Part 2 out of 5
"Hallo, there!" he calls. "I want to speak to Captain Wagstaffe."
"Honkle yang-yang?" inquires a ghostly voice.
"Captain Wagstaffe! Hurry up!"
Presently the bell rings, and the Captain gets to business.
"That you, Wagstaffe?" he inquires cheerily. "Look here, we're going
to fire Practice Seven, Table B,--snap-shooting. I want you to raise
all the targets for six seconds, just for sighting purposes. Do you
Here the bell rings continuously for ten seconds. Nothing daunted, the
Captain tries again.
"That you, Wagstaffe? Practice Seven, Table B!"
"T'chk, t'chk!" replies Captain Wagstaffe.
"Begin by raising all the targets for six seconds. Then raise them six
times for five seconds each.--no, as you were! Raise them five times
for six seconds each. Got that? I say, are you _there_? What's that?"
"_Przemysl_" replies the telephone--or something to that effect.
"_Czestochowa! Krsyszkowice! Plock_!"
The Captain, now on his mettle, continues:--
"I want you to signal the results on the rear targets as the front
ones go down. After that we will fire--oh, _curse_ the thing!"
He hastily removes the receiver, which is emitting sounds suggestive
of the buckling of biscuit-tins, from his ear, and lays it on its
rest. The bell promptly begins to ring again.
"Mr. Cockerell," he says resignedly, "double up to the butts and ask
"I'm here, old son," replies a gentle voice, as Captain Wagstaffe
touches him upon the shoulder. "Been here some time!"
After mutual asperities, it is decided by the two Captains to dispense
with the aid of the telephone proper, and communicate by bell alone.
Captain Wagstaffe's tall figure strides back across the heather; the
red flag on the butts flutters down; and we get to work.
Upon a long row of waterproof sheets--some thirty in all--lie the
firers. Beside each is extended the form of a sergeant or officer,
tickling his charge's ear with incoherent counsel, and imploring him,
almost tearfully, not to get excited.
Suddenly thirty targets spring out of the earth in front of us, only
to disappear again just as we have got over our surprise. They are not
of the usual bull's-eye pattern, but are what is known as "figure"
targets. The lower half is sea-green, the upper, white. In the centre,
half on the green and half on the white, is a curious brown smudge.
It might be anything, from a splash of mud to one of those mysterious
brown-paper patterns which fall out of ladies' papers, but it really
is intended to represent the head and shoulders of a man in khaki
lying on grass and aiming at us. However, the British private, with
his usual genius for misapprehension, has christened this effigy "the
beggar in the boat."
With equal suddenness the targets swing up again. Crack! An
uncontrolled spirit has loosed off his rifle before it has reached
his shoulder. Blistering reproof follows. Then, after three or four
seconds, comes a perfect salvo all down the line. The conscientious
Mucklewame, slowly raising his foresight as he has been taught to do,
from the base of the target to the centre, has just covered the beggar
in the boat between wind and water, and is lingering lovingly over
the second pull, when the inconsiderate beggar (and his boat) sink
unostentatiously into the abyss, leaving the open-mouthed marksman
with his finger on the trigger and an unfired cartridge still in the
chamber. At the dentist's Time crawls; in snap-shooting contests he
Another set of targets slide up as the first go down, and upon these
the hits are recorded by a forest of black or white discs, waving
vigorously in the air. Here and there a red-and-white flag flaps
derisively. Mucklewame gets one of these.
The marking-targets go down to half-mast again, and then comes another
tense pause. Then, as the firing-targets reappear, there is another
volley. This time Private Mucklewame leads the field, and decapitates
a dandelion. The third time he has learned wisdom, and the beggar in
the boat gets the bullet where all mocking foes should get it--in the
Snap-shooting over, the combatants retire to the five-hundred-yards
firing-point, taking with them that modern hair-shirt, the telephone.
Presently a fresh set of targets swing up--of the bull's-eye variety
this time--and the markers are busy once more.
The interior of the butts is an unexpectedly spacious place. From the
nearest firing-point you would not suspect their existence, except
when the targets are up. Imagine a sort of miniature railway
station--or rather, half a railway station--sunk into the ground, with
a very long platform and a very low roof--eight feet high at the most.
Upon the opposite side of this station, instead of the other platform,
rises the sandy ridge previously mentioned--the stop-butt--crowned
with its row of number-boards. Along the permanent way, in place of
sleepers and metals, runs a long and narrow trough, in which, instead
of railway carriages, some thirty great iron frames are standing side
by side. These frames are double, and hold the targets. They are so
arranged that if one is pushed up the other comes down. The markers
stand along the platform, like railway porters.
There are two markers to each target. They, stand with their backs to
the firers, comfortably conscious of several feet of earth and a stout
brick wall, between them and low shooters. Number one squats down,
paste-pot in hand, and repairs the bullet-holes in the unemployed
target with patches of black or white paper. Number two, brandishing a
pole to which is attached a disc, black on one side and white on the
other, is acquiring a permanent crick in the neck through gaping
upwards at the target in search of hits. He has to be sharp-eyed, for
the bullet-hole is a small one, and springs into existence without any
other intimation than a spirt of sand on the bank twenty yards
behind. He must be alert, too, and signal the shots as they are made;
otherwise the telephone will begin to interest itself on his behalf.
The bell will ring, and a sarcastic voice will intimate--assuming that
you can hear what it says--that C Company are sending a wreath and
message of condolence as their contribution to the funeral of the
marker at Number Seven target, who appears to have died at his post
within the last ten minutes; coupled with a polite request that his
successor may be appointed as rapidly as possible, as the war is not
likely to last more than three years. To this the butt-officer replies
that C Company had better come a bit closer to the target and try, try
There are practically no restrictions as to the length to which one
may go in insulting butt-markers. The Geneva Convention is silent upon
the subject, partly because it is almost impossible to say anything
which can really hurt a marker's feelings, and partly because the
butt-officer always has the last word in any unpleasantness which may
arise. That is to say, when defeated over the telephone, he can
always lower his targets, and with his myrmidons feign abstraction or
insensibility until an overheated subaltern arrives at the double from
the five-hundred-yards firing-point, conveying news of surrender.
Captain Wagstaffe was an admitted master of this game. He was a
difficult subject to handle, for he was accustomed to return an eye
for an eye when repartees were being exchanged; and when overborne
by heavier metal--say, a peripatetic "brass-hat" from Hythe--he was
accustomed to haul up the red butt-flag (which automatically brings
all firing to a standstill), and stroll down the range to refute the
intruder at close quarters. We must add that he was a most efficient
butt-officer. When he was on duty, markers were most assiduous in
their attention to theirs, which is not always the case.
Thomas Atkins rather enjoys marking. For one thing, he is permitted
to remove as much clothing as he pleases, and to cover himself with
stickiness and grime to his heart's content--always a highly prized
privilege. He is also allowed to smoke, to exchange full-flavoured
persiflage with his neighbours, and to refresh himself from time
to time with mysterious items of provender wrapped in scraps of
newspaper. Given an easy-going butt-officer and some timid subalterns,
he can spend a very agreeable morning. Even when discipline is strict,
marking is preferable to most other fatigues.
Crack! Crack! Crack! The fusilade has begun. Privates Ogg and Hogg are
in charge of Number Thirteen target. They are beguiling the tedium
of their task by a friendly gamble with the markers on Number
Fourteen--Privates Cosh and Tosh. The rules of the game are simplicity
itself. After each detail has fired, the target with the higher score
receives the sum of one penny from its opponents. At the present
moment, after a long run of adversity, Privates Cosh and Tosh are one
penny to the good. Once again fortune smiles upon them. The first two
shots go right through the bull--eight points straight away. The third
is an inner; the fourth another bull; the fifth just grazes the line
separating inners from outers. Private Tosh, who is scoring, promptly
signals an inner. Meanwhile, target Number Thirteen is also being
liberally marked--but by nothing of a remunerative nature. The
gentleman at the firing-point is taking what is known as "a fine
sight"--so fine, indeed, that each successive bullet either buries
itself in the turf fifty yards short, or ricochets joyously from
off the bank in front, hurling itself sideways through the target,
accompanied by a storm of gravel, and tearing holes therein which even
the biassed Ogg cannot class as clean hits.
"We hae gotten eighteen that time," announces Mr. Tosh to his rival,
swinging his disc and inwardly blessing his unknown benefactor. (For
obvious reasons the firer is known only to the marker by a number.)
"Hoo's a' wi' you, Jock?"
"There's a [adjective] body here," replies Ogg, with gloomy sarcasm,
"flingin' bricks through this yin!" He picks up the red-and-white flag
for the fourth time, and unfurls it indignantly to the breeze.
"Here the officer!" says the warning voice of Hogg. "I doot he'll no
allow your last yin, Peter."
He is right. The subaltern in charge of targets Thirteen to Sixteen,
after a pained glance at the battered countenance of Number Thirteen,
pauses before Fourteen, and jots down a figure on his butt-register.
"Fower, fower, fower, three, three, sirr," announces Tosh politely.
"Three bulls, one inner, and an ahter, sir," proclaims the Cockney
"Now, suppose _I_ try," suggests the subaltern gently.
He examines the target, promptly disallows Tosh's last inner, and
"Seventeen _only!_" remarks Private Ogg severely. "I thocht sae!"
Private Cosh speaks--for the first time--removing a paste-brush, and
some patching-paper from his mouth--
"Still, it's better nor a wash-oot! And onyway, you're due us tippence
By way of contrast to the frivolous game of chance in the butts, the
proceedings at the firing-point resolve themselves into a desperately
earnest test of skill. The fortnight's range-practice is drawing to a
close. Each evening registers have been made up, and firing averages
adjusted, with the result that A and D Companies are found to have
entirely outdistanced B and C, and to be running neck and neck for the
championship of the battalion. Up till this morning D's average worked
out at something under fifteen (out of a possible twenty), and A's at
something over fourteen points. Both are quite amazing and incredible
averages for a recruits' course; but then nearly everything about
"K(1)" is amazing and incredible. Up till half an hour ago D had, if
anything, increased their lead: then dire calamity overtook them.
One Pumpherston, Sergeant-Major and crack shot of the Company,
solemnly blows down the barrel of his rifle and prostrates himself
majestically upon his more than considerable stomach, for the purpose
of firing his five rounds at five hundred yards. His average score
so far has been one under "possible." Three officers and a couple of
stray corporals gather behind him in eulogistic attitudes.
