Part 1 out of 5
THE FIRST HUNDRED THOUSAND
Being the Unofficial Chronicle of a Unit of "K(1)"
[Illustration: CAPTAIN IAN HAY BEITH]
By Ian Hay
PIP: A ROMANCE OF YOUTH.
THE FIRST HUNDRED THOUSAND.
SCALLY: THE STORY OF A PERFECT GENTLEMAN. With Frontispiece.
A KNIGHT ON WHEELS.
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. Illustrated by Charles E. Brock.
A SAFETY MATCH. With frontispiece.
A MAN'S MAN. With frontispiece.
THE RIGHT STUFF. With frontispiece.
TO MY WIFE
The "Junior Sub," who writes the following account of the experiences
of some of the first hundred thousand of Kitchener's army, is, as the
title-page of the volume now reveals, Ian Hay Beith, author of those
deservedly popular novels, _The Right Stuff, A Man's Man, A Safety
Match_, and _Happy-Go-Lucky_.
Captain Beith, who was born in 1876 and therefore narrowly came within
the age limit for military service, enlisted at the first outbreak of
hostilities in the summer of 1914, and was made a sub-lieutenant in
the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. After training throughout the
fall and winter at Aldershot, he accompanied his regiment to the front
in April, and, as his narrative discloses, immediately saw some
very active service and rapidly rose to the rank of captain. In the
offensive of September, Captain Beith's division was badly cut up and
seriously reduced in numbers. He has lately been transferred to
a machine-gun division, and "for some mysterious reason"--as he
characteristically puts it in a letter to his publishers,--has been
recommended for the military cross.
The story of _The First Hundred Thousand_ was originally contributed
in the form of an anonymous narrative to _Blackwood's Magazine_.
Writing to his publishers, last May, Captain Beith describes the
circumstances under which it was written:--
"I write this from the stone floor of an outhouse, where the pig meal
is first accumulated and then boiled up at a particularly smelly
French farm, which is saying a good deal. It is a most interesting
life, and if I come through the present unpleasantness I shall
have enough copy to last me twenty years. Meanwhile, I am using
_Blackwood's Magazine_ as a safety-valve under a pseudonym."
It is these "safety-valve" papers that are here offered to the
American public in their completeness,--a picture of the great
struggle uniquely rich in graphic human detail.
4 PARK STREET
I. AB OVO
II. THE DAILY GRIND
III. GROWING PAINS
IV. THE CONVERSION OF PRIVATE M'SLATTERY
VI. THE LAWS OF THE MEDES AND PERSIANS
VII. SHOOTING STRAIGHT
X. DEEDS OF DARKNESS
XII. ... AND SOME FELL BY THE WAYSIDE
XIII. CONCERT PITCH
XIV. THE BACK OF THE FRONT
XV. IN THE TRENCHES--AN OFF-DAY
XVI. "DIRTY WORK AT THE CROSS-ROADS TO-NIGHT"
XVII. THE NEW WARFARE
XVIII. THE FRONT OF THE FRONT
XIX. THE TRIVIAL ROUND
XX. THE GATHERING OF THE EAGLES
XXI. THE BATTLE OF THE SLAG-HEAPS
_We do not deem ourselves A 1,
We have no past: we cut no dash:
Nor hope, when launched against the Hun,
To raise a more than moderate splash.
But yesterday, we said farewell
To plough; to pit; to dock; to mill.
For glory_? Drop it! _Why? Oh, well--
To have a slap at Kaiser Bill.
And now to-day has come along.
With rifle, haversack, and pack,
We're off, a hundred thousand strong.
And--some of us will not come back.
But all we ask, if that befall,
Is this. Within your hearts be writ
This single-line memorial_:--
He did his duty--and his bit!
The reader is hereby cautioned against regarding this narrative as an
official history of the Great War.
The following pages are merely a record of some of the personal
adventures of a typical regiment of Kitchener's Army.
The chapters were written from day to day, and published from month to
month. Consequently, prophecy is occasionally falsified, and opinions
moderated, in subsequent pages.
The characters are entirely fictitious, but the incidents described
all actually occurred.
The First Hundred Thousand
"Squoad--'_Shun!_ Move to the right in fours. Forrm--_fourrrs!_"
The audience addressed looks up with languid curiosity, but makes no
attempt to comply with the speaker's request.
"Come away now, come away!" urges the instructor, mopping his brow.
"Mind me: on the command 'form fours,' odd numbers will stand fast;
even numbers tak' a shairp pace to the rear and anither to the right.
The squad stands fast, to a man. Apparently--nay, verily--they are all
The instructor addresses a gentleman in a decayed Homburg hat, who is
chewing tobacco in the front rank.
"Yous, what's your number?"
The ruminant ponders.
"Seeven fower ought seeven seeven," he announces, after a prolonged
The instructor raises clenched hands to heaven.
"Man, I'm no askin' you your regimental number! Never heed that. It's
your number in the squad I'm seeking. You numbered off frae the right
five minutes syne."
Ultimately it transpires that the culprit's number is ten. He is
pushed into his place, in company with the other even numbers, and the
squad finds itself approximately in fours.
"Forrm--two _deep!_" barks the instructor.
The fours disentangle themselves reluctantly, Number Ten being the
last to forsake his post.
"Now we'll dae it jist yince more, and have it right," announces the
instructor, with quite unjustifiable optimism. "Forrm--_fourrs!_"
This time the result is better, but there is confusion on the left
"Yon man, oot there on the left," shouts the instructor, "what's your
Private Mucklewame, whose mind is slow but tenacious, answers--not
without pride at knowing--
(Thank goodness, he reflects, odd numbers stand fast upon all
"Weel, mind this," says the sergeant--"Left files is always even
numbers, even though they are odd numbers."
This revelation naturally clouds Private Mucklewame's intellect for
the afternoon; and he wonders dimly, not for the first time, why he
ever abandoned his well-paid and well-fed job as a butcher's assistant
in distant Wishaw ten long days ago.
And so the drill goes on. All over the drab, dusty, gritty
parade-ground, under the warm September sun, similar squads are being
pounded into shape. They have no uniforms yet: even their instructors
wear bowler hats or cloth caps. Some of the faces under the brims of
these hats are not too prosperous. The junior officers are drilling
squads too. They are a little shaky in what an actor would call their
"patter," and they are inclined to lay stress on the wrong syllables;
but they move their squads about somehow. Their seniors are dotted
about the square, vigilant and helpful--here prompting a rusty
sergeant instructor, there unravelling a squad which, in a spirited
but misguided endeavour to obey an impossible order from Second
Lieutenant Bobby Little, has wound itself up into a formation closely
resembling the third figure of the Lancers.
Over there, by the officers' mess, stands the Colonel. He is in
uniform, with a streak of parti-coloured ribbon running across
above his left-hand breast-pocket. He is pleased to call himself a
"dug-out." A fortnight ago he was fishing in the Garry, his fighting
days avowedly behind him, and only the Special Reserve between him and
_embonpoint_. Now he finds himself pitchforked back into the Active
List, at the head of a battalion eleven hundred strong.
He surveys the scene. Well, his officers are all right. The Second
in Command has seen almost as much service as himself. Of the four
company commanders, two have been commandeered while home on leave
from India, and the other two have practised the art of war in company
with brother Boer. Of the rest, there are three subalterns from the
Second Battalion--left behind, to their unspeakable woe--and four from
the O.T.C. The juniors are very junior, but keen as mustard.
But the men! Is it possible? Can that awkward, shy, self-conscious
mob, with scarcely an old soldier in their ranks, be pounded, within
the space of a few months, into the Seventh (Service) Battalion of the
Bruce and Wallace Highlanders--one of the most famous regiments in the
The Colonel's boyish figure stiffens.
"They're a rough crowd," he murmurs, "and a tough crowd: but they're
a stout crowd. By gad! we'll make them a credit to the Old Regiment
THE DAILY GRIND
We have been in existence for more than three weeks now, and
occasionally we are conscious of a throb of real life. Squad drill is
almost a thing of the past, and we work by platoons of over fifty men.
To-day our platoon once marched, in perfect step, for seven
complete and giddy paces, before disintegrating into its usual
formation--namely, an advance in irregular _echelon_, by individuals.
Four platoons form a company, and each platoon is (or should be) led
by a subaltern, acting under his company commander. But we are very
short of subalterns at present. (We are equally short of N.C.O.'s;
but then you can always take a man out of the ranks and christen him
sergeant, whereas there is no available source of Second Lieutenants
save capricious Whitehall.) Consequently, three platoons out of four
in our company are at present commanded by N.C.O.'s, two of whom
appear to have retired from active service about the time that bows
and arrows began to yield place to the arquebus, while the third has
been picked out of the ranks simply because he possesses a loud voice
and a cake of soap. None of them has yet mastered the new drill--it
was all changed at the beginning of this year--and the majority of the
officers are in no position to correct their anachronisms.
