Tag Archives: Reverend Michael Adler

Reflections on war

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Siegfried Sassoon, this blog will look at a number of collections in the Special Collections reflecting on warfare in the 20th century. These include two poems by the long-time friend of Sassoon, Edmund Blunden.

Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) was the longest serving First World War poet, and saw continuous action in the front line, between 1916-18. According to his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, Blunden was the poet of the war “most lastingly obsessed by it”. The period that Blunden served at the front saw some of the most violent and bloody fighting, including the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres. He had very definite views on war writing, insisting that it had to be accurate in detail and  in spirit and he shared with Sassoon a belief that the First World War had been a terrible waste of life.

The Special Collections holds two of Blunden’s poems (MS10): fair copies of ‘Portrait of a colonel’ and ‘The passer-by’. Both were published in Retreat (London, 1928) with the former renamed as ‘On a portrait of a colonel’.

Opening lines of Edmund Blunden's Portrait of a colonel [MS10 A243/2]

Opening lines of Edmund Blunden’s ‘Portrait of a colonel’ [MS10 A243/2]

A more substantial literary collection held at Southampton is MS328, that of Frank Templeton Prince (1912-2003). He is probably best remembered for his collection Soldiers Bathing (1954), the title poem of which is one of the most anthologised poems of the Second World War. His archive collection contains not only notebooks and drafts of poems and prose writing, 1920s-87, but long series of correspondence, including correspondence with Edmund Blunden, 1932-58.

F.T.Prince [MS328 A834/1/11/10]

F.T.Prince [MS328 A834/1/11/10]

The soldier hero has proved to be one of the most durable and powerful ideas of idealised masculinity in western tradition since antiquity. For the poet Martin Bell, however, there was nothing heroic about either soldiering or military service, for him it was a life of crushing boredom. Bell volunteered for the Royal Engineers in 1939, in order, so he claimed, to avoid being called into the infantry. He spent his war service in camp as a hospital orderly both in UK and in the Mediterranean, and later as an instructor. His collection (MS12) of correspondence to Joan Broomfield, who was one of his circle of friends from his days at University College, Southampton, contains scathing comments on army life as well as reflecting his literary progress and including poems he had written. In a letter to Joan Broomfeld, from 1943, he expressed his dislike of army life and the boredom of his duties “we Pavlov’s dogs commended by imperious telephones, we cramp our reluctant flesh into organisation…” [MS12 A767/37]

The collection (MS376) of the poet Judith Lask Grubler provides very different reflections on warfare during the Second World War, drawing as she does a picture from the home front. In her writings, which date from the 1930s onwards, Grubler gives a contemporary account in such war related poems as ‘After the raids’ of the experience of civilians facing bombing raids on London.

This material fits well with a small collection of correspondence of Nora Harvey, a student at University College, Southampton, 1939. She writes of the impact of the war on the University as well as Southampton’s role as a port of embarkation and as a military camp. She noted that: “….Part of the college building is being used for a hospital and ARP depot etc….  The Common is horrid – all roped off, full of soldiers and rest camps. Lorry loads of troops are continually going up and down outside our window, and we can hear troops being drilled at all hours of the day.” [MS310/63 A4028]

Students outside a sandbag protected University College of Southampton, 4 October 1939 [MS310/43 A2038/2]

Students outside a sandbag protected University College of Southampton, 4 October 1939 [MS310/43 A2038/2]

Other papers reflecting on war include: diaries of Revd Michael Adler (MS125); letters and diary of Private Paul Epstein (MS124); correspondence and diaries of Leonard Stein (MS170); correspondence of Fred Salinger, Gallipoli (MS209); and correspondence of Frederick Dudley Samuel (MS336).

Revd Adler was one of a small number of Jewish chaplains attached to the forces in France. He, along with his colleagues worked tirelessly to visit the camps, training areas and hospitals to fulfil their pastoral duties. The four diaries that Adler kept for this period provide a brief record of his activities during his tours of duty rather than an analytical or personal account of his experiences as chaplain. They are detached and sparse in their detail and tone, as befits the type of record they represent, but also perhaps representing the need for detachment in dealing with a traumatic situation.

