First World War Front Lines - Boyd Cable - ebook
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"...The attack on the wood had begun soon after dawn, and it was no more than 8 a.m. when the Corporal was dropped badly wounded in the advance line of the attack where it had penetrated about four hundred yards into the wood. But it was well into afternoon before he sufficiently woke to his surroundings to understand where he was or what had happened, and when he did so he found the realisation sufficiently unpleasant. It was plain from several indications—the direction from which the shells bursting in his vicinity were coming, a glimpse of some wounded Germans retiring, the echoing rattle of rifle fire and crash of bombs behind him—that the battalion had been driven back, as half a dozen other battalions had been driven back in the course of the ebb-and-flow fighting through the wood for a couple of weeks past, that he was lying badly wounded and helpless to defend himself where the Germans could pick him up as a prisoner or finish him off with a saw-backed bayonet as the mood of his discoverers turned. His left leg was broken below the knee, his right shoulder and ribs ached intolerably, a scalp wound six inches long ran across his head from side to side—a wound that, thanks to the steel shrapnel helmet lying dinted in deep across the crown, had not split his head open to the teeth..."

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Boyd Cable

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Table of contents

FOREWORD

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

XVII

XVIII

XIX

XX

XXI

FOREWORD

These tales have been written over a period running from the later stages of the Somme to the present time. For the book I have two ambitions—the first, that to my Service readers it may bring a few hours of interest and entertainment, may prove some sort of a picture and a record of what they themselves have been through; the second, that it may strike and impress and stir those people at home who even now clearly require awakening to all that war means.I know that a great many war workers have been, and still are, bearing cheerfully and willingly the long strain of war work, and I very gladly and thankfully offer my testimony to what I have seen of this good spirit. But it would be idle to deny, since the proofs have been too plain, that many war workers are not doing their best and utmost, are not playing the game as they might do and ought to do, and it is to these in particular I hope this book may speak.Surely by now every worker might appreciate the fact that whatever good cause they may have for “war weariness” they are at least infinitely better off than any man in the firing line; surely they can understand how bitter men here feel when they hear and read of all these manifestations of labour “discontent” and “unrest.” We know well how dependent we are on the efforts of the workers at home, and there are times when we are forced to the belief that some workers also know it and trade on it for their own benefit, are either woefully ignorant still of what the failure of their fullest effort means to us, or, worse, are indifferent to the sufferings and endurings of their men on active service, are unpatriotic, narrow, selfish enough to put the screw on the nation for their own advantage.I beg each war worker to remember that every slackening of their efforts, every reduction of output, every day wasted, every stoppage of work, inevitably encourages the enemy, prolongs the war, keeps men chained to the misery of the trenches, piles up the casualties, continues the loss of life. A strike, or the threat of a strike, may win for the workers their 12½ per cent. increase of pay, the “recognition” of some of their officials, their improved comfort; but every such “victory” is only gained at the expense of the men in the trenches, is paid for in flesh and blood in the firing line.When men here are suffering as they must suffer, are enduring as they do endure with good heart and courage, it comes as a profound shock and a cruel discouragement to them to read in the papers, or go home and discover, that any people there are apparently indifferent to their fate, are ready to sacrifice them ruthlessly for any trivial personal benefit, refuse to share the pinch of war, must have compensating advantages to level up “the increased cost of living,” will even bring a vital war industry to a standstill—it has been done—as a “protest” against the difficulty of obtaining butter or margarine and tea. It may be that one grows one-sided in ideas after more than three years’ soldiering, but can you blame us if we feel contempt for pitiful grumblers and complainers who have a good roof overhead, a warm room and fire, a dry bed, and no real lack of food, if we feel anger against men who have all these things and yet go on strike, knowing that we must pay the penalty? And let me flatly deny the claim which some strikers and agitators still make that in these upheavals and checks on war industry they are “fighting for the rights of their mates in the trenches.” Their “mates in the trenches” will be ready and able to, and certainly will, fight for their own rights when the war is won and they can do so without endangering or delaying the winning.Meantime can any man be fool enough honestly to believe that “mates in the trenches” want anything more urgently than to win the war and get out of it? If there are any such fools let them try to imagine the feelings of the “mate” cowering and shivering over a scanty handful of wet wood or black-smoky dust “coal ration” who hears that coal miners at home threaten a strike; of the man crouched in a battered trench that is being blasted to bits by German steel shells from steel guns, who learns that our steel-makers are “out” and if their demands were not satisfied would continue to strike indefinitely and hold up the making of the guns and shells which alone can protect us; of the man who is being bombed from the air night after night in his billets and reads that 50,000 aircraft workers are on strike, and that the Front will be poorer as a result by hundreds of the aircraft which might bomb the enemy ’dromes out of action and stop their raiding; the dismay of the man about to go on a long deferred and eagerly waited leave when he is told that all leaves may have to be stopped because a threatened strike of “foot-plate” workers may strand him at his debarkation port. Will it soothe or satisfy a man in any of these cases to be told the strikes are really fights for his rights, especially when you remember he knows that as a result of the strike he may be too dead to have any rights to be fought for?The best I can wish for this book is that it may do even one little bit to make plain with what cheerfulness—cheerfulness and even at times almost incredible humour—the Front is sticking it out, with what complete confidence in final victory this year’s fight is being begun; and may make yet more plain the need for every man and woman at home to give their last ounce of energy to help win the war speedily and conclusively.Boyd Cable.On the Western Front,January 7th, 1918.

