The international growth and influence of bioethics has led some to identify it as a decisive shift in the location and exercise of 'biopower'. This book provides an in-depth study of how philosophers, lawyers and other 'outsiders' came to play a major role in discussing and helping to regulate issues that used to be left to doctors and scientists. It discusses how club regulation stemmed not only from the professionalising tactics of doctors and scientists, but was compounded by the 'hands-off' approach of politicians and professionals in fields such as law, philosophy and theology. The book outlines how theologians such as Ian Ramsey argued that 'transdisciplinary groups' were needed to meet the challenges posed by secular and increasingly pluralistic societies. It also examines their links with influential figures in the early history of American bioethics. The book centres on the work of the academic lawyer Ian Kennedy, who was the most high-profile advocate of the approach he explicitly termed 'bioethics'. It shows how Mary Warnock echoed governmental calls for external oversight. Many clinicians and researchers supported her calls for a 'monitoring body' to scrutinise in vitro fertilisation and embryo research. The growth of bioethics in British universities occurred in the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of dedicated centres for bioethics. The book details how some senior doctors and bioethicists led calls for a politically-funded national bioethics committee during the 1980s. It details how recent debates on assisted dying highlight the authority and influence of British bioethicists.
Bidding farewell to his older brother as he embarked on the first stage of his journey to the Western Front was, according to Pat Campbell, ‘the unhappiest parting I have ever experienced’. Only on the cusp of leave-taking did Pat appreciate the enormity of what his brother faced. Nearly sixty years later, the sight of a departing train still had the power to disturb him.1 Trauma experts Charles Figley and William Nash assert that deployment to the war zone is a ‘transformative process’ for everyone involved.2 Even the familiar terrain of the railway platform took on a heightened intensity amid the whirlwind of mobilisation. Strangers joined with intimates to see off loved ones. Such moments can be seen as theatre or spectacle, belying their emotional import as testified by their prevalence in sibling narratives.3 Caught up in the initial novelty, siblings experienced and recorded a range of emotional responses. As the war progressed, the cumulative effects of saying goodbye took their toll on those left at home.
Sibling narratives reveal varied responses to appeals to serve their country, supplementing existing evidence challenging the myth of war enthusiasm.4 Bewilderment and dread were common emotions, in stark contrast to the jingoism that greeted the Boer War.5 Nicola Martin challenges the chronology of the reconceptualisation of heroic masculinity, arguing that this underwent a sea-change long before the Armistice.6 Fraternal narratives offer up an even earlier starting point. From the outset, men’s fears for their brothers’ and their families’ wellbeing and economic prosperity present a more nuanced picture of masculinity. Many saw no shame in not fighting. Siblings felt anxiety as their brothers enlisted, were conscripted or faced losing exemptions from service. Some brothers mitigated these emotions through acts of enlisting with, or serving alongside, their siblings.
Departing for war
Even when men willingly volunteered, combat was a daunting prospect. After he volunteered in August 1914, Percy Campbell’s underlying anxieties were apparent to his brother, casting a shadow across their last family holiday. Pat recorded the diurnal pattern of Percy’s tension:
I noticed that Percy was reading the paper more than usual, the war news, and that he did not go down to the beach until the post had come in. When it had come, and had brought no official envelope for him, then he seemed his old self again for the rest of the day.7
With enlistment imminent, any news of war had particular pertinence for Percy. Uncertainty over the timing of his departure piqued his anxiety. In response, he braced himself in isolation. Writing in 1972, a reworking of the landscape of childhood memories coloured Pat’s recollections of that holiday.8 A shift in emotional norms registered in his memory. The siblings were, by that summer, well versed in the separations occasioned by attendance at public school and university. Traditionally, their annual break would have been a time to reforge familial ties. Unable to place that summer’s events within this familiar context, Pat retrospectively ascribed meaning to the feelings of puzzlement experienced in August 1914.
Many partings took place at railway stations, ‘the closest point of contact’ between London (and other points of departure) and the war.9 At this interface, Gregory writes, traditional social and familial roles could be shed.10 But, as these narratives show, relationships were also reaffirmed at these transitional places. Bruce Cummings went to Waterloo station to see his brother Arthur depart ‘en route for Armageddon’. Gallows humour was not restricted to the front line; those waiting at home took comfort in its ability to make fears about the prospect of death more manageable.11 The ironic tone infusing Cummings’ account dissolves in his account of their parting. Arthur held his brother’s hand, briefly giving him ‘a queer little nervous look’. The brothers’ ‘perfect’ understanding rendered the need for words redundant. Bruce encapsulated his feelings in two short sentences. ‘It is horrible. I love him tenderly.’12 Bringing the delicate quality of tenderness to his definition of fraternal love, Bruce captured his desire to protect his brother against the terrors ahead. The contrast between this and his earlier insouciance towards those same terrors underscores the tentative gentleness of this brotherly parting.
