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Title: The Amateur Army
Author: MacGill, Patrick, 1889-1960
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Amateur Army" ***

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(http://www.archive.org/details/toronto), Suzanne Lybarger,

THE AMATEUR ARMY

BY PATRICK MACGILL



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

CHILDREN OF THE DEAD END

THE RAT-PIT

[Illustration: RIFLEMAN PATRICK MACGILL]



HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED ARUNDEL PLACE HAYMARKET LONDON S.W. MCMXV



_Wyman & Sons Ltd., Printers, London and Reading._



PREFACE


I am one of the million or more male residents of the United Kingdom,
who a year ago had no special yearning towards military life, but who
joined the army after war was declared. At Chelsea I found myself a
unit of the 2nd London Irish Battalion, afterwards I was drilled into
shape at the White City and training was concluded at St. Albans,
where I was drafted into the 1st Battalion. In my spare time I wrote
several articles dealing with the life of the soldier from the stage
of raw "rooky" to that of finished fighter. These I now publish in
book form, and trust that they may interest men who have joined the
colours or who intend to take up the profession of arms and become
members of the great brotherhood of fighters.

                                                     PATRICK MACGILL.

  "The London Irish,"
  British Expeditionary Force,
  _March 25th_, 1915.



CONTENTS

                                                         PAGE
  CHAPTER I

  I ENLIST AND AM BILLETED                                13

  CHAPTER II

  RATIONS AND SICK PARADE                                 23

  CHAPTER III

  PICKETS AND SPECIAL LEAVE                               36

  CHAPTER IV

  OFFICERS AND RIFLES                                     48

  CHAPTER V

  THE COFFEE-SHOP AND WANKIN                              60

  CHAPTER VI

  THE NIGHT SIDE OF SOLDIERING                            71

  CHAPTER VII

  DIVISIONAL EXERCISE AND MIMIC WARFARE                   85

  CHAPTER VIII

  THE GENERAL INSPECTION AND THE EVERLASTING WAITING      99

  CHAPTER IX

  READY TO GO--THE BATTALION MOVES                       111



CHAPTER I

I ENLIST AND AM BILLETED


What the psychological processes were that led to my enlisting in
"Kitchener's Army" need not be inquired into. Few men could explain
why they enlisted, and if they attempted they might only prove that
they had done as a politician said the electorate does, the right
thing from the wrong motive. There is a story told of an incident that
occurred in Flanders, which shows clearly the view held in certain
quarters. The Honourable Artillery Company were relieving some
regulars in the trenches when the following dialogue ensued between a
typical Tommy Atkins and an H.A.C. private:

T.A.: "Oo are you?"

H.A.C.: "We're the H.A.C."

T.A.: "Gentlemen, ain't yer?"

H.A.C.: "Oh well, in a way I suppose--"

T.A.: "'Ow many are there of yer?"

H.A.C.: "About eight hundred."

T.A.: "An' they say yer volunteered!"

H.A.C.: "Yes, we did."

T.A.: (With conviction as he gathers together his kit). "Blimey, yer
must be mad!"

For curiosity's sake I asked some of my mates to give me their reasons
for enlisting. One particular friend of mine, a good-humoured Cockney,
grinned sheepishly as he replied confidentially, "Well, matey, I done
it to get away from my old gal's jore--now you've got it!" Another
recruit, a pale, intelligent youth, who knew Nietzsche by heart,
glanced at me coldly as he answered, "I enlisted because I am an
Englishman." Other replies were equally unilluminating and I desisted,
remembering that the Germans despise us because we are devoid of
military enthusiasm.

The step once taken, however, we all set to work to discover how we
might become soldiers with a minimum of exertion and inconvenience to
ourselves. During the process I learned many things, among others
that I was a unit in the most democratic army in history; where Oxford
undergraduate and farm labourer, Cockney and peer's son lost their
identity and their caste in a vast war machine. I learned that Tommy
Atkins, no matter from what class he is recruited, is immortal, and
that we British are one of the most military nations in the world. I
have learned to love my new life, obey my officers, and depend upon
my rifle; for I am Rifleman Patrick MacGill of the Irish Rifles, where
rumour has it that the Colonel and I are the only two _real_ Irishmen
in the battalion. It should be remembered that a unit of a rifle
regiment is known as rifleman, not private; we like the term rifleman,
and feel justly indignant when a wrong appellation plays skittles with
our rank.

The earlier stages of our training took place at Chelsea and the White
City, where untiring instructors strove to convince us that we were
about the most futile lot of "rookies" that it had ever been their
misfortune to encounter. It was not until we were unceremoniously
dumped amidst the peaceful inhabitants of a city that slumbers in the
shadow of an ancient cathedral that I felt I was in reality a soldier.

Here we were to learn that there is no novelty so great for the newly
enlisted soldier as that of being billeted, in the process of which he
finds himself left upon an unfamiliar door-step like somebody else's
washing. He is the instrument by which the War Office disproves that
"an Englishman's home is his castle." He has the law behind him;
but nothing else--save his own capacity for making friends with his
victims.

If the equanimity of English householders who are about to have
soldiers billeted upon them is a test of patriotism, there may well be
some doubts about the patriotic spirit of the English middle class in
the present crisis. The poor people welcome to their homes soldiers
who in most cases belong to the same strata of society as themselves;
and, besides, ninepence a night as billet-fee is not to be laughed
at. The upper class can easily bear the momentary inconvenience of
Tommy's company; the method of procedure of the very rich in regard to
billeting seldom varies--a room, stripped of all its furniture, fitted
with beds and pictures, usually of a religious nature, is given up
for the soldiers' benefit. The lady of the house, gifted with that
familiar ease which the very rich can assume towards the poor at a
pinch--especially a pinch like the present, when "all petty class
differences are forgotten in the midst of the national crisis"--may
come and talk to her guests now and again, tell them that they are
fine fellows, and give them a treat to light up the heavy hours that
follow a long day's drill in full marching order. But the middle
class, aloof and austere in its own seclusion, limited in means and
apartment space, cannot easily afford the time and care needed for the
housing of soldiers. State commands cannot be gainsaid, however, and
Tommy must be housed and fed in the country which he will shortly go
out and defend in the trenches of France or Flanders.

The number of men assigned to a house depends in a great measure on
the discretion of the householder and the temper of the billeting
officer. A gruff reply or a caustic remark from the former sometimes
offends; often the officer is in a hurry, and at such a time
disproportionate assortment is generally the result. A billeting
officer has told me that fifty per cent. of the householders whom he
has approached show manifest hostility to the housing of soldiers. But
the military authorities have a way of dealing with these people. On
one occasion an officer asked a citizen, an elderly man full of paunch
and English dignity, how many soldiers could he keep in his house.
"Well, it's like this--," the man began.

"Have you any room to spare here?" demanded the officer.

"None, except on the mat," was the caustic answer.

"Two on the mat, then," snapped the officer, and a pair of tittering
Tommies were left at the door.

Matronly English dignity suffered on another occasion when a sergeant
inquired of a middle-aged woman as to the number of men she could
billet in her house.

"None," she replied. "I have no way of keeping soldiers."

"What about that apartment there?" asked the N.C.O. pointing to the
drawing-room.

"But they'll destroy everything in the room," stammered the woman.

"Clear the room then."

"But they'll have to pass through the hall to get in, and there are so
many valuable things on the walls--"

"You've got a large window in the drawing-room," said the officer;
"remove that, and the men will not have to pass through the hall. I'll
let you off lightly, and leave only two."

"But I cannot keep two."

"Then I'll leave four," was the reply, and four were left.

Sadder than this, even, was the plight of the lady and gentleman at
St. Albans who told the officer that their four children were just
recovering from an attack of whooping cough. The officer, being a
wise man and anxious about the welfare of those under his care, fled
precipitately. Later he learned that there had been no whooping cough
in the house; in fact, the people who caused him to beat such a hasty
retreat were childless. He felt annoyed and discomfited; but about a
week following his first visit he called again at the house, this time
followed by six men.

"These fellows are just recovering from whooping cough," he told the
householder; "they had it bad. We didn't know what to do with them,
but, seeing that you've had whooping cough here, I feel it's the only
place where it will be safe to billet them." And he left them there.

But happenings like these were more frequent at the commencement of
the war than now. Civilians, even those of the conventional middle
class, are beginning to understand that single men in billets, to
paraphrase Kipling slightly, are remarkably like themselves.

With us, rations are served out daily at our billets; our landladies
do the cooking, and mine, an adept at the culinary art, can transform
a basin of flour and a lump of raw beef into a dish that would make an
epicurean mouth water. Even though food is badly cooked in the billet,
it has a superior flavour, which is never given it in the boilers
controlled by the company cook. Army stew has rather a notorious
reputation, as witness the inspired words of a regimental poet--one of
the 1st Surrey Rifles--in a pæan of praise to his colonel:

  "Long may the colonel with us bide,
    His shadow ne'er grow thinner.
  (It would, though, if he ever tried
    Some Army stew for dinner.)"

Billeting has gained for the soldier many friends, and towns that have
become accustomed to his presence look sadly forward to the day when
he will leave them for the front, where no kind landlady will be at
hand to transform raw beef and potatoes into beef pudding or potato
pie. The working classes in particular view the future with misgiving.
The bond of sympathy between soldier and workers is stronger than that
between soldier and any other class of citizen. The houses and manners
of the well-to-do daunt most Tommies. "In their houses we feel out
of it somehow," they say. "There's nothin' we can talk about with the
swells, and 'arf the time they be askin' us about things that's no
concern of theirs at all."

Most toilers who have no friends or relations preparing for war
have kinsmen already in the trenches--or on the roll of honour. And
feelings stronger than those of friendship now unite thousands of
soldiers to the young girls of the houses in which they are billeted.
For even in the modern age, that now seems to voice the ultimate
expression of man's culture and advance in terrorism and destruction,
love and war, vital as the passion of ancient story, go hand in hand
up to the trenches and the threat of death.



CHAPTER II

RATIONS AND SICK PARADE


It has been said that an army moves upon its stomach, and, as if in
confirmation of this, the soldier is exhorted in an official pamphlet
"Never to start on a march with an empty stomach." To a hungry
rifleman the question of his rations is a matter of vital importance.
For the first few weeks our food was cooked up and served out on the
parade ground, or in the various gutter-fringed sheds standing in
the vicinity of our headquarters. The men were discontented with the
rations, and rumour had it that the troops stationed in a neighbouring
village rioted and hundreds had been placed under arrest.

Sometimes a haunch of roast beef was doled out almost raw, and
potatoes were generally boiled into pulp; these when served up looked
like lumps of wet putty. Two potatoes, unwashed and embossed with
particles of gravel, were allowed to each man; all could help
themselves by sticking their fingers into the doughy substance and
lifting out a handful, which they placed along with the raw "roast" on
the lid of their mess-tin. This constituted dinner, but often rations
were doled out so badly that several men only got half the necessary
allowance for their meals.

Tea was seldom sufficiently sweetened, and the men had to pay for
milk. After a time we became accustomed to the Epsom Salts that a
kindly War Office, solicitous for our well-being, caused to be added,
and some of us may go to our graves insisting on Epsom Salts with tea.
The feeding ground being in many cases a great distance from the fire,
the tea was cold by the time it arrived at the men's quarters. Those
who could afford it, took their food elsewhere: the restaurants in
the vicinity did a roaring trade, and several new ones were opened. A
petition was written; the men signed it, and decided to send it to
the colonel; but the N.C.O.'s stepped in and destroyed the document.
"You'll not do much good at the front," they told us, "if you are
grumbling already."

A week followed the destruction of the petition, and then appeared the
following in Battalion Orders: "From to-morrow until further orders,
rations will be issued at the men's billets." This announcement caused
no little sensation, aroused a great deal of comment, and created a
profound feeling of satisfaction in the battalion. Thenceforth rations
were served out at the billets, and the householders were ordered
to do the cooking. My landlady was delighted. "Not half feeding you;
that's a game," she said. "And you going to fight for your country!
But wait till you see the dishes I'll make out of the rations when
they come."

The rations came. In the early morning a barrow piled with eatables
was dragged through our street, and the "ration fatigue" party, full
of the novelty of a new job, yelled in chorus, "Bring out your dead,
ladies; rations are 'ere!"

"What have you got?" asked my landlady, going to the door. "What are
you supposed to leave for the men? Nothing's too good for them that's
going to fight for their country."

"Dead rats," said the ration-corporal with a grin.

"Don't be funny. What are my men to get?"

"Each man a pound of fresh meat, one and a half pounds of bread, two
taters, two ounces of sugar, and an ounce of tea and three ounces of
cheese. And, besides this, every feller gets a tin of jam once in four
days."

This looks well on paper, but pot and plate make a difference in the
proposition. Army cheese runs to rind rapidly, and a pound of beef is
often easily bitten to the bone: sometimes, in fact, it is all
bone and gristle, and the ravages of cooking minimise its bulk in
a disheartening way. One and a half pound of bread is more than the
third of a big loaf, but minus butter it makes a featureless repast.
Breakfast and tea without butter and milk does not always make a
dainty meal.

Even the distribution of rations leaves much to be desired; the
fatigue party, well-intentioned and sympathetic though it be, often
finds itself short of provisions. This may in many cases be due to
unequal distribution; an ounce of beef too much to each of sixteen men
leaves the seventeenth short of meat. This may easily happen, as the
ration party has never any means of weighing the food: it is nearly
always served out by guesswork. But sometimes the landladies help in
the distribution by bringing out scales and weighing the provisions.
One lady in our street always weighed the men's rations, and saw that
those under her care got the exact allowance. Never would she take any
more than her due, and never less. But a few days ago, when weighing
sugar and tea, a blast of wind upset the scales, and a second
allowance met with a similar fate. Sugar and tea littered the
pavement, and finally the woman supplied her soldiers from the
household stores. She now leaves the work of distribution in the hands
of the ration party, and takes what is given to her without grumbling.

The soldiers' last meal is generally served out about five o'clock
in the afternoon, sometimes earlier; and a stretch of fourteen hours
intervenes between then and breakfast. About nine o'clock in
the evening those who cannot afford to pay for extras feel their
waist-belts slacken, and go supperless to bed. And tea is not a very
substantial meal; the rations served out for the day have decreased in
bulk, bread has wasted to microscopic proportions, and the cheese has
diminished sadly in size. A regimental song, pent with soldierly woes,
bitterly bemoans the drawbacks of Tommy's tea:

  "Bread and cheese for breakfast,
    For dinner Army stew,
  But when it comes to tea-time
    There's dough and rind for you,
        So you and me
        Won't wait for tea--
    We're jolly big fools if we do."

But those who do not live in billets, and whose worldly wealth fails
to exceed a shilling a day, must be content with Army rations, with
the tea tasting of coom, and seldom sweetened, with the pebble-studded
putty potato coated in clay, with the cheese that runs to rind at
last parade, and, above all, with the knowledge that they are merely
inconvenienced at home so that they may endure the better abroad.

There is another school of theorists that states that an army moves,
not upon its stomach, but upon its feet, the care of which is of vital
importance. This, too, finds confirmation in the official pamphlet,
which tells the soldier to "Remember that a dirty foot is an unsound
foot. See that feet are washed if no other part of the body is," etc.

My right foot had troubled me for days; a pain settled in the arch of
the instep, and caused me intense agony when resuming the march after
a short halt; at night I would suddenly awake from sleep to experience
the sensation of being stabbed by innumerable pins in ankle and toes.
Marching in future, I felt, would be a monstrous futility, and I
decided that my case was one for the medical officer.

Sick parade is not restricted by any dress order; the sore-footed
may wear slippers; the sore-headed, Balaclava helmets; puttees can be
discarded; mufflers and comforters may be used. "The sick rabble" is
the name given by the men to the crowd that waits outside the door of
the M.O.'s room at eight in the morning. And every morning brings its
quota of ailing soldiers; some seriously ill, some slightly, and a few
(as may be expected out of a thousand men of all sorts and conditions)
who have imaginary or feigned diseases that will so often save
"slackers" from a hard day's marching. The aim and ambition of these
latter seem to be to do as little hard work as possible; some of them
attend sick parade on an average once a week, and generally obtain
exemption from a day's work. To obtain this they resort to several
ruses; headaches and rheumatic pains are difficult to detect, and the
doctor must depend on the private's word; a quick pulse and heightened
temperature is engendered by a brisk run, and this is often a means
towards a favourable medical verdict--that is, when "favourable" means
a suspension of duties.

At a quarter to eight I stood with ten others in front of the M.O.'s
door, on which a white card with the blue-lettered "No Smoking"
stood out in bold relief. The morning was bitterly cold, and a sharp,
penetrating wind splashed with rain swept round our ears, and chilled
our hands and faces. One of the waiting queue had a sharp cough and
spat blood; all this was due, he told us, to a day's divisional
field exercise, when he had to lie for hours on the wet ground
firing "blanks" at a "dummy" enemy. Another sick soldier, a youth of
nineteen, straight as a lance and lithe as a poplar, suffered from
ulcer in the throat. "I had the same thing before," he remarked in a
thin, hoarse voice, "but I got over it somehow. This time it'll maybe
the hospital. I don't know."

An orderly corporal filled in admission forms and handed them to us;
each form containing the sick man's regimental number, name, religion,
age, and length of military service, in addition to several other
minor details having no reference at all to the matter in hand. These
forms were again handed over to another orderly corporal, who stood
smoking a cigarette under the blue-lettered notice pinned to the door.

The boy with the sore throat was sitting in a chair in the room when I
entered, the doctor bending over him. "Would you like a holiday?" the
M.O. asked in a kindly voice.

"Where to, sir?"

"A couple of days in hospital would leave you all right, my man," the
M.O. continued, "and it would be a splendid rest."

"I don't want a rest," answered the youth. "Maybe I'll be better in
the morning, sir."

The doctor thought for a moment, then:

"All right, report to-morrow again," he said. "You're a brave boy.
Some, who are not the least ill, whine till one is sick--what's the
matter with you?"

"Sore foot, sir," I said, seeing the M.O.'s eyes fixed on me.

"Off with your boot, then."

I took off my boot, placed my foot on a chair, and had it inspected.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I don't know, sir. It pains me when marching, and sometimes--"

"Have you ever heard that Napoleon said an army marches on its
stomach?"

"Yes, sir, when the feet of the army is all right," I answered.

"Quite true," he replied. "No doubt you've sprained one of yours;
just wash it well in warm water, rub it well, and have a day or two
resting. That will leave you all right. Your boots are good?"

"Yes, sir."

"They don't pinch or--what's wrong with you?" He was speaking to the
next man.

"I don't know, sir."

"Don't know? You don't know why you're here. What brought you here?"

"Rheumatic pains, I think, sir," was the answer. "Last night I 'ad an
orful night. Couldn't sleep. I think it was the wet as done it. Lyin'
out on the grass last field day--"

"How many times have you been here before?"

"Well, sir, the last time was when--"

"How many times?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Was it rheumatic pains last time?"

"No sir, it was jaw-ache--toothache, I mean."

"I'll put you on light duties for the day," said the M.O. And the
rheumatic one and I went out together.

"That's wot they do to a man that's sick," said the rheumatic one when
we got outside. "Me that couldn't sleep last night, and now it's light
duties. I know what light duties are. You are to go into the orderly
room and wash all the dishes: then you go and run messages, then you
'old the orficer's horse and then maybe when you're worryin' your own
bit of grub they come and bundle you out to sweep up the orficers'
mess, or run an errand for the 'ead cook and bottle-washer. Light
duties ain't arf a job. I'm blowed if marchin' in full kit ain't ten
times better, and I'm going to grease to the battalion parade."

Fifteen minutes later I met him leaving his billet, his haversack
on the wrong side, his cartridge pouches open, the bolt of his gun
unfastened; his whole general appearance was a discredit to his
battalion and a disgrace to the Army. I helped to make him presentable
as he bellowed his woes into my ear. "No bloomin' grub this mornin',"
he said. "Left my breakfast till I'd come back, and 'aven't no time
for it now. Anyway I'm going out on the march; no light duties for me.
I know what they are." He was still protesting against the hardships
of things as he swung out of sight round the corner of the street.
Afterwards I heard that he got three days C.B. for disobeying the
orders of the M.O.

Save for minor ailments and accident, my battalion is practically
immune from sickness; colds come and go as a matter of course, sprains
and cuts claim momentary attention, but otherwise the health of the
battalion is perfect. "We're too healthy to be out of the trenches,"
a company humorist has remarked, and the company and battalion agrees
with him.



CHAPTER III

PICKETS AND SPECIAL LEAVE


One of the first things we had to learn was that our ancient cathedral
town has its bounds and limits for the legions of the lads in khaki.
Beyond a certain line, the two-mile boundary, we dare not venture
alone without written permission, and we can only pass the limit in a
body when led by a commissioned officer.

The whole world, with the exception of the space enclosed by this
narrow circle, is closed to the footsteps of Tommy; he cannot now
visit his sweetheart, his sweetheart must come and visit him. The
housemaid from Hammersmith and the typist from Tottenham have to come
to their beaux in billets, and as most of the men in our town are
single, and nearly all have sweethearts, it is estimated that five
or six thousand maidens blush to hear the old, old story within the
two-mile limit every week-end.

Once only every month is a soldier allowed week-end leave, and then
he has permission to be absent from his billet between the hours of
3 p.m. on Saturday and 10 p.m. on Sunday. His pass states that during
this time he is not liable to be arrested for desertion. Some men use
one pass for quite a long period, and alter the dates to suit every
occasion.

One Sunday, when returning from week-end leave, I travelled from
London by train. My compartment was crowded with men of my division,
and only one-half of these had true passes; one, who was an adept
calligraphist, wrote his own pass, and made a counterfeit signature
of the superior who should have signed the form of leave. Another had
altered the dates of an early pass so cleverly that it was difficult
to detect the erasure, and a number of men had no passes whatsoever.
These boasted of having travelled to London every week-end, and they
had never been caught napping.

Passes were generally inspected at the station preceding the one to
which we were bound. My travelling companions were well aware of this,
and made preparations to combat the difficulty in front; two crawled
under the seats, and two more went up on the racks, where they lay
quiet as mice, stretched out at full length and covered over with
several khaki overcoats. One man, a brisk Cockney, who would not deign
to roost or crawl, took up his position as far away as possible from
the platform window.

"Grease the paper along as quick as you know 'ow and keep the picket
jorin' till I'm safe," he remarked as the train stopped and a figure
in khaki fumbled with the door handle.

"Would you mind me lookin' at passes, mateys?" demanded the picket,
entering the compartment. The man by the door produced his pass, the
one he had written and signed himself; and when it passed inspection
he slyly slipped it behind the back of the man next him, and in the
space of three seconds the brisk Cockney had the forged permit of
leave to show to the inspector. The men under the seat and on the
racks were not detected.

Every station in our town and its vicinity has a cordon of pickets,
the Sunday farewell kisses of sweethearts are never witnessed by the
platform porter, as the lovers in khaki are never allowed to see
their loves off by train, and week-end adieux always take place at
the station entrance. Some time ago the pickets allowed the men to
see their sweethearts off, but as many youths abused the privilege and
took train to London when they got on the platform, these kind actions
have now become merely a pleasing memory.

Pickets seem to crop up everywhere; on one bus ride to London, a
journey of twenty miles, I have been asked to show my pass three
times, and on a return journey by train I have had to produce the
written permit on five occasions. But some units of our divisions soar
above these petty inconveniences, as do two brothers who motor home
every Sunday when church parade comes to an end.

When these two leave church after divine service, a car waits them at
the nearest street corner, and they slip into it, don trilby hats and
civilian overcoats, and sweep outside the restricted area at a haste
that causes the slow-witted country policeman to puzzle over the speed
of the car and forget its number while groping for his pocket-book.

It has always been a pleasure to me to follow for hours the winding
country roads looking out for fresh scenes and new adventures. The
life of the roadside dwellers, the folk who live in little stone
houses and show two flower-pots and a birdcage in their windows, has
a strange fascination for me. When I took up my abode here and got my
first free Sunday afternoon, I shook military discipline aside for a
moment and set out on one of my rambles.

There comes a moment on a journey when something sweet, something
irresistible and charming as wine raised to thirsty lips, wells up in
the traveller's being. I have never striven to analyse this feeling or
study the moment when it comes, and that feeling has been often mine.
Now I know the moment it floods the soul of the traveller. It is at
the end of the second mile, when the limbs warm to their work and the
lungs fill with the fresh country air. At such a moment, when a man
naturally forgets restraint to which he has only been accustomed for
a short while, I met the picket for the first time. He told me to
turn--and I went back. But it was not in my heart to like that picket,
and I shall never like him while he stands there, sentry of the
two-mile limit; an ogre denying me entrance into the wide world that
lies beyond.

There is one thing, however, before which the picket is impotent--a
pass. It is like a free pardon to a convict; it opens to him the whole
world--that is for the period it covers. The two most difficult things
in military life are to obtain permit of absence from billets, and the
struggle against the natural impulse to overstay the limit of leave.
There are times when soldiers experience an intense longing to see
their own homes, firesides, and friends, and in moments like these it
takes a stiff fight to overcome the desire to go away, if only for a
little while, to their native haunts. Only once in five weeks may a
man obtain a week-end pass--if he is lucky. To the soldier, luck is
merely another word for skill.

With us, the rifleman who scores six successive "bulls" at six hundred
yards on the open range has been lucky; if he speaks nicely to the
quartermaster and obtains the best pair of boots in the stores, he has
been lucky; if by mistake he is given double rations by the fatigue
party he is lucky; but if the same man, sweating over his rifle in
a carnival of "wash-outs," or, weary of blistered feet and empty
stomach, asks for sympathy because his rifle was sighted too low or
because he lost his dinner while waiting on boot-parade, we explain
that his woes are due to a caper of chance--that he has been unlucky.
To obtain a pass at any time a man must be lucky; obtaining one when
he desires it most is a thing heard of now and again, and getting a
pass and not being able to use it is of common occurrence. Now, when I
applied for special leave I was more than a little lucky.

It was necessary that I should attend to business in London, and I set
about making application for a permit of leave. I intended to apply
for a pass dating from 6 p.m. of a Friday evening to 10 p.m. of the
following Sunday. On Wednesday morning I spoke to a corporal of my
company.

"If you want leave, see the platoon sergeant," he told me. The platoon
sergeant, who was in a bad temper, spoke harshly when I approached
him. "No business of mine!" he said; "the company clerk will look into
the matter."

But I had no success with the company clerk; the leave which I desired
was a special one, and that did not come under his jurisdiction. "The
orderly sergeant knows more about this business than I do. Go to him
about it," he said.

By Wednesday evening I spoke to the orderly sergeant, who looked
puzzled for a moment. "Come with me to the lieutenant," he said.
"He'll know more about this matter than I do, and he'll see into it.
But it will be difficult to get special leave, you know; they don't
like to give it."

"Why?" I asked.

"Why?" he repeated; "what the devil does it matter to you? You're paid
here to do what you're told, not to ask questions."

The lieutenant was courteous and civil. "I can't do anything in the
matter," he said. "The orderly sergeant will take you to the company
officer, Captain ----, and he'll maybe do something for you."

"If you're lucky," said the sergeant in a low whisper. About eight
o'clock in the evening I paraded in the long, dimly-lighted passage
that leads to our company orderly-room, and there I had to wait two
hours while the captain was conducting affairs of some kind or another
inside. When the door was opened I was ordered inside.

"Quick march! Left turn! Halt!" ordered the sergeant as I crossed the
threshold, and presently I found myself face to face with our company
commander, who was sitting by a desk with a pile of papers before him.

"What is it?" he asked, fixing a pair of stern eyes on me, and I
explained my business with all possible despatch.

"Of course you understand that everything is now subservient to your
military duties; they take premier place in your new life," said the
officer. "But I'll see what I can do. By myself I am of little help.
However, you can write out a pass telling the length of time you
require off duty, and I'll lay it before the proper authorities."

I wrote out the "special pass," which ran as follows:

"Rifleman ---- has permission to be absent from his quarters from
6 p.m. (date) to 10 p.m. (date), for the purpose of proceeding to
London."

I came in from a long march on Thursday evening to find the pass
signed, stamped, and ready. On the following night I could go to
London, and I spent the evening 'phoning, wiring, and writing to town,
arranging matters for the day ahead. Also, I asked some friends to
have dinner with me at seven o'clock on Friday night.

Next day we had divisional exercise, which is usually a lengthy
affair. In the morning I approached the officer and asked if I might
be allowed off parade, seeing I had to set out for London at six
o'clock in the evening.

"Oh! we shall be back early," I was told, "back about three or
thereabouts."

The day was very interesting; the whole division, thousands of men,
numberless horses, a regiment of artillery, and all baggage and
munition for military use took up position in battle formation. In
front lay an imaginary army, and we had to cross a river to come
into contact with it. Engineers, under cover of the artillery,
built pontoon bridges for our crossing; on the whole an intensely
interesting and novel experience. So interesting indeed that I lost
all count of time, and only came to consciousness of the clock and
remembrance of friends making ready for dinner when some one remarked
that the hour of four had passed, and that we were still five miles
from home.

I got to my billet at six; there I flung off my pack, threw down my
rifle, and in frenzied haste consulted a railway timetable. A slow
train was due to leave our town at five minutes to seven. I arranged
my papers, made a brief review of matters which would come before me
later, and with muddy boots and heavy heart I arrived at the station
at seven minutes to seven and took the slow train for London.

When I told the story of my adventures at dinner a soldier friend
remarked: "You've been more than a little lucky in getting away at
all. I was very unlucky when I applied--"

But his story was a long one, and I have forgotten it.



CHAPTER IV

OFFICERS AND RIFLES


As I have said, I have learned among other things to obey my officers
and depend upon my rifle. At first the junior officers appeared to me
only as immaculate young men in tailor-made tunics and well-creased
trousers, wearing swords and wrist-watches, and full of a healthy
belief in their own importance. My mates are apt to consider them
as being somewhat vain, and no Tommy dares fail to salute the young
commissioned officers when he meets them out with their young ladies
on the public streets. For myself, I have a great respect for them and
their work; day and night they are at their toil; when parade comes to
an end, and the battalion is dismissed for the day, the officers, who
have done ten or twelve hours' of field exercise, turn to their desks
and company accounts, and time and again the Last Post sees them busy
over ledgers, pamphlets, and plans.

Accurate and precise in every detail, they know the outs and ins of
platoon and company drill, and can handle scores and hundreds of men
with the ease and despatch of artists born to their work. Where
have these officers, fresh youngsters with budding moustaches and
white, delicate hands, learned all about frontage, file, flank,
and formation, alignment, echelon, incline, and interval? Words of
direction and command come so readily from their lips that I was
almost tempted to believe that they had learned as easily as they
taught, that their skill in giving orders could only be equalled by
the ease with which I supposed they had mastered the details of their
work. Later I came to know of the difficulty that confronts the young
men, raw from the Officers' Training Corps, when they take up their
preliminary duties as commanders of trained soldiers. No "rooky" fresh
to the ranks is the butt of so many jokes and such biting sarcasm as
the young officer is subjected to when he takes his place as a leader
of men.

Soon after my arrival in our town a score of young lieutenants came
to our parade ground, accompanied by two commanders, a keen-eyed
adjutant, brisk as a bell, and a white-haired colonel with very thin
legs, and putties which seemed to have been glued on to his shins. The
young gentlemen were destined for various regiments, and most of them
were fresh and spotless in their new uniforms. Some wore Glengarry
bonnets, kilts, and sporrans, some the black ribbons of Wales; one,
whose hat-badge proclaimed the Dublin Fusilier, was conspicuous by the
eyeglass he wore, and others were still arrayed in civilian garb, the
uniform of city and office life. Several units of my battalion were
taken off to drill in company with the strange officers. I was one of
the chosen.

The young men took us in hand, acting in turn as corporals, platoon
sergeants, and company commanders. The gentleman with the eyeglass had
charge of my platoon, and from the start he cast surreptitious glances
at a little red brochure which he held in his hand, and mumbled words
as if trying to commit something to memory.

"Get to your places," the adjutant yelled to the officers. "Hurry up!
Don't stand there gaping as if you're going to snap at flies. We've
got to do some work. There's no hay for those who don't work. Come on,
Weary, and drill your men; you with the eyeglass, I mean! I want you
to put the company through some close column movements."

The man with the eyeglass took up his position, and issued some order,
but his voice was so low that the men nearest him could not hear the
command.

"Shout!" yelled the adjutant. "Don't mumble like a flapper who has
just got her first kiss. It's not allowed on parade."

The order was repeated, and the voice raised a little.

"Louder, louder!" yelled the adjutant. Then with fine irony: "These
men are very interested in what you've got to tell them.... I don't
think."

Eyeglass essayed another attempt, but stopped in the midst of his
words, frozen into mute helplessness by the look of the adjutant.

"For heaven's sake, try and speak up," the adjutant said. "If you
don't talk like a man, these fellows won't salute you when they meet
you in the street with your young lady. On second thoughts, you had
better go back and take up the job of platoon sergeant. Come on,
Glengarry, and try and trumpet an order."

Glengarry, so-called from his bonnet, a sturdy youth with sloping
shoulders, took up his post nervously.

"A close column forming column of fours," he cried in a shrill treble,
quoting the cautionary part of his command. "Advance in fours from the
right; form fours--right!"

"Form fours--where?" roared the adjutant.

"Left," came the answer.

"Left, your grandmother! You were right at first. Did you not know
that you were right?... Where's Eyeglass, the platoon sergeant, now?
Who's pinched him?"

This unfortunate officer had dropped his eyeglass, and was now groping
for it on the muddy ground, one of my mates helping him in the search.

Other officers took up the job of company commander in turn, and all
suffered. One, who was a dapper little fellow, speedily earned the
nickname of "Tailor's Dummy;" another, when giving a platoon the
wrong direction in dressing, was told to be careful, and not shove the
regiment over. A third, a Welshman, with the black ribbons, got angry
with a section for some slight mistake made by two of its number, and
was told to be careful and not annoy the men. He had only got them on
appro'.

Spick and span in their new uniforms, they came to drill daily on our
parade ground. Slowly the change took place. They were "rookies" no
longer, and the adjutant's sarcasm was a thing of the past. Commands
were pronounced distinctly and firmly; the officers were trained men,
ready to lead a company of soldiers anywhere and to do anything.

No man who has trained with the new armies can be lacking in respect
for the indefatigable N.C.O., upon whom the brunt of the work has
fallen. With picturesque scorn and sarcasm he has formed huge armies
out of the rawest of raw material, and all in a space of less than
half a year. His methods are sometimes strange and his temper short;
yet he achieves his end in the shortest time possible. He is for ever
correcting the same mistakes and rebuking the same stupidity, and the
wonder is, not that he loses his temper, but that he should ever be
able to preserve it. He understands men, and approaches them in an
idiom that is likely to produce the best results.

"Every man of you has friends of some sort," said the musketry
instructor, as we formed up in front of him on the parade ground,
gripping with nervous eagerness the rifles which had just been served
out from the quartermaster's stores. We were recruits, raw "rookies,"
green to the grind, and chafing under discipline. "And some sort of
friends it would be as well as if you never met them," the instructor
continued. "They'd play you false the minute they'd get your back
turned. But you've a friend now that will always stand by you and play
you fair. Just give him a chance, and he'll maybe see you out of many
a tight corner. Now, who is this friend I'm talking about?" he asked,
turning to a youth who was leaning on his rifle. "Come, Weary, and
tell me."

"The rifle," was the answer.

"The crutch?"

"No, the rifle."

"I see that, boy, I see that! But, damn it, don't make a crutch of it.
You're a soldier now, my man, and not a crippled one yet."

Thus was the rifle introduced to us. We had long waited for its
coming, and dreamt of cross-guns, the insignia of a crack shot's
proficiency, while we waited. And with the rifle came romance, and the
element of responsibility. We were henceforward fighting men,
numbered units, it was true, with numbered weapons, but for all that,
fighters--men trained to the trade and licensed to the profession.

Our new friend was rather a troublesome individual to begin with. In
rising to the slope he had the trick of breaking free and falling on
the muddy barrack square. A muddy rifle gets rusty, and brings its
owner into trouble, and a severe penalty is considered meet for the
man who comes on parade with a rusty rifle. Bringing the friend from
the slope to the order was a difficult process for us recruits at the
start the back-sight tore at the fingers, and bleeding hands often
testified to the unnatural instinct of the rebellious weapon. But the
unkindest kick of all was given when the slack novice fired the first
shot, and the heel of the butt slipped upwards and struck the jaw.
Then was learnt the first real lesson. The rifle kicks with the heel
and aims for the jaw. Control your friend, humour him; keep him well
in hand and beware his fling.

I was unlucky in my first rifle practice on the miniature range,
and out of my first five shots I did not hit the target once. The
instructor lay by my side on the waterproof ground-sheet (the day was
a wet one, and the range was muddy) and lectured me between misses on
the peculiarities of my weapon and the cultivation of a steady eye.

"Keep the beggar under control," he said. "You've got to coax him, and
not use force. Pull the trigger easily, as though you loved it, and
hold the butt affectionate-like against the shoulder. It's an easy
matter to shoot as you're shooting now. There's shooting and shooting,
and you've got to shoot straight. If you don't you're no dashed good!
Give me the rifle, you're not aiming at the bull, man, you're aiming
at the locality where the bull is grazing."

He took my rifle, slid a cartridge into the breech, and coaxed the
trigger lovingly towards him. Three times he fired, then we went
together to look at the target. Not a bullet fired by him had struck
it. The instructor glared down the barrel of the gun, made some
nasty remarks about deflection, and went back to yell at an orderly
corporal.

"What the dickens did you take this here for?" he cried. "It's a
blooming wash-out,[1] and was never any good. Old as an unpaid bill
and worn bell-mouth it is, and nobody can fire with it."

[Footnote 1: "Wash-out" is a term used by the men when their firing is
so wide of the mark that it fails to hit any spot on the card. The men
apply it indiscriminately to anything in the nature of a failure.]

On a new rifle being obtained I passed the preliminary test, and a
rather repentant instructor remarked that it might be possible to make
a soldier of me some day.

Since then my fellow-soldiers and I have had almost unlimited rifle
practice, on miniature and open ranges, at bull and disappearing
targets, in field firing at distances from 100 to 600 yards. On a
field exceeding 600 yards it is almost impossible to hit a point
the size of an ordinary bull; fire then must be directed towards a
position. Field or volley firing is very interesting. Once my company
took train to Dunstable and advanced on an imaginary enemy that
occupied the wastes of the Chiltern Hills. Practice commenced by
firing at little squares of iron standing upright in a row about 200
yards off in front of our line. These represented heads and shoulders
of men rising over the trenches to take aim at us as we advanced. In
extended order we came to our position, 200 yards distant from the
front trenches. At the sound of the officer's whistle, we sank to
the ground, facing our front, fixed our sights, and loaded. A second
whistle was blown; we fired "three rounds rapid" at the foe. The
aiming was very accurate; little spurts of earth danced up and around
the targets, and every iron disc fell. The "searching ground," the
locality struck by bullets, scarcely measured a dozen paces from front
to rear, thus showing that there was very little erratic firing.

"That's some shooting!" my Jersey friend remarked. "If the discs were
Germans!"

"They might shoot back," someone said, "and then we mightn't take as
cool an aim."

We are trained to the rifle; it is always with us, on parade,
on march, on bivouac, and recently, when going through a dental
examination, we carried our weapons of war into the medical officer's
room. As befits units of a rifle regiment, we have got accustomed
to our gun, and now, as fully trained men, we have established the
necessary unity between hand and eye, and can load and unload our
weapon with butt-plate stiff to shoulder and eye steady on target
while the operation is in progress. In fact, our rifle comes to hand
as easy as a walking-stick. We shall be sorry to lose it when the war
is over, and no doubt we shall feel lonely without it.



CHAPTER V

THE COFFEE-SHOP AND WANKIN


What the pump is to the villager, so the coffee-shop is to the soldier
of the New Army. Here the men crowd nightly and live over again the
incidents of the day. Our particular coffee-shop is situated in our
corner of the town; our men patronise it; there are three assistants,
plump, merry girls, and three of our men have fallen in love with
them; in short, it is our very own restaurant, opened when we came
here, and adapted to our needs; the waitresses wear our hat-badges,
sing our songs, and make us welcome when we cross the door to take up
our usual chairs and yarn over the cosy tables. The Jersey youth
with the blue eyes, the Oxford man, who speaks of things that humble
waitresses do not understand, the company drummer, the platoon
sergeants, and the Cockney who vows that water is spoilt in making
every cup of coffee he drinks, all come here, and all love the place.

I have come to like the place and do most of my writing there,
catching snatches of conversation and reminiscence as they float
across to me.

"I wasn't meanin' to 'urt ole Ginger Nobby nohow, but the muck I
throwed took 'im dead on the jor. 'Wot's yer gime?' 'e 'ollers at me.
'Wot's my gime?' I says back to 'im. 'Nuffin', if ye want ter know!' I
says. 'I was just shyin' at squidges.'"

Thus spoke the bright-eyed Cockney at the table next me, gazing
regretfully at his empty coffee-cup and cutting away a fringe of
rag-nails from his finger with a clasp-knife. The time was eight
o'clock of the evening, and the youth was recounting an adventure
which he had had in the morning when throwing mud at sparrows on the
parade ground. A lump of clay had struck a red-haired non-commissioned
officer on the jaw, and the officer became angry. The above was the
Cockney version of the story. One of my friends, an army unit with the
Oxford drawl, was voluble on another subject.

"Russian writers have had a great effect on our literature," he said,
deep in a favourite topic. "They have stripped bare the soul of man
with a realism that shrivels up our civilisation and proves--Two
coffees, please."

A tall, well-set waitress, with several rings on her fingers, took the
order as gravely as if she were performing some religious function;
then she turned to the Cockney.

"Cup of cawfee, birdie!" he cried, leaning over the table and trying
to grip her hand. "Not like the last, mind; it was good water spoilt.
I'll never come in 'ere again."

"So you say!" said the girl, moving out of his way and laughing
loudly.

"Strike me balmy if I do!"

"Where'll yer go then?"

"Round the corner, of course," was the answer. "There's another bird
there--and cawfee! It's some stuff too, not like 'ere."

"All right; don't come in again if yer don't want ter."

The Cockney got his second cup of coffee and pronounced it inferior to
the first; then looked at an evening paper which Oxford handed to him,
and studied a photograph of a battleship on the front page.

"Can't stand these 'ere papers," he said, after a moment, as he got
to his feet and lit a cigarette. "Nuffink but war in them always; I'm
sick readin' about war! I saw your bit in one a couple of nights ago,"
he said, turning to me.

"What did you think of it?" I asked, anxious to hear his opinion on an
article dealing with the life of his own regiment.

"Nuffink much," he answered, honestly and frankly. "Everything you say
is about things we all know; who wants to 'ear about them? D'ye get
paid for writin' that?"

One of his mates, a youth named Bill, who came in at that moment,
overheard the remark.

"Paid! Of course 'e gets paid," said the newcomer. "Bet you he gets
'arf a crown for every time 'e writes for the paper."

All sorts and conditions of soldiers drift into the place and discuss
various matters over coffee and mince pies; they are men of all
classes, who had been as far apart as the poles in civil life, and are
now knit together in the common brotherhood of war. Caste and estate
seem to have been forgotten; all are engaged in a common business,
full of similar risks, and rewarded by a similar wage.

In one corner of the room a game of cards was in progress, some
soldiers were reading, and a few writing letters. Now and again a song
was heard, and a score of voices joined in the chorus. The scene was
one of indescribable gaiety; the temperament of the assembly was like
a hearty laugh, infectious and healthy. Now and then a discussion took
place, and towards the close of the evening hot words were exchanged
between Bill and his friend, the bright-eyed Cockney.

"I'll give old Ginger Nobby what for one day!" said the latter.

"Will you? I don't think!"

"Bet yer a bob I will!"

"You'd lose it."

"Would I?"

"Straight you would!"

"Strike me pink if I would!"

"You know nothin' of what you're sayin'."

"Don't I?"

"Git!"

"Shut!"

In the coffee-shop Wankin is invariably the centre of an interested
group. As the company scapegrace and black sheep of the battalion he
occupies in his mates' eyes a position of considerable importance. His
repartees are famous, and none knows better than he how to score off
an unpopular officer or N.C.O. He has the distinction also of having
spent more days in the guard-room than any other man in the battalion.

On the occasion when identity discs were being served out to the men
and a momentary stir pervaded the battalion, it was Wankin who first
became involved in trouble.

He employed the disc string to fasten the water-bottle of the man
on his left to the haversack of the man on his right, and the
colour-sergeant, livid with rage, vowed to chasten him by confining
him eternally to barracks. But the undaunted company scapegrace was
not to be beaten. Fastening the identity disc on his left eye he fixed
a stern look on the sergeant.

"My deah fellah," he drawled out, imitating the voice of the company
lieutenant who wears an eyeglass, "your remarks are uncalled for,
really. By Jove! one would think that a scrap of string was a gold
bracelet or a diamond necklace. I could buy the disc and the string
for a bloomin' 'apenny."

"You'll pay dearly for it this time," said the colour with fine irony.
"Three days C.B.[2] your muckin' about'll cost you." And before Wankin
could reply the sergeant was reporting the matter to the captain.

[Footnote 2: Confinement to Barracks.]

Wankin is eternally in trouble, although his agility in dodging
pickets and his skill in making a week's C.B. a veritable holiday are
the talk of the regiment. All the officers know him, and many of them
who have been victims of his smart repartee fear him more than
they care to acknowledge. The subaltern with the eyeglass is a bad
route-marcher, and Wankin once remarked in an audible whisper that
the officer had learned his company drill with a drove of haltered
pack-horses, and the officer bears the name of "Pack-horse" ever
since.

On another occasion the major suffered when a battalion kit inspection
took place early one December morning. Wankin had sold his spare pair
of boots, the pair that is always kept on top of the kit-bag; but when
the major inspected Wankin's kit the boots were there, newly polished
and freed from the most microscopic speck of dust. Someone tittered
during the inspection, then another, and the major smelt a rat. He
lifted Wankin's kit-bag in his hand and found Wankin's feet tucked
under it--Wankin's feet in stockinged soles. The major was justly
indignant. "One step to the front, left turn," he roared. "March in
front of every rank in the battalion and see what you think of it!"

With stockinged feet, cold, but still wearing an inscrutable smile of
impudence, Wankin paraded in front of a thousand grinning faces and in
due course got back to his kit and beside the sarcastic major.

"What do you think of it?" asked the latter.

"I don't think much of it, sir," Wankin replied. "It's the dirtiest
regiment I ever inspected."

Wankin was sometimes unlucky; fortune refused to favour him when he
took up the work of picket on the road between St. Albans and London.
No unit of his regiment is supposed to go more than two miles
beyond St. Albans without a written permit, and guards are placed at
different points of the two-mile radius to intercept the regimental
rakes whose feet are inclined to roving. Wankin learned that the
London road was not to be guarded on a certain Sunday. The regiment
was to parade for a long route-march, and all units were to be in
attendance. Wankin pondered over things for a moment, girt on his belt
and sword and took up his position on the London road within a hundred
yards of a wayside public-house. At this tavern a traveller from St.
Albans may obtain a drink on a Sabbath day.

Soldiers, like most mortals, are sometimes dry and like to drink;
Wankin was often dry and Wankin had seldom much money to spend. The
first soldier who came out from the town wanted to get to the tavern.

"Can't pass here!" the mock-picket told him.

"But I'm dry and I've a cold that catches me awful in the throat."

"Them colds are dangerous," Wankin remarked in a contemplative voice,
tinged with compassion. "Used to have them bad myself an' I feel one
coming on. I think gin, same as they have in the trenches, is the
stuff to put a cold away. But I'm on the rocks."

"If you'll let me through I'll stand on my hands."

"It's risky," said Wankin, then in a brave burst of bravado he said,
"Damn it all! I'll let you go by. It's hard to stew dry so near the
bar!" An hour later the young man set off towards home, and on his way
he met two of his comrades-in-arms on the road.

"Going to ---- pub?" he inquired.

"Going to see that no one does go near it," was the answer. "Picket
duty for the rest of the day, we are."

"But Wankin--"

"What?"

The young man explained, and shortly afterwards Wankin went to
headquarters under an armed escort. Three days later I saw his head
sticking out through the guard-room window, and at that time I had not
heard of the London road escapade.

"Here on account of drink?" I asked him.

"You fool," he roared at me. "Do you think I mistook this damned place
for the canteen?"

I like Wankin and most of his mates like him. We feel that when
detention, barrack confinement and English taverns will be things
of yesterday, Wankin will make a good and trustworthy friend in the
trenches.



CHAPTER VI

THE NIGHT SIDE OF SOLDIERING


There are three things in military life which make a great appeal to
me; the rifle's reply to the pull of the trigger-finger, the gossip of
soldiers in the crowded canteen, and the onward movement of a thousand
men in full marching order with arms at the trail. And at no time is
this so impressive as at night when with rifles held in a horizontal
position by the side, the arm hanging easily from the shoulder, we
march at attention in complete silence. Not a word is spoken by anyone
save officers, little is heard but the dull crunch of boots on the
gravel and the rustle of trenching-tool handles as they rub against
trousers or haversack. Seen from a flank at the rear, the moving
battalion, bending round the curve or straining to a hill, looks
like the plesiosaur of the picture shown in the act of dragging its
cumbrous length along. The silence is full of mystery, the gigantic
mass, of which you form so minute a unit, is entirely voiceless, a
dumb thing without a tongue, brooding, as it were, over some eternal
sorrow or ancient wrong to which it cannot give expression. Marching
thus at night, a battalion is doubly impressive. The silent monster is
full of restrained power; resolute in its onward sweep, impervious to
danger, it looks a menacing engine of destruction, steady to its goal,
and certain of its mission.

A march like this fell to our lot once every fortnight. At seven in
the evening, loaded with full pack, bayonet, haversack, ground-sheet,
water-bottle, overcoat, and rifle, we would take our way from the town
out into the open country. The night varied in temper--sometimes it
rained; again, it froze and chilled the ears and finger-tips; and
once we marched with the full moon over us, lighting up the whole
county--the fields, the woods, the lighted villages, the snug
farmhouses, and the grey roads by which the long line of khaki-clad
soldiers went on their way. That night was one to be remembered.

We went off from the parade ground, a thousand strong, along the
sloping road that sweeps down the hill on which our town is built.
Giggling girls watched us depart--they are ever there when the
soldiers are on the move--old gentlemen and ladies wished us luck as
we passed, but never a head of a thousand heads turned to the left
or right, never a tongue replied to the cheery greetings; we were
marching at attention, with arms at the trail.

The sky stood high, splashed with stars, and the moon, pinched and
anæmic, hung above like a whitish speck of smoke that had curled into
a ball. Marching at the rear, I could see the long brown line
curving round a corner ahead, the butt-plates of the rifles sparkling
brightly, the white trenching-tool handles shaking backward and
forward at every move of the men.

"March easy!"

Half an hour had passed, and we were now in the open country. At
the word of command rifles were slung over the shoulders, and the
battalion found voice, first in brisk conversation and exchange
of witticisms, then in shouting and song. We have escaped from the
tyranny of "Tipperary," none of us sing it now, but that doggerel is
replaced by other music-hall abominations which are at present in the
full glory of their rocket-reign. A parody of a hymn, "Toiling on," is
also popular, and my Jersey mate gave it full vent on the left.

  "Lager beer! lager beer!
  There's a lager beer saloon across the way.
  Lager bee-ee-eer!
  Is there any lager beer to give away."

Although the goddess of music forgot me in the making, I found myself
roaring out the chorus for all I was worth along with my Jersey
friend.

"You're singing some!" he remarked, sarcastically, when the chorus
came to an end. "But, no wonder! This night would make a brass monkey
sing. It's grand to be alive!"

Every battalion has its marching songs. One of the favourites with us
was written by a certain rifleman in "C" Company, sung to the air of
"Off to Philadelphia in the Morning." It runs:

  "It is said by our commanders that in trenches out by Flanders
  There is work to do both trying and exciting,
  And the men who man the trenches, they are England's men and
          French's
  Where the legions of the khaki-clad are fighting.
  Though bearing up so gaily they are waiting for us daily,
  For the fury of the foemen makes them nervous,
  But the foe may look for trouble when we charge them at the double,
  We, the London Irish out on active service.

_Chorus._

    "With our rifles on our shoulder, sure there's no one could be
          bolder,
    And we'll double out to France when we get warnin'
    And we'll not stop long for trifles, we're the London Irish
          Rifles,
    When we go to fight the Germans in the mornin'.

  "An' the girls: oh it will grieve them when we take the train and
          leave them,
  Oh! what tears the dears will weep when we are moving,
  But it's just the old, old story, on the path that leads to Glory,
  Sure we cannot halt for long to do our loving.
  They'll see us with emotion all departing o'er the ocean,
  And every maid a-weepin' for her lover;
  'Good-bye' we'll hear them callin', while so many tears are fallin'
  That they'd almost swamp the boat that takes us over.

_Chorus._

    "With our rifles," etc.

Our colonel sang this song at a concert, thus showing the democratic
nature of the New Army, where a colonel sings the songs written in the
ranks of his own battalion.

At the ten minutes' halt which succeeded the first hour's march,
my Jersey friend spoke to me again. "Aren't there stars!" he said,
turning his face to the heavens and gripping his rifle tightly as if
for support. His wide open eyes seemed to have grown in size, and were
full of an expression I had never seen in them before. "I like the
stars," he remarked, "they're so wonderful. And to think that men are
killing each other now, this very minute!" He clanked the butt of his
gun on the ground and toyed with the handle of his sword.

Hour after hour passed by; under the light of the moon the country
looked beautiful; every pond showed a brilliant face to the heavens,
light mists seemed to hover over every farmhouse and cottage; light
winds swept through the telegraph wires; only the woods looked dark,
and there the trees seemed to be hugging the darkness around them.

On our way back a sharp shower, charged with a penetrating cold, fell.
The waterproof ground-sheets were unrolled, and we tied them over our
shoulders. When the rain passed, the water falling in drops from our
equipment glittered so brightly that it put the polished swords and
brilliant rifle butt-plates to shame.

We stole into the town at midnight, when nearly all the inhabitants
were abed. With arms at the trail, we marched along, throwing off
company after company, at the streets where they billeted. The
battalion dwindled down slowly; my party came to a halt, and the order
"Dismiss!" was given, and we went to our billets. The Jersey youth
came with me to my doorstep.

"'Twas a grand march!" he remarked.

"Fine," I replied.

"I can't help looking at the stars!" he said as he moved off. "There
are a lot to-night. And to think--" He hesitated, with the words
trembling on his tongue, realising that he was going to repeat
himself. "Anyway, there's some stars," he said in a low voice. "Good
night!"

There is a peculiar glamour about all night work. The importance of
night manoeuvring was emphasised in the South African War, and we had
ample opportunities of becoming accustomed to the darkness. On one
occasion at about nine o'clock we swung out from the town with our
regimental pipe-band playing to pursue some night operations. So far
the men did not know what task had been assigned to them.

"We've got to do to-night's work as quiet as a growing mushroom,"
someone whispered to me, as we took our way off the road and lined up
in the field that, stretching out in front and flanks, lost itself in
formless mistiness under the loom of the encircling hedgerows. Here
and there in the distance trees stand up gaunt and bare, holding
out their leafless branches as if in supplication to the grey sky; a
slight whisper of wind moaned along the ground and died away in the
darkness.

Our officer, speaking in a low voice, gave instructions. "The enemy is
advancing to attack us in great force," he explained, "and our scouts
have located him some six miles away from here. We have now found that
it is inadvisable to march on any farther, as our reinforcements
are not very strong and have been delayed to rear. Therefore we have
decided to take up our present position as a suitable ground for
operations and entrenching ourselves in--ready to give battle.
Everything now must be done very quickly. Our lives will, perhaps,
depend at some early date on the quickness with which we can hide
ourselves from the foe. So; dig your trench as quickly as possible, as
quickly, in fact, as if your life depended on it. Work must be done
in absolute silence; no smoking is allowed, no lighting of matches, no
talk.

"A word about orders. Commands are not to be shouted, but will be
passed along from man to man, and none must speak above his breath.
The passing of messages along in this manner is very difficult; words
get lost, and unnecessary words are added in transit. But I hope
you'll make a success of the job. Now we'll see how quickly we can get
hidden!"

A "screen" of scouts (one man to every fifty yards of frontage) took
up its place in line a furlong ahead. A hundred paces to rear of the
"screen" the officers marked out the position of the trenches, placing
soldiers as markers on the imaginary alignment. In front lay a clear
field of fire, a deadly area for an enemy advancing to the attack.

We took off our equipment, hafted the entrenching tools which we
always carry, and bent to our work in the wet clay. The night was
close and foggy, the smell of the damp earth and the awakening spring
verdure filled our nostrils. In the distance was heard the rumbling of
trains, the jolting of wagons along the country road, the barking of
dogs, and clear and musical through all these sounds came the song of
a mavis or merle from the near hedgerows.

In the course of ten minutes we were sweating at our work, and several
units of the party took off their tunics. One hapless individual got
into trouble immediately. His shirt was not regulation colour, it was
spotlessly white and visible at a hundred yards. A whispered order
from the officer on the left faltered along the line of diggers.

"Man with white shirt, put on his tunic!"

The order was obeyed in haste, the white disappeared rapidly as the
arms of the culprit slid into sleeves, and the covering tunic hid his
wrong from the eyes of man.

The night wore on. Now and again a clock in the town struck out the
time with a dull, weary clang that died away in the darkness. On both
sides I could see stretching out, like some gigantic and knotted
rope, the row of bent workers, the voiceless toilers, busy with their
labours. Picks rose into the air, remained poised a moment, then sank
to tear the sluggish earth and pull it apart. The clay was thrown out
to front and rear, and scattered evenly, so that the natural contour
of the ground might show no signs of man's interference. And even as
we worked the section commanders stole up and down behind us, urging
the men to make as little sound as possible--our safety depended on
our silence. But pick and shovel, like the rifle, will sing at their
toil, and insistent and continuous, as if in threat, they rasped out
the almost incoherent song of labour.

A man beside me suddenly laid down his shovel and battled with a cough
that strove to break free and riot in the darkness. I could see his
face go purple, his eyes stare out as if endeavouring to burst from
their sockets. Presently he was victor, and as he bent to his shovel
again I heard him whisper huskily, "'Twas a stiff go, that; it almost
floored me."

Thrown from tongue to tongue as a ball is thrown in play, a message
from the captain on the flank hurried along the living line. "Close in
on the left," was the order, and we hastened to obey. Trenching tools
were unhafted and returned to their carriers, equipments were donned
again, belts tightened, and shoulder-straps buttoned. Singly, in
pairs, and in files we hurried back to the point of assembly, to find
a very angry captain awaiting us.

"I am very disappointed with to-night's work," he said. "I sent
five messages out; two of them died on the way; a third reached its
destination, but in such a muddled condition that it was impossible to
recognise it as the one sent off. The order to cease work was the only
one that seemed to hurry along. Out at the front, where all orders
are passed along the trenches in this manner, it is of the utmost
importance that every word is repeated distinctly, and that no
order miscarries. Even out there, it is found very difficult to send
messages along."

The captain paused for a moment; then told a story. "It is said that
an officer at the front gave out the following message to the men in
the trenches: 'In the wood on the right a party of German cavalry,'
and when the message travelled half a mile it had changed to: 'German
Navy defeated in the North Sea.' We don't know how much truth there
is in the story, but I hope we will not make a mistake like that out
there."

Lagging men were still stealing in as we took up our places in columns
of fours. A clock struck out the hour of twelve, and the bird in
the hedgerow was still singing as we marched out to the roadway, and
followed our merry pipers home to town.



CHAPTER VII

DIVISIONAL EXERCISE AND MIMIC WARFARE


Divisional exercise is a great game of make-believe. All sorts of
liberties are taken, the clock is put forward or back at the command
of the general, a great enemy army is created in the twinkling of an
eye, day is turned into night and a regular game of topsy-turvydom
indulged in. On the occasion of which I write the whole division
was out. The time was nine o'clock in the forenoon, and an imaginary
forced march was nearly completed, and an imaginary day was at an end.
We were being hurried up as reinforcements to the main army, which was
in touch with the enemy ahead and an engagement was developing. Our
battalion came to a halt on the roadway, closing in to the left in
order to give full play to the field telephone service in process of
being laid.

Our officers went out in front to seek a position for a bivouac; the
doctor accompanied them to examine the place chosen, see to the
water supply, the drainage, and sanitation. In addition to this, our
commanders had to find the battalion a resting-ground easy to defend
and of merit as a tactical position.

At ten o'clock we lay down, battalion after battalion, just as we
halted: equipment on, our packs unloosened but shoved up under our
heads, and our rifles by our sides, muzzles towards the enemy. One
word of command would bring twenty thousand men from their beds, ready
in an instant, rifles loaded, bayonets at hips, quick to the route and
ready for battle. We would rise, as we slept, in full marching order,
and the space of a moment would find us hurrying, fully armed, into
battle, with the sleep of night still heavy in our eyes.

For miles around the soldiers lay down, each in his place and every
place occupied. Hardly a word was spoken; commands were whispered, and
our officers crept round explaining the work ahead. Two miles in front
the enemy was assembled in great strength on a river, and by dawn, if
all went well, we would enter the firing line. At present we had to
lie still; no man was to move about, and sentries with fixed bayonets
were stationed at front, flank, and rear, ready to give the alarm at
the first sign of danger.

Behind us were the kitchen, horse-lines, and latrines. The position of
these varies as the wind changes, and it is imperative that unhealthy
odours are not blown across the bivouac. The battalion lay in two
parallel squares, with a gangway, blocked up with baggage and various
necessaries, between. On these squares no refuse was to be thrown
down; the ground had to be kept clean; papers, scraps of meat, and
pieces of bread, if not eaten, had to be buried.

Even as we lay, and while the officers were explaining the work in
hand, the artillery took up its stand on several wooded knolls that
rose behind us. What a splendid sight, the artillery going into
action! Heavy guns, an endless line of them, swept over the greensward
and rattled into place. Six horses strained at each gun, which was
accompanied by two ammunition wagons with six horses to each wagon.
How many horses! How many guns! Out of nowhere in particular they
came, and disappeared as if behind a curtain barely four hundred
yards away. Thirty minutes afterwards I fancied as I looked in their
direction that I could see black, ominous muzzles peering through
the undergrowth. Probably I was mistaken. Anyhow, they were there,
guarding us while we slept, our silent watchers!

About eleven o'clock an orderly stole in and spoke to the colonel, a
hurried consultation in which all the officers took part was held,
and the messenger departed. Again followed an interval of silence,
only broken by the officers creeping round and giving us further
information. The enemy was repulsed, they told us, and was now in
retreat, but before moving off he had blown up all the bridges on
the river. The artillery of our main army in front was shelling the
fleeing foe, and our engineers had just set off to build three pontoon
bridges, so that the now sleeping division could cross at dawn and
follow the army in retreat.

Our dawn came at one o'clock in the afternoon; a whistle was blown
somewhere near at hand, and the battalion sprang to life; every unit,
with pack on back, cartridge pouches full, rifle at the order, was
afoot and ready. Only two hours before had the engineers set out to
build the bridges which the whole division, with its regiment after
regiment, with its artillery, its guns, ammunition wagons and horses,
its transport section, and vehicles of all descriptions, was now to
cross. The landscape had changed utterly, the country was alive, and
had found voice; the horse-lines were broken, and all the animals,
from the colonel's charger to the humble pack horse, were on the move.
The little squares, dotted brown, had taken on new shape, and were
transformed into companies of moving men in khaki. We were out on the
heels of the retreating foe.

Two hours' forced marching brought us to the river, a real one, with
three pontoon bridges, newly built and held firm on flat-bottomed
boats moored in mid-stream. We took our way across, and bent to the
hill on the other side. Half-way up, in a narrow lane, a wagon got
stuck in the front of our battalion, and we were forced to come to a
halt for a moment. Looking back, I could see immediately behind three
lines of men straining to the hill; farther back the same lines were
crossing the bridges and, away in the far distance, pencilled brown on
the ploughed fields, the three lines of khaki crawled along like long
threads endlessly unwinding from some invisible ball. Now and again
I could see the artillery coming into sight, only to disappear again
over a wooded knoll or into an almost invisible hollow.

Thus the division, the apparently limitless lines of men, horses, and
guns crawled on the track of the fleeing enemy. As we stood there,
held in check by the wagon, and as I looked back at the thousands of
soldiers in the rear, I felt indeed that I was a minute mite amongst
the many. And then a second thought struck me. The whole mass of men
around me was a small thing in relation to the numbers engaged in
the great war. Even I, Rifleman Something or Another, No. So-and-so,
bulked larger in the division as one of its units than the division
did in the war as a unit of the Allied Forces.

Even more interesting than divisional exercises is the mimic
warfare that is heralded by a notice in battalion orders such as the
following: "The battalion will take part in brigade exercise to-day.
Ten rounds of blank ammunition and haversack rations will be carried."

At eight o'clock in the morning whistles were blown at the bottom of
the street in which my company is billeted, and the soldiers, rubbing
the sleep from their eyes or munching the last mouthful of a hasty
breakfast, came trooping out from the snug middle-class houses
in which they are quartered. The morning was bitterly cold, and
the falling rain splashed soberly on the pavement, every drop
coming slowly to ground as if selecting a spot to rest on. The
colour-sergeant, standing at the end of the street, whistle in hand,
was in a nasty temper.

"Hurry up, you heavy-footed beggars," he yelled to the men. "The
parade takes place to-day, not to-morrow! And you, what's wrong with
your understandings?" he called to a man who came along wearing carpet
slippers.

"My boots are bad, colour," is the answer. "I cannot march in them."

"And are you goin' to march in them drorin'-room abominations?" roared
the sergeant. "Get your boots mended and grease out of it."

At roll-call three of the company were found to be absent; two were
sick, and one who had been found guilty of using bad language to a
N.C.O. was confined to the guard-room. Those who answered their names
were served out with packets of blank ammunition, one packet per man,
and each containing ten cartridges wrapped in brown paper and tied
with a blue string.

The captain read the following instructions: "The enemy is reported
to be in strong force on X hill, and Battalions A and B are ordered
to dislodge him from that position. A will form first line of attack,
B will send up reserves and supports as needed." The rifles were
examined by our young lieutenant, after which inspection the company
joined the battalion, and presently a thousand men with rifles on
shoulder, bayonets and haversacks on left hip, and ammunition in
pouches, were marching through the rain along the muddy streets, out
into the open country.

The day promised to be an interesting one from my point of view; I had
never taken part in a mimic battle before, and the day's work was to
be in many ways similar to operations on the real field of battle.
"Only nobody gets killed, of course," my mate told me. He had taken
part in this kind of work before, and was wise in his superior
knowledge.

"One-half of the brigade, two thousand men, is our enemy," he
explained; "and we're going to fight them. The battalion that's
helping us is on in front, and it will soon be fighting. When it's
hard pressed we'll go up to help, for we're the supports. It won't be
long till we hear the firing."

An hour's brisk march was followed by a halt, when we were ordered
to draw well into the left of the road to let the company guns go by.
Dark-nosed and cold, they wheeled past, the horses sweating as they
strained at the carriage shafts; the drivers, by deft handling,
pulling the steeds clear of the ruts; out in front they swung, and the
battalion closed up and resumed its march behind.

The rain ceased and a cold sun shot feeble rays over the sullen
December landscape. Again a halt was called; the brigadier-general,
followed by two officers and several orderlies, galloped up, and a
hurried consultation with our colonel took place. In a moment the
battalion moved ahead only to come to a dead stop again after ten
minutes' slow marching, and find a company detailed off to guard the
rear. The other companies, led by their officers, turned off the road
and moved in sections across the newly furrowed and soggy fields. A
level sweep of December England broken only by leafless hedgerows and
wire fencing stretched out in front towards a wooded hillock, that
stood up black against the sky-line two miles away. The enemy held
this wood; we could hear his guns booming and now considered ourselves
under shell fire. Each squad of sixteen men marched in the rear or on
the flank of its neighbour; this method of progression minimises the
dangers of bursting shrapnel, for a shell falling in the midst of one
body of men and causing considerable damage will do no harm to the
adjacent party.

Somewhere near us our gunners were answering the enemy's fire; but so
well hidden were the guns that I could not locate them. We still
crept slowly forward; section after section crawled across the black,
ploughed fields, now rising up like giant caterpillars to the crest
of a mound, and again dropping out of sight in the hollow land like
corks on a comber. On our heels the ambulance corps followed with its
stretchers, and in front the enemy was firing vigorously; over the
belt of trees that lined the summit of the hillock little wisps of
smoke could be seen rising and fading in the air.

Suddenly we came into line with our guns hidden in a deep narrow
cart-track, their dark muzzles trained on the enemy, and the gunners,
knee-deep in the mire of the lane, sweating at their work. "We're
under covering fire now," our young lieutenant explained, as we
trudged forward, lifting enormous masses of clay on our boots at every
step. "One battalion is engaged already; hear the shots."

The rifles were barking on the left front; in a moment the reports
from that quarter died away, and the right found voice. The men of
the first line were in the trenches dug by us a fortnight earlier, and
there they would remain, we knew, until their supports came to their
aid. Already we passed several of them, who were detailed off on the
anticipated casualty list in the morning. These wore white labels in
their buttonholes, telling of the nature of their wounds. One label
bore the words: "Shot in right shoulder; wound not dangerous." Another
read: "Leg blown off," and a third ran: "Flesh wounds in arm and leg."
These men would be taken into the care of the ambulance party when it
arrived.

When within fifteen hundred yards of the enemy, the command for
extended order advance was given, and the section spread out in one
long line, fronting the knoll, with five pace intervals between the
men. We were now under rifle-fire, and all further movements forward
were made in short sharp rushes, punctuated by halts, during which
we lay flat on the ground, our bodies deep in the soft earth, and the
rain, which again commenced to fall, wetting us to the skin.

Six hundred yards from the enemy's front we tumbled into the trenches
already in possession of Battalion B, and I found myself ankle-deep in
mire, beside a unit of another regiment who was enjoying a cigarette
and blowing rings of smoke into the air. Although no enemy was visible
we got the order to fire, and I discharged three rounds in rapid
succession.

"Don't fire, you fool!" said the man who was blowing the smoke rings.
"Them blanks dirty 'orrible, and when you've clean't the clay from
your clothes t'night you'll not want to muck about with your rifle.
There's a price for copper, and I always sell my cartridge cases. The
first time I came out I fired, but never since."

Several rushes forward followed, and the penultimate hundred yards
were covered with fixed bayonets. In this manner we were prepared for
any surprise. The enemy replied fitfully to our fire, and we could now
see several khaki-clad figures with white hat-bands--the differential
symbols--moving backwards and forwards amidst the trees. Presently
they disappeared as we worked nearer to their lines. We were now
rushing forward, lying down to fire, rising and running only to drop
down again and discharge another round. Within fifty yards of the
coppice the order to charge was given. A yell, almost fiendish in its
intensity, issued from a thousand throats; anticipation of the real
work which is to be done some day, lent spirit to our rush. In an
instant we were in the wood, smashing the branches with our bayonets,
thrusting at imaginary enemies, roaring at the top of our voices, and
capping a novel fight with a triumphant final.

And our enemies? Having finished their day's work they were now
fifteen minutes' march ahead of us on the way back to their rest and
rations.



CHAPTER VIII

THE GENERAL INSPECTION AND THE EVERLASTING WAITING


One of our greatest trials is the general inspection, which takes
place every month, and once Lord Kitchener inspected the battalion, in
company with the division quartered in our town. But that was before
I joined. It involves much labour in the way of preparation. On one
occasion, midnight the night before, a Friday, found us still busy
with our work. My cot-mate was in difficulties with his rifle--the
cloth of the pull-through stuck in the barrel, and he could not move
it, although he broke a bamboo cane and bent a poker in the attempt.
"It's a case for the armoury," he remarked gloomily. "What a nuisance
that ramrods are done away with! We've been at it since eight o'clock,
and getting along A1. Now that beastly pull-through!"

What an evening's work! On the day following the brigadier-general
was to inspect us, and we had to appear on parade spick and span, with
rifles spotless, and every article of our equipment in good order.
Packs were washed and hung over the rim of the table by our billet
fire, web-belts were cleaned, and every speck of mud and grease
removed. Our packs, when dry, were loaded with overcoat, mess-tin,
housewife, razor, towel, etc., and packed tightly and squarely,
showing no crease at side or bulge at corner. Ground-sheets were
neatly rolled and fastened on top of pack, no overlapping was allowed;
rifles were oiled and polished from muzzle to butt-plate, and swords
rubbed with emery paper until not a single speck of rust remained.

Saturday morning found us trim and tidy on the parade ground. An
outsider would hardly dream that we were the men who had ploughed
through the muddy countryside and sunk to the knees in the furrowed
fields daily since the wet week began. Where was the clay that had
caked brown on our khaki, the rust that spoilt the lustre of our
swords, and the fringes that the wire fences tore on our tunics? All
gone; soap and water, a brush, needle and thread, and a scrap of emery
paper had worked the miracle. We stood easy awaiting the arrival
of the general; platoons sized from flanks to centres (namely, the
tallest men stood at the flanks, and the khaki lines dwindled in
stature towards the small men in the middle), and company officers at
front and rear. The officers saw that everything was correct, that no
lace-ends showed from under the puttees, that no lace-eye lay idle,
and that laces were not crossed over the boots. Each man had shaved
and got his hair cut, his hat set straight on his head, and the
regimental badge in proper position over the idle chin-strap.
Pocket-flaps and tunics were buttoned, water-bottles and haversacks
hung straight, the tops of the latter in line with the bayonet rings,
and entrenching tool handles were scrubbed clean--my mate and I had
spent much soap on ours the night before.

One of our officers gave us instructions as to how we had to behave
during the inspection, more especially when we were under the direct
gaze of the general.

"Not a movement," he told us. "Every eyelash must be still. If the
general asks me your name and I make a mistake and say you are Smith
instead of Brown, your real name, you're not to say a word. You are
Brown for the time being. If he speaks to you, you're to answer:
'Sir,' and 'Sir' only to every question. If you're asked what was your
age last birthday, 'Sir' is to be the only answer. Is that clear to
every man?"

It was, indeed, clear, surprisingly clear; but we wondered at the
command, which was new to us. To answer in this fashion appeared
strange to us; we thought (the right to think is not denied to a
soldier) it a funny method of satisfying a general's curiosity.

He came, a tall, well-set man, with stern eyebrows and a heavy
moustache, curled upwards after the manner of an Emperor whom we
heartily dislike, attended by a slim brigade major, who wore a rather
large eyeglass, and made several entries in his notebook, as he
followed on the heels of the superior inspecting the battalion.

We stood, every unit of us, sphinx-like, immovable, facing our front
and resigned to our position. To an onlooker it might seem as if we
were frozen there--our fingers glued on to our rifles and our feet
firm to the earth at an angle of forty-five degrees. I stood near the
rear, and could see the still platoons in front, not a hat moved, not
a boot shifted. The general broke the spell when he was passing me.

"Another button. There were forty-seven the last time," he said, and
the man with the eyeglass made an entry in the notebook. Through an
oversight, I had helped to lower the prestige of the battalion: a
pocket flap of my tunic was unbuttoned.

Kit inspection was a business apart; the general picked out several
soldiers haphazard and ordered their packs to be opened for an
examination of the contents--spoons, shirts, socks, and the various
necessaries which dismounted men in full marching order must carry on
their persons were inspected carefully. A full pack is judged best by
its contents, and nearly all packs passed muster. One man was unlucky:
his mate was chosen for kit inspection, but this hapless individual
came out minus a toothbrush and comb, and the friend in need took his
place in the freshly-formed ranks. Here, the helper found that his own
kit was inefficient, he had forgotten to put in a pair of socks. That
afternoon he had to do two hours' extra drill.

Perhaps an even greater trial than Divisional Inspection was that of
waiting orders when we were the victims of camp rumours. But this was
as nothing to the false alarms. There is some doggerel known to the
men which runs:

  "We're off to the front," said the colonel,
      as he placed us in the train,
  "And we went at dawn from the station,
      and at night came back again."

For months we had drilled and drilled, all earnest in our labours and
filled with enthusiasm for our new profession, and daily we await the
order to leave for foreign parts. Where are we going to when we leave
England? France, Egypt, or India? Rumour had it yesterday that we
would go to Egypt; to-day my mate, the blue-eyed Jersey youth, heard
from a friend, who heard it from a colour-sergeant, that we are going
out to India, where we will be kept as guardians of the King's Empire
for a matter of four years. Ever since I joined the Army it has been
the same: reports name a new destination for my battalion daily.

Afterwards we had to go and help the remarkable Russians who passed
through England on the way to France; but when the Russians faded from
the ken of vision and the Press Bureau denied their very existence,
it was immediately reported that we had been drilled into shape in
order to demolish De Wet and all his South African rebels. De Wet was
captured and is now under military control, and still we waited orders
to move from the comfortable billets and crowded streets of our town.
Dry eyes would see us depart, mocking children would bid us sarcastic
farewells, the kindly landladies and their fair daughters would laugh
when we bade adieu and moved away to some destination unknown. We had
already taken our farewell three times, and on each occasion we have
come back again to our billets before the day that saw our departure
came to an end.

The heart of every man thrilled with excitement when the announcement
was made for the first time, one weary evening when we had just
completed a ten-hour divisional field exercise. Our officer read it
from a typewritten sheet, and the announcement was as follows:

    "All men in the battalion must stand under arms until further
    orders. No soldier is to leave his billet; boots are not to be
    taken off, and best marching pairs are to be worn. Every unit
    of the company who lacks any part of the necessary equipment
    must immediately report at quartermaster's stores, where all
    wants will be supplied. Identity discs to be worn, swords
    must be cleaned and polished, and twenty-four hours' haversack
    rations are to be carried. The battalion has to entrain for
    some unknown destination when called upon."

The news spread through the town: the division was going to move! On
the morrow we would be sailing for France, in a fortnight we would be
in Berlin! Our landladies met us at the doors as we came in, looks of
entreaty on their faces and tears in their eyes. The hour had come; we
were going to leave them. And the landladies' daughters? One, a buxom
wench of eighteen, kissed the Jersey youth in sight of the whole
battalion, but nobody took any notice of the unusual incident. All
were busy with their own thoughts, and eager for the new adventures
before them.

I did not go to sleep that night; booted and dressed I lay on the
hearthrug in front of the fire, and waited for the call. About four
o'clock in the morning a whistle was blown outside on the street;
I got to my feet, put on my equipment, fastened the buckles of my
haversack, bade adieu to my friends of the billet who had risen from
bed to see me off, and joined my company.

Five or six regiments were already on the move; transport wagons,
driven by khaki-clad drivers with rifles slung over their shoulders,
lumbered through the dimly-lighted thoroughfares; ammunition vans
stood at every street corner; guns rattled along drawn by straining
horses, the sweat steaming from the animals' flanks and withers;
an ambulance party sped through the greyness of the foggy morning,
accompanied by a Red Cross lorry piled high with chests and stretcher
poles, and soldiers in files and fours, in companies and columns, were
in movement everywhere--their legions seemed countless and endless.

Ammunition was given out from the powder magazine; each man was handed
150 rounds of ball cartridge--a goodly weight to carry on a long day's
march! With our ammunition we were now properly equipped and ready for
any emergency. Each individual carried on his person in addition to
rifle, bayonet (sword is the military name for the latter weapon)
and ball cartridge, a blanket and waterproof sheet, an overcoat, a
water-bottle, an entrenching tool and handle, as well as several other
lighter necessaries, such as shirts, socks, a knife, fork, and spoon,
razor, soap, and towel.

At eight o'clock, when the wintry dawn was breaking and the fog
lifting, we entered the station. Hundreds of the inhabitants of the
town came to see us off and cheer us on the long way to Tipperary: and
Tipperary meant Berlin. One of the inhabitants, a kindly woman who is
loved by the soldiers of my company, to whom she is very good, came
to the station as we were leaving, and presented a pair of mittens to
each of fifty men.

The train started on its journey, puffed a feeble cloud of smoke
into the air, and suddenly came to a dead stop. Heads appeared at
the windows, and voices inquired if the engine-driver had taken the
wrong turning on the road to Berlin. The train shunted back into the
station, and we all went back to our billets again, but not before
our officers informed us that we had done the work of entraining very
smartly, and when the real call did come we would lose no time on the
journey to an unknown destination.

Later we had two further lessons in entraining, and we came to fear
that when the summons did come dry eyes would watch us depart and
sarcastic jibes make heavy our leave-taking. Indeed, some of the
inhabitants of our town hinted that we should never leave the place
until the local undertakers make a profit on our exit. So much for
their gentle sarcasm! But well they knew that one day in the near
future it would suddenly occur to our commanders to take us with them
in the train to Berlin.



CHAPTER IX

READY TO GO--THE BATTALION MOVES


Rumour had been busy for days; the whole division was about to move,
so every one stated, except our officers, and official information was
not forthcoming.

"You are going between midnight and five o'clock to-morrow morning,"
announced my landlord positively. He is a coal-merchant by trade.

"How do you know?" I inquired.

"Because I can't get any coal to-morrow--line's bunged up for the
troops."

"No, he'll be going on Tuesday," said his wife, whose kindliness and
splendid cooking I should miss greatly.

"Is that so?" I asked, feigning an interest which I did not feel. A
sore toe eclipsed all other matters for the time being.

"The ration men have served out enough for two days, and it doesn't
stand to reason that they're going to waste anything," the little lady
continued with sarcastic emphasis on the last two words.

Parades went on as usual; the usual rations were doled out to billets
and the usual grumbling went on in the ranks. We were weary of false
alarms, waiting orders, and eternal parades. Some of us had been
training for fully six months, others had joined the Army when war
broke out, and we were still secure in England. "Why have we joined?"
the men asked. "Is it to line the streets when the troops come home?
We are a balmy regiment."

One evening, Thursday to be exact, the battalion orders were
interesting. One item ran as follows: "All fees due to billets will be
paid up to Friday night. If any other billet expenses are incurred
by battalion the same will be paid on application to the War Office."
Friday evening found more explicit expression of our future movements
in orders. The following items appeared: "Mess tin covers will be
issued to-morrow. No white handkerchiefs are to be taken by the
battalion overseas. All deficiencies in kit must be reported to-morrow
morning. Bayonets will be sharpened. Any soldiers who have not yet
received a copy of the New Testament can have same on application at
the Town Hall 6 p.m. on Saturday.

"Where are we going?" we asked one another. Some answered saying that
we were to help in the sack of Constantinople, others suggested Egypt,
but all felt that we were going off to France at no very distant date.
Was not this feeling plausible when we took into account a boot parade
of the day before and how we were ordered to wear two pairs of socks
when trying on the boots? Two pairs of socks suggested the trenches
and cold, certainly not the sun-dried gutters of Constantinople, or
the burning sands of Egypt.

Saturday saw an excited battalion mustered in front of the
quartermaster's stores drawing out boots, mess-tin covers, blankets,
ground-sheets, entrenching tools, identity discs, new belts,
water-bottles, pack-straps, trousers, tunics and the hundred and one
other things required by the soldier on active service. In addition
to the usual requisites, every unit received a cholera belt (they are
more particular over this article of attire than over any other),
two pairs of pants, a singlet and a cake of soap. The latter looked
tallowy and nobody took it further than the billet; the pants were
woollen, very warm and made in Canada. This reminds me of an amusing
episode which took place last general inspection. While standing easy,
before the brigadier-general made his appearance, the men compared
razors and found that eighty per cent. of them had been made in
Germany. But these were bought by the soldiers before war started. At
least all affirmed that this was so.

Saturday was a long parade; some soldiers were drawing necessaries
at midnight, and no ten-o'-clock-to-billets order was enforced that
night. I drew my boots at eleven o'clock, and then the streets were
crowded with our men, and merry and sad with sightseers and friends.
Wives and sweethearts had come to take a last farewell of husbands and
lovers, and were making the most of the last lingering moments in good
wishes and tears.

Sunday.--No church parade; and all men stood under arms in the
streets. The officers had taken off all the trumpery of war, the
swords which they never learned to use, the sparkling hat-badges and
the dainty wrist-watches. They now appeared in web equipment, similar
to that worn by the men, and carried rifles. Dressed thus an officer
will not make a special target for the sniper and is not conspicuous
by his uniform.

Our captain made the announcement in a quiet voice, the announcement
which had been waited for so long. "To-morrow we proceed overseas," he
said. "On behalf of the colonel I've to thank you all for the way in
which you have done your work up to the present, and I am certain
that when we get out yonder," he raised his arm and his gesture might
indicate any point of the compass, "you'll all do your work with the
spirit and determination which you have shown up till now."

This was the announcement. The men received it gleefully and a hubbub
of conversation broke out in the ranks. "We're going at last"; "I
thought when I joined that I'd be off next morning"; "What price a
free journey to Berlin!"; "It'll be some great sport!" Such were the
remarks that were bandied to and fro. But some were silent, feeling,
no doubt, that the serious work ahead was not the subject for idle
chatter.

A little leaflet entitled "Rules for the Preservation of Health on
Field Service," was given to each man, and I am at liberty to give a
few quotations.

"Remember that disease attacks you from outside; it is your duty to
keep it outside."

"Don't drink unboiled water if you can get boiled water."

"Never start on a march with an empty stomach."

"Remember that a dirty foot is an unsound foot. See that feet are
washed if no other part of the body is. Socks should be taken off at
the end of the march, be flattened out and well shaken. Put on a clean
pair if possible, if not, put the left sock on the right foot, and
vice versa."

"Remember, on arrival in camp, _food before fatigues_."

"Always rig up some kind of shelter at night for the head, if for no
other part of the body."

At twelve noon on Monday the whistles blew at the bottom of the street
and we all turned out in full marching order with packs, haversacks,
rifles and swords. I heard the transport wagons clattering on the
pavement, the merry laughter of the drivers, the noise of men falling
into place and above all the voice of the sergeant-major issuing
orders.

Yet this, like other days, was a "wash-out." All day we waited for
orders to move, twice we paraded in full marching kit, eager for the
command to entrain; but it was not forthcoming. Another day had to
be spent in billets under strict instructions not to move from our
quarters. The orders were posted up as usual at all street corners,
a plan which is adopted for the convenience of units billeted a great
distance from headquarters, and the typewritten orders had an air of
momentous finality:

The battalion moves to-morrow.

Parade will be at 4.30 a.m.

Entraining and detraining and embarking must be done in absolute
silence.

I rose from bed at three and set about to prepare breakfast, while my
cot-mate busied himself with our equipment, putting everything into
shape, buckling belts and flaps, burnishing bayonets and oiling the
bolts of the rifles. Twenty-four hours' rations were stored away in
our haversacks all ready, the good landlady had been at work stewing
and frying meat and cooking dainty scones up to twelve o'clock the
night before.

When breakfast, a good hearty meal of tea, buttered toast, fried bacon
and tomatoes, was over, we went out to our places. The morning was
chilly, a cold wind splashed with hail swept along the streets and
whirled round the corners, causing the tails of our great coats to
beat sharply against our legs. It was still very dark, only a few
street-lamps were lighted and these glimmered doubtfully as if ashamed
of being noticed. Men in full marching order stamped out from every
billet, took their way to the main street, where the transport wagons,
wheels against kerbstones, horses in shafts, and drivers at reins,
stood in mathematical order, and from there on to the parade ground
where sergeants, with book in one hand and electric torch in the
other, were preparing to call the roll.

Ammunition was served out, one hundred and twenty rounds to each man,
and this was placed in the cartridge pouches, rifles were inspected
and identity discs examined by torch-light. This finished, we were
allowed to stand easy and use ground-sheets for a shelter from the
biting hail. Our blankets were already gone. The transport wagons had
disappeared and with them our field-bags. I suppose they will await
us in ---- but I anticipate, and at present all we know is that our
regiment is bound for some destination unknown where, when we arrive,
we shall have to wear two pairs of socks at our work.

We stood by till eight o'clock. The day had cleared and the sun was
shining brightly when we marched off to the station, through streets
lined with people, thoughtful men who seemed to be very sad, women who
wept and children who chattered and sang "Tipperary."

Three trains stood in the sidings by the station. Places were allotted
to the men, eight occupied each compartment, non-commissioned officers
occupied a special carriage, the officers travelled first-class.

Soon we were hurrying through England to a place unknown. Most of my
comrades were merry and a little sentimental; they sang music-hall
songs that told of home. There were seven with me in my compartment,
the Jersey youth, whom I saw kissing a weeping sweetheart in the cold
hours of the early day; Mervin, my cot-mate, who always cleaned the
rifles while I cooked breakfast in the morning; Bill, the Cockney
youth who never is so happy as when getting the best of an argument
in the coffee-shop of which I have already spoken, and the Oxford man.
The other three were almost complete strangers to me, they have just
been drafted into our regiment; one was very fat and reminded me of a
Dickens character in _Pickwick Papers_; another who soon fell asleep,
his head warm in a Balaclava helmet, was a tall, strapping youth with
large muscular hands, which betoken manual labour, and the last was a
slightly-built boy with a budding moustache which seemed to have been
waxed at one end. We noticed this, and the fat soldier said that the
wax had melted from the few lonely hairs on the other side of the lip.

Stations whirled by, Mervin leant out of the window to read their
names, but was never successful. Cigarettes were smoked, the carriage
was full of tobacco fumes and the floor littered with "fag-ends."
Rifles were lying on the racks, four in each side, and caps, papers
and equipment piled on top of them. The Jersey youth made a remark:

"Where are we going to?" he asked. "France I suppose, isn't it?"

"Maybe Egypt," someone answered.

"With two pairs of socks to one boot!" Mervin muttered in sarcastic
tones; and almost immediately fell asleep. He had been a great
traveller and knows many countries. His age is about forty, but he
owns to twenty-seven, and in his youth he was educated for the church.
"But the job was not one for me," he says, "and I threw it up." He
looks forward to the life of a soldier in the field.

Our train journey neared the end. Bill was at the window and said that
we were in sight of our destination. All were up and fumbling with
their equipment; and one, the University man, hoped that the night
would be a good one for sailing to France.

If we are bound for France we shall be there to-morrow.


THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *



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About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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