Beyond Holy Russia
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Colophon: Half-Title, Title, Copyright, Dedication

4. The Pilgrim in Uniform

Graham first registered for military service in the summer of 1916, shortly before setting off on his final trip to Russia, but at that stage of the war married men of his age were still not being called up for active duty. The situation was different twelve months later, when the continuous slaughter on the Western Front created a huge demand for extra manpower. Graham was thirty-three years old when he received his call-up papers, reporting to the Caterham Depot of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Scots Guards on 11 September 1917, just a few weeks before the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd. Some of his friends were aghast that a writer of such talent could be conscripted into active service. The Duchess of Bedford even intervened at the War Office in an effort to stop his draft. Graham was more sanguine at the prospect. His failure to obtain permission to visit Russia after the February Revolution had left him at something of a loose end in London. Although he continued to lecture about the progress of the War, he felt increasingly redundant, recalling many years later that he hoped life in the ranks would at least give him a chance to see “how the other half lives”.1 Graham was nevertheless concerned that military service would put an end to his campaign for religious renewal in Britain, even though friends like Nikolai Velimirović sought to reassure him that he would not become “a bayonet only”, but would still have opportunities to use his “spiritual power” to promote the greater good.2

It is not clear why Graham chose to join the Scots Guards. He was of course born in Edinburgh, but it was only later in life that he took much real interest in his family’s Scottish heritage (although he had described himself to newspaper reporters as a “Scotchman” during his first visit to the USA in 1913). The Scots Guards was the third oldest regiment in the Brigade of Guards, tracing its origins back to the seventeenth century, long before the Act of Union joined England and Scotland into a single state. The regiment was involved in most major conflicts of the next 200 years, including the Napoleonic Wars and the Boer War, in the process building a reputation for its formidable esprit de corps. Graham was not on the face of it well-suited to serve in such an organisation. Since his departure from Somerset House many years earlier, he had enjoyed a working life that gave him the freedom to do what he wanted. Although he knew that the War had reached a critical stage by the autumn of 1917 – the Russian armies had crumbled and American troops had not yet arrived on the battlefield in great numbers – his patriotism was bound to be tested by the everyday restrictions of military discipline. Graham recognised that the thing he dreaded most was the loss of “the marks of individuality”.3 The next three months were to prove his fears well-founded. The training camp at Caterham to which he reported had long acquired the nickname of Little Sparta, a term that hinted at the harshness of the regime there, and it retained a fearsome reputation for imposing iron discipline on all new recruits. In the book he later wrote about his experiences, A Private in the Guards, Graham described in detail the toughness of the training to which he was exposed. He also acknowledged that it had helped transform him and countless other recruits into effective soldiers. Graham’s time in the Scots Guards showed how the romantic young author of A Vagabond in the Caucasus was able, like so many others who experienced the horrors of the trenches, to adjust to a world that would once have seemed unimaginable in its bleakness.

Graham spent his first day at Little Sparta in civilian clothes, following which the process began of turning him into a soldier, complete with khaki uniform and short haircut. Like all recruits he was required to carry out a host of menial duties, designed to ensure that new guardsmen were “standardised to type”, including black-leading the grates and cleaning the latrines.4 Graham’s fellow-recruits were, in his own words, “the gleanings of British manhood”, men of an age or physical condition who once would not have been considered fit for military service, but now could not be spared given the gaps in the Front Line. Many were in their thirties or early forties, like his barrack-room neighbour, a metal-worker from Newcastle, who was distraught at leaving behind a wife and four children. Others had worked on the land or the railways. A number of recruits had, like Graham, been engaged in one of the more cerebral or artistic profession. These included the composer York Bowen, a man of “charming personality and a temperament unsuited to army life”,5 who feared that the rigours of training would damage his hands and make it impossible for him to play the piano again. Another of Graham’s fellow recruits was the nephew of a peer, an accountant in civilian life, who was redeployed as a clerk when his health broke down following weeks of parades and route marches. Although the conscription process made no effort to spare those who were unsuited for the rigours of military life, the regime at Little Sparta tacitly provided opportunities for some to find a less demanding niche. Graham was determined to survive the training and receive a posting for France.

The life of new recruits at Little Sparta was shaped less by the officers and more by the Non-Commissioned-Officers (NCOs) who oversaw their day-to-day training. The brigade sergeant-major was “a very great personage” to all those who passed through the camp, but despite his best efforts to monitor the way the men were treated, many of the sergeants and corporals still believed that harsh treatment was needed to make real guardsmen out of raw civilians. Graham’s description of the men who dominated his life at Little Sparta was not flattering. One sergeant “had a natural malice against educated men”.6 Another insisted on sharing the food parcels sent from home to the men under his command. A third was an alcoholic, a fourth almost entirely illiterate. Almost all of them repeatedly used foul language towards the men in their charge. Some used physical violence as well. Graham later wrote in Private in the Guards that “the men had no greater grievance than that of being struck on parade, and it made the blood boil to be struck oneself, or to see men near forty years of age struck by corporals or sergeants of twenty three or twenty four without the possibility of striking back”.7 Nor had the memory of these humiliations faded almost fifty years later when he came to write his autobiography. Although Graham’s fitness meant that he had few difficulties in coping with the demands of training, he was by his own admission clumsy on parade, and presented a ready target for abuse. It was indeed the whole atmosphere of coarseness, laced with an undercurrent of violence, that Graham found most repellent about his time at Caterham:

The defects in the Little Sparta system are the humiliation of recruits by words or blows, the use of glaringly indecent language, the possibility of squaring punishments, the use by N.C.O.’s, even by lance-corporals, of recruits as batmen. I believe these were recognised as defects in peace-time, and some of them had been eradicated, others endured in secret. But in war-time the problem of breaking in those who were never intended by Nature to be soldiers was so difficult that some of these ugly things became useful. Constant humiliation and the use of indecent phrases took down the recruit’s pride, and reduced him to a condition when he was amenable to any command.8

Although Graham loathed much of the training he received at Little Sparta, he acknowledged that it helped to build the character of recruits, and he warmly praised the cleanliness and order of the camp. He also exhibited an unexpected skill in the use of the bayonet, finding the thought of hand-to-hand combat less repugnant than killing at a distance via rifle shot, a perspective strangely at odds with most modern reflections on war.9 Graham was intensely aware of how quickly the rituals of army life came to seem normal. During the bus journey back to Soho for his first weekend of leave, he was exhilarated at “the common sights I saw, and drank them in like wine, loved every civilian, grudged no other young man his black attire and precious liberty”.10 Within a few weeks, though, he realised that his “soul” as well as his body was now in uniform. He came to relish his weekends off less than before, and became more and more detached from his civilian friends, who were appalled by the whole idea of army life. Algernon Blackwood visited him at Caterham, and fretted that the routines must be “utterly soul-deadening for you” (Blackwood himself soon returned to Switzerland where he worked in intelligence for the British government). Dimitrije Mitrinović was so appalled at the sights and sounds of Little Sparta that he fled away at the first opportunity. Only Rosa seemed hopeful that “everything that happened made for good”, even as her husband went through a “queer metamorphosis”, in which “it was not the grub that became a butterfly but the butterfly that became a grub”.11

Graham was acutely aware of how deeply his fellow-conscripts were affected by the separation from their families. The strain was made worse by the fact that the character of the men who went through military training was often transformed beyond recognition:

A man’s first meeting with his wife after being taken for a soldier is one of strange pathos. Pleasure and pain and surprise are mingled, and I think pain is sometimes the most. She has not seen him in uniform before, and it makes a great difference in his appearance […] She is robbed. And the man she meets is clearly not the same man as went away from her. Something of his personality has been shorn away from him, something of that which made him lovable to her.12

There was almost certainly some personal resonance behind Graham’s words that, when soldiers met their wives, they often found that whilst they loved them as much as ever “yet you have nothing to say to her, and somehow you feel distant”. His words were written eighteen months after his experiences at Little Sparta, at a time when he had already been through a period of fighting at the Front, but it is clear that his three months in the camp were a defining moment for him. There was no room for a free-spirited “tramp” in the Scots Guards. Nor did the coarseness of barrack-room life provide much refuge for a man who had spent his life in search of an elusive insight into new spiritual truths. The fact that Graham survived in such an environment is testimony to his physical and mental toughness.

