Background to the poem: ‘Home Leave’

Home Leave was that most peculiar of things – always longed for yet, once obtained, often something to be endured and ended as quickly as possible.  The shock of seeing London to varying degrees still lit up and enjoying itself (at least until the Zeppelin and Gotha raids began in earnest in 1916) often triggered a sense of dislocation, incredulity and even anger as troops on leave passed through the capital en route to their homes.  Adding to this, the sheer normalness of being home contrasted so bizarrely with what those on leave had just come from that many appeared to find it difficult to adjust in the few days available.  There are stories of officers insisting on sleeping out in the garden under groundsheets, men inventing spurious reasons to return early, and, in memoirs, a frequently-expressed reluctance to talk with anyone about anything they had just seen or experienced.  Jingoistic comments about ‘our brave boys beating the Boche’ appear to have particularly grated, and there is often an underlying sense of ‘wondering how your pals were doing’, and a desire to return to them as quickly as possible because they were the only ones who truly understood how you felt.

For those left at home, ‘Leave’ was a blessed relief from worry and was usually (though not always) a brief moment of joy, but for the individual on leave it was often a painful experience because there was rarely a chance to unburden themselves.  Sometimes quite the reverse, because there was inevitably pressure to play up to the image of the ‘brave conquering hero’ – probably the last thing that anyone fresh from the muddy murderous hell of Passchendaele felt like doing.

Author: Richard Lindsay

Having worked for 20 years in the UK statutory nature conservation agencies as Peatland Specialist in the Chief Scientist Team, I then moved to the University of East London where I ran the nature conservation degrees for several years. Now I mainly undertake research and support peatland conservation activities, including the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, within UEL's Sustainability Research Institute. I also paint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *