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   Chapter 17 THE LAST CHAPTER

Private Peat By Harold Reginald Peat Characters: 13171

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04



War! It was the first of August, 1914, and I almost ran home from the city to tell the news to my people.

War! It was like we'd be in it. War between England and Germany. That war we had all heard of and knew was inevitable. The war of the ages was imminent.

I had been free-lancing in Fleet Street for the past three months. Left The Daily Chronicle over the Home Rule questions, as well as other things.

I was in Ireland for the Ulster gun-running. Ireland was a seething mass of German-inspired sedition south of the Boyne. The authorities apparently would not listen to the warnings of Ulster. But Ulster was ready for anything. There were hospitals, clearing stations, bases. There were despatch riders, signalers, transport men, all in readiness, besides the ordinary infantry volunteers, who were pledged by all means in their power to keep Ireland under the flag of the Union.

I was in a little country church one Sunday morning. A roll of a drum and the skirl of a fife came wafting across the valley on the April breeze. The minister paused a moment in his sermon. Two, three, half a dozen men rose and softly left. They were going to the rendezvous in case of alarm. No one knew what might happen. A conflagration might flare out at a moment's notice.

But in August there came war, real war. Civilization was threatened. Ulster handed over men, guns, ammunition, hospitals and nurses to the Imperial government. Hundreds of the Ulster Volunteers in the Ulster Division have died for Britain. Hundreds of the men south of the Boyne who have not been bitten with the microbe of revolution, and a mistaken idea that England is a tyrant, have died for the cause of world Liberty.

How we lived through those first electric four days of August! Would the Liberal government funk? We doubted them unjustly. Then came the devastation of Belgium, and Britain gave Germany its disappointment-Britain declared war. Ireland rallied round the brave old Union Jack; the colonies, rather we call them now the dominions overseas, India, Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the smaller islands, sent word that they were with us to a man.

And then the fight commenced. Those casualty lists of the first Imperial Army! God in Heaven! The thud of distant guns, and then nearer and nearer we could hear in London the rumble of the enemy artillery as though of thunder. Smoke drifted over, and we lived in a pall of death.

It was in October that Fate's apparent working showed itself.

"This war will alter our lives very greatly," said my aunt one evening in this month, as we sat around the fire. We have all a trace of second sight. Most old families of the north of Ireland can claim to be "fey."

"It will," said I, "for free-lancing is getting played out. I shall have to get steady work."

No more was said, and no special work came my way. It was useless to attempt to train for nursing. I had no aptitude for that, and munition workers of our sex were not called yet.

Then the Canadians came. The First Contingent. For the most part big, strong, hefty-looking men; well uniformed, well set up. Eighty-seven per cent. of them Old Country born.

Among them my cousin, Peter Watson. Dear old man Peter, I wonder do you know of my happiness which is the outcome of your journey "West"? I wish you might know it, and share some of the joy. Yours was a lonely and a sensitive soul.

Peter had been in the Suffolks. A lieutenant in the Imperial Army. Money was scarce and he threw up his commission. He tried Canada as a fortune making ground. Lingered a while in Calgary, and when war broke out enlisted in the now famous Fighting Tenth.

Peter came up from Salisbury to see us. He met me in town a few times. We lunched, dined, did a theater. He brought pals with him. There was Sandy Clark. Poor old Sandy! I have his collar badge C10. Another soldier took it off his tunic for me before they buried him. A sniper got Sandy in June, 1916.

There was Farmer. He was a signaler, and was transferred. I saw his name listed killed, too. I don't know where. There were half a dozen other Canadian boys, Peter and myself. We lunched one day at Pinoli's in Rupert Street. We pledged to our next meeting after the war at the same place. We shan't meet at Pinoli's. There is none of the boys alive. I only live of all the party. It was a strange thing that day. I did not know it would be the last time I should see Peter, but he came back from down the street and kissed me "good-by" a second time. I wondered. Old man Peter.

The war has come home to our family. There is none of us left. Tom Small, my step-brother, is still living and still fighting. I pray his safety to the end. They all went, one after the other. The last to go was Hugh. July, 1916, on the eleventh day he was killed. Dear old boy, it is unrealizeable yet. You won the military Cross and you won yet another undying honor. You were sniped in the glory of completing a fine piece of work. Your six feet of glorious young manhood lie deep in French soil. Good-by, Hugh!

Peter was reported missing. All of us who were left alive tried every means of which we knew and of which we heard to find a trace of him. We got none. At last I decided that an advertisement in a daily paper would bring replies from wounded soldiers. I advertised in The Daily Express. The advertisement appeared on a Wednesday, and on the Thursday morning I had a letter from a young Canadian soldier of the Third Battalion who was in the Royal Herbert Hospital at Woolwich. He told me of knowing something of what may have happened to Peter. The possibilities were that he was blown up in company with a trench full of other soldiers. There is little reason to doubt this awful ending to a young life; there is no evidence of anything else.

The letter of the young Canadian soldier was kindly and frank in tone. I answered it, and asked if he had any relations in the Old Country. He replied that he had not, and we decided that we would go and see him in hospital and try in some way to help him in his loneliness.

?Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Scene from the Photo-Play "THEY LOOK BIG ENOUGH, DON'T THEY?"