Journalist Cecil Hewitt recalled the ‘indelibly, distressing’ day when his older brother Harold left for the front line. Sixteen-years old, Cecil was ‘severely shaken’ to see his distraught father embrace Harold in tears, ‘as though they were both foreigners’. Such a public exhibition contradicted Cecil’s understanding of appropriate masculine behaviour. Repressing tears was a mark of character embedded in the English ‘stiff upper lip’ tradition.13 His father, Frederick Hewitt, a City of London police inspector, was ‘a carefully respectable’ man. Orphaned at ten, Frederick completed his education at the Royal Military Asylum for the sons of regular army officers. Throughout their childhood, he showed his children a nuanced awareness of lower-middle-class Christian values. Certainly, his profession and upbringing suggest a usually phlegmatic demeanour.14 Harold’s embarkation occurred after the Third Battle of Ypres and the concomitant casualty lists. Fear of his son’s chances of survival contributed to Frederick’s discomposure. Shedding of tears, after all, does not simply indicate a symptom or sign of sadness but encompasses a spectrum of emotions.15 Unlike filial characterisations of overwhelming paternal grief as manifesting ‘diminished masculinity’, emotional collapses by fathers or brothers are recounted by many siblings with sympathetic neutrality.16 His father’s breakdown amplified Cecil’s status as a bystander, observing the ‘strangeness’ of the heightened passion on display. Witnessing this emotional farewell jolted Cecil into the realisation that he might never see his brother again.17
Departures for war could be the source of emotional distress for much younger brothers. Not only did they experience the pain of separation themselves but they witnessed the disquietude that these departures caused to close family relatives. The poet Geoffrey Grigson, the youngest of seven brothers, bemoaned his elderly father’s misfortune in having ‘war ripe’ children; five of his brothers died in the First and Second World Wars.18 There are no official statistics on sets of brothers who died in the Great War, but research places the Grigsons among those families experiencing the greatest losses.19 In his 1950 autobiography, Grigson remembered the day his brother Lionel left for France. The tenor of Grigson’s response suggests that he had absorbed the mood of anxiety and sorrow circulating in the wider household. When Lionel found Grigson in a state of misery, ‘blubbering and heaving and afraid’, he pulled him into a comforting embrace. Geoffrey remembered feeling ‘the bucket and sinners of [Lionel’s] Sam Browne [belt]’. This tactile memory signified a barrier between the siblings, marking Lionel’s transformation into his army identity. Both brothers experienced this as an emotionally charged separation. Betraying his attempts at reassurance, Lionel’s eyes filled with ‘large tears’. Writing nearly thirty-five years later, Grigson could not ‘remember a much intenser agony’.20
Other family send-offs attest to the novelty of the experience. When the Dodsworth sisters set off on the first stage of their journey to the No. 12 General Hospital, Rouen, the family group included their stepmother, brother, sister-in-law, sister and family friends. Among the group, only their sister Do was visibly upset, despite doing her utmost to control her emotions.21 Leaving for Egypt for their second stint of overseas service, Kit Dodsworth recalled the ‘sorrow and fear’ permeating the railway platform at Victoria, ‘cloaked by smiles and jests’. The heart-breaking attempts of the surrounding people to hide their emotions transformed the terminus into a ‘sacred place’ infused with sadness.22 Joined by circumstance, strangers, friends and family members were gathered into an ad hoc emotional community, one that gained piquancy from the shared knowledge of risks facing the departing, the grief of those who had already suffered loss and the value vested in the effort of self-restraint by those witnessing acts of emotional labour.23
The turbulence of familial leave-taking could prove trying for combatants, a fact recognised by their siblings. Percy Cearns recalled the gendered tactility of his family’s goodbyes when seeing Fred off at Victoria station. His sisters hugged and kissed their brother, while the male family members exchanged a handshake. The latter was not an emotionally dry act; Percy conveyed the underlying emotion through his emphasis, ‘how we shook hands’. Turning away, Fred betrayed his taut emotional control through a clenching of his teeth.24 Naomi Mitchison recalled going ‘as a family’ to Southampton to see her brother off. Her dread that this might be a final goodbye, combined with the ‘putting on’ of a brave face by her parents, must, she later reflected, have been ‘very trying’ for Jack.25 These gradations of emotional restraint signal the effort involved in hiding emotions and their partial failure. The ‘pretence’ of the brave face, combined with an intimate knowledge of the feelings being repressed, added to the stress of departing combatants.
Superstitiously, Naomi relinquished swimming for the war’s duration. In late 1914 the family holidayed on the Perth coast and the siblings swam in the North Sea. Forsaking this pastime was an ‘irrational’ sacrifice to avert the ‘wrath of war’ from someone ‘out there’. Naomi’s offering up of a pleasurable activity, one she enjoyed with her sibling, has religious overtones of an attempt to assuage an unknown higher authority. A loss of rational action by some siblings accompanied the war’s progress. Unlike the fetishist behaviours of combatants, the superstitions of civilians remain relatively unexamined.26 Vera Brittain, burdened with the loss of her fiancé and close friends, abandoned the practice of seeing her brother off at the station. Her feelings of grief and guilt became coalesced into the belief that her mere presence influenced the fate of her much-loved brother.27 Possibly, she was partially relieved to be spared the emotional wrench of parting, but this may also be an early indication of the psychic breakdown Brittain suffered towards the war’s end.
