By early 1915 the Great War had become the static, trench bound misery that has become the enduring image of life on the Western Front. In this world of mud, barbed wire, gas, shell and sniper bullets the soldiers banded together and organised means of surviving the tedium at the rear and the terror at the front. The art of scrounging was born, to supplement rations and to secure some creature comforts in the soggy, rat and lice infested trenches.
Illness and injury were more feared than death. Death still carried tones of glory, bravery, heroism. Better to die with dignity than to return home absent a limb, a burden on society.
Behind the scenes the scientists were doing their bit to save lives, as evidenced by the article below from the Manchester Guardian, 100 years ago today.
A serum, for which remarkable efficacy is claimed, both as a preventive and curative of gaseous gangrene, has been discovered by M.Weinberg, a member of the staff of the Pasteur Institute. Dr. Roux, president of that institution, in announcing the discovery to the Academy of Sciences, said that M.Weinberg had just succeeded in indentifying the bacilli which caused gaseous gangrene – an organism closely akin to the bacillus perfringens. As the development of the disease is very rapid he decided that vaccine was useless. Therefore, after a number of experiments, he evolved a serum. He first tried it on guinea-pigs, and found that, applied within five hours after the first appearance of the symptoms, it brought about a rapid cure, but, seemed to lose its effect after ten hours. He next tried it on a wounded man – a bad case – whose condition rapidly became definitely better.
M.Weinberg continues his experiments with a view to perfecting the serum, but considers that everything justifies the hope that science will soon dispose of a genuine cure for the terrible malady. Arrangements will be made to supply the Army Medical Service with all the serum it requires.
Soliloquy : Francis Ledwidge
When I was young I had a care
Lest I should cheat me of my share
Of that which makes it sweet to strive
For life, and dying still survive,
A name in sunshine written higher
Than lark or poet dare aspire.
But I grew weary doing well.
Besides, ’twas sweeter in that hell,
Down with the loud banditti people
Who robbed the orchards, climbed the steeple
For jackdaws’ eyes and made the cock
Crow ere ’twas daylight on the clock.
I was so very bad the neighbours
Spoke of me at their daily labours.
And now I’m drinking wine in France,
The helpless child of circumstance.
To-morrow will be loud with war,
How will I be accounted for?
It is too late now to retrieve
A fallen dream, too late to grieve
A name unmade, but not too late
To thank the gods for what is great;
A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart,
Is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name.