In July 1913 three Oxford students were climbing in the Lake District. Hodgson was one; the other two he had known since they were schoolboys. They started out on a morning of early mist walking from Rosthwaite to Seathwaite before climbing into the hills. They watched bathers in Styhead Tarn. One of them stepped aside from the path to allow a woman to pass and almost fell over a precipice – the others thanked him for keeping his footing as it save them the trouble of carrying his body down. He wasn’t impressed. They laughed at tourists (isn’t it funny how no one ever thinks of himself as a tourist…) and watched a distant waterplane on Lake Windermere.
They descended by Tongue Ghyll to Wasdale Head and after stopping for tea, crossed Black Sail Pass into the head of Ennerdale, heading ultimately for the Buttermere Hotel and supper. They saw two buzzards fighting and paced themselves on the last leg of the journey by singing an improvised setting of ‘Jabberwocky’.
Within three years they would all be dead, one at Gallipoli, one in a base hospital from an illness contracted in the trenches, one on the Somme. Vera Brittain’s experience of loss in the Great War was far from unique, and piecing together Noel Hodgson’s story it strikes me how much of the early part of the war is covered simply in recounting what happened to him and the people he cared for. Two of his cousins were O.T.C. trained officers in the regular army. One went to France in the very first shipload of British soldiers in August 1914: he was invalided home in the retreat from Mons. The other died of wounds received in the first Battle of Ypres. Then Gallipoli. Hodgson himself fought at Loos and won the M.C. there. Then the Somme. He even had a friend whose eyesight was too bad for the British army but, being determined to enlist, managed to wangle his way into the Serbian army. A whole pattern of individual experiences threaded together through the life of one man; a novelist would hardly dare invent it.