Young men and boys below conscription age were, at times, bemused by the reactions of older brothers. Pat Campbell, convinced of his sibling’s fearlessness, could not comprehend why Percy showed ‘no elation’ at the prospect of becoming a soldier. Like others of his class, Percy was prepared for soldiering, having attained the rank of sergeant at Clifton College’s Officer Training Corps (OTC). For sixteen-year-old Pat and his friends, war provoked ‘patriotic excitement’; his more reflective older brother associated it with horror. A partial explanation for this attitudinal disparity is found in the four-year age gap between the brothers. Pat revelled in the glory rather than in the likely reality of war. Percy attempted to temper Pat’s war enthusiasm through his repeated warnings that ‘I may be killed, you know’.28 Edward Madigan identifies fatalism as a ‘coping mechanism’, a means by which serving men could restore a feeling of calm amid the chaos of impending warfare.29 Naomi Mitchison recalled the ‘immense conscientiousness’ that young men developed as a shield once the reality of what they faced sank in.30 By vocalising their fears, brothers dampened the febrile emotions of those close to them, restoring a more temperate emotional state. Saying goodbye, Percy reaffirmed his conviction that this was their final parting, fuelling the emotion-laden farewell recounted at the beginning of this chapter.
Older sisters sounded a word of caution. In Irene Rathbone’s novel We That We Young, Joan Seddon related a meeting with her younger brother Jack and his friends before they marched off to war. With a nostalgic nod to the ‘golden years’ experienced by the pre-war generation, Joan reminisced about a party, ‘What good times they were! Will they ever come again? Shall we ever dance again?’ While she intentionally tried to maintain a light tone, her ‘morbid’ thoughts aroused a scolding from Jack. Joan pondered her sibling’s careless attitude to the potential dangers ahead; her brother seemed to be going off to war in the ‘same sort of spirit’ in which he had once played Indians with her in the garden.31 Rathbone developed her theme of lost innocence and a generation blighted by war throughout her novel, calibrating our understanding of the ‘war generation’ composed of both older and younger siblings and peers. The protagonist of Welsh novelist Kate Robert’s semi-autobiographical wartime novel, One Bright Morning (1967), is furious when her underaged brother volunteers. Ann Owen’s realisation that Bobi’s act is propelled by boredom and a desire to see the world dissipates her anger at her brother’s disregard for their parents’ hurt.32 Visiting home for Christmas, Ann derives some comfort that her older brother shares her misgivings. Confronting Bobi, she asks him not to volunteer for overseas service. Bobi adopts a generational stance in his response. Parental age and anxieties should not prevent him from ‘enjoying’ himself. Roberts portrays a further shift in familial roles. At the evening eisteddfod, a seasonal activity enjoyed by the siblings, Ann is shocked at the realisation that Bobi is no longer a boy in breeches. The emotional distance between the two is mirrored by their physical separation when Ann loses her young brother in the crowds.33
Vera Brittain’s war diaries brim with family discord surrounding the wartime ambitions of herself and her brother Edward. Arthur Brittain, anxious about his son’s safety and the future of the family business, vehemently opposed his son’s war service. When Edward stated that no one could prevent him from serving his country, Vera declared herself happy to bear the dreariness of life at home without him. Edward reciprocated this sibling solidarity when Vera determined to leave Oxford’s ‘soft’ environs to take up nursing. Once again, her father remained unreconciled to his dependants' service, a stance that riled Vera into stating, ‘I do not agree that my place is at home doing nothing or practically nothing, for I consider that the place now of anyone who is young and strong and capable is where the work that is needed is to be done.’34 In contrast, Edward ‘approved very much’ of her plans. The siblings’ war enthusiasm was not mere susceptibility to wartime propaganda.35 Generational adherence to ideals of public-school honour and masculinity toughened their stance. Both united to condemn the ‘unmanliness’ of staying safe at home, demonstrating the underlying patriotism of their position. There is an implicit condescension towards their father’s adherence to his values and his incomprehension of the principles instilled in his son, the first generation of the family to attend public school. Vera holds little sympathy for her father, who is in turn rageful, anxious and mournful about the fate of his son.36 When Arthur Brittain reluctantly overcame his aversion, he communicated this indirectly, informing his wife that he would no longer stand in Edward’s way. Notably, Vera excised evidence of her war fever from her Testament of Youth.37 Her later pacifist views, a feeling of guilt over her brother’s death and her lack of compassionate understanding for her father must have made her earlier enthusiasm too painful to put down in print.
Parental patriotism provoked anger. The post-war years saw a backlash against maternal veneration, led by writers such as Robert Graves and Robert Aldington. The hostility of these literary veterans directed at out-of-touch mothers does not seem to have been matched by a similar antagonism towards siblings.38 This restraint speaks to sibling solidarity; a different judgement being made against the older generation and the ‘patriotic motherhood’ utilised so effectively as a propaganda tool. Robert Graves scornfully dismissed the ‘newspaper language’ of an open letter written by the ‘Little Mother’ of a killed only son.39 Published in 1916, this highly emotive missive, extolling unflinching maternal sacrifice in wartime, struck a chord with readers. Reprinted as a pamphlet, it sold 75,000 copies in the first week alone. Graves’ inclusion of praise for the letter’s emotional eloquence on behalf of wives and mothers in Goodbye to All That highlights the dislocation faced by returning soldiers, for whom unfettered patriotism seemed a ‘foreign language’. Graves’ focus may have been sharpened by the war service of his older sister Rosaleen, his childhood ‘best friend’.40 This feeling was reciprocated. Writing to Robert in 1973, Rosaleen proclaimed that he was the person she had loved the most throughout her youth and childhood.41 Overcoming their middle-class parents’ adherence to traditional gendered expectations of daughters, Rosaleen served as a VAD at the 4th London General and the 54th General Hospital, Wimereux. Her nursing experience is apparent in her poem, ‘The Smells of Home’, published in The Spectator in November 1918.42 References to the ‘reek of wounds’ and persistent flies which she compares to ‘mourners dressed in black’ exhibited an appreciation of the horrors wrought on men’s bodies that her mother and father did not share.
