TO HIS FRIEND
WHO PRINTED SOME OF THESE TRIVIALITIES
IN THAT "ANGLO-ITALIAN REVIEW"
WHICH DESERVED A BETTER FATE
SANT' AGATA, SORRENTO
What ages ago it seems, that "Great War"!
And what enthusiasts we were! What visionaries, to imagine that in such
an hour of emergency a man might discover himself to be fitted for some
work of national utility without that preliminary wire-pulling which was
essential in humdrum times of peace! How we lingered in long queues, and
stamped up and down, and sat about crowded, stuffy halls, waiting, only
waiting, to be asked to do something for our country by any little
guttersnipe who happened to have been jockeyed into the requisite
position of authority! What innocents....
I have memories of several afternoons spent at a pleasant place near St.
James's Park station, whither I went in search of patriotic employment.
It was called, I think, Board of Trade Labour Emergency Bureau (or
something equally lucid and concise), and professed to find work for
everybody. Here, in a fixed number of rooms, sat an uncertain number of
chubby young gentlemen, all of whom seemed to be of military age, or
possibly below it; the Emergency Bureau was then plainly - for it may
have changed later on - a hastily improvised shelter for privileged
sucklings, a kind of nursery on advanced Montessori methods. Well, that
was not my concern. One must trust the Government to know its own
During my second or third visit to this hygienic and well-lighted
establishment I was introduced, most fortunately, into the sanctuary of
Mr. R - - , whose name was familiar to me. Was he not his brother's
brother? He was. A real stroke of luck!
Mr. R - - , a pink little thing, laid down the pen he had snatched up as
I entered the room, and began gazing at me quizzically through enormous
tortoise-shell-rimmed goggles, after the fashion of a precocious infant
who tries to look like daddy. What might he do for me?
We had a short talk, during which various forms were conscientiously
filled up as to my qualifications, such as they were. Of course, there
was nothing doing just then; but one never knows, does one? Would I mind
Would I mind? I should think not. I should like nothing better. It did
one good to be in contact with this youthful optimist and listen to his
blithe and pleasing prattle; he was so hopeful, so philosophic, so
cheery; his whole nature seemed to exhale the golden words: "Never say
die." And no wonder. He ought to have been at the front, but some
guardian angel in the haute finance had dumped him into this soft and
safe job: it was enough to make anybody cheerful. One should be
cautious, none the less, how one criticises the action of the
authorities. May be they kept him at the Emergency Bureau for the
express purpose of infusing confidence, by his bright manner, into the
minds of despondent patriots like myself, and of keeping the flag flying
in a general way - a task for which he, a German Jew, was pre-eminently
Be that as it may, his consolatory tactics certainly succeeded in my
case, and I went home quite infected with his rosy cheeks and words.
Yet, on the occasion of my next visit a week or two later, there was
still nothing doing - not just then, though one never knows, does one?
"Tried the War Office?" he added airily.
The War Office was a nightmare in those early days. It resembled
Liverpool Street station on the evening of a rainless Bank Holiday. The
only clear memory I carried away - and even this may have been due to
some hallucination - was that of a voice shouting at me through the
rabble: "Can you fly?" Such was my confusion that I believe I answered
in the negative, thereby losing, probably, a lucrative billet as
Chaplain to the Forces or veterinary surgeon in the Church Lads'
Brigade. Things might have been different had my distinguished cousin
still been on the spot; I, too, might have been accommodated with a big
desk and small work after the manner of the genial Mr. R - - . He died in
harness, unfortunately, soon after the outbreak of war.
I said to my young friend:
"Everybody tells one to try the War Office - I don't know why. Of course
I tried it. I wish I had a shilling for every hour I wasted in that
"Ah!" he replied. "I feel sure a good many men would like to be paid at
that rate. Anyhow, trust me. We'll fix you up, sooner or later. (He kept
his word.) Why not have a whack at the F.O., meanwhile?"
"Because I have already had a whack at it."
I then possessed, indeed, in reply to an application on my part, a
holograph of twelve pages in the elegant calligraphy of H.M.
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the same gentleman who was
viciously attacked by the Pankhurst section for his supposed
pro-Germanism. It conveyed no grain of hope. Other Government
Departments, he opined, might well be depleted at this moment; the
Foreign Office was in exactly the reverse position. It overflowed with
diplomatic and consular officials returned, perforce, from belligerent
countries, and now in search of occupation. Was it not natural, was it
not right, to give the preference to them? One was really at a loss to
know what to do with all those people. He had tried, hitherto in vain,
to find some kind of job for his own brother.
A straightforward, convincing statement. Acting on the hint, I visited
the Education Office, notoriously overstaffed since Tudor days; it might
now be emptier; clerical work might be obtained there in substitution of
some youngster who had been induced to join the colours.