On Christmas Eve 1917, Graham was transferred from Little Sparta to Wellington Barracks in central London. The three months that he spent in London prior to his departure for France were amongst the strangest in his life. The barracks were situated only twenty minutes’ walk from Graham’s flat at 60 Frith Street, and when he was not on duty he was allowed to return home, where he could revel in the sight of “familiar panels and pictures” before retiring to his own bed. It also meant that he could revel in such unexpected luxuries as shaving with warm water. The regime at Wellington Barracks was much more relaxed than at Little Sparta – Graham was at times even irritated by the lack of order and cleanliness – which allowed the men to put behind them some of the more brutal experiences of the parade ground. Along with other guardsmen Graham was charged from time-to-time with carrying out guard duty at Buckingham Palace – protecting the monarch was of course historically the raison d’être of the guards regiments – a duty that he relished as “the crown of training” but also his greatest “ordeal”.13 The preparations for guard duty involved hours of polishing equipment, as well as careful attention to dress uniform, followed by four sets of two-hour “sentry-go” in a particular twenty-four hour period. Although Graham relished his spells on duty at Buckingham Palace, he was well-aware that most of his fellow guardsmen were not instinctive royalists, and from time to time he saw graffiti on walls near his barracks calling for an overthrow of the monarchy.14 He later recalled in A Private in the Guards that many of his fellow-guardsmen were even reluctant to sing ‘God Save the King’. Graham’s concern was doubtless shaped by his experiences in Russia, where he had seen the impact of the growth of anti-royalist sentiment at first hand, and he was concerned enough to wonder “whether the great ferment in the ranks meant a revolution after the war”.15

Graham’s duties at Wellington Barracks were relaxed enough to allow him to attend various social and literary functions across London, but his status as a lowly guardsman did sometimes make for awkwardness. Although he was convinced that his humble position gave him a unique vantage point for understanding British society, some of his old friends and acquaintances seemed embarrassed by his lack of officer’s epaulettes. One senior official who had known Graham as a writer insisted on keeping him standing-to-attention “and treated me so formally that I felt almost chilled”. More common, though, were those who “shook hands and smiled, treating me as an equal”.16 Graham met numerous people at the dinners and receptions he attended, including a morose armaments manufacturer, anguished by the knowledge that the weapons produced in his factories were responsible for so many deaths. He also met Lord Ruthven, Major-General of the Brigade of Guards, who suggested to Graham that he should write about his experiences in the ranks (a meeting that may have served as the genesis of Private in the Guards).17 He attended a dinner at the house of Lady St Helier, one of his long-standing patrons, at which he met Princess Marie-Louise (a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria). The conversation turned to the future of Russia, a subject on which Graham was very gloomy given the recent seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, whilst the Princess herself was preoccupied with the safety of the Russian Royal Family who were being held in exile in Siberia. The contrast between the drawing rooms of the finest West End houses and the sometimes “squalid” Wellington Barracks was inevitably disorientating to Graham. He was nevertheless in his own words always “a good mixer”.18 It was a talent that proved invaluable throughout his time in the army.

Graham received a number of invitations to lecture whilst he was in London, but he had to refuse most of them, since “it was against the army regulations for a private to appear on a platform in the King’s uniform”.19 He was nevertheless able to give a weekly Lenten address at Christ Church by the simple expedient of wearing a cassock over his tunic. The invitation to speak came from R.J. Campbell, who had taken Anglican orders in 1916, following many years as a Congregationalist minister, when he had for a time occupied the pulpit at the City Temple in London (Graham had as a teenager heard Campbell preach). During his years as a Nonconformist minister, Campbell had articulated a “Panentheistic” theology which asserted that God was best encountered through his creation.20 In books like The New Theology (1907), he argued for an immanentism that claimed “we know nothing and can know nothing of the Infinite Cause whence all things proceed except as we read Him in His Universe and in our own souls”.21 Although Campbell had moved towards a more orthodox theological position by the time he became an Anglican priest, he had greatly admired Graham’s Priest of the Ideal, and hoped that his visitor’s sermons on Christian idealism would foster a religious renewal amongst the congregation at Christ Church. Graham’s readiness to accept such an invitation in turn suggests that the tough times he had endured at Little Sparta had not shaken his distinctive spiritual vision. The following months were to provide an even greater test for his faith. In the final weeks of March, rumours began to circulate that his unit was about to be sent to the Front. When the men were issued with new steel helmets and identification disks, it became clear that the rumours were true, evoking a mixture of fatalism and despair amongst Graham’s fellow-guardsmen. On Good Friday 1918 his unit marched from Wellington Barracks to Waterloo Station, followed by tearful wives and families, and cheered by passers-by still grimly determined to support the troops headed for the Front. After a brief pause at the station to allow for final goodbyes, the men were herded onto a train headed for Southampton, where they were loaded onto a “somnolent old hulk” bound for Le Havre.22

Graham arrived in France on 30 March 1918, a critical moment in the history of the Great War. A week earlier the German army had begun a major offensive to smash its way through enemy lines towards Paris. Rudyard Kipling later suggested that there was a danger of “a collapse such as had never befallen British arms in the history of her people”.23 During the first few days following the attack, British and French troops were forced to retreat along huge swathes of the Front, despite their desperate efforts to prevent the German advance. It seemed for a time that the Allies might be about to lose the war in the west. It is not surprising that the troops who landed with Graham at Le Havre were only given a couple of days to rest at the Base Camp at Harfleur. On 1 April they were marched back into port and loaded into a series of rickety third-class carriages headed eastwards towards the battlefield. Although they did not know it, the train was headed for Arras in north-western France, which had already suffered appalling damage earlier in the war. The town was once again threatened with capture, and heavy fighting had taken place over the previous few days to keep it out of German hands. Despite the urgency, Graham’s train crawled along at snail’s pace, taking thirty six hours to reach a way-station behind the lines, where the men were de-trained and prepared for advance along the reserve trenches. The whole process was inevitably unnerving. The march through the reserve lines was undertaken in “darkness and rain, a more or less silent trudge through the mud”, punctuated by the sounds of shells exploding and gas-shells going off “like wet fireworks”. Although the men all had gas-masks, one of them failed to put it on in time when the alert was sounded, forcing him to fall out and go back (“the first casualty among my friends”). Close to the Front Line, the new troops passed the men they were being sent to relieve – “silently, heavily, steadily they march down and past” – and within ten minutes Graham found himself in the section of the reserve trench that led directly to the Front.24 The training that he had received during the previous few months was about to be put to the test.

The sights and sounds that appeared so surreal to Graham had become all too familiar to millions of soldiers over the previous few years. The 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guard, to which Graham was transferred when he went on active service, had first arrived in France in October 1914. The Battalion’s War Diary, along with the Regimental history, together give some insight into its activities over the following three years. The Scots Guards were often in the thick of the heaviest fighting. The 1st Battalion played a major role in the First Battle of Ypres in the autumn of 1914. Both battalions then endured the harsh winter of 1914-15 in the trenches – a long account of the famous Christmas truce appears in the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion – whilst the Second Battalion took part in the great offensive of 1915 that included the brutal battles of Neuve Chapelle and Festubert.25 They also took part in the Battle of Loos, the engagement in which Rudyard Kipling lost his young son John, a member of the Irish Guards.26 Both battalions of the Scots Guards fought in the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916, suffering heavy casualties, whilst the following year they took part in the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Cambrai. A brief glance at the War Diaries and other records show the customary mixture of heroism and chaos so familiar to anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the history of the Great War. Although it is not easy to reconstruct the figures in detail, it seems that by the time Graham arrived in France in 1918, some one in five of those who had seen service with the Scots Guards had been killed in action.

Graham dryly noted in a book published in the early 1920s that the Scots Guard was not by tradition “a literary regiment” (it is hard to think of a regiment that would qualify for such an accolade).27 He was nevertheless given permission to record some of the stories told to him by men who had served with the 2nd Battalion in the years before he joined. A number of these appeared A Private in the Guards, including an account of the execution for cowardice of a young conscript, even though he was clearly suffering from shell-shock (the incident seems to have created anger and irritation in equal measure amongst his fellow guardsmen). Graham also recorded an astonishing account of an incident that took place in the spring of 1917, at the town of Cartigny south-east of Amiens, when members of the 2nd Battalion took advantage of a lull in the fighting to dig gardens in which they grew flowers and vegetables. The Battalion’s Commanding Officer even held a competition to see which unit could produce the best display, the prize going to a floral clock, which was judged to be just ahead of another display consisting of a border of boxwood shaped like a heart, containing “the crimson of many blossoms [designed] to give a suggestion of passion and loyalty and suffering”.28

Despite the vivid character of these accounts, though, Graham’s descriptions of events during the years before he joined the Battalion was inevitably weakened by the fact that he could not write from first-hand experience. The same was not true of another member of the Scots Guards. Wilfrid Ewart is best-remembered today – to the extent he is remembered at all – for two very different things.29 The first is as author of the novel Way of Revelation (1921), which he wrote at Graham’s prompting following his discharge from the army, a book intended to provide an almost Tolstoyan panorama of the way in which war shaped human lives both on the battlefield and back home in Britain. The second is for the bizarre circumstances of his death, when he was accidentally shot through the eye by New Year revellers on the first day of 1923, whilst visiting Mexico City with Graham and his wife. All these events lay ahead, though, when Graham first arrived in France in 1918.

Ewart had received a commission in the Scots Guards shortly after the war broke out, despite being blind in one eye, and an army career seemed entirely fitting for a young man of twenty two who had been born into a minor aristocratic family that boasted a strong military tradition. His teenage years had also shown an unlikely talent for publishing articles on raising poultry,30 a subject about which he knew a good deal, and he was determined not to allow service at the Front to destroy his embryonic career as a writer. Ewart was certainly no model soldier (he tried on a number of occasions to obtain a post away from the battlefield). He could also come over as snobbish and aloof. The articles which he published anonymously in periodicals such as Cornhill Magazine and The Spectator nevertheless provide a far more powerful insight into daily life in the Scots Guards than the better-known regimental histories and war diaries. One of his most powerful pieces appeared in the English Review, describing the Battle at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, at which Ewart was himself badly injured.31 He described how he had led his men in an advance across a ploughed field, deep in mud, barely conscious of what he was doing as “men fall right and left” and “prostrate khaki figures dot the ground in all directions”. When Ewart himself was hit in the leg, the sensation was “outside any ever felt before”, as a “sharp stab of pain” led to “the collapse of the limb, and you roll over as a shot rabbit might do. Like a rabbit, too, you squirm and kick as you lie on your back”. Ewart was lucky, at least in one respect, for he was rescued and taken back to Britain where he spent months recuperating from his wounds. Before he returned to France, he wrote more articles, a number of which described life behind the lines, a useful reminder that many units spent as long waiting to go into battle as they did at the Front itself. In one of Ewart’s most memorable pieces, which appeared in Cornhill Magazine, he described how following the First Battle of Ypres his unit was posted to Picardy, where the officers were housed in a quiet chateau which, despite the depredations of war, still boasted a beautiful parquet floor and a grand piano. In the evenings Ewart was able to ride along the “grassy rides, Arcadian by-paths and roads [which] traversed the forest”, and in the evening return through “the gathering dusk of leafy lanes and the twilight of the rolling plains”, to sleep for once in a soft bed made up with sheets and blankets.32 Ewart, like Graham, had a deep if idealised love of the English countryside.33 The contrast between life in the city and life in the countryside was later to become one of the central themes of Way of Revelation.

It is not clear exactly when Graham and Ewart first met, although they were certainly introduced by Colonel J.A. Stirling of 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, a man sufficiently open-minded to recognise that the two writers were likely to have a good deal in common despite their difference in rank (Graham described Stirling as “a fine soldier with a hidden river of poetry and music in his soul”).34 Ewart at first failed to realise that Graham was not only the well-known writer on Russia, but also author of the recently-published Priest of the Ideal, a book that he had read and admired as “an extraordinary thing”.35 The two men became friends, spending long periods of time “talking of life and literature”, conversations in which they were sometimes joined by Stirling. Graham wrote several years later that he had been responsible for advising Ewart to become a full-time writer after the war, and even suggested the basic themes of Way of Revelation, much of which was written in the garden of Graham’s cottage in Sussex. Ewart was absent on leave when Graham arrived in France, and when he returned at the end of April 1918 he only served with his unit for a few weeks, before taking a liaison post with the French army in Paris. In July and August, Ewart was ill and sent to Normandy to convalesce. Graham served as his batman during the final weeks of the war, when Ewart was working as a temporary Transport Officer,36 organising the dispatch of rations and ammunition to the Front Line during the British advance towards the Canal du Nord. It therefore seems likely that the two men first met in May, but only really had the chance to cement their friendship during the closing weeks of the war, when their Battalion was following the retreating German army back through Flanders.

Graham’s arrival at the Front in early April came about at a fortunate juncture: the fierce fighting of the previous few days had begun to ease. The author of the 2nd Battalion’s War Diary noted at the end of March that the last week had been “very strenuous”, and added that the men were “very tired”, if still “full of heart”, following operations to prevent a German advance south of Arras.37 The arrival of 240 “fine” new troops, including Graham, came as a welcome relief. April proved to be a quiet month for the Battalion, although the calm was broken by the occasional sound of shells and sniper fire. The troops remained in the trenches until the middle of the month, when they were withdrawn to “uncomfortable” billets in the village of Barly, a few miles behind the lines. The greatest threat facing Graham and the other men during this time was probably the threat of fever, with around thirty men a day reporting sick, perhaps an early sign of the Spanish flu pandemic that was about to sweep Europe. May was also fairly calm, although by the middle of the month the Battalion was on alert for a possible German attack, whilst artillery exchanges led to a small number of casualties.38 In June the 2nd Battalion moved to new positions near the village of Somerin, just a few miles away, where time in the trenches was punctuated by periods of rest spent training or in organised sport. Another move in early July to Berles-au-Bois changed the scenery but not the routine, although a band competition in the middle of the month provided some variety, at which the pipers of the Scots Guard acquitted themselves “very well”.39

Although Graham’s life during these months can hardly have been pleasant, given the grim conditions both in the trenches and the reserve areas behind the lines, he still had enough time to keep a detailed if episodic diary. He sketched out possible books he hoped to write, including a love story that would explore relations between the sexes, and mused on the possibility of undertaking a long tramp through France when the war was over. He pondered too about how the war would impact on the spiritual development of the various countries caught up in it. Graham found time to read extensively, devouring authors including Jack London and Lytton Strachey, as well as jotting down his thoughts on subjects ranging from army discipline through to the ribald songs recited by his fellow-guardsmen. His diary of the period is also full of the kind of maxims and reflections that had long preoccupied him (“We are on the threshold of a new era of Christianity”).40 Graham even responded to correspondents who wrote asking about his religious views, sending one letter in June to a Mr Browne in America, noting that he was an Anglican who had “great reverence” for Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, but was sceptical about any church that claimed a monopoly of truth.41 The tedium of war in the early summer of 1918 at least gave him a chance to ponder some of the ideas that had concerned him so intensely during the years before he became a soldier.

Graham’s Battalion began to see more active service in August, following the start of the Hundred Days Offensive, which led in due course to the collapse of the German armies and the Armistice of 11 November. In late August, the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards was involved in heavy fighting around the village of St Leger. In September its members took part in the fierce battles which led to the crossing of the unfinished Canal du Nord and the breaking of the Hindenburg Line.42 Wilfrid Ewart later wrote a powerful piece about the battle, describing how the area round the canal appeared as a desolate landscape “devoid of pity or hope”, littered with German and British casualties lying dead and dying in “the most perfect picture of human loneliness that eye of man ever looked upon”.43 Ewart was by now serving as a transport officer, and was not directly involved in the fighting, but his letters home show that he often went up to the Front Line.44 The same was true of Graham himself (who was by now acting as Ewart’s orderly). It is hard to judge the extent of Graham’s involvement in the various battles in which the Scots Guards were engaged between April and November 1918 (his own diary casts surprisingly little light on his experiences). A careful reading of the evidence suggests that he probably missed the worst of the fighting but was certainly not altogether spared from danger. When he came to write Private in the Guards, early in 1919, he was able to draw on first-hand experience in describing the horrors of the Front.

The life of a soldier, with its alternating periods of frenetic activity and boredom, provided Graham with plenty of opportunity to reflect on the strange new world into which he had been plunged. He was impressed at the way his fellow-recruits adapted to the demands of war, stoically resigning themselves to terrors and privations they could once hardly have imagined, although the sights and sounds they encountered inevitably created a “terrible impression [...] in each man’s eyes was the sign of shock and strain”.45 Graham was horrified at the way the fighting had destroyed the landscape of eastern France, in which ruined villages and churches were interspersed with muddy fields and “sinister gas-stricken woodland”. He was also appalled at the way the war had ripped apart French society, leading to floods of refugees and a break-down in traditional Catholic morality, as “every mother who possessed a pretty girl seemed to use her to sell bad coffee or wine to the soldiers who crowded in to flirt with her”.46 There were nevertheless moments when Graham, like Ewart, caught glimpses of a natural beauty quite at odds with the prevailing destruction. On Ascension Day he was able to sit for a time on a “daisy-covered bank” shaded by hawthorn bushes, listening to birdsong, relishing a beauty that “was infinitely high and broad above and infinitely deep within”.47 The vision was fleeting, though, soon marred by the sight of “sulphurous flashes of smoke” breaking from a battery, camouflaged in the valley below. The war sometimes seemed to produce its own eerie sense of beauty, such as the scene at Bourlon Wood near the Canal du Nord, where Graham saw how the ruined “enigmatical” church provided a curious contrast with the nearby village “with its long red chateau like a palace”.48 The sense of unease created by such a sight must have been heightened by the knowledge that his own Battalion had been involved in a terrible battle there the previous year, in which German machine-gunners mowed down dozens of troops.49 It was a scene that Wilfrid Ewart was later to re-create with brutal vividness in Way of Revelation:

Two men had fallen across each other one dead, the other mortally wounded. Every few minutes the latter would make fruitless efforts to rise and crawl. For these two the worst was reserved. Through the air sailed a little silent spot of light. Adrian recognised it as a phosphorous bomb; he held his breath. Descending upon the topmost of the two prostrate figures, it slowly flared up. At once the dead man was burning; the other, his clothes alight, dragged himself painfully a few yards, then lay still, face downwards.50

Although Graham was spared the worst fighting suffered by veterans like Ewart, he saw plenty of horrific sights to remind him of the brutality of war. When Private in the Guards was first published, many readers were shocked by its author’s frank acknowledgement that British troops had mistreated and executed prisoners, something that Graham and Ewart both noted in their private diaries and letters:

The regimental tone absolutely forbade admiration of anything in connection with Germans. ‘Killing Huns’ was our cheerful task as one of our leaders once told us. The idea of taking prisoners had become very unpopular among the men. A good soldier was one who would not take a prisoner. If called on to escort prisoners to the cage, it could always be justifiable to kill them on the way and say they tried to escape. Did not so-and-so get a D.C.M. for shooting prisoners? “Thank God, this battalion’s always been blessed with a C.O. who didn’t believe in taking prisoners,” says a sergeant. Captain C, who at Festubert shot two German officer-prisoners with whom he had an altercation, was always a hero, and when one man told the story, “That’s the stuff to gi’ ‘em,” said the delighted listeners.51

Graham condemned such acts, not least because of the likely consequences for British soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans, but he recognised that he was not immune to the way in which war suppressed human sympathy. He recalled how on one occasion he went out to see the body of a German sniper, supposedly shot dead by members of the Welsh Guards, only to find that the man was still alive, though badly wounded:

There he was on a dunghill in the squared yard of the farm-house [...] He had apparently been wounded the day before, for his right arm was swathed in linen and had been in a sling. His face was pink and white, very white and livid pink, and his little waxy eyes stared at us without expression. His white breast heaved up and down. So we looked at him and pitied, and went away. And he lay on the dunghill and the rain washed down, and I suppose he died in a few hours [...] “Can he stand on his spindles?” asked the kindest man at our Red Cross post. “No? Then let him lie where he is. The Taffies ought to have carried him in; he’s not our case.”52

Readers of Private in the Guards were also told how the bodies of the dead were often treated with callous disregard, their bodies ransacked for money or jewellery, whilst the pilferers in their haste to obtain booty threw away family letters and photographs that fluttered around forlornly in the wind.

