Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Happy Odyssey II

As I've related before, I get occasional inspiration from Happy Odyssey, the memoirs of Adrian Carton de Wiart. With the Lions tour to South Africa in its early days, here's a passage, about a different trip to South Africa, which Ian McGeechan would be well-advised to put on little cards for his players. Forget sports psychology, there's no substitute for blind, unreflecting, and highly-spirited lust for battle:

'My summer term was a great success as far as cricket was concerned, but scholastically it was a disaster...realising my Oxford career would be brief, I felt a strong urge to join the Foreign Legion, that romantic refuge of the misfits. However, once again Balliol was lenient and I came up for the October term, when suddenly there were reverberations from South Africa and the whole problem was solved for me, most mercifully, by the outbreak of the South African War.

At that moment I knew, once and for all, that war was in my blood. I was determined to fight and I didn't mind who or what. I didn't know why the war had started, and I didn't care on which side I was to fight. If the British didn't fancy me I would offer myself to the Boers, and at least I did not endow myself with Napoleonic powers or imagine I would make the slightest difference to whichever side I fought for.

I know now that the ideal soldier is the man who fights for his country because it is fighting, and for no other reason. Causes, politics and ideologies are better left to the historians.'

In his first piece of action, in trying to cross a river he 'received a bad stomach wound and, still worse, a bullet through [his] groin.' This may explain why he never married. But it did nothing to stop him from continuing to derive inordinate fun from soldiering, as witnessed by my previous excerpt from Happy Odyssey.

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