Days Like These

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The Independent Culture
22 September 1914

EDWARD SPEARS,

a British brigadier general, records the execution of

a French deserter

"General de Maud'huy had just been roused from sleep on the straw of a shed and was standing in the street when a little group of unmistakable purport came round the corner. Twelve soldiers and an NCO, a firing party, a couple of gendarmes, and between them an unarmed soldier. My heart sank and a feeling of horror overcame me. General de Maud'huy gave a look, then held up his hand so that the party halted, and with his characteristic quick step went up to the doomed man.

He asked what he had been condemned for. It was for abandoning his post. The General then began to talk to the man. Quite simply, he explained discipline to him. Abandoning your post was letting down your pals, more it was letting down your country that looked to you to defend her. He spoke of the necessity of example, how some could do their duty without prompting but others, less strong, had to know and understand the supreme cost of failure. He told the condemned man that his crime was not venial, not low, and that he must die as an example, so that others should not fail. Surprisingly, the wretch agreed, nodding his head. He saw a glimmer of something, redemption in his own eyes, a real hope, though he knew he was about to die. Maud'huy went on, carrying the man with him to comprehension that any sacrifice was worthwhile while it helped France ever so little. What did anything matter if he knew this? Finally, de Maud'huy held out his hand: `Yours also is a way of dying for France,' he said.

The procession started again, but now the victim was a willing one. The sound of a volley in the distance announced that all was over. The general wiped the beads of perspiration from his brow, and for the first time perhaps his hand trembled as he lit his pipe."

13 September 1660

JOHN EVELYN,

(left) diarist and gardener,

records in his journal:

"I saw in Southwark, at St Margaret's Fair, monkeys and apes dance, and do other feats of activity, on the high rope; they were gallantly clad a la mode, went upright, saluted the company, bowing and pulling off their hats, they saluted one another with as good a grace, as if instructed by a dancing-master; they turned heels over head with a basket having eggs in it, without breaking any; also, with lighted candles in their hands, and on their heads, without extinguishing them, and with vessels of water without spilling a drop. I also saw an Italian wench dance, and perform all the tricks on the high rope, to admiration; all the court went to see her."

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