Following the crossing of the Canal du Nord and the breaching of the Hindenburg Line, in September 1918, German resistance began to weaken quickly, allowing British forces to move eastwards far more easily than before. The War Diary of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards describes in some detail how its members were able to advance rapidly across the flat countryside south of Cambrai towards the Belgian frontier. By early November, the Battalion had reached the town of Maubeuge, which was taken by British forces without a fight, as the defending German forces retreated and headed for home. Recent military defeats had by now provoked enormous political unrest back in Germany, leading the Kaiser to prepare to abdicate and seek refuge in Holland, whilst informal peace-talks had in any case been taking place for some time ahead of the formal armistice declared on 11 November. Graham later claimed to be one of the first in the Battalion to hear the news, since he took receipt of the message brought by the brigade-runner, and quickly relayed details to his colleagues. Their reactions echoed those felt by men up and down the Front Line: a mixture of relief and disbelief laced with uncertainty about what the immediate future held. The senior officers in the Scots Guards, as in other British regiments, were anxious to disabuse their men of any thoughts of rapid demobilisation (Graham noted in his diary that many soldiers felt they had “done their bit” and should be shipped home immediately).53 The members of the 2nd Battalion were therefore kept busy drilling and marching in the week following the armistice. They were also issued with new kit for an advance into Germany itself. The terms of the armistice set down that a number of major towns in the west of the country were to be occupied by Allied troops. Although the other ranks were not at first aware of the situation, the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards was one of those given the task of occupying Cologne. In late November they left Maubeuge to begin the long march to the Rhine.

The members of the Scots Guards soon witnessed the graphic consequences of war. They passed emaciated British Prisoners-of-War heading westwards, and overtook French civilians returning home, pushing their few meagre possessions in wheelbarrows. They were hailed as liberating heroes in Belgium, and feted by the local population in towns like Marchiennes, where they were treated to drinks by people whose lives had been shattered by four years of occupation and war. The Battalion then headed southwards through the Belgian Ardennes, across a landscape littered with the grizzly carcasses of slaughtered cows, killed by the retreating Germans, either for food or simply in an act of mindless destruction. Although the men of the 2nd Battalion were at first fuelled with bitter anti-Germanism, when they crossed into Germany their sentiments began to change, as they realised how much the local population had suffered in the war. Graham later recalled how the “roaring lions” who had demanded vengeance were transformed into “doves”, ready to look sympathetically at faded family photographs of young German men, dead or missing at the Front.54 The universality of suffering created new and unlikely bonds. Graham himself quickly came to loathe the nationalism of the British press and its attempts to stoke up hatred of Germany. By the time he published the final draft of Private in the Guards, he already doubted the morality of the Treaty of Versailles signed in June 1919, which imposed harsh terms on the defeated Germans:

Whilst we were at Cologne the British General Election, which practically left the soldier without a voice in the State, accomplished itself in all its dishonouring vulgarity, with its cries of “Make the German pay!” and “Hang the Kaiser!” Thanks to that election, Great Britain came to the Conference Table at Paris with no moral voice, no ideals – only with a notion of bargaining and of sheltering herself from responsibility behind either Clemenceau or President Wilson. Was it not a disgrace to our political and governmental system – to come to Paris without Christian principle or national dignity, after all the sufferings, all the deaths for the cause?55

The 2nd Battalion arrived in Cologne at the end of December 1918, where the men continued to carry out route marches and bayonet drills, as well as parades for the numerous foreign dignitaries who passed through the city. Graham himself did not spend long in Cologne. His official war record states that he fell ill with bronchitis and “disordered action of the heart” early in 1919, and was discharged in February with a 30% disability pension, to be reviewed after one year. He was also awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (which were awarded to all those who saw service during the Great War). Graham had, however, in November written to Lord Ruthven – the Commanding Officer of the Scots Guards – requesting permission for an early discharge so that he could return to London and write up his book describing his experience in the ranks. Ruthven gave his enthusiastic support, noting that he looked forward to learning about “the life and thoughts of a private soldier on active service”, with the result that Graham was able to return home earlier than his less fortunate comrades-in-arms.56 Once back in Frith Street, he gratefully wrote ‘A Litany for a Discharged Solider’, never published, designed to remind himself and others who returned unscathed from the trenches to be thankful for their good fortune and victory:

Whereas you might have been dead you are alive – Praise God!

Whereas you might have become a slave you are free – Praise God!

Whereas your country might have fallen she stands – Praise God!

Whereas your children might have been starved they are fed – Praise God!57

Graham must have been an unusual member of the Scots Guards, but he seems to have got on well with his fellow-guardsmen, subsequently providing a number of them with temporary accommodation at Frith Street when they had nowhere else to stay. He certainly left a deep impression on Wilfrid Ewart, who painted a vivid portrait of his orderly in a letter to his sister, written just a few weeks before the end of the war. His words suggest that Graham still retained at least some of the outlook he had developed in the years before joining the army:

You must meet Graham one of these days and have him autograph your book [Priest of the Ideal] ... You would find him a most curious fellow but I think he is a very fine man as well as a very clever one. His talk is even more difficult to understand than his books but there seems to be a breadth, strength and “humanity” about him which I have never know[n] approached in our limited intensely mediocre circle. I can’t imagine him going down at, say Knightsbridge or 8 Eaton Place. But does it matter? I have an idea that I should like to accompany him on one of his wanderings after the war.58

Graham seems to have come through his experiences remarkably unscathed in both body and soul. He wrote many years later that his time in the trenches had made him “more critical and objective”. Many of the books he wrote during the first half of the 1920s were certainly very different in tone from Quest of the Face and Priest of the Ideal, yet the change in his outlook was not as great as he later claimed. There had always been two sides to Graham’s personality – one practical and the other visionary – and his time in khaki did not resolve the tension between them.

Graham was back in London by the end of February 1919, where he spent the next few months working on the manuscript of A Private in the Guards, although it was not published until the end of the year when he had already left for a long trip to America. The success of the book was important to him, as he was determined to prove to himself and the world “that my literary gift, such as it was, did not depend on Russia and was not shattered by Revolution”.59 Graham was apprehensive that he might face criticism for his unflattering account of the training regime at Little Sparta but, in the event, the reviews were quite positive.60 He also received praise from some of his old colleagues in the Scots Guards. Colonel Stirling described it as “the best war book I have read so far”.61 Lord Ruthven believed that Graham’s depiction of Little Sparta was “absolutely correct”, and confessed himself appalled upon hearing of the depth of the gulf between officers and men.62 Graham also received letters of congratulation from well-known public figures including Conan Doyle and Lord Northcliffe.63

The press coverage was mixed. The Morning Leader noted that “the whole country has been shocked and astounded by the revelations”.64 The Daily Express observed that A Private in the Guards had raised a “great commotion”.65 Some readers were furious that the publication of the book had encouraged newspapers to open their columns to former guardsmen wanting to complain about their treatment at Caterham. One retired medical officer in the Guards wrote to The Times condemning Graham for casting “a very cruel aspersion” on the NCOs charged with enforcing discipline. He added that the process of forging a “squad of recruits into shape” could hardly be carried out by men “in whose mouths butter would not melt”.66 The controversy even reached Parliament, where calls were made for an inquiry into the allegations raised by Graham. Winston Churchill as War Minister rejected the demands, suggesting that the claims were of “a vague and very general character”, a view supported by many other members of the House of Commons, who fretted about the “injury to the Navy and Army” caused by Private in the Guards.67 Graham was in New York when Private was published, and seemed quietly satisfied with the sensation it made, telling a friend that the book “has simply taken the country like a storm [...] Every man who served in the Guards seems to be writing to the press to corroborate what I have said”.68

All this furore lay ahead in the spring and summer of 1919, as Graham tried to re-establish his life in London. He discussed religious questions on a number of occasions with H.G. Wells, who had for some years been familiar with Graham’s work, but the two men predictably found they had little in common. He also renewed his acquaintance with Hugh Walpole, the novelist who headed the Anglo-Russian Propaganda Bureau in wartime Petrograd, but the two men had never got on, and Graham remained convinced that the author of The Dark Forest and The Secret City was “not creative or idealist”.69 The same could hardly be said of Algernon Blackwood, who had returned from Switzerland on one of his periodic sojourns in London, and, like Graham was earning money by contributing stories to publications such as the Saturday Westminster. Blackwood was a frequent visitor to 60 Frith Street, where he sometimes read out loud early drafts of his ghost-stories, as the gas lamps flickered and “made darkness visible” against the dark-green walls of the flat. Graham also renewed his friendship with Wilfrid Ewart, who was still serving in the Scots Guards in the spring of 1919, although he had already decided to leave the military to pursue his writing career.

