British Army Calling
Today I received the news that I had been dreading. Ever since formal declaration of war at the beginning of August, I suspected to hear something like this and so though I wasn’t truly surprised, the shock I felt, and still feel, was deep and profound.
The letter from Daniel came as I was sitting with father in his study. We were, as usual, obsessed by the events unfolding in Europe, and could talk of nothing else.
My fingers shook as I hurried to rip open the envelope, desperate to discover the news to be found inside, hungry to see Daniel’s handwriting, and hoping beyond hope that I was about to learn that he was on his way home.
I unfolded the pages, a picture dropped out onto the floor. The sight of it almost stopped my heart! It was Daniel posing in the uniform of the British Army. His familiar, handsome face was now framed under an officer’s hat and the smart uniform of a lieutenant. Immediately the tears started and I dabbed at my eyes with a tissue as I finally handed the picture to father who regarded it with grim expression. It was like looking at a ghost, or perhaps an echo. Except this echo was from some unknown future that I had, up till now, prayed wouldn’t ever come to pass.
It was hard to reconcile in my heart that some unknown force now had control of a man so fearlessly independent in character. At the word of some commander, someone completely unknown to me, Daniel could at any time be thrust into the tempest of some foreign battlefield where his very life would be in immediate danger. Of course I strongly sympathize with the cause of the war, the protection of Belgium, the preservation of the sovereign lands, but seeing Daniel in uniform; well, I have to admit that I am brought to emotional ruin at the sight of it . I wish I could reach into that picture and magically transport him across the Atlantic and into my arms.
Am I being selfish?
Later I placed the picture carefully in our bedroom glass cabinet. I will pray with much fervency everyday when I see it.
According to the post stamp, the envelope took almost three weeks to reach me. The sheer volume of mail must be hampering the swiftness of normal correspondence in these trying days.
I read the letter with father watching me pensively.
August 28 1914
My dear Ginger, I hope this letter finds you well and happy. I miss you terribly and you are constantly in my thoughts. I know the news this letter brings will dismay you, and for that I’m deeply sorry.
I have enlisted in the British Armed Forces. As of last week, I have been assigned the rank of a lieutenant and I wear the uniform proudly. I am now at a military training camp whose location I unfortunately can’t reveal to you by order of the army.
After I have completed the rest of my training, which includes officer’s training and very rigorous weapons and fitness instruction, I will be sent to France, likely to Dunkirk. The first Lord of the Admiralty himself, Winston Churchill is preparing to visit there soon, according to army rumour.
Men from every walk of life—from clerks and teachers to factory and shop workers, to those from higher classes like myself, are crammed together in small barracks and even tents. Some of them are quite young, not even twenty years of age. However, we are all united in our purpose which is to become an unbeatable fighting force for England.
Never in my life have I felt such purpose as I do now. Besides marrying you my dear, this already feels like one of the more important decisions I have ever made. I don’t know what the future holds, but I can face it now knowing that I am doing my duty as an Englishman and I am fulfilling the call that that God, King and country has placed on me, however heavy it may be.
I will continue to write to you whenever I can. Please promise to write back. I’m not sure how well the mail system is functioning but I ‘m told that communication is flowing. If you don’t hear from me for weeks at a time do not worry, it’s only because I haven’t been able to find a quiet place to put pen to paper. Either that or the mail service has been disrupted.
Please try not to worry very much, Ginger. I am fine and I will continue to be so as long as I put one foot in front of the other, which is what you must do as well. I find great comfort in knowing you are safely ensconced in the Boston brownstone with your father and the rest of the family.
Know that I love you with all my heart.
I didn’t feel the strength to relay the details to Father so I handed the letter over to him. While he read I got up and walked to the window struggling with tears as I gazed out over the Common. Never before have I felt the terrible distance between England and the New World in the way as I did today standing by that window.