To the army he was George A. Kent. Private George A. Kent of the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. To be blunt, to the army he was cannon fodder.
But to Emily Bacon Kent, he was her first-born, her beloved son Andrew. The ‘George’ had been to please her father, but he had never been called anything but Andrew by his family and friends. She looked at this latest effort to get young men to sign up, by recruiting their mothers and grandmothers to shame them into it, and she felt physically sick.
She would have done no such thing, but of course she hadn’t needed to – Andrew was recorded by the Andover Advertiser as having joined the war effort by mid-October with another 60 from the village.
The 2nd Battalion The Hampshire Regiment had only eight months in India when war broke out. On August 31st it was directed to leave Mhow at once for Bombay to take over from the Sherwood Foresters. The Battalion stayed at Colaba (where they removed ammunition from a ship on fire in the dockyard) until the middle of November, when the 1/7th Hampshire relieved them. In all 21 officers, 43 sergeants, 15 drummers, and 816 rank and file boarded the Gloucester Castle on November 16th and headed for England.
Emily was desperately worried about what would happen to her son, and whether he would survive the war. The village had just had news of the first casualty, Frederick Day, and no doubt others would soon follow. Winter was fast approaching, and she was worried about his keeping warm. She didn’t know where he was – his whereabouts were apparently a matter of national security.
She tried to concentrate on the difficulties of those at the front, and not dwell on her own pain. She tried to concentrate on her husband and other two children, and remain cheerful. But it was not easy – for one thing, those at the front had bursts of danger and fear in the middle of battle interspersed with quite long periods of waiting in relative safety for the next thing to happen. But for the families sitting at home, there was no such respite, the fear was constant. It was corrosive, and, if she let it, it would paralyse her completely so that she could not undertake even the simplest domestic task.
More than ever, she was grateful for The Hurdler’s Arms, the Binley pub which she ran. Grateful because she was never alone so long as it was open, and grateful that it forced on her a routine which absorbed much of her time. She would just have to keep her head on, and concentrate on doing that to the best of her ability so that she simply didn’t have time to think about anything else.
The reality for many young men who might have been reluctant to sign up,was the quite vicious campaign conducted by the media and politicians of the day, which was merciless in it’s ferocity. The White Feather initiative was one such. In the end, the Army was forced to issue a badge to be worn by those who’d served and been discharged for whatever reason, without visible injuries to demonstrate that they were not cowards.
This was poisonous nationalism and self interest in the guise of patriotism. No wonder patriotism became a bye word for militarism. In the end, the volunteers began to run out and the government was reduced to introducing national conscription in 1916, which shows the scale of the losses before that date.
The perception that the only winners of both world wars were the arms manufactures seems quite true to me.
Thank-you Ernie. This is partly based on conversations with a friend whose son served in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. She told me about the problem that she worried 24 hours a day, whereas he was only in acute danger for a short period of the 24 and had the opportunity to recoup. (Although as there were attacks on barracks, they were of course not completely safe there either).