Graham was marking time during these months as he considered his future. Whilst he discussed the situation in Russia with many of his friends, he had little hope that the situation there would improve in the coming years. He was sharply critical of Britain’s role in the controversial Allied military intervention that took place during 1918-20, believing that it was inspired by a desire to defend British economic and financial interests, rather than to liberate Russians from Bolshevik tyranny.70 Nor did he make any effort to cooperate with émigré organisations like the Russian Liberation Committee, which sought to mobilise foreign opinion against the Soviet government in Moscow.71 He did however continue to pen articles with titles like ‘The Hope for Russia’, lamenting the fate of religion in areas controlled by the Bolsheviks, and attacking Bolshevism itself as “a slave movement” dominated by Jews.72 It will be seen in the following chapter that Graham’s decision to pick up “a new thread at random”, by going to America to study the position of the black population there, was designed above all to find a fresh outlet for his energies now that “Russia was out”. In July 1919 he sub-let his flat in London, and headed off with Rosa to “very well-built and clean” Copenhagen,73 where they boarded a ship bound for the United States. Graham’s decision to spend time in the New World did not however mean that he had abandoned his interest in the old. When he returned from his trip to the United States, in the spring of 1920, he had already decided to spend much of the next year examining how the legacies of war were shaping developments in the Old World.

The question of how best to honour the sacrifices of 1914-18 provoked enormous debate in Britain during the early years of peace. The design of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Whitehall Cenotaph, submitted in the final weeks of 1919, created a good deal of controversy when it was made public. The simple slab-like structure attracted fierce opposition, both from those who wanted a memorial that was overtly religious in design, and others who wanted a more avowedly nationalistic monument.74 Graham discussed the design with Lutyens, “a boisterous and facetious” man he had met through his father, and heartily approved the architect’s view that the Cenotaph should celebrate the “memory of the dead of all creeds” (Lutyens had a long-standing interest in Theosophy and believed like his visitor that “all religions have some truth in them”).75

Graham was also determined to use his pen to confront readers with the harsh realities of the slaughter that had so recently taken place on the continent. In August 1920 he set off on a three-month visit to the First World War battlefields, subsequently recounting his experiences in The Challenge of the Dead, which provided readers with a “collection of word pictures” describing Flanders and the Somme two years after the fighting stopped. The journey was also prompted by more personal motives. Although the final text of Challenge of the Dead said almost nothing about Graham’s war-time experiences, his travels took him to the area south of Arras where he had first seen active service with the Scots Guards, giving him a chance to return in a time of peace to places he had first seen as battlefields. He was accompanied by Rosa, who was presumably anxious to see the places where her husband had fought,76 although she was, as so often, entirely absent from the published account of his trip. A reader of Challenge of the Dead would have assumed that its author had travelled alone.

There was no shortage of British visitors to the First World War battlefields in the years after 1918. Graham bitterly described how some wealthy tourists liked to visit the worst places of slaughter for an hour or so, before moving on to “some French hotel where hot lunch and foaming beer [can] persuade the living that life is still worthwhile”.77 Other visitors were by contrast travelling to see the places where their loved ones had fallen. Graham’s old friend Wilfrid Ewart went to the Somme in 1919 with his sister Angela, in the hope of finding the grave of her husband, who had been killed in the fierce fighting of 1916. The two roamed through the detritus that still littered the battlefield, picking their way among enamel sinks and bully-beef tins, searching for evidence of the place where Jack lay buried.78 It was a sight that Graham was to see replicated time and again during his own visit a year later, describing how at one cemetery he saw an Englishwoman going “from grave to grave diligently examining the aluminium ribbons on which the names are fixed to the wooden crosses”.79 The cemetery was sited outside Ypres, a city which Graham described as “a terrible place still”, its huge Cloth Hall destroyed, and its streets deserted in a city where “death and the ruins completely outweigh the living”.80 Outside the city he roamed through a devastated landscape, sometimes coming across the remains of bodies which had escaped the burial parties, or been exposed to the air by shifting earth. Many of the trees were still denuded of leaves, killed by the ravages of poisonous gas, providing stark evidence of the horrors that had taken place beneath their branches. Graham also went to Bourlon Wood near Arras, which he had first seen in September 1918, and found a place where “reality has become remote, remote as the last songs and shouts of the men who went through. Sadness has covered the earth.”81 The redemptive power of nature that had been so important to Graham throughout his whole life seemed to have fled the battlefields of France.

The scenes of devastation were repeated wherever Graham went. In the town of Albert in the Somme region he saw buildings,

with gutted entrails half congealed and terrible to behold. There is a house that died simply of shock. But its neighbour vis-a-vis was hit by some striding giant with iron fist. Rows of houses are seen cowering, as if they had had their hands up trying to ward off the dreadful fate which stalked above them. Houses lie killed as it were in the action of flight, veritably in the act of treading on one another’s heels in a frenzy to get away.82

The town seemed dead and abandoned, as though it could never again provide a setting for the mundane rituals of ordinary human life. Graham was perhaps paradoxically also perturbed by other places where life seemed to be returning to normal too quickly, the past forgotten, its lessons unlearnt:

The babies are rising, the younger men are growing, growing to hide all and everything. The nakedness of reality which we see to-day will be hidden in the shade by and by. These brand-new cemeteries, looking often so fresh and rich in their masses of brownstained wood, will pass. They will first be re-set-up in stone. 1921 will see them rolling out in new stone crosses, at first startlingly pallid and virginal, but as the months go on, getting gradually greyened and darkened, rain-washed, wind-blown, then falling a little from the straight. Flowers will bloom as new summers shine o’er the dead. Visitors will come. There will be a greater time of visiting the cemeteries and the battlefields than there yet has been. Gardeners will be conscientious, and then some less conscientious as the years roll by and visitors become less. Most of the cemeteries in the more obscure places will be half-forgotten and gone desolate. There must come a time when no more visit the burial-places of the great war than visit now the cemeteries in Crimea.83

When he headed towards Paris at the end of his tour, presumably with Rosa, Graham seemed almost disheartened by the extent to which the population now sought only “gaiety”, as though it somehow diminished the suffering of so many millions just a few years before. It was for this reason that he placed such emphasis on the need for both commemoration and reconciliation. Graham had long become uncomfortable with some of the more violent expressions of national hatred that were spewed out by British newspapers. He noted rather gnomically in an epilogue to Challenge of the Dead that “even Germans had to die that Europe might be free”, and finished the book with a serious of aphorisms calling for the nations of the world to learn to act in the interests of humanity rather than their own selfish ends.

It hath been said: “He liveth best who is always ready to die”. It can be put in a new way: “He liveth best who is always ready to put all upon the Altar”. Humanity is well served when nations are ready to sacrifice themselves for her good. She is worst served by the nations who still preserve the tribal instinct to fight and destroy their neighbours. She is worst served by the nations who are enslaving other nations. And that nation is most alive which has most people ready to sacrifice themselves and their estate. That nation liveth worst which contains the most selfish.84

Graham was instinctively sceptical about the formal mechanisms that were established after 1919 to prevent the world from ever again plunging into war, placing little hope in organisations such as the League of Nations, believing instead that real peace could only come about via an almost existential transformation of the human spirit.

A few months after returning to Britain from the battlefields, Graham set out once again on his travels, this time on a more ambitious trip of Europe, designed to gauge how the continent was adapting to the realities of the post-Versailles world. Rosa accompanied him, but once again remained invisible in the sketches Graham submitted on each of the countries he visited to Country Life (which subsequently appeared in 1922 in book form, under the somewhat convoluted title Europe Whither-Bound or Europa Qua Vadis?). He began his trip convinced that Europe was facing a crisis, in which the social and economic dislocations of the recent war might yet provide the conditions for Bolshevism to spread westwards, and consign “the pride of Christian culture” to “dissolution and death”.85 He spent most of his time in Central Europe, touring the new states that had emerged from the collapse of the Austrian and Ottoman empires, although he also visited Greece as the symbolic home of European culture. Graham’s published account of his itinerary did not reflect his actual movements. His private diary shows that he began his journey in Rome, before travelling to Greece, after which he headed across Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to Constantinople, and then went northwards through central Europe into Germany. In Europe Whither-Bound? he implied that he began his trip in Athens and only then travelled up through central Europe, by way of Constantinople, before heading south again towards Rome. Graham’s decision to write up his journey in this way was prompted by a mixture of aesthetic and thematic concerns, since it allowed him to start his book with some general reflections about the challenges facing European civilisation in the symbolic setting of Athens, before providing readers with an account of his travels that was more ordered than the somewhat chaotic reality. It was an approach that became a marked feature of his travel writings in the 1920s.

