Captain Arthur Graeme West was an officer in the 6th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. His book The Diary of a Dead Officer is in marked contrast to The Story of the 2/4th Oxfords and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by G. K. Rose.
The Introduction of The Diary of a Dead Officer:
ARTHUR GRAEME WEST was born in September 1891. The first few years of his life were spent m the country , but before he was ten years old his people moved to London, where they settled in Highgate, Graeme being sent to the Highgate School. At the age of fourteen he went to Blundells School at Tiverton, with a scholarship.
His school-days were not particularly happy. He was at that time too shy and retiring to impose himself in any marked degree on his contemporaries, and his complete ineptitude at any kind of game I have never seen a man so demonstrably and obviously unathletic, meant that at best he would figure very much in the background in a community where skill at games was the only passport to popularity and the only measure of worth. But worse than this, West was clever at least, he was concerned with books; he was also a naturalist, and concerned with bugs; his study used to crawl with caterpillars, and at that time smelt badly.
These two tastes combined to damn him as a public-school boy. Blunders had one universal designation for anyone who
regarded books as something other than work, and work as something other than an unpleasant method of wasting boring
tracts of time compulsorily inserted in an otherwise interesting existence. This designation was “worm”.
West was a “worm” and there was no more to be said. Being a “worm” at Blunders meant that no one thought of asking your opinion on any matter of importance, and no one went out with you except other “worms” As regards his taste for caterpillars, this was unusual, even a little unorthodox, and therefore an object always of suspicion, and sometimes of active suppression.
At school, then, West was a quiet, effaced sort of individual, alternately bullied by big boys when they wanted to evince their
superiority to “worms” and cajoled when they wanted their exercises done, but on the whole too obscure to be actively disliked.
In July 1910, somewhat to the general surprise, West obtained the School Scholarship to Balliol College, and went up to Oxford for the first time in the autumn of the same year.
At Oxford his personality expanded and developed in a remarkable way. Never in the strict sense of the word a clever man even by the academic Standard (he took only a third in Mods, and a second in Greats, and worked hard for them, too) – he became an extraordinarily well-educated one. His passion for literature was intense. He was one of those rare individuals who a dually liked reading the really great men.
It is always something of a shock to find a man reading Milton and Spenser, Homer and Lucretius, Shakespeare and Chaucer for fun, but West read them all, and liked them. It was all of a piece with his discriminating literary judgment that he disliked Virgil intensely.
His reading, especially in poetry, was wide, and it was always somehow hitched on to his life. It was not so much that he continually bored you by quoting, as that his comments on people and things always might have been quotations, and weren’t. He caught at once the style and spirit of the writer he reverenced at the moment, and in his conversation could not help unconsciously reflecting it. I never met a man who could talk “Meredith” conversation so well as he could.
With all this came an indescribable charm of manner. When people were attracted to West and as time went on they became more and more attracted they would have found it difficult to say what it was they liked in him. He had no outstanding qualities to win you. He was not pre-eminently witty, generous, genial, or hospitable. He knew few anecdotes, and never told them. Perhaps it was more than anything else by all the things that he was not that he charmed. He was so devoid of push and advertisement, so quiet, tranquil, and unassuming,
eminently companionable, and above all, such a good listener that, though these things did not constitute his charm, they went some way to explain it.
He had a great love for beauty in whatever form it came to him. Before he left Oxford he became a really good judge of most things that attract the eye. He knew much of pictures, furniture, china, and would in time have become a connoisseur.
His early predilection for caterpillars developed into a great liking for the country, for spring, for autumn, and the changing
seasons. Summer, however, always seemed to him dull.
I have spoken of him as conspicuously unathletic. He was, but he was a great walker. He prided himself, towards the end of his Oxford time, on his avrapkea, his self-sufficiency which never became self-complacency, and on his lack of dependence upon others. He would go off for prodigious walks by himself lasting the whole day through, or paddle in a lonely
canoe far up the unfrequented upper river. He was, at least until the war came, one of those few people who really liked being alone, not so much because other people bored him, as because he did not bore himself. He was, in fact, sufficiently valuable to be able to stand his own company. But he had none of the more endearing vices: he could never master a pipe, he never got drunk (l am speaking of before the war), beer was a closed book to him, and so were cards. Also he had never heard of any music. He was just coming to music when the war took him.
When the war broke out, it left him for some little time untouched. He had got so detached from the world he scarcely ever read a paper that it took some time for the war to shake him back into it.
He went back to Oxford for the autumn of 1914, his fifth year, with the intention of reading English literature. He found that all his friends had gone, and that his boasted ‘ avrapketa had forsaken him. Oxford was buzzing like a great hive with war preparations, and his poem, “The Owl Abashed” shows how even at Oxford the spell began to weave itself around him. In the Christmas vacation the infection took him. He applied for a commission in a rush of enthusiasm, was turned down for his eyes, and enlisted as a private in the Public
From that time, until his death in April 1917, his life was a succession of training in England and trenches m France, with short intervals of leave.
In November 1915 he crossed to France; thence to the Front. In four months he was home again and on his way to Scotland, where he was trained for an officer until August 1916, when he had a few weeks leave preparatory to going to the Front.
