Cecil George Harwood (1894 – 1983): War and Memory I – Writing Lives

Cecil George Harwood (1894 – 1983): War and Memory I

‘Before finally making for home we reported to the head gardener to say we would not be in any more as we had to be on parade in just over 24 hours. This was the end of the old life’ (21).

As explored in Life and Labour I, Cecil George Harwood was working at Digswell House when the First World War was declared on the 4th of August 1914. Cecil was given an ultimatum: sign up, or ‘there would be no more work’ (20). He dedicates a chapter of his memoir to documenting his experiences during the First World War, titled ‘Life in the Forces: From September, 1914 – March, 1917.’ Aged 19, Cecil enlisted after the Bank Holiday Monday of 1914, and on the following Tuesday he was due to report to the parade ground at Hartham, Hereford. Cecil’s writing is populated with amusing anecdotes of his ‘mishaps’ (3); this extends to his narration of his army service as, true to fashion, Cecil arrived late on his first day of training:

World War I Hertfordshire Regiment Cap Badge. Image Courtesy of British Military Badges.

‘A voice roared out, “What is that man doing walking among the ranks, who are you and whats’ your name?” “Harwood”, I replied. “Say Sergeant when you address me and stand to attention. Now what the — — do you mean by being late on parade”’ (21).

Initially, Cecil’s remembrance of World War I focuses upon training and comradeship. His first day was ‘taken up standing to attention, standing at ease and trying to take in all the do’s and don’ts’ (21). Cecil explains the administrative details, he was assigned to a platoon, formerly known as a ‘squad’ (21). There were ‘60 men in a platoon and 4 platoons to a company and 16 to a battalion. From formation [they] were known as, for example: No.1, 2, 3, or 4 platoon, A company, 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment’ (21).

The spent ‘two weeks or so’ (21) training at Hartham parade ground. Cecil vividly recalls how he and his fellow recruits were put through their paces, practicing numerous drills. ‘Saluting was drilled into us, to salute at all times wherever one met… We were soon issued with rifles, Lee Enfields 33 and from then on rifle drill was included among other things’ (22). All drills were incorporated into the marching route, ‘around 15 miles carrying marching order around 96lbs’ (22). The troops struggled to complete the 15 miles, taking 10 minutes rest in 50-minute intervals, ‘and so on until the end’ (22).

British Soldiers and their trusty Lee Enfield rifles on the Western Front, France (1914 – 1918). Image Courtesy of TheField.co.uk.

Adopting a factual yet conversational tone, Cecil favours a representation of the ‘lighter side’ (30) of war. However rigorous, Cecil remarks that their training ‘could be fun at times, the company would split into two sections… placed at opposite sides of the drill ground. A referee was appointed on each side, the object was to get into the enemy line without being seen’ (26). In relation to Michael Roper’s work on war and memory, Cecil’s ‘lighter’ approach is a vital catharsis for his recollection of these traumatic memories. Although what Cecil describes is a simple game, now ‘played by Cubs all over the Country’ (27), the uncomfortable reality is that these exercises were ‘an advantage… in real warfare’ (27).

In early November 1914, the regiment was ‘dismissed early and told to prepare to move next day’ (22). An air of secrecy surrounded their sudden movement, ‘no hint of where [they] were going was given, but to a place unknown… no time was lost’ (22). The men suspected that they were due to join the forces in France. However, the regiment arrived in Thurston, Suffolk, where they marched five miles to ‘Stowlangloft Hall’ (23) for further training. Cecil recounts their journey, ‘the changing landscape… a lot of it was Horticultural and Agricultural land. We seemed to be travelling for hours’ (23).

Unlike his later documentation of the conflict in France, Cecil expresses a confident certainty that his description of their journey to Thurston is accurate, ‘I know we had a sandwich or two… one had to rely on what he carried in his water bottle for a drink’ (23). Similar to the memoir of Walter John Eugene Elliot (1890 – 1977), it is felt that Cecil’s attention to detail is an attempt to voice his wartime experiences through his writing, as these difficult memories could not be easily shared with his immediate friends and family.

At , Cecil ‘received [his] 1st stripe’ (24), marking his promotion to Lance Corporal. Modestly informing his reader that he was well-regarded by his superiors, Cecil writes, ‘I was often chosen to lead the company as I was considered to be consistent. I do not think I was that good, but I was in the army and I was resolved to succeed and hold my rank, humble as it was’ (24).

‘Paris Bridge Over the Seine’ by David Lloyd Glover (2013). Image Courtesy of Fine Art America.

By the Autumn of 1915, the troops had all been ‘inoculated and the battalion was told to stand by’ (29). Over the course of a ‘day or two’ (29), they moved again, this time to Southampton. ‘That evening we marched to the docks, but for some reason we did not board the ship… The following day we were drilled in full marching order and as the previous day marched down to the docks again. This time we embarked, for what, only time would tell’ (29). As Cecil soon discovered, the ship set sail for France. He ‘slept through the dark hours’ (29) and awoke to a warm welcome from the local civilians, crowding the ‘mouth of the Seine’ (29).

‘A lovely Summer’s day and the passing panorama of chalets, farmlands and cottages, quite different from those we had left behind. I for one was sorry when our journey came to an end’ (30).

Cecil’s service in France and the injury that lead to his discharge are explored in my following post, War and Memory II.



309 HARWOOD, Cecil George, ‘Down Memory Lane’, TS, pp.104 (c.65,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Constantine, Stephen, Maurice W Kirby and Mary B Rose, eds. The First World War in British History. London: Edward Arnold, 1995.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.

Harwood, Cecil. ‘Down Memory Lane.’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 1:309. 

‘Military Structures and Ranks’ N.d. The British Library. Web. Accessed 22nd April 2018.

Nicholls, Hannah. ‘Walter John Eugene Elliott (1890 – 1977): War and Memory.’ 2nd March 2017. Writing Lives. Web. Accessed 22nd April 2018.

Roper, Michael. ‘Re-remembering the Soldier Hero: The Psychic and Social Construction of Memory in Personal Narratives of the Great War.’ History Workshop Journal. 50.3 (2000): 181-204.


  1. Hertfordshire Regiment Badge: 
  2. British Soldiers Equip With Lee Enfields: 
  3. ‘Paris Bridge Over The Seine’: 


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