Testamentary actions were used to show fraternal devotion, a practical way of demonstrating that siblings’ welfare remained at the forefront of combatant’s thoughts. Service pay books contained short ‘informal’ will forms and servicemen were ‘advised to use [them]’.43 Military circumspection anticipated the real dangers faced by men about to face combat. Putting one’s affairs in order served multiple purposes. For many young soldiers, it was a rite of passage, a means of marking transition to adulthood. Such acts diverted men from the jitteriness of pre-action nerves, signalling to both men and their families the dangers they faced. Since the early twentieth century, military psychiatrists have recognised that anxieties peaked during this period, the ‘stop and wait’ periods of warfare being the most ‘unbearable’ of all.44 Shortly before his death, Michael Lennon reassured his brother that placing his affairs ‘in perfect order’ made his mind ‘easy’.45 Such actions fell into the range of ritualistic behaviours, serving as a salve to combat ‘windiness’.46
Apart from dealing with financial practicalities, wills afforded an opportunity for a potentially final expression of affection. The night before the Somme, Ernest Polack told his family how his belongings should be distributed in the event of his death. He ended with a postscript:
To you – Mother and Father I owe all. The thought of you two – and of my brothers – will inspire me to the end. I often wish Albert [his younger brother] was with me and miss him dreadfully.47
Men’s ‘affairs’ encompassed planning for the future support of their families. Before leaving for the front in October 1914, Alfred Parker informed his older brother, Evelyn, that he had lodged his will at a firm of solicitors. Alfred was married, and father to a baby daughter. Without wishing to impose on his brother, and couching his request deferentially, he explained why he had not named Evelyn as executor: ‘I felt you had enough to do with the rest of the family – & you have been so kind always in doing other things for me.’ Alfred shows his trust in his older sibling by adding, ‘if it were necessary, & you were willing to help them in any way, I should be very grateful’. Alfred sidesteps direct talk of death. His negotiation of the niceties of his sibling relationship allows him to avoid placing an unnecessary obligation on Evelyn while believing he will step in if needed. Although Alfred’s stoical politeness might suggest an emotionally distant fraternal bond, his trust was well placed. Following his brother’s death, Evelyn took over the administration of the will from Alfred’s widow and became his niece’s guardian. Barrister Jack Harley took similar steps. On the eve of ‘something big’, he regretted not being able to say a proper goodbye. In the event of his not returning, he asked his sister to do everything possible for his poor wife, as he hated to think of her ‘bereaved & sad’.48 His fears proved prescient; the following day he was killed in the Third Battle of Krithia. Knowing that siblings would offer emotional and practical support to spouses and children partially assuaged the anxieties facing fighting men.
Expressions of fatalism may have counterbalanced the strong pull that war held on boys’ imaginations. Whipped up by patriotic fervour and the allure of combat, expressions of excitement and glory by those too young to fight often accompanied the outbreak of war. War was an adventure, a game enlivened by images from the ‘pleasure-culture’ of comic books and tales of heroes, unassociated with any of the foreboding experienced by parents and older siblings.49 Len Whitehead was seven years old when his brother joined the Essex Pals. The view that some Pals regiments were less socially prestigious did not distract from his or his family’s pride: ‘we didn’t care, we’d got a brother soldiering’. Intoxicated by excitement, ‘nobody gave it a second thought that [he] might never come back’.50 Ronald Horton recalled his ‘boyish reaction’:
‘I was excited, elated, now things will liven up – life will be interesting.’ Guilt shadowed this memory, for Horton added, ‘May I be forgiven, for I was only eleven years old.’51 Mill apprentice Raynor Taylor was ‘always afraid’ that the war would end before he could take part, a feeling that fired up as his older brothers left for war.52 A naval officer sharply rebuked Grace MacDougall for expressing a similar sentiment, when he overheard her thanking God she was still young enough to participate.53 Sixteen-year-old Naomi Mitchison referenced the ‘glory’ of war, noting her ‘upset’ at being ‘out of the fun’. Fear for her brother, an officer in the Black Watch, began only with the first casualty lists and the dawning realisation that, contrary to popular belief, the conflict would not be over by Christmas 1914.54 Youth and inexperience infuse these accounts. Esther Wild was aggrieved when her brother Frank wrote ‘lightly’ about gunfire, and ascribed it to his transitional ‘soldier-like and boy-like’ status.55
Familial pride is a common thread running through many accounts of fraternal enlistment or volunteering. Enthusiasm for war in some families and communities lingered long into 1915. Raynor Taylor was ‘proud, very, very proud’ that his brother Albert was one of the first from their close-knit mill community to volunteer. Taylor gave an evocative account of the ‘sensation’ occasioned by Albert’s unexpected return home on leave. This sparked ‘euphoria’ among his immediate family and aroused widespread curiosity. According to Raynor, ‘everyone’ from the locality came to inspect Albert as if he were a ‘museum piece’.56 People even stopped work to view the first living specimen of a battle-worn Tommy to appear on their doorstep. Laden down with kit and bearing his rifle – the sacra of combat – Albert was transformed into a source of wonder and a visual representation of his peers.
