17597Re: The Somme, Tolkien, and Black Riders.
- Dec 13, 2006The Rev. Mr. Waddington-Feather did reply to a poster on The
Barrow-Downs forum. I'm pretty certain that he's not a crank
or a liar, that he really is relating what he remembers of
what Michael T. told him years ago. The problem is that he
may have misheard or misremembered, that Michael may have
misheard or misremembered, and moreover Michael apparently
wasn't above spinning a yarn.
I doubt that any such event happened in waking life. Not only
was Tolkien's duty and the Somme battlefield such that the
whole story is unlikely in the extreme, but I've also
determined that the 1 and 2 Leib-Husaren (Totenkopf) were
nowhere near the Somme in 1916. (That leaves the 17er
Braunschweig- anybody know where they were?)
There is a possibility that Tolkien had a nightmare along
those lines (although I suppose in a classic dream pattern
that final jump would have led to awakening, not landing).
Perhaps the subconscious source was war propaganda. After all,
the association of skull-and-crossbones badges with German
cavalry must have come from somewhere: and Uhlans* figured
prominently in "rape of Belgium" stories. In fact, the story
has some of the flavor of the "tales from the front" the
British papers loved to print in the early days of the war,
especially in connection with Mons (where there was a great
deal of cavalry activity). Additionally, in fall 1914 German
cavalry still wore their busbys and shakoes, whereas by mid-
1916 they had gone to standard helmets.
*Uhlan is a Polish loan-word for lancer, a term which most
German armies adopted during or after the Napoleonic wars.
However, in 1914 the IGS issued lances to all cavalry
regiments, and withdrew sabres soon thereafter; Allied
soldiers understandably called all German horse "Uhlans,"
regardless of regiment.
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