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   Chapter 3 SNARED

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6789

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"CRIMED"

"Off with his head," said the Queen.-Alice in Wonderland.

"Charge against 31963-

Failing to drink some oniony tea;

Ha! Ha!

What! What!

I can have you SHOT!

D'you realise that

I can have you lashed

To a wheel and smashed?

What?

Rot!

Yes-SHOT!

D'you realise this?

Right-turn!

DISMISS!"

Lemnos: October 1915.

Born and bred in a studio, and brought up among the cloud-swept mountains of Westmorland, amid the purple heather and the sunset in the peat-moss puddles, barrack-life soon became like penal servitude. I was like a caged wild animal. I knew now why the tigers and leopards pace up and down, up and down, behind their bars at the Zoo.

We only stayed a week in the great, gray, prison-like barracks at Tipperary. We looked about for the "sweetest girl" of the song-but the "colleens" were disappointing. My heart was not "right there." We moved to Limerick; and in Limerick we stopped for seven solid months.

For seven months we did the same old squad-drill every day, at the same time, on the same old square, until at last we all began to be unbearably "fed up." The sections became slack at drill because they were over-drilled and sickened by the awful monotony of it all.

During those seven dreary months, in that dismal slum-grown town, we learnt all the tricks of barrack-life. We knew how to "come the old soldier"; we knew how and when to "wangle out" of doing this or that fatigue; we practised the ancient art of "going sick" when we knew a long route march was coming off next day.

We knew how to "square" the guard if we came in late, and the others learnt how to dodge church parade.

"'E never goes to church parade."

"No; 'e was a fly one-'e was."

"Wotchermean?"

"Put 'isself down as Quaker."

"Lummy-that's me next time I 'list-Quaker Oats!"

By this time I had been promoted to the rank of corporal.

Next to the regimental sergeant-major, I had the loudest drill voice on the square, and shouting at squad-drill and stretcher-drill was about the only thing I ever did well in the army-except that, having been a scout, I was able to instruct the signalling squad.

Route marches and field-days were a relief from the drill square. For five months we got no issue of khaki. Many of the men were through at the knees, and tattered at the elbows. Some were buttonless and patched. I had to put a patch in my shorts. Our civilian boots were wearing out-some were right through. Heels came off when they "right turned," others had their soles flapping as they marched.

My "batman," who cleaned my boots and swept out the bunk, had his trousers held together with a huge safety-pin. The people called us "Kitchener's Rag-time Army." We became so torn, and worn, and ragged, that it was impossible to go out in the town. Being the only one in scout rig-out I drew much attention.

"'Ere 'e comes, Moik-ell!"

"Kitchener's cowboy! Isn't he lovely!"

"Bejazus! so-it-is!"

"Come an' see Path-rick-Kitchener's cowboy!-by-the-holy-sufferin'-jazus!"

I found an old curio-shop down near the docks, and here I used to rummage among the gilded Siamese idols, and the painted African gods and drums. I discovered some odd parts of A Thousand-and-One Arabian Nights, which I bought for a penny or two, and took back to my barrack-room to read. By this means I forgot the gray square,

and the gray line of the barracks outside, and the bare boards and yellow-washed walls within.

I used to practise "slipping" the guard at the guard-room gate. This form of amusement became quite exciting, and I was never caught at it.

Next I got a very old and worn copy of the Koran.

By this time I was a full-blown sergeant. I made a mistake in walking into the sergeants' mess with the Koran under my arm. It was difficult to explain what sort of book it was. One day the regimental sergeant-major said-

"You know, Hargrave, I can't make you out."

"No, sir?"

"No;-you're not a soldier, you never will be-you act the part pretty well. But you don't take things seriously enough."

We were often out on the Clare Mountains for field-days with the stretcher-squads. Coming back one day, I spotted two herons wading among some yellow-ochre sedges in a swampy field. I determined there and then to come back and stalk them. The following Saturday I set out with a fellow we called "Cherry Blossom," because he never cleaned his boots. I took a pair of field-glasses, and "Cherry" had a bag of pastries, which we bought on the way. We stalked those herons for hours and hours. We crept through the reeds, hid behind trees, and crawled into bushes, but the herons were better scouts. We only got about fifty yards up to one. For all that, it was like my old scout life-and we had had a break from the gray walls and the everlasting saluting of officers.

There were rumours of war, and that's all we knew of it. There were fresh rumours each day. We were going to Egypt. We were to be sent to the East Coast for "home defence." That offended our martial ardour. When were we going out? Should we ever get out? Had we got to do squad drill for "duration"? Had Kitchener forgotten the Xth Division?

Now and then a batch of men were put into khaki which arrived at the quartermaster's stores in driblets. Some had greeny puttees and sandy slacks, a "civvy" coat and a khaki cap. Others were rigged out in "Kitchener's workhouse blue," with little forage caps on one side. The sprinkling of khaki and khaki-browns and greens increased every time we came on parade: until one day the whole of the three field ambulances were fitted out.

The drill went on like clockwork. It was as if some curse had fallen upon us. The officers were "fed up" you could see.

And now, just a word as to army methods. Immediately opposite the barracks was a cloth factory, which was turning out khaki uniforms for the Government every day.

For five months we went about in civilian clothes. We were a disgrace as we marched along. Yet because no order had been given to that factory to supply us with uniforms, we had to wait till the uniforms had been shipped to England, and then sent back to Ireland for us to wear!

The spark of patriotism which was in each man when he enlisted was dead. We detested the army, we hated the routine, we were sickened and dulled and crushed by drill.

The old habit of being always on the alert for anything picturesque saved me from idiotcy. Whenever opportunity offered, or whenever I could take French leave, I went off with sketchbook and pencil, and forgot for a time the horror of barrack-room life, with its unending flow of filthy language, and its barren desolation of yellow-washed walls and broken windows.

And then we moved to Dublin.

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