Graham and Rosa arrived in Rome at the start of February 1921, where they visited St Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican, before travelling eastwards by boat from Brindisi to Athens via Corfu. Graham himself seems to have been somewhat underwhelmed by the experience, although Rosa was enthralled by the chance to wander through Rome and Athens, finding the cities “fragrant with memories of the past”.86 Graham and his wife arrived in Athens at a time when Greece was involved in a bitter dispute with Turkey, which periodically erupted into war, but he was already convinced that the Turks represented a barbaric civilisation, whilst the Greeks belonged to the mainstream of European culture. He was nevertheless perturbed to discover that many Greeks defined themselves by contempt for their Balkan neighbours, a phenomenon that he was to find time and again on his travels in Central and South Eastern Europe, an almost inevitable result of the recent creation of a series of new nation-states in a region that had for centuries formed a complex ethnic mosaic.

After leaving Athens, the Grahams travelled through Greek Macedonia and Albania, and on into the territory of the new state of Yugoslavia.87 They stayed in Belgrade in rooms owned by their old friend Father Nikolai Velimirović, who had by now been appointed Bishop of Zicca. Graham quickly developed a series of friendships amongst members of the local Serbian intelligentsia. He and Rosa also travelled through the war-torn Serbian countryside, passing villages filled with “barefooted war-waifs, skulking about in bits of old ruins”.88 Graham was under no illusions about the difficulties facing the new Yugoslavia, divided as it was between different ethnic and religious groups. He was particularly struck by the contrast between the “advanced” Croatian and Slovenian provinces of the north and the more backward Serbian lands to the south and east. It was nevertheless in Serbia that Graham felt most at home, not least because so many of the local population were Orthodox by confession, and used a Cyrillic alphabet similar to that of Russia. His war-time friendship with Velimirović and Dimitrije Mitrinović doubtless also meant that he was instinctively inclined to take a positive view of the Serbs. Graham found in Serbia many of the things that he once loved about Russia. He believed the peasantry to be instinctively religious, and was convinced that the character of the whole Serbian nation was shaped by its peasant roots, with the result that even Belgrade was for all its modern buildings populated by “the peasant come to town”. He was certain that the Serbian people were “potentially gifted for literature, art, and thought”, adding approvingly that “they are sincere and real in temperament, but despite their efforts probably not gifted for modern civilization as we know it”.89 Whilst Graham does not appear to have returned to the country for another nine years, the seeds of his passion for Serbia were sewn during his visit there in 1921.

From Yugoslavia Graham made his way alone to Sofia before travelling to Constantinople (Rosa stayed behind in Belgrade). The city was still in a political limbo, geographically situated in the territory of Ataturk’s Turkey, but largely controlled by the British and French military. It was also home to tens of thousands of Russian refugees, who had fled the fighting in the Russian Civil War. By 1921 the remains of the White forces of General Wrangel were housed in a rag-bag series of camps a few hours from the city. Graham’s time in Constantinople brought home to him with brutal clarity the fate of Holy Russia. Large parts of the city had been turned into a virtual Russian quarter, complete with shops and restaurants, along with offices staffed by Russian lawyers and accountants. There were also numerous pawnshops where refugees could obtain cash in return for the few meagre possessions with which they had managed to flee. Many of the women who worked in menial positions were from noble families, reduced to virtual destitution, and their presence helped create a strange world “where elegance mixes with melancholy”. Graham was appalled to see the poverty and squalor faced by people who had once lived lives of great privilege, and were now forced to confront unaided “the elemental realities of life”. He was even more horrified by the dark side of the city – “the hideous underworld of the Levant” – which absorbed countless young Russian women into a world of prostitution and “night-halls of low amusement”. He recorded sadly how “a part of old Russia has come to Constantinople – to die”.90 Many of the refugees still clung to the desperate hope that Wrangel’s armies might yet rebuild themselves with the help of the British and French, and return to Russia to drive out the Bolsheviks, but Graham did not share their faith. He met Wrangel at his base near Gallipoli, describing him as a “fine character” with “a strong military voice”,91 but was realistic enough to realise that the white émigrés who dreamed of restoring old Russia were living in a fantasy world. The huge changes that had swept through their homeland over the previous few years were too far-reaching to be reversed.

Graham left Constantinople at the end of March 1921. After collecting Rosa in Belgrade, the two of them headed north towards Budapest and Vienna, the twin administrative pillars of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, which had now lost their former imperial raison d’être in the post-war world. Graham was delighted to find himself once again “in Europe”, rejoicing in the shops and cafes that flourished in both cities, although he feared that the desperate economic situation facing both Austria and Hungary might yet lead to unrest (Hungary had indeed had a short-lived Communist government in the summer of 1919). After leaving Vienna, the Grahams travelled on to Prague where Graham was predictably impressed by the efforts being made by the new government to establish Czechoslovakia’s identity as a Slavic state, not least through the determined elimination of the German language from public life. He had the opportunity to interview Eduard Beneš, the Foreign Minister, who, seventeen years later, was luckless enough to be the Czechoslovak President at the time of the Munich Crisis. Graham also met members of the large Russian colony in Prague, who had fled there after the Revolution, in the process establishing one of the most important centres of Russian émigré intellectual life.

From Prague the Grahams took the train to Warsaw, a city Stephen had known well when it formed part of the Russian Empire, finding it over-crowded and unappealing in its guise as capital of a newly-independent Poland. Graham was delighted by the recent Polish success in defeating an attack by the Soviet Red Army, but he remained enough of a Russophile to share the distrust of Poland that had been felt by many Russian nationalists before 1914. He was also convinced that the country was feared by its neighbours – something which Beneš had told him in Prague – and was particular critical of the way in which France was trying to develop its relationship with the Polish government in order to increase its influence across eastern Europe. There was indeed something almost apocalyptic about Graham’s conclusion to his chapter on Warsaw in Europe Whither-Bound?:

The Poles are showing that there is yet national tragedy ahead for them. They will be deceived by some nations and slaughtered by others. What have we raised her from the dead for but to live again, to live and let live. All have rejoiced in the risen Poland, even the old destroyers of Poland – Germany, Russia, and Austria, all rejoiced until they realized the nature of the phantom. The beautiful white eagle that leapt from the tomb is a more sinister bird to-day, blood-ravenous, and scanning far horizons.92

The Grahams left Warsaw for Munich, subsequently travelling on to Berlin, where the once “prim” and “orderly” Prussian capital had been replaced by a disorderly city where shabby people thronged to cheap cinemas showing low-quality films (Rosa found the city “sick, dumb, disillusioned”).93 Graham’s main interest was in seeing how the Germans viewed the world in light of their recent defeat on the battlefield. He was struck by the numbers of people he met who did not accept that Germany was responsible for the war (a principle that had been set down in the much-resented War Guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles). He was also horrified to realise that there was still widespread support for the idea that the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, returned to France under the terms of Versailles, should form part of a united Germany. Graham was not convinced that the German people were naturally bellicose (although one publisher later rejected his book on the ground that it was too “John Bull” in its language). If anything he belonged with those who considered that the victor powers should have done more to prevent the German people from feeling “resentful”, though he could not rid himself of a sense that:

In our reckonings and prognostications we should keep in mind that the German is the centre body of the Teutonic race. He is down, but he is not finally beaten. His mind is resentful, and indeed full of the revenge instinct. He has not learned the lesson of humility and obedience in the great war. Who has? He believes he is meant to be master in the vast European plain which he has fitly named “Mittel Europa,” and identified with himself.94

The atmosphere of unease and anxiety that Graham detected in most of the counties he visited was bolstered in Berlin by a brooding sense of resentment that Germany was a victim rather than the architect of its misfortunes.

The Grahams left Berlin for Paris, and then headed back home to London, where Graham found himself still further perturbed by developments. Although he welcomed the widening of the franchise that had taken place in 1918, he still fretted about the creation of “a democracy which languishes in ignorance”, where voters did not understand the issues, and candidates were content to make “sentimental appeals to various popular prejudices”. He was scathing about the quality of government ministers, along with commercialisation of more and more aspects of daily-life, including the press from which he largely derived his income, although he retained some hope that “the spirit of England will overcome the vulgarity of the age”.95 Paris was by contrast a far more self-confident city, where the streets were better-kept than in London, although even here all was not well. Graham was deeply perturbed at the foreign policy pursued by the Quai d’Orsay, which, he believed, was based on the old-fashioned principle of promoting national interest to the exclusion of all else, a policy that he feared would in time foster the same kinds of tensions that erupted in 1914:

France wishes to run this new Europe which has come into being, on the old lines, playing with hatreds and jealousies and conflicting interests as a chessplayer with his pieces. The idealists of England and America want to eradicate the jealousies and hatreds and run the same new Europe on principles of pure love. France says human nature never changes. Britain and America say human nature has progressed with them and it must progress similarly in Europe. France’s final answer is laughter. So constant is France’s amusement at the expense of the Anglo-Saxon that she has adopted the sourire ironique as something necessary to typical beauty in a Frenchman.96

Graham’s trip across Europe had convinced him that politics, both at home and abroad, had to be based on a new footing if the disasters of 1914-18 were not to repeat themselves in the near future. A few months after he returned he wrote to a friend in the USA fretting that without major changes Europe was heading “toward complete catastrophe”.97

