By Mike Westrop
"No.10 Squadron of England's Royal Naval Air provider was once shaped at St. Pol, a suburb of Dunkerque, in February 1917, as a part of the speedy naval aviation enlargement programme required through the Royal Naval Air Service's dedication to help the Royal Flying Cor"
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Extra resources for A History of No.10 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service in World War I
Another Scottish unit, the 6th Gordon Highlanders, got into the habit of joining in singing bouts with the enemy. This was faithfully recorded in the battalion’s official history: ‘During the winter of 1914–15 it was not unusual for little groups of men to gather in the front trench, and there hold impromptu concerts, singing patriotic and sentimental songs. ’ Certain episodes of this kind became so well known that when a young lieutenant of the 1st Hampshires, Michael Holroyd, arrived at the front just before Christmas, he was soon told of one particularly memorable example which he hastened to pass on to his parents (disguising the name of the battalion concerned by giving it an invented name; there was no Wessex Regiment in the British Army): ‘There is a beautiful story of – the Wessex, say – who had a fine singer among them, whom both sides delighted to honour: so the Germans just shouted “Half time, Wessex”, when desiring music, and everyone stopped firing.
No poem of that later period catches the harsh irony of this sea-change better than the famous Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen in which two enemies recently caught in the destructiveness of mortal combat meet afterwards in the macabre fraternization of death. ’ Perhaps this is its most important one, in that it crystallizes the profound paradox of that chilling, memorable moment. Lest this seem too great a leap from the earlier year to the later, I have long thought that one of the most moving conversations of Christmas Day 1914 as noted at the time was between two soldiers, a British and a German, who had struck up a genuine friendship during the hours of daylight and who as the darkness closed in sadly made their farewells.
Whatever the prevailing theology or the alleged justice of the causes being fought for, there is a powerful instinct for survival at work here, with many if not most of those involved, given the grim alternatives, opting instinctively to live and let live rather than kill and be killed. Julian Grenfell’s famous claim in his 1915 poem Into Battle that, ‘he is dead who will not fight/And who dies fighting has increase’ might appeal to some among the jeunesse dorée, the gilded youth, of that phase of the war, but the average soldier would much prefer, in the words of a popular catch of the time, that ‘the Bells of Hell should go ting-a-ling-a-ling’ for anyone other than himself.