At the start of World War I most people had forgotten what war was actually like. After all, there had not been a major European war for over a century. People were living boring and glum lives, young men were restless, with unemployment high and no education. There were suffragette riots taking place by the score and public outcry to the government by the dozen. In August 1914 the outbreak of war seemed a glorious adventure in a foreign and far a way land.
Young men had been told tales about how the “glorious” knight had fought in the crusades in a far off land in their “Holy War”. Many young men enlisted to fight in the war thinking that they would return “worthy”Chaucer, l.63 and “parfit”Chaucer.l.72 like the Knight in Chaucer’s “General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”. Thousands fought on the same soil as the Knight in France, but as they were soon to find out it was a completely different war. It was not one of freedom and honour; it was one of strife and of disgrace, they were entrenched in a war of attrition synonymous only with hell.Order now
During World War I, untrained soldiers were sent out to fight in a war that they knew nothing of, “Germans they scarcely thought of” Disabled. They were sent straight to the front without adequate training and without any experience in a major war. Soon enough the soldiers became “drunk with fatigue” Dulce et Decorum est and began getting “smothering dreams” Dulce et Decorum est.
Young soldiers who went out to war often returned with horrific injuries such as, “Legless, sewn short at elbow”Disabled, blind and with “dreams from the pit”Does it Matter?. Ordinary civilians do not even acknowledge them for their heroic deeds and “forget and be glad”Does it matter?. Many went on to live lonely and unfulfilled lives “and no one will worry a bit” with their “youth and laughter”Suicide in the Trenches thrown away.
When forced with the inescapable death of the war, young “simple soldiers” would often break down and get themselves killed. The battlefield was “cowed and glum” Suicide in the Trenches. The everlasting smell of death and blood was too much for teenagers who only came to the war for and “adventure” and to escape the toil and hardship of life back home. Soon enough many found themselves staring at death straight in the eye and nowhere and no one to turn to
In the “Hero” by Sassoon the “brother officer” tells an old woman some “gallant lies” about her son. From the officer’s point of view he was a “cold footed, useless swine” who was then “blown to small bits”. From the mothers point of view he was like the Knight in Prologue to the “Canterbury Tales”, “brave” and “worthy”.
The Knight fought on behalf of “Christendom” against the “hethernesse”. He has fought in far away lands. He has gone up in the social scale because he has won fifteen battles and three jousts. The Knight was seen as “chivalrous” who loved “truthe and honour”. He is praised because he has gone to the end of the known world in his wars. His army was classified as “noble”. If the Knight would have been captured he would have received the Kings ransom. The Knight was fighting on behalf of his religion and therefore had a sovereign reputation back home.
Unlike the soldiers in World War I the Knight fought in the latest armour and weapons mounted on a horse and backed by a respectable and professional army. The king would only send the Knight if he was sure that he would not fall to enemy hands.
As we have seen, the Soldiers in World War I and the Knight in the Prologue to the “Canterbury Tales” fought in two different wars. The Knight, if killed, would have been remembered in history whearas the Soldiers would have been forgotten in hours. The soldiers witnessed “superhuman inhumanities” with thousands of deaths a day but the knight only witnessed perhaps hundreds in a lifetime.
Would the soldiers in the trenches in World War I have witnessed a different war with less bloodshed if we had have foreseen the Great War and had a professional “worthy” army like in the days of the Knight?