Lack of fraternal communication about conditions at the front contributed to young men’s rush to volunteer. Ignorance of the dangers of warfare, along with hero-worship of siblings, fuelled this eagerness. Wishing to emulate his older brothers, seventeen-year-old volunteer Reginald Kiernan lied about his age. A shocked Kiernan later reflected on how his brothers had sheltered him from the ‘hard’ realities of army life:
Have my brothers been through this? Have they really lived among the same surroundings, and under the same influences, day after day, month after month? I never thought it, looking at them, listening to them, when they came home on leave. They were just as usual.57
Seemingly, war had not marked his brothers – a demonstration of men’s success in drawing an emotional barrier around their wartime experiences, even to those closest to them.
Nobody, according to the truism, returns from war still a boy.58 Battle experience conferred manhood on soldier-brothers, swift to mark the relative immaturity of underage siblings who were yet to experience trench warfare. A judgement of foolhardiness marks the frustration shown by elder siblings towards the martial enthusiasm of younger brothers. Walter Shewry recalled how ‘real worship of our Heroes’ led his adolescent self to follow his older brother’s example and volunteer for the Post Office Rifles, much to the dismay of his family at home. Walter’s fervour was not matched by his sibling, who greeted his arrival on the front line with the words, ‘You bloody fool’. Rather than brave or heroic, his exasperated older brother saw Walter’s actions as a sign of naivety. Walter frankly described his fear after seeing the ‘seething nightmare’ of battle. Overwhelmed, he succumbed to trench fever. Leonard dutifully visited him, but their regular meetings offered little comfort to either brother. Stifled by thoughts of unmanning himself, Walter was unable to divulge his feelings:
They were not happy visits – we just could not communicate – I just could not bring myself to tell him of my great misery and suffering nor of my fear and horror and he on his part could do nothing about his worry for me.59
Brotherly concern could not soothe away the terrors evoked by modern warfare. Rendered helpless by the brothers’ inability to confide in each other, Leonard turned to an external resource, instructing their mother to inform the War Office of Walter’s underaged status. As a result, Walter was refused permission to return to the firing line. The protective stretch of brotherly ties stymied Walter’s desire to overcome his fears and fulfil his masculine duty. For Leonard, his brother’s safety was more pressing than obeying the nation’s call to arms.
Second Lieutenant Ernest Routley was infuriated when his younger brother, ‘like a fool’, disregarded his repeated warnings and volunteered for overseas service. Having survived his first big offensive and received a Military Cross, Ernest fully expected his number to be up soon. In a highly emotive letter he spelt out the dangers awaiting his sibling, who, lacking specialist skills, would be an ordinary Tommy – mere cannon fodder. Professing himself willing to relinquish his commission, his medal and all that he owned in order to come home, Ernest made a direct appeal based on Frank’s familial obligations:
Haven’t you got the sense to see that Mother is nearly breaking her heart about me, because she realises one’s life is not worth 2d out here, and yet in spite of this you volunteer and just double her grief. I don’t know what will happen to her – I know her heart isn’t strong and the shock of this may finish her. If so, I hold you responsible.60
Ernest brushed off suggestions that staying at home exposed Frank to accusations of unmanliness, asking if it was preferable to have strangers call him a slacker than for his siblings and father to hold him responsible for his mother’s death. Only at the end of his letter does his tone soften, with a recognition that Frank’s motivations for joining up were the same as his own.
Brothers responded to concerns raised by parents. Hawtin Mundy determined to act when his mother informed him that his underage brother had enlisted and was currently at home on embarkation leave. Initially thinking, ‘What’s the silly young fool want to join for?’, Hawtin made repeated requests for leave so he could deal with the matter in person, even promising to volunteer for the next draft if granted this concession. The urgency of the situation was pressed by a further wire from his mother, who clearly believed that her younger son would heed his older brother. On his leave requests being turned down, Hawtin resolved to go anyway, and forged a pass purporting to be signed by his Commanding Officer. His efforts were unsuccessful. The forgery was discovered, Hawtin was court-martialled, reduced in rank and sent to the front.61 His readiness to risk both his status and, potentially, his life to safeguard his ‘foolhardy’ younger sibling speaks to the value that Hawtin placed on his familial responsibilities.
Sisters’ war work
The service of brothers motivated sisters to ‘do their bit’. The pioneering homoeopathic practitioner, Margaret Tyler, instigated a nationwide appeal for sandbags following a letter from her brother, Lieutenant Colonel James Tyler, pointing out the vital necessity for this equipment. Throughout March and April 1915, Margaret fired off a series of letters to the national and regional press, outlining the urgent need for sandbags and containing detailed instructions on how to make them.62 Some reports copied the direct plea made by her brother, framed to appeal to womenfolk at home and asking if ‘the kind people’ who had sent ‘warm knitted things’ over the winter months could now turn their hands to sandbag making for the troops’ protection. The appeal sparked an immediate interest, capturing the public imagination. ‘Sandbag parties’ replaced the craze for knitting parties in some areas of the country. Coordinating the logistics of receiving and dispatching the items from her Highgate home, Margaret’s active response to her brother’s request resulted in the dispatch of over two million sandbags in the first year alone. By acting in tandem, the Tyler siblings met a pressing and life-saving need for fighting men.