"How are the Company doing generally, Sergeant-Major?" inquires the
Captain of D Company.
"Very well, sirr, except for some carelessness," replies the great
man impressively. "That man there"--he indicates a shrinking figure
hurrying rearwards--"has just spoilt his own score and another man's
by putting two shots on the wrong target."
There is a horrified hum at this, for to fire upon some one else's
target is the gravest crime in musketry. In the first place, it counts
a miss for yourself. In the second, it may do a grievous wrong to your
neighbour; for the law ordains that, in the event of more than five
shots being found upon any target, only the worst five shall count.
Therefore, if your unsolicited contribution takes the form of an
outer, it must be counted, to the exclusion, possibly, of a bull. The
culprit broke into a double.
Having delivered himself, Sergeant-Major Pumpherston graciously
accepted the charger of cartridges which an obsequious acolyte was
proffering, rammed it into the magazine, adjusted the sights, spread
out his legs to an obtuse angle, and fired his first shot.
All eyes were turned upon target Number Seven. But there was no
signal. All the other markers were busy flourishing discs or flags;
only Number Seven remained cold and aloof.
The Captain of D Company laughed satirically.
"Number Seven gone to have his hair cut!" he observed.
"Third time this morning, sir," added a sycophantic subaltern.
The sergeant-major smiled indulgently,
"I can do without signals, sir," he said "I know where the shot went
all right. I must get the next a _little_ more to the left. That last
one was a bit too near to three o'clock to be a certainty."
He fired again--with precisely the same result.
Every one was quite apologetic to the sergeant-major this time.
"This must be stopped," announced the Captain. "Mr. Simson, ring up
Captain Wagstaffe on the telephone."
But the sergeant-major would not hear of this.
"The butt-registers are good enough for me, sir," he said with a
paternal smile. He fired again. Once more the target stared back,
blank and unresponsive.
This time the audience were too disgusted to speak. They merely
shrugged their shoulders and glanced at one another with sarcastic
smiles. The Captain, who had suffered a heavy reverse at the hands
of Captain Wagstaffe earlier in the morning, began to rehearse the
wording of his address over the telephone.
The sergeant-major fired his last two shots with impressive
aplomb--only to be absolutely ignored twice more by Number Seven. Then
he rose to his feet and saluted with ostentatious respectfulness.
"Four bulls and one inner, I _think_, sir. I'm afraid I pulled that
last one off a bit."
The Captain is already at the telephone. For the moment this most
feminine of instruments is found to be in an accommodating frame of
mind. Captain Wagstaffe's voice is quickly heard.
"That you, Wagstaffe?" inquires the Captain. "I'm so sorry to bother
you, but could you make inquiries and ascertain when the marker on
Number Seven is likely to come out of the chloroform?"
"He has been sitting up and taking nourishment for some hours,"
replies the voice of Wagstaffe. "What message can I deliver to him?"
"None in particular, except that he has not signalled a single one of
Sergeant-Major Pumpherston's shots!" replies the Captain of D, with
"Half a mo'!" replies Wagstaffe.... Then, presently--
"Hallo! Are you there, Whitson?"
"Yes. We are still here," Captain Whitson assures him frigidly.
"Right. Well, I have examined Number Seven target, and there are no
shots on it of any kind whatever. But there are ten shots on Number
Eight, if that's any help. Buck up with the next lot, will you? We are
getting rather bored here. So long!"
There was nothing in it now. D Company had finished. The last two
representatives of A were firing, and subalterns with note-books were
performing prodigies of arithmetic. Bobby Little calculated that if
these two scored eighteen points each they would pull the Company's
total average up to fifteen precisely, beating D by a decimal.
The two slender threads upon which the success of this enterprise hung
were named Lindsay and Budge. Lindsay was a phlegmatic youth with
watery eyes. Nothing disturbed him, which was fortunate, for the
commotion which surrounded him was considerable. A stout sergeant
lay beside him on a waterproof sheet, whispering excited counsels of
perfection, while Bobby Little danced in the rear, beseeching him to
fire upon the proper target.
"Now, Lindsay," said Captain Whitson, in a trembling voice, "you are
going to get into a good comfortable position, take your time, and
score five bulls."
The amazing part of it all was that Lindsay very nearly did score five
bulls. He actually got four, and would have had a fifth had not the
stout sergeant, in excess of solicitude, tenderly wiped his watery eye
for him with a grubby handkerchief just as he took the first pull for
his third shot.
Altogether he scored nineteen; and the gallery, full of
congratulations, moved on to inspect the performance of Private Budge,
an extremely nervous subject: who, thanks to the fact that public
attention had been concentrated so far upon Lindsay, and that his
ministering sergeant was a matter-of-fact individual of few words, had
put on two bulls--eight points. He now required to score only nine
points in three shots.
Suddenly the hapless youth became aware of the breathless group in his
rear. He promptly pulled his trigger, and just nicked the outside edge
of the target--two points.
"I doot I'm gettin' a thing nairvous," he muttered apologetically to
"Havers! Shut your held and give the bull a bash!" responded that
The twitching Budge, bracing himself, scored an inner--three points.
"A bull, and we do it!" murmured Bobby Little. Fortunately Budge did
"Ye're no daen badly," admitted the sergeant grudgingly.
Budge, a little piqued, determined to do better. He raised his
foresight slowly; took the first pull; touched "six o'clock" on the
distant bull--luckily the light was perfect--and took the second pull
for the last time.
Next moment a white disc rose slowly out of the earth and covered the
So Bobby Little was able next morning to congratulate his disciples
upon being "the best-shooting platoon in the best-shooting Company in
the best-shooting Battalion in the Brigade."
Not less than fifty other subalterns within a radius of five miles
were saying the same thing to their platoons. It is right to foster a
spirit of emulation in young troops.
_Scene, a village street, deserted. Rain falls_. (It has been falling
for about three weeks.) _A tucket sounds. Enter, reluctantly,
soldiery. They grouse. There appear severally, in doorways, children.
They stare. And at chamber-windows, serving-maids. They make eyes. The
soldiery make friendly signs_.
Such is the stage setting for our daily morning parade. We have been
here for some weeks now, and the populace is getting used to us. But
when we first burst upon this peaceful township I think we may say,
without undue egoism, that we created a profound sensation. In this
sleepy corner of Hampshire His Majesty's uniform, enclosing a casual
soldier or sailor on furlough, is a common enough sight, but a whole
regiment on the march is the rarest of spectacles. As for this
tatterdemalion northern horde, which swept down the street a few
Sundays ago, with kilts swinging, bonnets cocked, and Pipes skirling,
as if they were actually returning from a triumphant campaign instead
of only rehearsing for one--well, as I say, the inhabitants had never
seen anything like us in the world before. We achieved a _succes fou_.
In fact, we were quite embarrassed by the attention bestowed upon us.
During our first few parades the audience could with difficulty be
kept off the stage. It was impossible to get the children into school,
or the maids to come in and make the beds. Whenever a small boy spied
an officer, he stood in his way and saluted him. Dogs enlisted in
large numbers, sitting down with an air of pleased expectancy in the
supernumerary rank, and waiting for this new and delightful pastime to
take a fresh turn. When we marched out to our training area, later in
the day, infant schools were decanted on to the road under a beaming
vicar, to utter what we took to be patriotic sounds and wave
Off duty, we fraternised with the inhabitants. The language was a
difficulty, of course; but a great deal can be done by mutual goodwill
and a few gestures. It would have warmed the heart of a philologist to
note the success with which a couple of kilted heroes from the banks
of Loch Lomond would sidle up to two giggling damosels of Hampshire at
the corner of the High Street, by the post office, and invite them
to come for a walk. Though it was obvious that neither party could
understand a single word that the other was saying, they never failed
to arrive at an understanding; and the quartette, having formed
two-deep, would disappear into a gloaming as black as ink, to inhale
the evening air and take sweet counsel together--at a temperature of
about twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit.
You ought to see us change guard. A similar ceremony takes place,
we believe, outside Buckingham Palace every morning, and draws a
considerable crowd; but you simply cannot compare it with ours. How
often does the guard at Buckingham Palace fix bayonets? Once! and
the thing is over. It is hardly worth while turning out to see. _We_
sometimes do it as much as seven or eight times before we get it
right, and even then we only stop because the sergeant-in-charge
is threatened with clergyman's sore throat. The morning Private
Mucklewame fixed his bayonet for the first time, two small boys stayed
away from school all day in order to see him unfix it when he came
off guard in the afternoon. Has any one ever done that at Buckingham
However, as I say, they have got used to us now. We fall in for our
diurnal labours in comparative solitude, usually in heavy rain and
without pomp. We are fairly into the collar by this time. We have been
worked desperately hard for more than four months; we are grunting
doggedly away at our job, not because we like it, but because we know
it is the only thing to do. To march, to dig, to extend, to close; to
practise advance-guards and rear-guards, and pickets, in fair weather
or foul, often with empty stomachs--that is our daily and sometimes
our nightly programme. We are growing more and more efficient, and
our powers of endurance are increasing. But, as already stated, we no
longer go about our task like singing birds.
It is a quarter to nine in the morning. All down the street doors are
opening, and men appear, tugging at their equipment. (Yes, we are
partially equipped now.) Most of B Company live in this street. They
are fortunate, for only two or three are billeted in each little
house, where they are quite domestic pets by this time. Their
billeting includes "subsistence," which means that they are catered
for by an experienced female instead of a male cooking-class still in
the elementary stages of its art.
"A" are not so fortunate. They are living in barns or hay-lofts,
sleeping on the floor, eating on the floor, existing on the floor
generally. Their food is cooked (by the earnest band of students
aforementioned) in open-air camp-kitchens; and in this weather it is
sometimes difficult to keep the fires alight, and not always possible
to kindle them.
"D" are a shade better off. They occupy a large empty mansion at the
end of the street. It does not contain a stick of furniture; but there
are fireplaces (with Adam mantelpieces), and the one thing of which
the War Office never seems to stint us is coal. So "D" are warm,
anyhow. Thirty men live in the drawing-room. Its late tenant would
probably be impressed with its new scheme of upholstery. On the floor,
straw palliasses and gravy. On the walls, "cigarette photties"--by the
way, the children down here call them "fag picters." Across the room
run clothes-lines, bearing steaming garments (and tell it not in
Gath!) an occasional hare skin.
