Book Review from the November 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Question of Judgement by Charles Derrick (May be ordered through Morley Books Library Service, Elmfield, Morley, Yorks.)
This unusual autobiography dealing mainly with the author’s wartime experiences will be of interest to Socialists. It gives a picture of life (and death) as it was in the trenches, on the minefields, as an escaped POW in Italy and Germany, and finally back home but still on the run, from an unusual point of view — that of a class-conscious worker unwillingly conscripted and sent to serve as a stretcher-bearer at El Alamein.
Having put the socialist case to everyone he encounters, from the Conscientious Objectors Tribunal to his captors in an Italian POW camp, he escapes and is sheltered for several months in the supposedly hostile Italian countryside. He is recaptured, sent to Germany, escapes again and finally arrives home where he decides to opt out of the British army as well.
For those who believe that the state can only be overcome by violence, there is a lesson here in how authority simply collapses when willing co-operation is withdrawn.
On arriving home and being given two weeks’ leave the writer is told to await notification of further duty. His orders arrive and are ignored, every month he writes off for his pay which is duly received. When the War Office finally write seeking an explanation for his absence, and then enclosing a rail pass and orders to return to his regiment in Perth, he informs them that he has been awaiting their instructions and applies for further leave. He is ordered to return immediately and arrives back at base nine days later after visiting the relatives of two missing army friends. Being sent to give an explanation for his long absence to the Commanding Officer, he is waiting to be seen when . . .
"the RSM came along . . .
'What's your name?' he barked.
'Derrick, sir,' I replied.
'Have you had your embarkation leave yet?' he shouted.
'No sir,' I replied.
'Then go to the Orderly Room and get your rail warrant and pass,’ he shouted again . . . While I was on the train I decided that I had had enough of the army."
How could the capitalist system possibly survive that kind of treatment from a majority of class-conscious workers?