When sisters took up war work, brothers signalled fraternal approval. Joining the numbers of middle-class women eager to establish their commitment to the national defence, Phyllis Puckle undertook VAD training, part of the War Office’s initiative to prepare for war. The Puckle siblings later served at Cynfield Hospital, Shrewsbury: Phyllis as a nurse and her sister Mollie as a cook.63 Their brother George praised their hard work, recognising Phyllis’s satisfaction at ‘really doing something now’.64 Personal narratives provide rare incidents of brothers providing practical help in support of their sisters’ war efforts. When Grace McDougall was attempting to organise the first FANY motor ambulance, her favourite brother, Bill, was on hand with timely assistance. First, he supported her in her efforts to obtain funds to purchase a suitable vehicle; later, by temporarily arranging a transfer from his regiment, he joined his sister for the initial months of her first overseas posting, remaining there as a driver before taking up his commission in January 1916. Bill’s role was one of active championship, along with providing vital ancillary support to his sister’s endeavour.
Other sisters felt guilt at their comparative passivity. Once Oliver Hamilton had volunteered, his younger sister, Peggy, thought she ought to do ‘something useful’.65 Dithering over the options available to her, Peggy remained at home. In early 1916 she was discussing her options over tea, when her brother turned up unexpectedly on leave. Provoked by this drawing-room indolence, Oliver resorted to ungentlemanly frankness, asking his sibling why she didn’t follow the example of a close family friend, ‘sweating her guts out’ at Woolwich Arsenal. For Oliver, the physical exertions displayed by their friend on the factory floor matched the sacrifice made by troops on the firing line. The very next day a shamed Peggy signed on at the local Labour Exchange. Countering the myth that munitions work was unsuitable for ‘girls of gentle birth’, she extolled the benefits of work war: overcoming her lack of confidence, satisfaction in her work and pride in earning money, as opposed to receiving an allowance from her parents. Women munitions workers were utterly implicated in war ‘making’, states Angela Woollacott.66 This induced a ‘terrible dilemma’ for Peggy: how to reconcile praying for loved ones’ safety when working twelve hours a day to further the destruction of others. Such deliberations were turned on their head by the novelist and propagandist Hall Caine, who declared that ‘girls’ making cartridges at Woolwich did so conscientiously, mindful that any defects might result in the cartridge failing to fire correctly whereas ‘the soldier who may fall at the next instant under the enemy’s more certain weapon may be her own brother or sweetheart’.67
In some families the war effort of one sister was made at the ‘sacrifice’ of the ‘devoted daughter’ at home. Mollie Puckle faced great difficulties when attempting to join the Land Army in 1916. With Phyllis serving overseas as an ambulance driver, their parents strongly believed that Mollie ought to stay at home.68 Women faced not just parental hostility. Opposition to women fighting perpetuated a rhetoric of femininity that equated motherhood with soldiering. Sisters of fighting men, one advice columnist advised, must be kept away from battle so they might replace a decimated nation.69 Bluestocking daughters, who had achieved academic freedom, faced obstacles to war service. At Oxford University, depleted by students and dons departing for war service, the female colleges made several proclamations bidding students to stay put. When Winifred Holtby interrupted her undergraduate studies to serve with the WAAC in Huchenneville, France, following a year of ‘anguished indecision’, the college principal, Emily Penrose, declared it an ‘inconvenience’ and made a Sunday-night announcement reminding her female students of the duty of remaining in college.70 Penrose had ministerial support for her views. In February 1917 the President of the Board of Education, H. A. L. Fisher, stated that, in his view, it was the duty of women university students to stay put unless called up by a branch of the National Service Department. His belief, disseminated in The Times, was that it would be detrimental to the national interest to rob the future of a highly trained teaching profession.71
Keep out of it
Men hardened by war showed no compunction in warning their brothers to stay put. The wounded brother of a thirty-seven-year-old plumber, father to seven children under the age of seventeen, advised him to ‘Keep out of it – if you can’.72 ‘Keeping out’ became a convenient shorthand for expressing fraternal concern, an indirect means of breaching the silence that masked men’s experience. Awareness that their brothers might be placed in danger animated men’s concerns. As Alf Pollard explained in his post-war memoir, ‘It is one thing to be a fire-eater oneself, enjoying the thrill of risking one’s life. It is quite another to know that one’s flesh and blood is in danger and that one can do nothing to help.’73 Mindful of the interiority of combatants’ emotional responses, Roper advises caution against reading such pronouncements at face value. He cites a letter written by Arthur Hubbard, arguing that while ostensibly expressing relief that his younger brothers are at home, far removed from the fighting, Arthur simultaneously obliges his family to imagine them at the front, and projects his distress by placing the perils which he himself faces firmly in their minds.74 The ambivalence felt by fighting men when communicating to loved ones is an important undercurrent in fraternal correspondence between combatants and non-combatants. In considering the multilayered subjective responses of fighting men, we should not downplay the protectiveness that they felt towards their brothers as substantive evidence of fraternal affection.
