Generals die in bed – Charles Yale Harrison jr’s teacher notes explain and speculate what the title of the novel is inferring about the Generals

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GENERALS DIE IN BED – Charles Yale Harrison
Explain and speculate what the title of the novel is inferring about the Generals.

  • The title is a pun or is having a go at the generals.

  • Generals die in bed while the soldiers die on the front lines.

  • Generals don’t fight. Instead they command soldiers from a safe distance behind the frontlines

  • The title suggests that there is a total lack of respect for generals or for people in positions of power/ authority. If this happens in war then there is a breakdown in the chain of command, therefore making it difficult to win the war itself.

Compile a comprehensive list of words/ terms/ phrases/ places from the text and from the period in which the novel is set in. These words and terms should then feature in your coursework and text responses.

  • Trench warfare

  • Western Front

  • Alliance

  • Mother Country

  • Over the top

  • No mans land

  • Parapet

  • Sniper

  • Artillery

  • Shell Shock

  • Shrapnel

  • Minewerfer – mine throwing trench mortars

  • Parados – the wall of the trench

  • Blighty – England

  • Bosch/ Heine – derogatory term for a German

  • Estaminet – French café

  • Propaganda – exaggerating the truth

  • Lice/ louse – small parasitic insect

  • Funk-hole – a cavity carved out of the inside of the trench

  • Raid

  • Interrogation

Choose at least 3 quotes per chapter and attach who said it and a page number.

Chapter 1 - Recruits
Major events and observations:

  • A final night of booze and sex with prostitutes before going to war

  • Anderson’s pleas to the men to stop misusing/ abusing their bodies

  • The 17 year old recruit vomiting

  • The euphoric fanfare of war

  • The narrator considering fleeing with the girl he has just met


  1. “…God didn’t make your bodies for that”. – Anderson

  2. “I grip her arm tightly. I think I could slip away unseen with her”. – Narrator

  3. “A young lad, not more than seventeen, staggers to the centre of the room and retches into a slop-can” – Narrator p.12

  4. “She is the last link between what I am leaving and the war”. – Narrator

Chapter 2 – Trenches
Major events and observations:

  • The shelling barrage

  • The lice and the constant itching

  • Brown finds the officers boots


  1. “My bowels liquefy” – Narrator – p. 266.

  2. “My nose is bleeding from the force of the detonations” – Narrator – p. 26

  3. “Fear has robbed us of the power to act” – p.26

  4. “I can find nothing to console me, nothing to appease my terror” – p.27-28

  5. “God, a man can’t even pump ship without being shot at” – Brown – p. 28

  6. “We do not know what day it is…it makes no difference…it is merely another day – a day on which one may die” – p.2

  7. “…When I sleep I scratch until I bleed and the pain wakes me up” – Narrator – p. 30

Chapter 3 – Out on Rest
Major events and observations:

  • The officers occupy a deserted chateau

  • Captain Clark makes life difficult for the soldiers

  • Brown gets in trouble for his tattered uniform when Clark places him on report for “silent insolence”

  • Brown later says “I wish that bloody bastard Clark was dead”

  • Brown tells the story of his wedding night in great detail – the soldiers know the story off by heart

  • The newspapers spread propaganda about the Germans but few believe it - the real enemy is the lice

  • Fry invents an ingenious method to kill the lice involving a hot iron

  • Brown receives two hours of pack drill

  1. “I’ll kill the bastard. I’m just waiting until we get into a real scrap. I’ll plug the son of a bitch between the shoulder blades” – Brown – p.35

  2. “I wish that bloody bastard Clark was dead” – Brown – p.36

  3. “It seems as though we are all married to her” – Narrator – p.37

  4. “Strangely, we never refer to the Germans as our enemy” – Narrator – p.39

  5. “Our persistent and ever present foe is the louse” – Narrator – p.40

  6. “We have been sleeping in our clothes now for months” – Narrator – p.40

  7. “They take everything from us: our lives, our blood, our hearts…our job is to give, and theirs is to take” – Fry – p.43