"C" are billeted in a village two miles away, and we see them but
The rain has ceased for a brief space--it always does about parade
time--and we accordingly fall in. The men are carrying picks and
shovels, and make no attempt to look pleased at the circumstance. They
realise that they are in for a morning's hard digging, and very likely
for an evening's field operations as well. When we began, company
training a few weeks ago, entrenching was rather popular. More than
half of us are miners or tillers of the soil, and the pick and shovel
gave us a home-like sensation. Here was a chance, too, of showing
regular soldiers how a job should be properly accomplished. So we dug
with great enthusiasm.
But A Company have got over that now. They have developed into
sufficiently old soldiers to have acquired the correct military
attitude towards manual labour. Trench-digging is a "fatigue," to
be classed with, coal-carrying, floor-scrubbing, and other civilian
pursuits. The word "fatigue" is a shibboleth with, the British
private. Persuade him that a task is part of his duty as a soldier,
and he will perform it with tolerable cheerfulness; but once allow
him to regard that task as a "fatigue," and he will shirk it whenever
possible, and regard himself as a deeply injured individual when
called upon to undertake it. Our battalion has now reached a
sufficient state of maturity to be constantly on the _qui vive_ for
cunningly disguised fatigues. The other day, when kilts were issued
for the first time, Private Tosh, gloomily surveying his newly
unveiled extremities, was heard to remark with a sigh--
"Anither fatigue! Knees tae wash, noo!"
Presently Captain Blaikie arrives upon the scene; the senior subaltern
reports all present, and we tramp off through the mud to our training
We are more or less in possession of our proper equipment now. That
is to say, our wearing apparel and the appurtenances thereof are no
longer held in position with string. The men have belts, pouches, and
slings in which to carry their greatcoats. The greatcoats were the
last to materialise. Since their arrival we have lost in decorative
effect what we have gained in martial appearance. For a month or two
each man wore over his uniform during wet weather--in other words,
all day--a garment which the Army Ordnance Department described
as--"Greatcoat, Civilian, one." An Old Testament writer would have
termed it "a coat of many colours." A tailor would have said that it
was a "superb vicuna raglan sack." You and I would have called it,
quite simply, a reach-me-down. Anyhow, the combined effect was unique.
As we plodded patiently along the road in our tarnished finery, with
our eye-arresting checks and imitation velvet collars, caked with mud
and wrinkled with rain, we looked like nothing so much on earth as
a gang of weighers returning from an unsuccessful day at a suburban
But now the khaki-mills have ground out another million yards or
so, and we have regulation greatcoats. Water-bottles, haversacks,
mess-tins, and waterproof sheets have been slowly filtering into our
possession; and whenever we "mobilise," which we do as a rule about
once a fortnight--whether owing to invasion scares or as a test of
efficiency we do not know--we fall in on our alarm-posts in something
distinctly resembling 'the full "Christmas-tree" rig. Sam Browne belts
have been wisely discarded by the officers in favour of web-equipment;
and although Bobby Little's shoulders ache with the weight of his
pack, he is comfortably conscious of two things--firstly, that even
when separated from his baggage he can still subsist in fair
comfort on what he carries upon his person; and secondly, that his
"expectation of life," as the insurance offices say, has increased
about a hundred per cent. now that the German sharpshooters will no
longer be able to pick him out from his men.
Presently we approach the scene of our day's work, Area Number
Fourteen. We are now far advanced in company training. The barrack
square is a thing of the past. Commands are no longer preceded by
cautions and explanations. A note on a whistle, followed by a brusque
word or gesture, is sufficient to set us smartly on the move.
Suddenly we are called upon to give a test of our quality. A rotund
figure upon horseback appears at a bend in the road. Captain Blaikie
recognises General Freeman.
(We may note that the General's name is not really Freeman. We are
much harried by generals at present. They roam about the country on
horseback, and ask company commanders what they are doing; and no
company commander has ever yet succeeded in framing an answer which
sounds in the least degree credible. There are three generals; we call
them Freeman, Hardy, and Willis, because we suspect that they
are all--to judge from their fondness for keeping us on the
run--financially interested in the consumption of shoe-leather.
In other respects they differ, and a wise company commander will
carefully bear their idiosyncrasies in mind and act accordingly, if he
wishes to be regarded as an intelligent officer.)
Freeman is a man of action. He likes to see people running about. When
he appears upon the horizon whole battalions break into a double.
Hardy is one of the old school: he likes things done decently and in
order. He worships bright buttons, and exact words of command, and a
perfectly wheeling line. He mistrusts unconventional movements and
individual tactics. "No use trying to run," he says, "before you can
walk." When we see him, we dress the company and advance in review
Willis gives little trouble. He seldom criticises, but when he does
his criticism is always of a valuable nature; and he is particularly
courteous and helpful to young officers. But, like lesser men, he has
his fads. These are two--feet and cookery. He has been known to call a
private out of the ranks on a route-march and request him to take his
boots off for purposes of public display. "A soldier marches on two
things," he announces--"his feet and his stomach." Then he calls up
another man and asks him if he knows how to make a sea-pie. The man
never does know, which is fortunate, for otherwise General Willis
would not be able to tell him. After that he trots happily away, to
ask some one else.
However, here we are face to face with General Freeman. Immediate
action is called for. Captain Blaikie flings an order over his
shoulder to the subaltern in command of the leading platoon--
"Pass back word that this road is under shell fire. Move!"
--and rides forward to meet the General.
In ten seconds the road behind him is absolutely clear, and the men
are streaming out to right and left in half-platoons. Waddell's
platoon has the hardest time, for they were passing a quickset hedge
when the order came. However, they hurl themselves blasphemously
through, and double on, scratched and panting.
"Good morning, sir!" says Captain Blaikie, saluting.
"Good morning!" says General Freeman. "What was that last movement?"
"The men are taking 'artillery' formation, sir. I have just passed the
word down that the road is under shell fire."
"Quite so. But don't you think you ought to keep some of your company
in rear, as a supporting line? I see you have got them all up on one
By this time A Company is advancing in its original direction, but
split up into eight half-platoons in single file--four on each side of
the road, at intervals of thirty yards. The movement has been quite
smartly carried out. Still, a critic must criticise or go out of
business. However, Captain Blaikie is an old hand.
"I was assuming that my company formed part of a battalion, sir," he
explained. "There are supposed to be three other companies in rear of
"I see. Still, tell two of your sections to fall back and form a
Captain Blaikie, remembering that generals have little time for study
of such works as the new drill-book, and that when General Freeman
says "section" he probably means "platoon," orders Numbers Two and
Four to fall back. This manoeuvre is safely accomplished.
"Now, let me see them close on the road."
Captain Blaikie blows a whistle, and slaps himself on the top of the
head. In three minutes the long-suffering platoons are back on the
road, extracting thorns from their flesh and assuaging the agony of
their abrasions by clandestine massage.
General Freeman rides away, and the column moves on. Two minutes later
Captain Wagstaffe doubles up from the rear to announce that General
Hardy is only two hundred yards behind.
"Pass back word to the men," groans Captain Blaikie, "to march at
attention, put their caps straight, and slope their shovels properly.
And send an orderly to that hilltop to look out for General Willis.
Tell him to unlace his boots when he gets there, and on no account to
admit that he knows how to make a sea-pie!"
The Great War has been terribly hard on the text-books.
When we began to dig trenches, many weeks ago, we always selected a
site with a good field of fire.
"No good putting your trenches," said the text-book, "where you can't
see the enemy."
This seemed only common-sense; so we dug our trenches in open plains,
or on the forward slope of a hill, where we could command the enemy's
movements up to two thousand yards.
Another maxim which we were urged to take to heart was--When not
entrenched, always take advantage of _natural_ cover of any kind; such
as farm buildings, plantations, and railway embankments.
We were also given practice in describing and recognising
inconspicuous targets at long range, in order to be able to harass the
enemy the moment he showed himself.
Well, recently generals and staff officers have been coming home
from the front and giving us lectures. We regard most lectures as
a "fatigue"--but not these. We have learned more from these
quiet-mannered, tired-looking men in a brief hour than from all the
manuals that ever came out of Gale and Poldens'. We have heard the
history of the War from the inside. We know why our Army retreated
from Mons; we know what prevented the relief of Antwerp. But above
all, we have learned to revise some of our most cherished theories.
Briefly, the amended version of the law and the prophets comes to
Never, under any circumstances, place your trenches where you can see
the enemy a long way off. If you do, he will inevitably see you too,
and will shell you out of them in no time. You need not be afraid
of being rushed; a field of fire of two hundred yards or so will be
sufficient to wipe him off the face of the earth.
Never, under any circumstances, take cover in farm buildings, or
plantations, or behind railway embankments, or in any place likely to
be marked on a large-scale map. Their position and range are known to
a yard. Your safest place is the middle of an open plain or ploughed
field. There it will be more difficult for the enemy's range-takers to
gauge your exact distance.
In musketry, concentrate all your energies on taking care of your
rifle and practising "rapid." You will seldom have to fire over a
greater distance than two hundred yards; and at that range British
rapid fire is the most dreadful medium of destruction yet devised in
All this scraps a good deal of laboriously acquired learning, but
it rings true. So we site our trenches now according to the lessons
taught us by the bitter experience of others.
Having arrived at our allotted area, we get to work. The firing-trench
proper is outlined on the turf a hundred yards or so down the reverse
slope of a low hill. When it is finished it will be a mere crack in
the ground, with no front cover to speak of; for that would make it
conspicuous. Number One Platoon gets to work on this. To Number Two
is assigned a more subtle task--namely, the construction of a dummy
trench a comfortable distance ahead, dug out to the depth of a few
inches, to delude inquisitive aeroplanes, and rendered easily visible
to the enemy's observing stations by a parapet of newly-turned earth.
Numbers Three and Four concentrate their energies upon the supporting
trench and its approaches.
The firing-trench is our place of business--our office in the city, so
to speak. The supporting trench is our suburban residence, whither the
weary toiler may betake himself periodically (or, more correctly, in
relays) for purposes of refreshment and repose. The firing-trench,
like most business premises, is severe in design and destitute of
ornament. But the suburban trench lends itself to more imaginative
treatment. An auctioneer's catalogue would describe it as _A
commodious bijou residence, on_ (or of) _chalky soil; three feet wide
and six feet deep; in the style of the best troglodyte period. Thirty
seconds brisk crawl (or per stretcher) from the firing line. Gas laid
But only once, in a field near Aldershot, where Private Mucklewame
first laid bare, and then perforated, the town main with his pick.