I

TRENCH-MADE ARTBy the very nature of their job the R.A.M.C. men in the Field Ambulances have at intervals a good deal of spare time on their hands. The personnel has to be kept at a strength which will allow of the smooth and rapid handling of the pouring stream of casualties which floods back from the firing line when a big action is on; and when a period of inactivity comes in front the stream drops to a trickle that doesn’t give the field ambulances “enough work to keep themselves warm.”It was in one of these slack periods that Corporal Richard, of the Oughth London Field Ambulance, resumed the pleasurable occupation of his civilian days, to his own great satisfaction and the enormous interest of his comrades. Richard in pre-war days had been a sculptor, and the chance discovery near the ambulance camp of a stream where a very fair substitute for modelling clay could be had led him to experiments and a series of portrait modellings. He had no lack of models. Every other man in his squad was most willing to be “took,” and would sit with most praiseworthy patience for as long as required, and for a time Richard revelled in the luxury of unlimited (and free-of-cost) models and in turning out portraits and caricatures in clay. He worked with such speed, apparent ease, and complete success that before long he had half the men endeavouring to imitate his artistic activities.Then Richard attempted more serious work, and in the course of time turned out a little figure study over which the more educated and artistic of his friends waxed most enthusiastic, and which he himself, considering it carefully and critically, admitted to be “not bad.” On the other hand, it is true that many members of the company regarded the masterpiece with apathy, and in some cases almost with disapproval. “Seems a pity,” said one critic, “that the corp’ril should ’ave wasted all this time over the one job. Spent every minute of ’is spare time, ’e ’as, fiddlin’ an’ touchin’ up at it; could ’ave done a dozen o’ them picturs o’ us chaps in the time. An’, now it is done, ’tain’t quarter sich a good joke as that one o’ the sergeant-major wi’ the bottle nose. Fair scream, that was.”But in due time the corporal went home on leave, and took his study along with him. Later it gained a place in an exhibition of “Trench-made Art” in London, many newspaper paragraphs, and finally a photo in a picture paper and a note stating who the work was by and the conditions under which it was performed.A good score of the picture papers arrived at the Oughth London from friends at home to men in the unit. That did it. There was an immediate boom in Art in the Oughth London, and sculpture became the popular spare-time hobby of the unit. This was all, as I have said, at a period when spare time was plentiful. The unit was billeted in a village well behind the firing-line in a peacefully sylvan locality. It was early summer, so that the light lasted long in the evenings, and gave plenty of opportunity to the sculptors to pursue their Art after the day’s duties were done.As a consequence the output of sculpture would have done credit—in quantity if not, perhaps, in quality—to a popular atelier in full swing. The more enterprising attempted to follow the corporal’s path in portrait and caricature, and it must be confessed were a good deal more successful in the latter branch. The portraits usually required an explanatory inscription, and although the caricatures required the same in most cases, they only had to be ugly enough, to show a long enough nose, or a big enough mouth, and to be labelled with the name of some fair butt or sufficiently unpopular noncom. to secure a most satisfying and flattering meed of praise.Less ambitious spirits contented themselves with simpler and more easily recognisable subjects. The cross or crucifix which, as a rule, marks the cross or forked roads in this part of France had from the first caught the attention and interest of the Londoners, and now, in the new flush of Art, provided immediate inspiration. Almost every man in the new school of sculpture graduated through a course of plain crosses to more fancy ones, and higher up the scale to crucifixes.But in point of popularity even the cross sank to second place when Private Jimmy Copple, with an originality that amounted almost to genius, turned out a miniature model coffin. The coffin, as a work of art, had points that made it an unrivalled favourite. It was so obviously and unmistakably a coffin that it required no single word of explanation or description; it was simple enough in form to be within the scope of the veriest beginner; it lent itself to embellishment and the finer shades of reproduction in nails and tassels and name-plate; and permitted, without evidence of undue “swank” on the part of the