Private Epstein was a Russian conscript to the Royal Fusiliers (the Jewish Regiment) who served in the Palestine campaign. He suffered greatly from home sickness and this is recorded in his diary and correspondence. His letters describe daily events in great detail and he maintained his diary, even when he had nothing to record. Sometimes he summarises the content of his letters home in his diary. He used his letters as a means to maintain some sense of normality and create a strong link with home. As he noted in a letter to his parents of 16 March 1918: “A line to inform you that I received your second letter last Fri[day] March 13th and the sight of it was worth to me untold wealth…” [MS124 AJ 15/2]

Major Frederick Dudley Samuel [MS336 A2097/1]

Frederick Dudley Samuel [MS336 A2097/1]

Frederick Dudley Samuel, CBE, DSO (1877-1951) served in the South African war of 1901-2 and then with the British Expeditionary Forces in France, 1915-18. His archive consists mainly of correspondence written on an almost daily basis to his fiancée, later his wife, Dorothy, 1909-18. His letters from France depict the grim detail of life at the front line. In a letter of 5 April 1917 he talks of the “frightful waste of men, material and time it all is, all devoted to distruction when it should all be devoted to production”. [MS336 A2097/8/2/31]

Envelope of letter from Fred Samuel to his wife, 1917 [MS336 A2097/8/2/31]

Envelope of the letter from Frederick Samuel to his wife, 5 April 1917 [MS336 A2097/8/2/31]

The collections at Southampton provide a range of material and of experiences of 20th-century warfare and the reflections they contain still speak to us as loudly today as they ever did.


Reflections on war and warfare: week 18 (30 June – 6 July 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

1 July 1944 Dealing with the threat of bombing
The effects on the civilian population of the threat of bombing raids on London, bombs from June 1944 had taken the form of “Doodlebugs”, is recorded in the journal of Samuel Rich:

“The frequent procession to the shelter on the approach of each doodle bug – the suspense at the cutting out of the engine and the explosion – the relief on hearing what must mean death to somebody – the emergence – to be repeated n+1 times.”

MS 168 AJ217/40 Journal of Samuel Rich, 1 July 1944

2 July 1813 The “scum of the earth”
At the Battle of Vitoria, on 21 June 1813, Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, broke the French army of King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain. However, in the aftermath of the battle, his troops broke their ranks to loot the abandoned French wagons. While Wellington often praised the gallantry of his troops he was well aware that the pressures of warfare all too often lead to such bouts of pillaging. This particular incident led him to write his now famous dispatch to Earl Bathurst, referring to his men as the “scum of the earth”.

“It is quite impossible for me or any other man to command a British army under the existing system. We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers, and of late years we have been doing every thing in our power both by law and by publications to relax the discipline by which alone such men can be kept in order. The officers of the lower ranks will not perform the duty required from them in order to keep their soldiers in order and it is next to impossible to punish any officer for neglects of this description. As to the noncommissioned officers as I have repeatedly stated, they are as bad as the men; and too near them in point of pay and situation by the regulations of late years to expect them to do anything to keep the men in order.

It is really a disgrace to have any thing to say to such men as some of our soldiers are.”

WP1/373/6 Letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Huarte, to Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, 2 July 1813

1-4 July 1916 A chaplain in the war
As the Anglo-French operations in the Battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July, extracts from the diary of Revd Michael Adler, senior Jewish chaplain to the British Expeditionary Force, recorded some of the human cost of this military action.

Sat 1 July: “Battle begun.”
Mon 3 July: “ Corbie La Neuville to be near the Somme fighting.”
Tue 4 July: “Funeral of Pte L.Levi… 2nd Lieut Seline seriously wounded.”

MS 125 AJ 16/2 Diary of Revd Michael Adler, 1-4 July 1916

3-4 July 1916 Battle of Albert
Taking place in Somme (Picardy, France), the Battle of Albert encompassed the beginnings of the Anglo-French operations in the Battle of the Somme. Lasting from 1-13 July 1916, it began with an attack made by the Anglo-French Infantry on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme, and from the Somme north to Gommecourt. Despite the Infantry achieving a significant victory on the German Second Army, the British attack from Albert-Bapaume road to Gommecourt resulted in approximately 60,000 British casualties.

“All last week there was a heavy bombardment of the German line, getting more and more violent. In fact it was terrible. But the weather was awful and the attack had to be put off for Thursday. The whole Battalion have been working like ants for days past, all night and every night.”

MS 336 A2097/7/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and, subsequent wife Dorothy, 3-4 July 1916