--_With own water supply_--ankle-deep at times--_telephone, and the
We may note that the telephone communicates with the
observing-station, lying well forward, in line with the dummy trench.
The most important of the usual offices is the hospital--a cavern
excavated at the back of the trench, and roofed over with hurdles,
earth, and turf.
It is hardly necessary to add that we do not possess a real
field-telephone. But when you have spent four months in firing dummy
cartridges, performing bayonet exercises without bayonets, taking
hasty cover from non-existent shell fire, capturing positions held
by no enemy, and enacting the part of a "casualty" without having
received a scratch, telephoning without a telephone is a comparatively
simple operation. All you require is a ball of string and no sense of
humour. Second Lieutenant Waddell manages our telephone.
Meanwhile we possess our souls in patience. We know that the factories
are humming night and day on our behalf; and that if, upon a certain
day in a certain month, the contractors do not deliver our equipment
down to the last water-bottle cork, "K" will want to know the reason
why; and we cannot imagine any contractor being so foolhardy as to
provoke that terrible man into an inquiring attitude of mind.
Now we are at work. We almost wish that Freeman, Hardy, and Willis
could see us. Our buttons may occasionally lack lustre; we may cherish
unorthodox notions as to the correct method of presenting arms; we
may not always present an unbroken front on the parade-ground--but we
_can_ dig! Even the fact that we do not want to, cannot altogether
eradicate a truly human desire to "show off." "Each man to his art,"
we say. We are quite content to excel in ours, the oldest in the
world. We know enough now about the conditions of the present war to
be aware that when we go out on service only three things will really
count--to march; to dig; and to fire, upon occasion, fifteen rounds
a minute. Our rapid fire is already fair; we can march more than a
little; and if men who have been excavating the bowels of the earth
for eight hours a day ever since they were old enough to swing a pick
cannot make short work of a Hampshire chalk down, they are no true
members of their Trades Union or the First Hundred Thousand.
We have stuck to the phraseology of our old calling.
"Whaur's ma drawer?" inquires Private Hogg, a thick-set young man with
bandy legs, wiping his countenance with a much-tattooed arm. He
has just completed five strenuous minutes with a pick. "Come away,
Geordie, wi' yon shovel!"
The shovel is preceded by an adjective. It is the only adjective that
A Company knows. (No, not that one. The second on the list!)
Mr. George Ogg steps down into the breach, and sets to work. He is a
small man, strongly resembling the Emperor of China in a third-rate
provincial pantomime. His weapon is the spade. In civil life he would
have shovelled the broken coal into a "hutch," and "hurled" it away to
the shaft. That was why Private Hogg referred to him as a "drawer." In
his military capacity he now removes the chalky soil from the trench
with great dexterity, and builds it up into a neat parapet behind, as
a precaution against the back-blast of a "Black Maria."
There are not enough, picks and shovels to go round--_cela va sans
dire_. However, Private Mucklewame and others, who are not of the
delving persuasion, exhibit no resentment. Digging is not their
department. If you hand them a pick and shovel and invite them to
set to work, they lay the pick upon the ground beside the trench and
proceed to shovel earth over it until they have lost it. At a later
stage in this great war-game they will fight for these picks and
shovels like wild beasts. Shrapnel is a sure solvent of professional
However, to-day the pickless squad are lined up a short distance away
by the relentless Captain Wagstaffe, and informed--
"You are under fire from that wood. Dig yourselves in!"
Digging oneself in is another highly unpopular fatigue. First of
all you produce your portable entrenching-tool--it looks like a
combination of a modern tack-hammer and a medieval back-scratcher--and
fit it to its haft. Then you lie flat upon your face on the wet grass,
and having scratched up some small lumps of turf, proceed to build
these into a parapet. Into the hole formed by the excavation of the
turf you then put your head, and in this ostrich-like posture await
further instructions. Private Mucklewame is of opinion that it would
be equally effective, and infinitely less fatiguing, simply to lie
down prone and close the eyes.
After Captain Wagstaffe has criticised the preliminary parapets--most
of them are condemned as not being bullet-proof--the work is
continued. It is not easy, and never comfortable, to dig lying down;
but we must all learn to do it; so we proceed painfully to construct a
shallow trough for our bodies and an annexe for our boots. Gradually
we sink out of sight, and Captain Wagstaffe, standing fifty yards to
our front, is able to assure us that he can now see nothing--except
Private Mucklewame's lower dorsal curve.
By this time the rain has returned for good, and the short winter day
is drawing to a gloomy close. It is after three, and we have been
working, with one brief interval, for nearly five hours. The signal is
given to take shelter. We huddle together under the leafless trees,
and get wetter.
Next comes the order to unroll greatcoats. Five minutes later comes
another--to fall in. Tools are counted; there is the usual maddening
wait while search is made for a missing pick. But at last the final
word of command rings out, and the sodden, leaden-footed procession
sets out on its four-mile tramp home.
We are not in good spirits. One's frame of mind at all times depends
largely upon what the immediate future has to offer; and, frankly,
we have little to inspire us in that direction at present. When we
joined, four long months ago, there loomed largely and splendidly
before our eyes only two alternatives--victory in battle or death with
honour. We might live, or we might die; but life, while it lasted,
would not lack great moments. In our haste we had overlooked the
long dreary waste which lay--which always lies--between dream and
fulfilment. The glorious splash of patriotic fervour which launched us
on our way has subsided; we have reached mid-channel; and the haven
where we would be is still afar off. The brave future of which we
dreamed in our dour and uncommunicative souls seems as remote as ever,
and the present has settled down into a permanency.
To-day, for instance, we have tramped a certain number of miles; we
have worked for a certain number of hours; and we have got wet through
for the hundredth time. We are now tramping home to a dinner which
will probably not be ready, because, as yesterday, it has been cooked
in the open air under weeping skies. While waiting for it, we shall
clean the same old rifle. When night falls, we shall sleep uneasily
upon a comfortless floor, in an atmosphere of stale food and damp
humanity. In the morning we shall rise up reluctantly, and go forth,
probably in heavy rain, to our labour until the evening--the same
labour and the same evening. We admit that it can't be helped: the
officers and the authorities do their best for us under discouraging
circumstances: but there it is. Out at the front, we hear, men
actually get as much as three days off at a time--three days of hot
baths and abundant food and dry beds. To us, in our present frame of
mind, that seems worth any number of bullets and frost-bites.
And--bitterest thought of all--New Year's Day, with all its convivial
associations, is only a few weeks away. When it comes, the folk at
home will celebrate it, doubtless with many a kindly toast to the lads
"oot there," and the lads "doon there." But what will that profit us?
In this barbarous country we understand that they take no notice of
the sacred festival at all. There will probably be a route-march, to
keep us out of the public-houses.
_Et patiti, et patita_. Are we fed up? YES!
As we swing down the village street, slightly cheered by a faint aroma
of Irish stew--the cooks have got the fires alight after all--the
adjutant rides up, and reins in his horse beside our company
Battalion orders of some kind! Probably a full-dress parade, to trace
a missing bayonet!
Presently he rides away; and Captain Blaikie, instead of halting and
dismissing us in the street as usual, leads us down an alley into the
backyard which serves as our apology for a parade-ground. We form
close column of platoons, stand at ease, and wait resignedly.
Then Captain Blaikie's voice falls upon our ears.
"A Company, I have an announcement to make to you. His Majesty the
So that is it. Another Royal Review! Well, it will be a break in the
"--who has noted your hard work, good discipline, and steady progress
with the keenest satisfaction and pride--"
We are not utterly forgotten, then.
"--has commanded that every man in the battalion is to have seven
days' full leave of absence."
"A-a-ah!" We strain our tingling ears.
"We are to go by companies, a week at a time. 'C' will go first."
"C" indeed! Who are "C," to--?
"A Company's leave--_our_ leave--will begin on the twenty-eighth of
December, and extend to the third of January."
The staccato words sink slowly in, and then thoughts come tumbling.
"Free--free on New Year's Day! Almichty! Free to gang hame! Free
Then comes an icy chill upon our hearts. How are we to get home?
Scotland is hundreds of miles away. The fare, even on a "soldier's"
But the Captain has not quite finished.
"Every man will receive a week's pay in advance; and his fare, home
and back, will be paid by Government. That is all."
And quite enough too! We rock upon our squelching feet. But the
Captain adds, without any suspicion of his parade-ground manner--
"If I may say so, I think that if ever men deserved a good holiday,
you do. Company, slope arms! Dis-_miss_!"
* * * * *
We do not cheer: we are not built that way. But as we stream off to
our Irish stew, the dourest of us says in his heart--
"God Save the King!"
DEEDS OF DARKNESS
A moonlit, wintry night. Four hundred men are clumping along the
frost-bound road, under the pleasing illusion that because they are
neither whistling nor talking they are making no noise.
At the head of the column march Captains Mackintosh and Shand, the
respective commanders of C and D Companies. Occasionally Mackintosh,
the senior, interpolates a remark of a casual or professional nature.
To all these his colleague replies in a low and reproachful whisper.
The pair represent two schools of military thought--a fact of which
their respective subalterns are well aware,--and act accordingly.
"In preparing troops for active service, you must make the conditions
as _real_ as possible from the very outset," postulates Shand.
"Perform all your exercises just as you would in war. When you dig
trenches, let every man work with his weather-eye open and his rifle
handy, in case of sudden attack. If you go out on night operations
don't advertise your position by stopping to give your men a
recitation. No talking--no smoking--no unnecessary delay or exposure!
Just go straight to your point of deployment, and do what you came out
To this Mackintosh replies,--
"That's all right for trained troops. But ours aren't half-trained
yet; all our work just now is purely educational. It's no use
expecting a gang of rivet-heaters from Clydebank to form an elaborate
outpost line, just because you whispered a few sweet nothings in the
dark to your leading section of fours! You simply _must_ explain every
step you take, at present."
But Shand shakes his head.
"It's not soldierly," he sighs.
Hence the present one-sided--or apparently one-sided--dialogue. To the
men marching immediately behind, it sounds like something between a
soliloquy and a chat over the telephone.
