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.
‘They were the best of us.’
Prefacing his memoir, The Family Story (1981), Tom Denning, the former Master of the Rolls, recorded his stock answer to a frequently asked question: namely, what were his parents like, having brought up such high-achieving sons – a judge, an admiral and a general.1 Denning would always correct the inquirer: ‘You forget. We were five brothers. Two were lost in the First World War. They were the best of us.’2 In this brief retort we see Denning perform a complex act of remembering and commemoration: through his subtle invocation of the ‘lost generation’ – the ‘best’ of the cohort of young men who fell in the Great War; through his emphasis on the loss experienced by his fraternal family unit; and through his use of the slightly admonitory second-person ‘you’, which draws the attention of both the imagined questioner and his intended reading public to their collective, continuing duty to remember the sacrifice of the fallen. Even Denning’s choice of title – The as opposed to My Family Story – indicates his intention to present his family’s history, in which his and his siblings’ wartime experiences play a prominent role, as emblematic. By presenting his ‘story’ this way, he rendered his high-achieving, atypical family unremarkable: sharing the poignancy of loss that was common to so many families and communities.
Examining the intimate ways in which siblings ‘kept’ the memory of brothers contributes to our understanding of how the war is remembered.3 Revealing and recording love is one of the vital functions of war writing, states Kate McLoughlin.4 Often these memories remained hidden from view, recorded in private letters and diaries, or in memoirs intended only for the eyes of family members and close friends. Photographs, personal belongings and war mementoes were kept in households. If, as Sarah Ahmed submits, family happiness can be both assembled and circulated through material objects, so surely can other intermingled familial emotions such as grief.5 Private acts of remembrance strayed into the public sphere: through published memoirs and the display of material objects. Siblings created ‘verbal memorials’, permanent textual spaces, to honour their dead brothers, circumventing the dominant ideology of state remembrance by restoring the individual personalities and particular war stories of brothers.6 In the days following the ‘awful news’, Percy Cearns sat down and began to write what he could remember of Fred’s civilian life, asking rhetorically, ‘What better testimony than this is necessary to prove his worth?’7 Driving this act of devotion was Percy’s belief that it was his brother’s ‘due’ that his ‘wonderful character and true Christian spirit’ should be recorded so that others might benefit from emulating his pattern ‘of how to live and die as a man’.8 This memory work was a ‘personally onerous’ duty for surviving siblings.9 Mindful of familial sensitivities and carrying the weight of their own loss, men and women sought multifarious ways to honour their brothers’ memories. Oftentimes, this required the negotiation of the dual task identified by Winter, that of honouring those who fought without glorifying the war.10
Names ‘are more often lost, than made in war’. Once uniformed, military men surrendered their given names. Known by surname, rank and number, they became an ‘anonymous social type par excellence’.11 This depersonalisation seeped into the public discourse at every stage of the service life cycle, from the ideal of the ‘soldier hero’ stoking recruitment and conscription campaigns, to the characterisation of the common soldier as the ubiquitous ‘Tommy’.12 In his 1917 memoir, Percy Cearns articulated this phenomenon directly:
Private F. E. Cearns, No. 281228, just a cipher amongst the teeming millions known collectively as the British Army; No. 281228 – and that is all that concerns the general public; just another in the long list of killed, published all too often in the daily papers.13
Paradoxically, laudatory portraits made brothers unremarkable by subduing individual personalities in favour of a stereotypical ideal. Detailing men’s characters raised these accounts above the anonymity imposed by the language of sacrifice, enabling siblings to share some of their own war experiences along with those of their siblings. Although the names of men killed in action appeared in published lists of casualties, the sheer scale of fatalities removed their individuality. This ‘anonymisation’ process continued in national commemorations: by the removal of the individual from state acts of remembrance; the stark simplicity of Sir Edwin Lutyens’s design of the Cenotaph’s empty tomb in Whitehall; the tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey; and the depersonalisation of the gravestones in the permanent war cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In their desire to promote equality of treatment, the Commission imposed a rigid uniformity, decreeing that all tombstones be of the same non-denominational shape, made from Portland stone, with a prohibition on extravagant inscriptions or personal monuments.14 The scrupulously immaculate way the cemeteries are maintained marks them out as strange and, like the dead they commemorate, immune from the ageing process.15 Fierce opposition greeted the official policy regarding the non-repatriation of soldiers’ bodies and the insistence on homogeneity. In 1919 the Commission received approximately ninety letters a week protesting the measure.16
A retrospective emphasis on the physical vitality and beauty of soldier-brothers, apart from reaffirming their heroic masculinity, can be viewed as a reluctance to dwell on their shattered or decayed remains. Seeing Edward off to France in December 1914, Vera Brittain remarked that her tall, uniformed brother ‘really is a fit object of devotion’.17 Although character mattered more than looks in the Campbell family, Pat felt obliged to note that Percy was ‘very good-looking’.18 The most intimate of ‘material’ fraternal memories concerned the bodily remains of brothers. Like many wartime diarists, the Canon Francis Drinkwater punctiliously listed casualties. In this mourning ritual, he dedicated a page at the end of each volume, titled R.I.P. (Rest in Peace), recording the names and burial places of Roman Catholic men.19 Among these, he briefly recorded the wounding of his brother Jonathan and death of his brother Oscar, known as Oxo, a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, shot down and killed in August 1918. In June 1979, Drinkwater added a supplementary note to his diary to clarify that Oxo was his brother. Unlike other ‘memorials’ in this chapter, Drinkwater did not furnish any further characterisations of Oxo as a soldier or a brother. Instead, he related a visit made to Oxo’s grave some months after the Armistice. By this time his brother’s body had disintegrated so much that it was identifiable only by his dentures.20 The Commonwealth War Graves Commission established rigorous guidelines for the exhumation and reinterment of bodies. When identifying remains, the registration officer was advised to look out for identity discs, pay books, visiting cards, letters, boots, cigarette cases, watches, markings and handkerchiefs.21 Drinkwater took Oxo’s fragmentary remains back to his hotel, where he spent the night cleaning them.
A common fear among Roman Catholics was that their lost ones had died without receiving the final sacraments.22 Through his tender ministrations, Drinkwater restored some dignity and ritual to the laying to rest of his brother. He initially intended to take Oxo’s remains back to England, but the ‘difficulties’ involved – presumably the strictures on the repatriation of the remains of the war dead – led to his arranging for Oxo’s reburial in the Brown’s Road Military Cemetery, Festubert.23 Over sixty years after his brother’s death, Drinkwater reflected on his absence, a non-presence reconjured by the frail remnants of his brother’s body. Oxo’s individuality had been lost, along with his family’s right to a personal burial and grave to remember him by. Drinkwater’s final fraternal acts combine his ‘caring’ for Oxo’s bodily remains with his ‘religious’ role of officiating over the dead.
The official ‘anonymisation’ of the dead at national level should be contrasted with efforts made at community, parish and family level to counter this dominant ideology. Many bereaved families erected private memorials to their loved ones, not only in churches, schools and workplaces at home, but also on the battlefields of France and Flanders.24 Family and parish memorials could reject the formal language of national memorials. The names of James Pykett and his brother Frank appear on the memorial at St Mary’s church, Ayston, along with the names of two cousins, Tom and Harry. This rare example of colloquialisms on war memorials is dedicated to ‘the brave lads’ of the village (Figure 6). Eight of the ten men who went from the village were killed in what one local paper referred to as a ‘mournful but heroic record’.25
Jon Davies notes the ‘primal need’ for communities to mark ‘their particular irreplaceable loss’.26 Some used the wording ‘The men of this parish’ on local war memorials. The parish, one of society’s oldest collective identities, reserved the memory of its war dead to those who knew and loved them best:
In leaving out the names [of the war dead] the memorial builders are serving notice that this is ‘private’, that is to say, a communal matter: they are talking to themselves of the dead they know to be their dead.27
There was no need to invoke ‘the evocative reach of the inscribed name’ in order to recall the dead who remained enfolded in the parish’s collective memory.28 Similarly, the name of Captain Hubert Dixon, killed in action on 12 March 1915, does not appear on the memorial lych-gate at St Giles church, Great Longstone, commissioned by Dixon’s brother. Instead, Hubert’s name is included, along with those of the war dead from local villages, on a shrine inside the church. Of the 1,010 names recorded on the ten bronze plaques on the Lancaster war memorial, there are fifty-seven pairs of brothers, five instances of three brothers and one of four. Within this memorial to communal morning, familial loss and sacrifice is highlighted by the bracketing of names with the word ‘BROTHERS’ (Figure 7). The four mothers and widows who suffered the greatest losses were invited to the unveiling ceremony in 1924. These included Annie Butterworth, who lost four sons, her husband, James, reportedly having died from a ‘broken heart’.29
Fraternal epitaphs and figurative statuary recorded a direct personal connection. Maisie Kelly commissioned the sculptor Eric Gill to design a memorial for the fallen of Bisham, including her brother, the composer and Olympic rower, Frederick Kelly.30 Before the war, they had shared a rented house, Bishops Grange. Maisie’s choice of Gill reflected their shared interests and social milieu. Erected ‘in memory of a most beloved brother’, the memorial’s depiction of a crucified Christ is believed to reflect Gill’s belief that faith in the resurrection and redemption would comfort the bereaved. Commissions benefitted ‘pioneers’ of modern sculpture such as Gill and his pupils.31 The author and children’s illustrator Edith Farmiloe designed a bronze sculpture to honour her brother, Major Geoffrey Brooke Parnell, and the other four officers and eleven men of 1st Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment who fell at the ‘grim slaughterhouse’ of High Wood on 15 July 1916. The final iconographic image presents Parnell as a crusading saint with wings, holding a sword in his hand (Figure 8). Apart from the obvious link to chivalric masculinity, Edith’s act of memory-keeping replaces her sibling’s mortal flesh with a permanent visual and sacrificial representation.32 Access to private means enabled such sororal commemorations to visibly represent sibling values of personal significance.
