the authorities didn’t want.

Sassoon is packed off to the hospital so that the authorities can say that he has suffered a severe mental breakdown. As the train is about to leave the station the guard blows the whistle which reminds Sassoon of the whistle which was blown in the trenches signalling the beginning of an advance towards the enemy. It had never struck me how horrific such a common-place sound must have been for soldiers at that time.

The pacifists are pressurising him to join forces with them but Sassoon still feels a great loyalty to his men still at the front.

If you are at all interested in World War 1 then you will enjoy reading this book even if you have already read Sassoon’s own book Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.

Regeneration has been made into a film which was nominated for a BAFTA award. For some reason they didn’t use the real Craiglockhart in the film, but chose to use Overtoun House which is set in the hills near Dumbarton.

Overtoun

As you can see it is in the Scottish baronial style, which I don’t find at all scary to look at but that might be because I’ve known this house since I was a wee girl, when any family walks up the hills usually took us in that direction.

The real Craiglockhart is now part of Napier University in Edinburgh and I think it must have looked a lot more forbidding and daunting to any poor nerve-racked soldiers.

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

If the Armistice Day commemorations and the documentaries about The Great War have given you an appetite for more, then you might be interested in this book.

It is a fictionalised autobiography of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s experiences in the trenches during 1916 and 1917. The main character George Sherston is Sassoon himself and the action starts at the Army School and goes on to describe the characters and actions along the way.

Sassoon became disillussioned with the war and he ended up being sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, mainly because the poet Robert Graves (David Cromlach in the book) had managed to convince the authorities that Sassoon had shell shock.

It’s a great read if you are into the First World War. However, I was always aware that if Sassoon hadn’t been born into a very wealthy family with influential connections, he would have been put up against a post and shot.

For more information go to the online Sassoon manuscripts which I reached via this Guardian article.