Presently Captain Mackintosh announces,--
"We might send the scouts ahead now I think."
Shand gives an inaudible assent. The column is halted, and the scouts
called up. A brief command, and they disappear into the darkness, at
the double. C and D Companies give them five minutes start, and move
on. The road at this point runs past a low mossy wall, surmounted by a
venerable yew hedge, clipped at intervals into the semblance of some
heraldic monster. Beyond the hedge, in the middle distance, looms a
square and stately Georgian mansion, whose lights twinkle hospitably.
"I think, Shand," suggests Mackintosh with more formality, now that
he is approaching the scene of action, "that we might attack at two
different points, each of us with his own company. What is your
The officer addressed makes no immediate reply. His gaze is fixed upon
the yew hedge, as if searching for gun positions or vulnerable points.
Presently, however, he turns away, and coming close to Captain
Mackintosh, puts his lips to his left ear. Mackintosh prepares his
intellect for the reception of a pearl of strategy.
But Captain Shand merely announces, in his regulation whisper,--
"Dam pretty girl lives in that house, old man!"
Private Peter Dunshie, scout, groping painfully and profanely through
a close-growing wood, paused to unwind a clinging tendril from his
bare knees. As he bent down, his face came into sudden contact with
a cold, wet, prickly bramble-bush, which promptly drew a loving but
excoriating finger across his right cheek.
He started back, with a muffled exclamation. Instantly there arose at
his very feet the sound as of a motor-engine being wound up, and a
flustered and protesting cock-pheasant hoisted itself tumultuously
clear of the undergrowth and sailed away, shrieking, over the trees.
Finally, a hare, which had sat cowering in the bracken, hare-like,
when it might have loped away, selected this, the one moment when it
ought to have sat still, to bolt frantically between Peter's bandy
legs and speed away down a long moon-dappled avenue.
Private Dunshie, a prey to nervous shock, said what naturally rose
to his lips. To be frank, he said it several times. He had spent the
greater part of his life selling evening papers in the streets of
Glasgow: and the profession of journalism, though it breeds many
virtues in its votaries, is entirely useless as a preparation for
conditions either of silence or solitude. Private Dunshie had no
experience of either of these things, and consequently feared them
both. He was acutely afraid. What he understood and appreciated was
Argyle Street on a Saturday night. That was life! That was light! That
was civilisation! As for creeping about in this uncanny wood, filled
with noxious animals and adhesive vegetation--well, Dunshie was
heartily sorry that he had ever volunteered for service as a scout. He
had only done so, of course, because the post seemed to offer certain
relaxations from the austerity of company routine--a little more
freedom of movement, a little less trench-digging, and a minimum of
supervision. He would have been thankful for a supervisor now!
That evening, when the scouts doubled ahead, Lieutenant Simson had
halted them upon the skirts of a dark, dreich plantation, and said--
"A and B Companies represent the enemy. They are beyond that crest,
finishing the trenches which were begun the 'other day. They intend
to hold these against our attack. Our only chance is to take them by
surprise. As they will probably have thrown out a line of outposts,
you scouts will now scatter and endeavour to get through that line, or
at least obtain exact knowledge of its composition. My belief is that
the enemy will content themselves with placing a piquet on each of the
two roads which run through their position; but it is possible that
they will also post sentry-groups in the wood which lies between.
However, that is what you have to find out. Don't go and get captured.
The scouts silently scattered, and each man set out to pierce his
allotted section of the enemy's position. Private Dunshie, who had
hoped for a road, or at least a cart-track, to follow, found himself,
by the worst of luck, assigned to a portion of the thick belt of wood
which stretched between the two roads. Nature had not intended him
for a pioneer: he was essentially a city man. However, he toiled on,
rending the undergrowth, putting up game, falling over tree-roots, and
generally acting as advertising agent for the approaching attack.
By way of contrast, two hundred yards to his right, picking his way
with cat-like care and rare enjoyment, was Private M'Snape. He was of
the true scout breed. In the dim and distant days before the call of
the blood had swept him into "K(1)," he had been a Boy Scout of no
mean repute. He was clean in person and courteous in manner. He could
be trusted to deliver a message promptly. He could light a fire in a
high wind with two matches, and provide himself with a meal of sorts
where another would have starved. He could distinguish an oak from an
elm, and was sufficiently familiar with the movements of the heavenly
bodies to be able to find his way across country by night. He was
truthful, and amenable to discipline. In short, he was the embodiment
of a system which in times of peace had served as a text for
innumerable well-meaning but muddle-headed politicians of a certain
type, who made a specialty of keeping the nation upon the alert
against the insidious encroachments of--Heaven help us!--Militarism!
To-night all M'Snape's soul was set on getting through the enemy's
outpost line, and discovering a way of ingress for the host behind
him. He had no map, but he had the Plough and a fitful moon to guide
him, and he held a clear notion of the disposition of the trenches in
his retentive brain. On his left he could hear the distressing sounds
of Dunshie's dolorous progress; but these were growing fainter. The
reason was that Dunshie, like most persons who follow the line of
least resistance, was walking in a circle. In fact, a few minutes
later his circuitous path brought him out upon the long straight road
which ran up over the hill towards the trenches.
With a sigh of relief Dunshie stepped out upon the good hard macadam,
and proceeded with the merest show of stealth up the gentle gradient.
But he was not yet at ease. The over-arching trees formed a tunnel in
which his footsteps reverberated uncomfortably. The moon had retired
behind a cloud. Dunshie, gregarious and urban, quaked anew. Reflecting
longingly upon his bright and cosy billet, with the "subsistence"
which was doubtless being prepared against his return, he saw no
occasion to reconsider his opinion that in the country no decent body
should over be called up to go out after dark unaccompanied. At that
moment Dunshie would have bartered his soul for the sight of an
The darkness grew more intense. Something stirred in the wood beside
him, and his skin tingled. An owl hooted suddenly, and he jumped.
Next, the gross darkness was illuminated by a pale and ghostly
radiance, coming up from behind; and something brushed past
him--something which squeaked and panted. His hair rose upon his
scalp. A friendly "Good-night!" uttered in a strong Hampshire accent
into his left ear, accentuated rather than soothed his terrors. He sat
down suddenly upon a bank by the roadside, and feebly mopped his moist
The bicycle, having passed him, wobbled on up the hill, shedding a
fitful ray upon alternate sides of the road. Suddenly--raucous and
stunning, but oh, how sweet!--rang out the voice of Dunshie's lifelong
friend, Private Mucklewame.
"Halt! Wha goes there!"
The cyclist made no reply, but kept his devious course. Private
Mucklewame, who liked to do things decently and in order, stepped
heavily out of the hedge into the middle of the road, and repeated his
question in a reproving voice. There was no answer.
This was most irregular. According to the text of the spirited little
dialogue in which Mucklewame had been recently rehearsed by his piquet
commander, the man on the bicycle ought to have said "Friend!" This
cue received, Mucklewame was prepared to continue. Without it he was
gravelled. He tried once more.
"Halt! Wha goes--"
"On His Majesty's Service, my lad!" responded a hearty voice; and the
postman, supplementing this information with a friendly good-night,
wobbled up the hill and disappeared from sight.
The punctilious Mucklewame was still glaring severely after this
unseemly "gagger," when he became aware of footsteps upon the road.
A pedestrian was plodding up the hill in the wake of the postman. He
would stand no nonsense this time.
"Halt!" he commanded. "Wha goes there?"
"Hey, Jock," inquired a husky voice, "is that you?"
This was another most irregular answer. Declining to be drawn into
impromptu irrelevancies, Mucklewame stuck to his text.
"Advance yin," he continued, "and give the coontersign, if any!"
Private Dunshie drew nearer.
"Jock," he inquired wistfully, "hae ye gotten a fag?"
"Aye," replied Mucklewame, friendship getting the better of
"Wull ye give a body yin?"
"Aye. But ye canna smoke on ootpost duty," explained Mucklewame
sternly. "Forbye, the officer has no been roond yet," he added.
"Onyway," urged Dunshie eagerly, "let nae be your prisoner! Let me
bide with the other boys in here ahint the dyke!"
The hospitable Mucklewame agreed, and Scout Dunshie, overjoyed at the
prospect of human companionship, promptly climbed over the low wall
and attached himself, in the _role_ of languishing captive, to Number
Two Sentry-Group of Number Three Piquet.
Meanwhile M'Snape had reached the forward edge of the wood, and was
cautiously reconnoitring the open ground in front of him. The moon
had disappeared altogether now, but M'Snape was able to calculate, by
reason of the misdirected exuberance of the vigilant Mucklewame, the
exact position of the sentry-group on the left-hand road. About the
road on his right he was not so certain; so he set out cautiously
towards it, keeping to the edge of the wood, and pausing every few
yards to listen. There must be a sentry-group somewhere here, he
calculated--say midway between the roads. He must walk warily.
Easier said than done. At this very moment a twig snapped beneath his
foot with a noise like a pistol-shot, and a covey of partridges, lying
out upon the stubble beside him, made an indignant evacuation of their
bedroom. The mishap seemed fatal: M'Snape stood like a stone. But no
alarm followed, and presently all was still again--so still, indeed,
that presently, out on the right, two hundred yards away, M'Snape
heard a man cough and then spit. Another sentry was located!
Having decided that there was no sentry-group between the two roads,
M'Snape turned his back upon the wood and proceeded cautiously
forward. He was not quite satisfied in his mind about things. He knew
that Captain Wagstaffe was in command of this section of the defence.
He cherished a wholesome respect for that efficient officer, and
doubted very much if he would really leave so much of his front
Next moment the solution of the puzzle was in his very hand--in the
form of a stout cord stretching from right to left. He was just in
time to avoid tripping over it. It was suspended about six inches
above the ground.
You cannot follow a clue in two directions at once; so after a little
consideration M'Snape turned and crawled along to his right, being
careful to avoid touching the cord. Presently a black mass loomed
before him, acting apparently as terminus to the cord. Lying flat on
his stomach, in order to get as much as possible of this obstacle
between his eyes and the sky, M'Snape was presently able to descry,
plainly silhouetted against the starry landscape, the profile of one
Bain, a scout of A Company, leaning comfortably against a small bush,
and presumably holding the end of the cord in his hand.
M'Snape wriggled silently away, and paused to reflect. Then he began
to creep forward once more.
