January 1915

Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917), war poet, joined the Public Schools Battalion as a Private in WW1.

He and Cyril Joad had become great friends at Blundells and Balliol College Oxford, but they took very different paths during the Great War. Cyril was an ardent pacifist who refused to enlist, while Graeme caught the ‘infection’ of war fever and joined up : “West joined the Army from a feeling of duty and, in the best sense of the word, patriotism. Violence of any kind was abhorrent to his nature” (Cyril Joad)

They corresponded at length, until Graeme was killed by a sniper’s bullet in April 1917. This culminated in a book called “The Diary of a dead Officer” in 1919, which Cyril edited under the initials “C..J”

Graeme West was a soldier-poet who, in his poetry, exhibits “the transition from the much boomed ‘1914 Spirit’ to something like despair” (Edmund Blunden ‘War Poets 1914-1918).

AGW wrote in 1916 : “My feeling of impotent horror, as of a creature caught by the proprietors of some travelling circus, and forced with formal brutality to go through meaningless tricks…To bring happiness into the world is the only aim of action. Action undertaken for any other motive is wasted”.

He divided his time between his family in London and the Joad’s (Cyril & Mary – who had married in !915) in the Surrey village of Westhumble near Box Hill Dorking.

Graeme West was in a crisis of tortured indecision in 1916. He changed his attitude to the realities of war, under the influence of his close friend Cyril and the writings of Bertrand Russell. But, he accepts a commission and returns to France in September 1916, as a “dead officer” (Ie a deadened mental state).

He had made a courageous decision to resign, but then failed to act on it : “I hated coming out here with all the force of my soul”.

According to Dorothy MacKenzie, his fiancee (a beautiful, but tragic, love story in itself) : “Graeme actually dropped his letter [to the Army] into the postbox, and then waited until morning to retrieve it from the postman. Had he sent it, he might have saved his life; the penalty was not execution, as he believed, but at worst imprisonment.”


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