Most of this leave was spent at Box Hill in Surrey, and it was there that the complete change of attitude to the war, (described in Part III. of the Diary), took place.
In September 1916 he went to France with a commission, and was out there continuously until his death.
It is difficult to describe with any exactness the effect of the Army on a man like West, nor is it very necessary to do so, for the extracts speak for themselves.
A few things, however, must be said.
West joined the Army from a feeling of duty and, in the best sense of the word, of patriotism. Violence of any kind was abhorrent to his nature. He was one of that numerous body of schoolboys who had never had a fight, and he hardly ever quarrelled. In the words of an old lady who knew him well, “Mr. Weft wouldn’t hurt a fly”
West enlisted, then, convinced of the rightness of his cause, feeling it his duty to help his country, but distilling, as intensely
as any man that ever put on khaki, the work he had set out to do.
This feeling of hatred for violence rarely comes out in the Diary. It was always there, but somehow it was taken so much for granted, even by himself, that it rarely finds expression, save perhaps in the general longing for peace that comes to every soldier.
The intense abhorrence of Army life which inspires almost every line of Part II. of the Diary sprang from a different cause. West was a man of marked individuality and keen susceptibilities. He had a highly trained mind, and more than that, he had a habit of independent thinking. He was an individualist who hated routine and system as devices for suppressing men’s
differences and reducing them to a common standard of thought and behaviour, and distrusted discipline as an instrument for
forcing men to do things they disliked.
To such a man the Army came to seem a thing of evil. It could not reduce him in thought to the dead level of orthodox
opinion which alone was recognised and encouraged, and his power of mental detachment and independent thinking, driven underground, turned to gall and bitterness, and found an outlet
in the contemptuous and scathing picture of Army life presented in Part II. His leave came in the summer of 1916. The A muttered feelings of dislike and revolt that had been accumulating during the Ian few months had prepared the way for a change in his intellectual convictions. In Part III. will be found I an account of that change. West became, in brief, a pacifist a pacifist who was precluded by his position in the Army from voicing or acting upon his opinions save, as he thought, on the certainty of being summarily shot. None of those who saw him that summer, happy in his few weeks’ leave and the complete intellectual freedom at Box Hill, suspected the emotional crisis through which he was passing. The bottom was being knocked out of all his beliefs: religion and patriotism, m the ordinary senses of these words, went by the board, and God became for him a malignant practical joker, or at best an indifferent spectator of the woes of the world. During this time he wrote most of the quasi-philosophical poems that appear in Part V.
Having scrapped the universe in theory, West had to face the problem of his own line of action. As will be seen, his courage failed him, and he went back to the Army,believing he did wrong, believing it his duty to stand out, hating and despising himself for proving false to his beliefs. From that time until his death, through all the life of the trenches, through all the scenes of marching and fighting described in Part IV, there was always, in a sense, irrelevant to him, something that passed over him not without leaving its traces, not without mattering, but mattering always as a gloomy and sordid background, never occupying the forefront of his mind or interest, never rousing him to enthusiasm, never for a moment appearing
to him as anything but sheer cruelty and waste.
Even his death was irrelevant. He died, it seems, in no blaze of glory, he died leading no forlorn hope, but struck by a chance sniper’s bullet as he was leaving his trench.
The value of the Diary lies in its absolute frankness, its stark realism, its obvious truth and sincerity.
As far as possible it is given just as he wrote it, only names and a few details that were too painful or too private for publication being left out.
If its detailed realism serves to correct in some measure the highly coloured picture of the soldier’s life and thoughts to which the popular Press has accustomed us, it will not have been written in vain. C. J.”
Free Access to the complete text can be found at http://www.archive.org by using this link; The Diary of a Dead Officer:
Name: WEST, ARTHUR GRAEME
Initials: A G
Nationality: United Kingdom
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 6th Bn.
Date of Death: 03/04/1917
Additional information: Son of Arthur Birt West and Mary Wingate West, of 6, Southwood Lane, Highgate, London. Arthur West was the author of “Diary of a Dead Officer” which was published posthumously.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: VIII. C. 14.
Cemetery:H.A.C. CEMETERY, ECOUST-ST. MEIN
“Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917) was a British writer and War poet. West was born in Norfolk, educated at Blundell’s School and Balliol College, Oxford and killed by a sniper in 1917.
West enlisted as a Private with the Public Schools Battalion in January 1915. He joined from a feeling of duty and patriotism, but the war had a profound affect on him. An individualist who hated routine and distrusted discipline, he developed an intense abhorrence to army life and began to question the very core of his beliefs – in religion, patriotism and the reason for war. This growing disillusionment found expression in two particularly powerful war poems he wrote during this time: “God, How I Hate You” and “Night Patrol” which stand deservedly alongside those of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. In August 1916 he became a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Shortly after, he wrote to his new battalion threatening to desert the army – but he could not bring himself to post the letter. Less than a year later, on 3 April 1917, he was shot dead by a sniper’s bullet near Bapaume.
