Friday, 27 July 2012

The flower of British Youth

I finished Arthur Rhys Davids story a little while back and have had time to reflect on the tale and all within it. And what a story it is; a peculiar character viewed through today's eyes. Shaped by what looks like a cloistered early life and a rumbustious, demanding schooling at the hands of Eton's masters, Arthur made it easily through flying training to the Western Front to discover his m├ętier - combat flying. He admits to hating the killing and longing to return to the academic world, his first love. It's clear he didn't make friends easily, from the texts this seems to be through choice as he had little time for light banter and the normal run of a fighter pilot's social activity. He was nearer to Ball in this respect I think, though Ball was no academic.
I admire Arthur for his ability to adapt to his surroundings, his obvious courage and sense of duty. I think he would have made a fascinating guest at a small, well chosen dinner table. What a shame that like so many of his contemporaries, he didn't make that dinner gong, nor return to the classics, his first and enduring love. He could have said and done so much more...  Perhaps we should leave regret behind, Cecil Lewis in the company of notable others told their story and left an exquisite record for us all.

Arthur died on October 12th 1917 and has no known grave. He was 'almost certainly shot down by Leutnant Karl Gallwitz, at the time acting Staffelf├╝hrer of Jasta Boelke' (Revell, 2010). He returned to earth within an area later heavily shelled and fought across during the battles for Passchendaele Ridge.

A scrimmage in a Border Station
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.

                      Rudyard Kipling


Revell, A (1984) Brief Glory, the life of Arthur Rhys Davids, DSO MC, William Kimber & Co, London.

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