Memorialisation was not the preserve of the elite. As early as 1916, street shrines, or what a Times correspondent referred to as ‘war corners’, started appearing in London streets, a phenomenon that soon spread across the country.33 Over a dozen shrines and rolls of honour were erected and dedicated over one October weekend in Hull alone.34 These ranged from temporary crosses hung from railings to collections of postcards, photographs and flowers. In October 1916, the London Evening News organised a display of commercially produced shrines at Selfridges on Oxford Street, with prices ranging from 30s to £14 10s.35 Praising the patriotism and spiritual devotion behind such memorials, the Hull Daily Mail noted that the accompanying prayers were not only for the dead but also for the wounded, serving men and those remaining at home, singling out the ‘boy-men of the future’ for whom brothers and fathers were fighting.36 Community feeling was embedded within these memorials. Their popularity was widespread and garnered local enthusiasm, as shown in the teeming terraces and windows filled with one or more photographs of uniformed lads in khaki or blue. One ‘very interesting’ example was erected at the intersection of Montrose Avenue and Gibson Street, Hull. Brackets were placed on each side of the four feet by two feet structure to support flower vases. The gilt-framed roll of honour was inscribed with the motto ‘Our Lives for Our Friends’. Topping the list of thirty-one men from nineteen houses were the five Harrison brothers, four of whom were serving or had served in the Hull Pals.37 The paean to civic pride, family duty and sacrifice, was reflected in the images adorning the shrine: the Hull coat of arms, St George slaying the dragon and a soldier and sailor next to a rural home. This representation of the ideals of masculine chivalry was a romanticised reminder of what men were fighting for. Juxtaposed to these, the bracketed acknowledgement that five of the fallen were brothers grounded this memorial in the singular sacrifice of a neighbourhood family.
A similar phenomenon is seen in the bequest of what Keith Grieves and Jennifer White term ‘precisely-loved’ places, honouring the dead of specific localities.38 The post-war ‘outdoor movement’ championed the democratisation of the countryside and valued wild spaces. In the years immediately preceding 1914, concerns over society’s moral and physical decay in the wake of urbanisation led to a ‘re-evaluation’ of country life. Initiatives such as the Clarion Movement promoted cycling and rambling among the working classes. Explicit links were made between three cultures of landscape: mental, spiritual and physical, feeding into youth movements and youth literature, ‘especially those nurturing open-air boys’.39 For interwar writers, the countryside came to represent a lost past and the village community ‘a synecdoche for the nation as it used to be’.40 A 1955 survey of public attitudes by anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer affirmed the deep-rootedness of this tradition. Despite England’s being overwhelmingly urban, most pictured it as rural.41
Founded in 1895, the National Trust was charged with preserving land and buildings of beauty or historic interest for the nation, becoming the beneficiary of land donations and part of a wider movement agitating for the provision of a social gain to returning soldiers by facilitating restorative outdoor leisure activities.42 Although appeals for land were halted during the war years, the movement gained impetus by the rededication of ‘affective terrains’ to honour men who had died fighting for the country and countryside they loved.43 Writing to the Manchester Guardian in 1916, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the Trust’s founders, bemoaned the hackneyed design of Boer War memorials, calling for open spaces to be given as ‘lasting’ memorials to the fallen, ones that recognised men’s love ‘for the beauty of their homeland’.44 Prompting his call was the ‘good example’ of a Liverpool cotton merchant, Mr A. V. Paton, who donated twenty-seven acres of moorland at Thurstaston, Cheshire in memory of his brother, Captain Morton Brown Paton. The siblings had shared a ‘great love’ of the view over the Dee estuary. Similarities between the hill and the slopes of Gallipoli where Morton had died endowed the ‘propinquity’ of this site with a double meaning.45 The memorial’s ‘affective terrain’ is overlaid with shared fraternal memories and a reminder of the brother’s sacrifice in the form of ‘a local Achi Baba’.46
Growing hostility towards intrusive monuments threatened the ‘affective engagement’ between the acts of visiting, walking and climbing, and remembering the dead of a locality.47 Epitomising the unobtrusive commemoration of a loved one through the gift of land is the bequest made by London barrister William A. Robertson in 1937.48 Eight ‘sites of memory’ were preserved for the nation in the names of his brothers, Laurance and Norman.49 Marking these sites are small, concrete obelisks, each with a metal plaque recording the brothers’ names, rank, regimental affiliation, and date of deaths.50 Unlike the testamentary provisions for brothers seen in Chapter 2, this financial bequest was a final act of caring aimed at preserving the memory of Robertson’s cherished brothers for future generations. Taking into account contemporaneous sensitivities, these memorials are unobtrusive, fulfilling Rawnsley’s desire to acknowledge the sacrifice of siblings by supporting an ongoing engagement with the landscape.
Siblings were motivated to write memorials by the belief that it was best done by those who ‘knew’ the dead. In his epilogue, Denning ends with a self-effacing exhortation to his readers: ‘please remember that it is the Family of whom I wished to tell you. Just to record what we have done in our time.’51 The Family Story is a curious amalgam of autobiography, war memoir and memorial book.52 Renowned for the simple, narrative style of his legal judgments, Denning spoke ‘directly and compellingly’ to ordinary people, reflecting his championship of the ‘little man’.53 He displayed equal eloquence in the ‘story-telling’ of his siblings’ wartime experiences. Denning’s autobiography exemplifies ‘double chronology’ life stories: the time being narrated, and the time of writing them down and constructing their story.54 Yet, as is illustrated by his book’s structure and chapter headings, war is the central motif through which Denning tells the story of himself and his four brothers (Figure 9). He exposes the disruption of conflict in the life course of his family in Book One, ‘Before the Wars’, which includes sections devoted to the First and Second World Wars, each brother having a dedicated subsection with a summary of and commentary on his wartime service. Book Two, ‘After the Wars’, follows the autobiographical pattern of a successful man, detailing Denning’s early childhood years, his marriage and his legal career.