Still, we are getting on. Number Three Platoon (which boasts a
subaltern) has just marched right round the barrack square, without--
(1) Marching through another platoon.
(2) Losing any part or parts of itself.
(3) Adopting a formation which brings it face to face with a blank
wall, or piles it up in a tidal wave upon the verandah, of the married
They could not have done that a week ago.
But stay, what is this disturbance on the extreme left? The command
"Right form" has been given, but six files on the outside flank have
ignored the suggestion, and are now advancing (in skirmishing order)
straight for the ashbin outside the cookhouse door, looking piteously
round over their shoulders for some responsible person to give them
an order which will turn them about and bring them back to the fold.
Finally they are rounded up by the platoon sergeant, and restored to
"What went wrong, Sergeant?" inquires Second Lieutenant Bobby Little.
He is a fresh-faced youth, with an engaging smile. Three months ago he
was keeping wicket for his school eleven.
The sergeant comes briskly to attention.
"The order was not distinctly heard by the men, sir," he explains,
"owing to the corporal that passed it on wanting a tooth. Corporal
Blain, three paces forward--march!"
Corporal Blain steps forward, and after remembering to slap the small
of his butt with his right hand, takes up his parable--
"I was sittin' doon tae ma dinner on Sabbath, sir, when my front teeth
met upon a small piece bone that was stickit' in--"
Further details of this gastronomic tragedy are cut short by the blast
of a whistle. The Colonel, at the other side of the square, has given
the signal for the end of parade. Simultaneously a bugle rings out
cheerfully from the direction of the orderly-room. Breakfast, blessed
breakfast, is in sight. It is nearly eight, and we have been as busy
as bees since six.
At a quarter to nine the battalion parades for a route-march. This,
strange as it may appear, is a comparative rest. Once you have got
your company safely decanted from column of platoons into column of
route, your labours are at an end. All you have to do is to march; and
that is no great hardship when you are as hard as nails, as we are
fast becoming. On the march the mental gymnastics involved by the
formation of an advanced guard or the disposition of a piquet line
are removed to a safe distance. There is no need to wonder guiltily
whether you have sent out a connecting-file between the vanguard and
the main-guard, or if you remembered to instruct your sentry groups as
to the position of the enemy and the extent of their own front.
Second Lieutenant Little heaves a contented sigh, and steps out
manfully along the dusty road. Behind him tramp his men. We have no
pipers as yet, but melody is supplied by "Tipperary," sung in ragged
chorus, varied by martial interludes upon the mouth-organ. Despise not
the mouth-organ. Ours has been a constant boon. It has kept sixty men
in step for miles on end.
Fortunately the weather is glorious. Day after day, after a sharp and
frosty dawn, the sun swings up into a cloudless sky; and the hundred
thousand troops that swarm like ants upon, the undulating plains of
Hampshire can march, sit, lie, or sleep on hard, sun-baked earth. A
wet autumn would have thrown our training back months. The men, as
yet, possess nothing but the fatigue uniforms they stand up in, so it
is imperative to keep them dry.
Tramp, tramp, tramp. "Tipperary" has died away. The owner of the
mouth-organ is temporarily deflated. Here is an opportunity for
individual enterprise. It is soon seized. A husky soloist breaks
into one of the deathless ditties of the new Scottish Laureate; his
comrades take up the air with ready response; and presently we are all
swinging along to the strains of "I Love a Lassie,"--"Roaming in
the Gloaming" and "It's Just Like Being at Hame" being rendered as
Then presently come snatches of a humorously amorous nature--"Hallo,
Hallo, Who's Your Lady Friend?"; "You're my Baby"; and the
ungrammatical "Who Were You With Last Night?" Another great favourite
is an involved composition which always appears to begin in the
middle. It deals severely with the precocity of a youthful lover who
has been detected wooing his lady in the Park. Each verse ends, with
"Hold your haand _oot_, you naughty boy!"
Tramp, tramp, tramp. Now we are passing through a village. The
inhabitants line the pavement and smile cheerfully upon us--they are
always kindly disposed toward "Scotchies"--but the united gaze of the
rank and file wanders instinctively from the pavement towards upper
windows and kitchen entrances, where the domestic staff may be
discerned, bunched together and giggling. Now we are out on the
road again, silent and dusty. Suddenly, far in the rear, a voice of
singular sweetness strikes up "The Banks of Loch Lomond." Man after
man joins in, until the swelling chorus runs from end to end of the
long column. Half the battalion hail from the Loch Lomond district,
and of the rest there is hardly a man who has not indulged, during
some Trades' Holiday or other, in "a pleesure trup" upon its historic
but inexpensive waters.
"You'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low
On we swing, full-throated. An English battalion, halted at a
cross-road to let us go by, gazes curiously upon us. "Tipperary" they
know, Harry Lauder they have heard of; but this song has no meaning
for them. It is ours, ours, ours. So we march on. The feet of Bobby
Little, as he tramps at the head of his platoon, hardly touch the
ground. His head is in the air. One day, he feels instinctively, he
will hear that song again, amid sterner surroundings. When that day
comes, the song, please God, for all its sorrowful wording, will
reflect no sorrow from the hearts of those who sing it--only courage,
and the joy of battle, and the knowledge of victory.
"--And I'll be in Scotland before ye.
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonny, bonny _baanks_--"
A shrill whistle sounds far ahead. It means "March at Attention."
"Loch Lomond" dies away with uncanny suddenness--discipline is waxing
stronger every day--and tunics are buttoned and rifles unslung. Three
minutes later we swing demurely on to the barrack-square, across
which a pleasant aroma of stewed onions is wafting, and deploy with
creditable precision into the formation known as "mass." Then comes
much dressing of ranks and adjusting of distances. The Colonel is very
particular about a clean finish to any piece of work.
Presently the four companies are aligned: the N.C.O.'s retire to the
supernumerary ranks. The battalion stands rigid, facing a motionless
figure upon horseback. The figure stirs.
"Fall out, the officers!"
They come trooping, stand fast, and salute--very smartly. We must set
an example to the men. Besides, we are hungry too.
"Battalion, slope _arms!_ Dis-_miss!_"
Every man, with one or two incurable exceptions, turns sharply to his
right and cheerfully smacks the butt of his rifle with his disengaged
hand. The Colonel gravely returns the salute; and we stream away, all
the thousand of us, in the direction of the savoury smell. Two o'clock
will come round all too soon, and with it company drill and tiresome
musketry exercises; but by that time we shall have _dined_, and Fate
cannot touch us for another twenty-four hours.
We have our little worries, of course.
Last week we were all vaccinated, and we did not like it. Most of
us have "taken" very severely, which is a sign that we badly needed
vaccinating, but makes the discomfort no easier to endure. It is
no joke handling a rifle when your left arm is swelled to the full
compass of your sleeve; and the personal contact of your neighbour in
the ranks is sheer agony. However, officers are considerate, and the
work is made as light as possible. The faint-hearted report themselves
sick; but the Medical Officer, an unsentimental man of coarse mental
fibre, who was on a panel before he heard his country calling, merely
recommends them to get well as soon as possible, as they are going to
be inoculated for enteric next week. So we grouse--and bear it.
There are other rifts within the military lute. At home we are persons
of some consequence, with very definite notions about the dignity of
labour. We have employers who tremble at our frown; we have Trades
Union officials who are at constant pains to impress upon us our own
omnipotence in the industrial world in which we live. We have at our
beck and call a Radical M.P. who, in return for our vote and suffrage,
informs us that we are the backbone of the nation, and that we must
on no account permit ourselves to be trampled upon by the effete
and tyrannical upper classes. Finally, we are Scotsmen, with all a
Scotsman's curious reserve and contempt for social airs and graces.
But in the Army we appear to be nobody. We are expected to stand
stiffly at attention when addressed by an officer; even to call him
"sir"--an honour to which our previous employer has been a stranger.
At home, if we happened to meet the head of the firm in the street,
and none of our colleagues was looking, we touched a cap, furtively.
Now, we have no option in the matter. We are expected to degrade
ourselves by meaningless and humiliating gestures. The N.C.O.'s are
almost as bad. If you answer a sergeant as you would a foreman, you
are impertinent; if you argue with him, as all good Scotsmen must, you
are insubordinate; if you endeavour to drive a collective bargain with
him, you are mutinous; and you are reminded that upon active service
mutiny is punishable by death. It is all very unusual and upsetting.
You may not spit; neither may you smoke a cigarette in the ranks, nor
keep the residue thereof behind your ear. You may not take beer to
bed with you. You may not postpone your shave till Saturday: you must
shave every day. You must keep your buttons, accoutrements, and rifle
speckless, and have your hair cut in a style which is not becoming to
your particular type of beauty. Even your feet are not your own. Every
Sunday morning a young officer, whose leave has been specially stopped
for the purpose, comes round the barrack-rooms after church and
inspects your extremities, revelling in blackened nails and gloating
over hammer-toes. For all practical purposes, decides Private
Mucklewame, you might as well be in Siberia.
