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The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: Maintaining the machinery of sport

24 August 2014

8:00 AM

24 August 2014

8:00 AM

The Spectator, 22 August 1914:

WHEN so great a business as war comes upon England, the sports and games of the country fall into their proper places. Cricket has been packed into an obscure corner of the daily newspaper. Golf clubs have expended their activities largely in trenching vacant ground, and in forwarding subscription lists to the Prince of Wales’s Fund. The Scottish Football Union, sending its contribution to the Fund, exhorts its members to prove what they may owe to the discipline and self-control given by the game. But these games—just because they are merely games—are less seriously affected than other country activities. The sports of hunting and shooting are hit by war in a different way, and in turn react upon other activities in other directions to an extent and with ramifications almost impossible to calculate. It does not take many days of war to show that what is sport regarded from one standpoint is the most serious business of life looked at from another.

Hunting during the coming season cannot go on as usual. Every hunt has lost large numbers of horses, and those which have been taken have been naturally and rightly those which were in the best condition. Many riders to bounds are with the forces at the front. Many establishments may not be able to afford, or at any rate ought not to afford, what they spent in other years. The money saved by not hunting should of course go, not to some other form of luxury, but to patriotic purposes, to the Red Cross and to the relief of distress. But though we say this, we do not want to see hunting killed, but only suspended. Let there be just enough done to keep it alive for better times, but no more. There must be moderation here as in all things. Apart altogether from its use as a recreation, we do not forget that bunting pays wages and makes trade, and if it ceased suddenly it would not only mean that so many thousand grooms and horsemen would be thrown out of work, but that saddlers, tailors, builders, seedsmen, farmers, innkeepers, and scores of others would find their accounts in ruins. Admitting, however, the place of hunting in the national economy, what, it may be asked, will bunting do to face an immediate problem, which is that of the poultry-keeper? How are foxes to be killed ? The answer of some of the poultry-breeders seems to be that they should be shot or trapped, otherwise the country will be overrun with them. But this is a delusion. Foxes do not breed like rabbits, and even if no cube were killed there would be no more foxes in the country in December than there are to-day. And as a fact there is no reason to suppose that the hunts will not be able to kill as many cubs as in an ordinary season. Cubbing will begin as usual, if without the interest of other seasons; and for the rest of the year it may be found possible to keep things going by hunting, say, one day in the week.

The question of shooting raises some rather different issues. One of them is that of the food-supply. We have alive in the country at the moment, more or less capable of being quickly put on the market as food, a vast number of grouse, partridges, pheasants, hares, rabbits, and deer. We have a multitude of men employed on estates where these birds and beasts are shot, and there are many trades and industries intimately connected with the sport of shooting. How are these trades and industries to be kept active, and how is the game to be utilized best as a supply of food?  To begin with, we have to reckon with the fact that many owners and tenants of shootings, probably the majority, do not wish to shoot. They are at the war, or they have sons and brothers and friends at the war, and they are in no mood for merely enjoying themselves. Yet it is to their interest and to that of other people that their game should be shot or otherwise brought to the market as usual. Grouse moors need to have their stock of grouse kept at a proper level, otherwise disease appears, the moor cannot be let, or not at its usual rental, and unemployment follows in various directions. Pheasants, again, cannot economically be kept in large numbers for an indefinite length of time, and hares and rabbits must, of course, be kept down in the interests of good farming. The grouse moor, it must be admitted, presents some difficulties, but, with good keepers and shoots arranged between neighbours, it should be possible in most cases, particularly in a good heather year such as the present, to ensure that the stock left should not be too heavy for the moor to carry. Grouse, too, may help to solve the problem themselves, for last year’s disease emptied some of the moors of practically the whole of their stock, and grouse seem to possess the faculty of what has been called “automatic redistribution,” filling up the gaps and inequalities left by a bad season. Pheasants are in a different category, and in regard to pheasants the case may as well be put plainly. In such a year as this they should be regarded as poultry. It would be absurd to kill them off now, as some people have proposed, thinking presumably of the expenses of the food bills. The right thing to do is to wait till they are full-grown and will give the best results at table, and then to kill them for the hospitals and for the market as they are needed. Their owner may like to shoot them, and so to keep up the ordinary expenditure in the neighbourhood, among keepers, beaters, carriers, innkeepers, and so on; or he may prefer to have them caught and to wring their necks like so many barndoor fowls. He will do what is best according to his lights. He may decide, as the Dukes of Devonshire and Portland and Lord Sefton have suggested in a letter to the Press, to give the proceeds of selling his game to the Prince of Wales’s or some other charitable fund. If the widows and orphans of our soldiers and sailors, and those thrown out of employment by the war, benefit in this way, so much the better for the country, and so much the better for the sport of shooting. In the same way with the forests and deer-stalking; there are many thousand pounds’ worth of venison in Scotland, and many thousands of stags and hinds have to be killed between now and the end of January. If the owners of forests choose to put this supply of food to the credit account of the country, that will be another asset of very considerable value.

If the object to be aimed at can be summed up briefly, it would be the maintenance of the machinery of sports of these kinds with as little disturbance as possible, providing always that the product of the machinery should whenever and wherever possible be applied to the benefit of those who need it most. The dislocation of even the smallest part of a machine may throw the whole out of gear, and the discharging of a gillie or a groom, the taking or non-taking of a railway ticket, the purchase of a gun or a box of cartridges, have each of them its own consequences and reactions in the lives of those who may seem to have little to do with any sport at all. It is by doing the ordinary things so far as possible in the ordinary way, in the world of sport as in other worlds, that the life of the country as a whole is kept in its safest channels. There are no heroic remedies, even for owners of grouse moors. They may be counselled to shoot their grouse and distribute them to the poor; and then may be reminded by the voice of common-sense that the poor do not want to have to pluck grouse, have no facilities for cooking grouse, and do not like grouse when they are cooked. If they want to do the best with their grouse, they may let the market do it for them, and so supply money to funds which will get better worth for it than they can themselves. We cannot make new laws of supply and demand, either in the pheasant covert or the game salesman’s shop. What we can do is to see that there is no waste, and if there is no waste, hunting and shooting, in the months that are to come, will be found to have made their own contribution to the needs of a country at war.

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