Pat Campbell’s stated reasons for writing combined the personal debt that he owed to Percy with recognition of the broader sacrifice made by his brother’s generation:
I want him to be remembered for as long as I am. He was a very fine young man ... He has no children or grandchildren to remember him, but if I can help to keep his name alive, then I shall have repaid some of my debt to him.55
Pat observed a generational absence. As Percy left no second-generation cohort, Pat assumed the duty of preserving his brother’s memory. In his introduction, Pat created an emotional hierarchy resulting from the ‘grandeur of self-sacrifice’ made by his brother. First, there was the ‘incalculable’ loss to the world. Then came the reaction of Percy’s intimate circle of family and friends, who ‘never got over the sudden shock of his death’. Simultaneously, he accepted that this experience was shared by many families, presenting Percy as an ‘everyman’, a representative of the heroism and sacrifice made by the casualties of every combatant country. Finally, Pat recorded his own loss: the permanent absence of a brother who ‘gave me much while he lived and more after his death’. In his later years, the imperative to ensure that his brother’s sacrifice was not forgotten grew stronger. The guilt felt by Pat, the debt he owed his brother, needed to be assuaged. Pat’s characterisation of Percy as the ‘meaning’ of war is an example of the ‘synecdochic approach’ to the scale of loss whereby a single individual comes to stand for the many.56 While providing details of mass sacrifice emanates from an overriding desire to bear witness accurately, statistics can have the opposite effect, with numbers confounding rather than sharpening awareness of casualties.57 Writing from a personal perspective enabled Pat to avoid the ‘positive’ language of war memorials and death notices. Adverbs, as Moriarty points out, determine the manner of remembrance. Positive rhetoric encourages deaths to be viewed as ‘glorious and meaningful rather than painful’.58 Memoirs were a space for surviving siblings to circumvent these constraints and to speak of loss, anger and regret.
Men used other narrative devices to record memorials to their brothers. In the 1960s, Matthew Wilkinson wrote an unpublished memoir recounting his experiences as a stretcher-bearer and prisoner of war. The last page, entitled ‘My Brother Tom’, was written in the hope that in the years to come, ‘maybe some of his memory will be kept green’. Tom, a bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery, was killed at Ypres on 25 April 1918. In one short paragraph, Matthew encapsulated his sibling’s qualities:
He was the eldest of our family of ten and was a fine upstanding lad being nearly 6 foot tall and built like an ox. He excelled at all sports, boxing, hand-ball and football, and when a school lad he was known as King Kong of the village. I know he had several bare-fist fights and was always the victor. He was known and respected by all his work-mates and older people of the village. The children all knew him and would run after him when they saw him coming. He was dear to me and I cherish his memory as long as I live.59
In this fraternal tribute, Mathew successfully incorporated praiseworthy manly values: his brother’s physical strength and sporting prowess; the respect he engendered among his peers, elders and youngsters within their local mining community in County Durham; and as a beloved brother. Furthermore, Tom did not shirk his patriotic duty. Compounding the loss of his brother in this way – to his family, his community and his country – Mathew expanded the rings of communities of mourning affected by one death. This structured passage can be usefully compared to the disjointed ‘note’ that George K. Chesterton wrote in his introduction to his younger brother Cecil’s book, A History of the United States (1919). Cecil, a private in the Highland Light Infantry, died of nephritis at Wimereux. For George, the emotional challenge of writing about his brother resulted in something ‘broken and bemused’, the product of a memory composed of ‘generalisation and detail’. Chesterton does not attempt a ‘full’ biographical account of his brother, omitting significant details such as his journalistic writings and political activism. The impossibility of imparting the full loss to both himself and society doubly incapacitated George: ‘as a friend he is too near me, and as a hero too far away’.60
Capturing ‘the importance’ of Marc Noble’s life, with the few facts available to her, made writing a memorial fraught with difficulty for his sister Marjorie. Twenty years old when he died, Marc was among the elite volunteers who flung themselves into war ‘with the happy ardour of a new game’.61 Assembling fragmentary information about interests and scholarly achievements, Marjorie mourned the arrested possibilities that his life held. Marc had been a ‘happy soldier’; war had given him ‘freedom and responsibility and command of men’. She wrote of the opportunities that would have been his if he had followed his expected life course and gone to university.62 Lastly, Marjorie took issue with the implication that Marc, by volunteering to bring help while under heavy bombardment, had thrown his life away. To recognise the heroism behind such hopeless deeds of bravery, Marjorie suggested that ‘gave’ was ‘the truer word’, transfiguring the sentiment. Unlike many memorialists, Marjorie believed that, outside of his close circle of intimates and desolate family, her brother’s life would be forgotten – a perspective that explains why, despite her awareness of discomfort around the ‘sacrifice’ of young men, Marjorie still wished to memorialise her brother by the beliefs he had held dear. Lending support to maternal acts of memorialisation stifled the voices of some grieving sisters. Clare Leighton and Naomi Mitchison assisted their mothers’ efforts by typing manuscripts, editing and advising on content.63 Their authorial silence masked their emotional contribution to familial acts of commemoration.