A close shave in Flanders

Before seeing the soldier I received several other letters, notably from Sam J. Peters, who came to see us, and was positive that he knew Peter as a man who had aided him on his being wounded himself. Lance-Corporal Carey was another who wrote, and Corporal George A. Vowel, known as Black Jack, then of the Tenth and now of the Thi

rteenth Machine Gun Corps, wrote a kindly letter.

On a Saturday afternoon we went down to Woolwich, and after a short chat with a nurse in charge were allowed to see the Canadian who had written first. Private Harold R. Peat was slight, small, and looked almost emaciated. We talked for some time and he showed us several souvenirs which he had. We liked him, and promised to come back. He agreed that he would get a pass for the following Sunday so that we could see him in the regulation hours.

He mentioned during conversation how he had seen the advertisement in The Daily Express, and how he always had the desire to comfort those who had lost relatives, especially when all the official information could give was "missing."

On the next day it occurred to me that the days must hang long on such a boy's hands, and I forthwith wrote him a card with some small joke on it. He replied by a letter. Soon we wrote to each other every day. It was quite amusing, and at times our letters amounted to a war of wits and repartee.

Our friendship grew, and then he got well enough to leave the hospital. We wrote regularly, but finally there were more hospital visits to make when, as a paralyzed wreck of a youth, he was sent back from France. Private Peat rallied quickly, and to my astonishment one day he walked in to see me at the offices where the Efficiency Engineers had their headquarters.

"Time for me to come and see you!" he exclaimed. I brought him into the reception room, left him for two minutes until I made some arrangements as to work. When I returned he was in a faint, from which it took some time to rouse him. His convalescent camp was in the country, and he had trudged some five miles of muddy road in the rain in his endeavor to reach a railway station with the ultimate object in view of visiting me.

We saw each other frequently from this time. My dear friend, Amy Naylor, jokingly warned me: "Be careful, Bebe, you are playing with fire." I laughed. I had other ideas, but nevertheless her words made me think. I found out that I, for one, was not playing. It remained to find out whether the other party to the game believed it a pastime, or something of more moment.

Soon there came word that certain of the disabled men were to be returned to Canada for discharge. Private Peat was among them. He had word that he would soon receive a commission, though he would not again be fit for active service.

Without one word spoken, it came to be understood between us that it would only be a matter of time before I would go to Canada to join him. Fate seemed to arrange the matter silently that at some indefinite time when "he" had had time to look around and "see how things were," he would send for me.

It was a matter of weeks before I got a cable: "Come now." I came.

We met through tragedy. My husband has all the sacredness to me of having come back to me from the brink of the grave. He has all the wonder of a man who has offered, and is willing to offer his life again for right. He has all the glory of a man who had not to be "fetched." He went.

He is friend, pal and husband all in one. Of Peter, the unconscious instrument of Fate's working, we must say of him but one thing: "He died for his country."


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1. When on guard thou wilt challenge all parties approaching thee.

2. Thou shalt not send any engraving nor any likeness of any air-ship in Heaven above or on any postcard of the Earth beneath, nor any drawing of any submarine under the sea, for I, the Censor, am a jealous Censor, visiting the iniquities of the offenders with three months C.B., but showing mercy unto thousands by letting their letters go free who keep my commandments.

3. Thou shalt not use profane language unless under extraordinary circumstances, such as seeing your comrade shot, or getting coal oil in your tea.

4. Remember the soldier's week consists of seven days: six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, and on the seventh do all thy odd jobs.

5. Honor your President and your Country, keep your rifle oiled and shoot straight that thy days may be long upon the land which the enemy giveth thee.

6. Thou shalt not steal thy comrade's kit.

7. Thou shalt not kill-TIME.

8. Thou shalt not adulterate thy mess tin by using it as a shaving mug.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy comrades but preserve a strict neutrality on his outgoings and his incomings.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy sergeant's post, nor the corporal's nor the staff major's, but do thy duty and by dint of perseverance rise to the high position of major general.

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Candies, cigarettes-and ordinary, plain cigarettes are good enough, so long as you send plenty. If he chews, send him chewing. Cigarettes are an absolute necessity because they are the only things soothing to the nerves when under heavy shell fire. Powdered milk in small quantities, or Horlick's Milk Tablets, are always welcome. Pure jam; don't ever make a mistake in this and send plum and apple, because if he ever gets back alive, he will surely take your life for making such a terrible mistake-different fruit preserves they long for. Never send corned beef. This would be even a worse crime than the plum and apple jam. A pair of sox, home-made and pure wool, you ought to send once a week, because you must remember the Red Cross takes care only of the wounded men and not the fighters in the trenches; the government and home folks must look after the fighter in the field. Three-finger mittens knitted up to the elbow, with the first finger absolutely bare, are very welcome. Scarfs are quite unnecessary. Tommy usually gives these to the French lassies. Different insect powders Tommy likes to get, because he can't buy these out there. There is no doubt about it that, although we get used to the "cooties," yet sometimes they outnumber us and it is necessary to put a gas attack over on them. Strong powders are the only thing. Candles, matches, and if possible small alcoholic burners are very essential things. Of course, if you send him a burner it would be necessary for you to keep sending him alcohol, because this can't be bought in France. Nor can we get sugar out there. Any of these things with a nice long "letter" will delight Tommy or Sammy or Poilou.

Transcriber's note: Minor typographical errors in the original text have been corrected.

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