Gerald Grogan in the Great War

The Science Fiction Encyclopedia offers the bald information that Gerald Grogan was killed in action at Boesinghe in Belgium on 8 January 1918. But the Memoir attached to his posthumous collection of short stories, William Pollok, and Other Tales (London: John Lane, 1919) gives more detail.

Grogan had always hoped to follow his father into the Army, but his short sight made that impossible in peacetime. As soon as the War started, he joined the HAC, the Honourable Artillery Company. His father could have got him a commission, but he wanted to get out to France as quickly as possible. He was in the trenches during the winter of 1914-15. Early in 1915 he got a commission with the Eighth Leicestershires, but after training he decided to put his pre-war experience in mining to some use, and joined the Tunnelling Department of the Royal Engineers. He served in the 183rd company for two years, “the men and his brother officers being devoted to him” (viii). He survived, despite a number of narrow escapes, until a high explosive shell burst right above him on 8 January 1918, “when on duty with his section in a forward area”.

There is one war story  in William Pollok, “A Moral Victory” which it says was written in 1917. It is fantasy, or perhaps science fiction. The protagonist is woken in his dug-out unexpectedly early, and he finds himself in a different world, where his comrades speak a different language. The war has apparently been going on for many years, but while back in 1917 the main weapon was the fear of death, now things had changed. His officer, who seemed to advocate both disarmament and desertion, explained:

‘Your trouble is this […] that you have jumped from an age that still believed in the fear of death as the deciding weapon, as the supreme decisive force. You were convinced that you wore away the enemy’s moral by keeping that fear uppermost in his mind. I want you now to grasp that ida that men no longer fear death—if they ever did. I believe that no man ever died without a feeling of relief at the last anyway. What really scared them was having to continue to live in the state of affairs you produced for their benefit. After a man, for instance, had lain a certain time in a dirty ditch with his nerves exposed to the wear and tear of a most damnable noise and vibration, and that suggestion of painful wounds made by the sight of other men painfully wounded, then it was he became afraid, useless as a soldier, and probably ran for it (289).

The protagonist’s visit to the future ends with a strange apparently miraculous victory, and with a return to the  trench in 1917.

In Poems (printed for private circulation in 1925 by the Whitefriars Press), there is just one short war poem, “Arrowhead Copse”, which is described as “Lines on an abandoned sector of trenches near Guillemont, September, 1916”. It starts:

Bodies of men in the funk-holes
Who in suffering crept there to die,
Struck,— Even so may I perish;
Even so may I lie
Dead—and a desolate twilight shrouding a dying sky.

There is no entry for Grogan in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.



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