Still, one can get used to anything. Our lot is mitigated, too, by the
knowledge that we are all in the same boat. The most olympian N.C.O.
stands like a ramrod when addressing an officer, while lieutenants
make obeisance to a company commander as humbly as any private. Even
the Colonel was seen one day to salute an old gentleman who rode on to
the parade-ground during morning drill, wearing a red band round his
hat. Noting this, we realise that the Army is not, after all, as we
first suspected, divided into two classes--oppressors and oppressed.
We all have to "go through it."
Presently fresh air, hard training, and clean living begin to
weave their spell. Incredulous at first, we find ourselves slowly
recognising the fact that it is possible to treat an officer
deferentially, or carry out an order smartly, without losing one's
self-respect as a man and a Trades Unionist. The insidious habit of
cleanliness, once acquired, takes despotic possession of its victims:
we find ourselves looking askance at room-mates who have not yet
yielded to such predilections. The swimming-bath, where once we
flapped unwillingly and ingloriously at the shallow end, becomes quite
a desirable resort, and we look forward to our weekly visit with
something approaching eagerness. We begin, too, to take our profession
seriously. Formerly we regarded outpost exercises, advanced guards,
and the like, as a rather fatuous form of play-acting, designed to
amuse those officers who carry maps and notebooks. Now we begin to
consider these diversions on their merits, and seriously criticise
Second Lieutenant Little for having last night posted one of his
sentry groups upon the skyline. Thus is the soul of a soldier born.
We are getting less individualistic, too. We are beginning to think
more of our regiment and less of ourselves. At first this loyalty
takes the form of criticising other regiments, because their marching
is slovenly, or their accoutrements dirty, or--most significant sign
of all--their discipline is bad. We are especially critical of our own
Eighth Battalion, which is fully three weeks younger than we are, and
is not in the First Hundred Thousand at all. In their presence we are
war-worn veterans. We express it as our opinion that the officers of
some of these battalions must be a poor lot. From this it suddenly
comes home to us that our officers are a good lot, and we find
ourselves taking a queer pride in our company commander's homely
strictures and severe sentences the morning after pay-night. Here is
another step in the quickening life of the regiment. _Esprit de
corps_ is raising its head, class prejudice and dour "independence"
Again, a timely hint dropped by the Colonel on battalion parade this
morning has set us thinking. We begin to wonder how we shall compare
with the first-line regiments when we find ourselves "oot there."
Silently we resolve that when we, the first of the Service Battalions,
take our place in trench or firing line alongside the Old Regiment, no
one shall be found to draw unfavourable comparisons between parent and
offspring. We intend to show ourselves chips of the old block. No
one who knows the Old Regiment can ask more of a young battalion than
THE CONVERSION OF PRIVATE M'SLATTERY
One evening a rumour ran round the barracks. Most barrack rumours die
a natural death, but this one was confirmed by the fact that next
morning the whole battalion, instead of performing the usual platoon
exercises, was told off for instruction in the art of presenting arms.
"A" Company discussed the portent at breakfast.
"What kin' o' a thing is a Review?" inquired Private M'Slattery.
Private Mucklewame explained. Private M'Slattery was not impressed,
and said so quite frankly. In the lower walks of the industrial world
Royalty is too often a mere name. Personal enthusiasm for a Sovereign
whom they have never seen, and who in their minds is inextricably
mixed up with the House of Lords, and capitalism, and the police, is
impossible to individuals of the stamp of Private M'Slattery. To such,
Royalty is simply the head and corner-stone of a legal system which
officiously prevents a man from being drunk and disorderly, and the
British Empire an expensive luxury for which the working man pays
while the idle rich draw the profits.
If M'Slattery's opinion of the Civil Code was low, his opinion of
Military Law was at zero. In his previous existence in his native
Clydebank, when weary of rivet-heating and desirous of change and
rest, he had been accustomed to take a day off and become pleasantly
intoxicated, being comfortably able to afford the loss of pay involved
by his absence. On these occasions he was accustomed to sleep off his
potations in some public place--usually upon the pavement outside
his last house of call--and it was his boast that so long as nobody
interfered with him he interfered with nobody. To this attitude the
tolerant police force of Clydebank assented, having their hands full
enough, as a rule, in dealing with more militant forms of alcoholism.
But Private M'Slattery, No. 3891, soon realised that he and Mr.
Matthew M'Slattery, rivet-heater and respected citizen of Clydebank,
had nothing in common. Only last week, feeling pleasantly fatigued
after five days of arduous military training, he had followed the
invariable practice of his civil life, and taken a day off. The result
had fairly staggered him. In the orderly-room upon Monday morning he
was charged with--
(1) Being absent from Parade at 9 A.M. on Saturday.
(2) Being absent from Parade at 2 P.M. on Saturday.
(3) Being absent from Tattoo at 9.30 P.M. on Saturday.
(4) Being drunk in High Street about 9.40 P.M. on Saturday.
(5) Striking a Non-Commissioned Officer.
(6) Attempting to escape from his escort.
(7) Destroying Government property. (Three panes of glass in the
Private M'Slattery, asked for an explanation, had pointed out that if
he had been treated as per his working arrangement with the police at
Clydebank, there would have been no trouble whatever. As for his day
off, he was willing to forgo his day's pay and call the thing square.
However, a hidebound C.O. had fined him five shillings and sentenced
him to seven days' C.B. Consequently he was in no mood for Royal
Reviews. He stated his opinions upon the subject in a loud voice
and at some length. No one contradicted him, for he possessed
the straightest left in the company; and no dog barked even when
M'Slattery said that black was white.
"I wunner ye jined the Airmy at all, M'Slattery," observed one bold
spirit, when the orator paused for breath.
"I wunner myself," said M'Slattery simply. "If I had kent all aboot
this 'attention,' and 'stan'-at-ease,' and needin' tae luft your hand
tae your bunnet whenever you saw yin o' they gentry-pups of officers
goin' by,--dagont if I'd hae done it, Germans or no! (But I had a dram
in me at the time.) I'm weel kent in Clydebank, and they'll tell you
there that I'm no the man to be wastin' my time presenting airms tae
kings or any other bodies."
However, at the appointed hour M'Slattery, in the front rank of A
Company, stood to attention because he had to, and presented arms very
creditably. He now cherished a fresh grievance, for he objected upon
principle to have to present arms to a motor-car standing two hundred
yards away upon his right front.
"Wull we be gettin' hame to our dinners now?" he inquired gruffly of
"Maybe he'll tak' a closer look at us," suggested an optimist in the
rear rank. "He micht walk doon the line."
"Walk? No him!" replied Private M'Slattery. "He'll be awa' hame in the
motor. Hae ony o' you billies gotten a fag?"
There was a smothered laugh. The officers of the battalion were
standing rigidly at attention in front of A Company. One of these
turned his head sharply.
"No talking in the ranks there!" he said. "Sergeant, take that man's
Private M'Slattery, rumbling mutiny, subsided, and devoted his
attention to the movements of the Royal motor-car.
Then the miracle happened.
The great car rolled smoothly from the saluting-base, over the
undulating turf, and came to a standstill on the extreme right of the
line, half a mile away. There descended a slight figure in khaki. It
was the King--the King whom Private M'Slattery had never seen. Another
figure followed, and another.
"Herself iss there too!" whinnied an excited Highlander on
M'Slattery's right. "And the young leddy! Pless me, they are all for
walking town the line on their feet. And the sun so hot in the sky! We
shall see them close!"
Private M'Slattery gave a contemptuous sniff.
The excited battalion was called to a sense of duty by the voice of
authority. Once more the long lines stood stiff and rigid--waiting,
waiting, for their brief glimpse. It was a long time coming, for they
were posted on the extreme left.
Suddenly a strangled voice was uplifted--"In God's name, what for can
they no come tae _us_? Never heed the others!"
Yet Private M'Slattery was quite unaware that he had spoken.
At last the little procession arrived. There was a handshake for the
Colonel, and a word with two or three of the officers; then a quick
scrutiny of the rank and file. For a moment--yea, more than a
moment--keen Royal eyes rested upon Private M'Slattery, standing like
a graven image, with his great chest straining the buttons of his
Then a voice said, apparently in M'Slattery's ear--
"A magnificent body of men, Colonel. I congratulate you."
A minute later M'Slattery was aroused from his trance by the sound of
the Colonel's ringing voice--
"Highlanders, three cheers for His Majesty the King!"
M'Slattery led the whole Battalion, his glengarry high in the air.
Suddenly his eye fell upon Private Mucklewame, blindly and woodenly
yelling himself hoarse.
In three strides M'Slattery was standing face to face with the
"Yous low, lousy puddock," he roared--"tak' off your bonnet!" He saved
Mucklewame the trouble of complying, and strode back to his place in
"Yin mair, chaps," he shouted--"for the young leddy!"
And yet there are people who tell us that the formula, O.H.M.S., is a
mere relic of antiquity.
