Stunning Discovery

scan to about 28:50 in and take a look at that recruiting poster.

It is a vivid, colorful variant of the famous “Lord Kitchener” poster.  One detail I’ve remembered about the day I decided to re-enlist was the poster being in more than just black, white, and red like the usual version.  It had a full-color portrait.

The one in the documentary is closer to the commonly-seen one.  However, it does have an interesting detail: it specifically calls for ex-soldiers up to 45 years of age!  This tells me a little bit more about why I made the fateful decision that would bring an otherwise-unremarkable past life to an early and violent end.

Just on a whim though, I did another search for variants of this poster after I found this documentary.  I did not expect to find this full-color variant which is without a doubt the poster I saw that day in September 1914.

One of the things that always bothered me was that poster.  I had remembered it in full color but an initial search failed to turn up any such poster.  It was always the classic one that has been reproduced innumerable times.  This was one of the details that had always cast a shadow of doubt over the first memories to break in late 2012.

Every time I think I can’t confirm anything else, a new detail like this pops up.

Incidentally, I’ve been reflecting a great deal on exactly why I made the decision back then.  What I remembered was that Lord Kitchener reminded me of my father, and that I probably felt like I ought to do this.  A sense of what might be termed filial piety, I suppose, but in a uniquely British context.  I have little doubt that my father (who, according to what I’ve read in the official records, outlived me by about four years) wanted me to enlist and that it was out of a near-religious respect for him that I was initially moved.

On the other hand, I remember my “Gethsemane moment” too.  I remember wrestling with the idea and ultimately subscribing to the myth that I was destined to put everything on the line and either become a sacrifice or a gentleman by the end of it all.  This does not exclude the above but was probably an exacerbating factor.

Another factor I seem to remember was not having much of a civilian life to begin with.  I remember taking diction classes to learn to speak in a posh dialect and getting nowhere with it, though I had my eye on jobs waiting on the well-to-do as a means of learning the ins and outs of high society from an accessible spot.  It didn’t work out; after a while I began to miss the security and structure the army gave me.  Once again, this is not to the exclusion of either of the above but adds fuel to the fire.

There had to have been some reluctance, though.  War was declared in July, and I could have re-enlisted earlier in the summer.  Instead, I waited until the big recruitment drives at the end of the Summer.  I had a memory of being in love with a woman named Anne and although it can’t be confirmed, it is rather interesting that after the war, my brother Albert probably married a woman whose middle name was Anne, if the grave in Yeovil is indeed my Albert.  I don’t believe I was Albert myself because the poster was definitely in Hereford when I saw it.  I very likely left her without a sweetheart and that couldn’t have been an easy decision for me, since I remember us being head-over-heels for each other.

Nonetheless, I have a feeling that by the time I traveled to Nuneaton (which I have since learned, at the time, was a staging area for the Regular Army of which I was a part), I was completely sold.  I had fewer reasons to stay in Hereford than to march off to the front.

Fewer reasons, perhaps.  But I did have a choice and I still carry a burden for that.  I made the wrong choice, and now, 101 years after that life ended, I’m still dealing with the fallout from that, trying to make sense of where it all went wrong.

A Small Correction

I had assumed that John, being a new recruit answering Kitchener’s drive for fresh troops, would have been excluded from the title of an “Old Contemptible” and was the first wave of “Kitchener’s Army.”

However, it seems that “Kitchener’s Army” (or Fred Karno’s Army, as the regulars called them) was a matter of structure; John was in the 2nd KSLI, which was in the 27th Division: a regular army division.  There’s apparently some disagreement as to whether the new recruits to the regular army count or if only those in service at the time of the outbreak of war fall under the heading, but there seems to be enough consensus among historians that the distinction is based more on division than on enlistment dates.

The fact that John volunteered for the KSLI may have had to do with his desire to join the regular army and get to the front lines faster than the Territorial Forces, of which the Herefordshire Regiment (his local regiment) was a part.  

This actually supports my memories of a man who was anxious to get to the front.  As to why, I still feel (as I have since these memories broke) it was both a romantic disappointment (as I cannot even remember my wife or if I was married) and no small amount of Edwardian “Father would have wanted it” sentimentality (Lord Kitchener looked like my father… go figure).

At any rate, I have a tendency for my emotions to rule me (as did Phil), so volunteering to go over as an Old Contemptible isn’t that surprising given the time and place (and the fact that I considered doing the same a few times in this life, though depression and physical health prevented me from repeating the same mistakes twice).