One of the joys in reading The Last Lion is the wry humor that emerges, often out of nowhere. Describing states of morale amongst the various armies, Manchester describes the comportment of the British soldier wonderfully.
One of their strengths, and a source of impotent rage among those who lived under other flags and had to deal with them, was that Englishmen with their background could not be offended by pomposity because their own capacity for arrogance was infinite. In 1914 British officers had told their men, “The wogs”—a pejorative for subjects of the Empire—“ begin at Calais.” They were still saying it in 1939, distinctly pronouncing the final s in Calais while natives gnashed their teeth. Gamelin,1 reading French aloud at top speed, could never win playing this game with them. They had invented insolence and would leave his hauteur a thing of shreds and patches.
I can picture the outrage.
Maurice Gamelin was the French Commander in Chief until May17, 1940. He is not remembered fondly. ↩︎