"Bring in Private Dunshie, Sergeant-Major," says the Company
The Sergeant-Major throws open the door, and barks--"Private Dunshie's
The order is repeated _fortissimo_ by some one outside. There is a
clatter of ammunition boots getting into step, and a solemn procession
of four files into the room. The leader thereof is a stumpy but
enormously important-looking private. He is the escort. Number two is
the prisoner. Numbers three and four are the accuser--counsel for the
Crown, as it were--and a witness. The procession reaches the table at
which the Captain is sitting. Beside him is a young officer, one Bobby
Little, who is present for "instructional" purposes.
"Mark time!" commands the Sergeant-Major. "Halt! Right turn!"
This evolution brings the accused face to face with his judge. He
has been deprived of his cap, and of everything else "which may be
employed as, or contain, a missile." (They think of everything in the
"What is this man's crime, Sergeant-Major?" inquires the Captain.
"On this sheet, sir," replies the Sergeant-Major....
By a "crime" the ordinary civilian means something worth recording in
a special edition of the evening papers--something with a meat-chopper
in it. Others, more catholic in their views, will tell you that it
is a crime to inflict corporal punishment on any human being; or to
permit performing animals to appear upon the stage; or to subsist upon
any food but nuts. Others, of still finer clay, will classify such
things as Futurism, The Tango, Dickeys, and the Albert Memorial as
crimes. The point to note is, that in the eyes of all these persons
each of these things is a sin of the worst possible degree. That being
so, they designate it a "crime." It is the strongest term they can
But in the Army, "crime" is capable of infinite shades of intensity.
It simply means "misdemeanour," and may range from being unshaven on
parade, or making a frivolous complaint about the potatoes at dinner,
to irrevocably perforating your rival in love with a bayonet. So let
party politicians, when they discourse vaguely to their constituents
about "the prevalence of crime in the Army under the present effete
and undemocratic system," walk warily.
Every private in the Army possesses what is called a conduct-sheet,
and upon this his crimes are recorded. To be precise, he has two such
sheets. One is called his Company sheet, and the other his Regimental
sheet. His Company sheet contains a record of every misdeed for which
he has been brought before his Company Commander. His Regimental sheet
is a more select document, and contains only the more noteworthy
of his achievements--crimes so interesting that they have to be
communicated to the Commanding Officer.
However, this morning we are concerned only with Company
conduct-sheets. It is 7.30 A.M., and the Company Commander is sitting
in judgment, with a little pile of yellow Army forms before him. He
picks up the first of these, and reads--
"_Private Dunshie. While on active service, refusing to obey an
order_. Lance-Corporal Ness!"
The figure upon the prisoner's right suddenly becomes animated.
Lance-Corporal Ness, taking a deep breath, and fixing his eyes
resolutely on the whitewashed wall above the Captain's head, recites--
"Sirr, at four P.M. on the fufth unst. I was in charge of a party told
off for tae scrub the floor of Room Nummer Seeventeen. I ordered the
prisoner tae scrub. He refused. I warned him. He again refused."
Click! Lance-Corporal Ness has run down. He has just managed the
sentence in a breath.
The figure upon Lance-Corporal Ness's right stiffens, and inflates
"Sirr, on the fufth unst. I was Orderly Sergeant. At aboot
four-thirrty P.M., Lance-Corporal Ness reported this man tae me for
refusing for tae obey an order. I confined him."
The Captain turns to the prisoner.
"What have you to say, Private Dunshie?"
Private Dunshie, it appears, has a good deal to say.
"I jined the Airmy for tae fight they Germans, and no for tae be
learned tae scrub floors--"
"Sirr!" suggests the Sergeant-Major in his ear.
"Sirr," amends Private Dunshie reluctantly. "I was no in the habit of
scrubbin' the floor mysel' where I stay in Glesca'; and ma wife would
But the Captain looks up. He has heard enough.
"Look here, Dunshie," he says. "Glad to hear you want to fight the
Germans. So do I. So do we all. All the same, we've got a lot of dull
jobs to do first." (Captain Blaikie has the reputation of being the
most monosyllabic man in the British Army.) "Coals, and floors, and
fatigues like that: they are your job. I have mine too. Kept me up
till two this morning. But the point is this. You have refused to obey
an order. Very serious, that. Most serious crime a soldier can commit.
If you start arguing now about small things, where will you be when
the big orders come along--eh? Must learn to obey. Soldier now,
whatever you were a month ago. So obey all orders like a shot. Watch
me next time I get one. No disgrace, you know! Ought to be a soldier's
pride, and all that. See?"
"Yes--sirr," replies Private Dunshie, with less truculence.
The Captain glances down at the paper before him.
"First time you have come before me. Admonished!"
"Right turn! Quick march!" thunders the Sergeant-Major.
The procession clumps out of the room. The Captain turns to his
"That's my homely and paternal tap," he observes. "For first offenders
only. That chap's all right. Soon find out it's no good fussing
about your rights as a true-born British elector in the Army.
After the usual formalities, enter Private McNulty and escort. Private
McNulty is a small scared-looking man with a dirty face.
"Private McNulty, sirr!" announces the Sergeant-Major to the Company
Commander, with the air of a popular lecturer on entomology placing a
fresh insect under the microscope.
Captain Blaikie addresses the shivering culprit--
"_Private McNulty; charged with destroying Government property_.
Corporal Mather clears his throat, and assuming the wooden expression
and fish-like gaze common to all public speakers who have learned
their oration by heart, begins--
"Sirr, on the night of the sixth inst. I was Orderly Sergeant. Going
round the prisoner's room about the hour of nine-thirty I noticed that
his three biscuits had been cut and slashed, appariently with a knife
or other instrument."
"What did you do?"
"Sirr, I inquired of the men in the room who was it had gone for to do
this. Sirr, they said it was the prisoner."
Two witnesses are called. Both, certify, casting grieved and virtuous
glances at the prisoner, that this outrage upon the property of His
Majesty was the work of Private McNulty.
To the unsophisticated Bobby Little this charge appears rather a
frivolous one. If you may not cut or slash a biscuit, what _are_ you
to do with it? Swallow it whole?
"Private McNulty?" queries the Captain.
Private McNulty, in a voice which is shrill with righteous
indignation, gives the somewhat unexpected answer--
"Sirr, I plead guilty!"
"Guilty--eh? You did it, then?"
This is what Private McNulty is waiting for.
"The men in that room, sirr," he announces indignantly, "appear tae
look on me as a sort of body that can be treated onyways. They go for
tae aggravate me. I was sittin' on my bed, with my knife in my hand,
cutting a piece bacca and interfering with naebody, when they all
commenced tae fling biscuits at me. I was keepin' them off as weel as
I could; but havin' a knife in my hand, I'll no deny but what I gave
twa three of them a bit cut."
"Is this true?" asks the Captain of the first witness, curtly.
"You saw the men throwing biscuits at the prisoner?"
"He was daen' it himsel'!" proclaims Private McNulty.
The Captain addresses the other witness.
"You doing it too?"
The Captain turns again to the prisoner.
"Why didn't you lodge a complaint?" (The schoolboy code does not
obtain in the Army.)
"I did, sir. I tellt"--indicating Corporal Mather with an elbow--"this
Corporal Mather cannot help it. He swells perceptibly. But swift
puncture awaits him.
"Corporal Mather, why didn't you mention this?"
"I didna think it affected the crime, sir."
"Not your business to think. Only to make a straightforward charge. Be
very careful in future. You other two"--the witnesses come guiltily to
attention--"I shall talk to your platoon sergeant about you. Not going
to have Government property knocked about!"
Bobby Little's eyebrows, willy-nilly, have been steadily rising during
the last five minutes. He knows the meaning of red tape now!
Then comes sentence.
"Private McNulty, you have pleaded guilty to a charge of destroying
Government property, so you go before the Commanding Officer. Don't
suppose you'll be punished, beyond paying for the damage."
"Right turn! Quick march!" chants the Sergeant-Major.
The downtrodden McNulty disappears, with his traducers. But Bobby
Little's eyebrows have not been altogether thrown away upon his
"Got the biscuits here, Sergeant-Major?"
The Sergeant-Major dives into a pile of brown blankets, and presently
extracts three small brown mattresses, each two feet square. These
appear to have been stabbed in several places with a knife.
Captain Blaikie's eyes twinkle, and he chuckles to his now
"More biscuits in heaven and earth than ever came out of Huntley and
Palmer's, my son! Private Robb!"
Presently Private Robb stands at the table. He is a fresh-faced,
well-set-up youth, with a slightly receding chin and a most dejected
"_Private Robb_," reads the Captain. "_While on active service, drunk
and singing in Wellington Street about nine p.m. on Saturday, the
sixth_. Sergeant Garrett!"
The proceedings follow their usual course, except that in this case
some of the evidence is "documentary"--put in in the form of a report
from the sergeant of the Military Police who escorted the melodious
Robb home to bed.
The Captain addresses the prisoner.
"Private Robb, this is the second time. Sorry--very sorry. In all
other ways you are doing well. Very keen and promising soldier. Why is
The contrite Robb hangs his head. His judge continues--
"I'll tell you. You haven't found out yet how much you can hold. That
The prisoner nods assent.
"Well--find out! See? It's one of the first things a young man ought
to learn. Very valuable piece of information. I know myself, so I'm
safe. Want you to do the same. Every man has a different limit. What
did you have on Saturday?"
Private Robb reflects.
"Five pints, sirr," he announces.
"Well, next time try three, and then you won't go serenading
policemen. As it is, you will have to go before the Commanding Officer
and get punished. Want to go to the front, don't you?"
"Yes, sirr." Private Robb's dismal features flush.
"Well, mind this. We all want to go, but we can't go till every man in
the battalion is efficient. You want to be the man who kept the rest
from going to the front--eh?"
"No, sirr, I do not."
"All right, then. Next Saturday night say to yourself: 'Another pint,
and I keep the Battalion back!' If you do that, you'll come back to
barracks sober, like a decent chap. That'll do. Don't salute with your
cap off. Next man, Sergeant-Major!"
"Good boy, that," remarks the Captain to Bobby Little, as the contrite
Robb is removed. "Keen as mustard. But his high-water mark for beer is
somewhere in his boots. All right, now I've scared him."
"Last prisoner, sirr," announces the Sergeant-Major.
"Glad to hear it. H'm! Private M'Queen again!"
Private M'Queen is an unpleasant-looking creature, with a drooping red
moustache and a cheese-coloured complexion. His misdeeds are recited.
Having been punished for misconduct early in the week, he has piled
Pelion on Ossa by appearing fighting drunk at defaulters' parade.
From all accounts he has livened up that usually decorous assemblage
After the corroborative evidence, the Captain asks his usual question
of the prisoner--
"Anything to say?"
"No," growls Private M'Queen.
The Captain takes up the prisoner's conduct-sheet, reads it through,
and folds it up deliberately.
"I am going to ask the Commanding Officer to discharge you," he says;
and there is nothing homely or paternal in his speech now. "Can't make
out why men like you join the Army--especially _this_ Army. Been a
nuisance ever since you came here. Drunk--beastly drunk--four times in
three weeks. Always dirty and insubordinate. Always trying to stir up
trouble among the young soldiers. Been in the army before, haven't
"That's not true. Can always tell an old soldier on parade. Fact is,
you have either deserted or been discharged as incorrigible. Going to
be discharged as incorrigible again. Keeping the regiment back, that's
why: that's a real crime. Go home, and explain that you were turned
out of the King's Army because you weren't worthy of the honour of
staying in. When decent men see that people like you have no place in
this regiment, perhaps they will see that this regiment is just the
place for them. Take him away."
Private M'Queen shambles out of the room for the last time in
his life. Captain Blaikie, a little exhausted by his own unusual
loquacity, turns to Bobby Little with a contented sigh.
"That's the last of the shysters," he says. "Been weeding them out for
six weeks. Now I have got rid of that nobleman I can look the rest of
the Company in the face. Come to breakfast!"
THE LAWS OF THE MEDES AND PERSIANS
One's first days as a newly-joined subaltern are very like one's
first days at school. The feeling is just the same. There is the same
natural shyness, the same reverence for people who afterwards turn out
to be of no consequence whatsoever, and the same fear of transgressing
the Laws of the Medes and Persians--regimental traditions and
conventions--which alter not.
Dress, for instance. "Does one wear a sword on parade?" asks the tyro
of himself his first morning. "I'll put it on, and chance it." He
invests himself in a monstrous claymore and steps on to the barrack
square. Not an officer in sight is carrying anything more lethal than
a light cane. There is just time to scuttle back to quarters and
Again, where should one sit at meal-times? We had supposed that the
C.O. would be enthroned at the head of the table, with a major sitting
on his right and left, like Cherubim and Seraphim; while the rest
disposed themselves in a descending scale of greatness until it came
down to persons like ourselves at the very foot. But the C.O. has a
disconcerting habit of sitting absolutely anywhere. He appears to be
just as happy between two Second Lieutenants as between Cherubim and
Seraphim. Again, we note that at breakfast each officer upon entering
sits down and shouts loudly, to a being concealed behind a screen, for
food, which is speedily forthcoming. Are we entitled to clamour in
this peremptory fashion too? Or should we creep round behind the
screen and take what we can get? Or should we sit still, and wait till
we are served? We try the last expedient first, and get nothing. Then
we try the second, and are speedily convinced, by the demeanour of the
gentleman behind the screen, that we have committed the worst error of
which we have yet been guilty.
There are other problems--saluting, for instance. On the parade ground
this is a simple matter enough; for there the golden rule appears
to be--When in doubt, salute! The Colonel calls up his four Company
Commanders. They salute. He instructs them to carry on this morning
with coal fatigues and floor-scrubbing. The Company Commanders salute,
and retire to their Companies, and call up their subalterns, who
salute. They instruct these to carry on this morning with coal
fatigues and floor-scrubbing. The sixteen subalterns salute, and
retire to their platoons. Here they call up their Platoon Sergeants,
who salute. They instruct these to carry on this morning with coal
fatigues and floor-scrubbing. The Platoon Sergeants salute, and
issue commands to the rank and file. The rank and file, having no
instructions to salute sergeants, are compelled, as a last resort, to
carry on with the coal fatigues and floor-scrubbing themselves. You
see, on parade saluting is simplicity itself.
But we are not always on parade; and then more subtle problems arise.
Some of those were discussed one day by four junior officers, who sat
upon a damp and slippery bank by a muddy roadside during a "fall-out"
in a route-march. The four ("reading from left to right," as they say
in high journalistic society) were Second Lieutenant Little, Second
Lieutenant Waddell, Second Lieutenant Cockerell, and Lieutenant
Struthers, surnamed "Highbrow." Bobby we know. Waddell was a
slow-moving but pertinacious student of the science of war from the
kingdom of Fife. Cockerell came straight from a crack public-school
corps, where he had been a cadet officer; so nothing in the heaven
above or the earth beneath was hid from him. Struthers owed his
superior rank to the fact that in the far back ages, before the days
of the O.T.C., he had held a commission in a University Corps. He was
a scholar of his College, and was an expert in the art of accumulating
masses of knowledge in quick time for examination purposes. He knew
all the little red manuals by heart, was an infallible authority on
buttons and badges, and would dip into the King's Regulations or the
Field Service Pocket-book as another man might dip into the "Sporting
Times." Strange to say, he was not very good at drilling a platoon. We
all know him.
"What do you do when you are leading a party along a road and meet a
Staff Officer?" asked Bobby Little.
"Make a point," replied Cockerell patronisingly, "of saluting all
persons wearing red bands round their hats. They may not be entitled
to it, but it tickles their ribs and gets you the reputation, of being
an intelligent young officer."
"But I say," announced Waddell plaintively, "_I_ saluted a man with a
red hat the other day, and he turned out to be a Military Policeman!"
"As a matter of fact," announced the pundit Struthers, after the
laughter had subsided, "you need not salute anybody. No compliments
are paid on active service, and we are on active service now."
"Yes, but suppose some one salutes _you_?" objected the conscientious
Bobby Little. "You must salute back again, and sometimes you don't
know how to do it. The other day I was bringing the company back
from the ranges and we met a company from another battalion--the Mid
Mudshires, I think. Before I knew where I was the fellow in charge
called them to attention and then gave 'Eyes right!'"
"What did you do?" asked Struthers anxiously.
"I hadn't time to do anything except grin, and say, 'Good morning!'"
confessed Bobby Little.
"You were perfectly right," announced Struthers, and Cockerell
"Are you sure?" persisted Bobby Little. "As I passed the tail of their
company one of their subs turned to another and said quite loud, 'My
God, what swine!'"
"Showed his rotten ignorance," commented Cockerell.
At this moment Mr. Waddell, whose thoughts were never disturbed by
conversation around him, broke in with a question.
"What does a Tommy do," he inquired, "if he meets an officer wheeling
"Who is wheeling the barrow," inquired the meticulous Struthers--"the
officer or the Tommy?"
"The Tommy, of course!" replied Waddell in quite a shocked voice.
"What is he to do? If he tries to salute he will upset the barrow, you
"He turns his head sharply towards the officer for six paces,"
explained the ever-ready Struthers. "When a soldier is not in a
position to salute in the ordinary way--"
"I say," inquired Bobby Little rather shyly, "do you ever look the
other way when you meet a Tommy?"
"How do you mean?" asked everybody.
"Well, the other day I met one walking out with his girl along the
road, and I felt so blooming _de trop_ that--"
Here the "fall-in" sounded, and this delicate problem was left
unsolved. But Mr. Waddell, who liked to get to the bottom of things,
continued to ponder these matters as he marched. He mistrusted the
omniscience of Struthers and the superficial infallibility of the
self-satisfied Cockerell. Accordingly, after consultation with that
eager searcher after knowledge, Second Lieutenant Little, he took the
laudable but fatal step of carrying his difficulties to one Captain
Wagstaffe, the humorist of the Battalion.
Wagstaffe listened with an appearance of absorbed interest. Finally he
"These are very important questions, Mr. Waddell, and you acted quite
rightly in laying them before me. I will consult the Deputy Assistant
Instructor in Military Etiquette, and will obtain a written answer to
"Oh, thanks awfully, sir!" exclaimed Waddell.
The result of Captain Wagstaffe's application to the mysterious
official just designated was forthcoming next day in the form of a
neatly typed document. It was posted in the Ante-room (the C.O. being
out at dinner), and ran as follows:--
YOUNG OFFICERS, HINTS FOR THE GUIDANCE OF
The following is the correct procedure for a young officer in charge
of an armed party upon meeting--
(a) A Staff Officer riding a bicycle.
_Correct Procedure_.--If marching at attention, order your men to
march at ease and to light cigarettes and eat bananas. Then, having
fixed bayonets, give the order: _Across the road--straggle!_
(b) A funeral.
_Correct Procedure_.--Strike up _Tipperary_, and look the other way.
(c) A General Officer, who strolls across your Barrack Square
precisely at the moment when you and your Platoon have got into mutual
_Correct Procedure_.--Lie down flat upon your face (directing your
platoon to do the same), cover your head with gravel, and pretend you
are not there.
(a) A soldier, wheeling a wheelbarrow and balancing a swill-tub on his
head, meets an officer walking out in review dress.
_Correct Procedure_.--The soldier will immediately cant the swill-tub
to an angle of forty-five degrees at a distance of one and a half
inches above his right eyebrow. (In the case of Rifle Regiments the
soldier will balance the swill-tub on his nose.) He will then invite
the officer, by a smart movement of the left ear, to seat himself on
_Correct Acknowledgment_.--The officer will comply, placing his feet
upon the right and left hubs of the wheel respectively, with the
ball of the toe in each case at a distance of one inch (when serving
abroad, 2-1/2 centimetres) from the centre of gravity of the
wheelbarrow. (In the case of Rifle Regiments the officer will tie his
feet in a knot at the back of his neck.) The soldier will then advance
six paces, after which the officer will dismount and go home and have
(b) A soldier, with his arm round a lady's waist in the gloaming,
encounters an officer.
_Correct Procedure_.--The soldier will salute with his disengaged arm.
The lady will administer a sharp tap with the end of her umbrella to
the officer's tunic, at point one inch above the lowest button.
_Correct Acknowledgment_.--The officer will take the end of the
umbrella firmly in his right hand, and will require the soldier to
introduce him to the lady. He will then direct the soldier to double
back to barracks.
(c) A party of soldiers, seated upon the top of a transport waggon,
see an officer passing at the side of the road.
_Correct Procedure_.--The senior N.C.O. (or if no N.C.O. be present,
the oldest soldier) will call the men to attention, and the party,
taking their time from the right, will spit upon the officer's head in
a soldier-like manner.
_Correct Acknowledgment_.--The officer will break into a smart trot.
(d) A soldier, driving an officer's motor-car without the knowledge of
the officer, encounters the officer in a narrow country lane.
_Correct Procedure_.--The soldier will open the throttle to its full
extent and run the officer over.
_Correct Acknowledgment_.--No acknowledgment is required.
NOTE.--_None of the above compliments will be paid upon active
Unfortunately the Colonel came home from dining out sooner than
was expected, and found this outrageous document still upon the
notice-board. But he was a good Colonel. He merely remarked
"H'm. Quite so! _Non semper arcum tendit Apollo_. It's just as well to
keep smiling these days."
Nevertheless, Mr. Waddell made a point in future, when in need of
information, of seeking the same from a less inspired source than
* * * * *
There was another Law of the Medes and Persians with which our four
friends soon became familiar--that which governs the relations of the
various ranks to one another. Great Britain is essentially the home of
the chaperon. We pride ourselves, as a nation, upon the extreme
care with which we protect our young gentlewomen from contaminating
influences. But the fastidious attention which we bestow upon our
national maidenhood is as nothing in comparison with the protective
commotion with which we surround that shrinking sensitive plant, Mr.
Take etiquette and deportment. If a soldier wishes to speak to an
officer, an introduction must be effected by a sergeant. Let us
suppose that Private M'Splae, in the course of a route-march, develops
a blister upon his great toe. He begins by intimating the fact to
the nearest lance-corporal. The lance-corporal takes the news to the
platoon sergeant, who informs the platoon commander, who may or may
not decide to take the opinion of his company commander in the matter.
Anyhow, when the hobbling warrior finally obtains permission to fall
out and alleviate his distress, a corporal goes with him, for fear he
should lose himself, or his boot--it is wonderful what Thomas _can_
lose when he sets his mind to it--or, worst crime of all, his rifle.
Again, if two privates are detailed to empty the regimental ashbin,
a junior N.C.O. ranges them in line, calls them to attention, and
marches them off to the scene of their labours, decently and in order.
If a soldier obtains leave to go home on furlough for the week-end, he
is collected into a party, and, after being inspected to see that
his buttons are clean, his hair properly cut, and his nose correctly
blown, is marched off to the station, where a ticket is provided
for him, and he and his fellow-wayfarers are safely tucked into a
third-smoker labelled "Military Party." (No wonder he sometimes gets
lost on arriving at Waterloo!) In short, if there is a job to be done,
the senior soldier present chaperons somebody else while he does it.
This system has been attacked on the ground that it breeds loss of
self-reliance and initiative. As a matter of fact, the result is
almost exactly the opposite. Under its operation a soldier rapidly
acquires the art of placing himself under the command of his nearest
superior in rank; but at the same time he learns with equal rapidity
to take command himself if no superior be present--no bad thing in
times of battle and sudden death, when shrapnel is whistling, and
promotion is taking place with grim and unceasing automaticity.
This principle is extended, too, to the enforcement of law and order.
If Private M'Sumph is insubordinate or riotous, there is never any
question of informal correction or summary justice. News of the
incident wends its way upward, by a series of properly regulated
channels, to the officer in command. Presently, by the same route, an
order comes back, and in a twinkling the offender finds himself taken
under arrest and marched off to the guard-room by two of his own
immediate associates. (One of them may be his own rear-rank man.) But
no officer or non-commissioned officer ever lays a finger on him. The
penalty for striking a superior officer is so severe that the law
decrees, very wisely, that a soldier must on no account ever be
arrested by any save men of his own rank. If Private M'Sumph, while
being removed in custody, strikes Private Tosh upon the nose and kicks
Private Cosh upon the shin, to the effusion of blood, no great harm is
done--except to the lacerated Cosh and Tosh; but if he had smitten an
intruding officer in the eye, his punishment would have been dire and
grim. So, though we may call military law cumbrous and grandmotherly,
there is sound sense and real mercy at the root of it.
* * * * *
But there is one Law of the Medes and Persians which is sensibly
relaxed these days. We, the newly joined, have always been given to
understand that whatever else you do, you must never, never betray any
interest in your profession--in short, talk shop--at Mess. But in our
Mess no one ever talks anything else. At luncheon, we relate droll
anecdotes concerning our infant platoons; at tea, we explain, to any
one who will listen, exactly how we placed our sentry line in last
night's operations; at dinner, we brag about our Company musketry
returns, and quote untruthful extracts from our butt registers. At
breakfast, every one has a newspaper, which he props before him and
reads, generally aloud. We exchange observations upon the war news. We
criticise von Kluck, and speak kindly of Joffre. We note, daily, that
there is nothing to report on the Allies' right, and wonder regularly
how the Russians are really getting on in the Eastern theatre.
Then, after observing that the only sportsman in the combined forces
of the German Empire is--or was--the captain of the _Emden_, we come
to the casualty lists--and there is silence.
Englishmen are fond of saying, with the satisfied air of men letting
off a really excellent joke, that every one in Scotland knows every
one else. As we study the morning's Roll of Honour, we realise that
never was a more truthful jest uttered. There is not a name in the
list of those who have died for Scotland which is not familiar to us.
If we did not know the man--too often the boy--himself, we knew his
people, or at least where his home was. In England, if you live in
Kent, and you read that the Northumberland Fusiliers have been cut
up or the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry badly knocked about, you
merely sigh that so many more good men should have fallen. Their names
are glorious names, but they are only names. But never a Scottish
regiment comes under fire but the whole of Scotland feels it. Scotland
is small enough to know all her sons by heart. You may live in
Berwickshire, and the man who has died may have come from Skye; but
his name is quite familiar to you. Big England's sorrow is national;
little Scotland's is personal.
Then we pass on to our letters. Many of us--particularly the senior
officers--have news direct from the trenches--scribbled scraps torn
out of field-message books. We get constant tidings of the Old
Regiment. They marched thirty-five miles on such a day; they captured
a position after being under continuous shell fire for eight hours on
another; they were personally thanked by the Field-Marshal on another.
