BRIAN BROOKE

A soldier poet

Brian Brooke was a born soldier. He came of a notable fighting stock; his father and two brothers were in the Army, and two other brothers had entered the Navy.

From his childhood he revelled in tales of military prowess; ‘his greatest longing had always been to be a soldier,’ we are told; but his sight was defective and he could not pass the medical examination. Making the best of his disappointment, he went to British East Africa, won the adoration of the natives by his good comradeship and boundless daring, and grew famous there as a big game hunter.

The outbreak of war gave him his opportunity, and he fought as a trooper in the British East African Force. But news that his brother had been killed in action in Flanders brought him home, and he succeeded in getting gazetted captain in his brother’s regiment, the Gordon Highlanders.

‘He refused a good appointment on the staff of the force then advancing into German East Africa,’ says M. P. Willcocks,’ went to France early in 1916, and within three weeks was commanding in the Great Push at Mametz, on 1st July.

Twice wounded, he still led his men over two lines of German trenches, but at the third fell, torn with terrible wounds, and died after three weeks of agony, his sole regret being that he could not go back to his troops.’

This is the man as he discloses himself in his book—an ardent, downright man of action, full-blooded, intensely alive, simple, honourable, likeable, not troubled overmuch with brooding introspection and the pale cast of thought, but rich in a rugged, common-sense philosophy and a breezy humanity that find outlets in his stirring ballads of hunting, fighting, and adventure.

Danger and hardship exhilarated him; he would risk his life in a gamble as keenly as others risk their money. When we were struggling desperately against the first gigantic onrush of the enemy, and voluntary recruiting here was in full swing, he was scathingly contemptuous of The courage of the dauntless few who dared to stay behind; and into one verse of ‘ A Father’s Advice’ he has condensed his soldierly creed — which is the creed, after all, of our Armies both New and Old:

Never look for Strife, he ‘s an ugly brute,
But meet him whenever and where he likes;
Only draw your gun when you mean to shoot,
And strike as long as your enemy strikes.
Never force a fight on a smaller man,
Nor turn your back on a stronger clown.
Keep standing as long as you darned well can,
And fight like the devil when once you’re down!

The dogged heart of the Old Contemptibles is in that: it was so they quitted them on the Great Retreat, and made defeat as glorious as a victory.