artist, of his signature being appended in the natural and fitting place on the name-plate.There was a boom in model coffins of all sizes, and a constantly flickering or raging discussion on details of tassels, cords, handles, and other funereal ornaments. Private Copple again displayed his originality of thought by blacking a specially fine specimen of his handiwork with boot polish, with nails and name-plate (duly inscribed with his own name and regimental number) picked out in the white clay. He was so pleased with this that he posted it home, and, on receiving warm words of praise from his mother in Mile End, and the information that the coffin was installed for ever as a household ornament and an object of interest and admiration to all neighbours, a steady export trade in clay coffins was established from the Oughth London to friends and relatives at home.The Art School was still flourishing when the unit was moved up from its peaceful and prolonged rest to take a turn up behind the firing-line. The removal from their clay supply might have closed down the artistic activities, but, fortunately, the Oughth had hardly settled in to their new quarters when it was found that the whole ground was one vast bed of chalk, chalk which was easily obtainable in any shaped and sized lumps and which proved most delightfully easy to manipulate with a jack or pen-knife. The new modelling material, in fact, gave a fillip of novelty to the art, and the coffins and crosses proved, when completed, to have a most desirable quality of solidity and of lasting and retaining their shape and form far better than the similar objects in clay.Better still, the chalk could be carried about on the person as no clay could, and worked at anywhere in odd moments. Bulging side-pockets became a marked feature of inspection parades, until one day when the C.O. went round, and noticing a craggy projection under the pocket of Private Copple, demanded to know what the private was loading himself with, and told him abruptly to show the contents of his pocket. On Copple producing with difficulty a lump of partially carved chalk, the C.O. stared at it and then at the sheepish face of the private in blank amazement. “What’s this?” he demanded. “What is it?” “It—it’s a elephant, sir,” said Copple. “An elephant,” said the C.O. dazedly. “An elephant?” “Yessir—leastways, it will be a elephant when it’s finished,” said Copple bashfully. “Elephant—will be——” spluttered the C.O., turning to the officer who accompanied him. “Is the man mad?” “I think, sir,” said the junior, “he is trying to carve an elephant out of a lump of chalk.” “That’s it, sir,” said Copple, and with a dignified touch of resentment at the “trying,” “I am carving out a elephant.”The C.O. turned over the block of chalk with four rudimentary legs beginning to sprout from it, and then handed it back. “Take it away,” he said. “Fall out, and take the thing away. And when you come on parade next time leave—ah—your elephants in your billet.”Copple fell out, and the inspection proceeded. But now the eye of the C.O. went straight to each man’s pocket, and further lumps of chalk of various sizes were produced one by one. “Another elephant?” said the C.O. to the first one. “No, sir,” said the sculptor. “It’s a coffin.” “A co—coffin,” said the C.O. faintly, and, turning to the officer, “A coffin is what he said, eh?” The officer, who knew a good deal of the existing craze, had difficulty in keeping a straight face. “Yes, sir,” he said chokily, “a coffin.” The C.O. looked hard at the coffin and at its creator, and handed it back. “And you,” he said to the next man, tapping with his cane a nobbly pocket. “Mine’s a coffin, too, sir,” and out came another coffin.The C.O. stepped back a pace, and let his eye rove down the line. The next man shivered as the eye fell on him, as well he might, because he carried in his pocket a work designed to represent the head of the C.O.—a head of which, by the way, salient features lent themselves readily to caricature. None of these features had been overlooked by the artist, and the identity of the portrait had been further established by the eye-glass which it wore, and by the exaggerated badges of rank on the shoulder. Up to the inspection and the horrible prospect that the caricature would be confronted by its original, the artist had been delighted with the praise bestowed by the critics on the “likeness.” Now, with the eye of the C.O. roaming over his shrinking person and protruding pocket, he cursed despairingly his own skill. “I think,” said the C.O. slowly, “the parade had better dismiss, and when they have unburdened themselves of their—ah—elephants and—ah—coffins—ah—fall in again for inspection.”The portrait sculptor nearly precipitated calamity by his eager move to dismiss without