Graham was not alone in believing that a lasting international peace demanded something more than a new system of collective security of the kind institutionalised by the League of Nations. One of the most elaborate attempts to consider the whole question came from his old friend Dimitrije Mitrinović who, in 1920-21, contributed several dozen columns on ‘World Affairs’ to the periodical New Age, still edited at this time by the literary critic A.R. Orage.98 Many of these articles were extraordinarily complex, weaving together a host of economic and psychological issues. At their heart was an attempt to think through the metaphysical foundations of international life, in order to show how a genuinely peaceful global order needed to rest on something more than mere paper agreements between governments. Mitrinović was determined to take issue with the prevailing view that international conflict was simply the result of a struggle for economic advantage. He instead suggested that “there remains a residue of desire, after the economic need has been satisfied, which, unless it be sublimated in a higher satisfaction than war can provide, would impel nations to war long after the economic necessity ceased to exist”. He went on to argue that:

The assertion that Mankind is a single species needs to be supplemented by the assertion that Mankind is One Man; and this again must be particularised in the assertion that every man is that man. It may be said that there is something mystical in this; but the truth is, as has often been said elsewhere, that Mysticism is common sense; and it is in this sense that the assertion is made and can be verified – that every man is at one and the same time individual and universal, both Man and Mankind.99

Many readers of The New Age, along with a number of its sponsors, were not impressed by the abstruse language used by Mitrinović to articulate his vision of international order. He was however at this stage of his life enormously influential on Orage, whose mind was well-attuned to “the transcendental idealism” articulated by the Serb, responding eagerly to “a gospel of world salvation inspired by the perennial philosophy and the Christian revelation”.100 Orage himself had long been interested in esoteric thought in all its various guises, and in 1922 he headed off to Fontainbleau where he worked for a number of years with the elusive Russian-Greek sage G.I. Gurdjieff. Nor was there anything unique about the attempt by Mitrinović and Orage to interpret the contemporary situation through a prism that emphasised the spiritual realities concealed by the material world. In 1921, a new publication appeared in London, under the title The Beacon, whose opening editorial suggested that the world was “figuratively in something like Stygian darkness at this new epoch in the world’s history”. It went on to promise that future contributors to the journal would seek “to clear the path of conventionalities” and “stand definitely against materialism”. The editorial also declared that although some believed that the churches had failed, “it must be remembered that Christianity [...] has always shown adaptability to new surroundings”.101 The articles in The Beacon were very wide-ranging, touching on subjects ranging from politics to aesthetics, but many of them spoke of the importance of fostering “vital religion” and “spiritual truths”, rather than “ready-made systems [that] are of little use to anyone who has emerged from the nursery stage of life”.102 A large number also focused on the international situation, arguing that “after the terrible experience through which the world has passed, there can surely be little need of emphasising the necessity for Spiritual Regeneration as the Basis of World Reconstruction”.103 It was a view that Stephen Graham had long come to accept.

Much of Graham’s published work during the immediate post-war period appears at first glance to be less esoteric in tone than his earlier works. The language he used in Private in the Guards and Europe Whither-Bound? was more prosaic than the youthful metaphysical speculations that filled books like Vagabond in the Caucasus and A Tramp’s Sketches. Graham himself hinted on occasion that this was a result of his experiences in the trenches, but, as was seen earlier, the reality may have been more complex, reflecting above all a deliberate effort to produce a new kind of commercially-viable work capable of appealing to a wide readership. The private diaries and journals he kept throughout the post-war years contained countless jottings about religious and spiritual matters, as well as more mundane notes about the places he had seen and visited. Graham frequently noted down such aphorisms as “Believe in the hidden hand which is working for good”. Even when he served in the trenches, he still believed that the world was on “a new threshold of Christianity”, and that he himself had a “splendid destiny” fuelled by “an infinite love to Lord the Father”.104 The very first issue of The Beacon contained the opening words of Graham’s Credo, a lengthy document that eventually ran to twenty-three chapters, serialised over a number of issues. Graham himself described it many years later as a kind of prose-poem “written in rhythm”. It is in reality almost impossible to classify the Credo, but it can perhaps best be described as a series of aphorisms, loosely connected by a conviction that there was a need for a new domestic and world order rooted in an individual and collective spiritual renewal. It began with a rousing declaration that:

The old order of life in the world is dying and a new order of life is rising to take its place. Nothing can stop it. It grows out of the collective human heart and the hidden forces. It is not advanced by thought; it is not brought about by propaganda – it grows. It does not arise from one man’s action or one man’s prominence, but comes of all men.

The Credo went on to demand the abandonment of all forms of egoism, calling on nations to learn “to act not for their own sake alone but for humanity’s sake”, just as at a lower level families had to learn to live for the nation and “men to live for their families”. This ladder of affinities would, in turn, ensure that “patriotism has had its day” and “soon it will be the morning of world-patriotism”. Graham argued that as this new spirit permeated humanity, so “nations shall not hold other nations in thrall”. Economic peace would reign in a world without tariffs or customs-barriers. Graham was no clearer about the foundation of this new consciousness than Mitrinović had been in his New Age articles. As so often before, he was critical of the churches, suggesting that “Christianity flows around and about church doors and will not or cannot go in”, with the result that “something that is not Christianity sits in most of the churches”. It was of course the supposedly authentic spiritual form of Christianity that Graham believed had the potential to spread and reveal its message that “material wealth [is] dust and ashes”. The salvation of humanity depended above all on a rejection of the materialism of the world.

The Credo is perhaps best read as a form of poetry, rather than a formal analytical critique of the human condition, relying above all on its evocation of a new form of spirituality that could alone transform the world. The portentous tone inevitably infuriated some readers (“a deliquiscence of undisciplined emotion”),105 although it was in tune with many of the other articles that appeared in The Beacon, albeit articulated in a form that was unusually elusive and opaque even for that publication. Graham’s Credo was written at a time when he was in something of a state of emotional and intellectual flux. Despite (or perhaps because of) his experiences in the trenches he was still deeply interested in struggling against “the New Materialism”. The very nature of the Credo meant that it touched on everything from art to philosophy. Graham’s reflections on the need for new forms of international unity, based on a conception of the common foundations of humanity, were echoed by his emphasis on the organic character of all aspects of human life (a position he had of course sketched out many years before in his youthful Ygdrasil). The language he used makes it difficult to relate the Credo in any straightforward way to Graham’s own experience of the trenches or his subsequent witness to the problems faced by post-war Europe. It was nevertheless fuelled by a powerful sense that human conflict in all its forms was the product of egoism and materialism, which could only be overcome via a spiritual revolution across the whole world, a vision that he had sketched out in previous works like Priest of the Ideal and Quest of the Face. Its quasi-poetic form was designed to provide readers with insights and ideas of a kind that they were unlikely to receive from their daily newspaper.

Graham’s dislike of the New Materialism was still strong enough for him to devote a chapter of his memoirs to the subject more than forty years after his Credo appeared in The Beacon. During 1922 he attended a number of lectures at the Aristotelian society, including one by the celebrated Marxist biologist J.B.S. Haldane, who sharply attacked any trace of an idealist philosophy that “depends on the mind of man”. Graham was predictably not impressed by a philosophy that had “no room for the hypothesis called God”, and feared that the widespread acceptance of such views would reduce idealism to little more than a blue-print for progress, rather than a particular way of experiencing the world.106 Nor however was he much more impressed by the Russian philosopher-guru P.D. Uspensky, who spent time in London during the early 1920s, where his obscure teachings on “the Fourth Way” attracted interest from several members of the British aristocratic elite.107 He was equally sceptical about the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff, who gave a number of lectures in Britain during this time, before setting up his celebrated institute at Fontainbleau.

Graham was always suspicious of those who set themselves up as gurus whose self-appointed task was to enlighten their disciples (it was one of the reasons why his relationship with Dimitrije Mitrinović became increasingly strained in later years). Nor did he have much sympathy for the abstruse language favoured by both Gurdjieff and Uspensky. Although Graham had himself acquired something of a cult following over the previous few years, largely as a result of Priest of the Ideal, he insisted (not altogether accurately) that his starting point was “the world as I found it” rather than any elaborate metaphysical insight.108 When the novelist Allen Upward tried to insist that he should devote all his energy to showing the world “how to revive something of the spiritual life in our frightful den of thieves”,109 Graham demurred from such a task, rightly concluding that his elderly friend was suffering from a despair that had distorted his judgement (Upward later committed suicide). Graham was, for all his continuing idealism, as sceptical of many of the idiosyncratic lunacies of the Higher Thought as he was of the banalities of the New Materialism.

The themes articulated in the Credo had of course been visible in Graham’s work from the time he first went to Russia. His focus on the spiritual rather than the institutional dimension of religion had been a feature of his books since he published A Vagabond in the Caucasus ten years earlier. So too was his emphasis on the ephemeral character of the material world. And, of course, the idea that real social and political change required a revolution in the hearts and minds of individuals had underpinned his collaboration with Mitrinović in 1915-16 over the proposed secret society. Although it would be futile to look to Graham’s work at this time for anything approaching a coherent political or aesthetic philosophy, it is possible to identify a consistent series of insights and perceptions, which together helped to shape his understanding of the world. His experience in the trenches had removed some of the emotional exuberance and diffuse pantheism that had been a hallmark of much of his pre-1914 work. The brutal realities of death and destruction could hardly be dismissed as things of secondary importance. The Credo nevertheless revealed that Graham’s self-proclaimed idealism had deep roots. The next three chapters will explore the development of the tension between his idealism and realism during the inter-war years, examining how the latter increasingly came to hold sway in determining the character of his fiction and travel-writing.

