In 1917 (2019), Schofield and Tom Blake, are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie:

General Erinmore: You should meet no resistance.
Schofield: Sir, is... is it just us?
General Erinmore: "Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone." Wouldn't you say, Lieutenant?
Lieutenant: Yes, sir, I would.

This is a quote from Rudyard Kipling. But why is General Erinmore using that here?

  • 3
    I really don't see why this is attracting downvotes. If you're not familiar with that culture in that time, you would have no idea 'why', yet there's a perfectly valid cultural reason, which aids understanding of the plot & is not trivia.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 17:43

4 Answers 4


Sure, he's saying that one [or two] can travel faster than a squad.

But why quote Kipling?

It's in character for a military officer of the time. Classical education.
This type of quote, off the cuff being able to fit a literary quote to a given situation is a kind of 'verbal armoury' of sorts. This type of education and upbringing would arm such a person with a lot of similar quotes, one for each situation. Some people in this day and age can do the same with pre-learned jokes, to be fired off without needing to come up with an original witticism.

I recall a similar one - though I cannot recall the source - from a naval story. In the British navy a seaman must ask a senior officer's permission to grow a beard. He then has two weeks trial period before showing the result to the officer to obtain the necessary permission to continue.

The officer writes just "Matthew 26:41" on a slip of paper & hands it back to the seaman.
On checking his bible* he discovers the passage - "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

*One must assume everyone in those days would have a bible and be aware that's what the reference indicated.


Kipling was the second most popular author in England at the time; Dickens being the first. Almost every household in England had at least one book of Kipling on their shelves. He was taught in the high schools of America also, at least until the 50s.

My father would quote Kipling to us, and we were and are Americans.

  • You might also want to note that Kipling is eminently quotable. He tended to write pithy sentences with direct meaning.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:46

Because it fits the situation. Two people can travel faster than a pack of people, who must wait for all in their pack to reach specific safe points. While more people would be advantageous if they encounter enemies, Schofield and Blake are attempting to go undetected to deliver a message, and so are less apt to be detected due to noise or sight lines than a larger group.


According to the instructions received, the two soldiers must have seen clearly, that they are going as a pair. They wanted to know, if there are another teams, that could be successful, if they fail.
Risking 1600 lives, there certainly wouldn't be wise to depend on only one way to deliver the orders, but from many reasons General couldn't reveal it.
In order to avoid outright lie, he quoted fresh Nobel Prize Laureate with meaning something like:
You are going to Hell or to Heaven and you are alone in this quest.

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