Given the preponderance of memorialisation in these ‘grief narratives’, it is unsurprising that men’s accounts rarely represent negative fraternal relations. The poet, writer and literary editor, Geoffrey Grigson, provides an uncommon example of a man writing disparagingly about a brother killed in wartime. His brother Claude’s death caused him ‘little upset’. Claude was closest in age to Geoffrey; two other siblings, Lionel and Kenneth, had already been killed in action. The loss of these ‘two firm foundation rocks’ deprived Geoffrey of an anticipated lifelong affection. In contrast, Claude provoked in him ‘the strongest hatred I have ever had’. Geoffrey offered a number of reasons for this. Claude is presented as an outsider, his ‘smugness’ deriving from the non-familial traits of athleticism and prowess in sports and field games. Unlike the ‘brave’ deaths of Lionel and Kenneth, Claude’s is depicted pejoratively. Claude, an air cadet, died of pneumonia on 15 October 1918, a fate that Geoffrey ascribed to his ‘stupidity and carelessness’. Failing to die a sufficiently heroic death exposed Claude to the vitriolic memories of his surviving sibling. Yet it was Claude’s bullying behaviour that stung Geoffrey the most as he recounted the sarcasm, arm-twistings and beatings inflicted on him by his older brother. Contravening the family ethos, Claude brought ‘the hardness and horror’ of school life into the sacrosanct spaces of the village, the garden and the home.64 In his condemnation of his sibling’s behaviour, Geoffrey adheres to the model of emotional manliness, valuing kind, caring boys65 – the basis of the tradition of loving kindness exhibited by men on the front line and lauded by loved ones in remembrance.66
Casting Claude’s behaviour as betrayal enabled Geoffrey to justify his response against the ‘sting’ of his brother’s ‘treason’. This is highly emotive language; accusations of ‘treachery’ were levelled at individuals and groups portrayed as unmanly, unpatriotic and shirking their duty.67 Falling within this net were diverse groupings, including conscientious objectors; soldiers accused of slacking, malingering, cowardice or desertion; black marketers and profiteers; and trade unionists and workers threatening strike action.68 Claude is portrayed as a ‘traitor’ on several levels: by failing his manly and patriotic duty to die a sufficiently heroic death; by failing to abide by the familial code of good behaviour; and by failing to protect and care for his younger brother. Grigson was known as a robust literary critic; responding to William Empson’s accusation of ‘rudeness’, he replied, ‘I attempt to be rude from a moral basis’.69 Privileging ‘truth’ over consideration of others’ sensibilities provides a partial explanation for Geoffrey’s decision not to temper his condemnation.
It is instructive to compare Grigson’s account with that of Pat Campbell, who, at times, casts Percy in a less than favourable light.70 Negative characteristics of his brother: disobedience, apparent lack of seriousness, extravagance with money and gaiety, were not ‘Campbell’ traits, but were inherited from his mother’s side of the family. Pat recalled an occasion when his brother refused to continue on a family walk, traditionally ‘one of the particular enjoyments’ of their annual holidays. Pat felt that his brother ‘had no right to behave in this way, to spoil the afternoon for the rest of us’.71 Once again, Pat is both affirming his family’s values and judging his brother against them. After Percy won a scholarship to Clifton College, his behaviour improved. Retaining his unconventionality, Percy nonetheless became Head of House. Pat professed himself ‘startled’ when a fellow pupil praised his brother by saying, ‘We all think the world of [Percy], there’s no one like him. His House is the best in the school, and it’s he who has made it the best.’ Regarding his brother through a more sceptical fraternal lens, Pat was less effusive: ‘Of course I was fond of Percy and looked up to him in some ways, but I did not think the world of him, there was nothing special about him.’72 This pronouncement should not be taken at face value. By stressing Percy’s ordinariness, Pat subtly reinforced his future bravery in battle. This was not a boy cast straight from the heroic mould of masculine behaviour. Unlike Grigson, Pat imparted the ‘rough and tumble’ of brotherly relations. Sibling behaviour and attitudes may change over time, and in acknowledging this, Pat presented a complex, thoughtful and ultimately affectionate portrait of his brother.
The singularly close bond that Naomi Mitchison enjoyed with her brother Jack did not survive the post-war years. Mitchison felt that her brother was beyond her reach, inside a mask. Casting for a specific cause for their increasingly quarrelsome relationship, Mitchison pinpointed a meeting after her son’s death from meningitis. Instead of the anticipated sympathy, Mitchison, plagued with suicidal thoughts, was met with accusations that her absences from home had been a causal factor.73 Narratives of sibling empathy and rivalry permeated her published works and she showed compassionate understanding, based on their conversations, of the effect of trench warfare on her brother, likening the shift in his personality to a knock on the head or ‘a bad trip’ with a powerful drug.74 Not shying away from difficult aspects of their sibling bond throughout her published works, Mitchison illustrated the inherent push and pull nature of close siblinghood. Despite their differences, Jack remained a significant presence in his sister’s life.
