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A Passionate Prodigality, Guy Chapman


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Another ebay purchase hidden away a single British war medal to possibly one of the the best known Great war authors; Captain Guy Patterson Chapman OBE MC better know as Guy Chapman (1889-1972), editor, publisher, professor of history and author, 

Guy Chapman, the son of a wealthy barrister, G. W. Chapman, was born in London in on 11th September 1889. He was educated at Westminster School, Christ Church College (1908-11) and the London School of Economics before becoming a lawyer in 1914. Later that year Chapman married Doris May Bennett at Kensington Register Office.

On the outbreak of the First World War, Chapman joined the Royal Fusiliers as a junior officer. He later wrote: "I was loath to go. I had no romantic illusions. I was not eager, or even resigned to self-sacrifice, and my heart gave back no answering throb to thought of England. In fact, I was very much afraid; and again, afraid of being afraid, anxious lest I show it." Chapman was not impressed by the quality of his training: "The ten months' training, which the battalion went through before it reached France, was therefore a compound of enthusiasm and empiricism on the part of the junior subalterns and the other ranks. We listened hopefully to the lectures of general officers who seemed happier talking of Jubulpore than of Ypres. We pondered the jargon of experts, each convinced that his peculiar weapon, machine-gun, rifle, bayonet, or bomb, was the one designed to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion."

Chapman arrived on the Western Front in August 1915. He was appalled by the state of the trenches. "The trench was not a trench at all. The bottom may have been two feet below ground level. An enormous breastwork rose in the darkness some ten or more feet high. All about us there was an air of bustle. Men were lifting filled sandbags on to the parapet and beating them into the wall with shovels. Bullets cracked in the darkness. Every now and then a figure would appear on the skyline and drop skillfully on the fire step."

Chapman also found the mud a serious problem: "Rain had made our bare trenches a quag, and earth, unsupported by revetments, was beginning to slide to the bottom. We hailed the first frost which momentarily arrested our ruin. Saps filled up and had to be abandoned. The cookhouse disappeared. Dugouts filled up and collapsed. The few duckboards floated away, uncovering sump-pits into which the uncharted wanderer fell, his oaths stifled by a brownish stinking fluid."

In the summer of 1916 Chapman took part in the Battle of the Somme. He found that the morale of his men suffered after the offensive failed to break-through the German front-line: "The men, though docile, willing, and biddable, were tired beyond hope. They lived from hand to mouth, expecting nothing, and so disappointed nowhere. They were no longer decoyed by the vociferous patriotism of the newspapers. They no longer believed in the purity of politicians or the sacrifices of profiteers. They were fed up with England as they were with France and Belgium. The best they could count on was a blighty, a little breathing space to stretch their legs and fill their lungs with sweet air."

After surviving the Battle of Arras in 1917, Chapman was badly affected by a mustard-gas attack. "The Boche dropped half a dozen mustard-gas shells round headquarters. I had heard them, but since I had smelt nothing had neglected to put on my gas-mask. Now my eyes had begun to run, and as soon as I opened them fountains of water gushed down my cheeks. Doctor Toulson washed them and washed them. It was no use. The flood continued." After treatment he returned to the Western Front and was still there when the Armistice was signed in 1918.

He was awarded the Military Cross in December 1919:

For conspicuous gallantry and leadership near Ghissignies, on 4th November, 1918. When the battalion was going through Gihissignies in support of the attack, information was received that the left company of the leading battalion had been held up. Under heavy shell fire he went forward to reconnoitre, and found that the supporting battalion appeared likely to become prematurely involved in the fighting. By his energy and initiative in taking command of the situation this was prevented.
 

 

 

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Chapman was demobilised in February 1920, with the rank of major. After divorcing his wife he got a job as manager for a new London branch of an Irish publishing firm, Chapman and Dodd, in Denmark Street, Soho. In January 1924 the writer, Storm Jameson, came to the office. Chapman later commented: "She was wearing a heavy coat over a faded pink knitted dress, and a hat which did not suit her, and she smiled at me. She was rather lovely, with long cool grubby fingers, and she held herself badly: she made me think of a well-bred foal, unbroken and enchantingly awkward. Something she said at that first meeting, I forget what, made me laugh with pure pleasure."

They soon began a relationship. The couple married on 1st February 1926. Later she wrote: "We went to places, obscure ruined monasteries, small provincial art galleries, the house in which a dead philosopher spent his life, salt marshes, trout streams, some turn in a rough nameless road which offered a view of a smiling valley and a line of hills, because, although he had not seen them, he knew they were there. He made all other company a little dull."

Chapman became a university lecturer and eventually became Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds (1945-53). He published several books including an account of his wartime experiences, A Passionate Prodigality (1933). He also edited two important collections of prose from the war, Fifty Amazing Stories Of The Great War (1936) and Vain Glory (1937).

Other books by Guy Chapman include Culture and Survival (1940), Beckford (1952), The Dreyfus Trials (1955), The Third Republic of France (1962) and Why France Collapsed (1968).

After his death on 30th June 1972, his wife, Storm Jameson, edited A Kind of Survivor (1975), a selection of Chapman's autobiographical writings.

 

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Edited by dante
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Hello Dante.

Thank you for posting this wonderful article.

His book is one of my favorite ones about the Great War and I obtained it many years ago here in the States. His book was read by me several times and does not ever diminish in the hold it has over my attention to it. I have always wanted to view photos of him and here they are.

I may have posted about it in the Books etc section some years back but my memory seems to desert me more often of late.

Bernhard H. Holst

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