Character Profiles

  • A captain who makes life difficult for the common soldier

  • An British imperial/ patriot

  • Is tall and blond

  • “Takes an insufferable pride in his uniform” – p.34


  • Reported for “silent insolence” by Clark

  • 19-20 years of age

  • Only married man in the section

  • Tells the story of his wedding night complete with intimate details of his various sexual advances toward his wife, Martha

  • Receives 2 hours of pack drill as punishment for his tattered uniform

Chapter 4 – Back to the Round
Major events and observations:

  • Part of the trench has caved in due to mortar fire and the men are now exposed to enfilade fire

  • The death of Brown by a German sniper in nearby wood

  1. “A thousand trivial rules each with a penalty for an infraction has made will-less robots of us all” – Narrator – p.47

  1. “It would be better, it seems, to dash into No Mans Land and chance death, or down a communication trench to temporary safety – and a firing squad” - Narrator – p.47

  1. “On the parados to the rear of us a bit of slimy grey matter jiggles as it sticks to the hairy sacking of the sandbag” – Narrator – p.52

  1. “Its neck is twisted in such a manner that it seems to be asking a question” – Narrator – p.53

  1. “Anyway…he can’t eat anymore” – Broadbent – p.53

Chapter 5 – On Rest Again

  • We are not reading this chapter, BUT what are the most important part(s) of the chapter? Choose 2-3 quotes to demonstrate your understanding:

  1. “It is amazing to see that we have slim, hard, graceful bodies. Our faces are tanned and weather beaten and that aged look which the trench gives us still lingers a bit, but our bodies are the bodies of boys” – Narrator – pgs. 68-69

  1. “Who can describe the few moments of peace and sunshine in a soldiers life? The animal pleasure in feeling the sun on the naked body. The cool, caressing, lapping water. The feeling of security, of deep inward happiness...” – Narrator – p.69

  1. “Our day is spoiled by this lonely dead soldier, carried to us from front by the sparkling, sunlit water of the Somme” – Narrator – p.71

Chapter 6 – Bombardment
Major events and worthwhile observations

  • Fellow soldiers Cleary and Broadbent fight over food. Broadbent calls him a “rat” and the men later “gnaw” on their food.

  • The soldiers do not berate Anderson during the bombardment.

  • The narrator volunteers to go on a raid

  • The raid party are given shots of rum “the rum made me carefree and reckless” – p.85

  • The narrator comes face to face with a German soldier

  • His bayonet becomes jammed in between the soldiers ribs and he cannot remove the bayonet

  • He leaves the weapon behind embedded in the chest of the soldier and summons the courage to return and remove the bayonet by firing the weapon

  • He captures 2 German soldiers around the age of 17 and later learns that he had killed the brother of one of the captured soldiers

  • On returning they take cover in a communication trench. They converse and share cigarettes

  • On returning the narrator is treated as a hero by the officers and there is talk of him receiving a Military Medal

  • The death of Cleary

  1. “We know what soldiering means. It means saving your own skin and getting a bellyful as often as possible…that and nothing else” – Narrator – p.73

  1. “Comaraderie – esprit de corps – good fellowship – these are words for journalists to use, not for us” – Narrator – p.73

  1. “His helmet has fallen from his head. I see his boyish face. He looks like a Saxon: he is fair and under the light I see white down against green cheeks” – Narrator – p.91

  1. “…Something took us both, his brother and me…it armed us with deadly weapons and threw us against each other” – Narrator – p.95

  1. “”Du bist ein gutter Soldat”, he says, his eyes filling with tears. I pat his shoulder” – German soldier & Narrator – p.96

  1. “I ask that the prisoners be treated nicely” – Narrator – p.97

  1. “I do not think things now; I feel them. Who was Karl? Why did I have to kill him?” – Narrator – p.99

  1. “I begin to cry. Tears stream down my face” – Narrator – p.100

  1. “…a sergeant once told me that all a soldier needed was a strong back and a weak mind” – Narrator – p.103