Rituals of working-class grief, such as the laying out of bodies, can be seen as ‘sites for the creation and expression of grief, loss, and adjustment’.75 Within the ‘otherness’ of fraternal grief, accounts of brotherly loss provide similar ‘sites’ of emotional expression. Less visible are the private, intimate acts of memory keeping: preserving letters, records and artefacts of service, displaying photographs and mementoes, visiting graves, marking personal anniversaries such as the births and deaths of brothers and noting their absences at key family occasions. Through men’s narratives we see rare glimpses of private fraternal memorials, showing the range of complex and interlinked acts of memory keeping performed by surviving brothers and sisters.
In March 1917, on his appointment as minor canon at St George’s Chapel, the Reverend Maurice Foxell moved to Windsor with his wife and young son. His new home and furnishings were a source of pride to Maurice. On first visiting, his father pronounced it a ‘gentleman’s house’, admiring the newly acquired sideboard gracing his son’s drawing-room.76 Three days later Maurice wrote to his brother, Captain Edward Foxell, serving with The Buffs, enclosing sketches of the sideboard to ‘amuse’ him.77 That June, Edward died of delayed chloroform poisoning following an operation to remove his appendix. The following month, Maurice took receipt of selected possessions left to him by his brother, listing them carefully:
3 good chairs & two others, bureau, chest, two tables, music stand, chest of drawers, wash-stand – all of the beautiful pieces, & some etchings & one jolly nice watercolour of Canterbury & one by Father also.78
The aesthetic pleasure that Maurice derived from these objects is apparent. He took pains to record both their material and emotional value – a reflection both of his brother’s good taste and standing, and Maurice’s pride that the best pieces had been given to him, a testament to his brother’s affection. Much of the following day was spent integrating these ‘lovely things’ into the new household.79 Maurice’s ‘display’ of his new sideboard demonstrated his consciousness of the ‘public’ quality of certain rooms, the social spaces in which objects are located, used, stored and displayed.80 As his father and surviving brothers were frequent visitors, they too would derive pleasure from seeing Edward’s possessions on show. Maurice did not create a shrine within his home. Instead, these inherited items formed a constant presence in his daily life, embedded in his everyday routines and practices.81 By interspersing them within his household, Maurice brought Edward into the present while evoking the gap he had left.82 Edward’s bequest transformed his belongings into a daily reminder of his sacrifice. Maurice believed that his brother ‘gave up with not a word of regret because he knew he was taking his part in defending us, he looked at it in that personal way’. Edward’s possessions were a bittersweet presence in Maurice’s everyday life; not only did they ‘bring home to us the fact that [Edward] will never return’ but they were a permanent reminder ‘of the dear good fellow he was’.
Later that month, Maurice received a more personal memento when his father presented him with Edward’s tobacco pouch – a paternal divestment of affective significance for his son. Maurice combined the practical and the emotional when describing his reaction. Having lost his own pouch, he was pleased to receive a ‘serviceable thing of leather’, ‘as nice a thing to have of dear Edward’s personal things as I should wish to have’.83 Retaining an everyday object, a tactile belonging, about his person forged a constant ‘series of connections and identifications’ between Maurice and the ‘past presence’ of his dead brother.84 Maurice’s treatment of his dead brother’s possessions illustrates the interrelation between material spaces and time, the connections between past and future lives both inhabiting the same domestic space.
Some men actively sought out items to remind them of brothers. Gordon Denning died of tuberculosis in June 1918, six days after his twenty-first birthday. His family believed that the ‘stress and strain’ of Gordon’s service as a midshipman on the HMS Morris during the Battle of Jutland was a contributory factor. Lord Denning mentioned two souvenirs of Gordon kept in his home in Whitchurch, Hampshire.85 Both were closely related to Gordon’s war service and his ‘love of the sea’, a recurring theme of the diary that his brother maintained during the eighteen months of his illness.86 The first was a small piece of shell which had narrowly missed Gordon. Denning had this mounted on a piece of wood inscribed with the following words:
Battle of Jutland 1916
Piece of German shell which
fell on HMS Morris in which
Sub-Lieutenant C. G. Denning RN
The second item was the ‘fine big brass’ ship’s bell from the Morris, which Denning had obtained when the destroyer was broken up. In preserving these objects, Denning chose items representative of the war generation’s service and sacrifice. By actively collecting and curating relics in this way, he bestowed new meanings on them as they became part of his family’s story, in the process creating ‘a private museum of memory’.88
Reminders of his brother’s wartime service were incorporated into Denning’s household routines. The bell was kept ‘bright and polished – as it was when she was in service’.89 By obliquely acknowledging these actions, Denning underlined the ‘investment of time, effort and care’ made to ensure that the bell retained its naval ‘spit and polish’.90 There was a clear analogy between the act of keeping this wartime relic free from dust and the act of keeping Gordon’s memory alive and untarnished. As its curator, Denning was charged not only with preserving a personal family history ‘but also a collective sense of past, a remembrance that is simultaneously both private and communal’.91
Emotional ‘voices’ of remembrance
Sometimes men wanted to arouse an emotional reaction through their memorialisation of soldier-brothers. Kennard Bliss was killed at the Somme on 28 September 1916. His death created a double loss for his composer brother, Arthur. Along with the ‘long poignant loss’ of a gifted sibling, he was deprived of a creative stimulant, a ‘sharp corrective’ to his struggles to find musical expression.92 In 1929, a year marking the publishing peak of the disillusionment memoir, Arthur commenced work on his choral war symphony, Morning Heroes, commissioned by the Norwich Festival. This musical tribute was dedicated to Kennard and other fallen comrades-in-arms. Written in five movements, Morning Heroes is a large-scale collective work for orator, chorus and orchestra. During its composition, Bliss was troubled by frequent nightmares evoking horrific memories of his experiences of warfare – wounded at the Somme and gassed at Cambrai. Throughout the 1920s, he had worked intermittently on Battle Variations, intended as both a reflection on his experiences and a fraternal memorial. This work was eventually abandoned. Instead, his first act of memory keeping occurred in 1925 when Bliss subtitled the slow movement of his Suite for Piano, F. K. B. Thiepval, 1916.93 Searching for composition marked a troubling failure to ‘lay his brother to rest’ in a meaningful way, an act symbolically and emotionally important to him.
