Montague, Charles Edward - The Man Who Failed
Type of Spiritual Experience
Sir Beach Thomas, representing the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, was one of the five authorized journalist on the Western Front. He later described the role of C. E. Montague during the war.
Montague once said that shell-fire gave him a mental stimulus that nothing else did. He also said, and he would not say a thing without meaning it, that he thought it would be a fine thing to be killed in this war. There can be no doubt that he definitely liked shell-fire at one time, though his nerves were a little frayed towards the end, largely because he was responsible for other people's safety. One particular journey with him, illustrating this side of his character, will always abide in my mind's eye.
We went to to see the Colonel of a battalion whose time was largely spent on repairing paths and duckboard paths, continually shelled to ribbons. The Colonel was one of those who so hated things, and the enemy, that he actually wished to be killed. His mind sank further and further into a slough of disgust as he worked day after day in the stinking mud of that continuous cemetery. He took us to the crown of the ridge: his Major, Montague, and me.
As we reached the top he pointed towards a hidden and distant German battery, and said, "If we stand here a minute they will begin to shell us." To his obvious delight they did, and very accurately. The Major, whose nerves were on edge, wisely retired to a shell-hole; and I followed with what deliberation I could muster.
The Colonel and Montague continued to stand talking on the ridge, stiff, obstinate silhouettes against a grey sky. The second shell fell short, half-way between us, and one great piece flew low, straight at the shell-hole. Montague did not stir. He was ideally happy, enjoying his mental stimulus; but, being very careful of other people, he induced the Colonel to retire slowly. The poor Colonel had to wait another month before the desired shell struck him.
A description of the experience
The Man Who Failed
What could I not have done?
I that spilt on the sand
The cup of my youth;
I that had all the keys -
Ears that drew whispers from Earth
As she turned in her sleep;
Eyes that could make anything
Come as wondrously into their ken
as a new star,
And the will to admire, and the strength
To have the breath taken away
With awe and delight.
Oh the eyes and the ears I have dulled
And the lowliness lost, and the portions
Of death I have died!