Knowledge of the relative safety of brothers brought emotional relief. It was a ‘great comfort’ to Jack Tavernor, serving with the Coldstream Guards, to think of his brother Will at home. ‘I think you see plainly now why it was your place to stay,’ he stated. Jack reinforced his message by explaining his ‘wretchedness’ if both siblings were ‘in the same plight’.75 Fretting over brothers’ safety was an added anxiety for fighting men. A month later, Jack expanded on this theme, influenced by the killing of two brothers whom he had trained alongside. Observing that many believed they would be spared the ‘hardest fighting’, he added, ‘I can’t help thinking sometimes when you were mad on enlisting you thought the same, but be glad & thankful you did not do so for the sake of those left behind’.76 Safeguarding his brother lessened the burden of war for Jack and his working-class family. Placing Will’s duty to his family on an equal footing with his duty to the nation sustained Jack’s morale and efficacy as a soldier.
Exemplifying men’s ambivalence towards the opposing demands of patriotic duty and fraternal wellbeing is the wartime correspondence between the Falk brothers, displaying Cecil’s ardent desire to keep Geoff well away from the war. With the lowering of the conscription age to eighteen in May 1916, Cecil’s concerns appeared more frequently. He fervently hoped for the war’s end before Geoff reached this milestone.77 When it became apparent that his brother would be sent to the front, Cecil adopted a new stratagem, focusing his efforts on keeping Geoff away from the worse danger zones to serve his country from the comparative safety of the Balkan Front, where he himself was serving.78 This last arose from statistical evidence. The risk of death or wounding was higher by far on the Western Front: five casualties for every nine men sent out, as compared with one for every twelve in Salonika.79 To achieve this, Cecil utilised the long-established army principle that an older serving brother could ‘claim’ a younger sibling. He detailed with great care the steps Geoff must take to join his own regiment, providing explicit instructions on filling out the enlistment forms. Cecil’s persistence and strategising ensured that Geoff’s application was ultimately successful. Before this occurred, Cecil endured a further bout of anxiety on learning that Geoff might be diverted to the Western Front. This news, coupled with ‘an absolutely sickening’ absence of mail. prompted a flurry of letters from the increasingly worried Cecil.80 Thankfully for Cecil, this proved not to be the case. Geoff eventually joined him in Salonika in June 1918.
Cecil’s attitudes demonstrate the inconsistencies between external displays of manly duty and internal fears for a beloved brother. Preserving their ‘discrete cell’ required dedicated effort.81 Cecil’s plotting, discussed openly in the sanctity of sibling correspondence, reveals how he identified and resolved problems. Their successful resolution partially depended on Geoffrey’s acceptance of Cecil’s greater knowledge of military affairs and trust in his judgement. Outwardly, Cecil, a recipient of the Military Cross, represented the ideal of soldierly heroism. Openly espousing the public-school ethos of his class, he saw no contradiction in evading the worse consequences of fulfilling his duty while still ‘playing the game’. By such means, serving men adjudicated between the duties they owed to state and to family. Some combatants regarded refusal to serve as an abrogation of duty, but saw no shame in protecting themselves or their brothers against the worse ravages of war.
Brothers in blood and in arms
Cecil and Geoff Falk were among the many brothers who enlisted or ended up serving together. An article in The Graphic, a weekly illustrated magazine, drew attention to this phenomenon, noting that ‘soldiering undoubtedly runs in families’, with the consequence that ‘brothers by blood are constantly found as brothers in arms’ (Figure 4). Similarly, the official history of the WAAC stated that the display of ‘courage and nerve’ by members showed their ‘eagerness to help their brothers’.82 While the appeal was to a metaphorical rather than blood siblinghood, the trope of sibling bonds as a motivation for war service is striking.
Moreover, The Graphic article referred to soldiering as ‘essentially infectious, just like any other kind of enthusiasm’.83 Fraternal enlistment narratives attest to the frequency with which brothers volunteered or served side by side.84 Yorkshire coal miner Oswald Burgess and his two older brothers all worked down the pit. When one brother stated that he was going to enlist, the others determined to do the same: ‘We all three went … we all three went together at night.’85 One sibling was rejected due to poor eyesight, but the other two were placed in the same company, the 14th York and Lancaster Regiment. Their urge to act in unison is a prime example of enlistment contagion among sibling groups. There was a darker side to the impetus placed on manly heroism. In July 1916 the Hull Daily Mail recorded the suicide of Frederick Hall Hughes. His father told the inquest that his seventeen-year-old son, having been refused by the army, had been greatly upset at being unable to join his brothers on active service.86
Miners’ engineering skills and physical strength were especially valued in the trenches. George Clayton was working at the local colliery in Stanley when a notice was put up at the pit ‘urgently’ requiring miners. Interviewed in 1987, Clayton explained that he had joined the army to follow his brother, having ‘always been attached to him’. However, his narrative revealed a more complex picture. George had made a pact with a friend that if either was rejected the other would refuse to serve. When his friend failed the medical, George initially intended to abide by this promise. What changed his mind was the sight of his brother, passed fit to serve, marching away. According to George, ‘something came over him’ at that moment, something ‘he never expected or anticipated’, seeing his brother ‘go and march away and for me not to be marched away. It took a hold and I said, “Well I’ll have to go”.’87 The image of his brother transitioning into a fighting soldier exerted a fraternal pull and sparked an emotional reaction in George. He felt impelled to follow his sibling into war.
