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“For myself, I think the Balkans suit me well this year anyway.”: I'm back at my old haunt, the Imperial War Museum. It's an epic journey from East Finchley to Waterloo or Elephant and Castle, but at least it's a straight shot, so I can sit and pretend I'm elsewhere. They're working on the front on the building, so you have to walk around to the schools entrance. There always seem to be at least 500 kids running around the various guns and planes and tanks. This week, most of them are French. Oh, eurostar, how I love you, how I hate you.

I can hear the clanging of the construction very clearly from the reading room, but it's easy enough to ignore when I get lucky and hit a collection of letters that's easy to read: interesting and well written in legible handwriting. The best are those written by someone with a passionate reason for journalling, or someone very attached to his family. Here's one, "poor Private Haines," who works as a dental assistant and tells his parents in every letter not to worry about him. He also sends them money and tells them to “GET A BOTTLE OF WINE [underlined 4 times] out of my next installment.” In a way they remind me of my own letters home, always starting with excuses of how busy I've been and begging for forgiveness for not writing sooner, and ending with requests for care packages including cheetos soap, jam, and film.

In other discoveries, "in town" seems to be universal Britspeak for London, even if they live elsewhere. or in outer London. Here it is in 1916, and my own friends use it today, asking "are you going in town?" to mean central London.

Breathe in: I went to the basic Pilates class at the gym, and I was the youngest person there by 30 years at least. maybe because it's in the middle of the morning on a Friday? Theoretically I should wait till tomorrow to see if there are any unpredicted effects, but I think next time I'll aim for the intermediate class.

[Comments] (1) Save it for a rainy day: One good thing about all the crappy weather we get here (especially recently) is that once it does get sunny, you really appreciate it. Of course, that just makes it harder to be inside hard at work on a sunny day.

PhD notes: There is another R Richardson who uses the rare books & music reading room at the BL. And they're working on microbiology.

the more I read, the more I find it difficult to imagine that the balkan front was anything like the western front — it was simply too much fun. here’s the thing — I guess, my research on western front is not really extensive enough for me to do some kind of comparison. there is a vast, vast divide between rank and file men who had to be out in the “trenches” and mountains, who had very little comfort and hard work to do in intemperate weather. Fighting was at least a relief from the boredom of macedonia, but an infrequent one. Soldiers were frustrated by the lack of work — the lack of fighting work — in Macedonian. The reputation that the Macedonian front had simply made matters much worse for them.

One the other hand: relief workers, hospital staff, and officers had plenty of their own work to do. Unlike soldiers, who were expecting to and were expected to fight, they were doing what they had signed up to do. The importance and value of work comes into play here — as do gender and class notions behind what is proper work for certain types of people to do. Whether they were upholding this or breaking down these boundaries…

Also, the reputation that the Macedonian front had, is not altogether untrue. it’s possible that the western front has just as many diversions for troops behind the front line — I don’t know, but no one was really complaining about it were they? it’s only because these men were having a “picnic” of a time not fighting that they should not have been allowed to have these distractions, public felt. Totally unfair, but there you have it.

This ‘picnic’ atmosphere however, created a unique social consortium of the British and their Allies on that front. The ways in which they attempted to and failed to re-create a home-like society is revealing of their priorities. But what significance, then, is the fact that most of the average soldiers, the lower classes of men, were stuck in the front lines, and participated in this society, if at all, as transient members, or simply as observers?

things I need to look at then: more rank and file men. public opinion — newspaper library. urgh.

Overheard at the IWM:
Little old lady: "Listen to those air raid sirens. That takes me right back to my childhood. It used to make your blood run cold."


© 2002-2010 Rachel Richardson.