The emotional labour inherent in acts of sibling memory keeping is seen in the creative stops and starts blocking brothers and sisters engaged with this work. After her father’s death in 1955, the realisation that she was now the only living member of her family provoked an ‘urgent need’ in poet Frances Bellerby to write an account of her early life. This would restore not only the memory of her brother and parents but also her ‘dead’ but living childhood self.94 After initial good progress, Bellerby struggled, stalling or breaking off when reaching painful episodes such as her brother Jack's death. She never completed her autobiography. Caution must be exercised when stating, as Kate Kennedy does, that creative works such as Bellerby’s poems or Bliss’s Morning Heroes can be seen as acts of personal and collective therapy.95 This viewpoint concurs with therapeutic findings that the telling and retelling of stories helps to externalise experiences of war, making them more comprehensible by imposing some sort of order over them.96 But these assumptions have been challenged, with warnings that veterans may be re-traumatised by the process.97 Final published works mask the emotional struggle of production; unfinished or abandoned works remain mostly hidden from public view. A volunteer in the Coldstream Guards, Jack Parker was ‘blown to pieces’ in 1915. Later in life, Bellerby reworked earlier poems inspired by his death. In August 1968 she completely rewrote ‘August Night’, printed ten years earlier, about the death of her brother on 8 August 1915. Every year at this date, she confided to a friend, ‘that experience goes on happening’. Echoing this discomforting thought, she planned to call the revised poem ‘Anniversary’, and eventually settled on ‘1915’. It opened with a line from the original, ‘Never mourn the deathless dead’. As a final act of memory keeping, she dedicated her Selected Poems (1970) to ‘The Brief and everlasting life of my brother’,98 an authorial epitaph honouring her sibling and the act of keeping the memory of loved ones alive. Laying her sibling to rest did not consign him to the past, but retained his memory as a living presence.
By his own account, Bliss found writing Morning Heroes cathartic, the culmination of his attempts to ‘externalise’ his wartime experiences and commemorate Kennard through his music.99 Bliss’s earlier failure to articulate the war experiences of himself and Kennard might partially explain his creative decision to combine poetry by Homer, Walt Whitman, Li Bai, George Chapman, Wilfred Owen and Robert Nicols with his music. Each poem was selected to describe an ‘aspect of war common to all ages and all times’.100 The first four movements deal respectively with the poignancy of the farewell between husband and wife in wartime; the spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice of ‘the lost generation’; the thoughts and emotions of a young wife left at home; and heroism in battle.101 In the last movement, dealing specifically with the Somme, the orator declaims Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Spring Offensive’.102 The composition ends with Robert Nichols’ poem, ‘Dawn on the Somme’.103 Bliss’s inspiration for his symphony’s title came from Nichols’ evocation of the resurrection of the dead in the morning mist the day after battle.104 Both these soldier-poets suffered from neurasthenia. Owen, like Arthur and Kennard, fought at the Somme, and wrote ‘Spring Offensive’ on his return to the front in August 1918 after receiving treatment for shell shock at Craiglockart Military Hospital. Nichols, a second lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery, served for a brief period of three weeks, during which he came under bombardment at Loos. Sent home in September 1915 suffering from a ‘slight nervous breakdown’, he never returned to active service.105
What is apparent is Bliss’s recognition of the importance of an emotional outlet for himself and his audience. During one rehearsal, members of the orchestra, themselves veterans, ‘were too affected for a few minutes to continue’.106 The audience, Bliss reported in a letter to Wilfred Owen’s mother, had been ‘profoundly moved’ by the recitation of ‘Spring Offensive’. The emotional ‘punctum’ – defined by Roland Barthes as the ability to wound, bruise or prick – of this work was important to Bliss.107 Using third-party voices, such as Owen’s, gave Bliss the emotional ‘voice’ that he needed to paint what he termed his ‘war canvas’.108 Interviewed in 1982, his widow, Lady Bliss, confirmed her husband’s verbal inability to lay bare ‘deep’ emotions. The Norwich Festival’s commission provided an opportunity ‘to express great grief’ and, through other men’s words, to create ‘a requiem’ for Kennard.109 By explicitly referencing the Somme, moving from the universal experience to the personal, or, as he remarked, the ‘particular to us’, Bliss approached ‘more nearly’ his memory of Kennard.110 Through their ‘particular’ sibling bond we can better understand the reasoning behind his poetic choice. When the poignancy of its lines joins with his music, ‘the emotional temperature of an audience rises’.111