Having covered fifty yards, he turned to his right again, and
presently found himself exactly between Bain and the trenches. As he
expected, his hand now descended upon another cord, lying loosely on
the ground, and running at right angles to the first. Plainly Bain
was holding one end of this, and some one in the trenches--Captain
Wagstaffe himself, as like as not--was holding the other. If an enemy
stumbled over the trip-cord, Bain would warn the defence by twitching
Five minutes later M'Snape was back at the rendezvous, describing to
Simson what he had seen. That wise subaltern promptly conducted him to
Captain Mackintosh, who was waiting with his Company for something
to go upon. Shand had departed with his own following to make an
independent attack on the right flank. Seven of the twelve scouts were
there. Of the missing, Dunshie, as we know, was sunning his lonely
soul in the society of his foes; two had lost themselves, and the
remaining two had been captured by a reconnoitring patrol. Of the
seven which strayed not, four had discovered the trip-cord; so it was
evident that that ingenious contrivance extended along the whole line.
Only M'Snape, however, had penetrated farther. The general report was
that the position was closely guarded from end to end.
"You say you found a cord running back from Bain to the trenches,
M'Snape," asked Captain Mackintosh, "and a sentry holding on to it?"
"Yess, sirr," replied the scout, standing stiffly to attention in the
"If we could creep out of the wood and rush _him_, we might be able to
slip our attack in at that point," said the Captain. "You say there is
cover to within twenty yards of where he is sitting?"
"Still, I'm afraid he'll pull that cord a bit too soon for us."
"He'll no, sirr," remarked M'Snape confidently.
"Why not?" asked the Captain.
M'Snape told him.
Captain Mackintosh surveyed the small wizened figure before him almost
"M'Snape," he said, "to-morrow I shall send in your name for
The defenders were ready. The trenches were finished: "A" and "B" had
adjusted their elbow-rests to their liking, and blank ammunition had
been served out. Orders upon the subject of firing were strict.
"We won't loose off a single shot until we actually _see_ you,"
Captain Blaikie had said to Captain Mackintosh. "That will teach your
men to crawl upon their little tummies, and ours to keep their eyes
(Captain Wagstaffe's string alarm had been an afterthought. At least,
it was not mentioned to the commander of the attack.)
Orders were given that the men were to take things easily for half an
hour or so, as the attack could not possibly be developed within that
time. The officers established themselves in a splinter-proof shelter
at the back of the supporting trench, and partook of provender from
"I don't suppose they'll attack much before nine," said the voice of
a stout major named Kemp. "My word, it is dark in here! _And_ dull!
Curse the Kaiser!"
"I don't know," said Wagstaffe thoughtfully. "War is hell, and all
that, but it has a good deal to recommend it. It wipes out all the
small nuisances of peace-time."
"Well, Suffragettes, and Futurism, and--and--"
"Bernard Shaw," suggested another voice. "Hall Caine--"
"Yes, and the Tango, and party politics, and golf-maniacs. Life and
Death, and the things that really are big, get viewed in their proper
perspective for once in a way."
"And look how the War has bucked up the nation," said Bobby Little,
all on fire at once. "Look at the way girls have given up fussing over
clothes and things, and taken to nursing."
"My poor young friend," said the voice of the middle-aged Kemp, "tell
me honestly, would you like to be attended to by some of the young
women who have recently taken up the nursing profession?"
"Rather!" said Bobby, with thoughtless fervour.
"I didn't say _one_," Kemp pointed out, amid laughter, "but _some_.
Of course we all know of one. Even I do. It's the rule, not the
exception, that we are dealing with just now."
Bobby, realising that he had been unfairly surprised in a secret, felt
glad that the darkness covered his blushes.
"Well, take my tip," continued Kemp, "and avoid amateur ministering
angels, my son. I studied the species in South Africa. For twenty-four
hours they nurse you to death, and after that they leave you to perish
of starvation. Women in war-time are best left at home."
A youthful paladin in the gloom timidly mentioned the name of Florence
"One Nightingale doesn't make a base hospital," replied Kemp. "I
take off my hat--we all do--to women who are willing to undergo the
drudgery and discomfort which hospital training involves. But I'm
not talking about Florence Nightingales. The young person whom I am
referring to is just intelligent enough to understand that the only
possible thing to do this season is to nurse. She qualifies herself
for her new profession by dressing up like one of the chorus of
'The Quaker Girl,' and getting her portrait, thus attired, into the
'Tatler.' Having achieved this, she has graduated. She then proceeds
to invade any hospital that is available, where she flirts with
everything in pyjamas, and freezes you with a look if you ask her to
empty a basin or change your sheets. I know her! I've had some, and I
know her! She is one of the minor horrors of war. In peace-time she
goes out on Alexandra Day, and stands on the steps of men's clubs and
pesters the members to let her put a rose in their button-holes. What
such a girl wants is a good old-fashioned mother who knows how to put
a slipper to its right use!"
"I don't think," observed Wagstaffe, since Kemp had apparently
concluded his philippic, "that young girls are the only people who
lose their heads. Consider all the poisonous young blighters that one
sees about town just now. Their uplift is enormous, and their manners
in public horrid; and they hardly know enough about their new job to
stand at attention when they hear 'God Save the King.' In fact, they
deserve to be nursed by your little friends, Bobby!"
"They are all that you say," conceded Kemp. "But after all, they do
have a fairly stiff time of it on duty, and they are going to have a
much stiffer time later on. And they are not going to back out when
the romance of the new uniform wears off, remember. Now these girls
will play the angel-of-mercy game for a week or two, and then jack up
and confine their efforts to getting hold of a wounded officer and
taking him to the theatre. It is _dernier cri_ to take a wounded
officer about with you at present. Wounded officers have quite
superseded Pekinese, I am told."
"Women certainly are the most extraordinary creatures," mused Ayling,
a platoon commander of "B." "In private life I am a beak at a public
"What school?" inquired several voices. Ayling gave the name, found
that there were two of the school's old boys present, and continued--
"Just as I was leaving to join this battalion, the Head received
a letter from a boy's mother intimating that she was obliged to
withdraw her son, as he had received a commission in the army for the
duration of the war. She wanted to know if the Head would keep her
son's place open for him until he came back! What do you think of
"Sense of proportion wasn't invented when women were made," commented
Kemp. "But we are wandering from the subject, which is: what
advantages are we, personally, deriving from the war? Wagger, what are
you getting out of it?"
"Half-a-crown a day extra pay as Assistant Adjutant," replied
Wagstaffe laconically. "Ainslie, wake up and tell us what the war
has done for you, since you abandoned the Stock Exchange and took to
"Certainly," replied Ainslie. "A year ago I spent my days trying to
digest my food, tind my nights trying to sleep. I was not at all
successful in either enterprise. I can now sit down to a supper of
roast pork and bottled stout, go to bed directly afterwards, sleep all
night, and wake up in the morning without thinking unkind things
of anybody--not even my relations-in-law! Bless the Kaiser, say I!
Borrodaile, what about you? Any complaints?"
"Thank you," replied Borrodaile's dry voice; "there are no complaints.
In civil life I am what is known as a 'prospective candidate.' For
several years I have been exercising this, the only, method of
advertising permitted to a barrister, by nursing a constituency. That
is, I go down to the country once a week, and there reduce myself to
speechlessness soliciting the votes of the people who put my opponent
in twenty years ago, and will keep him in by a two thousand majority
as long as he cares to stand. I have been at it five years, but so far
the old gentleman has never so much as betrayed any knowledge of my
"That must be rather galling," said Wagstaffe.
"Ah! but listen! Of course party politics have now been merged in the
common cause--see local organs, _passim_--and both sides are working
shoulder to shoulder for the maintenance of our national existence."
"_Applause!_" murmured Kemp.
"That is to say," continued Borrodaile with calm relish, "my opponent,
whose strong suit for the last twenty years has been to cry down the
horrors of militarism, and the madness of national service, and the
unwieldy size of the British Empire, is now compelled to spend his
evenings taking the chair at mass meetings for the encouragement of
recruiting. I believe the way in which he eats up his own previous
utterances on the subject is quite superb. On these occasions I always
send him a telegram, containing a kindly pat on the back for him and
a sort of semi-official message for the audience. He has to read this
out on the platform!"
"What sort of message?" asked a delighted voice.
"Oh--_Send along some more of our boys. Lord Kitchener says there
are none to touch them. Borrodaile, Bruce and Wallace Highlanders_.
Or--_All success to the meeting, and best thanks to you personally for
carrying on in my absence. Borrodaile, Bruce and Wallace Highlanders_.
I have a lot of quiet fun," said Borrodaile meditatively, "composing
those telegrams. I rather fancy"--he examined the luminous watch on
his wrist--"it's five minutes past eight: I rather fancy the old thing
is reading one now!"
The prospective candidate leaned back against the damp wall of the
dug-out with a happy sigh. "What have you got out of the war, Ayling?"
"Change," said Ayling.
"For better or worse?"
"If you had spent seven years in a big public school," said Ayling,
"teaching exactly the same thing, at exactly the same hour, to exactly
the same kind of boy, for weeks on end, what sort of change would you
"Death," said several voices.
"Nothing of the kind!" said Ayling warmly. "It's a great life, if you
are cut out for it. But there is no doubt that the regularity of the
hours, and the absolute certainty of the future, make a man a bit
groovy. Now in this life we are living we have to do lots of dull or
unpleasant things, but they are never quite the same things. They
are progressive, and not circular, if you know what I mean; and the
immediate future is absolutely unknown, which is an untold blessing.
What about you, Sketchley?"
A fat voice replied--
"War is good for adipose Special Reservists. I have decreased four
inches round the waist since October. Next?"
So the talk ran on. Young Lochgair, heir to untold acres in the far
north and master of unlimited pocket-money, admitted frankly that the
sum of eight-and-sixpence per day, which he was now earning by the
sweat of his brow and the expenditure of shoe-leather, was sweeter to
him than honey in the honeycomb. Hattrick, who had recently put up a
plate in Harley Street, said it was good to be earning a living wage
at last. Mr. Waddell, pressed to say a few words of encouragement of
the present campaign, delivered himself of a guarded but illuminating
eulogy of war as a cure for indecision of mind; from which, coupled
with a coy reference to "some one" in distant St. Andrews, the company
were enabled to gather that Mr. Waddell had carried a position with
his new sword which had proved impregnable to civilian assault.
