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A Student In Arms Vol. I

Length: 118 pages2 hours


After Donald Hankey returned home from a posting with the Royal Garrison Artillery in Mauritius, following a serious bout of illness, it seemed as though he was destined for a career in the Church. Finding the clergy schools to be too stultifying, he set to work in missionary positions in the most impoverished communities in the east of London. As the First World War began to take its ominous toll of men, the first of Kitchener’s recruiting calls was heard throughout the Empire; Hankey eschewed returning to the army as an officer and decided to enlist as a “gentleman ranker”. However, his previous military experience marked him out and he was promoted, soon after which he would embark on his first tour of duty on the Western Front. Wounded at Ypres in a daylight infantry charge across no man’s land, and having been published previously, he began to send articles to the Spectator from the front. He finally met his end on 12th October 1916 during the later phases of the battle of the Somme.
John St Loe Strachey, the then editor of The Spectator, put together the articles along with unpublished papers to produce the two volume “A Student In Arms” as a tribute and memorial to Donald Hankey. Initially published in America to ensure that it passed censorship, it became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic in short order running to many editions (this text is taken from the 16th edition). The two volumes are often reflective in tone, between the jingoistic volumes produced at the beginning of the war and the despairing disillusioned books produced afterward. It is also clear the affinity that Hankey felt for the common soldier, and made no secret of the fact that he believed that the ranker who had so little to gain from sacrificing himself for the society at home put many of his supposed betters to shame.

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