German translated
Nicht schiessen bitte nicht schiessen = do not shoot please do not shoot
Mein bruder eine minute mein bruder = my brother a minute my brother
Ja ja das estsein bruder = yes yes that’s my brother
Schnell = quickly
Du bist ein guter soldat = you’re a good soldier
Ach es ist schrecklich schrecklich = oh it’s terrible terrible
Write a 300 word short essay that compares Chapter 6 to previous chapters (Chapters 1-5)
Chapter 6 sees the narrator for the first time come into close contact with the enemy. The narrator volunteers to go over the top under the cover of darkness on a dangerous mission whereby he must capture German prisoners and return them to Canadian trenches for interrogation. It is a stark contrast to preceding chapters with the narrator for the first time coming face to face with an enemy that he soon discovers is not unlike himself.
In the lead up to chapter 6, the enemy has manifested itself in a variety of unsuspecting forms and has even been somewhat invisible. For example the sniper is somewhere in the nearby wood looking through his telescopic lens. The soldiers can only imagine what they will do to the sniper if they happen upon him, “we will bayonet him like a…trench rat”. For the most part the real enemy is the lice, “we are going insane with scratching”. However, the urge to scratch is often replaced by the hunger for food and the careful division of precious rations, which can result in name calling and in-fighting caused by when one soldier suspects that he has not received his fair share. Also, information about the enemy has been more along the lines of misinformation in the form of propaganda published in newspapers depicting the German soldier as a ‘hun’, a derogatory term directed at the common German soldier. War has been limited to the occasional artillery bombardment but the protagonists of the novel have not yet gone over the top and charged into no mans land toward enemy trenches.
In chapter 6 for the first time in the novel 100 soldiers ‘go over the top’ on a raid, but only 40 return. We also learn that courage does not come naturally. Instead it is induced by “rum”. During the raid the narrator comes face to face with the enemy, “we are facing each other – four feet of space separates us”. He must kill or be killed. The prolonged nature of the close quarters kill is both agonizing for the narrator and the German soldier he eventually kills. The chapter puts a human face on the conflict whereby Germans are seen to be no different to the narrator. For example, the soldier that the narrator kills has a younger “bruder” who the narrator later takes prisoner. Bridging the communication gap, the narrator soon learns that his victim has a name, “Karl”. Filled with pity, the narrator later imagines their mother, “She must have written to the older one…to look after his young brother”. On returning to the Canadian trenches, the narrator and his prisoners take cover in a shell hole and while there share a cigarette. By the time they return to headquarters the narrator feels that he knows his two prisoners and is quite concerned about their welfare, “I asked that the prisoners be treated nicely”.
No matter how hard the generals and officers try, they cannot reprogram the common soldier into “will-less robots”. The narrator no longer “…think[s] things now; [he] feel[s] them”. The narrator displays pity and sadness for his fellow man, whether it is for a fallen comrade such as Cleary or for the bayoneted enemy in Karl.
Chapter 8 – London
Major events and worthwhile observations

  • The Narrator meets Gladys. She is a different type of courtesan who not only offers her body but cooks, cleans and escorts the Narrator around various parts of London

  • The Narrator is critical of the theater and the way in which the audience insensitively laughs at the act that is parodying war. His protestations are drowned out by the audiences laughter

  • The Narrator is having trouble readjusting to a life without war. This is evident when he jumps after a motorcycle backfires in the street

  • The Narrator welcomes the leave in London after serving “for two years on the line” – p.127

  • The Narrator informs Gladys that he is a “criminal…murder[er]”. Whilst she is initially shocked she relaxes once she learns that it is a German, “you silly boy. I thought you had really murdered someone” – p.132. Her reaction implies that it was okay to murder the German because that is his job and duty.

  • The Narrator goes to Westminster Abbey and meets a curate who talks about war being “noble”. The Narrator chooses not to tell him about the “snarling fighting among our own men over a crust of bread” – 134

  1. “I feel that people should not be sitting laughing at jokes about plumb and apple jam when boys are dying out in France. They sit here in stiff shirts, their faces and jowls are smooth with daily shaving and dainty cosmetics, their bellies are full, and out there we are being eaten by lice, we are sitting trembling in shivering dugouts…” – Narrator – p.126

  1. “I’m not like the other girls” - Gladys - p.127

  1. “How well this woman understands what a lonely soldier on leave requires” – Narrator – p.130

  1. “She is that delightful combination of wife, mother and courtesan” – Narrator – p.130