1 Stephen Graham, Part of the Wonderful Scene (London: Collins, 1964), p. 155.

2 Graham Papers (HRC), Letters file, Velimirović to Graham, 14 September 1917.

3 Stephen Graham, A Private in the Guards (London: William Heinemann, 1928), p. 22, version available at The book was first published in 1919 by Macmillan.

4 Ibid, p. 21.

5 Ibid, p. 33.

6 Ibid, p. 27.

7 Ibid, p. 24.

8 Ibid, p. 50.

9 For some reflections on this theme see Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 1999), pp. 64-116. See, too, Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare (London: Granta, 1999).

10 Graham, Private, p. 73.

11 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 154.

12 Graham, Private, p. 64.

13 Ibid, p. 84.

14 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 579, 49 (Diary for Private in the Guards).

15 Graham, Private, p. 81.

16 Ibid, p. 79.

17 Graham, Wonderful Scene, pp. 159-60.

18 Ibid, p. 158.

19 Graham, Private, p. 78.

20 On Campbell’s intellectual development see Horton Davies, Worship and Theology in England: The Ecumenical Century, 1900 to the Present (Cambridge: Erdmans, 1996), p. 125 ff.

21 R.J. Campbell, The New Theology (London: Chapman and Hall, 1907), p. 5. For Graham’s comments on the whole issue see Graham Papers (FSU), Box 580, 13c (‘In the Days of My Youth’).

22 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 163. For a description of this journey to Le Havre by another member of the Scots Guards, see Wilfrid Ewart, Scots Guard on the Western Front, 1915-1918 (Stevenage: Strong and Oak Press, 2001), pp. 9-15.

23 Rudyard Kipling, The Irish Guards in the Great War: the First Battalion (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 1997), p. 233.

24 Graham, Private, pp. 127-28.

25 For a memory of the Christmas truce by a member of the Scots Guards see Wilfrid Ewart, ‘Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War’, Harper’s Magazine, December 1920.

26 For details see Tonie and Valmai Holt, My Boy Jack (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2008).

27 Stephen Graham, Life and Last Words of Wilfrid Ewart (London: Putnam, 1924), p. 5.

28 Graham, Private, p. 154.

29 For a useful account of Ewart see, in addition to Graham’s book, Hugh Cecil, The Flower of Battle: British Fiction Writers of the First World War (London: Secker and Warburg, 1995), pp. 119-53.

30 See, for example, Stephen J. Hicks, and Wilfrid H.G. Ewart, Practical Poultry Keeping for Small-Holders (London: James Stephen, 1912).

31 Wilfrid Ewart (anon), ‘At Neuve Chapelle’, English Review, June, 1915.

32 Wilfrid Ewart (anon), ‘After Ypres: the Record of a Southern Journey’, Cornhill Magazine, September 1915.

33 For a useful exploration of the growth of Arcadian motifs in literature during and immediately after the First World War, see Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 231-69. For an example of such motifs in the work of Graham himself, see Stephen Graham, ‘England’s Most Lovely Island’, Living Age, 25 October 1919.

34 Graham, Life and Last Words of Ewart, p. 4.

35 Ibid, pp. 6-7.

36 Ewart, Scots Guard on the Western Front, p. 171.

37 The National Archives (Kew), WO 95/1223 (2nd Battalion Scots Guards War Diary, entry for 31 March 1918).

38 Ibid (2nd Battalion Scots Guards War Diary, various entries for May 1918).

39 Ibid (2nd Battalion Scots Guards War Diary, entry for 10 July 1918).

40 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 579, 49 (Diary for Private in the Guards).

41 Browne Papers (Indiana University, Lilly Library), Graham to Browne, 3 June 1918.

42 For a description of this phase of the war see Wilfrid Ewart et al, The Scots Guards in the Great War (London, 1925), pp. 288-306.

43 Wilfrid Ewart, When Armageddon Came (London: Rich and Cowan, 1933), pp. 137, 141.

44 Ewart Papers (HRC), Letters, Ewart to Father, 1 September 1918.

45 Graham, Private, p. 176.

46 Ibid, p. 181.

47 Ibid, p. 182.

48 Ibid, p. 239.

49 Ewart et al, Scots Guards in the Great War, pp. 222-28. Cecil, Flower of Battle, pp. 142-44.

50 Wilfrid Ewart, Way of Revelation (London: G.P. Putnam, 1921), p. 477.

51 Graham, Private, p. 191.

52 Ibid, p. 195.

53 Graham Papers, Box 579, 49 (Diary for Private in the Guards).

54 Graham, Private, p. 286.

55 Ibid, p. 300.

56 Graham Papers (HRC), Letters file, Hore-Ruthven to Graham, 13 December 1918.

57 T.I.F. Armstrong (Gawsworth) Papers (HRC), Misc. (Stephen Graham, ‘Litany for a Discharged Soldier’).

58 Wilfrid Ewart Papers (HRC), Letters, Ewart to Angela (sister), 1 August 1918.

59 Graham Papers (HRC), Works File, Wonderful Scene (autograph).

60 See, for example, Manchester Guardian, 5 November 1919.

61 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 180.

62 Graham Papers (HRC), Letters file, Hore-Ruthven to Graham, 22 December 1919.

63 Ibid, Conan Doyle to Graham, 30 November 1919; Northcliffe to Graham, 18 May 1920.

64 Morning Leader, 24 March 1920.

65 Daily Express, 8 November 1919.

66 The Times, 6 November 1919.

67 Parliamentary Debates (Commons), 4 November 1919, cols. 1307-8.

68 Vachel Lindsay Papers (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library), SC926A, Folder 1, Graham to Charlotte Hallowell, 6 December 1919.

69 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 176.

70 See, for example, his remarks in Stephen Graham, ‘Where is Holy Russia Now’, London Quarterly Review, October, 1920.

71 On the Russian Liberation Committee, see Charlotte Alston, Russia’s Greatest Enemy: Harold Williams and the Russian Revolutions (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), pp. 150-53.

72 Stephen Graham, ‘The Hope for Russia’, The Living Age, 15 November 1919, pp. 395-99.

73 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 577, 10 (Various notes from 1921).

74 On the design and building of the Cenotaph, see Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: the Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998), pp. 102-5.

75 Graham, Wonderful Scene, pp. 217-18; Winter, Sites of Memory, p. 103.

76 Vachel Lindsay Papers (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library), SC926A, Folder 1, Rosa Graham to Charlotte Hallowell, 16 September 1919, in which Rosa refers to seeing the battlefields in “a very special way”.

77 Stephen Graham, The Challenge of the Dead (London: Cassell 1921), p. 94, version available at

78 Wilfrid Ewart, ‘Pilgrimage’, in Scots Guard on the Western Front, pp. 174-80.

79 Graham, Challenge of the Dead, p. 24.

80 Ibid, p. 36.

81 Ibid, p. 132.

82 Ibid, p. 91.

83 Ibid, p. 96.

84 Ibid, p. 174.

85 Stephen Graham, Europe Whither-Bound? (Quo Vadis Europa?): Being Letters of Travel from the Capitals of Europe (New York: Appleton, 1922), p. 11, version available at The book was first published in Britain 1921 by Butterworth.

86 Vachel Lindsay Papers (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library), SC926A, Folder 1, Rosa Graham to Charlotte Hallowell, 10 May 1921.

87 For details of Graham’s actual itinerary see Graham Papers, Box 578, 33 (1921 Journal).

88 Graham, Europe Whither-Bound?, p. 73.

89 Ibid, p. 77.

90 Ibid, pp. 38-39

91 Graham Papers, Box 578, 33 (1921 Journal); Vachel Lindsay Papers (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library), SC926A, Folder 1, Rosa Graham to Charlotte Hallowell, 10 May 1921.

92 Graham, Europe Whither-Bound?, p. 140.

93 Ibid, p. 151.

94 Ibid, p. 174.

95 Ibid, pp. 201, 205.

96 Ibid, p. 214.

97 Van Wyck Brook Papers (University of Pennsylvania, Rare Book and Manuscript Library), MS Coll. 650, Box 17, Folder 1149, Graham to Brooks, 12 January 1922.

98 The articles were in fact often jointly authored between Orage and Mitrinović. For details see Philip Mairet, Autobiographical and Other Papers (Manchester: Carcanet, 1981), pp. 181-83.

99 The New Age, 27, 16 (19 August 1920).

100 Mairet, Autobiographical Papers, p. 177.

101 The Beacon, 1 (1921-22).

102 G.R. Dennis, ‘Hidden Treasures’, The Beacon, 1 (1921-22); L.W. Fearn, ‘Creative Christianity’, The Beacon, 1 (1921-22).

103 Sydney T. Klein, ‘Spiritual Regeneration as the Basis of World Reconstruction’, The Beacon, 1 (1921-22).

104 FSU (Graham Papers), 579, 49 (Diary for Private in the Guards).

105 New Age, 10 November 1921.

106 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 249.

107 For a lively biography of Uspensky see Gary Lachman, In Search of P.D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2004).

108 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 250.

109 Graham Papers (HRC), Letters file, Upward to Graham, 9 December 1920.