Only Bobby Little was silent. In all this genial symposium there had
been no word of the spur which was inciting him--and doubtless the
others--along the present weary and monotonous path; and on the whole
he was glad that it should be so. None of us care to talk, even
privately, about the Dream of Honour and the Hope of Glory. The only
difference between Bobby and the others was that while they could
cover up their aspirations with a jest, Bobby must say all that was in
his heart, or keep silent. So he held his peace.
A tall figure loomed against the starlit sky, and Captain Wagstaffe,
who had been out in the trench, spoke quickly to Major Kemp:--
"I thing we had better get to our places, sir. Some criminal has cut
Five minutes previously, Private Bain, lulled to a sense of false
security by the stillness of the night, had opened his eyes, which had
been closed for purposes of philosophic reflection, to find himself
surrounded by four ghostly figures in greatcoats. With creditable
presence of mind he jerked his alarm-cord. But, alas! the cord came
with his hand.
He was now a prisoner, and his place in the scout-line was being used
as a point of deployment for the attacking force.
"We're extended right along the line now," said Captain Mackintosh
to Simson. "I can't wait any longer for Shand: he has probably lost
himself. The sentries are all behind us. Pass the word along to crawl
forward. Every man to keep as low as he can, and dress by the right.
No one to charge unless he hears my whistle, or is fired on."
The whispered word--Captain Mackintosh knows when to whisper quite as
well as Captain Shand--runs down the line, and presently we begin to
creep forward, stooping low. Sometimes we halt; sometimes we swing
back a little; but on the whole we progress. Once there is a sudden
exclamation. A highly-strung youth, crouching in a field drain, has
laid his hand upon what looks and feels like a clammy human face,
lying recumbent and staring heavenward. Too late, he recognises a
derelict scarecrow with a turnip head. Again, there is a pause while
the extreme right of the line negotiates an unexpected barbed-wire
fence. Still, we move on, with enormous caution. We are not certain
where the trenches are, but they must be near. At any moment a
crackling volley may leap out upon us. Pulses begin to beat.
In the trench itself eyes are strained and ears cocked. It is an eerie
sensation to know that men are near you, and creeping nearer, yet
remain inaudible and invisible. It is a very dark night. The moon
appears to have gone to bed for good, and the stars are mostly
covered. Men unconsciously endeavour to fan the darkness away with
their hands, like mist. The broken ground in front, with the black
woods beyond, might be concealing an army corps for all the watchers
in the trenches can tell. Far away to the south a bright finger of
light occasionally stabs the murky heavens. It is the searchlight of
a British cruiser, keeping ceaseless vigil in the English Channel,
fifteen miles away. If she were not there we should not be
making-believe here with such comfortable deliberation. It would be
the real thing.
Bobby Little, who by this time can almost discern spiked German
helmets in the gloom, stands tingling. On either side of him are
ranged the men of his platoon--some eager, some sleepy, but all
silent. For the first time he notices that in the distant woods ahead
of him there is a small break--a mere gap--through which one or two
stars are twinkling. If only he could contrive to get a line of sight
direct to that patch of sky--
He moves a few yards along the trench, and brings his eye to the
ground-level. No good: a bush intervenes, fifteen yards away. He moves
further and tries again.
Suddenly, for a brief moment, against the dimly illuminated scrap
of horizon, he descries a human form, clad in a kilt, advancing
"_Number one Platoon_--_at the enemy in front_--_rapid fire_!"
He is just in time. There comes an overwrought roar of musketry all
down the line of trenches. Simultaneously, a solid wall of men rises
out of the earth not fifty yards away, and makes for the trenches with
a long-drawn battle yell.
Make-believe has its thrills as well as the genuine article.
And so home to bed. M'Snape duly became a lance-corporal, while
Dunshie resigned his post as a scout and returned to duty with the
Under this designation it is convenient to lump the whole heavenly
host which at present orders our goings and shapes our ends. It
(1) The War Office;
(2) The Treasury;
(3) The Army Ordnance Office;
(4) Our Divisional Office;
--and other more local and immediate homes of mystery.
The Olympus which controls the destinies of "K(1)" differs in many
respects from the Olympus of antiquity, but its celestial inhabitants
appear to have at least two points in common with the original
body--namely, a childish delight in upsetting one another's
arrangements, and an untimely sense of humour when dealing with
So far as our researches have gone, we have been able to classify
Olympus, roughly, into three departments--
(1) Round Game Department (including Dockets, Indents, and all
(2) Fairy Godmother Department.
(3) Practical Joke Department.
The outstanding feature of the Round Game Department is its craving
for irrelevant information and its passion for detail. "Open your
hearts to us," say the officials of the Department; "unburden your
souls; keep nothing from us--and you will find us most accommodating.
But stand on your dignity; decline to particularise; hold back one
irrelevant detail--and it will go hard with you! Listen, and we
will explain the rules of the game. Think of something you want
immediately--say the command of a brigade, or a couple of washers for
the lock of a machine-gun--and apply to us. The application must be
made in writing, upon the Army Form provided for the purpose, and in
triplicate. _And_--you must put in all the details you can possibly
For instance, in the case of the machine-gun washers--by the way, in
applying for them, you must call them _Gun, Machine, Light Vickers,
Washers for lock of, two_. That is the way we always talk at the
Ordnance Office. An Ordnance officer refers to his wife's mother as
_Law, Mother-in-, one_--you should state when the old washers were
lost, and by whom; also why they were lost, and where they are now.
Then write a short history of the machine-gun from which they were
lost, giving date and place of birth, together with, a statement of
the exact number of rounds which it has fired--a machine-gun fires
about five hundred rounds a minute--adding the name and military
record of the pack-animal which usually carries it. When you have
filled up this document you forward it to the proper quarter and await
The game then proceeds on simple and automatic lines. If your
application is referred back to you not more than five times, and if
you get your washers within three months of the date of application,
you are the winner. If you get something else instead--say an
aeroplane, or a hundred wash-hand basins--it is a draw. But the
chances are that you lose.
Consider. By the rules of the game, if Olympus can think of a single
detail which has not been thought of by you--for instance, if you omit
to mention that the lost washers were circular in shape and had holes
through the middle--you are _ipso facto_ disqualified, under Rule
One. Rule Two, also, is liable to trip you up. Possibly you may have
written the pack-mule's name in small block capitals, instead of
ordinary italics underlined in red ink, or put the date in Roman
figures instead of Arabic numerals. If you do this, your application
is referred back to you, and you lose a life. And even if you survive
Rules One and Two, Rule Three will probably get you in the end. Under
its provision your application must be framed in such language and
addressed in such a manner that it passes through every department and
sub-department of Olympus before it reaches the right one. The rule
has its origin in the principle which governs the passing of wine at
well-regulated British dinner-tables. That is, if you wish to offer a
glass of port to your neighbour on your right, you hand the decanter
to the neighbour on your left, so that the original object of your
hospitality receives it, probably empty, only after a complete circuit
of the table. In the present instance, the gentleman upon your right
is the President of the Washer Department, situated somewhere in the
Army Ordnance Office, the remaining guests representing the other
centres of Olympian activity. For every department your
application misses, you lose a life, three lost lives amounting to
When the washers are issued, however, the port-wine rule is abandoned;
and the washers are despatched to you, in defiance of all the laws of
superstition and tradition, "widdershins," or counter-clockwise.
No wonder articles thus jeopardised often fail to reach their
Your last fence comes when you receive a document from Olympus
announcing that your washers are now prepared for you, and that if you
will sign and return the enclosed receipt they will be sent off upon
their last journey. You are now in the worst dilemma of all. Olympus
will not disgorge your washers until it has your receipt. On the other
hand, if you send the receipt, Olympus can always win the game by
losing the washers, and saying that _you_ have got them. In the face
of your own receipt you cannot very well deny this. So you lose
your washers, and the game, and are also made liable for the
misappropriation of two washers, for which Olympus holds your receipt.
Truly, the gods play with loaded dice.
On the whole, the simplest (and almost universal) plan is to convey a
couple of washers from some one else's gun.
The game just described is played chiefly by officers; but this is a
democratic age, and the rank and file are now occasionally permitted
to take part.
For example, boots. Private M'Splae is the possessor, we will say,
of a pair of flat feet, or arched insteps, or other military
incommodities, and his regulation boots do not fit him. More than
that, they hurt him exceedingly, and as he is compelled to wear them
through daily marches of several miles, they gradually wear a hole in
his heel, or a groove in his instep, or a gathering on his great toe.
So he makes the first move in the game, and reports sick--"sair feet."
The Medical Officer, a terribly efficient individual,
keenly--sometimes too keenly--alert for signs of malingering, takes a
cursory glance at M'Splae's feet, and directs the patient's attention
to the healing properties of soap and water. M'Splae departs,
grumbling, and reappears on sick parade a few days later, palpably
worse. This time, the M.O. being a little less pressed with
work, M'Splae is given a dressing for his feet, coupled with a
recommendation to procure a new pair of boots without delay. If
M'Splae is a novice in regimental diplomacy, he will thereupon address
himself to his platoon sergeant, who will consign him, eloquently, to
a destination where only boots with asbestos soles will be of any use.
If he is an old hand, he will simply cut his next parade, and will
thus, rather ingeniously, obtain access to his company commander,
being brought up before him at orderly-room next morning as a
defaulter. To his captain he explains, with simple dignity, that he
absented himself from parade because he found himself unable to "rise
up" from his bed. He then endeavours, by hurriedly unlacing his boots,
to produce his feet as evidence; but is frustrated, and awarded three
extra fatigues for not formally reporting himself sick to the orderly
sergeant. The real point of issue, namely, the unsuitability of
M'Splae's boots, again escapes attention.
There the matter rests until, a few days later, M'Splae falls out on
a long regimental route-march, and hobbles home, chaperoned by a not
ungrateful lance-corporal, in a state of semi-collapse. This time the
M.O. reports to the captain that Private M'Splae will be unfit for
further duty until he is provided with a proper pair of boots. Are
there no boots in the quartermaster's store?
The captain explains that there are plenty of boots, but that under
the rules of the present round game no one has any power to issue
them. (This rule was put in to prevent the game from becoming too
easy, like the spot-barred rule in billiards.) It is a fact well known
to Olympus that no regimental officer can be trusted with boots. Not
even the colonel can gain access to the regimental boot store. For all
Olympus can tell, he might draw a pair of boots and wear them himself,
or dress his children up in them, or bribe the brigadier with them,
instead of issuing them to Private M'Splae. No, Olympus thinks it
wiser not to put temptation in the way of underpaid officers. So the
boots remain locked up, and the taxpayer is protected.
