Jack & Clive: A Tale of Two Soldiers
Gideon D. Asche
“One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; – By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead.” Jack T. – a WW1 British Soldier.
“Just after I was hit, I found (or thought I found) that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death,” “I felt no fear and certainly no courage. It did not seem to be an occasion for either.” Clive L. – a WW1 Irish soldier describing the day he was wounded.
Jack and Clive both suffered from what they once called “Shell Shock”.
I could tell you stories of their valor or just give a dry narration of their combined military history but I won’t. This isn’t about what they did in battle – it’s about what battle did to them… and how these two soldiers carried each other through the hard times.
Both men were haunted by the banshee’s screams, and it damn near drove Clive over the edge. He had no faith after the war; he considered himself an atheist and known to disparage God and especially Jesus as Messiah at every opportunity.
Oddly enough, Clive’s closest friend, Jack was a man of extreme Christian faith.
Jack and Clive met at Oxford after the Great War. It was a run of the mill staff meeting where they crossed paths. Common ground wasn’t an issue as both men were consumed with their war experiences. Neither was a career soldier or even professional, they simply answered the call.
The only thing in common was the war – the nightmares, the anxiety and the guilt. Together they nursed each other through and ultimately triumphed over what we refer to as PTS or PTSD.
Jack was a Signal Officer. He took part in several actions including the Battle of Somme in which 40,000 of Jack’s British comrades fell. Communications were unsecure and the British didn’t have the luxury of Choctaw Code talkers, so the main means of command to company communications was by Trench Runner – A Private who would physically carry the message.
Runners had a short lifespan in WW1 and Jack sent many a young man to their death carrying messages he sent. I can tell you from experience the hardest thing any officer does is write that letter. You know – the one that includes the words … “I extend my deepest sympathy…” The only thing harder is doing it in person. You only need to do it once for it to change you. There is no way to know how many times Jack had to do it.
In spite of the heavy combat actions Jack took part in he was never wounded but of the four friends who joined-up with him – Jack was the only one to make it home. Jack got lucky; he contracted Trench fever, and was removed from combat in 1916 and sent to a hospital in England.
Clive was a Dog Faced Grunt in April 1915 when an artillery barrage hit his position killing most of his trench mates and inflicting serious shrapnel wounds to his left side. His leg ripped to pieces and his lung punctured by jagged steel.
At Oxford after the war the two formed a reading group known as the “Coalbiters”. It eventually drew other Oxford types and took on the name “the Inklings” because they were mostly aspiring writers. They would meet regularly at one of the local pubs, drink beer and discuss literature they had either read or were writing and then drink some more beer.
It was here that Clive, Jack and some of the others, shared their war experiences and learned to silence their demons with the pen. They turned their war nightmares into fantasy stories of good overcoming evil and epic works of faith.
Both men used a similar format – A great leader with a band of inept but incredibly loyal followers who are out to save the world and have the chutzpah to pull it off. A good officer and a team of soldiers, willing to give it all, are mirrored in both writers’ books.
“Clive” S. Lewis and J.R.R. “Jack” Tolkien took the unseen wounds they brought home with them and turned them into epic anthems of victory for human nature and destroying the evil threatening humanity. They gave it a happy ending.
Great commanders like Aslan and Gandalf facing the epitome of evil, outnumbered and outgunned but with the benefit of the A-team – Frodo, Samwise, and Mr. Tumnis – all loyal to the death, and capable of superhuman feats in service to their comrades in arms.
The two veterans took the thing that pained them the most and turned it into the greatest collection of Christian apologetics (Mere Christianity – CS Lewis) and what is arguably the greatest fantasy series ever written (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings Trilogy – JRR Tolkien).
It is not hard to see the trenches of Somme in the description of the marshes in – The Two Towers:
“The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails on the lands about”
or feel the heat of battle in Lewis’ narration of Aslan retaking Narnia.
These guys had it bad, but they beat it – they took it and turned it on itself. They overcame, as is the nature of any soldier. Success is built into us – We just need to take the objective.
Lewis and Tolkien found that their pens were much stronger than their pains; and it’s what inspired me to take up writing – just an attempt to silence my personal demons.
We’re not broken… We’ve just been tempered harder than most and that just makes us stronger.