Sunday, March 8, 2020

Congealed personalities

David Alexander Edward Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford and 10th Earl of Balcarres, or Bal as he was known to family and friends, died 80 years ago today. Not only did he have a long name and title, but Lord Crawford was an intriguing man, noted to be the first Lord to enlist in the army as a private (despite having been offered the post of Viceroy of India), the only cabinet minister to have ever served in the ranks, and later on chairman of the enquiry that led to the formation of the BBC. Plus, he was a very lively and interesting diarist. He kept a regular diary for nearly 50 years. Here is his first entry made while a student at Oxford: ‘I am assured that a diary must deal with nothing but people. So this is to become congealed personalities - all rasping one another.’

David Lindsay was born in at Dunecht, Aberdeenshire, in 1871, son of the 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres. The family’s roots were in Fife, Scotland, and dated back to the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) asking the Pope to support a bid for Scottish independence. Educated at Eton College, he went on to read history at Magdalen College, Oxford. For a while, he became involved with social work in East London. In 1895, he stood as a Conservative MP in Chorley, Lancashire, a fairly safe seat given that his father owned the neighbouring Wigan Coal and Iron Company. In 1900, he married Constance Lilian, and they would have eight children. He served as a Junior Lord of the Treasury from 1903 to 1905 under Arthur Balfour. After the Conservatives went into opposition in 1905 he was Chief Conservative Whip in the House of Commons between 1911 and 1913. That year, he succeeded his father in the earldom and took his seat in the House of Lords.

In early 1915, and having refused an offer of the Viceroyalty of India, Crawford enlisted as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps - it was almost unheard of as those with titles or university educations were always commissioned as officers. He was stationed at Hazebrouck (about 15 miles behind the main section of the British line, running south from Ypres) where, at times, a 1,000 casualties would pass through in a day. After returning from active duty, in 1916, Crawford was admitted to the Privy Council and appointed President of the Board of Agriculture, with a cabinet seat in Herbert Asquith’s coalition government. Later that year, when David Lloyd George became Prime Minister, Crawford was appointed Lord Privy Seal, then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He was made First Commissioner of Works in 1921, and the following year Minister of Transport. He retained these two posts until the coalition government fell in late 1922. In 1925, he chaired a committee on the future of broadcasting which led to the formation of the BBC. Apart from his political career, Crawford was Chancellor of the University of Manchester between 1923 and 1940, a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire. He died on 8 March 1940. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The Peerage, or the UK Parliament.

Crawford left behind 54 volumes of bound diaries covering the years 1892 to 1940. They were first edited by John Vincent and published in 1984 by Manchester University Press as The Crawford Papers: The Journals of David Lindsay, Twenty-seventh Earl of Crawford and Tenth Earl of Balcarres. Much of the book can be previewed at Googlebooks. In 2013, Pen & Sword published Private Lord Crawford’s Great War Diaries: From Medical Orderly to Cabinet Minister as edited by Christopher Arnander, one of Crawford’s grandsons. According to Arnander his grandfather’s diaries ‘have become essential reading for those interested in the political, artistic and social scene of his era.’ Indeed, his diaries are both interesting and entertaining to read. The following extracts - starting with the first entry (at least the first published entry) - are taken from both books.

16 May 1892
‘I am assured that a diary must deal with nothing but people. So this is to become congealed personalities - all rasping one another.’

22 July 1892
‘I had to take seven children to Dunmow in Essex... Many of these children had never been into the country before and I had to tell them what a tree was, and which animals were cows. One boy saw a big flock of sheep and explained to his neighbour that they were pigs!... They will be away for a fortnight and I have no doubt they will return looking more angelic than ever. We have now sent off 700 or 800 and the emigration will go on during the whole of August... The parents nearly always do their best to help us in raising the necessary funds.’

6 October 1896
‘At night I became a Druid: and addressed a hundred local Druids assembled at the Joiners’ Arms. They use beer nowadays, instead of woad, do these Druids.

The death of William Morris is a sad loss to me: he filled a gap in my life - among my acquaintances: I know none to replace him, though this applies with an hundredfold strength to many others.’

9 July 1905
‘I watched the procession of demonstrators march down Pail Mall to their rendex- vous in Hyde Park - to support the unemployed bill.73 They cheered while passing the Reform Club, and hooted while passing the Carlton, though we are responsible for this measure - responsible also for letting it expire. There were apparently no unemployed in the procession: but lots of flags, and well-dressed people actually in top hats: also bicycles and smartish young women with red rosettes. An orderly and prosperous assembly, which by the way must have got drenched later on in the rain. On the whole I imagine the unemployed bill is the most unpopular measure among our men which has been introduced during the last ten years.

16 May 1909
‘As to Petworth, the contrast of the splendid pictures with the dirt and squalor of the House moved me to pity. I have never seen such neglect. The great show apartments containing this superb collection are carpeted with tattered linoleum, the windows grubby, the fireplaces almost rusting. As for the chapel, which is apparently used as the electrician’s workshop, I have seldom seen a more melancholy vista. The big gallery with mud-coloured walls is a kind of lumber room: with a little care, intelligence, and expenditure what a splendid achievement this gallery would be.
After a perfectly enchanting drive we found ourselves at Goodwood. The Duke of Richmond (a peppery little Duke I should say) and a handsome daughter. Lady Helen, gave us tea and showed off the pictures. Here is care and affection well bestowed and amply repaid. Without taste they have disposed their possessions to great advantage, while the fact that this is a family accretion of pictures rather than the collection of an astute amateur, gives merits to the Goodwood ptnacoieca which the Petworth pictures can never acquire.’

16 December 1915
Most of the morning made unbearable by the vidange - our cesspools in the courtyard being sucked dry by a machine worked by the ASC. I am bound to say these men do their work with great thoroughness, as indeed all of the sanitary duties of the army are carried out - altogether admirable. The greatest care has been devoted to the prophylactic measures. I met a RAMC colonel in Le Havre in June who told me that, being unfit for active service in the field, he had obtained a roving commission to kill flies. Le Havre itself was within his jurisdiction. He was confident of being able to reduce the number of disease carriers by many hundred millions. Practically the whole of the drainage of Le Havre is now managed by our sanitary policy. Here in Hazebrouck our sanitary squads keep the town clean and it is the same in all the big villages of the neighbourhood. Without such precautions the whole thing would come to grief in a week or two. In combination with inoculation, they have succeeded in eradicating typhoid, typhus and in reducing to a very small minimum all the normal infectious diseases which can be carried by vermin or by dirt.

Great incinerators are at work everywhere, and though the French smiled superciliously at the outset, they now appreciate what is being done and constantly apply to the ASC and RAMC for help. Seldom can such help be given for the care of our own military units taxes the efforts of the staff to the utmost, and there must be some limit to the number of men employed on such jobs, though the sanitary condition of our troops and the areas they occupy is a primary consideration to the GHQ. One officer is devoting his whole time to analysis of foodstuffs - not with a view to testing its qualities, but in order to make the best possible distribution of nutritive material.’

18 December 1915
‘The ambulance train was very late today. We stood waiting on the bleak and exposed railway platform over an hour. A very long train drew slowly through and from the faces mass ed at each window we quickly saw that it was a big force of drafts for the line. As they passed through the station we were greeted with shouts of welcome, snatches of song and cries of ‘are we
downhearted? - followed by the odious chorus of ‘No’. We watched the procession with sad reflections of those who are no longer gay in approaching the criss of war. Some minutes later the troop train backed on to the platform next to where we were expecting the ambulance. The carriage windows were still crowded as before with noisy travellers. Gradually the shouting and chaffing subsided. Those who had the front view slowly realised who were the occupants of the platform - why so many men had arms in slings and heads bound up why others had both feet swathed in white cotton boots, why so many RAMC men were standing there, why there was a long row of tenanted stretchers. All this they gradually realised. The men further back inside the carriages came to understand it too and almost suddenly this whole trainload of new soldiers, 1,200 of them or more, was startled into silence, complete, tense and respectful. For the first time these men were in presence of the real thing.’

22 December 1915
‘The news of Livio’s death touches me closely - he was one of the most powerful intellects I ever knew, but so diffident in manner and so self-disparaging that he always did himself an injustice. He died at Padua while in training. The name recalls to me the gay times of my happy and irresponsible youth when I spent a joyous week in its colonnades celebrating the tercentenary of Galileo. I was then an undergraduate - representing the Oxford Union at the festivities, and had a succès fou with the Italian students. How gloomy these colonnades must have seemed to Aunt Ada during the last week of Livio’s life.’

