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Books: Tale of a Tubby

3 minute read

No ARMS, No ARMOUR—Robert Henrlques—Farrar & Rineharf ($2.50).

On a hill above England’s Salisbury Plain a stuffy general stood at the roadside, watching the 17th Light Battery return from a route march. Mules, guns, gunners. A frail, thoughtful major at the head of the column, a red-faced ungentlemanly subaltern in the rear. The general responded more favorably to the sight of a third officer: a fair young second-lieutenant with the right build for a horseman, a careless, well-bred face. Good stuff, this. “Who’s that, Benjamin?” “Windrush, sir, Tubby Windrush.” “Windrush . . . Windrush … I knew his father. Get him here, will you?”

Thus Robert Henriques introduces the hero of No Arms, No Armour, which is the winner in the All-Nations Prize Novel Competition for 1939 (sponsored by Publishers Farrar & Rinehart, various foreign publishers and the Literary Guild). As an officer and a gentleman, Windrush represents a tradition which causes the English distinct pride and a certain worry. Author Henriques worries over him like a maiden aunt. What is somewhat less credible, he makes him a subject of tender concern to his major (“Sammy”) and to “Daddy” Watson, the hardbitten subaltern of the introductory scene.

No Arms, No Armour has, for all that, the limited distinction of being the best novel about the British Army during the late peace (1928-30, precisely) that has yet appeared. Author Henriques, 34, is a major in the regular army. He writes with authority and irony of the military mind (“[the general] looked on the war as a pitiful era of confusion for the army, a lapse that must never recur . . .”), with intimate affection of the quieter moments of routine (“Like the Lord’s Prayer, you had it all by heart . . . feet, head, belly, legs; nearside, offside, eyes, nose, dock; hoof-pick, body-brush, dandy-brush, sponge, stable-rubber, wisp . . . ‘Stables’ hour was as sacred as the twenty minutes before the drawing room door opened and nurse came in to say that it was bed time . . .”). And with a dogged, unhurried intensity he makes Tubby Windrush grow up, grow sick of soldiering.

Riding for the Battery in a race, Tubby smashes up and spends months in a hospital, where he has time for unaccustomed cerebration. “Daddy” visits him, troubles him with bitter gibes at the caste-ridden army system. “Sammy” comes and perturbs him still more with philosophical questionings. Recovered, Tubby feels like making love to Lydia, a sophisticated beauty of Belgrave Square. She tells him that what he needs is a nice, kind widow.

Tubby’s maturity grows by leaps & bounds while the Battery is on duty at a Godforsaken post on the Red Sea. He learns about women from an easygoing army wife in Khartoum. He learns about good and evil when it comes out that half the Battery resorted to homosexuality during the months of isolation. On a camel trek, alone, Tubby finds himself at last in a mystical exaltation of thirst and exhaustion. . . . Lydia is rather implausibly waiting for him when he steps off the boat and out of the army.

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