waiting for the word of command. And after this incident sculpings were left out of pockets at parade times, and the caricaturist forswore any attempts on subjects higher than an N.C.O.The elephant which Private Copple had produced was another upward step in his art. He had tried animal after animal with faint success. The features of even such well-known animals as cats and cows had a baffling way of fading to such nebulous outlines in his memory as to be utterly unrecognisable when transferred to stone or chalk. A horse, although models in plenty were around, proved to be a more intricate subject than might be imagined, and there were trying difficulties about the proper dimensions and proportions of head, neck, and body. But an elephant had a beautiful simplicity of outline, a solidity of figure that was excellently adapted for modelling, and a recognisability that was proof against the carping doubts and scorn of critics and rival artists. After all, an animal with four legs, a trunk, and a tail is, and must be, an elephant. But there was one great difficulty about the elephant—his tail was a most extraordinarily difficult thing to produce whole and complete in brittle chalk, and there was a distressing casualty list of almost-finished elephants from this weakness.At first Private Copple made the tail the last finishing touch to his work, but when elephant after elephant had to be scrapped because the tail broke off in the final carving, he reversed the process, began his work on the tail and trunk—another irritatingly breakable part of an elephant’s anatomy—and if these were completed successfully, went on to legs, head, etc. If the trunk or tail broke, he threw away the block and started on a fresh one. He finally improved on this and further reduced the wastage and percentage of loss by beginning his elephant with duplicate ends, with a trunk, that is, at head and stern. If one trunk broke off he turned the remaining portion satisfactorily enough into a tail; if neither broke and the body and legs were completed without accident, he simply whittled one of the trunks down into a tail and rounded off the head at that end into a haunch.But now such humour as may be in this story must give way for the moment to the tragedy of red war—as humour so often has to do at the front.Copple was just in the middle of a specially promising elephant when orders came to move. He packed the elephant carefully in a handkerchief and his pocket and took it with him back to the training area where for a time the Oughth London went through a careful instruction and rehearsing in the part they were to play in the next move of the “Show” then running. He continued to work on his elephant in such spare time as he had, and was so very pleased with it that he clung to it when they went on the march again, although pocket space was precious and ill to spare, and the elephant took up one complete side pocket to itself.Arrived at their appointed place in the show, Copple continued to carry his elephant, but had little time to work on it because he was busy every moment of the day and many hours of the night on his hard and risky duties. The casualties came back to the Aid Post in a steady stream that swelled at times to an almost overwhelming rush, and every man of the Field Ambulance was kept going at his hardest. The Aid Post was established in a partly wrecked German gun emplacement built of concrete, and because all the ground about them was too ploughed up and cratered with shell-fire to allow a motor ambulance to approach it, the wounded had to be helped or carried back to the nearest point to which the hard-working engineers had carried the new road, and there were placed on the motors.Private Copple was busy one morning helping to carry back some of the casualties. A hot “strafe” was on, the way back led through lines and clumped batches of batteries all in hot action, the roar of gun-fire rose long and unbroken and deafeningly, and every now and then through the roar of their reports and the diminishing wails of their departing shells there came the rising shriek and rush of a German shell, the crump and crash of its burst, the whistle and hum of flying splinters. Private Copple and the rest of the R.A.M.C. men didn’t like it any more than the casualties, who appeared to dread much more, now that they were wounded, the chance of being hit again, chiefly because it would be such “rotten luck” to get killed now that they had done their share, got their “Blighty,” and with decent luck were soon to be out of it all, and safely and comfortably back in hospital and home.But, although many times the wounded asked to be laid down in a shell-hole, or allowed to take cover for a moment at the warning shriek of an approaching shell, the ambulance men only gave way to them