The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

"Blighty" and "Gone West"

BRITISH soldiers in France have developed a terminology that is plain to them, but confusing to civilians. They speak of "Blighty," for example, and of "Gone West." These two terms express hopes--Blighty meaning home; in common acceptance, home for rest and recuperation. "Gone West" means gone from the east with its conflict to the refuge of death, where peace waits in the glory of sunset.

"Blighty" is of Hindu origin. British officers in South Africa who had served in India used the word, which is an Anglicized form of the Indian word "vilayti," meaning European. Englishmen being about the only Europeans the natives knew, its application narrowed down to England only; and the army fell into a way of using it as a synonym of home. When the troops from India came into action early in the war, their wounded were sent to the nearest English great hospital, at Brighton, just across the channel. The consonance of Brighton and vilayti or Blightv was so close that these men used their own word as a matter of course, and in this way it floated into general use.

It has acquired a new sense of late. Casualties intermediate to those too severe for removal and those that can he treated in field hospitals, are sent to Englandt--to Blighty--and are themselves called Blightv, meaning Wounds that get a man home. Lieut. Siegfried Sassoon has woven the idea into a plaintively whimsical bit of verse which he calls


HE woke: the clank and racket of the train

Kept time with angry throbbings in his brain,

AT last he lifted his bewildered eyes

And blinked, and rolled them sidelong; hills and skies.

Heavily wooded, hot with August haze,

And, slipping backward, golden for his gaze,

Acres of harvest.

Feebly now he drags

Exhausted ego back from glooms and quags

And blasting tumult, terror, hurtling glare,

To calm and brightness, havens of sweet air.

He sighed, confused; then drew a cautious breath;

This level journeying was no ride through death.

"If I were dead," he mused, "there'd be no thinking--

Only some plunging underworld of sinking,

And hueless, shifting welter where I'd drown."

Then he remembered that his name was Brown.

But was he back in Blighty? Slow he turned,

Till in his heart thanksgiving leaped and burned.

There shone the blue serene, the prosperous land,

Trees, cows and hedges; skipping these he scanned,

Large, friendly names that change net with the year,

Lung Tonic, Mustard, Liver Pills and Beer.

Hugh Pendexter, in Adventure Magazine", says "going west," as used by the men overseas to mean death, is of peculiarly American origin. The Karok Indians of California believed the spirit of the good Karok went to the "happy western land." The Cherokee myths picture the west as the "ghost country," the twilight land where go the dead. The Shawnee tell of the boy who traveled west" to find his sister in the spirit land. The Chippewa believes the spirit "followed a wide, beaten path toward the west." The spirit world of the Fox Indians is at the setting of the sun. And so on, in the theology of many Indian nations we find the West as the storied abode of the great majority--who have passed over.

The phrase traces back to the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles:

Toward the Western shore
Soul after soul is known to take her flight.

Its later significance is tenderly sung by Eleanor Jewett in The Chicago Tribune

Going West

WEST to the hills, the long, long trail that strikes

Straight and away into the sunset's glow,

Ribbed by the narrow barriers of Death--

Dark are the waters that beside it flow.

The red flowers fade upon the fields of France,

The soaring larks are fallen to their nest.

The glare of battle soothes a little space....

As they go west....