But to be just, there is always a solution to an Olympian enigma, if
you have the patience to go on looking for it. In this case the proper
proceeding is for all concerned, including the prostrate M'Splae, to
wait patiently for a Board to sit. No date is assigned for this event,
but it is bound to occur sooner or later, like a railway accident or
an eclipse of the moon. So one day, out of a cloudless sky, a Board
materialises, and sits on M'Splae's boots. If M'Splae's company
commander happens to be president of the Board the boots are
condemned, and the portals of the quarter-master's store swing open
for a brief moment to emit a new pair.
When M'Splae comes out of hospital, the boots, provided no one has
appropriated them during the term, of his indisposition, are his. He
puts them on, to find that they pinch him in the same place as the old
* * * * *
Then there is the Fairy Godmother Department, which supplies us with
unexpected treats. It is the smallest department on Olympus, and, like
most philanthropic institutions, is rather unaccountable in the manner
in which it distributes its favours. It is somewhat hampered in its
efforts, too, by the Practical Joke Department, which appears to
exercise a sort of general right of interference all over Olympus. For
instance, the Fairy Godmother Department decrees that officers from
Indian regiments, who were home on leave when the War broke out and
were commandeered for service with the Expeditionary Force, shall
continue to draw pay on the Indian scale, which is considerably higher
than that which prevails at home. So far, so good. But the Practical
Joke Department hears of this, and scents an opportunity, in the form
of "deductions." It promptly bleeds the beneficiaire of certain sums
per day, for quarters, horse allowance, forage, and the like. It is
credibly reported that one of these warriors, on emerging from a
week's purgatory in a Belgian trench, found that his accommodation
therein had been charged against him, under the head of "lodgings," at
the rate of two shillings and threepence a night!
But sometimes the Fairy Godmother Department gets a free hand. Like
a benevolent maiden aunt, she unexpectedly drops a twenty-pound note
into your account at Cox's Bank, murmuring something vague about
"additional outfit allowance"; and as Mr. Cox makes a point of backing
her up in her little secret, you receive a delightful surprise next
time you open your pass-book.
She has the family instinct for detail, too, this Fairy Godmother.
Perhaps the electric light in your bedroom fails, and for three days
you have to sit in the dark or purchase candles. An invisible but
observant little cherub notes this fact; and long afterwards a postal
order for tenpence flutters down upon you from Olympus, marked "light
allowance." Once Bobby Little received a mysterious postal order for
one-and-fivepence. It was in the early days of his novitiate, before
he had ceased to question the workings of Providence. So he made
inquiries, and after prolonged investigation discovered the source of
the windfall. On field service an officer is entitled to a certain
sum per day as "field allowance." In barracks, however, possessing a
bedroom and other indoor comforts, he receives no such gratuity. Now
Bobby had once been compelled to share his room for a few nights
with a newly-joined and homeless subaltern. He was thus temporarily
rendered the owner of only half a bedroom. Or, to put it another way,
only half of him was able to sleep in barracks. Obviously, then, the
other half was on field service, and Bobby was therefore entitled to
half field allowance. Hence the one-and-fivepence. I tell you, little
escapes them on Olympus. So does much, but that is another story.
* * * * *
Last of all comes the Practical Joke Department. It covers practically
all of one side of Olympus--the shady side.
The jokes usually take the form of an order, followed by a
counter-order. For example--
In his magisterial days Ayling, of whom we have previously heard, was
detailed by his Headmaster to undertake the organisation of a school
corps to serve as a unit of the Officers' Training Corps--then one of
the spoilt bantlings of the War Office. Being a vigorous and efficient
young man, Ayling devoted four weeks of his summer holiday to a course
of training with a battalion of regulars at Aldershot. During that
period, as the prospective commander of a company, he was granted the
pay and provisional rank of captain, which all will admit was handsome
enough treatment. Three months later, when after superhuman struggles
he had pounded his youthful legionaries into something like
efficiency, his appointment to a commission was duly confirmed, and he
found himself gazetted--Second Lieutenant. In addition to this, he was
required to refund to the Practical Joke Department the difference
between second lieutenant's pay and the captain's pay which he had
received during his month's training at Aldershot!
But in these strenuous days the Department has no time for baiting
individuals. It has two or three millions of men to sharpen its wit
upon. Its favourite pastime at present is a sort of giant's game of
chess, the fair face of England serving as board, and the various
units of the K. armies as pieces. The object of the players is to get
each piece through as many squares as possible in a given time, it
being clearly understood that no move shall count unless another piece
is evicted in the process. For instance, we, the _x_th Brigade of the
_y_th Division, are suddenly uprooted from billets at A and planted
down in barracks at B, displacing the _p_th Brigade of the _q_th
Division in the operation. We have barely cleaned tip after the
_p_th--an Augean task--and officers have just concluded messing,
furnishing, and laundry arrangements with the local _banditti_, when
the Practical Joke Department, with its tongue in its cheek, bids us
prepare to go under canvas at C. Married officers hurriedly despatch
advance parties, composed of their wives, to secure houses or lodgings
in the bleak and inhospitable environs of their new station; while
a rapidly ageing Mess President concludes yet another demoralising
bargain with a ruthless and omnipotent caterer. Then--this is the
cream of the joke--the day before we expect to move, the Practical
Joke Department puts out a playful hand and sweeps us all into some
half-completed huts at D, somewhere at the other end of the Ordnance
map, and leaves us there, with a happy chuckle, to sink or swim in an
Atlantic of mud.
So far as one is able to follow the scoring of the game, some of
the squares in the chessboard are of higher value than others. For
instance, if you are dumped down into comparatively modern barracks
at Aldershot, which, although they contain no furniture, are at least
weatherproof and within reach of shops, the Practical Joke Department
scores one point. Barracks condemned as unsafe and insanitary before
the war, but now reckoned highly eligible, count three points;
rat-ridden billets count five. But if you can manoeuvre your helpless
pawns into Mudsplosh Camp, you receive ten whole points, with a bonus
of two points thrown in if you can effect the move without previous
notice of any kind.
We are in Mudsplosh Camp to-day. In transferring us here the
Department secured full points, including bonus.
Let it not be supposed, however, that we are decrying our present
quarters. Mudsplosh Camp is--or is going to be--a nobly planned and
admirably equipped military centre. At present it consists of some
three hundred wooden huts, in all stages of construction, covering
about twenty acres of high moorland. The huts are heated with stoves,
and will be delightfully warm when we get some coal. They are lit
by--or rather wired for--electric light. Meanwhile a candle-end does
well enough for a room only a hundred feet long. There are numerous
other adjuncts to our comfort--wash-houses, for instance. These will
be invaluable, when the water is laid on. For the present, there is a
capital standpipe not a hundred yards away; and all you have to do, if
you want an invigorating scrub, is to wait your turn for one of the
two tin basins supplied to each fifty men, and then splash to your
heart's content. There is a spacious dining-hall; and as soon as the
roof is on, our successors, or their successors, will make merry
therein. Meanwhile, there are worse places to eat one's dinner than
the floor--the mud outside, for instance.
The stables are lofty and well ventilated. At least, we are sure
they will be. Pending their completion the horses and mules are very
comfortable, picketed on the edge of the moor.... After all, there are
only sixty of them; and most of them have rugs; and it can't possibly
go on snowing for ever.
The only other architectural feature of the camp is the steriliser,
which has been working night and day ever since we arrived. No, it
does not sterilise water or milk, or anything of that kind--only
blankets. Those men standing in a _queue_ at its door are carrying
their bedding. (Yes, quite so. When blankets are passed from regiment
to regiment for months on end, in a camp where opportunities for
ablution are not lavish, these little things will happen.)
You put the blankets in at one end of the steriliser, turn the
necessary handles, and wait. In due course the blankets emerge,
steamed, dried, and thoroughly purged. At least, that is the idea. But
listen to Privates Ogg and Hogg, in one of their celebrated cross-talk
_Ogg (examining his blanket)_. "They're a' there yet. See!"
_Hogg (an optimist)_. "Aye; but they must have gotten an awfu'
But then people like Ogg are never satisfied with anything.
However, _the_ feature of this camp is the mud. That is why it
counts ten points. There was no mud, of course, before the camp was
constructed--only dry turf, and wild yellow gorse, and fragrant
heather. But the Practical Joke Department were not to be discouraged
by the superficial beauties of nature. They knew that if you crowd
a large number of human dwellings close together, and refrain from
constructing any roads or drains as a preliminary, and fill these
buildings with troops in the rainy season, you will soon have as much
mud as ever you require. And they were quite right. The depth varies
from a few inches to about a foot. On the outskirts of the camp,
however, especially by the horse lines or going through a gate, you
may find yourself up to your knees. But, after all, what is mud! Most
of the officers have gum-boots, and the men will probably get used to
it. Life in K(1) is largely composed of getting used to things.
In the more exclusive and fashionable districts--round about
the Orderly-room, and the Canteen, and the Guard-room--elevated
"duck-walks" are laid down, along which we delicately pick our way.
It would warm the heart of a democrat to observe the ready--nay,
hasty--courtesy with which an officer, on meeting a private carrying
two overflowing buckets of kitchen refuse, steps down into the mud to
let his humble brother-in-arms pass. Where there are no duck-walks, we
employ planks laid across the mud. In comparatively dry weather these
planks lie some two or three inches below the mud, and much innocent
amusement may be derived from trying to locate them. In wet weather,
however, the planks float to the surface, and then of course
everything is plain sailing. When it snows, we feel for the planks
with our feet. If we find them we perform an involuntary and
unpremeditated ski-ing act: if we fail, we wade to our quarters
through a sort of neapolitan ice--snow on the top, mud underneath.
Our parade-ground is a mud-flat in front of the huts. Here we take our
stand each morning, sinking steadily deeper until the order is given
to move off. Then the battalion extricates itself with one tremendous
squelch, and we proceed to the labours of the day.
Seriously, though--supposing the commanding officer were to be delayed
one morning at orderly-room, and were to ride on to the parade-ground
twenty minutes late, what would he find? Nothing! Nothing but a great
_parterre_ of glengarries, perched upon the mud in long parallel rows,