Lord Denning provides further testimony to the emotive power of Great War poetry and song. In The Due Process of Law (1980), he recounts a dinner at Lincoln’s Inn, part of the celebrations for his eightieth birthday. After readings, the attendees sang the First World War song ‘Roses of Picardy’.112 Afterwards, Denning gave a speech referring to the war record of each of his brothers, repeating that Jack and Gordon ‘were the best of us’ and quoting lines from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Robert Laurence Bunyon.113 Overcome by emotion, Denning’s eyes filled with tears, and the poppies he was holding in honour of Remembrance Day slipped from his hand.114 The flowers had emotional piquancy for Denning, not only as intrinsic to Armistice commemorations but also as a reminder of a visit he made to his brother’s grave at Heilly-sur-Somme. Jack’s grave was the only one on which any wildflowers were growing. Denning had picked two flowers and sent them home to his father and mother. His parents kept them in the folds of a book ‘until they crumbled into dust’.115 Denning finished his speech by quoting the last stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’.116 Jack had copied the words of this poem onto the flyleaf of his copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury.117 This best-selling anthology was highly popular among soldiers of all classes.118 The book was returned to Denning’s family after Jack’s death, contextualising the poem’s emotional significance. Personal memories and private commemoration of brothers were sustained and supported by the wider public discourse surrounding public remembrance. As veterans entered old age, collective acts of remembering and mourning obtained an additional poignancy as men reflected on the length of absence of lost relatives and comrades in their lives.119 Despite his efforts to keep the memory of his brothers alive, Denning could never fill the gap left by their deaths.120
In April 1919, over a year since the death of her brother Norman, ‘five foot ten of a beautiful young Englishman’, Joyce Hoskyns wrote in her diary about her loss:
Never a joke, never a look, never a word more to add to my store of memories. The book is shut up forever & as the years pass I shall remember less & less, till he becomes a vague personality; a stereotyped photograph, comprising the ‘Great War Myth’.121
In this private record of sibling grief, Hoskyns encapsulated the difficulty of preserving the memory of loved ones. Vague remembrances of a curtailed sibling life, rendered unremarkable by its habitual nature, risked a beloved sibling merging with the anonymous fallen. Although surviving siblings were compelled to record the lives and wartime experiences of the fallen, the brevity of the lives being remembered complicated this task. As the years passed, some memories became well rehearsed, fixed in familial legend; others became harder to pin down. Motivated by the need to ensure that the heroic sacrifice of their siblings was not overlooked or forgotten, and to keep their memory alive, siblings wanted to memorialise their brothers as individuals and to recover their achievements and qualities from the mass of war casualties. Through their complex acts of interpretative labour, they performed a final act of devotion for their brothers. Primarily writing for immediate friends and relatives, siblings were aware they were also writing for future generations of their immediate family and society at large. By sharing their stories, they linked the personal and communal memories of the Great War.
Claire Tylee argues that acts of memory keeping excluded women from the collective memory of the war, creating a silence surrounding their experience, mostly recorded in the privacy of unpublished narratives.122 The same point can validly be made about brothers’ acts of memorialisation. Hidden within the ‘soldier’s tale’ or masked by the label of disillusionment, they were rarely labelled as records of loss and grief. The gendering of ‘grief’ narratives fed into the public discourse of stoicism. Although the traditional discourse of glorious and heroic sacrifice often provided a narrative structure, painful emotions crept in as men reflected on the loss sustained by themselves, their families and their wider communities. Grief narratives often straddle the difficult juxtaposition identified by Victoria Stewart: presenting an ‘inspiring example’, while reminding the reader of the ‘price the nation is paying’.123 As such they form an adjunct to the ‘disillusionment’ stream of memoirs, marking an attitudinal shift by providing ‘testimonies against war’.124 Guilt, anger and grief intermingle in these narratives, at times resulting in incoherence and discomposure.125
Silenced by the trauma of their loss, or simply lacking the language to express their emotions, some men drew on the emerging war literature, particularly its poetry and song. For many veterans, the soldier-poets’ words resonated with their own experiences. With the passing of years they added poignancy to collective occasions, unleashing an emotional ‘punctum’ that pierced stoical masks. Rather than finding such open expressions of emotion discomforting, men appeared to derive comfort and emotional companionship in collective outpourings of grief. When including these deeply personal expressions of grief within public memoirs, men were not necessarily challenging those societal and martial values that were in wide circulation in wartime society. Abiding by these emotional norms was an affirmation of their masculinity and a way of restating the values central to their former lives. While imbuing their life stories with these public standards, they were impelled to chronicle their particular loss – a marker of the depth of intimate bonds. This required a degree of ‘emotion work’ as men attempted to locate the war within their own life stories and those of their siblings and wider families. As such, their war memoirs can be classed as grief narratives, poignant signifiers of loss. Gill Plain believes that many women wrote war poems as part of their acts of mourning.126 Broadening the range of writings and applying the same critical analysis to both male and female grief narratives also helps our understanding of how the conventions of grief were subverted through these narratives of loss. Given the prevalence of such authorial acts of fraternal remembrance, we must adjust our perception of male grieving. Brothers were not silent conspirators. They acted to record their emotional response to their siblings’ sacrifice.