when, from the noise, they judged the shell was going to fall very perilously close. If they had stopped for every shell the work would have taken too long, and the Aid Post was too cram-full, and too many fresh cases were pouring in, to allow of any delay on the mere account of danger. So there were during the day a good many casualties amongst the ambulance men, and so at the end Private Copple was caught. He had hesitated a moment too long in dropping himself into the cover of the shell crater where he had just lowered the “walking wounded” he was supporting back. The shell whirled down in a crescendo of howling, roaring noise, and, just as Copple flung himself down, burst with an earth-shaking crash a score or so of yards away. Copple felt a tremendous blow on his side.They had ripped most of the clothes off him and were busy with first field dressings on his wounds when he recovered enough to take any interest in what was going on. The dressers were in a hurry because more shells were falling near; there was one vacant place in a motor ambulance, and its driver was in haste to be off and out of it. “You’re all right,” said one of the men, in answer to Copple’s faint inquiry. “All light wounds. Lord knows what you were carrying a lump of stone about in your pocket for, but it saved you this trip. Splinter hit it, and smashed it, and most of the wounds are from bits of the stone—luckily for you, because if it hadn’t been there a chunk of Boche iron would just about have gone through you.” “Stone?” said Copple faintly. “Strewth! That was my blessed elephant in my bloomin’ pocket.” “Elephant?” said the orderly. “In your pocket? An’ did it have pink stripes an’ a purple tail? Well, never mind about elephants now. You can explain ’em to the Blighty M.O.[1] Here, up you get.” And he helped Copple to the ambulance.Later on, the humour of the situation struck Private Copple. He worked up a prime witticism which he afterwards played off on the Sister who was dressing his wounds in a London hospital. “D’you know,” he said, chuckling, “I’m the only man in this war that’s been wounded by a elephant?”The Sister stayed her bandaging, and looked at him curiously. “Wounded by a elephant,” repeated Copple cheerfully. “Funny to think it’s mebbe a bit of ’is trunk made the ’ole in my thigh, an’ I got ’is ’ead and ’is ’ind leg in my ribs.” “You mustn’t talk nonsense, you know,” said the Sister hesitatingly. Certainly, Copple had shown no signs of shell-shock or unbalanced mind before, but—— “We used to carve things out o’ chalk stone in my lot,” went on Copple, and explained how the shell splinter had been stopped by the elephant in his pocket. TheSister was immensely interested and a good deal amused, and laughed—rather immoderately and in the wrong place, as Copple thought when he described his coffin masterpiece with the name-plate bearing his own name, and the dodge of starting on the elephant with a trunk at each end. “Well, I’ve heard a lot of queer things about the front, Copple,” she said, busying herself on the last bandage. “But I didn’t know they went in for sculpture. ‘Ars longa, vitæ brevis.’ That’s a saying in Latin, and it means exactly, ‘Art is long, life is short.’ You’d understand it better if I put it another way. It means that it takes a long, long time to make a perfect elephant——” “It does,” said Copple. “But if you begins ‘im like I told you, with a trunk each end——” “There, that’ll do,” said the Sister, pinning the last bandage. “Now lie down and I’ll make you comfortable. A long time to make a perfect elephant; and life is very short——” “That’s true,” said Copple. “Especially up Wipers way.” “So, if making elephants gives some people the greatest possible pleasure in life, why not let them make elephants? I’m an artist of sorts myself, or was trying to be before the war, so I speak feelingly for a brother elephant-maker, Copple.” “Artist, was you?” said Copple, with great interest. “That must be a jolly sorter job.” “It is, Copple—or was,” said the Sister, finishing the tucking-up. “Much jollier than a starched-smooth uniform and life—and lots in it.” And she sighed and made a little grimace at the stained bandages she picked up. “But if you and thousands of other men give up your particular arts and go out to have your short lives cut shorter, the least I can do is to give up mine to try to make them longer.”Copple didn’t quite follow all this. “I wish I’d a bit o’ chalk stone, Sister,” he said; “I’d teach you how to do a elephant with the two trunks.” “And how if a trunk breaks off one’s elephant—or life, one can always try to trim it down to quite a useful tail,” said the Sister, smiling at him as she turned to go. “You’ve already taught me something of that, Copple—you and the rest there in the trenches—better than you know.”