  1. “You silly boy. I thought you had really murdered someone” – Gladys – p.132

Gladys Character Profile

  • A courtesan who is motherly and “…not like the other girls”

  • She has had many soldier customers before the narrator, “I love all the boys”

  • She is the narrators companion for 2 weeks

  • She will not let the narrator talk about the war as she try’s to make him forget and relax, “You’re spoiling your leave. Cant you forget the front for a few days…” p.127

  • She calls the narrator “boy”, which implies that there is an age gap and that she will not call him by his Christian for fear of getting too attached

  • She becomes emotional when the narrator leaves

Chapter 9 – Over the top

  1. “You yellow-livered little bastard. Fall in” – p.140

  1. ““So long”, he says. “I won’t come out of this”” – p.14

  1. “”Yes, I’m going to get it this time…and I don’t care either. I’m fed up”” p.142

  1. “Legs and arms in gray rags lie here and there” – p.144

  1. “I step on something. It is soft. I look down. It is the ripped-open stomach of a German” – p.144

  1. “He is middle-aged man and has a grey walrus mustache – fatherly-looking” – p.145

  1. “Drei Kinder – three children” – p.145

  1. “Broadbent runs his bayonet into the kneeling one’s throat” – p.145

  1. “Up in the sky we see flashes of lightning, but we cannot hear the thunder for the roar of the artillery” – p.145

  1. “Their dead and wounded are piled up about four deep” – p.148

  1. “He runs a few paces on his gushing stumps and collapses” – p.155

Major events and observations

  • There are rumors of a “terrific offensive”

  • Renaud, an “undersized French Canadian recruit”, is abused by Clark.

  • “So long”, says Fry to the narrator, convinced that he is going to “get it this time”.

  • When they reach the “pulverized” German front lines there are “legs and arms in grey rags [that] lie here and there”.

  • The German sniper is vividly described to us by him praying for mercy, havign 3 children “Drei Kinder” and his Walrus Moustache. However, the death of Brown is still fresh in the men’s minds and Broadbent thrusts his bayonet into the throat of a German sniper

  • One of their attackers is carrying a new weapon, a flame-thrower. Renaud has been hit by the flammable flame and is consumed in fire. Broadbent puts Renaud out of his misery by shooting him in the head.

  • Low on ammunition and overwhelmed by the continuing advancing waves of Germans the Canadian soldiers decide to retreat.

  • Captain Clark arrives in the trench and attempts to prevent Fry from retreating. Broadbent distracts the captain and Fry seizes the opportunity to shoot and kill Clark.

  • During the retreat, a shell that detonated close by blows off Fry’s legs from the knee down. Fry grabs onto the narrators legs and pleads to be saved, but he shakes him off, determined to save himself. In the confusion of the retreat, Anderson also goes missing in action.

Structural observations

  • Harrison introduces new characters, allows the audience to sympathise and feel sorry for them before killing them off or dispatching them in a shocking fashion. Alternatively, Clark is still alive and the audiences hatred grows and we look forward to his demise.

  • Harrison continues to use short sentences to shock. They resemble bursts of machine gun fire.

  • The brevity and sparing way in which the deaths of both Clark and Fry are described. They are both sudden and shocking in detail.

  • The fact that the narrator can do nothing for Fry who has just had both his legs from the knee down blown off. Despite Fry’s pleas for help the narrator says nothing. Basically it’s every man for himself. Also, during the retreat Anderson has gone missing.

Weapons used

  • Heavy Artillery

  • Tanks

  • The Lewis Gun (machine gun)

  • Small arms such as rifles and pistols

  • Grenades

  • A flame thrower (“flamenwerfer”)

Chapter 11 – Arras

  1. “We defecate from between the bars at the side of the bouncing truck – a difficult and unpleasant task” p.167

  1. “Just think of all the people that’s getting a big hunk of swag out of it. Shoes, grub, uniforms, bully beef…” p.16

  1. “Discipline has disappeared” – p.176

  1. “Men lie drunk in the gutters. Others run down the street howling, blind drunk” – p.178

