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Title: Observations of an Orderly - Some Glimpses of Life and Work in an English War Hospital
Author: Muir, Ward, 1878-1927
Language: English
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OBSERVATIONS OF AN ORDERLY

Some Glimpses of Life and Work in an English War Hospital

by

L.-CPL. WARD MUIR, R.A.M.C. (T.)



Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton,
Kent & Co., Ltd., 4 Stationers'
Hall Court : : : London, E.C.4
Copyright
First published July 1917



Novels by the Author of "Observations of an Orderly"

THE AMAZING MUTES
WHEN WE ARE RICH
CUPID'S CATERERS

Also Editor of

"HAPPY--THOUGH WOUNDED"
 The Book of the Third London General Hospital



TO

LT.-COL. H.E. BRUCE PORTER, C.M.G.

OFFICER IN COMMAND OF THE

3RD LONDON

GENERAL HOSPITAL



Some passages from _Observations of an Orderly_ have appeared,
generally in a shorter form, in _The Spectator_, _The New Statesman_,
_The Hospital_, _The Evening Standard_, _The National News_, _The Dundee
Advertiser_, _The Daily News_, and _The Daily Mail_. The author desires
to make the usual acknowledgments to their editors.

The coloured design on the paper wrapper is by Sergeant Noël Irving,
R.A.M.C. (T.), a member of the unit at the 3rd London General Hospital.



CONTENTS


I                                   PAGE
MY FIRST DAY                        19

II
LIFE IN THE ORDERLIES' HUTS         33

III
WASHING-UP                          51

IV
A "HUT" HOSPITAL                    65

V
FROM THE "D BLOCK" WARDS            79

VI
WHEN THE WOUNDED ARRIVE             93

VII
"T.... A...."                      107

VIII
LAUNDRY PROBLEMS                   121

IX
ON BUTTONS                         137

X
A WORD ABOUT "SLACKERS IN KHAKI"   147

XI
THE RECREATION ROOMS               159

XII
THE COCKNEY                        173

XIII
THE STATION PARTY                  201

XIV
SLANG IN A WAR HOSPITAL            219

XV
A BLIND MAN'S HOME-COMING          235



I

MY FIRST DAY


The sergeant in charge of the clothing store was curt. He couldn't help
it: he had run short of tunics, also of "pants"--except three pairs
which wouldn't fit me, wouldn't fit anybody, unless we enlisted three
very fat dwarfs: he had kept on asking for tunics and pants, and they'd
sent him nothing but great-coats and water-bottles: I could take his
word for it, he wished he was at the Front, he did, instead of in this
blessed hole filling in blessed forms for blessed clothes which never
came. Impossible, anyhow, to rig me out. I was going on duty, was I?
Then I must go on duty in my "civvies."

It was a disappointment. Your new recruit feels that no small item of
his reward is the privilege of beholding himself in khaki. The escape
from civilian clothes was, at that era, one of the prime lures to
enlistment. I had attempted to escape before, and failed. Now at last I
had found a branch of the army which would accept me. It needed my
services instantly. I was to start work at once. Nothing better. I was
ready. This was what I had been seeking for months past. But--I confess
it--I had always pictured myself dressed as a soldier. The postponement
of this bright vision for even twenty-four hours, now that it had seemed
to be within my grasp, was damping. However--! The Sergeant-Major had
told me that I was to go on duty as orderly in Ward W--an officers'
ward--at 2 p.m. prompt. I did not know where Ward W was; I did not know
what a ward-orderly's functions should amount to. And I had no uniform.
I was attired in a light grey lounge suit--appropriate enough to my
normal habit, but quite too flippant, I was certain, for a ward-orderly.
Whatever else a ward-orderly might be, I was sure that he was not the
sort of person to sport a grey lounge suit.

Still, I must hie me to Ward W. I had got my wish. I was in the army at
last. In the army one does not argue. One obeys. So, having been
directed down an interminable corridor, I presented myself at Ward W.

On entering--I had knocked, but no response rewarded this courtesy--I
was requested, by a stern-visaged Sister, to state my business. Her
sternness was excusable. The visiting-hour was not yet, and in my
unprofessional guise she had taken me for a visitor. My explanation
dispelled her frowns. She was expecting me. Her present orderly had been
granted three days' leave. He was preparing to depart. I was to act as
his substitute. Before he went he would initiate me into the secrets of
his craft. She called him. "Private Wood!" Private Wood, in his
shirt-sleeves, appeared. I was handed over to him.

Herein I was fortunate, though I was unaware of it at the time. Private
Wood, who was not too proud to wash dishes (which was what he had at
that moment been doing), is a distinguished sculptor and a man of keen
imagination. At a subsequent period that imagination was to bring forth
the masks-for-facial-disfigurements scheme which gained him his
commission and which has attracted world-wide notice from experts.
Meanwhile his imagination enabled him to understand the exact extent of
a novice's ignorance, the precise details which I did not know and must
know, the essential apparatus I had to be shown the knack of, before he
fled to catch his train.

He devoted just five minutes, no more, to teaching me how to be a
ward-orderly. Four of those minutes were lavished on the sink-room--a
small apartment that enshrines cleaning appliances, the taps of which,
if you turn them on without precautions, treat you to an involuntary
shower bath. The sink-room contains a selection of utensils wherewith
every orderly becomes only too familiar: their correct employment, a
theme of many of the mildly Rabelaisian jests which are current in every
hospital, is a mystery--until some kind mentor, like Private Wood, lifts
the veil. In four minutes he had told me all about the sink-room, and
all about all the gear in the sink-room and all about a variety of
rituals which need not here be dwelt on. (The sink-room is an excellent
place in which to receive a private lecture.) The fifth minute was spent
in introducing me, in another room, the ward kitchen, to Mrs.
Mappin--the scrub-lady.

A scrub-lady is attached to each ward; and most wards, it should in
justice be added, are attached to their scrub-ladies. Certainly I was to
find that Ward W was attached to Mrs. Mappin. Mrs. Mappin was washing
up. Private Wood had been helping her. The completion of his task he
delegated to me. "Mrs. Mappin, this is our new orderly. He'll help you
finish the lunch-dishes." Private Wood then slid into his tunic,
snatched his cap from a nail in the wall, and vanished.

Mrs. Mappin surveyed me. "Ah!" she sighed--she was given to sighing.
"He's a good 'un, is Private Wood." The inference was plain. There was
little hope of my becoming such a good 'un. In any case, my natty grey
tweeds were against me. One could never make an orderliesque impression
in those tweeds. "Better take your jacket off," sighed Mrs. Mappin. I
did so, chose a dishcloth, and started to dry a pyramid of wet plates.
For a space Mrs. Mappin meditated, her hands in soapy water. Then she
withdrew them. "I think," she sighed, "you an' me could do with a cup of
tea."

And presently I was having tea with Mrs. Mappin.

I was afterwards to learn that this practice of calling a halt in her
labours for a cup of tea was a highly incorrect one on Mrs. Mappin's
part, and that my share in the transaction was to the last degree
reprehensible. But I was also to learn that faithful, selfless, honest,
and diligent scrub-ladies are none too common; and the Sister who
discovers that she has been allotted such a jewel as Mrs. Mappin is
seldom foolish enough to exact from her a strict obedience to the letter
of the law in discipline. Mrs. Mappin, in her non-tea-bibbing
interludes, toiled like a galley-slave, was rigidly punctual, and never
complained. Her sighs were no index of her character. They were not a
symptom of ennui (though possibly--if the suggestion be not rude--of
indigestion caused by tannin poisoning). She was the best-tempered of
creatures. It is a fact that if I had been so disposed I need never have
given Mrs. Mappin any assistance, though it was within my province to do
so. She would, without a murmur, shoulder other people's jobs as well as
her own. Having finished with bearing children (one was at the Front--it
was Mrs. Mappin who, on being asked the whereabouts of her soldier son,
said, "'E's in France; I don't rightly know w'ere the place is, but it's
_called_ 'Dugout'"), she had settled down, for the remainder of her
sojourn on this plane, to a prospect of work, continuous work. A little
more or a little less made no difference to her. She had nothing else to
do, but work; nothing else to be interested in, except work--and her
children's progress, and her cups of tea. Her ample figure concealed a
warm heart. Behind her wrinkled old face there was a brain with a
limited outfit of ideas--and the chief of those ideas was _work_.

Our cup of tea was refreshing, but it would be incorrect to convey the
notion that I was allowed to linger over such a luxury. There are few
intervals for leisure in the duty-hours of an orderly in an officers'
ward. Had the Sister and her nurses not been occupied elsewhere, I doubt
whether I should have been free to drink that cup of tea at all--a
circumstance of which perhaps Mrs. Mappin was more aware than I. At any
rate the call of "Orderly!" from a patient summoned me from the kitchen
and into the ward long before I had finished drying Mrs. Mappin's
dishes.

The patient desired some small service performed for him. I performed
it--remembering to address him as "Sir." Various other patients,
observing my presence, took the opportunity to hail me. I found myself
saying "Yes, Sir!" "In a moment, Sir!" and dropping--with a promptitude
on which I rather flattered myself--into the manner of a cross between a
valet and a waiter, with a subtle dash of chambermaid. Soon I was also a
luggage-porter, staggering to a taxi with the ponderous impedimenta of a
juvenile second lieutenant who was bidding the hospital farewell, and
whose trunks contained--at a guess--geological specimens and battlefield
souvenirs in the shape of "dud" German shells. This young gentleman
fumbled with a gratuity, then thought better of it--and was gracious
enough to return my grin. "Bit awkward, tipping, in these days," he
apologised cheerily, depositing himself in his taxi behind ramparts of
holdalls. "Thank you, Sir," seemed the suitable adieu, and having
proffered it I scampered into the ward again. Anon Sister sent me with a
message to the dispensary. Where the dispensary was I knew not. But I
found out, and brought back what she required. Then to the post office.
Another exploration down that terrific corridor. Post office located at
last and duly noted. Then to the linen store to draw attention to an
error in the morning's supply of towels. Linen store eventually
unearthed--likewise the information that its staff disclaimed all
responsibility for mistakes--likewise the first inkling of a profound
maxim, that when a mistake has been made, in hospital, it is always the
orderly, and no one else, who has made it.

Engaged on these errands, and a host of intervening lesser exploits in
the ward, I had to cultivate an unwonted fleetness of foot. I flew. So
did the time. Almost immediately, as it seemed to me, I was bidden to
serve afternoon tea to our patients. The distribution of bed-tables, of
cups, of bread-and-butter (most of which, also, I cut); the "A little
more tea, Sir?" or, "A pot of jam in your locker, Sir, behind the pair
of trousers?... Yes, here it is, Sir"; the laborious feeding of a
patient who could not move his arms;--all these occupied me for a
breathless hour. Then an involved struggle with a patient who had to be
lifted from a bath-chair into bed. (I had never lifted a human being
before.) Then a second bout of washing-up with Mrs. Mappin. Then a
nominal half-an-hour's respite for my own tea--actually ten minutes, for
I was behindhand. Then, all too soon, more waitering at the ceremony of
Dinner: this time with the complication that some of my patients were
allowed wine, beer, or spirits, and some were not. "Burgundy, Sir?"
"Whiskey-and-soda, Sir?" I ran round the table of the sitting-up
patients, displaying (I was pleased to think) the complete aplomb and
nimbleness of a thoroughbred Swiss _garçon_, pouring out drinks--with
concealed envy--placing and removing plates, handing salt, bread,
serviettes.... After which, back to Mrs. Mappin and her renewed mountain
of once-more-to-be-washed-and-dried crockery.

It was long after my own supper hour had come and gone that I was able
to say au revoir to the ward. The cleansing of the grease-encrusted
meat-tin was a travail which alone promised to last half the night.
(Mrs. Mappin eventually lent me her assistance, and later I became more
adroit.) And the calls of "Orderly!" from the bed patients were
interruptions I could not ignore. But at last some sort of conclusion
was reached. Mrs. Mappin put on her bonnet. The night orderly, who was
to relieve me, was overdue. Sister, discovering me still in the kitchen,
informed me that I might leave.

"You ain't 'ad any supper, 'ave you?" said Mrs. Mappin. "You won't get
none now, neither. Should 'ave done a bunk a full hower back, you
should."

She drew me into the larder, and indicated the debris of our patients'
repast. "A leg of chicken and some rice pudden. Only wasted if _you_
don't 'ave it."

"But is it allowed--?" I was, in truth, not only tired but ravenous.

Sister, entering upon this conspiratorial dialogue, unhesitatingly gave
her approval.

Cold rice pudding and a left-over leg of chicken, eaten standing, at a
shelf in a larder, can taste very good indeed, even to the wearer of a
spick-and-span grey lounge suit. I shall know in future what it means
when my restaurant waiter emerges from behind the screened service-door
furtively wiping his mouth. I sympathise. I too have wolfed the choice
morsels from the banquet of my betters.



II

LIFE IN THE ORDERLIES' HUTS


In May, 1915, when I enlisted, the weather was beautiful. Consequently
the row of tin huts, to which I was introduced as my future address "for
the duration," wore an attractive appearance. The sun shone upon their
metallic sides and roofs. The shimmering foliage of tall trees, and a
fine field of grass, which made a background to the huts, were fresh and
green and restful to the eye. Even the foreground of hard-trodden
earth--the barrack square--was dry and clean, betraying no hint of its
quagmire propensities under rain. Later on, when winter came, the
cluster of huts could look dismal, especially before dawn on a wet
morning, when the bugle sounding parade had dragged us from warm beds;
or in an afternoon thaw after snow, when the corrugated eaves wept
torrents in the twilight, and one's feet (despite the excellence of army
boots) were chilled by their wadings through slush. Meanwhile, however,
the new recruit had nothing to complain of in the aspect of the housing
accommodation which was offered him. Merely for amusement's sake he had
often "roughed it" in quarters far less comfortable than these bare but
well-built huts--which even proved, on investigation, to contain beds:
an unexpected luxury.

"I'll put you in Hut 6," said the Sergeant-Major. "There's one empty
bed. It's the hut at the end of the line."

Thereafter Hut 6 was my home--and I hope I may never have a less
pleasant one or less good company for room-mates. In these latter I was
perhaps peculiarly fortunate. But that is by the way. It suffices that
twenty men, not one of whom I had ever seen before, welcomed a total
stranger, and both at that moment and in the long months which were to
elapse before various rearrangements began to scatter us, proved the
warmest of friends.

Twenty-one of us shared our downsittings and our uprisings in Hut 6.
There might have been an even number, twenty-two, but one bed's place
was monopolised by a stove (which in winter consumed coke, and in summer
was the repository of old newspapers and orange-peel). The hut,
accordingly, presented a vista of twenty-one beds, eleven along one wall
and ten along the other, the stove and its pipe being the sole
interruption of the symmetrical perspective. Above the beds ran a
continuous shelf, bearing the hut-inhabitants' equipment, or at least
that portion of it--great-coat, water-bottle, mess-tin, etc.--not
continually in use. Below each bed its owner's box and his boots were
disposed with rigid precision at an exact distance from the box and
boots beneath the adjacent bed. In the ceiling hung two electric lights.
These, with the stove, beds, shelves, boxes and boots, constituted the
entire furniture of the hut--unless you count an alarm-clock, bought by
public subscription, and notable for a trick of tinkling faintly, as
though wanting to strike but failing, in the watches of the night, hours
before its appointed minute had arrived. The hut contained no other
furniture whatever, and in those days did not seem to us to require any.
In the autumn, when the daylight shortened and we could no longer hold
our parliaments on a bench outside, a couple of deck-chairs were
mysteriously imported; and, as the authorities remained unshocked, a
small table also appeared and was squeezed into a gap beside the stove.
Some sybarite even goaded us into getting up a fund for a strip of
linoleum to be laid in the aisle between the beds. This was done--I do
not know why, for personally I have no objection to bare boards. I
suppose linoleum is easier to keep clean than wood; and that aisle,
tramped on incessantly by hobnail boots which in damp weather were, as
to their soles and heels, mere bulbous trophies of the alluvial deposits
of the neighbourhood, was sometimes far from speckless. But to me the
strip of linoleum made our hut look remotely like a real room in a real
house: it was a touch of the conventional which I never cared for, and I
only subscribed to it when I had voted against it and been overborne. An
extraordinary proposition, that we should inaugurate a plant in a pot
on the stove's lid in summer, was, I am glad to say, negatived. It would
have been the thin end of the wedge ... we might have arrived at
Japanese fans and photograph-frames on the walls.

Not that our Company Officer would have tolerated any nonsense of that
kind. Punctually at eight-thirty, after the second parade of the day, he
marched through each hut, inspecting it and calling the attention of the
Sergeant-Major to any detail which offended his sense of fitness. On wet
mornings, instead of parading outside, each man stood to his cot, and
thus the comments of the Company Officer, as he went down the aisle,
were audible to all. Stiffly drawn up to attention, we wondered
anxiously whether he would notice anything wrong with our buttons, boots
or belts, or whether he would "spot" the books and jam jars hidden
behind our overcoats on the shelves. Nothing so decadent and civilian as
a book--and certainly nothing so unsightly as a jam jar--must be visible
on your barrack-room shelf. It is sacred to equipment, and particularly
to the folded great-coat.

"The Art of Folding" might have been the title of the first lesson of
the many so good-naturedly imparted to me by my new comrades. There was,
I learnt, a right way and a wrong way to fold all things foldable. The
great-coat, for instance, must at the finish of its foldings, when it is
placed upon the exactly middle spot above your bed's end, present to the
eye of the beholder a kind of flat-topped pyramid whose waist-line (if a
pyramid can be said to own a waist) is marked by the belt with the three
polished buttons peeping through. The belt must bulge neither to the
right nor to the left; the pyramidal edifice of great-coat must not
loll--it must sit up prim and firm. And unless all your foldings of the
great-coat, from first to last, have, been deftly precise, no pyramid
will reward you, but a flabby trapezium: the belt will sag, its buttons
won't come centrally, and indeed the whole edifice of unwieldy cloth
will topple off its perch on the narrow shelf--which was designed to
refuse all lodgment for the property of persons who had unsound ideas
on the subject of compact storage.

The second series of folderies to which the novice was initiated
concerned themselves with his bedding. This consisted of a mattress,
three blankets and a pillow. It is an outfit at which no one need turn
up his nose. I never spent a bad night in army blankets, though when out
on leave I am sometimes a victim of insomnia between clean cold sheets.
But the moment the Réveillé uplifted you from your couch, that couch had
to be made ship-shape according to rule. No finicky "airing"! The
mattress must be rolled up, with the pillow as its core, and placed at
the end of the bed. On top of it a blanket, folded longwise and with the
ends hanging down, was laid neatly; on top of _that_ you put the other
two blankets, folded quite otherwise; then you brought the first
blanket's ends over, and reversed the resultant bundle and pressed it
down into a thin stratified parallelogram with oval ends. The strata of
the said parallelogram, viewed from the aisle, must show no blanket
_edges_, only curves of the blankets' folds: the edges (if visible at
all) must face inwards, not outwards. Correct folding, to be sure, gave
no visible edges, viewed from either side; and, once you caught the
knack, correct folding was just as easy as incorrect--though there were
temperaments which did not find it so and which rebelled against these
niceties.

I was afterwards to learn that this mania for matching (if mania be
indeed a legitimate word for a custom based on common-sense principles
and seldom carried to the extremes which the recruit has been led to
fear) obtains not only in the army but also in the nursing profession.
Not long after I became a ward orderly I got a wigging from my "Sister"
because I had not noticed that every pillow-case of a ward's beds must
face towards the same point of the compass: the pillows on the vista of
beds must be placed in such a manner that the pillow-case mouths are,
all of them, turned away from anyone entering the ward's door. Similarly
the overlap of the counterpanes must all be of exactly the same depth
and caught up at exactly the same angle, the resulting series of pairs
of triangles all ending at exactly the same spot in each bedstead. These
trifles reveal at a glance the professional touch in a ward, and are, I
understand, not by any means the insignia of a military as distinct from
a civilian hospital. They may or may not contribute to the comfort of
the patient, but they betoken the captaincy of one whose methodicalness
will in other and less visible respects most emphatically benefit him.

Our hut life was something more than a mere folding-up of bedding on
bedsteads and great-coats on shelves. After midday dinner it was
allowable to unroll the mattress, make the bed, and rest thereon--which
most of us by that time (having been on the run since 6 o'clock parade)
were very ready to do. There was half an hour to spare before 2 o'clock
parade, and a precious half-hour it was. Snores rose from some of the
beds where students of the war had collapsed beneath the newspapers
which they had meant to read. Desultory conversation enlivened those
corners where the denizens of the hut were energetic enough to polish
their boots or sew on buttons. The one or two men who happened to be
"going out on pass"--we were allowed one afternoon per week--were
putting on their puttees and brushing-up the metal buttons of their
walking-out tunics (otherwise known as their Square Push Suits). The
buttons of their working tunics had of course been burnished before
parade. The correct employment of button-sticks and of the magic cleaner
called Soldier's Friend; the polishing of one's out-of-use boots and
their placing, on the floor, with tied laces, and with their toes in
line with the bed's legs; the substitution of lost braces' buttons by
"bulldogs"; the furbishing of one's belt; the propping-up of the front
of one's cap with wads of paper in the interior of the crown; the
devices whereby non-spiral puttees can be coaxed into a resemblance of
spiral ones and caused to ascend in corkscrews above trousers which
refuse to tuck unlumpily into one's socks--these, and a host of other
matters, always kept a proportion of the hut-dwellers awake and busy and
loquacious even in the somnolent post-prandial half-hour before 2
o'clock.

But it was at night, at bedtime, that the hut became generally sociable.
Lights-Out sounded at 10.15; and at 10.10 we were all scrambling into
our pyjamas. In winter our disrobing was hasty; in summer it was an
affair of leisure, and deshabille roamings to and fro in the aisle, and
gossip. When the bugle blew and the electric lights suddenly ceased to
glow, leaving the hut in a darkness broken only by the dim shapes of the
windows and the red of cigarette-ends, many of us still had to complete
our undressing. We became adepts at doing this in the dark and so
disposing of the articles of our attire that they could be instantly
retrieved in the morning. Once between the blankets, conversation at
first waxed rather than waned. The Night Wardmaster, whose duty it was
to make the round of the orderlies' huts, disapproved of conversation
after Lights-Out, and was apt to say so, loudly and menacingly, when he
surprised us by popping his head in at the door. But--well--the Night
Wardmaster always departed in the long run.... And then uprose, between
bed and bed, those unconclusive debates in which the masculine soul
delighteth: Theology; Woman; Victuals; Politics; Art; the Press; Sport;
Marriage; Money--and sometimes even The War; likewise the purely local
topics of Sisters and their Absurdities; Our Officers; The Other Huts;
What the Sergeant-Major Said; Why V.A.D.'s can't replace Male Orderlies;
What this Morning's Operations Looked Like; Whether an Officers' Ward or
a Men's Ward is the nicer; Who Deserves Stripes; C.O.'s Parade and its
Terrors; Advantages of Volunteering for Night Duty; The Cushy Job of
being in charge of a Sham Lunacy Case; Other Cushy Jobs less cushy than
They Sounded; and so forth; until at last protests began to be voiced by
the wearier folk who wanted silence.

Silence it was, except for the thunder of occasional passing trains in
the near-by railway cutting. These had little power to disturb. Tucked
in the brown army blankets, which at first sight look so hard and so
prickly, we slumbered, the twenty-one of us, as one man; until, with a
cruel jolt, at 5.15 that wretched alarm-clock crashed forth its summons
for the fastidious few who liked to rise in ample time to bath and shave
before early parade. Sometimes I was of that virtuous band, and
sometimes I wasn't; but, either way, I hated the alarm-clock at
5.15,--though not so virulently as did those members of the hut who
never by any chance dreamt of rising until five to six. These gentry had
reduced the ritual of dressing, and of rolling up their bedding, to a
speed at which it might almost be compared to expert juggling: the
quickness of the hand deceived the eye. At five minutes to six you would
see the juggler asleep on his pillow, in blissful innocence; at six he
would be on parade, as correctly attired as you were yourself, and
having left behind him, in the hut, a bed as neatly folded as yours. The
world is sprinkled with people who can do this kind of thing--and our
hut was blessed with its due leaven of them. But I would not assert that
they _never_ had to put some finishing touches, either to their dress
or to their hut equipment foldings, before the Company Officer's tour of
inspection at 8.30. It sufficed that they would pass muster at 6
o'clock, when appearances are less minutely important. And the man who
never rises till 5.55 detests an alarm-clock that whirrs at 5.15. The
hour at which the alarm-clock should be set to detonate was one of our
few acrimonious subjects of argument: I have even known it upset a
discussion on Woman. But the early risers had their way, and the clock
continued to be set for half an hour in front of Réveillé.

The harsh vibration of the alarm at one end of the day, and the expiry
of the Lights-Out talks at the other--these events marked the chief
time-divisions in our hut life. While we were absent at work, our
interests were many and scattered; but the hut was a nucleus for
communal bonds of union which evoked no little loyalty and affection
from us all. On the May morning when I first beheld that corrugated-iron
abode I thought it looked inviting enough; but I did not guess how fond
I was to grow of its barn-like interior and of the sportive crew who
shared its mathematically-allotted floor-space. "Next war," one optimist
suggested during a typical Lights-Out séance, "let's all enlist together
again." There were protests against the implied prophecy, but none
against the proposition as such. That is the spirit of hut comradeship
... a spirit which no alarm-clock controversies can do aught to impair;
for though 5.15 a.m. is an hour to test the temper of a troop of
twenty-one saints, 10.15 p.m. will bring geniality and garrulousness to
twenty-one sinners.



III

WASHING-UP


The following substances (to which I had previously been almost a
stranger) absorbed much of my interest during my first months as a
hospital orderly:

Coagulated pudding, mutton fat and beef fat, cold gravy, treacle,
congealed cocoa, suet duff, skins of once hot milk:

Plates, cups, frying-pans and other utensils smeared with the above:

Knives, forks and spoons, ditto.

I am fated to go through life, in the future, not merely with an exalted
opinion of scullery-maids--this I should not regret--but also with an
only too clear picture, when at the dinner table, of the adventures of
each dish of broken meats on its exit from view. I have been behind the
scenes at the business of eating, or rather, at the dreadful repairs
which must be instituted when the business of eating is concluded in
order that the business of eating may recommence.

There were days when the ward-kitchen was to me a battlefield and I
seemed to be fighting on the losing side. This was when our scrub-lady
was ill or had "got the sack" and it fell to me, the orderly, to do the
washing-up single-handed. Those patients who were well enough to be on
their feet were supposed to help. (I speak of a men's ward, of course,
not an officers'.) They did help, and that right willingly. Sometimes I
was blessed by the presence of a patient with a passion for cleaning
things. When there were no dishes to clean he would clean taps. When the
taps shone like gold he would clean the hooks on the dresser. When all
our kitchen gear was clean he would invade, with a kind of fury, the
sink-room and clean the apparatus there. When this was done he would
clean the ward's windows and door handles. Between-times he would clean
his boots and shave patients in bed. The new army is thickly sown with
men like that. They are the salt of the earth. I would place them at the
summit of the commonwealth's salary list, the bank clerk second, and the
business man, the artist and the politician at the bottom. At all events
these were my sentiments when a patient of this type, convalescing,
began to be able to help me with my kitchen chores. But it occasionally
chanced that every single patient in the ward was confined to bed. It
was then that I made my most intimate acquaintance with the catalogue of
horrors I have cited.

You behold me, with my shirt-sleeves rolled up, faced by a heap of
twenty plates, twenty forks, twenty knives and twenty spoons, all
urgently requiring washing. Were these my whole task I should not
shrink. They would be nicely polished-off long ere one-fifteen
arrived--the time when I should (but probably shall not be able to)
leave for my own meal in the orderlies' mess. But there are two far more
serious opponents waiting to be subdued--the dinner-tin and the
pudding-basin. This pair are hateful beyond words. Their memory will
for ever haunt me, a spectral disillusionment to spoil the relish of
every repast I may consume in the years that are ahead.

The dinner-tin was a rectangular box some three feet long, twenty inches
wide and six inches deep. It was made of solid metal, was fitted with a
false bottom to contain hot water, and was divided internally into three
compartments to hold meat, vegetables and duff. These viands were loaded
into the tin at the hospital's central kitchen. I had naught to do with
the cookery--which I may mention always seemed to me to be excellent. My
sole concern was with the helping-out of the food to the patients and
the restoration of the dinner-tin to its shelf in the central kitchen.
For unless I restored that tin in a faultless state of cleanliness, the
sergeant in charge of the central kitchen would require my blood. The
tin's number would betray me. The sergeant needed not to know my name:
all he had to do, on discovering the questionable tin, was to glance at
its number and then send for the orderly of the ward with a
corresponding number.

He was a sergeant whose aspect could be very daunting. I never had to
come before him on the subject of a dirty dinner-tin. But he and I had
some small passages concerning "specials" (separate diets ordered for
patients requiring delicacies). Sometimes the necessary forms for the
specials had been incorrectly made out by a Sister with no head for army
accuracy in minor clerical details. Thereafter it was my unlucky place
to see the sergeant, and put the matter straight with him. I have
survived those encounters. I have survived them with an enhanced respect
for the sergeant and the organisation of his large and by no means
simple department. There were moments, nevertheless, when I approached
his presence with a sinking heart. For if I failed to "get round" him in
the matter of coaxing another special for a patient, there was Sister to
placate on my return to the ward; and it was quite impossible to
persuade Sister that she could have made a mistake with her diet sheets,
or, if she had, that it was of any consequence.

The dinner-tin was somewhat larger than the sink in which I was supposed
to wash it. It was also very heavy. When full of food, and its false
bottom charged with hot water, I could only just lift it, and my
progress down the ward, carrying it from the trolley in the corridor to
the ward-kitchen, was a perilous and perspiring shuffle. As soon as all
the patients had been served I placed any left-over slices of meat in
the larder: these would be eaten at tea. Then I drained out the hot
water from the false bottom. Then (but only after experience had given
me wisdom) I ran hot water from the geyser tap into the now empty meat,
vegetable and duff compartments, and gave them a hurried swill: this to
rid them of the pestilent dregs of fatty material which would otherwise
have dried and glued themselves to the floor of the tin. The latter had
now to be put on one side, for I must be back in the ward attending to
my diners. Only when they had finished their meal, and their bed-tables
had been removed, folded up and placed neatly behind each bed, could I
tackle the tin in earnest.

I abhor dabbling in grease; but life is full of abhorrent dilemmas which
must be endured; and the interior of that dinner-tin somehow got itself
cleaned, every day, in the long run. During the early part of any given
week I was almost happy over the job. For Monday was "Dry Store" day. On
Monday, and on Monday only--and you were helpless for the remainder of
the week if you forgot the rule--you could obtain, on presentation of a
chit, blacklead for the stoves, metal-polish for the brass, rags for
cleaning the floor, floor-polish, one box of matches, bath-brick, soft
soap, and--soda. It is an extraordinary chemical, soda. Before I became
a ward orderly I had no idea of the remarkable properties of soda. A
handful of soda in boiling water, and behold the grease dissolve meekly
from the nastiest dinner-tin! It was miraculous. When a pitying
scrub-lady first showed me the trick I thought that all my troubles were
at an end. Soda made the ward-kitchen seem like heaven. Alas, the
supply of soda considered sufficient by the Dry Store authorities never
lasted beyond Wednesday. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday the
dinner-tin had to be cleaned out not by alkaline agency, but by sheer
slogging hard labour. And when at last I stood it on edge to dry, and
thought to go off duty with a clear conscience, I generally found that I
had overlooked the waiting pudding-basin.

On the whole I am inclined to pronounce the pudding-basin a more
obdurate utensil than even the dinner-tin. The pudding-basin, however,
only appeared every second morning. On duff days (duff being served in
the same tin as the meat and vegetables, though in a separate
compartment) we had no pudding. By pudding I mean milk pudding--rice or
sago or tapioca. Now a milk pudding, such as those my patients received,
though perhaps it was looked askance at in the nursery, is food which,
as an adult, I am far from despising. Rice pudding I have come with
maturer years to regard as a delicacy. Sago and tapioca I still eat
rather with amiable resignation than from choice. But any milk pudding,
as I now know, has a most vicious habit of cleaving to the dish in which
it was cooked. Rice is the least evil offender. The others are
absolutely wicked. To clean oleaginous scum from a dinner-tin is not
easy, but it is a mere bagatelle compared with cleaning the scorched
high-tide-mark of tapioca or sago from the shores of a large metal
pudding-basin. I have tried scraping with a knife blade, I have tried
every reasonable form of friction, and I can simply state as a fact from
my own personal experience (perhaps I am unfortunate) that those metal
pudding-basins of ours would frequently yield to nothing less powerful
than sandpaper.

I need scarcely say that sandpaper was not supplied by the deities of
the Dry Store. Sandpaper did not come within their purview. It had no
recognised use in hospital. Therefore it did not exist. But, observing
that a succession of metal pudding-basins would be an insupportable
prospect without sandpaper, I laid in a stock of sandpaper, paying for
the same out of my own private purse. It was a cheap investment. Never
have earnings of mine been better spent. Moreover, having once hit on
the notion of giving myself a lift illegitimately, so to speak, I added
to the smuggling-in of sandpaper a secret purchase of soda. Except that
our scrub-ladies, each and all, discovering that the Dry Store's
allowance of this priceless chemical had at last apparently been
generous, caused it to fly at a disconcerting pace, and as a result
sometimes left me short of it, my career as a washer-up afterwards
became more comfortable.

I shall never like washing-up. In the communal households of the future
I shall heave coal, sift cinders, dig potatoes, dust furniture or scour
floors--any task will be mine which, though it makes me dirty, does not
make me greasily dirty. But if I must wash-up, if I must study the
idiosyncrasies of cold fat, treacly plates, frying-pans which have
sizzled dripping-toast on the gas-ring, frozen gravy, and pudding-basins
with burnt milk-skins filmed to their sides, I shall be comparatively
undismayed. For sandpaper is not yet (like the news posters) abolished;
and soda--although I hear its price has risen several hundred per
cent.--is still cheaper than, say, diamonds.



IV

A "HUT" HOSPITAL


People have curious ideas of the kind of building which would make a
good war hospital. "The So-and-So Club in Pall Mall," I have been told,
"should have been commandeered long ago. Ideal for hospital purposes. Of
course some of the M.P. members brought influence to bear, and the War
Office was choked off...." And so forth.

It would surprise me to hear of anything that the War Office was held
back from doing if it wanted to do it. Perhaps the least likely
obstructionist to be successful in this project would be a
club-frequenting M.P. The War Office has taken exactly and precisely
what it chose--even when it would have been better to choose otherwise.
In this matter of commandeering buildings for hospitals it may or may
not have acted with wisdom; but at least it has been safe in avoiding
the advice of the individual who jumps to the conclusion that just any
pleasingly-situated edifice will do, provided beds and nurses are
shovelled into it in sufficient quantities.

The indignant patriot who was convinced that chicane alone saved the
So-and-So Club from being dedicated to the service of the wounded was
quite unable to tell me whether the lifts--assuming that lifts
existed--were roomy enough to accommodate stretchers; whether, if so, no
interval of stairs prevented trollies from being wheeled to every ward;
whether the arrangement of the building would allow of the network of
plumbing necessitated by the introduction of numerous bathrooms and
lavatories (for each ward must possess both); whether the kitchens were
so located that they could supply food to top-floor patients without
waste of carrying labour on the part of the orderlies' staff. These
problems, the mere fringe of the subject, had never occurred to our
patriot. His idea of a hospital was a place where soldiers lie in bed
and get well. (What queer notions visitors absorb of the _easiness_ of
hospital life!) He had not glimpsed the organisation which made the cure
possible. The man in bed, a Sister hovering in the background with,
apparently, nothing to do but look pleasant--these constituted, for him,
the final phenomena of a war hospital. These phenomena, instead of being
housed in a wood-and-corrugated-iron shed, might have been staged
picturesquely in one of the luxurious salons of the So-and-So Club in
Pall Mall. It was a shame that they weren't. He would write to the
papers about it. Somebody must be blamed, somebody must be made to
hustle. And meanwhile the Sisters and doctors who _were_ installed in
gorgeous mansions for their work were openly envying the fortunate ones
who had been given those bare but efficient and compactly-planned sheds.

Some years ago a number of public buildings were earmarked for hospital
use in case of war. It may surprise the indignant patriots to learn that
any preparations whatever were made prior to the outbreak in 1914.
Nevertheless all kinds of preparations actually were made. Mistakes and
miscalculations may have marred those preparations: the fact remains
that, as far as the Territorial Medical Service was concerned, the
authorities had merely to press a button and hospitals came into
existence. Thus a number of institutions--mostly schools--found
themselves ejected from their own roof-trees: found, in short, (what
many other folk were to learn later) that the State is omnipotent in
war-time and that sectional interests fade into insignificance compared
with the interests of the safety of the commonwealth. Some conception of
the promptness with which this paper scheme of Sir Alfred Keogh's
materialised at the outbreak of war may be gathered from the simple
statement that the building of which I myself write was an Orphans' Home
on August 4th, 1914. At 6 a.m. on August 5th it was a military hospital.

I do not say that it was a military hospital in working order. But if,
by a miracle, wounded _had_ turned up then, there was at least a staff
of medical officers and orderlies on the premises to receive them. In
point of fact it was some weeks before the first patients arrived. Those
weeks, however, were not idle ones. The layman who considers that any
large building can be turned instantaneously into a hospital would have
had an eye-opener if he had witnessed the work done here. The mere
removing of 95 per cent. of the institution's furniture was a colossal
task; added thereto was the introduction of hundreds of beds, hundreds
of mattresses, hundreds of sets of bedclothes, hundreds of suits of
pyjamas, hundreds of--But why prolong a brain-racking list? Then there
was the pulling-down and fixing-up of partitions, the removal of every
single window for replacement by Hopper sashes, the fitting-in of
bathrooms, lavatories, ward-kitchens, sink-rooms, dispensary, cookhouse,
operating-theatre, pathological laboratory, linen-store, steward's
store, clothing-store, detention-room, administration offices, X-ray
department ... all these in a building which, spacious and handsome
outwardly, was, as to its interior, a characteristic maze in the
Scottish baronial style of architecture beloved by mid-Victorian
philanthropists. How the evicted orphans will like to return to those
stone-flagged passages and large airy dormitories, after having
experienced the comforts of the banal but snug suburban villas in which
they are at present located, I know not. There is a certain dignity
about the Scottish baronial pile, I admit. The silhouette of its grey
stone façade, rising above delightful lawns, makes a good
impression--from a distance. Postcard views of it sell freely to
visitors. But the best part of our hospital is hidden behind that
turreted façade, and is much too "ugly" and utilitarian for postcard
immortalisation.

The best part of our hospital--_the_ hospital, to most of us--came into
being when the commandeered Scottish baronial orphans' asylum was found
to be too small. Then were built "the huts."

The word "hut" suggests something casual, of the camping-out order: a
shed knocked together with tin-tacks, doubtfully weather-proof and
probably scamped by profiteering contractors. Of the huts provided at
certain training centres this may have been true. The finely austere
and efficient ranks of hut-wards which constitute the main part of the
3rd London General Hospital are the very antithesis of that picture.
They may look flimsy. They were certainly put up at a remarkable pace. I
myself witnessed the erection of the final fifty of them. An open field
vanished in less than a month, and "Bungalow Town" (as someone nicknamed
it) appeared. You would have said that such speed meant countless
imperfections of detail. No doubt some tinkerings and modifications were
bound to follow, when the regiment of workmen, carpenters, engineers,
drainage specialists, electricians, had vanished. But, in the long run,
the ideal hospital remained--a hospital with which the So-and-So Club in
Pall Mall, for all its luxuriousness, could never hope to compare.

There are still a dozen wards--used mostly for medical cases--in the
Scottish baronial building. Its rooms, too, provide the Administration
with offices. Its great Dining Hall is a splendid Receiving Ward for the
sorting-out and clearance of newly-arrived convoys of patients. We
should be poorly situated indeed if we had not our Scottish baronial
main building to be the hub of the hospital's activities, or rather the
handle from which springs the fan of the hospital's great extension--the
huts. Approaching the hospital the visitor sees nothing of those huts.
As he walks up the drive he flatters himself that he has reached his
destination. He discovers his mistake when, at the inquiry bureau in the
entrance, he is informed that the patient whom he has come to interview
is (say) in "C 13." He is advised to go down the passage on his left,
turn to his right, turn to the left again and then again to the
right--after which he had better seek a further re-direction. Launching
himself optimistically on this voyage he learns, long ere he has
attained his goal, that a modern war-hospital can hide a considerable
extent of pedestrianism behind a comparatively short Scottish baronial
frontage. He will be fortunate if five minutes' steady tramping brings
him to the bedside of his friend in C 13.

Perhaps he will content himself in his footsoreness by noting that, to
reach C 13, he has not had to go up or down any stairs. This is one of
the beauties of the hut system. It consumes a big area, but it is all
on one level--the ground level. The patient on crutches can go anywhere
without fear of tripping, the patient in a wheeled chair can propel
himself anywhere, the orderlies can push wheeled stretchers or
dinner-wagons anywhere. Our visitor for C 13, having escaped from the
back of the Scottish baronial building, emerges into a vista of covered
corridors, wooden-floored, galvanised-iron roofed. It is a heartbreaking
vista to the poor woman who has had no bus-fare and is burdened by a
baby in arms. It is a vista which seems to have no end. Corridor
branches out of corridor--A Corridor, B Corridor, C Corridor, D
Corridor, each with its perspective of doors opening into wards; and
shorter corridors leading to store-rooms and the like. But the patient
or orderly who has dwelt in a hospital where, though distances are
shorter, staircases are involved--or where every trifling
coming-and-going of goods or stretchers necessitates the manipulation of
a lift--blesses those level, smooth corridors, with their facile access
to any ward, to operating theatres, kitchens, stores, X-ray room,
massage department, etc., and their stepless exit into the open air.

Looked at from outside, a hut-ward is--to the æsthetic eye--a hideous
structure. Knowing what it stands for, the science, the tenderness and
the fundamental civilisation which it represents, we may descry, behind
its stark geometrical outlines, a real nobility and beauty. Entering a
typical hut-ward you behold thirty beds, fifteen on each side of the
room. Between each pair of beds is a locker in which the patient stows
his belongings. (Woe betide him if his locker is not kept neat!) In the
central aisle of the room are the Sister's writing-table, certain other
tables, chairs, and two coke stoves for heating purposes in winter. The
floor is carpetless, and maintained in a meticulous state of high gloss
by means of daily polishings. At a height of a few feet from the floor,
the asbestos-lined walls cease and become windows. There is no gap in
the continuous line of windows all down each side of the ward--a special
type of window which, even when open, declines to allow rain to enter.
In consequence of these windows the ward is not only very well lit, but
also airy and odourless. When all the windows are open (which is the
case throughout the entire summer and generally the case in winter also)
the patient has the advantages of indoor comfort plus an outdoor
atmosphere. At the end of the ward a covered verandah is spacious enough
to take an extra couple of beds for those requiring completely open-air
treatment.

The ward proper has certain additions: a kitchen with gas-stove and
geyser; a sink-room with geyser and cleansing apparatus of special
pattern; a bathroom with geyser; lavatories; a small room for the
isolation of a patient on the danger-list; a linen-room; and cupboards.
All these are packed neatly under that one rectangular corrugated roof
which looked so ugly and so unpromising from outside.

Do not pity the wounded soldier because he is quartered in a "hut." The
word sounds unattractive. But if it is the right kind of hut, he is in
the soundest and most sanitary type of temporary hospital that the mind
of man has yet devised. The rain-drops may rattle a shade noisily on the
roof, the asbestos lining may be devoid of ornamentation, but as he
lies in bed and contemplates that unadorned ceiling he is a deal better
off than if he were gazing at the elaborate (and dust-harbouring)
cornices of the So-and-So Club's grandiose smoking-lounge in Pall Mall.



V

FROM THE "D" BLOCK WARDS


If you walk up the corridor at half-past four on certain afternoons of
the week you will meet a mob of patients trooping from their wards to
the concert-room. Being built of wood and corrugated iron, the corridor
is an echoing cave of noises. It echoes the tramp of feet--and
army-pattern boots were not soled for silence. It echoes the thud-thud
of crutches. It echoes the slurred rumble of wheeled chairs and
stretcher-trollies. But, above all, at half-past four on concert days it
echoes happy talk and chaff and boisterous laughter.

As often as not, the loudest talk, the cheeriest chaff, the most
spontaneous laughter, emanate from the blue-clad stalwarts who have
mustered from the "D" Block wards.

"D" Block contains the wards for eye-wound cases.

Here they come, a string of them, mostly with bandages round their
heads. The leading man owns one good eye--a twinkling eye--an eye of
mischief--an eye (you would guess at once) for the girls. (But the eye's
owner probably calls them the "pushers." Such is our language now.)
Behind him, in single file, and in step with him, march a gang of
patients each with his hand on the shoulder of the man in front. Tramp,
tramp! Their tread is purposely thunderous on the bare boards of the
corridor. They sing as they advance. It is a ragtime chorus whose most
memorable line runs, "You never seem to kiss me in the same place
twice." A jaunty lilt, to be sure, both in tune and in rhythm. Tramp,
tramp! The one-eyed leader swerves round a corner, roaring the refrain.
His followers swerve too. Suddenly the Matron is encountered, emerging
from her room. "Fine afternoon, Matron!" The leader interrupts his chant
to utter this hearty greeting. And, with one voice, "Fine afternoon,
Matron!" exclaim his followers. But they do not turn their heads. Each
with his hand resting on the shoulder of the man in front they go
steadily on, towards the concert-room, with an odd intentness, glancing
neither to one side nor the other. For though, at their leader's cue,
they have hailed the Matron, they have not seen her. They are blind.

The spectacle of men--particularly young men--who have given their sight
for their country is, to most observers, a moving one. Melancholy are
the reflections of the visitor who meets, for the first time, a
promenading party of our blind patients. It is the plain truth,
nevertheless, that the blind men themselves are far from melancholy. One
of the rowdiest characters we ever had in the hospital was totally
blind. The blind men's wards are notoriously amongst the least sedate. I
offer no explanation. I simply state the fact. I will fortify it by an
anecdote.

It came to pass that eight complimentary tickets for a Queen's Hall
matinée were received by the Matron, who in due course allotted them to
seven "D" Block patients. An orderly, detailed to take them to the
hall, completed the octette. Corporal Smith, the orderly in question,
recounted his adventures afterwards. "Never again," quoth he, "shall I
jump at a matinée job if there are blind chaps in the party. They're the
deuce."

You must understand that we hospital orderlies regard the task of
shepherding patients to an entertainment in town as an agreeable form of
holiday. I have had some very pleasant outings of that sort myself. But
not--I am thankful to recall, in the light of Corporal Smith's
narrative--with blind men. One-legged men are often a sufficient care,
in manoeuvring on and off omnibuses. Apparently helpless cripples have
a marvellous gift for losing themselves, entering wrong trains, and
generally escaping--as the hour for return draws nigh--from one's
custody. And the city seems to be full of lunatics ready to supply
alcohol or indigestible refreshments to the most delicate war-hospital
inmates. Even with ordinary patients the orderly's afternoon excursion
is sometimes not unfraught with anxiety. But blind patients, as Corporal
Smith said, are the deuce.

Out of his party, four were totally blind, two could recognise dimly
the difference between light and darkness, and one had a single good
eye.

Queen's Hall was reached, by bus, without mishap. After the performance
there was tea at an A.B.C. shop. Here Jock, one of the totally blind
men, a Scotchman--all Scots are "Jocks" in the army--distinguished
himself by facetiæ (audible throughout the whole shop) on the English
pronunciation of the word 'scone,' and intimated his desire to treat the
company to a ballad. This project was suppressed, but "a silly fool in a
top hat threatened to report me for having given my men drink," said
Corporal Smith. "Jock gave _him_ the bird, not 'arf. But I thought it
about time to be going home."

So the party prepared to go home.

The bus was voted dull. Somebody suggested the tube. Corporal Smith
consented.

He had forgotten that at Oxford Circus station the lifts have been
abolished in favour of sliding staircases. Confronted by the escalator,
Corporal Smith halted his party and informed them that they must walk
down by the ordinary stair. The escalator was not safe for blind men.
Unfortunately, Jock had sniffed a lark; the one-eyed man backed him up;
the party--elated perhaps by their tea--would not hear of anything so
humdrum as a descent by the ordinary stair. They were going on the
sliding stair. They insisted. Corporal Smith argued in vain. In vain he
exerted his (purely nominal) authority. His charges mocked him. The
one-eyed man leading, with Jock in his wake, they launched themselves at
the sliding stair. In sheer desperation Corporal Smith brought up the
rear, supporting two of the more timid venturers as best he might. None
of the group except Corporal Smith himself, as it turned out, had ever
travelled on an escalator before. But they had heard a comic song about
a sliding stair, and they wished--Jock especially--to sample this
metropolitan invention.

By dodging forward to place each blind man's hand upon the banister,
Corporal Smith managed to send off his patients without a stumble. But
as the stair inexorably lowered them into the bowels of the earth he
realised, only too vividly, what might happen at the foot of the
descent. The evening rush of suburb-bound passengers had begun and the
staircase was rather crowded. Nobody seemed to realise that the
khaki-overcoated men who stood so still upon the steps were not the
usual hospital convalescents out on leave and able to look after
themselves. Corporal Smith, delayed by one man who had hesitated at the
top before taking the plunge, beheld his charges below him, hopelessly
dotted, at intervals, amongst the general public. It was impossible for
him to struggle down ahead, to the bottom of the staircase, to guide the
men off as they arrived. This task, he hoped, would be adequately
performed by the one-eyed man.

It might have been. The one-eyed man was game for anything. But Jock,
arriving in the highest good humour at the bottom of the staircase, was
tilted sideways by the curve, and promptly sat down on the
landing-place. Instead of rising, he proclaimed aloud that this was
funnier even than England's pronunciation of the word 'scone.'
Whereupon various hurrying passengers, including an old lady, tripped
over his prone form. The sensation of being kicked and sat upon appealed
to Jock's sense of humour. The more people avalanched across him the
more comic he thought it. And in a moment there was quite a pile of
wriggling bodies on top of him. For though the public managed on the
whole to leap over, or circumvent, the obstacle presented by Jock's
extremely large body, none of his blind comrades did so.

"Every single one of them fell flop," said Corporal Smith; "I give you
my word."

But were they downhearted? No! They regarded this mysterious hurly-burly
of arms and legs as a capital jest. So far from being alarmed or
annoyed, they shouted with glee. The old lady, who had gathered herself
together and was directing a stream of voluble reproof at Corporal Smith
for his "callousness and cruelty to these unhappy blind heroes," retired
discomfited. Jock's comments routed her more effectively than the
Corporal's assurance that the episode was none of his choosing.

The party at last sorted itself out and was placed upon its feet once
more. It was excessively pleased with its exploit. Hilarity reigned.
Corporal Smith, relieved, made ready to conduct his squad to the
platform.

Alas, a bright idea occurred to Jock. Why not go up the other sliding
stair and down again?

Agreed, _nem. con._ At least, Corporal Smith's _con._ was too futile to
be worth counting.

"I had to go with the blighters," said he. "There was no end of a crowd
by this time. And Jock and some of the others fell over at the top
again. And there was a row with the ticket-collector. And people kept
saying they'd report me. _Me!_ And when I'd got my party down to the
bottom for the second time, and some of the tube officials had come and
said they couldn't allow it and we must buzz off home, I lined the
fellows up to march 'em to the train, and dash me if two weren't
missing. They'd given me the slip."

The two truants, it may be added, could not be found. Corporal Smith
had to return without them. At a late hour of the evening they appeared,
not an atom repentant, at the hospital, having persuaded someone to put
them into the correct bus. One of them, Jock, explained that, being from
the North, he had desired to seize this opportunity of seeing the sights
of London. Jock, I may remind you, is totally blind. Jock's guide, the
man who had volunteered to show him the sights and who had only once
been in London before, could see very faintly the difference between
light and dark.... Thus this pair of irresponsibles had fared forth into
the dusk of Regent Street.

       *       *       *       *       *

It sounds a very horrible fate to be blinded. But somehow the blind men
themselves seldom seem to be overwhelmed by its horribleness. If you
want to hear the merriest banter in a war hospital, visit the blind
men's wards. The pathos of them lies less in the sadness of the victims
than in the triumphant, wonderful fact that they are _not_ sad. I wish
we others all inhabited the same mysteriously jocund spiritual realm as
Jock and his comrades, who come tramp-tramping to the concert-room down
the corridor from the D wards.



VI

WHEN THE WOUNDED ARRIVE


The receiving hall of the hospital is its clearing house of patients. It
is a huge room, with a lofty and echoing roof, a little in the style of
a church. Before the war, when the building was a school, this rather
grandiose apartment no doubt witnessed speechifyings and prize
distributions. May the time be not far distant when it will once again
be used for those observances! Meanwhile its vast floor is occupied by
ranks of beds.

Those beds are generally untenanted. Visitors who, like the lady in the
play, have taken the wrong turning, are apt to find themselves in the
receiving hall, and, gazing at its array of vacant beds, have been known
to conclude that the hospital was empty. (As if any war-hospital, in
these times, could be empty!) But our patients have only a short
acquaintanceship with the receiving-hall beds: these beds are momentary
resting-places on their journey healthwards: they are not meant to lie
in but to lie _on_. The three-score wards for which the receiving hall
is the clearing house are the real destination of the patients; down
long corridors, in wards far cosier because less ornate than this, the
patient will find "his" bed ready for him, the bed which he is not to
lie on but _in_.

We orderlies meet each convoy at the front door of the hospital. The
walking-cases are the first to arrive--men who are either not ill
enough, or not badly enough wounded, to need to be put on stretchers in
ambulances. They come from the station in motor-cars supplied by that
indefatigable body, the London Ambulance Column. The walking-case
alights from his car, is conducted into the receiving hall, and ten
minutes later is in the bathroom. For the ritual of the bath must on no
account be omitted--although now not so obviously imperative as in the
early period of the war. Few patients reach us who have not first
sojourned, either for a day or two or for weeks, in hospitals in France.
They are therefore merely travel-stained, as you or I might be
travel-stained after coming over from Dublin to Euston. The bath is thus
a pleasure more than a necessity. Whereas there _was_ an era, when our
guests came straight from only too populous trenches....

"O.C. Baths," as the bathroom orderly was nicknamed, had to be
circumspect in the performance of his job.

The few minutes which the walking-case spends in the receiving hall are
occupied (1) in drinking a cup of cocoa, and (2) in "having his
particulars taken."

Poor soul!--he is weary of giving his "particulars." He has had to give
them half-a-dozen times at least, perhaps more, since he left the front.
At the field dressing-station they wanted his particulars, at the
clearing-station, on the train, at the base hospital, on another train,
on the steamer, on the next train, and now in this English hospital. As
he sits and comforts himself with cocoa, a "V.A.D." hovers at his
elbow, intent on a printed sheet, the details of which she is rapidly
filling-in with a pencil. For this is a card-index war, a colossal
business of files and classifications and ledgers and statistics and
registrations, an undertaking on a scale beside which Harrod's and
Whiteley's and Selfridge's and Wanamaker's and the Magazin du Louvre,
all rolled into one, would be a fleabite of simplicity. Ere the morrow
shall have dawned, our patient's military biography will be recounted,
by various clerks, in I don't know how many different entries. If you
are curious, refer to one of our volumes of the _Admission and Discharge
Book: Field Service Army Book 27a_. Open it at any of its
closely-written pages and see the host of ruled columns which the
orderly in charge of it must inscroll with reference to each of the many
thousands of patients who pass through our hospital per annum. The
columns ask for his Regiment; Squadron, Battery or Company; Number;
Rank; Surname; Christian Name; Age; Length of Service; Completed Months
with Field Force; Diseases (wounds and injuries are expressed by a
number indicating their nature and whereabouts); Date of Admission; Date
of Discharge or Transfer; Number of Days under Treatment; Number of
Ward; Religion; and "Observations"--a space usually occupied by the name
of the hospital ship upon which our friend crossed the Channel, and the
name of the convalescent home to which he went on bidding us adieu.

Having furnished the preliminary statements which lay the foundation of
this compendious memoir, the walking-case thankfully finishes his cocoa,
picks up the package of "blues" which has been put at his side, and
departs, with his fellows, to the bathroom. Here he is tackled by the
Pack Store orderlies, who take from him, and enter in their books, his
khaki clothes. These he must leave in exchange for the blue slop uniform
which, _pro tem._, is to be his only wear. When he emerges from the
bathroom he is attired in what is now England's most honourable
livery--the royal blue of the war-hospital patient. And (though perhaps
the matter is not mentioned to him in so many words) his own suit is
already ticketed with an identification label and on its way to the
fumigator. This is no reflection on the owner of the suit ... but there
are some things we don't talk about. Mr. Fumigator-Wallah is not the
least busy of the more retiring members of a war-hospital staff. He is
not in the limelight; but you might come to be very sad and sorry if he
took it into his head to neglect his unapplauded part off-stage.

The walking-cases are still splashing and dressing in the bathroom when
the ambulances with the cot-cases begin to appear. Now is the orderlies'
busy time. Each stretcher must be quickly but gently removed from the
ambulance and carried into the receiving hall.

Four orderlies haul the stretcher from its shelf in the ambulance; two
orderlies then take its handles and carry it indoors. At the entrance to
the receiving hall they halt. The Medical Officer bends over the
patient, glances at the label which is attached to him, and assigns him
to a ward. (Certain types of cases go to certain groups of wards.) The
attendant sergeant promptly picks a metal ticket from a rack and lays
it on the stretcher. The ticket has, punched on it, the number of the
patient's ward and the number of the patient's bed in that ward. This
ceremony completed, the orderlies proceed, with their burden, up the
aisle between the beds in the receiving hall.

Arrived at the bed, they lower their stretcher until it is at such a
level that the patient, if he is active enough, can move off it on to
the bed; if he is too weak to help himself he is lifted on to the bed by
orderlies under the direction of the receiving-hall Sister. The
stretcher is promptly removed and restored to its ambulance. If the
patient is in an exceptionally suffering condition he is not placed on
the receiving-hall bed; instead--the Medical Officer having given his
permission--his stretcher is put on a wheeled trolley and he is taken
straight away to his ward, so that he will only undergo one shift of
position between the ambulance and his destination. The majority of
stretcher-cases, however, reach us in a by no means desperate state,
for, as I say, they seldom come to England without having been treated
previously at a base abroad (except during the periods of heavy
fighting). And it is remarkable how often the patient refuses help in
getting off the stretcher on to the bed. He may be a cocoon of bandages,
but he will courageously heave himself overboard, from stretcher to bed,
with a gay _wallop_ which would be deemed rash even in a person in
perfect health. Our receiving hall, at a big intake of wounded, when
every bed bears its poor victim of the war, presents a spectacle which
might give the philosopher food for thought; but I suspect that, if he
regarded its actualities rather than his own preconceptions, what would
impress him more than the sadness would be on the one hand the
kindliness, brisk but not officious, of the staff, and on the other the
spontaneous geniality of the battered occupants of the beds. The
orderlies can spare little time for talk, but the few chats which they
are able to have with patients whom they are helping to change their
clothes, or to whom they are proffering the inevitable cocoa (which is
a cocktail, as it were, prior to the meal which will be served in the
men's own ward), are punctuated by jokes and laughter rather than the
long-visaged "sympathy" which the outsider might--quite wrongly!--have
pictured as appropriate to such an assemblage.

The stretcher-case, before he is taken to his ward, must also "give his
particulars," must also be interviewed by the Pack Store officials, and
must also have assigned to him his blue uniform (wherewith are a shirt,
a cravat, slippers and socks) in anticipation of the time when he shall
be able to use his feet again and promenade our corridors and grounds.
He receives the customary packet of cigarettes (probably the second, for
he often gets one at the railway station too), and then, on another
stretcher, mounted on a trolley, is wheeled off to his ward. Here,
bestowed in bed at last, we leave him to his blanket-bath, his meal, his
temperature-taking and chart filling-in by the Sister, his visit from
the doctor, and all the rest of it. For the moment we see no more of
him; we must race back to the receiving hall, and, if there are no more
patients to take away, return the trolley to its proper nook, put
straight the blankets and pillows on the beds, sweep the floor, and tidy
up generally, in readiness for the next convoy's advent.

Presently the huge room, beneath its dim arched ceiling, is silent and
empty once more. The four ranks of beds, without a crease on their brown
blankets, are bare of occupants. The Sister and her probationers have
vanished. The Pack Store orderlies have carried off their loot of dirty
khaki tunics and trousers for the fumigator. The clerical V.A.D.'s have
gone to enter "particulars" in ledgers and card-indices. The cookhouse
people have removed their cocoa urn. The sergeant is inspecting the
metal ward-tickets left in his rack. A glance at them tells him how many
beds, and which beds, are free in the hospital; for the tickets have no
duplicates; any given ticket can only reappear in the rack when the bed
which it connotes is out of use and awaiting a newcomer; the ticket
hangs from a nail in the wall beside the patient's bed just so long as
that bed is tenanted. So the rack of metal tickets might almost take the
place of that important document, of which a freshly-compiled edition is
typed every morning, the Empty Bed List; and the sergeant is meditative
as he sorts into the rack the tickets which have newly been sent in from
the Sisters of wards where there have been departures. "Not much room in
the eye-wound wards," he ponders; or, "A lot of empties in the
medicals." And then ... the tinkle of the telephone....

"Another convoy expected at 6.15? Twenty walking-cases and seventeen
cots. Right you are!"

And at 6.15 the party of orderlies will be back again at the front door,
again the motor-cars will stream up the drive, again the ambulances will
come with their stretchers, and again the receiving hall will awaken
from its interlude of silence to echo with the activities incidental to
a clearing house of those damaged human bundles which are the _raison
d'être_ of our great war-hospital.



VII

"T.... A...."


War-hospital patients are of many sorts. It is a common mistake of the
arm-chair newspaper devourer to lump all soldiers together as quaint,
bibulous, aitch-dropping innocents, lamblike and gauche in
drawing-rooms, fierce and picturesque on the field, who (to judge by
their published photographs) are continually on the grin and continually
shaking hands either with each other or with equally grinsome French
peasant women at cottage doors or with the local mayor who congratulates
them on the glorious V.C.'s which, of course, they are continually
winning. In a war hospital that harbours many thousands of patients per
annum, we should know, in the long run, something about the
characteristics of Tommy Atkins; and it is with resentment that I hear
him thus classified as a mere type. He is not a type. Discipline and
training have given him some veneer of generalised similarities. Beneath
these, Tommy Atkins is simply the man in the street--any man in any
street; and if you look out of your window in the city and see a throng
of pedestrians upon the pavement you might just as well say that because
they are all civilians they are all alike as that, because all soldiers
wear khaki, they are all alike.

I have a quarrel with the Press on the score of its persistent fostering
of this notion that "our gallant lads" (as the sentimental scribe calls
them) are a pack of children about whose exploits an unfailing stream of
semi-pathetic, semi-humorous anecdotes must be put forth. Even the old
professional army exhibited no dead level either of blackguards on the
one hand or humble Galahads on the other. But whatever may have been the
case before the war, all the armies of Europe are now alike in this,
that they are composed of civilians who merely happen to have adopted a
certain garb for the performance of a certain job--and, be it remarked,
a temporary job. That garb has not reduced the citizens, who have the
honour to wear it, to a monotonous level either of intelligence or of
conduct: nor even of opinions about the war itself. I have had
fire-eaters in my ward who breathed the sentiments of _John Bull_ and
the _Evening News_, and I have had pacifists (they seemed to have fought
no less bravely) who, week by week, read and approved Mr. Snowden in the
_Labour Leader_; I have had Radicals and Tories, and patients who cared
for neither party, but whose passion was cage-birds or boxing or amateur
photography; I have had patients who were sulky and patients who were
bright, patients who were unlettered and patients who were educated,
patients who could hardly express themselves without the use of an
ensanguined vocabulary and patients who were gently spoken and
fastidious. Each of them was Tommy Atkins--the inanely smirking hero of
the picture-paper and the funny paragraph. Neither his picture nor the
paragraph may be positively a lie, and yet, when the arm-chair dweller
chucklingly draws attention to them, I am tempted to relapse into
irreverence and utter one or other (or perhaps both) of two phrases
which T. Atkins is himself credited with using _ad nauseam_--"Na-poo"
and "I _don't_ think."

When I assert--as I do unhesitatingly assert--that no one could work in
a war-hospital ward for any length of time without an ever-deepening
respect and fondness for Tommy Atkins, it is the same thing as asserting
that the respect and fondness are evoked by close contact with one's
countrymen: nothing more nor less. A hospital ward is a haphazard
selection of one's fellow-Britons: the most wildly haphazard it is
possible to conceive. And the pessimistic cynic who, after a sojourn in
that changing company for a month or two can still either generalise
about them or (if he does) can still not acknowledge that in the mass
they are amazingly lovable, is beyond hope. The war has taught its
lessons to us all, and none more important than this. For myself I
confess that I never knew before how nice were nine out of ten of the
individuals with whom I sat silent in trains, whom I glanced at in
business offices or behind counters, whom I saw in workshops or in the
field or who were my neighbours in music-halls. They were strangers. In
the years to come I hope they will be strangers no longer. For they and
I have dressed alike and borne the same surname--Atkins.

Of course, there remain a few generalisations which _can_ safely be
risked about even so nondescript a person as the new Tommy Atkins. As
practically all the Tommy Atkinses are, at this moment, concentrated on
the prosecution of one great job, it is natural that their main
interests should revolve round that job. They all (for instance) want
the job to be finished. They all (within my experience) want it to be
finished well. They nearly all desire earnestly to cease soldiering as
soon as the job _is_ finished well. I never yet met the man (though he
may exist, outside the brains of the scribes aforementioned) who, having
tasted the joys of roughing it, is determined not to return to a humdrum
desk in an office: on the contrary, that office and that humdrum desk
have now become this travelled adventurer's most roseate dream. I have
conversed with patients drawn from nearly every walk in life, and I do
not remember one who definitely spoke of refusing to go back to his
former work--if he could get it.

One of my patients had been a subterranean lavatory attendant. You would
have thought his ambitions--after visits to Egypt, Malta, the
Dardanelles and France--might have soared to loftier altitudes. He had
survived hair-raising adventures; he had taken part in the making of
history; although wounded he had not been incapacitated for an active
career in the future; and he was neither illiterate nor unintelligent.
Yet he told me, with obvious satisfaction, that his place was being kept
open for him. I was, as it were, invited to rejoice with him over the
destiny which was his. I may add that the singular revelations which he
imparted as to the opportunities for extra earnings in his troglodyte
trade extorted from me a more enthusiastic sympathy than might be
supposed possible.

That agreeable domestic pet, _homo sapiens_, remains unchanged even when
you dress him up in a uniform and set him fighting. He is always
consistently inconsistent; he is always both reasonable and
unreasonable. You can try to cast him in a mould, but he resumes his
normal shapelessness the moment the mould is removed. Expose him to
frightful ordeals of terror and pain, and he will emerge grumbling about
some petty grievance or carrying on a flirtation with another man's wife
or squabbling about sectarian dogmas or gambling on magazine
competitions or planning new businesses--in fact, behaving precisely as
the natural lord of creation always does behave. No member of our
hospital staff, I imagine, will ever forget the arrival of the first
batch of exchanged British wounded prisoners; It was the most tragic
scene I have ever witnessed. It is a fact, for which I make no apology,
that tears were shed by some of those whose task it was to welcome that
pitiful band of martyrs. We had received convoys of wounded many a time,
but _these_ broken creatures, so pale, so neglected, so thin and so
infinitely happy to be free once more, had a poignant appeal which must
have melted the most rigid official. (And we are neither very official,
here, nor very rigid.) Well, amongst these liberated captives was one
who told a sad tale of starvation at his internment camp. There is
little doubt that it was a true tale, in the main. On that I make no
comment. I simply introduce you to this gentleman, who had been restored
to his native land after ten months of entombment, in order to mention
that on the following morning, when his breakfast was placed before him,
he turned up his nose at it. Loudly complaining of the poorness of the
food, he leant out of bed, picked up a brown-paper parcel which had been
his only luggage, and produced from it some German salted herring, which
he proceeded to eat with grumbling gusto.

That is not specially Tommy Atkins; it is _homo sapiens_ of the
hearthside, whether in suburban villa or in slum, for ever dissatisfied
(more especially with his victuals) and for ever evoking our affection
all the same.

No; Tommy Atkins is never twice alike. He is unanimous on few debatable
matters. One of them, as I have said, is the desirability of finishing
the war--in the proper way. (But even here there are differences as to
what constitutes the proper way.) Another is (I trust I shall not shock
the reader) the extreme displeasingness of life at the front. I would
not say that our hospital patients are positively thankful to be
wounded, nor that they do not wish to recover with reasonable rapidity.
But that they are glad to be safe in England once more is undeniable.
The more honour to them that few, if any, flinch from returning to
duty--when they know only too well what that duty consists of. But they
make no bones about their opinion. Not long ago I was the conductor of a
party of convalescents who went to a special matinée of a military
drama. The theatre was entirely filled with wounded soldiers from
hospitals, plus a few nurses and orderlies. It was an inspiring sight.
The drama went well, and its patriotic touches received their due meed
of applause. But when the heroine, in a moving passage, declared that
she had never met a wounded British soldier who was not eager to get
back to the front, there arose, in an instant, a spontaneous shout of
laughter from the whole audience. That was Tommy Atkins unanimous for
once.

He was unanimous too, I should add, in perceiving immediately that the
actress had been disconcerted by his roar of amusement. The poor girl's
emotional speech had been ruined. She looked blank and stood irresolute.
At once a burst of hand-clapping took the place of the laughter. It was
not ironical, it was friendly and apologetic. "Go ahead!" it said.
"We're sorry. Those lines aren't your fault, anyway. You spoke them very
prettily, and it was a shame to laugh. But the ass of a playwright
hadn't been in the trenches, and if your usual audiences relish that
kind of speech they haven't been there either."

So much for Tommy Atkins in his unanimous mood--unanimously condemning
cant and at the same time unanimously courteous. Now that I come to
reflect I believe that, in his best moments, these are perhaps the only
two points concerning which Tommy Atkins _is_ unanimous. Whether he
lives up to them or not (and to expect him unflinchingly to live up to
them in season and out of season is about as sensible as to expect him
perpetually to live up to the photographs and anecdotes), we may take
them as his ideal. He dislikes humbug: he tries to be polite. Could one
sketch a sounder scaffolding on which to build all the odd
divergencies--crankinesses and heroisms, stupidities and
engagingnesses--which may go to make the edifice of an average decent
soul's material, mental and spiritual habitation?

       *       *       *       *       *

_Postscript._--An expert--one of England's greatest experts--who has
read the above tells me that I have not done justice to the old
professional army men of Mons and the Aisne. When wounded and in our
hospital they _did_ want to go back to fight. But their sole reason,
given with frankness, was that they considered they were needed: the new
army, in training, was not ready: it would be murder to send the new
army out, unprepared, to such an ordeal.

This authority, who has interviewed many thousands of convalescents,
further remarked: "The wounded man who has been under shell fire and who
professes to be eager to go back, whether ordered or no, is a liar. On
the other hand, the scrim-shankers who try to get out of going back,
when they should go back, are an amazingly small minority."



VIII

LAUNDRY PROBLEMS


A number of oddly unmasculine duties fell to the lot of the R.A.M.C.
orderly prior to the time when "V.A.D.'s" were allowed to take his place
(at least to some extent) throughout our English war-hospitals. One of
my first tasks in the morning was the collecting and classification of
my ward's dirty linen. The work cannot be called difficult. It would be
an exaggeration to say that it demands a supreme intellectual effort.
But to the male mind it is, at least, rather novel. The average bachelor
has perhaps been accustomed to scrutinise his collars, handkerchiefs and
underclothes before and after their trips to the laundry. He has seldom,
I think, had intimate trafficking with pillow-cases, sheets,
counterpanes and tablecloths. In the reckoning of these he is apt to
make mistakes and to lapse into a casualness which, in a woman familiar
with household routine, would be improbable. "Sister's" sharpest
reproofs were called forth by errors made in connection with this daily
exchange of clean for dirty linen.

A form, of course, had to be filled in. (The army provides a form
for everything.) This form presents a catalogue of eighty-one
separate items, from "Blankets" ("Child's," "Infant's"--I do not
know what is the difference between them, and I never had to deal with
either--"G.S."--whatever that may be--and "White") to "Waist-coats,
Strait." It distinguishes between ten kinds of "Cases"--pillow-cases,
paillasse-cases, and the like: for example, there are "barrack"
bolster-cases and "hospital" bolster-cases; and you must not confound
"hospital" mattress-cases with "officers'" mattress-cases. You are
misled if you imagine that the heading "Cases" has exhausted the
possibilities which appeared to be latent in that noun; for, in addition
to the ten unqualified "Cases" there are seven more, defined as "Cases,
slip." Can you wonder that the orderly, presented with a bin-full of
confused and crumpled objects ready for the wash, and told to count them
and enter their numbers in the appointed columns, occasionally made a
wrong guess? Then there were eight sorts of "Cloths"--tablecloth,
tray-cloth, distinctive cloth, and so forth. (To how many lay minds does
"distinctive cloth" convey any meaning?) Counterpanes you would think to
be obvious enough; but that remarkable compilation, the _Check Book for
Hospital Linen_ ("Printed for H.M. Stationery Office...." etc.),
recognises four varieties. It also allows for four varieties of sheets,
four of aprons and four of trousers. Of towels it knows six.

Each ward has a certain stock of linen in its cupboard. That stock can
only be kept at the proper level by strict barter of a soiled object for
a clean duplicate of the same object. As there are three hundred and
sixty-five days in the year on which this transaction occurs, and sixty
wards' bundles of linen to be dealt with by both the Dirty Linen
Department and the Clean Linen Department on each of those days, it is
clear that exactitude in the filling-in of the form aforementioned
becomes an affair of almost nightmare importance. Bring back from the
Clean Linen Store three dusters instead of the four dusters which you
previously handed in at the Dirty Linen Store, and your cupboard will,
to the end of time, be short of one duster which it should have
possessed. Even if Sister fails to pounce promptly on the evidence of
the loss, the quartermaster's dread stocktaking will ultimately find you
out. Your cupboard declines to correspond with his book-entries. And
there is trouble brewing, in consequence. (But indeed, if the loss of a
single duster were the sole crime revealed on stocktaking day, you would
be fortunate.)

The orderly, with an obese bundle of washing on his back, plods from the
ward to the Dirty Linen Store at quarter to nine every morning. I say he
"plods" because the bundle is generally too heavy for transportation at
a rapid pace. Twenty sheets are usually but a part of the bundle; and
twenty sheets are alone no light burden. Between his teeth--both his
hands being occupied with the balancing of the bundle--he carries his
chit: that indispensable list. Arrived at the store he dumps the bundle
on the ground, opens it, and pitches its contents piecemeal over a
counter to one of the staff of the store. One by one the objects are
named and counted aloud, as they fly across the counter, the staff
orderly simultaneously checking the list and keeping an eye on what he
is receiving. For we may, by guile, palm off on him one sheet as two. It
can be done, by means of a certain legerdemain which comes with
practice. Or we may have received from the Dry Store, amongst the rags
meant for cleaning purposes, a couple of quite worn-out socks, not a
pair, and long past placing on human feet: these derelicts, with a rapid
motion, can be passed over the counter amongst the good socks, and only
later in the day will the Dirty Linen Store officials detect the
fraud--when it is impossible to locate its perpetrator. The
store-orderly's job is therefore one requiring some astuteness: his
checking of the list has to be achieved at a high speed and in the midst
of a babel; for as many ward-orderlies are present as the length of the
counter will accommodate, and they are all getting rid of their
dirty-linen bundles at the tops of their voices.

Altercations, I am afraid, were not infrequent in the epoch when the
actors in this drama were of the male sex. (Even now, when the scene is
mainly feminine, I believe differences of opinion continue to arise, but
doubtless the language in which they are conducted is seemlier if no
less deadly.) The store-orderly had a marvellous eye for the difference
between two kinds of shirts which are worn by our patients. One kind has
a pleat in the back, the other kind hasn't; and I confess I occasionally
transposed them, on the form. It was fatal to do so. There was a
separate line for each brand of shirt and there must be a separate
entry. The store-orderly's trained powers of observation could see that
pleat, or the absence of it, even as the shirt slid across his line of
vision in a torrent of other shirts. His hand shot out and grabbed it
back from joining the heap on the floor within the counter. His pencil
poised itself from the ticking-off of the items on the form. "Wrong
again!" he would cry, sometimes in anguish and sometimes in anger. And
there was nothing for it but to apologise. To keep on good terms with
the various orderlies in the various stores was the secret of making
one's life worth living--a secret even profounder than that of keeping
on good terms with Sister: to be sure it was (though she seldom realised
it) the very foundation of the art of keeping on good terms with her.
You could not even begin to please Sister unless, at the end of those
incessant journeyings of yours which she did not see, you had dealings
with store-orderlies who were obliging and who would give you the things
which the taskmistress had sent you to fetch (or would drop a kindly
hint as to where and by what means you could acquire them). The Dirty
Linen Store orderly who declined to accept your plea for forgiveness
when you had been obtuse enough to see a fomentation-wringer in a
teacloth, could devastate the harmony of a whole forenoon. A sweet
reasonableness was undoubtedly the note to strike when such a
contretemps occurred.

Having got quit of the last item in your bundle, you returned to the
ward to attend to other (and generally less entertaining) duties until
such time as it was proper to repair to the Clean Linen Store. The staff
of the Clean Linen Store, a huge department whose system of book-keeping
is enough to make the brain reel (for here sheets, etc., are dealt with
not in dozens but in thousands), had in the interim received your chit
from their colleagues of the Dirty Linen Store. These latter, rashly or
otherwise, had guaranteed its accuracy by initialing it. Accordingly, in
the Clean Linen Store, a fresh bundle was ready for your acceptance, its
contents consisting of duplicates of the objects now on their way to the
laundry.

It was unwise, however, to accept this neatly folded and virginal bundle
without investigation. It might contain what the chit demanded; or it
might not. Before you could carry it off you must yourself initial, and
finally bid farewell to, the chit: thereby certifying that you had got
what you claimed. To make sure of this you would be well advised to undo
the bundle, and (as far as was practicable in a jostling crowd of
fellow-orderlies similarly employed) run through the whole of its
contents, computing them with precision: twenty sheets, twelve
pillow-cases, nine bolster-cases--it is only too easy to miss the
difference in the sizes of these--seventeen hand-towels, two
operating-aprons, eleven handkerchiefs, ten pyjama trousers, ten
sleeping-jackets, and so on. When you had ticked-off all these separate
items in the list you scribbled your initials thereon and fled with your
bundle--to find, as often as not, that Sister, sorting the things into
her cupboard, could discover a mistake after all. This meant a humble
return to the Clean Linen Store to beg for the mistake's rectification;
and the sergeant in charge had merely to take your chit from his file,
and show you your own initials on it, to prove that you were in the
wrong.

It is conceivable that by means of a ward stocktaking and a reference of
the results to the figures in the sergeant's huge ledger, you might have
proved that you were not in the wrong. But the only time I ever knew one
of these disputes to be thus put to the test I admit I wished that I had
refrained from so temerarious an adventure. Somehow or other I had
managed to come back to the ward with three clean pillow-cases fewer
than the tale of dirty ones I had taken away. And Sister was exceedingly
cross. The particular Sister whose drudge I was at that period was
rather apt to be cross; and this was one of her crossest days. She
threatened to "report" me, and in fact did so. I was not--as she seemed
to expect--shot at dawn. I merely underwent a formal reproof from a high
authority who perhaps (but this is a surmise) knew Sister's
idiosyncrasies even better than I did. There remained, nevertheless, the
pressing problem of the three strayed pillow-cases. These Sister
commanded me to obtain from the Clean Linen Store. But you cannot go to
the Clean Linen Store and say "Please give me three pillow-cases." The
Clean Linen Store either says "Why?" (a question which, under the
circumstances, is flatly unanswerable), or else tells you, in language
both firm and ornamental, that you have already had them: your initialed
chit testifies the fact.

At all events, after some parley, the Clean Linen Store sergeant (who
was less of an ogre than he pretended) offered to strike a bargain with
me. If I would count all the pillow-cases, in and out of use, in my
ward, and bring him the total, he would compare the said total with the
figures in his ledger. Those figures he would not divulge to me. But if
the number I announced was three short of the number in his ledger, he
would give me the three, and say no more about it.

The bargain seemed a fair one. In Sister's absence I spent a precious
half-hour of what should have been my "afternoon off" in counting all
the pillow-cases I could find in the ward. A good-natured probationer,
who sympathised with me in my difficulties (she too had suffered),
counted them also. A convalescent patient interested himself in the
problem: he also went the round of the beds, and investigated the
cupboard, counting all the pillow-cases. We three each arrived at the
same total. Armed with this total I marched back to the sergeant in the
Clean Linen Store.

He turned up his ledger and ran his finger down the page till he came
to the entry of pillow-cases opposite to my ward. And then he laughed a
laugh of fiendish glee.

"Do you know," he said, "that instead of having three pillow-cases too
few, you've seven too many!"

Such are the traps set by the business man, the expert of ledgers, for
the innocent amateur. We had actually got more pillow-cases than we were
entitled to. All unwittingly, in my eagerness to placate Sister, I had
published the mild chicanery in which she had indulged on behalf of her
ward. The sergeant, growing grey in the solution of these abstruse
mathematical and psychological mysteries, had suspected this Sister all
along. He enlightened me. She had recently been transferred from another
ward--and in her going had (against the rules) wafted with her a small
selection of that ward's property.... And now there would be a surprise
stocktaking in her new ward: the seven surplus pillow-cases--and perhaps
other loot--would have to be explained. Sister, in short, was in for a
_mauvais quart d'heure_.

It was a suitable penalty for her crossness. It should have taught her
the perils of crossness. With regret I add that she did not envisage the
episode in that light. She was merely rather crosser than before. It was
without any profound sorrow that I soon afterwards bade her farewell, on
her departure to overseas spheres of activity. But she had at least
afforded me a lesson in the importance of accuracy over my dirty and
clean linen bundles. Never again would I risk the ordeal of a surprise
stocktaking; never again would I risk a combat with a ledger-fortified
sergeant; never again would I risk any attempt at the tortuous in my
dealings with the classifications of the eighty-one items on the
tear-off leaf of that dire volume, the _Check Book for Hospital Linen_.



IX

ON BUTTONS


In one of his recent books Mr. H.G. Wells expresses a surprised
annoyance at the spectacle of spurs. Vast numbers of military gentlemen
(he observed at the front) go clanking about in spurs although they have
never had--and never will have--occasion to bestride a horse. Spurs are
a symbolic survival, a waste of steel and of labour in manufacture, a
futile expenditure of energy to keep clean and to put on and take off.

When I first enlisted I felt a similar irritation in regard to buttons.
His buttons are a burden to the new recruit. Time takes the edge off his
resentment. Time is a soother of sorrows, a healer of rancours, however
legitimate. Nevertheless one's buttons remain for ever a nuisance. I do
not complain that I should have to make my bed, polish my boots, keep
my clothes neat. These are the obvious decencies of life. But the daily
shining-up of metal buttons which need never have been made of metal at
all, which tarnish in the damp and indeed lose their lustre in an hour
in any weather, which, moreover, look much prettier dull than
bright--this is enough to convert the most bloodthirsty recruit into
obdurate pacifism.

It is to be presumed that in the pipe-claying days of peace the hours
were apt to hang heavy in barracks, and the furbishing of buttons was
devised not alone for smartness' sake, but to occupy idle hands for
which otherwise Satan might be finding some more mischievous employment.
The theory--though it throws a lurid light on the unprofitableness of a
soldier's profession when there is no war to justify his existence--is
not devoid of sense. But why this custom, designed for that excellent
mortal, the T. Atkins who walked out with nurse-maids, and was none too
busy between-whiles, should be forced upon a totally different (if no
less estimable) T. Atkins whose job hardly gives him a moment for
meals--let alone for dalliance with the fair--I cannot pretend to
fathom. It is arguable that the ornamental soldier is suited by glossy
buttons and may properly lavish time and trouble thereupon. It is not
arguable that glossy buttons are a valid feature of the garb of a
humdrum and harassed hospital orderly.

Many a time, footsore and aching with novel toil, I could have groaned
when, instead of lying down to relax, I had to tackle the polishing of
that idiotic panoply of buttons. My tunic had (it still has) five large
buttons in front, four pocket-flap buttons, two shoulder buttons, and
two shoulder numerals, "T.--R.A.M.C.--LONDON." My great-coat had (it
still has) five large front buttons, two shoulder buttons and two
shoulder numerals, three back belt buttons, two coat-tail buttons. My
cap had (it still has) a badge and two small strap-buttons. All these
must be kept brilliant. And, in addition, there was the intricate
brasswork of one's belt.

Are the wounded any better looked after because a tired orderly has
spent some of his off-duty rest-hour in rubbing metal buttons which
would have been every bit as buttonable had they been made of bone?

Many were the debates, in our hut, over the button problem. The
abolition of metal buttons being impracticable--the bold project of a
petition to the King and Lord Kitchener was never proceeded with--two
questions alone interested us: (1) which was the best polish, and (2)
which was the quickest and easiest system of polishing. The shabby
peddler-cum-boot-maker who had somehow established, at that period, a
monopoly of the minor trade of our camp, vended a substance (in penny
tins) called Soldier's Friend. This was a solidified plate-polish of a
pink hue. Having--as per the instructions--"moistened" it, in other
words, spat upon it, you worked up a modicum of the resulting pink mud
with an old toothbrush, then applied same to each button. When you had
rubbed a pink film on to the button you proceeded to rub it off again,
and lo! the tarnish had departed like an evil dream and the metal
glistened as if fresh from the mint. If you were very particular you
finished the performance with chamois leather. Thereafter you lost the
last precious five minutes before parade in efforts, with knife-blade or
clothesbrush, to remove from your tunic the smears of pink paste which
had failed to repose on the buttons and had stuck to the surrounding
cloth instead. Luckily, Soldier's Friend dries and cakes and powders off
fairly quickly. It is a lovable substance, in its simple behaviour, its
lack of complications. I surmise that somebody has made a fortune out of
manufacturing millions of those penny tins. There is at least one
imitation of Soldier's Friend on the market, and, like most imitations,
it is neither better nor worse than the original. Except for the name on
the outside of the tin, the two commodities cannot be told apart. No
doubt the imitator has likewise made a fortune. If so, both fortunes
have been amassed from a foible to whose blatant uselessness and
wastefulness even a Bond Street jeweller or a de-luxe hotel chef would
be ashamed to give countenance.

One member of the hut's company, more fastidious than his fellows,
objected to expectorating on to his Soldier's Friend. Rather than do so
he would tramp the fifty yards to our wash-place and obtain a couple of
drops of water from the tap. (The same man thought nothing of keeping a
half-consumed ham, some decaying fruit, and an opened pot of Bovril all
wrapped in his spare clothes in his box under his bed. That is by the
way. I am here concerned not with human nature, but with buttons.) Plain
water, however, was voted less effective than the more popular liquid.
The scientifically minded had a notion that human spittle contained some
acid which Nature had evolved specially to assist the action of
Soldier's Friend. I am bound to say that I was of the anti-plain-water
party myself. For a space I became an adherent of the experimentalists
who moistened their Soldier's Friend with methylated spirit, alleging
that the ensuing polish was more permanent. I lapsed. My small bottle of
methylated spirit came to an end, and on reflection I was not sure that
its superiority over spittle had been proved. Nothing, in the English
climate, can make the sheen of metal buttons endure, at the
outside, more than one day. "Bluebell," "Silvo," and the other
chemico-frictional preparations in favour of which I ultimately
abandoned Soldier's Friend, are alike in this--that their virtue lies in
frequent application, diligence and elbow-grease. They are, every one,
excellent. Their inventors deserve our gratitude. But our gratitude to
their inventors must be nothing compared with their inventors' gratitude
to the person who decreed that the hard-pressed T. Atkins of the Great
War should wear (at least in part) the same needless finery as the
relatively otiose T. Atkins of Peace. May that despot, whoever he be,
depart to a realm of bliss--I suppose it would be bliss to him--where he
has to do hospital orderlies' chores in an attire completely composed of
tarnishing buttons, every separate one of which must hourly be brought
up to the parade standard of specklessness.



X

A WORD ABOUT "SLACKERS IN KHAKI"


When the ambulances containing a new batch of wounded begin to roll up
to the entrance of the hospital they are received by a squad of
orderlies. To a spectator who happened to pass at that moment it might
appear that these orderlies had nothing else to do but lift stretchers
out of ambulances and carry them indoors. The squad of orderlies have an
air of always being ready on duty waiting to pounce out on any patient
who may arrive at any hour of the day or night and promptly transfer him
to his bed. I have known of a visitor, witnessing this incident, who
commented on it in a manner which showed that he imagined he had seen
our unit performing its sole function; he pictured us existing purely
and simply for one end--the carrying of stretchers up the front steps
into the building. He was kind enough to praise the rapidity with which
the job was done--but he held it to be a job which hardly justified the
enlistment of so considerable a company of able-bodied males. What,
exactly, we did with ourselves during the long hours when ambulances
were _not_ arriving, he failed to understand. I suppose he pictured us
twiddling our thumbs in some kind of cosy club-room situated in the
neighbourhood of the front door, from whence we could be summoned as
soon as another convoy hove in sight.

The truth of the matter is quite otherwise. Arrivals of wounded, even
when they occur several times a day (I have known six hundred patients
enter the hospital in forty-eight hours), are far from being our chief
preoccupation. Admittedly they take precedence of other duties. The
message, "Convoy coming! Every man wanted in the main hall!" is the
signal for each member of the unit who is not engaged in certain
exempted sections to drop his work, whatever it is, and proceed smartly
to report to the sergeant-in-charge. The telephone has notified us of
the hour at which the ambulances may be expected; the hospital's
internal telephone system has passed on the tidings to the various
officials concerned; and, five minutes before the patients are due, all
the orderlies likely to be required must "down tools," so to speak, and
line-up at the door. They come streaming from every corner of the
hospital and of its grounds. Some have been working in wards, some have
been pushing trollies in the corridors, some have been shovelling coke,
some have been toiling in the cookhouse or stores, some have been
shifting loads of bedding to the fumigator, some have been on "sanitary
fatigue," some have been cleaning windows or whitewashing walls, some
have been writing or typing documents, some have been spending their
rest-hour in slumber or over a game of billiards. Whatever they were
doing, they must stop doing it at the word of command.

If the convoy be a large one, its advent may even mean, for the
orderlies, the dread announcement, "All passes stopped." The luckless
wight whose one afternoon-off in the week this happens to be, and who
has probably arranged to tryst with a lady friend, finds, at the gate,
that he is turned back by the sentry. In vain he displays his pass,
properly signed, stamped and dated: the telephone has warned the sentry
(or "R.M.P."--Regimental Military Policeman) that the passes have been
countermanded. Until the convoy has been dealt with, the pass is so much
waste paper, and the unfortunate orderly's inamorata will look for him
and behold him not. How many painful misunderstandings this "All passes
stopped" law has given rise to, one shudders to guess.

But indeed no war-hospital orderly ever arranges any appointment without
the proviso that he is liable to break it. The folk who imagine that the
hospital orderly enjoys a "cushy job" (to use the appropriate
vernacular) seldom make sufficient allowance for this painful aspect of
it. The ordinary soldier in training in an English camp has his evenings
free, and certain other free times, which are nearly as sure as the
sun's rising. The hospital orderly is _never_--in theory at any
rate--off duty. His free moments are regarded not as a right but as a
favour: no freedom, at any time, can be guaranteed. He is liable to be
called on in the middle of the night, or at the instant when he is going
off duty, or when at a meal, or when resting, or when on the point of
walking out in pursuance of the gentle art of courtship. And he must
respond, instanter, or he will find that he has earned the C.B.--which
in this instance means not Companion of the Bath, but Confined to
Barracks, a punishment as hard to bear as the cruel "keeping in" of our
school-days.

Without presuming to compare either the importance or the onerousness of
the hospital orderly's work with that of the soldier capable of going to
the front to fight, I would here add that the critic who watches the
stretcher-carrying and thinks it a pity that able-bodied males should be
wasted on it, is doing the system (not to mention the men themselves) an
injustice. For the men whom he sees are not, as a matter of fact,
able-bodied, even though muscular enough to stand this short physical
effort. Excitable old gentlemen who believe that they can decide at a
glance whether a man is medically fit, and write to the Press about the
"shirkers" they think they have detected, were of the opinion, long
since, that the R.A.M.C. should be combed out. Certain journals made a
great feature of this proposal. Whatever may be the case elsewhere, I
can only say that as far as our unit was concerned it had already,
months before the newspaper agitation, been combed out five times; and
this in spite of the fact that, at the period when I enlisted, our
Colonel declined to look at any recruit who was not either over age or
had been rejected for active service. The unit was thus made up, even
then, of elderly men and of "crocks." (This was before the start of the
Derby Scheme and, of course, considerably before the introduction of
Universal Service.) Perhaps it is allowable to point the moral against
the "shirker"-discovering armchair patriots aforesaid: that no small
proportion of our unit was composed of over-age recruits who, instead
of informing the world at large that they wished they were younger,
"And, by Gad, I envy the lads their chance to do _anything_ in the
country's cause," did not rest until they had found an opening. In my
own hut there were two recruits over sixty years of age. Elsewhere in
the unit there were several over fifty. Our mess-room at meal times was,
and still is, dotted with grey-haired heads, not of retired army men
rejoined, but of men who, previous to the war, had lived comfortable
civilian lives. At a later date, when the few fit men that our
combings-out revealed had gone elsewhere, the unit was kept up to
strength by the drafting-in either of C3 recruits or of soldiers who,
having been at the front and been wounded, or invalided back, were
marked for home duty only. So much for the "slackers in khaki" which one
extra emphatic writer (himself not in khaki, although younger than
several of the orderlies here) professed to discover in the R.A.M.C.
Those "slackers" may be having an easier time of it than the heroes of
France, Gallipoli, Salonika, Egypt and Mesopotamia. But they are not
having so easy a time as some of their detractors.

The hospital orderly is not (I think I may assert on his behalf) puffed
up with foolish illusions as to his place in the scheme of things. It is
a humble place, and he knows it. His work is almost comically
unromantic, painfully unpicturesque. Moreover--let us be frank--much of
it is uninteresting, after the first novelty has worn off. Work in the
wards has its compensations: here there is the human element. But only a
portion of a unit such as ours can be detailed for ward work: the rest
are either hewers of wood and drawers of water or else have their noses
to a grindstone of clerical monotonousness beside which the
ledger-keeping of a bank employee is a heaven of blissful excitements.
You will find few hospital orderlies who are not "fed up"; you will find
none who do not long for the war's end. And I fancy you will find very,
very few who would not go on active service if they could. On the
occasions when we have had calls for overseas volunteers, the response
has always exceeded the demand. The people who, looking at a party of
hospital orderlies, remark--it sounds incredible, but there _are_ people
who make the remark--"These fellows should be out at the front," may
further be reminded that "these fellows" now have no say in the choice
of their own whereabouts. Not a soldier in the land can decide where or
how he shall serve. That small matter is not for him, but for the
authorities. He may be thirsting for the gore of Brother Boche, and an
inexorable fate condemns him to scrub the gore of Brother Briton off the
tiles of the operating theatre. He may (but I never met one who did)
elect to sit snugly on a stool at a desk filling-in army forms or
conducting a card index; and lo, at a whisper from some unseen Nabob in
the War Office, he finds himself hooked willy-nilly off his stool and
dumped into the Rifle Brigade. This is what it means to be in khaki, and
it is hardly the place of persons not in khaki to bandy sneers about the
comfortableness of the Linseed Lancers whose initials, when not standing
for Rob All My Comrades, can be interpreted to mean Run Away, Matron's
Coming. The squad of orderlies unloading that procession of ambulances
at the hospital door may not envy the wounded sufferers whom they
transmit to their wards; but the observer is mistaken if he assumes that
the orderlies have, by some questionable manoeuvre, dodged the fiery
ordeal of which this string of slow-moving stretchers is the harvest.



XI

THE RECREATION ROOMS


We rather pride ourselves, at the 3rd London, on the fame of our
hospital not merely as a place in which the wounded get well, but as a
place in which they also "have a good time." The two things, truth to
tell, are interlinked--a truism which might seem to need no labouring,
were it not for the evidence brought from more rigid and red-tape-ridden
establishments. A couple of our most valued departments are the "Old
Rec." and the "New Rec."--the old and new recreation rooms. The new
recreation room, a spacious and well-built "hut," contains three
billiard tables, a library, and current newspapers, British and
Colonial. This room is the scene of whist-drives, billiard and pool
tournaments, and other sociable ongoings. Sometimes there is an
exhibition match on the best billiard table: the local champion of
Wandsworth shows us his skill--and a very pretty touch he has: once the
lady billiard champion of England came, and defeated the best opponent
we could enlist against her--an event which provoked tremendous applause
from a packed congregation of boys in blue.

The old recreation room is fitted with a permanent stage for theatricals
and concerts. It is also our "Movie Palace." (I think our hospital was
the first to instal a cinematograph as a fixture.) During the morning
the floor area is dotted with miniature billiard tables--which are never
for a moment out of use. In the afternoon these are removed; some
hundreds of chairs replace them; and at 4.30 we begin an
entertainment--music, a play (we have had Shakespeare here), lantern
slides, films, or what not. Those entertainments, which have continued
unbrokenly since the hospital began to function in 1914, constitute the
outstanding feature of the "good time" enjoyed by 3rd Londoners. The
"Old Rec." and its crowded concerts will be a memory cherished by hosts
of fighting men from the homeland and from overseas.

In the original hospital plan--drawn up before the war--the Old Rec.
(which is a part of the main school building) was marked down to be a
ward of forty beds. Its structure, its internal geography, and the sheer
impossibility of providing it with the essential sanitary conveniences,
would make it unsuitable to be a ward of four beds, let alone of forty.
On this account its allotment for recreation purposes would be
excusable. But the Old Rec. and the New Rec. too, for that matter,
justify their superficial waste of bed-space on other--and
unanswerable--grounds. It is a mere matter of common sense to arrange
some centre to which the patient can repair and employ his leisure when
he is sufficiently well to potter about though not well enough to be
discharged from hospital. Instead of idling in his ward and disturbing
the patients who are still confined to bed--and who, often, are urgently
in need of quietness--the convalescent departs to one or other of the
recreation rooms, morning and afternoon, where he can make as much
noise as he likes and where he can meet and fraternise with his comrades
from every front. (What exchanging of stories those recreation rooms
have witnessed!) On the one hand, then, the seriously ill patient is not
annoyed by the rovings in the ward of the walking patients; and on the
other the walking patients are not irked by the necessity for keeping
quiet at a period when returning health stimulates them to a wholesome
desire for fun. Both kinds of patients, thus, may legitimately be said
to get better more quickly than they would have had a chance to do were
it not for the recreation rooms. It is within the writer's knowledge
that the medical staff of the hospital, on being consulted as to the
"bed value" of the recreation rooms, unanimously agreed that their
existence reduced the average sojourn of the hospital's inmates by a
definite "per day" ratio: that ratio, so far from showing a bed-space
waste, worked out at a per-annum gain of bed-space equivalent to a
ward--if such a colossal ward could conceived!--of upwards of 300 beds.
So much for a point which might not appear to be worth detailed
explanation, but which has here been glanced at in order that critics
(for, unbelievable though it sounds, there have been curmudgeons to
growl of spoiling the wounded by too much pleasure) may be answered in
advance. The recreation rooms are a paying investment both to the
hospital and to the State. This is our trump card in any "spoiling the
wounded" controversy--though I dare say that most of us would not, in
any case, care twopence whether the concerts and films and billiards
were an investment or an extravagance: nothing would stand in the way of
our ambition to provide the now proverbial "good time" for all the
guests of the 3rd London.

Scores of concerts of an excellence which would have been noteworthy
anywhere have been presented to our assemblages of wounded in the Old
Rec. Singers, musicians, actors and actresses have come and given of
their best. Miss Hullah's Music in War Time Committee (that delightful
body), and Mr. Howard Williams's parties, are perhaps our greatest
regular standbys. Certain sections of the public know Mr. Howard
Williams's name as a famous one in other fields of activity: to
thousands of soldiers it is honoured as that of the man who tirelessly
organised scrumptious tea-parties, pierrot shows, exhibition boxing
contests, nigger troupe entertainments--a list of jollifications,
indoors in winter and in the open air in summer, infinite in variety and
guaranteed never once to fall flat. A curious Empire reputation, this of
Mr. Williams!

Yesterday, for instance, a nigger troupe visited the hospital. To be
exact, they were the Metropolitan Police Minstrels ("By Permission of
Sir E.R. Henry, G.C.V.O., K.C.B., C.S.I., Commissioner"); but no member
of the audience, I imagine, could picture those jocose blackamoors, with
their tambourines and bones, as really being anything so serious as
traffic-controlling constables. That their comic songs were accompanied
by a faultless orchestra was understandable enough. One can believe in a
police band. One is not surprised that the police band is a good band.
To believe that the ebony-visaged person with the huge red
indiarubber-flexible mouth who sings "Under the archway, Archibald," and
follows this amorous ditty with a clog dance is--in his washed
moments--the terror of burglars, requires unthinkable flights of
imagination. As I gazed at this singular resurrection of Moore and
Burgess and breathless childhood's afternoons at the St. James's
Hall--the half circle of inanely alert faces the colour of fresh
polished boots--the preposterous uniforms and expansive
shirt-fronts--the "nigger" dialect which this strange convention demands
but which cannot be said to resemble the speech of any African tribe yet
discovered--I found that by no effort of faith or credulity could I
pierce the disguise and perceive policemen.

It is at least twenty years since I met a nigger minstrel in the flesh.
Vague ghosts of bygone persons and of piquant anachronisms seemed to
float approvingly in the air: the Prince Consort, bustles, the high
bicycle, sherry, Moody and Sankey, the Crystal Palace, Labouchere, "Pigs
in Clover," Lottie Collins, Evolution, Bimetallism: hosts of forgotten
images, names and shibboleths came popping out from the brain's dusty
pigeon-holes, magically released by the spectacle of the nigger troupe.

Yes, I was indeed switched into the past by Mr. Bones, Massa Jawns'n and
the rest. And yet the present might have seemed more emphatic and more
poignant. One felt, rather than saw, an audience of several hundred
persons in the dim rows of chairs. And laughing at the broad witticisms
of the niggers, or enjoying their choruses and orchestral
accompaniments, one forgot just what that half-glimpsed audience
consisted of; what it meant, and how it came to be here assembled.

Of course when the lights were turned up in the interval, one beheld the
usual spectacle: stretchers, wheeled chairs, crutches, bandaged heads,
arms in splints, blind men, men with one arm, men with one leg: rank on
rank of war's flotsam and jetsam, British, Australians, New Zealanders,
Newfoundlanders, Canadians, come to make merry over the minstrels: in
the front row the Colonel and the Matron, with officer patients; here
and there an orderly or a V.A.D.; here and there a Sister with her
"boys." It was a family gathering. I descried no strangers, and no one
not in uniform--unless you count the men too ill to don their blue
slops: these had been brought in dressing-gowns or wrapped in blankets.
No mere haphazard audience, this, of anybody and everybody who chooses
to pay at a turnstile! Entrance to this hall is free ... but the price
is beyond money, all the same.

A family party it was, decidedly. Thick fumes of tobacco smoke uprose
from it. (Shall we ever abandon the cigarette habit, now?) Orderlies
continued to arrive and stow themselves discreetly in corners: by some
strange providence each orderly had found that for a while he could be
spared from ward or office. Staff-Sergeants, Sergeants,
Corporals--mysteriously they made time to leave their various
departments. Even a bevy of masseuses (those experts eternally on the
rush from ward to ward) had peeped in to see the nigger minstrels. And
everybody was pleased: every jest and every conundrum got its laugh,
every ballad its applause. Not that we ever "give the bird" to those
who come to amuse us. Offer us skill in any shape or form--pierrots,
niggers, pianist, violinist, conjurer, ventriloquist, dancer, reciter:
any or all of these will be appreciated warmly.

Yesterday, for the nigger minstrels, there were no empty chairs. Until,
in the midst of Part II ("A Laughable Sketch"--_vide_ the
programme--wherein female rôles were doubly coy by reason of the
masculinity of their falsetto dialogue and remarkable ankles) a
messenger stole hither and thither, whispering to the orderlies, who
promptly tiptoed from the room.

A convoy of new arrivals demanded our presence.

The silent ambulances were gliding up to the entrance of the hospital.
Orderlies, fetched from their jobs and from the entertainment, lined up
in the rain to take their places in the quartettes of bearers who lifted
out the stretchers. The Assistant Matron, standing in the shelter of the
door, checked her list; the Medical Officer handed out the ward tickets;
the lady clerks from the Admission and Discharge Office took the
patients' particulars. And the bathroom became very busy.

As I started to wheel a much-bandaged warrior to his ward, the
recreation-room door opened and a burst of music-cum-essence-of-nigger
emerged on his astonished ears. I was a little doubtful as to whether
our new guest would not think his reception somewhat flippant in key.
The poor fellow was visibly suffering, and the sound of tambourines and
comedians' guffaws seemed a scarcely proper comment on his condition. I
might have spared myself these misgivings. "Say, chum," he interrogated
me feebly, "what's that noise?" "Nigger minstrels, old man."
"Golly!--and have I got to go straight to my bed?"

Alas, he had to. It would be long before he could be well enough to be
taken to one of our entertainments. But, had he been given his way, he
would have gone direct from his fatiguing overseas journey into the Old
Rec. to join the family party and chuckle at Mr. Bones and Massa
Jawns'n.... No doubts assailed _his_ mind as to whether it was right to
"waste bed-space" on mere frivolities. A nigger minstrel show was to him
a deal more important, in fact, than his wound. And perhaps, in
instinct, he was not far wrong.



XII

THE COCKNEY


Before I enlisted I was lodging in a house which it was occasionally
convenient to approach by a short cut through an area of slumland. One
night when traversing this slum--the hour was 1.30 a.m.--I was stopped
by a couple of women who told me that there was a man lying on the
ground in an adjacent alley; they thought he must be ill; would I come
and look at him?

They led me down a turning which opened into a narrow court. This court
was reached by an arched tunnel through tenement houses. The tunnel was
pitchy black, but I struck matches as I proceeded, and presently we came
upon the object of my companions' solicitude--a young soldier, propped
against the wall and with his legs projecting across the flagstones.
The women had, in fact, discovered him by tripping over those legs in
the darkness.

They were slatternly women, but warm-hearted; and when I had managed to
arouse the gentleman in khaki and hoist him to his feet (for the cause
of his indisposition was plain--and he had slept it off) they called
down blessings on my head and overwhelmed our friend with sympathy which
he did not wholly deserve and to which he made no rejoinder. Nor did he
vouchsafe any very lucid answer when I asked him whither he was bound. I
was prepared to pilot him--but I could hardly do so without knowing
towards which point of the compass he proposed to steer, or rather, to
be steered. "I know w'ere I wanter go," was all I could get out of him.
Very well; if he knew his address, it was no concern of mine; he could
lead on; I would act as a mere supporter. In this capacity, with my arm
linked firmly in his, I brought him forth from the tunnel to the street
(he had no wish, it seemed, to go through the tunnel into the court),
and here we bade farewell to the ladies.

"Which way now?" I inquired. My charge responded not, but crossed to a
corner and meandered up one of those interminable thoroughfares which
lead out of London into the suburbs. Trudging with him and helping him
to sustain his balance, which was not as stable as could be wished, I
plied him with mildly genial conversation and at last elicited a few
vague answers. These were couched in the cockney idiom, but I caught a
faint nasal twang which led me to suspect that the speaker had come from
the other side of the Atlantic. Yes--he told me he had just arrived from
Canada.

We had proceeded a short distance when on the further side of the street
I descried a golden halo which outlined the silhouette of a coffee
stall. It occurred to me that a cup of hot coffee would be a good tonic
to disperse the last symptoms of my friend's indiscretion, so I
deflected him across the road, and we brought up, together, alongside
the coffee-stall's counter.

Lest the reader should be unacquainted with that unique creation, the
coffee-stall, I must explain that it is nocturnal in habit, emerging
from its lair only between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. It is an
equipage of which the interior is inhabited by a fat, jolly man (at
least according to my experience he is always fat and jolly) surrounded
by steaming urns, plates of cake, buns of a citron-yellow hue, pale
pastries, ham sandwiches and packets of cigarettes. The upper panels of
one of its sides unfold to form a bar below and a penthouse roof above,
the latter being generally extended into an awning. The awning is a
protection for the customer not against the sun--a luminary from whose
assaults the London coffee-stalls have little to fear--but against the
rain. Thanks to these awnings, and the chattiness of the fat, jolly man,
and the warmth exhaled by the urns, and the circumstance that the public
houses are shut, our coffee-stalls are able to sell two brownish
beverages, called respectively coffee and tea, which otherwise could
hardly hope to achieve the honour of human consumption.

Fate has guided me on many midnight pilgrimages through the town, and I
have imbibed, sometimes with relish, the liquids alluded to; I have also
partaken of the pallid pastry and the citron-yellow buns. I am therefore
in a position to write, for the benefit of persons less well informed, a
treatise on coffee-stalls. This I shall refrain from doing. The one
point it is necessary for me to mention is that the fat, jolly man,
being deplorably distrustful, does not supply casual customers with
teaspoons. You may have a cup of alleged tea (one penny) or a cup of
alleged coffee (one penny); a dollop of sugar is dropped into the cup;
the fat, jolly man gives the mixture a stir-round with a teaspoon; then
he places the cup before you on the bar; but the teaspoon is still in
his grasp. I dare say he would lend you the teaspoon if you requested
him to do so; but unless you have that audacity he prefers to keep the
teaspoon on his side of the bar, out of harm's way. This may seem
strange, when you perceive that the teaspoon is fashioned of a metal
unknown to silversmiths and might be priced at threepence. But even a
threepenny teaspoon is a souvenir which some collectors would not
despise.

Presumably regular customers receive teaspoons, for teaspoons lie in a
heap on the fat, jolly man's side of the counter. This was the case at
the coffee-stall before which the young soldier and I ranged ourselves.
And the heap of teaspoons seemed to exercise a curious fascination upon
the soldier. He continued to stare at them for some minutes after I had
set in front of him his cup of coffee. Then he stared at the fat, jolly
man, who was cutting slabs from a loaf. He stared for a long time,
making no reply to my remarks.

Rain began to patter on the awning--it had rained earlier in the
night--and I became aware of a figure, lurking in the background on the
pavement, beyond the awning's shelter, but within the radius of the haze
of light projected therefrom. It was a wretched, slinking figure, that
of an elderly man with bleared eyes and a red nose: one of those pariahs
who haunt cabstands and promote the cabs up the rank when the front
vehicle is hailed. This special specimen of his breed appeared to be a
satellite of the coffee-stall proprietor: perhaps he helped to tow the
stall to its berth. Whatever might be his function, he lingered on the
outskirts of the ring of light, watching us; and the young soldier, in
his slow scrutiny of the stall and its surroundings, caught sight of
him, and stared stolidly, as he had stared at everything else.

I was in the act of drinking my coffee when the soldier suddenly leant
across the counter, picked up a spoon, turned, and threw it at the
derelict whose face wavered on the edge of the lamplight's circle. The
victim of this extraordinary attack dodged the missile, then grovelled
after it in the gutter. Meanwhile the fat man (instantaneously ceasing
to be jolly) gave vent to an angry protest.

"Wotcher do _that_ for? Chuckin' my spoons abart! Drunk, that's wot you
are!"

"Ain't drunk!" said the soldier.

"Wotcher chuck my spoon at 'im for, then? 'E ain't done you no 'arm."

"Yus 'e _'as_," was the soldier's surprising retort.

"No 'e ain't."

"Yus 'e _'as_."

"No 'e 'ain't. 'E ain't done you no 'arm."

To which the derelict chimed in (he had retrieved the spoon and now
advanced timidly with it under the awning): "I ain't done _you_ no
'arm"--a husky, whimpering chorus to his fat patron.

The soldier fixed the derelict with a fierce glare. "Yus you _'ave_," he
reiterated.

I was wondering how the dispute might develop, but evidently my ear is
unattuned to the nuances of these dialectics. The soldier's glare and
the soldier's tone must have betrayed themselves to the two other men as
factitious; the derelict, anyhow, lost his nervousness and, approaching
nearer, scanned the soldier with dim, peering eyes; then broke into a
joyous grin and exclaimed:

"Lumme, if it ain't ol' Bert!"

And the fat man, leaning on his counter, and likewise examining the
soldier, cried, "Ol' Bert it is!"

"Knew you in two ticks," grunted Bert. "Same ol' 'Arry." (This was the
derelict.) "Same ol' 'Erb." (This was the fat--and once again
jolly--man.)

Explanations ensued. Bert, the young soldier, was a native of these
parts. He had emigrated to Canada five years previously. To-night, _en
route_ for the front, he had returned. Earlier in the evening there had
been ill-advised libations; he had started for his home, felt sleepy,
sheltered from the wet in a tunnel quite familiar to him, and there been
discovered by the ladies and roused by myself. Arrived at the
coffee-stall he had recognised in its proprietor a former pal and
another former pal in 'Arry the derelict. To throw the spoon at 'Arry
was merely his playful mode of announcing his identity.

I left the trio reviewing the past and exchanging news of the present.
My services, it was clear, would no longer be required by the prodigal.
He and his mates gave me a hearty good-night.

I did not guess how intimate was soon to be my association with the
Berts and 'Arries and 'Erbs of the world. I was to be their servant, to
wait upon them, to perform menial tasks for them, to wash them and dress
them and undress them, to carry them in my arms. I was to see them
suffer and to learn to respect their gameness, and the wry, "grousing"
humour which is their almost universal trait. In my own wards, and
elsewhere in the hospital, I came in close contact with many cockneys of
the slums. Even when one had not precisely "placed" a patient of this
description, the relatives who came to him on visiting days gave the
clue to the stock from which he sprang. The mother was sometimes a
"flower girl"; the sweetheart, with a very feathered hat, and hair which
evidently lived in curling pins except on great occasions, probably
worked in a factory. These people, if the patient were confined to bed,
sat beside him and talked in a subdued, throaty whisper. But I have seen
the same sort of patient, well enough to walk about, meet his folks on
visiting afternoons at the hospital gate. There is a crowd at the
hospital gate, passing in and going out; hosts of patients are waiting,
some in wheeled chairs and some seated on the iron fence which fringes
the drive. The reunions which occur at that gate are exceedingly public.
Our East Ender is perhaps accustomed to publicity; his slum does not
conceal its feelings--it quarrels, and makes love, without drawn blinds,
and privacy is not an essential of its ardours. Be that as it may, these
meetings at the hospital gate, which are not lacking in pathos, have
sometimes manifested a tear-compelling comicality when the actors in the
drama belonged to the class which produced Bert.

In a higher class there is restraint and a rather stupid bashfulness. I
have seen a wounded youngster flush apprehensively and only peck his
mother in return for her sobbing embrace. That is not Bert's way. He
knows--he is not a fool--that his mother looks a trifle absurd as, with
bonnet awry, she surges perspiringly past the sentries, the tails of her
skirt dragging in the dust and her feet flattened with the weight of
over-clad, unwholesome obesity they have to bear. But he hobbles sprily
to meet her, and his salute is no mere peck, but a smacking kiss, so
noisy that it makes everyone laugh. He laughs too--perhaps he did it on
purpose to raise a laugh: that is his quaint method; but the fact
remains that, whatever his motive, he has managed to please his mother.
She is sniffing loudly yet laughing also, and one could want no better
picture of human affection than this of Bermondsey Bert and his
shapeless, work-distorted, maybe bibulous-looking mother, exchanging
that resounding and ungraceful kiss at the hospital gate. I have heard
Bert shout "Mother!" from a hundred yards off, when he spied her coming
through the gate. No false shame there! No smug "good form" in that--nor
in the time-honoured jest which follows: "And 'ave you remembered to
bring me a bottle of beer, mother?" (Of course visitors are not allowed
to introduce alcohol into the hospital--otherwise I am afraid there is
no doubt that mother would have obliged.)

In one of our wards we harboured, for a while, a costermonger. This
coster, an entertaining and plucky creature who had to have a leg
amputated, received no callers on visiting day: his own relatives were
dead and he and his wife had separated. "Couldn't 'it it orf," he
explained, and with laudable impartiality added, "Married beneath 'er,
she did, w'en she married me." As the lady was herself a coster, it was
plain that here, as in other grades of society, there are degrees,
conventions and barriers which may not be lightly overstepped. "Sister,"
however, thought that the patient should inform his wife that he had
lost his leg, and prevailed on him to send her a letter to that effect.
A few days later he was asked,

"Well, did you write and tell your wife you had lost a leg?"

"Yus."

"I suppose she's answered? What has she said?"

"Said 'm a liar!"

Her retort had neither disconcerted nor offended him. He was a
philosopher--and, like so many of his kind, a laughing philosopher. When
he was sufficiently recovered from his operation to get about on
crutches he was the wag of the ward. He took a special delight in those
practical jokes which are invented by patients to tease the nurses, and
devoted the most painstaking ingenuity to their preparation. It was he
who found a small hole in the lath-and-plaster wall which separates the
ward from the ward's kitchen. Through this hole a length of cotton was
passed and tied to the handle of a mug on the kitchen shelf. At this
period, owing to the Zeppelin raids, only the barest minimum of light
was allowed, and the night nurse, when she entered the kitchen, went
into almost complete darkness. No sooner was she in the kitchen and
fumbling for what she required than a faint noise--that of the cup being
twitched by the cotton leading to the mischievous coster's bed--arose on
the shelf and convinced her that she was in the presence of a mouse. She
retreated, and perhaps if any convalescent patient had been awake she
would have enlisted his aid to expel the mouse; but in the ward the
patients were, as one man, snoring vociferously. It was this slightly
overdone snoring, at the finish, which gave birth to suspicions and
caused the trick to be detected.

The night nurses do not have a placid time of it if their patients
are at the stage of recovery when spirits begin to rise and
the early slumber-hour which the hospital rules prescribe is not
welcome. String-actuated knaveries, more or less similar to the
mouse-in-the-kitchen one, are always devised for the plaguing of a new
night nurse. Sometimes in the dead of night, when utter silence broods
over the ward, the gramophone will abruptly burst into raucous music:
its mechanism has been released by a contrivance which gives no clue to
the crime's perpetrator. The flustered nurse gropes her way down the
ward and stops the gramophone, every patient meanwhile sitting up in bed
and protesting against her cruelty in having awakened them by starting
it. Half an hour after the ward has quietened, the other gramophone
(some wards own two) whirrs off into impudent song: it also has been
primed. Nurse is wiser on future occasions: she stows the gramophones,
when she comes on duty, where no one can tamper with them. Even so, she
may have her nerves preyed upon by eerie tinklings, impossible to locate
in the darkness; these are caused by two knives, hung from a nail fixed
high up in the rafters. By jiggling a string, which is conducted over
another rafter and down the wall to his pillow, the patient makes the
knifeblades clash. Sometimes two strings, leading to different beds,
complete this instrument of torture. After a determined search, nurse
finds one string, and, having cut it, flatters herself that she has got
the better of her enemies. Not a bit of it. She has scarcely settled in
her chair again before the tinklings recommence. The second string is in
action; and as she hunts about the ward for the source of the melody in
the ceiling, muffled convulsions of mirth, from the dim rows of beds,
furnish evidence that her naughty charges are not getting the repose
which they require and to ensure which is part of the purpose of her
presence.

A nurse who happens to be unpopular never has these pranks played upon
her. They are in the nature of a compliment. Nor do they occur in a
ward where there is a patient seriously ill. It is impossible to imagine
war-hospital patients acting inconsiderately towards a distressed
comrade. This observation renders all the more amusing the scandalised
concern which I once beheld on the demure physiognomy of a visiting
clergyman when he gathered the drift of certain allusions to a case on
the Danger List.

The name of the Danger List explains itself. When a patient is put on
the Danger List, his relatives are sent for and may be with him whether
it is the visiting afternoon or not. (If they come from the provinces
they are presented with a railway pass and, if poor, are allotted
lodgings near the hospital, a grant being made to them from our
Benevolent Fund.) For the information of the V.A.D.'s who answer
visitors' questions in the Enquiry Bureau at the main entrance to the
hospital, a copy of the Danger List hangs there, and it is on record
that an awestruck child, seeing this column of patients' names, and
reading the heading, asked, "What does 'Danger List' mean? Does it mean
that it's dangerous to go near them?" Now in Ward C 22 a patient, a
cockney, was on the Danger List--which circumstance availed nothing to
depress his spirits. In spite of considerable pain, he poked fun at the
prospect of his own imminent demise, and was himself the chief offender
against the edict of quietness which "Sister" had issued for her ward.
He _would_ talk; and he _would_ talk about undertakers, post-mortems,
epitaphs and the details of a military funeral. "That there top note of
the Last Post on the bugle doesn't 'arf sound proper," he said--a
verdict which anyone who has heard this beautiful and inspired fanfare,
which is the farewell above a soldier's grave, and which ends on a
soaring treble, will endorse. "But," he went on, "if the bugler's 'ad a
drop o' somethin' warm on the way to the cemetery, that there top note
always reminds me of a 'iccup. An' if 'e 'iccups over me, I shall wanter
spit in 'is eye, blimey if I won't."

This persiflage had been going on for a couple of days and getting to be
more and more elaborate and allusive, infecting the entire ward, so
that the fact that the man was on the Danger List had become a kind of
catchword amongst his fellows. Entered, in all innocence, the clergyman.
("The very bloke to put me up to all the tricks!"--from the irreverent
one.) At the same moment a walking patient, also a cockney, who had been
reading a newspaper, gave vent to a cry of feigned horror. "Boys!" he
announced, "it says 'ere there's a shortage of timber!"

Guffaws greeted this sally. Everyone saw the innuendo at once--everyone
except the clergyman, and when he grasped the point, that Ol' Chum
So-and-So was on the Danger List and a shortage of timber was supposed
to imply that he might be done out of a coffin, he was visibly shocked.
Perhaps he did not understand cockney humour.... However, one may add
that our irrepressible friend, at the moment of writing, is off the
Danger List (albeit only after a protracted struggle with the Enemy at
whom he jeered), and is now contriving to be as funny about life as he
was funny--and fearless--about Death.

I caught sight to-day of another cockney acquaintance of mine, whose
Christian name is Bill, trundling himself down the hospital drive in a
wheeled chair. Perched on the knee of his one leg, with its feet planted
on the stump which is all that is left of the other, was his child, aged
four. Beside him walked his wife, resplendent in a magenta blouse and a
hat with green and pink plumes.

The trio looked happy, and Mrs. Bill's gala attire was symbolical. When
Bill was in my ward he too was on the Danger List. I remember that when
he first came to us, before his operation, and before he took a turn for
the worse, his wife visited him in that same magenta blouse (or another
equally startling) and that for some reason she and "Sister" did not
quite hit it off, "had words," and subsequently for a period were not on
speaking terms. Later, when Bill underwent his operation, and began to
sink, his bed was moved out on to the ward's verandah. Here his wife
(now wearing a subdued blouse) sat beside him, hour after hour, while
little Bill, the child, towed a cheap wooden engine up and down the
grass patch, oblivious to the ordeal through which his parents were
passing. It was my business, as orderly, to intrude at intervals upon
the scene on the verandah, to bring Bill such food as he was able to
tolerate. On the first occasion, after Bill's collapse, that I prepared
to take him a cup of tea, Sister stopped me. "Don't forget to take tea,
and some bread and butter, to that poor woman. She looks tired. And some
milk for the child." "Very good, Sister." I cut bread-and-butter, and
filled an extra mug of tea. "Orderly! What are you doing?" Sister had
reappeared. And I was rebuked because I was going to offer Mrs. Bill her
tea in a tin mug (the patients all have tin mugs) and had cut her
bread-and-butter too thick. I must cut dainty slices of thin
bread-and-butter, use Sister's own china ware, and serve the whole
spread on a tray with a cloth. All of which was typical of Sister, who
from that day treated Bill's wife with true tenderness; and Bill's wife
became one of Sister's most enthusiastic adorers.

It came to pass, after a week of pitiful anxiety, that the Medical
Officer pronounced Bill safe once more. "Bloke says I'm not goin' ter
peg art," he told me. I congratulated him and remarked that his wife
would be thankful when he met her, on her arrival, with such splendid
news. "I'll 'ave the larf of my missus," said Bill. "W'en she comes, I
shall tell 'er I've some serious noos for 'er, and she's ter send the
kid darn on the grarse ter play. Then I'll pull a long fice and hask 'er
ter bear up, and say I'm sorry for 'er, and she mustn't tike it too
rough, and all that; and she 'as my sympathy in 'er diserpointment: _she
ain't ter get 'er widow's pension arter all_!"

I believe that this programme was carried through, more or less to the
letter. Certain it is that I myself overheard another of Bill's grim
pleasantries. He was explaining to madame that they must apprentice
their offspring to the engineering trade. "I wanter mike Lil' Bill a
mowter chap, so's 'e can oil the ball-bearings of me fancy leg wot I'm
ter get at Roehampton." The "fancy leg" ended by being the favourite
theme of Bill's disgraceful extravaganzas. He would announce to Sister,
when she was dressing his stump, that he had been studying means of
earning his living in the future, and had decided to become a professor
of roller skating. He would loudly tell his wife that she would never
again be able to summons him for assault by kicking: the fancy leg would
not give the real one sufficient purchase for an effective kick. And she
was not to complain, in future, about his cold feet against her back in
bed: there would be only one cold foot, the other would be unhitched and
on the floor. And of course there were endless jokes about what had been
done with the amputated leg, whether it had got a tombstone, and so
forth: some of the suggestions going a trifle beyond what good taste, in
more fastidious coteries, would have thought permissible. But Bill had
his own ideas of the humorous, and maybe his own no less definite ideas
of dignity. In this latter virtue I counted the fact that although once
or twice, when he was very low, he gave way to a little fretting to me,
he never, I am convinced, let fall one querulous word in the presence of
his wife. She sat by her husband's side, and when things were at their
worst the two said naught. The wife numbly watched her Bill's face,
turning now and then to glance at the activities of little Bill with his
engine, or to smile her thanks to the patients who sometimes came and
gave the child pickaback rides. When I intruded, I knew I was
interrupting the communings of a loving and happily married pair; and
the "slangings" of each other which signalised Bill's recovery and his
wife's relief, did nothing to shake my certitude that, like many slum
dwellers, they owned a mutual esteem which other couples, of superior
station, might envy.

Personally I have never known a cockney patient who did not evoke
affection; and as a matter of curiosity I have been asking a number of
Sisters whether they liked to have cockneys in their wards. Without a
single exception (and let me say that Sisters are both observant and
critical) the answers have been enthusiastically in the affirmative.



XIII

THE STATION PARTY


An earnest shopman not long ago tried to sell me a pair of
marching-boots, "for use"--as he explained, lest their name should have
misled me--"on the march." Had he said "for use after the war" he might
have been more persuasive. When I told him that marching-boots were no
good to me, it was manifestly difficult for him to conceal his opinion
that, if so, I had no business to flaunt the garb of Thomas Atkins. When
I added that if he could offer me a pair of running-shoes I might
entertain the proposition, his look was a reproach to irreverent
facetiousness.

A grateful country has presented me with one pair of excellent
marching-boots. But a hospital ward is no place in which to go clumping
about in footgear designed to stand hard wear and tear on the
high-roads; and my army boots, after two years, have not yet needed
re-soling. I wore them, it is true, during my period of service with the
Chain Gang, as a squad of outdoor orderlies, engaged in road-making, was
locally called. And I wear them when we have a "C.O.'s Parade"--an
occasion on which naught but officially-provided attire is allowable. It
would take a century of C.O.'s parades, however, to damage boots put on
five minutes before the event and taken off five minutes after: the
parade itself necessitating no sturdier pedestrianism than is involved
in walking less than a hundred yards to the ground and there standing
stock-still at attention.

I do not say that hospital orderlies never go for a march: only that
marching bulks relatively so small in our programme that any special
equipment for the purpose sounds a little ironical. The issue of
ward-shoes, now, was a real boon. Not that all the pairs with which our
unit was suddenly flooded by the authorities proved as silent as they
were intended to be. Some of them squeaked; and the peregrinations of
the orderly thus afflicted were perhaps more vexatious to the ear of a
nervous patient at night than even the clatter of honest hobnails. And
the soles were thin. A pair of ward-shoes lasted me on the average one
month. If only worn within the ward they might have lasted
longer--though not so very much longer. According to regulations, you
were not allowed to wear ward-shoes except within the confines of the
ward. No doubt it was expected that every time you were sent on an
errand outside the ward you would solemnly take off your ward-shoes and
put on your marching-boots--then, on the return, take off your
marching-boots and put on your ward-shoes--but life as a nursing orderly
is too short for such elaborations of etiquette. It was nothing unusual,
when one was working in a ward which lay at a distance of quarter of a
mile from the hospital's main building, to be sent to the said main
building a dozen times in a single morning. This incessant
message-bearing had to be done, if not at the double, at any rate at
nothing slower than five miles per hour in the morning (the busy time);
in the afternoon a speed of four miles per hour might sometimes be
permissible. At all events, running-shoes, as I told the shopman, would
not have been inappropriate during certain periods of crisis.

From time to time our tasks were interrupted by the notes of a bugle--or
the shrilling of the Sergeant-Major's whistle--demanding our presence
for an intake of new patients. A party of orderlies was wanted to go to
the railway-station to help to remove stretcher-cases from the ambulance
train. The station lies at a distance of a mile from the hospital, and
this small pilgrimage, achieved a few score times, is practically all I
know of the veritable employment of marching-boots.

I regretted when a change of plans diverted the ambulance trains to the
central termini for evacuation. The interlude of a station-party trip
was far from unwelcome. Lined up on the parade ground we were put in
charge of a corporal. "Party, 'shun! Right turn! Quick march!" Off we
trudged, round the back of the hospital, down the drive, out past the
sentry and away along the road. Presently, "Party, march at ease!"
Cigarettes were lit, talking was allowed, and someone would raise a
tune. How pleasant it is to march to singing! To march to a
drum-and-fife band must be wonderful. Or a brass band--! Those joys will
never be mine. Almost all the marching I shall have done in the great
war will be summed up in these tiny promenades from the hospital to the
railway-station, their rhythm sustained by self-raised choruses, none
too melodious.

Occasionally an officer would be descried, on the pavement. Then "Party,
'shun!" Cigarettes were concealed. The song died. "Eyes left! ... Eyes
front! Party, march at ease!" The cigarettes reappeared, the song was
resumed. Approaching the station, "Party, 'shun!" Cigarettes were thrown
away. Here, in the chief street, we must make a smart show. A crowd is
gathered round the station gate, attracted by the array of Red Cross
vehicles within. Police are keeping back the curious. The way is
cleared for our arrival. "Left wheel!" Now is our one moment of glory.
We swing round, through the lane of gaping sightseers, and tramp-tramp
in style across the station yard and under the archway, flattering
ourselves (perhaps not without justification) that there are spectators
whose eyes pursue us with secret envy at the serious import of our task.

The station platform, when we reached it, was generally a blank
perspective devoid of all living creatures except ourselves. Fate
decreed that we should be summoned long before the train was due. I have
kicked my heels for many a doleful hour on that platform, and the
reflection that "they also serve who only stand and wait" was chilly
comfort if--as frequently happened--we had been hurried off dinnerless.
The convoys' arrivals always seemed to coincide with dinner-time. On our
return to the hospital we should find that the rations had been kept hot
for us. But, in the meanwhile, an empty stomach was a poor preparation
for the strain of carrying stretchers up the stairs from the station
platform to the ambulances; and those of us who could produce pennies
for automatic-machine chocolate gained an instant popularity. The
longest period of waiting drew to an end at last, however. The platform
assumed a livelier air. The station-master appeared from his den.
Officers of the Army Medical Service and the Red Cross strolled down.
And the stairs and platform echoed to the pattering of the feet of hosts
of industrious "Bluebottles," fetching stretchers and blankets.

The blue-uniformed volunteers who form a portion of the London Ambulance
Column are nicknamed the Bluebottles in allusion to their dress. It is a
nickname which, let me say at once, any man might be proud of. I know
not whether the history of the Bluebottles has yet been written, but
certain it is that their doings have got into newspaper print less often
than they deserved. For theirs is a double rôle which truly merits the
country's admiration. While carrying on the commerce of the Empire--that
vital commerce without which there would be bankruptcy and no sinews of
war, nor indeed any England left to defend--they have vowed themselves
also, of their own free-will, to the helping of the wounded. Day or
night the Bluebottle is liable to be called from his desk or his home by
the telephone: like the Florentine Brother of the Misericordia he must
instantly hurry into his uniform and rush to the place appointed. He may
be busy or he may be tired; no matter: his vow holds good. Off he goes,
to the railway-station to meet the hospital train and evacuate its
stretchers.

Myself, I have the deepest respect for the Bluebottles and for their
energy in a cause which must often be not only fatiguing, but, from a
commercial point of view, extremely inconvenient. It would be absurd to
pretend, nevertheless, that the less responsible khaki-wearing R.A.M.C.
do not cherish a mild contempt for all Bluebottles. There is no reason
for that contempt. It is idiotic, childish--a humiliating exhibition of
the silliness of masculine human nature. Members of our station-party
who had enlisted but a week back, and who knew nothing whatever of
their work, would, in a whisper, mock the Bluebottles--although every
Bluebottle had taken first-aid classes and passed examinations at which
most of the mockers would have boggled. The Bluebottles were "civilians"
... there you have it. We--who would probably never do any battlefield
soldiering in our lives--looked down on all civilians who had the
impudence to wear a uniform of any sort. Such is the behaviour of the
sterner sex at a moment when its sole thought should be of sensible and
efficient co-operation in the performance of duty.

For of course it was our duty to co-operate with the Bluebottles. The
theory with which we beguiled ourselves, that the Bluebottles were
physically starvelings and required our Herculean aid to lift the
stretchers up the stairs, was palpably nonsense. Still we told ourselves
that we, as disciplined soldiers, were here to give a hand to a civilian
mob who might otherwise faint and fail. A singular delusion! Time has
proved its falsity, for with the issue of fresh orders our
station-parties ceased to function: the Bluebottles now make shift
without us--and without, as far as I know, any mishap.

The hospital train was eventually signalled. We were ranked, at
attention, at the foot of the stairs. The Bluebottles stood by their
stretchers. There was hurrying hither and thither of officials.
Sometimes our Colonel, having motored from the hospital, appeared on the
platform to see that all was well, and you may be sure that we
endeavoured to look alert in his august presence. And finally the train
glided into the station.

The hospital trains seemed to be never twice the same: South Westerns,
North Westerns, Great Northerns, Midlands, Great Centrals, Lancashire
and Yorkshires--I saw them all, at one time or another, their sole
affinity being the staring red crosses painted on each coach. A coach or
two consisted of ordinary compartments, for sitting-up cases; the rest
were vans the interiors of which had been converted into wards by means
of bunks. Access to each van-ward was gained by a wide pair of sliding
doors in its centre. These doors, when the train had come to a
standstill, were opened by pallid-looking orderlies, who lowered
gangways and then gazed forth at us, while they awaited orders, with the
lack-lustre eyes of men who had been deprived of the proper allowance of
sleep.

As soon as the list of the Medical Officer on the train had been checked
with that of the Medical Officer on the platform, the evacuation began.
Walking-cases were sent off first--generally a tatterdemalion crew,
hobbling and shuffling along the platform, and, at one stage of the war,
with trench mud still clinging to their clothes. They seldom needed our
assistance: the Bluebottles (even if feeble folk) were deemed by our
corporal to be fit to give any weak walking patient an arm, or carry his
kit. The walking patients, in fact, were a mere episode. Motor-cars
whirled them off, five or six at a time, and they might be half through
the process of being bathed at the hospital before the last
stretcher-case was quit of the train. The stretcher cases were our
concern. Pairs of Bluebottles, each carrying a stretcher, entered the
van-wards and anon reappeared with their burden. Now came our cue to
act. As the stretcher approached the foot of the stair two of our number
stepped forth from the rank, each taking a handle from a Bluebottle; the
stretcher thus proceeded on its course up the stair carried by four men,
one on each handle--two Bluebottles and two R.A.M.C.'s.

That flight of iron stairs from the platform to the road seemed no very
arduous ordeal for the first half-dozen journeys. There was a knack
about keeping the stretcher horizontal: the front bearers must hold
their handles as low as possible; the rear bearers must hoist their
handles shoulder-high. It was all plain sailing and perfectly easy. Four
men to a stretcher is luxurious. At least it is luxurious on the level,
and if you have not far to go and not many consecutive stretchers to
carry. But when the convoy was a large one, when the bearers were too
few and you had no sooner got rid of one stretcher than you must run
down the stairs and, without regaining your breath, grab the handle of
another and slowly toil up again to the ambulances ... yes, even on the
coldest day it was possible to be moist with perspiration; and as for
the hot weather of the 1915 summer, when one of our Big Pushes was
afoot, or when returned prisoners came from Germany (those were
memorable occasions!)--you might be pardoned a certain aching in the
arm-muscles.

It was on one of these busy days that I discovered that the comical
prejudice of khaki against the Bluebottles was not (as I had hitherto
supposed) confined to the young swashbucklers of the home-staying
R.A.M.C. It was seldom our custom to enter the hospital trains. An
unwritten law decreed that Bluebottles only should enter the train: the
R.A.M.C. limited themselves to carrying work outside, on the platform
and stair. But on this occasion the supply of Bluebottles had, for the
moment, run short, and our party took a turn at going up the gangways
and evacuating the van-wards. As it happened, I and my mate on the
stretcher were the first khaki-wearers to invade that particular
van-ward. And as we steered our stretcher in at the door and down the
aisle of cots a shout arose from the wounded lying there: "Here are some
real soldiers!"

It was too bad. It was base ingratitude to the devoted band of
Bluebottles who had, up till that instant, been toiling at the
evacuation of the ward--and who, as I chanced to know, had been up all
the previous night, carrying stretchers at Paddington and Charing Cross,
while _we_ slept cosily. But--well, there it was. "Here are some real
soldiers!" Khaki greeted khaki--simultaneously spurning the mere
amateur, the civilian. I could have blushed for the injustice of that
naïve cry. But it would be dishonest not to confess that there was
something gratifying about it too. It was the cry of the Army, always
loyal to the Army. These heroic bundles of bandages, lifting wild and
unshaven faces from their pillows, hailed _me_ (a wretched creature who
had never heard a gun go off) as one of their comrades! My mate and I,
as we adjusted our stretcher at a cot's side, and braced ourselves
against the weight of the patient, winked covertly at one another. "A
nasty one for the Bluebottles!" he said. And it was.

All the same I seize this opportunity of offering my homage to the
Bluebottles. They have done--are still doing--their bit, and that right
nobly. Thousands of British soldiers have cause to bless them and also
to be thankful for the existence of that great voluntary institution,
the London Ambulance Column.

       *       *       *       *       *

When at last the train had been emptied and the ultimate stretcher was
_en route_ for the hospital, our party gathered once more at the top of
the stair, lined up, and was glanced-over by the corporal lest any man
had seized the opportunity to play truant. There were occasions when
some thirsty soul, chafing at the rigours of the strict teetotalism
enforced by our rules, was found to have vanished in the hurly-burly:
his destination, the up-platform refreshment-bar, being readily
surmisable. He had cause to regret his lapse if it were noticed before
he slipped back unostentatiously into our ranks. Then, "Party, 'shun!
Left turn! Right incline--quick march!" Off we swung, out into the
streets--cheered by the urchins who still hovered round the gate--and
so, at the rapidest possible pace, home to dinner and a smoke: these (in
my case at any rate) being preceded by the thankful relinquishment of my
seldom-worn and therefore none too friendly marching-boots.



XIV

SLANG IN A WAR HOSPITAL


Every ward in the hospital has a bathroom attached to it, but in
addition to these there are two large bathrooms, each containing a
number of baths, which are used by walking patients and also by the
orderlies. The more recently built of these bathrooms is divided into
private cubicles. In the older one the baths are on a more sociable
plan, with no partition walls sundering them. The spectacle, in the
"old" bathroom, when a convoy of walking cases has arrived, is one which
should appeal to a painter. Clouds of steam fill the air, and through
the fog you perceive a fine mêlée of figures, some half dressed, some
statuesquely nude, towelling themselves or preparing to wash, or shaving
at bits of mirror propped on the window-sills. Pink bodies wallow
voluptuously in the deep porcelain-ware tubs, which are of the shape and
superb dimensions of Egyptian sarcophagi. Sometimes a patient with a
wounded arm, unable to help himself, is being soaped and sponged by an
orderly; or you may see a cheerful soul, with an injured foot, balanced
on the rim of the bath and giving himself all the ablutions which are
practicable without the disturbance of bandages. No one who has
frequented our bathrooms would ever doubt that the British Army loves
cleanliness and hot water. Of cold water I cannot speak with the same
enthusiasm.

A newly-arrived convoy of course monopolises the bathroom; but
throughout the whole day, at almost any hour, you will find a patient or
two here; for by the rule of the hospital it is allowable for any
patient--once he has been given permission to take an unsupervised bath
at all--to take a bath whenever he likes. Consequently it happens often
that half a dozen orderlies may be bathing at the same time as half a
dozen patients--and it need not be added that the occasion is one for
pleasant chats and the barter of anecdotes. For this reason, if for no
other, I always elected to use the "old" bathroom: the "new" one, with
its closed cubicles, was less fruitful in conversations.

The "old" bathroom was the exchange (and perhaps the starting-point) of
many of our hospital rumours. I imagine that every war hospital is a
hotbed of rumours. Ours certainly was, and is. Amongst the orderlies
there are incessant rumours about promotions, about the chances of the
unit being sent abroad, about surprise inspections, about the imminent
arrival of impossibly large convoys, about news--received privately by
the Colonel over the telephone--of defeats or victories. Nine times out
of ten the rumour turns out to be groundless. But this does not cause
the output of rumours to diminish. Apparently the army is a prolific
soil for rumours, inasmuch as they have a special name: a rumour is
called a _buzz_. "Only a buzz" ("it's only a rumour") is an expression
often heard on the lips of soldiers. In India it is sometimes "a bazaar
buzz" (a rumour circulating in the bazaars); here it is, naturally, a
bathroom buzz.

Many were the choice examples of slang and of colloquialisms which I
culled in the bathroom, sitting comfortably in my bath and communing
with my neighbour in the next bath. I remember one morning making the
acquaintance of an Australian who had recently recovered from a bad
attack of trench feet. Four of the toes of one foot were missing, and
the fifth looked far from sound. My friend was examining this lonely toe
with a critical gaze, and I sympathised with him over its condition.
"Ah!" he said, "that toe is a king to what it was." He went on to tell
me (what I could well believe) that to get your "plates of meat"
frostbitten wasn't such a "cushy wound" as it was cracked up to be by
those who had never experienced its sufferings. "When I went sick the
doctor thought he'd rumbled me swinging the lead. But as soon as he
spotted them there toes of mine--the ones that's gone--I could see he
knew I'd clicked a packet, square dinkum, this trip." ("Square dinkum"
or "dinkum" is an Antipodean verbal flourish, which broadly
approximates to the American "Sure enough" or the English "Not 'arf.")

Certain of these neologisms are common enough in civilian life--have
been imported into the army since 1914--but others (and the more
interesting ones, as I hold) were, until the war, limited to the
barrack-room. British regiments which had been abroad used an argot of
considerable antiquity, some of it of Oriental origin (_e.g._ "blighty,"
meaning "home": hence "a blighty wound," or simply "a blighty," an
injury sufficiently serious to cause the victim to be invalided to
England). Whether the derivations of army slang have been investigated I
do not know. It appears to me to be a subject worth examination. I am
not myself a philologist, but in the bathrooms and elsewhere in the
hospital I have heard and noted a small collection of slang phrases and
idioms, and these may be worth recording. Such expressions as "swinging
the lead" (malingering or deceiving or acting in a hypocritical manner
or getting the better of anyone) have lost their novelty. So has
"rumbled," which means to be discovered or detected or found out. These
words have now spread far beyond the confines of the army. And indeed
the rapidity with which all slang and all catch-phrases can be
disseminated offers a rather alarming prospect. For whereas, before the
war, slang at its silliest was often quite local, nowadays its
restriction within given localities has in the nature of things become
impossible. A war hospital such as ours contains inmates from every
county in Britain, as well as from every colony. The same intermingling
occurs on an infinitely greater scale in training-camps and at the
various fronts. All these centres are hotbeds of slang: the men go home
from them, carrying to their native places slang which would never, in
ordinary times, have penetrated there. In the army you will hear a
Scotchman doing what he never did before--dropping his aitches. He has
caught it from his English comrades. You will hear him say "Not
'arf"--an inane tag which, despite its popularity in London, failed to
find any foothold north of the Tweed before the war. "Not 'arf" was
mouthed by Sassenach comedians on the music-hall stages of Edinburgh
and Glasgow, and was grinned at for what it was worth: the streets did
not adopt it. Now the streets will hear it and will use it: it is one of
Jock's souvenirs from his campaign.

I am afraid that another triviality which has hitherto been to the taste
only of the south of England is fated to "catch on," by means of the
same missionaries, from Land's End to John o' Groat's, and even in the
colonies. Rhyming slang is extraordinarily common in the army, so common
that it is used with complete unconsciousness as being correct
conversational English. My friend of the king-like toe spoke of his feet
as "plates of meat"--and this though he was an Australian, not a
cockney. If he had had occasion to allude to his leg he would probably
have called it "Scotch peg." A man's arm is his "false alarm"; his nose,
"I suppose"; his eye, "mince pie"; his hand, "German band"; his boot,
"daisy root"; his face "chevvy chase"; and so forth--an interminable
list. What exactly was the _raison d'être_ of this pseudo-poetic mania I
do not know, but I suspect that it originated, in the distant past,
with the poverty of rhyme-invention on the part of the writers of the
cruder kind of pantomime songs--"round the houses," for example, being
both a rhyme to and a synonym for "trousies" (garments beloved of those
bards!)--and thus the vogue developed. This is only a theory. The one
thing certain is that a clumsy form of slang, devoid of the humour and
compactness which justify slang--and which were on the whole once
characteristic of metropolitan slang--has tickled the ear of some
millions of men who, but for the war, would never have fallen under its
temptation. The only thing to hope for is that it will run its course
and perish--like "What ho, she bumps!" and "Now we shan't be
long!"--without leaving any visible and permanent trace upon the
language.

"Clicked," another word used by my trench-feet associate, resembles much
modern slang in the breadth and elasticity of its application. To click
can be either advantageous or baneful, according to the circumstances. A
soldier asks a superior for a favour, and it is granted. That soldier
has clicked. Or if he finds a nice girl to walk out with, he has
clicked. Or if he is given a coveted post, he has clicked. But he has
also clicked if he is suddenly seized on to do some menial duty. He has
clicked if he is discovered in a misdeed. And he has clicked a packet if
he gets into trouble generally. On such an occasion, it may be added,
the N.C.O. or officer who administers a reproof ("ticks him off"), and
does so in angry terms, "goes in off the deep end."

Not all army slang is lacking, indeed, in a facetious irony. Miserable
conditions in the desert or in the trenches, bad accommodation, doubtful
food--anything which cannot arouse the faintest enthusiasm of any
sort--these, in the lingo of our now much-travelled and stoical troops,
are "nothing to write home about." Surely there is an admirable spirit
in this sarcasm. It crops up again in the hospital metaphor "going to
the pictures." That is Tommy's way of announcing that he is to go under
the surgeon's knife, on a visit to the operating theatre. Again, there
is a sardonic tang in the army's condemnation of one who has been
telling a far-fetched story: he has been "chancing his arm" (or "mit").
Similarly one detects an oblique and wry fun in the professional army
man's use of the word "sieda" to mean "socks." (The new army more feebly
dubs them "almond rocks.") "Sieda" has been brought by the Anzacs from
Cairo, and with them it means "Good morning!"--a mere friendly hail, now
used with great frequency. But the veterans of older expeditions in
Egypt and in India, when they had been on the march, took their socks
from their perspiring feet and lay down to sleep; and in the
morning--well, their socks said "Sieda!" to them when they awoke, and
were christened accordingly.... Or again, the socks (or other property)
might have vanished in the night--in which case there had been "hooks
about" (pilferers about). If one of those "hooks" were caught, he would
be first "rammed in the mush" (put in the guardroom), and then, if his
guilt were established, he would be observed "going over the wall" or
"going to stir" (going to the detention prison).

A few other slang words which I have come across in the hospital, and
which seem to me to bear the mark of the old army as distinct from the
new, are: "bondook," a rifle; "sound scoff" (to the bugler, to sound
Rations); "scran," victuals, rations; "weighing out," paying out;
"chucking a dummy," being absent; "get the wind up," be afraid (and "put
the wind up," make afraid); "the home farm," the married quarters;
"chips," the pioneer sergeant (carpenter); "tank," wet canteen;
"tank-wallah," a drinker; "tanked," drunk; "A.T.A. wallah," a
teetotaller (from the Army Temperance Association); "on the cot" or "on
the tack," being teetotal; "jammy," lucky (and "jam," any sort of good
fortune); "win," to steal; "burgoo," porridge; "eye-wash," making things
outwardly presentable; "gone west," died (also applied to things broken,
_e.g._ a broken pipe has "gone west"); "oojah," anything (similar to
thingummy or what-d'ye-call-it); "push," "pusher," or "square push," a
girl (hence "square-push tunic," the "swagger" tunic for walking-out
occasions). The words for drunkenness are innumerable--"jingled,"
"oiled," "tanked to the wide," "well sprung," "up the pole," "blotto,"
etc.; but I smell the modern in some of these; their flavour is of
London taverns rather than of the dusty barrack squares of India, Egypt,
Malta, and Gibraltar.

But who can delve to the ultimate springs of slang? A verb which I never
met before I enlisted was "to spruce." This is almost, if not quite, a
blend of "swinging the lead" and "doing a mike." To spruce is to dodge
duty or to deceive. A man who contrived to slip out of the ranks of a
squad when they were performing some distasteful task would be said to
"spruce off." Or he would be denounced as a "sprucer" if he managed to
arrive late for his meal and yet, by a trick, to secure a front place in
the waiting queue at the canteen. A word in constant employment,
"spruce"! It was new to me when I became an orderly, and for a long time
I thought that it was peculiar to our unit, in the same manner that the
jargon of certain boys is peculiar to certain schools. But I concluded
later that it might have a remote and roundabout origin in the old army
slang, "a spruce hand" at "brag"--the latter being a variant of the game
of poker, and a spruce hand, apparently, one which, held by a bluffer,
contained cards of no real value.

Some day these etymological mysteries must be probed. Perhaps the German
professors, after the war, can usefully wreak themselves on this complex
and obscure research. Meanwhile the above notes are offered not as a
serious contribution to a subject so immense, but rather as a warning.
The infectiousness of slang is incredible; and this gigantic
inter-association of classes and clans has brought about a hitherto
unheard-of levelling-down of the common speech. Accent may or may not be
influenced: the vocabulary undoubtedly is. Nearly every home in the land
is soon going to be invaded by many forms of army slang: the process in
fact has already begun. If we were a sprightlier nation the effect might
not be all to the bad. But most of our slang-mongers are not wits. "He
was balmy a treat," I heard a soldier say of another soldier who had
shammed insane. That is what we are coming to: it is the tongue we
shall use and likewise (I fear) the condition in which some of us will
find ourselves as a result.



XV

A BLIND MAN'S HOME-COMING


In my boyhood I had the ambition--it was one of several ambitions--to
become a courier. The _Morning Post_ advertisements of couriers who
professed to be fluent in a number of languages and were at the disposal
of invalid aristocrats desiring to take extensive (and expensive) trips
abroad, aroused the most romantic visions in my mind. A courier's was
the life for me. I saw myself whirling all over Europe--with my
distinguished invalid--in sleeping-cars de luxe. Anon we were crossing
the Atlantic or lolling in punkah-induced breezes on the verandahs of
Far Eastern hotels. It was a great profession, that of the experienced
and successful courier.

I have never been a courier in quite this picturesque acceptation; and
yet, in a humbler sense, I have perhaps (to my own surprise) earned the
title. As an R.A.M.C. orderly I have more than once officiated as
travelling courier--yes, and to distinguished, if far from affluent,
invalids. They ought, at least, to rank as distinguished; for the reason
they needed a courier was because they had given their health, or limbs,
or eyesight, in defence of their country.

It happens only too often that when a patient is discharged from
hospital he is not fit to make his journey home alone. An orderly is
detailed to accompany him. Sometimes the lot has fallen on me. Generally
the trip is a short one, to some outlying suburb of London or to some
town or village in the home counties; but sometimes my flights have been
further afield, to Ireland, or Wales; and once I went to Yorkshire with
a blind man.

That Yorkshire expedition was singularly lacking in drama and in surface
pathos, yet its details remain with great clearness. The piece of
damaged goods which, being of no further fighting use, was being
returned with thanks to the hearthside from whence it came, was an
individual answering to the unheroic cognomen of Briggs. A
high-explosive shell had been sent by the Gods to alter the current of
Briggs's career. Briggs came through all that part of the war which
concerned him without a scratch upon his person--only after the arrival
in his immediate vicinity of the high-explosive shell he was
unfortunately unable to see. Never again would Briggs be of the
slightest value either as a soldier or in his civilian trade, which was
that of driver of ponies in a coal-mine. Consequently, as a
distinguished invalid (with the sum of one pound in his pocket to
comfort him until such time as his pension should materialise),
Mister--no longer Private--Briggs, for the first and presumably the last
time in his existence, went travelling with a courier.

A car supplied by the National Motor Volunteer Service awaited Briggs
and his courier at the hospital entrance. Here the introduction between
Briggs and his courier took place. Ours is a large hospital, and I had
never to my knowledge encountered Briggs before that moment. I beheld a
young fellow (he was only twenty-three) with a stout, healthy visage
which wore a pleasant smile and would have been describable as roguish,
only ... well, the eyes of a blind man, whatever else they are, are not
conducive to a roguish mien. They were eyes not visibly damaged: nice
blue eyes. And they stared at nothingness. I was in the presence of a
stripling who, a few weeks ago, must have owned a mobile face, and was
in rapid process of developing a quite different face, a face which
still might--it certainly did--grin and laugh, but which would gradually
gain, had already begun to gain, a set expressionlessness that overlaid
and strangely neutralised its grins and its laughter.

Blind men's faces may have beauty, even vivacity, or a heightened
intelligence and fire; but there is a something, hard to define, of
which they are sadly devoid. The windows of the soul are dimmed. The
face inevitably changes. And if even I, who knew not Briggs, could
perceive that Briggs's face must thus have changed, how much more
conspicuous would the change be to the partner whom Briggs had left
seven months before and to whom I was now leading him back--his wife.

Briggs, a civilian once more, sported reach-me-down garments which
fitted him surprisingly--our Clothing Store sergeant is the kindest of
souls and expends infinite patience on doing his best, with
government-contract tailoring, to suit all our discharges. His overcoat,
which might have been called a Chesterfield in Shoreditch, pleased
Briggs, as he told me in the car: he drew my attention to its texture
and warmth, he admiringly fingered it. "I might ha' paid thirty bob for
that there top-coat," he surmised. "A collar an' a tie an' all, too!
Them boots ain't so dusty, neither: they fit me a treat. Goin' 'ome to
my missus in Sunday clobber, I am." You would have said that he thought
he had emerged from his hazards with rather a good bargain. A jumble of
ready-made clothes--and a pension! The visible world gone for ever!
These were his souvenirs of the great war. And, "Ah," he said, when I
ventured on some allusion to his blindness, "it might ha' bin worse. I
don' know what I'd ha' done if I'd lost a leg, same as some of them
other poor jossers in th' hospital!"

(And this, marvellous though it sounds, is the standpoint of no small
number in the legion of our Briggses.)

The motor ride was another source of gratification to Briggs. Seated
beside me, the wind beating on his sightless orbs, he discoursed of the
wonders of petrol. "Proper to take you about, them cars. W'ere are we
now? 'Ave we far to run, like?" I told him we were traversing Battersea
Park and that our destination was St. Pancras. It transpired that he was
a stranger to London. This drive through London was, as it were, an item
in his collection of experiences, to be preserved with the cross-channel
voyage and the vigils in the trenches. "Shall we go by Buckingham
Palace?" I told him we shouldn't; then, observing that he was
disappointed, I asked the driver to make the détour. So at last I was
able to inform Briggs that we were passing Buckingham Palace: I turned
his head so that he looked straight towards that architectural
phenomenon. It was, of course, invisible to him. No matter. He wished to
be able to boast, to his wife, that he had seen (he used that verb) the
house where the King lived.

His wife--he married a month before he enlisted--had been notified of
his return; but I suggested that at St. Pancras we might telegraph to
her the actual hour of the train's arrival, in case she should desire to
meet it. The idea commended itself to Briggs: he had not thought of such
a thing: telegraphing had perhaps hardly come within his purview, at
least so I surmised when, the telegraph-form before me, I asked him what
he wished me to write. He began cheerily, as though dictating a letter
of gossip:--"_My dear wife_--" Economy necessitated a taboo of this
otherwise charming method of communication. "_Arriving Bradford
five-thirty, Tom_," was the result of final boilings-down, which took so
long that we nearly achieved the anticlimax of missing our train
altogether.

Now at Bradford (at the end of one of the chattiest five hours I ever
spent in my life) no Mrs. Briggs was perceptible. I kept my patient on
the platform until every other passenger had gone: I marched him up and
down the main area of the station. Each time I caught sight of a woman
who looked a possible Mrs. Briggs I steered my charge into her vicinity.
In spite of a piece of information which Briggs had imparted to me on
the journey--namely, that he expected soon to become a father--I was
surprised that his wife had not come to the station to welcome him.
However, it was plain that Briggs himself was not particularly
surprised, nor, what was more important, disappointed. Nothing could
damp his eternal placidity and good humour. He proposed that from this
point onward he should pursue his journey alone. "Nowt to do but git on
th' tram," he said. "It's a fair step from 'ere, but I knows every inch
of t' way." At all events (as of course I could not allow this) he would
now act as my guide. And he did. "First to the right.... Now we're goin'
by a big watchmaker's-and-jeweller's.... Now cross t' street.... Now on
th' corner over there by t' Sinnemer is w'ere we git our tram."

The tram in due course appeared, and we boarded it. "Tha mun pay
thrippence only, mind," he warned me when the conductor came round.
"It's a rare long ride for thrippence." So it proved to be--through
wildernesses which were half meadow and half slum, my cicerone at every
hundred yards pointing out the notable features of the landscape. On our
left I ought to see the so-and-so public house; on our right the
football ground--I should know it by the grand-stand jutting above the
palings; further on were brickworks; further still a factory which, my
nose would have told me, even if Mr. Briggs had not, dealt with
chemicals; then, on the skyline, a pit-head; then another; then a mining
village with three different kinds of methodist church and two picture
palaces; then a gap of dreary, dirty fields. And then, nearing dusk, the
village where my friend lived, and where also was the terminus of the
tram route.

We quitted the tram and walked down a street of those squalid brick
tenements which coal-mining seems to germinate like a rash upon the
earth's surface. The debris and the scaffoldings of pits were dotted
about the adjacent countryside. Sooty cabbage-patches occupied the
occasional interspaces in the ranks of houses. Briggs directed me across
a cinder path in one of these cabbage-patches. "See them three 'ouses at
the bottom of the 'ill? The end one's mine." We approached. No sign of
the wife. Surely she would be on the look-out for her husband? Also
there was a sister and a brother-in-law--the latter in a prosperous way
of business as a grocer near-by: Briggs had told me of them. Would not
they be watching for him? I began to be anxious. Not once, but several
times, I had heard of the wounded soldier returning to his home and
finding no home: both home and wife had gone. (Those are bitterly tragic
tales, which a realist must write some day.) Still, as we came nearer, I
saw nobody at the cottage door. "Is th' door open?" asked Briggs. Yes,
it was open. When we were at the end of the cabbage-patch, and I could
discern the interior of the cottage parlour (into which the door opened
direct), it became clear that three persons were there. One of them, a
man, obviously the brother-in-law, came and peeped out of the window at
us, and turned and spoke to his companions. Of these two, both women,
one rose from her chair and the other remained seated. But none of the
three came to the door.

I have met northern dourness and the inarticulate manner which is such a
contrast to the gushing and noisy effusion of the south. By a paradox it
is not inconsistent with the familiar conversationalism to which Briggs
had treated me, a stranger. But I admit I found Briggs's family circle a
little embarrassing. They were respectable people: the cottage was neat
and decently furnished, its occupants were sprucely dressed. I fancy
they were in their best clothes; certainly their demeanour--and the
aspect of the table in their midst--denoted a great occasion. This
table, as I saw when I assisted Briggs up the steps into the room, had
indeed borne a well-spread tea. No very acute powers of deduction were
required to decide, from the crumbs on the white cloth and on the
dishes, that there _had_ been bread and butter and jam and cake. Of
these not a vestige (except the crumbs) remained. Briggs and I were an
hour behindhand, and the relatives who awaited the wanderer had eaten
the banquet laid to welcome him: or so it appeared. I have no doubt that
all sorts of delicacies were in the cupboard; the kettle on the hob was
probably on the boil; perhaps buttered toast was in the oven. The fact
remains that devastation was on the table.

However, Briggs did not see the table, and the table's state occupied me
only for a fraction of a second. I was more concerned with the three
people in the parlour and with their reception of my patient. The pale
woman in the chair by the fire was evidently Briggs's wife. She stared
at us, as we entered, but said absolutely nothing. Nor did the other and
slightly younger woman, his sister, say anything. She too stared. And
the man stared, and said nothing.

"Well, here we are," I announced--an imbecile assertion, but I produced
it as cheerfully and matter-of-factly as I knew how. I unhooked my arm
from Briggs's, and made as though to push him forward into the family
group.

"Nay!" said Briggs. "I mun take my top-coat off first."

I helped him off with his coat. Not one of the three members of his
family had either moved or spoken--beyond one faint murmur, not an
actual word, in response to my "Here we are." But Briggs seemed to know
that his folk were in the room with him, and he neither accosted them,
expressed any curiosity about them, or betrayed any astonishment at
their silence.

When he had got his coat off I expected him to move forward into the
room. A mistake. Mine must be a hasty temperament. They don't do things
like that in Yorkshire, not even when they have come home blinded from
the wars. Briggs put out his hand, felt for the cottage door, half
closed it, felt for a nail on the inner side of it, and carefully hung
his coat thereon.

_Now_ I could usher him into the waiting family circle.

No. I was wrong.

Briggs calmly divested himself of his jacket. He then felt for another
door, a door which opened on to a stair leading to the upper storey. On
a nail in this door he hung his jacket. And then, in his shirt-sleeves,
he was ready. Shirt-sleeves were symbolical. He was home at last, and
prepared to sit down with his people.

Of the actual reunion I saw nothing, for I promptly said I must go. It
was imperative for me to hurry back, or I should miss my train.

"You'll stay an' take a sup of tea with us," said Briggs.

I couldn't, though I should have liked to do so, in some ways, and in
others should have hardly dared to be an intruder on such a meeting. I
shook hands with my patient. Looking back as I went out of the door I
saw Briggs's wife still seated, motionless, in her chair. She had not
opened her lips. It was impossible to divine what were her emotions. She
was very pale. There were no tears in her eyes as she stared at her
young blind husband. But I think there were tears waiting to be shed.

I looked back again when I reached the end of the path across the
cabbage-patch. The cottage door was still open. In the aperture stood
the younger of the two women, Briggs's sister. She waved to me and
smiled. It was evident that it had struck her that I ought to have been
thanked for my services, and she was expressing this, cordially if
belatedly. I waved my hand in return, and hastened up the street towards
the tram.

My hurry was fruitless. I missed my train in Bradford, and stayed the
night at an hotel, thus (with appropriate but improper extravagance)
concluding this particular performance in the rôle of travelling courier
to a distinguished invalid. As I sat over a sumptuous table d'hôte--this
was long before the submarine blockade and the food restrictions--I
wondered what Briggs's wife said to Briggs; and I made up a story about
it. But what I have written above is not a story, it is the unadorned
truth, which I could not have invented and which is perhaps better than
the story. In his courier's presence Briggs addressed not one word to
his wife, and his wife addressed not one word to him; nor did his sister
or his brother-in-law. Nor did any of this trio address one word to me.


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD., LONDON AND
AYLESBURY, FOR SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, HAMILTON, KENT & CO., LTD.



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Transcriber's note: Spelling and punctuation have been normalized.





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