II

THE SUICIDE CLUBThe Royal Jocks (Oughth Battalion) had suffered heavily in the fighting on the Somme, and after they had been withdrawn from action to another and quieter part of the line, all ranks heard with satisfaction that they were to be made up to full strength by a big draft from Home. There were the usual wonderings and misgivings as to what sort of a crowd the draft would be, and whether they would be at all within the limits of possibility of licking into something resembling the shape that Royal Jocks ought to be. “Expect we’ll ’ave a tidy job to teach ’em wot’s wot,” said Private “Shirty” Low, “but we must just pass along all the fatigues they can ’andle, and teach ’em the best we can.” “Let’s hope,” said his companion, “that they get an advance o’ pay to bring with ’em. We’ll be goin’ back to billets soon, and we’ll be able to introduce ’em proper to the estaminets.” “You boys’ll have to treat ’em easy to begin with,” said a corporal. “Don’t go breakin’ their hearts for a start. They’ll be pretty sick an’ home-sick for a bit, and you don’t want to act rough before they begin to feel their feet.”This was felt to be reasonable, and there was a very unanimous opinion that the best way of treating the new arrivals was on the lines of the suggestion about introducing them carefully and fully to the ways of the country, with particular attention to the customs of the estaminets. “And never forget,” said the Corporal in conclusion, “that, good or bad, they’re Royal Jocks after all; and it will be up to you fellows to see that they don’t get put on by any other crush, and to give ’em a help out if they tumble into any little trouble.”The sentiments of the battalion being fairly well summed up by this typical conversation, it will be understood with what mixed feelings it was discovered on the actual arrival of the draft that they, the draft, were not in the slightest degree disposed to be treated as new hands, declined utterly to be in any way fathered, declined still more emphatically to handle more than their fair share of fatigues, and most emphatically of all to depend upon the good offices of the old soldiers for their introduction to the ways of the estaminets. The draft, which was far too strong in numbers to be simply absorbed and submerged in the usual way of drafts, showed an inclination to hang together for the first few days, and, as the Battalion soon began somewhat dazedly to realise, actually to look down upon the old soldiers and to treat them with a tinge of condescension.The open avowal of this feeling came one night in the largest and most popular estaminet in the village to which the Battalion had been withdrawn “on rest.” “Shirty” and some cronies were sitting at a stone-topped table with glasses and a jug of watery beer in front of them. The room was fairly full and there were about as many of the draft present as there were of the old lot, and practically all the draft were gathered in little groups by themselves and were drinking together. Close to Shirty’s table was another with half a dozen of the draft seated about it, and Shirty and his friends noticed with some envy the liberal amount of beer they allowed themselves. One of them spoke to the girl who was moving about amongst the tables with a tray full of jugs. “Here, miss, anither jug o’ beer, please,” and held out the empty jug. Shirty saw his opportunity, and with an ingratiating smile leaned across and spoke to the girl. “Don-nay them encore der bee-are,” he said, and then, turning to the other men, “She don’t understand much English, y’see. But jus’ ask me to pass ’er the word if you wants anything.”A big-framed lad thanked him civilly, but Shirty fancied he saw a flicker of a smile pass round the group. He turned back and spoke to the girl again as she halted at their table and picked up the empty jug. “Encore si voo play,” he said. “Eh les messieurs la ba——” jerking a thumb back at the other table, but quite unostentatiously, so that the other group might not see, “la ba, voo compree, payay voo toot la bee-are.” He winked slyly at his fellows and waited developments complacently, while all smoked their cigarettes gravely and nonchalantly.The girl brought the two jugs of beer presently and put one on each table. “Combien?” said one of the draft who had not spoken before—a perky little man with a sharp black moustache. He hesitated a moment when the girl told him how much, and then spoke rapidly in fluent French. Shirty at his table listened uneasily to the conversation that followed, and made a show of great indifference in filling up the glasses. The little man turned to him. “There’s some mistake here, m’ lad,” he said. “The girl says you ordered your beer and said we’d pay for it.”Shirty endeavoured to retrieve the lost position. “Well, that’s good of you,” he said pleasantly. “An’ we don’t mind if we do ’ave a drink wi’ you.”The big man turned round. “Drink wi’s when ye’re asked,” he said calmly. “But that’s no’ yet,” and he turned back to his own table. “Tell her they’ll pay their ain, Wattie.” Wattie told her, and Shirty’s table with some difficulty raised enough to cover the cost of the beer. Shirty felt that he had to impress these new men with a true sense of their position. “My mistake,” he said to his companions, but loudly enough for all to hear. “But I might ’ave twigged these raw rookies wouldn’t ’ave knowed it was a reg’lar custom in the Army for them to stand a drink to the old hands to pay their footing. An’ most likely they haven’t the price o’ a drink on them, anyway.” “Lauchie,” said the big man at the other table, “have ye change o’ a ten-franc note? No. Wattie, maybe ye’ll ask the lassie to change it, an’ tell her to bring anither beer. This is awfu’ swipes o’ stuff t’ be drinkin’. It’s nae wonder the men that’s been oot here a whilie has droppit awa’ to such shauchlin’, knock-kneed, weak-like imitations of putty men.”This was too much. Shirty pushed back his chair and rose abruptly. “If you’re speakin’ about the men o’ this battalion,” he began fiercely, when a corporal broke in, “That’ll do. No rough-housin’ here. We don’t want the estaminets put out o’ bounds.” He turned to the other table. “And you keep a civil tongue between your teeth,” he said, “or you’ll have to be taught better manners, young fella me lad.” “Ay,” said the big man easily, “I’ll be glad enough t’ be learned from them that can learn me. An’ aifter the café closes will be a good enough time for a first lesson, if there’s anybody minded for’t,” and he glanced at Shirty. “Tak him ootside an’ gie him a deb on the snoot, Rabbie,” said another of the draft, nodding openly at the enraged Shirty. “Ay, ay, Wullie,” said Rabbie gently. “But we’ll just bide till the Corporal’s no about. We’ll no be gettin’ his stripes into trouble.”All this was bad enough, but worse was to follow. It was just before closing-time that a Gunner came in and discovered a friend amongst the many sitting at Rabbie’s table. He accepted the pressing invitation to a drink, and had several in quick succession in an endeavour to make an abundant capacity compensate for the inadequate time. “An’ how are you gettin’ on?” he asked as they all stood to go. “Shaken down wi’ your new chums all right?”And the whole room, new hands and old alike, heard Rabbie’s slow, clear answer: “We’re thinkin’ they’re an awfu’ saft kneel-an’-pray kind o’ push. But noo we’ve jined them we’ll sune learn them to be a battalyun. I wish we’d a few more o’ the real stuff from the depot wi’s, but Lauchie here’s the lad tae learn them, and we’ll maybe mak a battalyun o’ them yet.”The “learning” began that night after the estaminets closed, and there was a liberal allowance of black eyes and swollen features on parade next morning. It transpired that boxing had been rather a feature back at the depot, and the new men fully held their own in the “learning” episodes. But out of the encounters grew a mutual respect, and before long the old and the new had mixed, and were a battalion instead of “the battalion and the draft.”Only “Shirty” of the whole lot retained any animus against the new, and perhaps even with him it is hardly fair to say it was against the one-time draft, because actually it was against one or two members of it. He had never quite forgiven nor forgotten the taking-down he had had from Rabbie Macgregor and Lauchie McLauchlan, and continued openly or veiledly hostile to them.Thrice he had fought Rabbie, losing once to him—that was the first time after the estaminet episode—fighting once to an undecided finish (which was when the picket broke in and arrested both), and once with the gloves on at a Battalion Sports, when he had been declared the winner on points—a decision which Rabbie secretly refused to accept, and his friend Lauchie agreed would have been reversed if the fight had been allowed to go to a finish.Shirty was in the bombing section, or “Suicide Club,” as it was called, and both Rabbie and Lauchie joined the same section, and painfully but very thoroughly acquired the art of hurling Mills’ grenades at seen or unseen targets from above ground or out of deep and narrow and movement-cramping trenches.And after a winter and spring of strenuous training, the battalion came at last to move up and take a part in the new offensive of 1917. This attack had several features about it that pleased and surprised even the veterans of the Somme. For one thing, the artillery fire on our side had a weight and a precision far beyond anything they had experienced, and the attack over the open of No Man’s Land was successfully made with a low cost in casualties which simply amazed them all.Rabbie openly scoffed at the nickname of “Suicide Club” for the Bombing Section. They had lost a couple of men wounded in the first attack, and had spent a merry morning frightening Boche prisoners out of their dug-outs, or in obstinate cases flinging Mills’ grenades down the stairways.They had waited to help stand off the counter-attack the first night, but never needed to raise their heads or fling a bomb over the edge of the broken parapet, because the counter-attack was wiped out by artillery and rifle fire long before it came within bombing distance. “You an’ yer Suicide Club!” said Rabbie contemptuously to Shirty after this attack had been beaten off. “It’s no even what the insurance folks would ca’ a hazardous occupation.” “Wait a bit,” said Shirty. “We all knows you’re a bloomin’ Scots-wha-hae hero, but you ’aven’t bin in it proper yet. Wait till you ’ave, an’ then talk.”