offered to show me the trenches on the grass plain & we went along in that direction. We had to pass by one or two rows of wire entanglements, which he said were very bad because they could be penetrated quite easily when only one or two strands of wire had been cut. The long rows of stakes & tangled wires extended right from the foot of the promenade wall to the sea, but in one or two places they were not quite joined together, so as to enable people to get through. Roland took me down into the trenches, which he told me were just the same as those at the front. The parapet was well above his head, & the ground all boarded. He explained to me various technical details, such as the use of periscopes, ways of taking cover from shells, the difference between fire trenches & reserve & communication trenches etc. He told me that the French had a habit of burying a dead man in his dug-out by just putting him inside and blocking up the entrance. The chief disadvantage of this was a consequent shortage of dug-outs. We began to talk about the more gruesome aspects of the trenches & to discuss callousness. He said one began to take horrors as a matter of course so soon, & I said one found that even in a hospital, where the tending of suffering soon became a mere matter of business, & the sight of pain just an element in the day's work. Why, even the gentle soothing touch with which one learns to raise a head or smooth a pillow or bandage a limb is only something acquired by practice and only in very rare cases inspired by pity. Roland told me that every day in his trenches he was accustomed to pass by the foot of a dead man who had been buried in the parapet. By this time the foot had become quite black, but he saw it every day & thought nothing of it. I asked him if he though this callousness was a permanent
Brittain, Vera, Diary, 22 August 1915
From Youth to Experience: Vera Brittain’s Work for Peace in Two World Wars
22 August 1915
McMaster University Libraries
Vera Brittain estate; McMaster University has a non-exclusive licence to publish this document.