The Pals battalions sprung out of a recognition that many men responding to Lord Kitchener’s appeal to enlist in the New Army wanted to serve alongside friends, relatives or neighbours. Sharing the experience with brothers informed men’s decision making; volunteering became a rite of fraternal unity. There was a strong desire not to be left behind not merely physically, but in terms of life experience. Fifteen-year-old George Pocock packed up his farming job to volunteer with his three older brothers. Strong, and looking older than his years, his reasoning was clear: ‘me being a big boy I’m not let them go without me’. George was determined not to miss out simply by accident of age. Dismissed from the army after his mother informed the War Office of his true age, George ‘didn’t like’ leaving his brothers behind. The fraternal cell had been broken.88 Having reached one milestone of manhood by becoming a breadwinner, George was loath to miss out on the adventure of war, but his youth proved an insurmountable handicap.
Ted Francis and his elder brother Harry joined the Birmingham Pals in 1914. According to Ted, the brothers saw a lot of each other, ‘more so in France than in England’, deriving strength from being together and sharing the experiences of army life. Ted summarised the benefits as follows: ‘To have a brother always by you and to sleep with him and to go up the trenches with him.’ Combatants expressed doubts about the wisdom of having blood brothers serve alongside each other, possibly disrupting the military esprit de corps. Ted Francis was told it was ‘silly’ or ‘foolish’, as the siblings would be ‘bound to worry about each other’.89 As will be seen in Chapter 4, this concern was prevalent among fighting men.
Although the infection of enlistment did not directly affect young women in the same way as their male counterparts, some sisters undertook war work together. The theme of sisterly unity underpinned Kit Dodsworth’s representation of her war work. When her sister Eve was assigned night duties, the kindness of her fellow VADs could not dissipate Kit’s feelings of loneliness during their temporary separation. Until then, the sisters ‘had always done everything together’. When her service in Egypt was placed in jeopardy due to her weak heart, Kit begged the Medical Officer to reconsider so as to ensure that Eve did not go without her. Finally, after her marriage to Lieutenant Pip Vaughan-Phillips, she spoke of her regret at leaving Eve behind in Alexandria. The conjugal bond eventually broke the sororal companionship that bolstered the sisters’ resilience and spirits.90
Notions of good clinical care fostered fictive familial bonding between nursing staff and their patients. The wounded were encouraged to look upon their carers as mothers or sisters.91 For VADs with serving brothers, blood ties flavoured their nursing practice with a distinct emotional intensity. When rumours spread that a general hospital was being mobilised to accompany the 47th Division to Russia, Edith Appleton hoped to go with them. The only tempting alternative would be to move somewhere close to her brother Taff. Her sibling bond quelled her thirst for adventure and new experiences. Vera Brittain became a VAD so as to share the hardships endured by her fiancé, Roland Leighton. After Roland’s death in December 1915, she contrived to serve overseas to be nearer to her brother Edward: ‘all I have, all there is to fall back upon, all that is worthwhile’.92 Her aspiration to be with him ‘for the duration of our wartime lives’ was thwarted when Edward’s battalion was ordered to the Italian front. Relieved that her sibling had left the Ypres Salient, Vera was nonetheless left despondent and war-weary by their separation.93
The liminal moment of departing for war presents an insight into attitudes towards the war and patriotic service. Underpinning these enlistment narratives are a complex web of familial bonds supporting and frustrating siblings’ wartime ambitions. Men’s narratives affirm the relationality of anxious feelings, often recording their fears and concerns for the safety and wellbeing of brothers and other family members. War fever infected siblings of both sexes. The prosecution of the war was wrapped in the rhetoric of patriotic masculinity. Within this emotional economy, the act of enlistment, as Nicolette Gullace notes, became an inceptive act of citizenship.94 For men and women of all classes, adventure and military glamour masked the brutal carnage of trench warfare, offering an opportunity to escape the dreariness of domestic and work routines. Retrospective reflections of this war fever provoked feelings of guilt and shame.
From the early months of the war, trepidation flavoured men’s thoughts of the war. Even those young men prepared for war under the auspices of the OTC approached their departures with foreboding. Observing the anxieties of older brothers leaving for war troubled their younger siblings. Despite efforts to keep emotions in check, they registered as noteworthy on the boys and men witnessing them. A retreat behind the stoicism of the ‘stiff upper lip’ protected men’s families from the horrors of modern warfare. Yet, for some underaged men, fraternal restraint exposed them to the deadly allure of an imagined war. The maturity bestowed by birth order and war experience ignited impassioned warnings from older brothers to their younger siblings to keep away from the conflict.
Men on the threshold of service used fatalism to signal their concerns, seeking emotional expression through the language of death. It is through their siblings’ reportage that we see the fear and anxiety accompanying their ‘heroic’ acts of enlistment. Sisters, wearied by the repetition of seeing their brothers, cousins and friends depart, some never to return, developed superstitions around these departures. A focus on ‘threshold’ moments illustrates how men’s anxieties at particular stages of war centred on family concerns. They provide a further dimension to the dynamics of volunteering and enlistment and the emotional limits which men placed on their patriotic duties. Brothers often adopted a pragmatic view of conscription and military service, and the strong ethos of fraternal protection saw otherwise dutiful men welcome any opportunities offered to their brothers to escape the traumas of war. There is an element of self-protection in these measures: fighting men found it easier to endure the unimaginable terrors of war without the burden of worrying about either their brothers’ safety or the financial and emotional wellbeing of loved ones at home. Within the emotional economy of wartime patriotism and praiseworthy military masculinity, men strove to maintain their fraternal, domestic and financial responsibilities. Conscription, and the urgency to send men out to the firing line, ultimately defeated men’s self-imposed priorities.