The Diarists: This week in history


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The Independent Culture

1st June, 1917

WNP Barbellion, a naturalist, suffering a terminal illness: "We discuss post mortem affairs quite genially and without restraint. It is the contempt bred of familiarity, I suppose. E. says widows' weeds have been so vulgarised by the war that she won't go into deep mourning. 'But you'll wear just one weed or two for me?' I plead, and then we laugh. She has promised me that should a suitable chance arise, she will marry again. Personally I wish I could place my hand on the young fellow at once, so as to put him through his paces – show him where the water mains runs and where the gas meter is and so on.

You will observe… how keenly I appreciate the present situation. One might call it pulling the hangman's beard. Yet I ought, I fancy, to be bewailing my poor wife and fatherless child."

1st June, 1940

Evelyn Waugh, novelist, and serving in the Army: "I returned to find that one of the men in my company had shot himself. He left a note for the CSM apologising for causing trouble and saying he is too sensitive to be a corporal – a promotion I had encouraged him to expect. He was at pains to see that his bullet injured no one else. Two stretcher bearers confronted with blood for the first time resigned their posts. The consequence of this man's death took up most of the week. There was an inquest and later a funeral with military honours. The men in the suicide's tent had no objection to remaining there. He had kept the ammunition by him since training at Chatham."

4th June, 1982

Alan Bennett, writer, during the Falklands War: "We (we!) drop leaflets on the Argentine troops besieged in Port Stanley urging them to lay down their arms. Were such a leaflet dropped on our own troops we would consider them contemptible and ludicrous; our leaflets are represented as a great humanitarian gesture."