The Heart of a Soldier

Source: Lauchlan MacLean Watt, The Heart of a Soldier (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918), pp. 78-79

Text: There are constant opportunities for the artist amongst our men, if only the artist were there to catch the play of firelight on rugged faces, and the shapes and postures of comely manhood. One night we had a cinematograph show in a farm courtyard, which was packed with our fellows. The scene was unforgettable. Some heavy clouds hung overhead, but there were wide blue star-strewn spaces, where the sickle of the new moon hung dimly, like a thing of dream. The bare, gaunt skeleton rafters of the broken roofs of the barns and outhouses stood out black against the sky. And as the pictures flickered across the screen, the hushed attention of the men was most infectious. Sometimes it was a scene of some of the places only too familiar to them — a ruined village, a shell-torn road, or a group of officers at the door of a broken-down house, to be greeted with a deep silence, or the swift intake of breath which speaks of poignant remembrance, or a hearty cheer as this or that favourite personality appeared. Then there were ships, the sea-lions of Britannia; followed by laughter-provoking reproductions of Bairnsfather’s inimitable cartoons. The next time these men were crowded together under the strain of deep emotion, they were themselves passing through an episode of imperial and international picture-making and map-changing, up where the guns were drumming the prelude of another act in the tragedy of war. For it was just a few days later that the laughing crowd in that moonlit courtyard went up the line again.

Comments: Lauchlan MacLean Watt (1867-1957) was a Scottish author and cleric, who served as a chaplain with the Gordon Highlanders in the 7th Division during the First World War. The film based on the cartoons of Bruce Bairnsfather is The Better ‘Ole; or, The Romance of Old Bill (UK 1918 d. George Pearson). Bairnsfather was best-known for his soldier character Old Bill, with his famous advice to a soldier grumbling about his lot: “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it”. The film shown described took place in France.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust