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Henry Dundas, Scots Guards, a Memoir
Preface by Mr Horatio F. Brown LL.D.


While the nation, throughout the length of the land, in its capitals, county-towns and villages, is raising monuments to the dead, whereon shall be perpetuated, in stone or bronze, the material record of their names and deeds, another, and perhaps a more spiritual memorial, is slowly taking shape, tablet by tablet, through the loving labour of pious hands, in these intimate and individual records of so many young men, some of them mere boys, who have laid down their lives in the War.

It is well that the name of every soldier who died for his country should be publicly preserved for the fortification and gratitude of generations to come, but it is also well that we should, if possible, treasure some more inward memento of the misfortune we suffer in the loss of these young lives, cut off before their ripening years; should conserve some more spiritual record, not of their names only but of what they themselves essentially were, some vision of their promise for the future, till there shall arise, ad ceternam rei memoriam, a noble cenotaph—nay, it is no cenotaph, no empty tomb we are thus erecting, for the very spirit of the dead lives and breathes in these pages, and no one, in the years to come, will justly measure the grievousness of war, the sacrifice of the nation, who has not adequately realised the quality of our fallen youth.

With all the inevitable imperfection and immaturity of early manhood, the impatient challenge to authority and the past, the restless reaching out beyond the borders, that may have caused anxiety to their elders, these youths were our hope for the future, the stuff from which our leaders were to be moulded. They had their own ideals, and were shaping them to the requirements of the approaching days. The social couche out of which so many of them came ensured them, in spite of youth’s rebellious note, a deep traditional bond with the past; the education so many had received fitted them to take their place in the van of thought and action: they embodied our hope that in the period of stress and ferment, the inevitable sequel to the War, the statics and the dynamics of our social evolution would work harmoniously together, that the framework of our Empire would, thanks to them, hold good and resist the forces of disruption.

These records are varied, of course, as youth itself is varied, as the future career of those they commemorate would doubtless have been varied; but they are one and all animated by a noble and courageous spirit of devotion, and, though numerically they fall far short of the dolorous roll, the spiritual quality of the few may safely be taken as the measure of the many. The bloom of physical youth, the aroma of spiritual flowering, the chances and hazards, the vistas of life that lay before these young men, the brilliancy that gave promises which might or might not have been fulfilled, the perils of that

giovenil baldanza che fece, e poi disfece la speranza—
all lend a note of poignant regret to memoirs such as these.

But apart from the sense of personal and national loss, records like the following possess considerable value from a psychological as well as from a purely historical point of view. Hitherto most of our wars have been waged by professional armies, by men who have adopted arms as their calling, whose sole business in life it was to fight; their energy was exhausted in their professional functions; they were dumb and inarticulate on all that lay outside their metier: but in the recent conflict the whole of our youth, many of them with no natural aptitude for war and no desire to adopt arms as a profession, were swept into the maelstrom, and for the first time in history—unless perhaps it be in early Greece— we get a close and true and lively picture of war as it strikes a soldier in the fighting fine. These young men apply their minds trained to other purposes, and their power of expression to a record of their observations and emotions. Again, on the purely historical side, the presence of articulate and highly intelligent youths, actual eye-witnesses and participators in the actions they record, cannot fail to be of signal service to the historian in testing, checking, correcting formal official reports. What would we not give for such records of Marlborough’s or Napoleon’s wars?

To pass from these general considerations, the following pages give us a most vivid, faithful, and fascinating portrait of one who, by general consent, was among the most promising of our young men. His own letters home—so frank, so joyous, so honest, so fearless, so characteristic, with clean, sharp-cut phrases to convey the clear incisive thought, supplemented as they are by the testimony of his masters and brother officers —form the material for this engaging presentment of Henry Dundas.

It is not necessary, nor indeed is it possible, for me to add to the picture ; but I may, perhaps, be allowed to give in a few words my own reminiscent impression of that vivid personality. Thinking of Henry Dundas, the characteristic which recurs most persistently to my memory is the wonderful combination, correspondence, interplay of mind and body. His lithe, clean-cut figure, slim yet powerful, was the outward semblance and counterpart of his inner self. Courageous, restless, wiry, quick in body, he was fearless, inquisitive, challenging, subtle in mind. He constantly reminded me of the o-Kv\aKe?, the worrying puppies of the Platonic dialogue. And this remarkable fusion and unity of spiritual and physical qualities made me often think of him as “Greek,” though I would not have ventured to say so to him : had I done so, I can hear his indignant snort. He might even have said, “Rot,” and almost certainly, “Hoot man, just Scot ”; but in his heart he would have thought it over indulgently, and understood that what I wanted to say was merely this: that the fine flower of youth is probably much alike, essentially, in all ages and in every clime, and that Greek youth has achieved immortality.

I do not think that Henry had a conscious instinct for the military career before he joined. “War and soldiering,” he says of a friend, “were no more his nature than they were mine”; but these letters show him, quickly and to his own surprise, discovering his natural aptitude for that noble profession of arms which we are not yet past admiring in spite of all its inevitable concomitant horrors, and in spite of our Utopian aspirations towards a blessed state of universal peace. It is this unsuspected aptitude, latent in so many of our young men, that led Moltke to reply—when some one remarked that the British were not a military race—“No, but very warlike.” The art of war, its problems of strategy and of tactics, embracing such ground factors as geography and implying historical studies, the profound humanity of soldiering with its elimination of artificial class-distinctions, its recognition of grit-worth as its sole distinction in all ranks, which ought to be, and sometimes is, the dominant ideal, appealed powerfully to his imagination, and satisfied his sense of reality. “The man’s the man for a’ that.” The conflict between this love of his profession and his revolt against the folly, waste, and uselessness of war, bit deeply into his soul, and make these letters both profoundly interesting psychologically and characteristic of the attitude of mind which must have largely prevailed among those fine spirits his contemporaries. Henry’s lucidity of thought and fairness of judgment, coupled with his artistic delight in the technique of his profession, led him to a generous acknowledgment of the quality of our foes in matters pertaining to the art of war.

Scotland and Eton were the master lights of all his being, upheld him, cherished, and had power to stir the deepest chords of his nature. “What a heritage!” he exclaims when thinking of Eton; and I can still hear the passionate devotion he threw into that blessed word “Gorgie.” Eton and Scotland gave him his friends in whom he was so rich, of whom he was so worthy: we know and feel through him 44 this leash of noble comrades” from whom he learned, to whom he taught that high conception of friendship which he expresses with so much beauty in his letters on the death of Ralph Gamble. “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided.”

HORATIO F. BROWN


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