Oh, we shall have to work hard to get up to that standard!
"They want more officers," announces the Colonel. "Naturally, after
the time they've been having! But they must go to the Third Battalion
for them: that's the proper place. I will not have them coming here:
I've told them so at Headquarters. The Service Battalions simply
_must_ be led by the officers who have trained them if they are to
have a Chinaman's chance when we go out. I shall threaten to resign if
they try any more of their tricks. That'll frighten 'em! Even dug-outs
like me are rare and valuable objects at present."
The Company Commanders murmur assent--on the whole sympathetically.
Anxious though they are to get upon business terms with the Kaiser,
they are loath to abandon the unkempt but sturdy companies over which
they have toiled so hard, and which now, though destitute of blossom,
are rich in promise of fruit. But the senior subalterns look up
hopefully. Their lot is hard. Some of them have been in the Service
for ten years, yet they have been left behind. They command no
companies. "Here," their faces say, "we are merely marking time while
others learn. Send _us_!"
* * * * *
However, though they have taken no officers yet, signs are not wanting
that they will take some soon. To-day each of us was presented with a
small metal disc.
Bobby Little examined his curiously. Upon the face thereof was
stamped, in ragged, irregular capitals--
[Illustration: LITTLE, R., 2ND LT.,
B. & W. HIGHRS.
C. OF E.]
"What is this for?" he asked.
Captain Wagstaffe answered.
"You wear it round your neck," he said.
Our four friends, once bitten, regarded the humorist suspiciously.
"Are you rotting us?" asked Waddell cautiously.
"No, my son," replied Wagstaffe, "I am not."
"What is it for, then?"
"It's called an Identity Disc. Every soldier on active service wears
"Why should the idiots put one's religion on the thing?" inquired
Master Cockerell, scornfully regarding the letters "C. of E." upon his
Wagstaffe regarded him curiously.
"Think it over," he suggested.
"What for is the wee felly gaun' tae show us puctures?"
Second Lieutenant Bobby Little, assisted by a sergeant and two unhandy
privates, is engaged in propping a large and highly-coloured work of
art, mounted on a rough wooden frame and supported on two unsteady
legs, against the wall of the barrack square. A half-platoon of A
Company, seated upon an adjacent bank, chewing grass and enjoying the
mellow autumn sunshine, regard the swaying masterpiece with frank
curiosity. For the last fortnight they have been engaged in imbibing
the science of musketry. They have learned to hold their rifles
correctly, sitting, kneeling, standing, or lying; to bring their
backsights and foresights into an undeviating straight line with the
base of the bull's-eye; and to press the trigger in the manner laid
down in the Musketry Regulations--without wriggling the body or
They have also learned to adjust their sights, to perform the loading
motions rapidly and correctly, and to obey such simple commands as--
"_At them two, weemen_"--officers' wives, probably--"_proceeding from
left tae right across the square, at five hundred yairds_"
--they are really about fifteen yards away, covered with
confusion--"_five roonds, fire!_"
But as yet they have discharged no shots from their rifles. It has all
been make-believe, with dummy cartridges, and fictitious ranges, and
snapping triggers. To be quite frank, they are getting just a little
tired of musketry training--forgetting for the moment that a soldier
who cannot use his rifle is merely an expense to his country and a
free gift to the enemy. But the sight of Bobby Little's art gallery
cheers them up. They contemplate the picture with childlike interest.
It resembles nothing so much as one of those pleasing but imaginative
posters by the display of which our Railway Companies seek to attract
the tourist to the less remunerative portions of their systems.
"What for is the wee felly gaun' tae show us puctures?"
Thus Private Mucklewame. A pundit in the rear rank answers him.
"Gairmany ma auntie!" retorts Mucklewame. "There's no chumney-stalks
"Maybe no; but there's wundmulls. See the wundmull there--on yon wee
"There a pit-held!" exclaims another voice. This homely spectacle is
received with an affectionate sigh. Until two months ago more than
half the platoon had never been out of sight of at least half a dozen.
"See the kirk, in ablow the brae!" says some one else, in a pleased
voice. "It has a nock in the steeple."
"I hear they Gairmans send signals wi' their kirk-nocks," remarks
Private M'Micking, who, as one of the Battalion signallers--or
"buzzers," as the vernacular has it, in imitation of the buzzing
of the Morse instrument--regards himself as a sort of junior Staff
Officer. "They jist semaphore with the haunds of the nock--"
"I wonder," remarks the dreamy voice of Private M'Leary, the humorist
of the platoon, "did ever a Gairman buzzer pit the ba' through his ain
goal in a fitba' match?"
This irrelevant reference to a regrettable incident of the previous
Saturday afternoon is greeted with so much laughter that Bobby Little,
who has at length fixed his picture in position, whips round.
"Less talking there!" he announces severely, "or I shall have to stand
you all at attention!"
There is immediate silence--there is nothing the matter with Bobby's
discipline--and the outraged M'Micking has to content himself with
a homicidal glare in the direction of M'Leary, who is now hanging
virtuously upon his officer's lips.
"This," proceeds Bobby Little, "is what is known as a landscape
He indicates the picture, which, apparently overcome by so much public
notice, promptly falls flat upon its face. A fatigue party under the
sergeant hurries to its assistance.
"It is intended," resumes Bobby presently, "to teach you--us--to
become familiar with various kinds of country, and to get into the
habit of picking out conspicuous features of the landscape, and
getting them by heart, and--er--so on. I want you all to study this
picture for three minutes. Then I shall face you about and ask you to
describe it to me."
After three minutes of puckered brows and hard breathing the squad is
turned to its rear and the examination proceeds.
"Lance-Corporal Ness, what did you notice in the foreground of the
Lance-Corporal Ness gazes fiercely before him. He has noticed a good
deal, but can remember nothing. Moreover, he has no very clear idea
what a foreground may be.
Again silence, while the rotund Mucklewame perspires in the throes of
The "buzzer" smiles feebly, but says nothing.
"Well,"--desperately--"Sergeant Angus! Tell them what you noticed in
Sergeant Angus _(floruit_ A.D. 1895) springs smartly to attention, and
replies, with the instant obedience of the old soldier--
"The sky, sirr."
"Not in the foreground, as a rule," replies Bobby Little gently.
"About turn again, all of you, and we'll have another try."
In his next attempt Bobby abandons individual catechism.
"Now," he begins, "what conspicuous objects do we notice on this
target? In the foreground I can see a low knoll. To the left I see a
windmill. In the distance is a tall chimney. Half-right is a church.
How would that church be marked on a map?"
"Well," explains Bobby, anxious to parade a piece of knowledge which
he only acquired himself a day or two ago, "churches are denoted in
maps by a cross, mounted on a square or circle, according as the
church has a square tower or a steeple. What has this church got?"
"A nock!" bellow the platoon, with stunning enthusiasm. (All but
Private M'Micking, that is.)
"A clock, sir," translates the sergeant, _sotto voce_.
"A clock? All right: but what I wanted was a steeple. Then, farther
away, we can see a mine, a winding brook, and a house, with a wall in
front of it. Who can see them?"
To judge by the collective expression of the audience, no one does.
Bobby ploughs on.
"Upon the skyline we notice--Squad, '_shun!_"
Captain Wagstaffe has strolled up. He is second in command of A
Company. Bobby explains to him modestly what he has been trying to do.
"Yes, I heard you," says Wagstaffe. "You take a breather, while I
carry on for a bit. Squad, stand easy, and tell me what you can see on
that target. Lance-Corporal Ness, show me a pit-head."
Lance-Corporal Ness steps briskly forward and lays a grubby forefinger
on Bobby's "mine."
"Private Mucklewame, show me a burn."
The brook is at once identified.
"Private M'Leary, shut your eyes and tell me what there is just to the
right of the windmill."
"A wee knowe, sirr," replies M'Leary at once. Bobby recognises his
"low knoll"--also the fact that it is no use endeavouring to instruct
the unlettered until you have learned their language.
"Very good!" says Captain Wagstaffe. "Now we will go on to what is
known as Description and Recognition of Targets. Supposing I had sent
one of you forward into that landscape as a scout.--By the way, what
is a scout?"
Dead silence, as usual.
"Come along! Tell me, somebody! Private Mucklewame?"
"They gang oot in a procession on Setter-day efternoons, sirr, in
short breeks," replies Mucklewame promptly.
"A procession is the very last thing a scout goes out in!" raps
Wagstaffe. (It is plain to Mucklewame that the Captain has never been
in Wishaw, but he does not argue the point.) "Private M'Micking, what
is a scout?"
"A spy, sirr," replies the omniscient one.
"Well, that's better; but there's a big difference between the two.
What is it?"
This is a poser. Several men know the difference, but feel quite
incapable of explaining it. The question runs down the front rank.
Finally it is held up and disposed of by one Mearns (from Aberdeen).
"A spy, sirr, gets mair money than a scout."
