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Theatre of War: Instructions from the War Office

I began thinking about this term – Theatre of War – when I first transcribed Clarice’s diary.

I have always been quite sure that Clarice wrote her diary with the purpose of it being read by others and particular things that she wrote give her diary a certain sense of telling a story rather than reflecting on her innermost thoughts.

The title of her diary ‘Adventures of a VAD’ and the subtitle ‘Happenings of interest whilst in France’

Her opening words ‘In time of war’ seem to replace the usual way of beginning a story; ‘Once upon a time’

Her introductory paragraph, as if setting the scene

In time of war everyone has an idea that they ought either to join the Army or Navy and if they are unfortunate enough to belong to the female sex, ammunition work or nursing! Naturally every woman, girl, and even child who has anyone fighting for their country feel they absolutely must do something definitely – to help.

The matter of fact way she wrote and very rarely mentioned personal things.

Theatre of War; a term I find uncomfortable and chilling and the starting point for a new body of work and the title of my upcoming solo show and my next few blog posts will be about some of my thoughts and research as I develop and make the work.

Over the years much of my work seems to reference contrasts and conflicts and usually in association with words or phrases; double meanings, misunderstandings, word origins. I am not sure that I set out with these ideas in mind, but it is usually where my research takes me.

There seem to be many instances where war and those involved are written about in terms associated with theatre;

soldiers describing themselves as taking on a role and becoming someone else

as spectators

as being ‘beside oneself’

Paul Fussell writes

‘Seeing warfare as theatre provides a psychic escape for the participant: with a sufficient sense of theatre, he can perform his duties without implicating his “real” self and without impairing his innermost conviction that the world is still a rational place. Just before the attack on Loos, Major Pilditch testifies to “a queer new feeling these last few days, intensified last night. A sort of feeling of unreality, as if I were acting on a stage…’

The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell, published by Oxford University Press, 2000, p192

And I wonder if this is how Clarice thought, and coped.

‘I felt then that I could not go to France, would have given anything to say – I’ll stop at home – but, I was under instructions from the War Office! The War Office is not going to be played with, so there was nothing for one to do, but go – so I tucked myself comfortably away in the corner of my first class carriage, and yes! I have to admit it, I shed a few tears, behind my magazine. The feeling was too terrible for words, but anybody who had to leave home, go to a foreign land in war time knows that feeling.’

Sept 28th 1915

Was she inferring that she was no longer herself, but had taken on another role, become ‘her other self’ when she wrote those lines?

the family

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