West is principally known for one book, The Diary of a Dead Officer (1919), which presents a scathing picture of army life and is said to be one of the most vivid accounts of daily life in the trenches. The book was published posthumously and edited by C. E. M. Joad, an Oxford colleague of West’s and an active pacifist (and contemporary of West’s at Blundell’s). The book gives voice to one officer’s struggle to come to terms with the realities of war and is a poignant tribute to a lost generation of soldiers. It was reissued in 1991 by the Imperial War Museum and published again by Greenhill Books in 2007 with an introduction by Nigel Jones. The first edition of the book consisted of an introduction by Joad, extracts from West’s 1915-17 diary, and several essays and poems. Joad edited the book as pacifist propaganda and it was published jointly by the left-wing Herald newspaper and Sir Francis Meynell’s Pelican Press (Meynell’s other publications had included Sassoon’s protest in 1917).
* Das, Santanu (2005). Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10-ISBN 0-521-84603-X; 13-ISBN 978-0-521-84603-5
* Cyril Joad (2007), The Diary of a Dead Officer: Being the Posthumous Papers of Arthur Graeme West (Greenhill Books), ISBN 1853677299; ISBN 978-1853677298
* Dennis Welland, Arthur Graeme West: a messenger to Job, Renaissance and Modern Studies, ed. G.R. Hibberd (1966).
* Samuel Hynes, An introduction to Graeme West, (English Literature of the First World War Revisited [Series]), ed. M. Roucoux (Amiens, 1989).
From: War Poets Association by Dominic Hibberd
Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917) is known for one remarkable book, The Diary of a Dead Officer (1919), consisting of an introduction by the editor, ’C.J.’ (Cyril Joad), extracts from West’s 1915-17 diary, and a few essays and poems. Joad, later a well-known Oxford don and in 1919 a keen pacifist and atheist, edited the book as pacifist propaganda. It was published jointly by the left-wing Herald newspaper and Francis Meynell’s Pelican Press (Meynell’s other publications had included Sassoon’s protest in 1917).
Graeme West was born in Norfolk, but his parents soon moved to Highgate, London. His father, a former missionary, was a grimly religious man who must have been appalled by the Diary. Graeme became a boarder at Blundell’s School, where load was his contemporary, and in 1910 both young men went up to Oxford as Balliol scholars. Oxford brought out West’s intellectual interests and his quiet charm.
Joad presents West as shy, hopeless at games and completely unsuited to soldiering. This cannot be entirely true: West’s army file reveals that he was in fact a member of the university’s OTC for his four years at Oxford. Soon after beginning a fifth year in October 1914 he decided to apply for a commission, but he was rejected for poor eyesight. Nevertheless he joined up in the ranks of the Public Schools Battalion in February 1915, soon becoming a lance corporal. Sent to France in November, he was repeatedly in action. His poem, ’The Night Patrol’ (March 1916), makes him one of the first poets to write about front-line actualities from direct personal experience:
We crawled on belly and elbows, till we saw,
Instead of lumpish dead before our eyes,
The stakes and crosslines of the German wire.
We lay in shelter of the last dead man,
Ourselves as dead, and heard their shovels ring…
In April 1916 West was accepted for an officer training course in Scotland. There, as the Diary vividly describes, three or four months of being ordered about by bullying, stupid NCOs did more to turn him against war than the trenches had done. In August he became a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. His ’The End of the Second Year’ records his loss of religious faith at this time, a loss that seemed to him more momentous than any battle. He visited Joad, met other pacifists, and wrote to his new battalion refusing to rejoin the army – but he could not bring himself to post the letter. He went back to France, rose to the rank of Acting Captain, and was killed by a sniper’s bullet near Bapaume on 3 April 1917.
The few surviving records of West, apart from the published Diary, show that load’s editing has partly obscured the real man. The Diary gives no hint, for example, that by early 1917 West was deeply in love with a girl he had met in England, and that he had written to Bertrand Russell, promising to help build a new world after the war. He was less pessimistic, less ’dead’, than Joad’s portrait of the ’Dead Officer’ suggests. But by 1916-17 he certainly loathed the war. His 1916 poem, ’God! How I hate you, you young cheerful men!’, has a place in the history of 1914-18 verse as a furious denunciation of the young soldier-poets who were still writing about the war as ’epic days’, a happy game:
In heaven above
A genial umpire, a good judge of sport,
Won’t let us hurt each other! …
Ah, how good God is
To suffer us be born just now, when youth
That else would rust, can slake his blade in gore,
Where very God Himself does seem to walk The bloody fields of Flanders He so loves!
The Diary of a Dead Officer being the posthumous papers of Arthur Graeme West (dated 1918 on the title page, but actually published in January 1919). Reprinted with a new introduction by Dominic Hibberd, Imperial War Museum, (Arts and Literature Series) Number 3 (1991).
Dennis Welland, Arthur Graeme West: a messenger to Job, Renaissance and Modern Studies, ed. G.R. Hibberd (1966).
Samuel Hynes, An introduction to Graeme West, (English Literature of the First World War Revisited [Series]), ed. M. Roucoux (Amiens, 1989).