Some quotes from ‘How Many Miles to Babylon?’

Here are some quotes from ‘How Many Miles’ that will be useful for your revision. They paint a bleak picture of life in the trenches and so can be used very well when answering a question on General Vision and Viewpoint. The imagery can be used when answering a question on Literary Genre. They are also a great example of descriptive writing.

‘We landed at Le Havre where, owing to intense confusion about transport, we had to camp for several days. The men complained constantly. The major created more rules. We were ordered not to eat pork when we got up near the front, as the pigs that remained alive, not many I may say, fed and grew temptingly fat on human flesh. English, French, German. The pig is no chauvinist, all races, are the same to the curly-tailed pig. The countryside was dismal. We were all permanently wet. Eventually we were packed into a train and then unpacked at Bailleul fairly late in the evening. It was still raining. We marched the last ten miles to West Outre that night along a road cobbled with stones larger than duck eggs and greasy with mud and horse dung. The centre of the road though pitted by the heavy traffic was paradise compared to the edges where we were forced to spend most of our time wading through mud above our ankles and spattered with filth with the constantly passing transport lorries. The men, of course, complained. Our base was, and has remained, a small derelict farm. A wall with a high metal gate shut us in from the road. There were two barns, one on each side of the yard, for the men, and a squat stone farmhouse where Major Glendinning, Bennet and myself, the N.C.O.s, and the orderlies set up house. In the distance we could hear the big guns, and now and then over to our right the sound of musketry fire, rather too close for total comfort. From time to time the ground shook under us and the few remaining windows would rattle in their frames. There was a wild-looking mongrel who padded his way from room to room searching for his masters and stole any food you took your eyes off for a moment. He was indifferent to either pats or blows from the men, his only interest left being survival.’

p. 73-74


‘It was beginning to rain. The wind was blowing straight in our faces and the drops were like a million needles almost puncturing the skin. We pulled up the collars of our coats and hunched ourselves in the saddles like Jerry in an effort to keep warm. A dead horse lying by the side of the lane, its body swollen by whatever chemical changes were going on inside it, was the only visible sign of violence. The noise of shelling folded and unfolded in the distance. The rhythmic beat of the horses’ hooves and the creaking of our saddles were the only noises that I was completely conscious of.’

p. 82


‘It would be pointless to say that I wasn’t frightened. Night and day the palms of my hands were sticky with sweat. It oozed constantly from the roots of my hair and lay in cold streaks on my forehead and neck. It wasn’t the thought of my death that made me sweat, there were moments in fact that to die would have been preferable than to continue to live. I was afraid that one day I might wake up and find that I had come to accept the grotesque obscenity of the way we lived. Bennett and I shared a dug-out. It was about six feet high and eight feet long. We slept in our flea bags on a pile of comparatively dry straw that rustled all night long as if armies of creatures were marching and counter-marching through it. Bennett had an enviable facility for sleeping at any time of the night or day. He would lie there on the rustling straw, eyes shut, mouth slightly open, looking like a tired, untroubled child. I lay down because I knew I could no longer stay on my feet. I knew I had a duty to rest, but I found great difficulty in sleeping, and when I did get to sleep I would be awakened what always seemed like a few moments later by nightmares. I sound sorry for myself. I was. I worked out a system for getting through the day which consisted in concentrating on my own petty discomforts and indispositions to the exclusion of everything else except the bare bones of duty. It was the art of not looking beyond the end of your nose, and, for what it was worth, it kept me going. I have always been prone to chilblains and at this stage had them burning away not only on my fingers and toes, but also up the backs of both legs where they had been rubbed raw by my boots. I allowed the pain to obsess me completely in the hope that this way I might become blind to everything else.’

p. 84-85


‘The bambardment had let up a little. The men had nothing to report. Jerry was on his own down at the furthest end of one of the trenches. The duckboarding had rotted away out there and he stood in about a foot and a half of water.’

p. 89

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