"Does he?" asks Captain Wagstaffe, smiling. "Well, I am not in a
position to say. But if he does, he earns it! Why?"
"Because if he gets catched he gets shot," volunteers a rear-rank man.
"Right. Why is he shot?"
This conundrum is too deep for the squad. The Captain has to answer it
"Because he is not in uniform, and cannot therefore be treated as an
ordinary prisoner of war. So never go scouting in your nightshirt,
The respectable Mucklewame blushes deeply at this outrageous
suggestion, but Wagstaffe proceeds--
"Now, supposing I sent you out scouting, and you discovered that over
there--somewhere in the middle of this field"--he lays a finger on the
field in question--"there was a fold in the ground where a machine-gun
section was concealed: what would you do when you got back?"
"I would tell you, sirr," replied Private M'Micking politely.
"Tell me what?"
"That they was there, sirr."
"In yon place."
"How would you indicate the position of the place?"
"I would pint it oot with ma finger, sirr."
"Invisible objects half a mile away are not easily pointed out with
the finger," Captain Wagstaffe mentions. "Lance-Corporal Ness, how
would you describe it?"
"I would tak' you there, sirr."
"Thanks! But I doubt if either of us would come back! Private Wemyss?"
"I would say, sirr, that the place was west of the mansion-hoose."
"There's a good deal of land west of that mansion-house, you know,"
expostulates the Captain gently; "but we are getting on. Thompson?"
"I would say, sir," replies Thompson, puckering his brow, "that it was
in ablow they trees."
"It would be hard to indicate the exact trees you meant. Trees are too
common. You try, Corporal King."
But Corporal King, who earned his stripes by reason of physical rather
than intellectual attributes, can only contribute a lame reference
to "a bit hedge by yon dyke, where there's a kin' o' hole in the
tairget." Wagstaffe breaks in--
"Now, everybody, take some conspicuous and unmistakable object about
the middle of that landscape--something which no one can mistake. The
mansion-house will do--the near end. Now then--_mansion-house, near
end_! Got that?"
There is a general chorus of assent.
"Very well. I want you to imagine that the base of the mansion-house
is the centre of a great clock-face. Where would twelve o'clock be?"
The platoon are plainly tickled by this new round-game. They reply--
"Right. Where is nine o'clock?"
"Over tae the left."
"Very good. And so on with all the other hours. Now, supposing I were
to say, _End of mansion-house_--_six o'clock_--_white gate_--you would
carry your eye straight _downward_, through the garden, until it
encountered the gate. I would thus have enabled you to recognise a
very small object in a wide landscape in the quickest possible time.
See the idea?"
"All right. Now for our fold in the ground. _End of
mansion-house_--_eight o'clock_--got that?"
There is an interested murmur of assent.
"That gives you the direction from the house. Now for the distance!
_End of mansion-house_--_eight o 'clock_--_two finger-breadths_--what
does that give you, Lance-Corporal Ness?"
"The corrner of a field, sirr."
"Right. This is _our_ field. We have picked it correctly out of about
twenty fields, you see. _Corner of field. In the middle of the field,
a fold in the ground. At nine hundred--at the fold in the ground--five
rounds--fire_! You see the idea now?"
"Very good. Let the platoon practise describing targets to one
another, Mr. Little. Don't be too elaborate. Never employ either the
clock or finger method if you can describe your target without. For
instance: _Left of windmill_--_triangular cornfield. At the_ _nearest
corner_--_six hundred_--_rapid fire!_ is all you want. Carry on, Mr.
And leaving Bobby and his infant class to practise this new and
amusing pastime, Captain Wagstaffe strolls away across the square to
where the painstaking Waddell is contending with another squad.
They, too, have a landscape target--a different one. Before it half a
dozen rifles stand, set in rests. Waddell has given the order: _Four
hundred_--_at the road, where it passes under the viaduct_--_fire!_
and six privates have laid the six rifles upon the point indicated.
Waddell and Captain Wagstaffe walk down the line, peering along the
sights of the rifles. Five are correctly aligned: the sixth points to
the spacious firmament above the viaduct.
"Hallo!" observes Wagstaffe.
"This is the man's third try, sir," explains the harassed Waddell. "He
doesn't seem to be able to distinguish anything at all."
"So he says, sir."
"Been a long time finding out, hasn't he?"
"The sergeant told me, sir," confides Waddell, "that in his opinion
the man is 'working for his ticket.'"
"I did not quite understand the expression, sir," continues the honest
youth, "so I thought I would consult you."
"It means that he is trying to get his discharge. Bring him along:
I'll soon find out whether he is skrim-shanking or not."
Private M'Sweir is introduced, and led off to the lair of that
hardened cynic, the Medical Officer. Here he is put through some
simple visual tests. He soon finds himself out of his depth. It
is extremely difficult to feign either myopia, hypermetria, or
astigmatism if you are not acquainted with the necessary symptoms, and
have not decided beforehand which (if any) of these diseases you are
suffering from. In five minutes the afflicted M'Sweir is informed,
to his unutterable indignation, that he has passed a severe ocular
examination with flying colours, and is forthwith marched back to his
squad, with instructions to recognise all targets in future, under
pain of special instruction in the laws of optics during his leisure
hours. Verily, in K (1)--that is the tabloid title of the First
Hundred Thousand--the way of the malingerer is hard.
Still, the seed does not always fall upon stony ground. On his way to
inspect a third platoon Captain Wagstaffe passes Bobby Little and his
merry men. They are in pairs, indicating targets to one another.
Says Private Walker (oblivious of Captain Wagstaffe's proximity) to
his friend, Private M'Leary--in an affected parody of his instructor's
"_At yon three Gairman spies, gaun' up a close for tae despatch some
wireless telegraphy_--_fufty roonds_--_fire_!"
To which Private M'Leary, not to be outdone, responds--
"_Public hoose_--_in the baur_--_back o' seeven o'clock_--_twa
From this it is a mere step to--
"Butt Pairty, '_shun!_ Forrm fourrs! Right! By your left, quick
--on a bleak and cheerless morning in late October. It is not yet
light; but a depressed party of about twenty-five are falling into
line at the acrid invitation of two sergeants, who have apparently
decided that the pen is mightier than the Lee-Enfield rifle; for each
wears one stuck in his glengarry like an eagle's feather, and carries
a rabbinical-looking inkhorn slung to his bosom. This literary pose is
due to the fact that records are about to be taken of the performances
of the Company on the shooting-range.
A half-awakened subaltern, who breakfasted at the grisly hour of a
quarter-to-six, takes command, and the dolorous procession disappears
into the gloom.
Half an hour later the Battalion parades, and sets off, to the sound
of music, in pursuit. (It is perhaps needless to state that although
we are deficient in rifles, possess neither belts, pouches, nor
greatcoats, and are compelled to attach, our scanty accoutrements to
our persons with ingenious contrivances of string, we boast a fully
equipped and highly efficient pipe band, complete with pipers, big
drummer, side drummers, and corybantic drum-major.)
By eight o'clock, after a muddy tramp of four miles, we are assembled
at the two-hundred-yards firing point upon Number Three Range. The
range itself is little more than a drive cut through, a pine-wood.
It is nearly half a mile long. Across the far end runs a high
sandy embankment, decorated just below the ridge with, a row of
number-boards--one for each target. Of the targets themselves nothing
as yet is to be seen.
"Now then, let's get a move on!" suggests the Senior Captain briskly.
"Cockerell, ring up the butts, and ask Captain Wagstaffe to put up the
The alert Mr. Cockerell hurries to the telephone, which lives in a
small white-painted structure like a gramophone-stand. (It has been
left at the firing-point by the all-providing butt-party.) He turns
the call-handle smartly, takes the receiver out of the box, and
There is no need to describe the performance which ensues. All
telephone-users are familiar with it. It consists entirely of the
word "Hallo!" repeated _crescendo_ and _furioso_ until exhaustion
Presently Mr. Cockerell reports to the Captain--
"Telephone out of order, sir."
"I never knew a range telephone that wasn't," replies the Captain,
inspecting the instrument. "Still, you might give this one a sporting
chance, anyhow. It isn't a _wireless_ telephone, you know! Corporal
Kemp, connect that telephone for Mr. Cockerell."
A marble-faced N.C.O. kneels solemnly upon the turf and raises a
small iron trapdoor--hitherto overlooked by the omniscient
Cockerell--revealing a cavity some six inches deep, containing an
electric plug-hole. Into this he thrusts the terminal of the telephone
wire. Cockerell, scarlet in the face, watches him indignantly.
Telephonic communication between firing-point and butts is now
established. That is to say, whenever Mr. Cockerell rings the bell
some one in the butts courteously rings back. Overtures of a more
intimate nature are greeted either with stony silence or another
fantasia on the bell.
Meanwhile the captain is superintending firing arrangements.
"Are the first details ready to begin?" he shouts.
"Quite ready, sir," runs the reply down the firing line.
The Captain now comes to the telephone himself. He takes the receiver
from Cockerell with masterful assurance.