The Letter of Alfie Knight

There are a great many curiousities you will find if you visit London’s Imperial War Museum. One such sight on display in the outstanding First World War exhibit is this letter written by an 8 year old Irish boy to the Secretary of State of War, Herbert Kitchener, in 1914. The letter reads:

Dear Lord Kitchner (sic),
I am an Irish boy. 9 years of age and I want to go to the front. I can ride jolley (sic) quick on my bycycle and would go as despatch ridder (sic). I wouldn’t let the Germans get it. I am a good shot with a revolver and would kill a good vue (sic) of the Germans. I am very strong and often win a fight with lads twice as big as myself. I want a uniform and a revololver and will give a good account of myself. Please send an anencer (sic)

Yours affectionately,

Alfie Knight

Young Alfie received a reply from the War Office thanking him for his letter, but informing the boy that he was not yet quite old enough to go to the front as a dispatch rider. Something about this letter and the boy’s willingness to join the fight with absolutely no notion of the very real and horrendous practicalities of warfare has stuck with me since I visited the museum with herself a while back.

John Steinbeck called war “a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal” and the thought that anyone would ever march to the battlefield in a willful fashion provokes something quite inexplicably sad in me. War is a serious business and no nation should enter into conflict willingly. Yet, we continue to enter into and fight frivolous wars around the world with increasing vigour. With the very difficult future our species faces ahead, we should be doing everything at all possible to stop all this fighting.

I simply cannot abide that as the climate accelerates toward what is being described in scientific circles as a very sudden and “irreversible” disaster of global proportions, we continue to bicker arbitrarily amongst ourselves on matters of passing importance. Surely it is no longer a matter of giving peace a chance. Now it is a must. Now is the time to prepare ourselves, as a species, for another age of ruin and struggle and horror. We are edging ever closer to the point of no return, and if there is one thing that can get us through this, it is cooperation. Instead, we continue to hate and brutalize one another. These are not the ramblings of a blind idealist, they are the facts. We buy into the lies of demagogues and the false promises of fiends and money-men. The elite may already be making preparations for disaster but when it finally happens, class and privilege will mean very little. They say that someone must hold the whip, but what if we throw the lash aside? It is not the fear and paranoia toward a realization of Airstrip One with which we should be occupying ourselves, but the absolute and increasingly probable catastrophe of Cormac McCarthy’s Road. This is not the stuff of dystopian fiction. Scientists say that climate change will kill billions and it may take hundreds of thousands of years for the planet to recover. That is not fortune telling, nor is it palm reading or any other quackish hocus pocus. It is science and it is being ignored. I have heard some people say that they can already smell the Sulphur in the air. The time for bread and circuses must come to an end. The last thing anyone wants is for those street preachers who rant madly of the coming apocalypse in public parks to one day turn and smugly boast, “I told you so.”

That’s why it is important to encourage as many people as possible to visit places such as the War Museum; as a reminder of what we should be working to avoid and eradicate. Nothing truly good ever comes from war and the sooner we finally accept this fact then the sooner we can get to preparing for the something much worse on the horizon.  We are going to have to learn to get along, one way or the other. The sooner we get started the better.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lynn Love says:

    How touching and misguided little Alfie was.
    I fear human beings have always been as deluded as we are now. You only need to look at history – the Easter Islanders is a good example of people blithely trudging their way to destruction, seemingly innocent to the outcome that awaits them. I doubt very much we’ll change in time to stop global warming.
    You reminded me of the song I love the World by New Model Army. Written in 1989, still relevant.

  2. gertloveday says:

    We have recently had in Australia the commemoration of ANZAC Day, the day when thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers were slaughtered in an impossible attempt on the cliffs at Gallipoli in WW1 – a result of a massive blunder by the British generals. Conservative politicians are fond of saying this was the day when Australia “came of age’. Certainly it was a day when the troops showed enormous courage but it should never be whitewashed as anything but a senseless waste of young lives. But people here are being encouraged to fly the flag and, as I see it, glorify the whole occasion, and it seems to be becoming increasingly popular among young people. And at the same time we have a rise in nationalism and xenophobia (against refugees, Muslims, etc). I think it is something that should be put very firmly in the perspective you’ve given us here.

  3. The horrific myth of war that tantalizes young boys. I once played war as child, but now too often children are actually killing–it’s not playing anymore. Never really was. Thanks for sharing.

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