  1. “The police are our traditional enemies” p.180

  1. “…the officers are as drunk as we are…” p.181

  1. “…first we take one of their lousy trenches and then they take it back. It’s a bloody game of see-saw. They ought to call the goddamned thing a draw” – p.182

Chapter 12 – Vengeance
The major events and observations from Chapter 12:

  • The brigadier-general tells the soldiers the story of the Llandovey Castle, a hospital ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The U-boat then surfaced and machine-gunned 300 Canadian survivors who included nurses and the wounded, “the amputation cases went to the bottom instantly…they couldn’t swim, poor chaps”. The brigadier-general tells this story to motivate the Canadian battalion prior to the offensive so that they will “avenge the lives of [their] murdered comrades”.

  • The colonel speaks and discourages the soldiers from taking prisoners.

  • The conversation on the “best way of not taking prisoners”.

  • During the attack the Narrator sees soldiers, “hundreds of them. They are unarmed”, staggering toward him, their arms in the air, trying to surrender. Despite this, there is no mercy and the Germans are gunned down because the Canadians are “avenging the sinking of the hospital ship”.

  • The narrator is wounded, shot in the foot, “it is spurting with ruby fountain”. It is “A Blighty” wound and the because of this the Narrator’s war is over.

  • In a nearby shell hole the Narrator finds Broadbent – his leg has almost been amputated by an exploding shell. He dies shortly after from massive blood loss.

  • While waiting for hospital ship to arrive and take the Narrator home, he talks with an orderly who soon reveals that the story about the Llandover Castle was a lie and that when the ship was sunk “she was carryin’ supplies and war material…” and was in actual fact not a “hospital ship” that was carrying 300 wounded. The narrator realizes that the battalion was lied to by the brigadier general.


  1. “…The lifeboats were sprayed by machine-gun fire as the nurses appealed in vain to the laughing men on the U-boat” – Brigadier-General - p.19

  2. “We are to take no prisoners…it is an understood thing” p.19“Anyone that would do what those bastards did to the hospital ship ought to get a bayonet. It’d give me plenty of pleasure of satisfaction…” p.194

  1. “At Ypres in 1915 I saw one of our officers crucified to a barn door”. P.194

  1. “Doubtless they are asking for mercy. We do not heed…we continue to fire” p.197“They’re mostly youngsters” p.197

  1. Bitte-bitte (please – please)” p.197

  1. “Wounded, I say to myself again and again…I am glad” pgs. 201-202

  1. “Broadbent dies like a little boy…weeping, calling for his mother” p.204

  1. “She [the Llandovery Castle] was carryin’ supplies and war material” p.207

Practice Introduction based on the following hypothetical question:
Who is the real enemy in ‘Generals Die in Bed’? Discuss.
In Charles Yale Harrison’s World War 1 war novel, ‘Generals Die in Bed’ the enemy manifests itself in many different forms. Initially the Canadian soldiers adopt the popular belief that the enemy is Germany and its allies. Newspapers fuel and distort the truth through propaganda that labels the German as a ‘Hun’. For the first half of the novel the enemy is the lice and the incessant scratching, along with the constant craving of food that causes the soldiers to turn upon themselves as they argue over the division of bread. When the enemy does attack it is in the form of an artillery bombardment or an unseen sniper perched somewhere nearby, but for the most part the enemy is invisible and the soldiers can only speculate. It is not until Chapter 6 that the narrator comes face to face with his foe and ultimately is able to gain a newfound understanding that humanizes his enemy. Yet their greatest enemies are the Generals who sit comfortably behind the front lines making ill informed decisions, which result in a loss of life, the likes that humanity has never seen before.
Further practice essay questions:

  1. The soldier’s experience in war convinces him that the only enemies are the generals. Discuss.

  1. In Generals Die in Bed the destructiveness of war overwhelms all who experience it. Do you agree?

  1. Generals Die in Bed shows men struggling to remain human under the most degrading of conditions. Discuss.

  1. Generals Die in Bed shows how war alienates soldiers from each other and the civilian population. Discuss.

  1. A London vicar claims that the war ‘has brought out the most heroic qualities in the common people’. Did it?

  1. Generals Die in Bed shows there are no evil people, just evil actions. Discuss.

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