September 25th 1916

Hugh has finally escaped the clutches of bureaucracy, where he has been the Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education. He is now Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA).

He was commissioned into the Special Reserve of the Royal Garrison Artillery in January and is currently with a siege battery in France.  Having hoped that at the Front he would be free of modern communication systems that demand continual attention and instant reaction, he has been disappointed:

sidgwick-ah-2“The most distressing thing to me personally is the omnipotence and omnipresence of the telephone. It was my curse in civil life and I hated it bitterly and profoundly.

I did think that in military life I should escape it. But no; it is more important than ever; you range the country at the end of a telephone wire, and if it breaks you are an exile and outlaw at once; you come back and sit in your battery surrounded by telephones, all talkative and all meaning work.

The call to arms is a message dictated over the telephone and taken down on a pink form; the call to rest is the mystic word CI… I suppose when peace is declared the message will go round – Pip, Emma, Ack, C, E.

Of what is happening in the war we have not the slightest idea; a five day old Times is generally our latest news. We hear extraordinary rumours – that Roumania has come in, that a German Division has surrendered, that a Great Personage while addressing the Guards said that within 90 hours (now elapsed) something quite remarkable was going to happen. I believe these rumours are made up by Railway Transport Officers, to beguile the tedium of their existence.”

Hugh must have had to learn a lot in his new job rather quickly, but then scholars of Winchester & Balliol Colleges are quick learners. He makes it out to be easy enough:

“… the mathematics of siege gunnery are nothing alarming and many of the beautiful calculations we learnt in England go by the board. One has to know the difference between + and – , right and left, and to be able to add and work a slide rule, and read a map and take bearings, but that is about all.

I would volunteer to make quite an easy and profitable course of instruction in siege gunnery for VIa, and if they would give us a gun and let us practise on North Oxford from Shotover, so much the better for the cause of architecture.

If one of the Old Dragon airmen would come and observe, we could have a charming afternoon.”

I am not convinced as to the wisdom of arming the current VIa, and there might be mild concern amongst the residents of North Oxford as to whether their particular houses pass muster, or would be included in Hugh’s architectural cull.

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