16 January I9i6
‘We have now to unload from the ambulance train on its return from Remy sding. As the train doesn’t draw up on the platform we have to walk out along the rails - getting patients out is difficult, and with stretcher cases decidedly dangerous - for when it is dark one stumbles over points, wires and so forth and trains pass us, jamb us up and generally make the job burdensome to all concerned.

For folly and tactlessness commend me to GHQ. They have just issued as a order to be communicated to troops, the reprint of a lengthy leading article which appeared in the New York Tribune on 28 October 1915. The article is clear and has its good points - but it is based on the irremediable optimism which has haunted our path throughout and contains the following sentence; ‘The decisive part of the war so far as the battlefield is concerned is now over for Germany!’ The three months which have elapsed since this observation have marked the final cataclysm of Serbia and Montenegro, our defeats in Mesopotamia and our withdrawal from the Gallipoli peninsula, where we have not left a single man, according to Asquith’s boast - though he forgot to add a reference to 50,000 corpses. One wonders what may have been the object of GHQ in circulating this document. Is it to hearten the troops, to educate us, to be cynical and sarcastic at our expense?

Bathed with an RFC man who told me that last week we accounted for less than six German aeroplanes. Can this be true? For Haig has vouchsafed us nothing but bad news about our airmen, yet my informant was a sober slow thinking individual who seemed quite certain of his facts. Why is the RFC unpopular? Are we jealous of their high pay and of their beautifullv tailored costume, of their waists, their caps, their short jackets, and of the swank which these assets seem to produce? No unit ‘keeps itself to itself’ more than the RFC and I must admit that they consort as little as possible with the vulgus of the British Army. The corps is fashionable - all are heroes in the eyes of the novelty-loving public, yet the percentage who actually do the flying is quite small.’

24 January 1916
‘The colonel asked me this evening if I should like to be a quartermaster in the RAMC and indicated that if I so desired the matter could be arranged. I told him that I would much prefer to continue in the scientific work of the operating theatre, work which interests me enormously and which for a man of my age seems more suitable than a quartermastership - for the latter is a post which should be reserved for old and experienced soldiers, upon whom it is the greatest compliment to confer commissioned rank, and a reward for long and faithful service in the army. Of course the quartermastership is the only commission in the RAMC which can be given to a man who is not qualified as doctor, so I must remain an NCO so long as I am in the RAMC, unless the WO were to give commissions for administrative work at home, for which there has hitherto been no occasion. I wish however that there were more chances of being useful in the theatre, not that I want more men to be wounded - heaven forbid - but I wish that we occupied a position where wounded men are treated instead of our present station which is more convenient for sick and convalescent men.’

17 February 1916
‘A band played in the square this afternoon. I think Coldstream but we could not get away to listen. All day long waiting for evacuation train. When it came in from Remy siding it was overcrowded and only two of our cases could be taken on board. Patients were lying in the passages and many had to be left behind. Nevertheless our motor ambulance convoy has done very little today. The orders are to evacuate by train so as to save petrol. The result is that men are left behind who should be got to the base or at least to Hazebrouck. And the cars which could do the work are lying idle meantime. Men who come from the line today and yesterday all speak with horror of the German offensive which has been very closely concentrated, though on relatively small fronts. Haig admits the loss of 600yds of front line trench on Monday and Tuesday - but it is generally agreed that in certain cases at least two lines were captured. A curious rumour is current that Turkish troops are against us in the salient. I am inclined to doubt it. Bulgarians perhaps, but hardly Turks. Were Ottoman soldiers transported to Flanders one would scarcely know whether to assume it means a grave shortage of German reinforcements, or to admire the Boche for his genius in slave-driving.’

18 February 1916
‘A Taube visited Hazebrouck last night - at midnight we were awakened by three or four violent explosions. Nunn, Lisgo and I thereupon went to bed again after looking out of the window, but Dawson made us come downstairs as our attic is unsafe - and all the patients from the upper wards were likewise removed shivering to the cellar. We got to bed again about one o’clock. One bomb fell about 80yds from us into the RFC billets and wounded several men of whom one has since died. Another bomb fell about 100yds from us in the main street, so we had a fortunate escape.’

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