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Life in a Tank By Richard Haigh Characters: 8138

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


We stayed in that region of the Front for a few more weeks, preparing for any other task that might be demanded of us. One day the Battalion received its orders to pack up, to load the tanks that were left over, and to be ready for its return to the district in which we had spent the winter.

We entrained on a Saturday evening at A--, and arrived at St.-P-- at about ten o'clock on Sunday night. From there a twelve-mile march lay before us to our old billets in B--. As may well be imagined, the men, though tired, were in high spirits. We simply ate up the distance, and the troops disguised their fatigue by singing songs. There were two which appeared to be favorites on this occasion.

One, to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation," ran as follows:-

"We are Fred Karno's[1] Army,


The ragtime A.S.C.,[2]

We cannot work, we do not fight,

So what ruddy use are we?

And when we get to Berlin,

The Kaiser he will say,

Hoch, hoch, mein Gott!

What a ruddy rotten lot,

Is the ragtime A.S.C."

The other was a refrain to the tune of a Salvation Army hymn, "When the Roll is called up Yonder":-

"When you wash us in the water,

That you washed your dirty daughter,

Oh! then we will be much whiter!

We'll be whiter than the whitewash on the wall."

Eventually the companies arrived in the village at all hours of the morning. No one was up. We saw that the men received their meals, which had been prepared by the cooks who had gone ahead in motor lorries. They did not spend much time over the food, for in less than half an hour "K" billets-the same Hospice de Ste. Berthe-were perfectly quiet. We then wandered away with our servants, to be met at each of our houses by hastily clad landladies, with sleep in their eyes and smoking lamps or guttering candles in their hands.

The next morning the Company paraded at half-past nine, and the day was spent in reforming sections, in issuing new kits to the men, and in working the rosters for the various courses. On Tuesday, just as breakfast was starting, an orderly brought a couple of memorandums from Battalion Orderly Room for McKnutt and Borwick.

No one watched them read the chits, but Talbot, glancing up from his plate, saw a look on Borwick's face. It was a look of the purest joy.

"What is it?" he said.

"Leave, my God!" replied Borwick; "and McKnutt's got it too."

"When are you going? To-day?" shouted the Old Bird.

"Yes; there's a car to take us to the station in a quarter of an hour."

They both left their unfinished breakfasts and tore off to their billets. There it was but a matter of moments to throw a few things into their packs. No one ever takes any luggage when going on leave. They tore back to the mess to leave instructions for their servants, and we strolled out en masse to see the lucky fellows off.

The box-body drew away from where we were standing. We watched it grow smaller and smaller down the long white road, and turned back with regrets and pleasure in our hearts. With regrets, that we ourselves were not the lucky ones, and knowing that for some of us leave would never come; with pleasure, because one is always glad that a few of the deserving reap a small share of their reward.

Then, strolling over to the Parade Ground, we heard the "Five Minutes" sounding. Some dashed off to get their Sam Brownes, others called for their servants to wipe a few flecks of dust from their boots and puttees.

When the "Fall In" began, the entire Company was standing "At Ease" on the Parade Ground. As the last note of the call sounded, the whole parade sprang to "Attention," and the Major, who had been standing on the edge of the field, walked forward to inspect.

Every morning was spent in this manner, except for those who had special courses to follow. We devoted all our time and attention to "Forming Fours" in as perfect a manner as possible; to saluting with the greatest accuracy and fierceness; and to unwearying repetition of every movement and detail, until mac

hinelike precision was attained.

All that we were doing then is the very foundation and essence of good discipline. Discipline is the state to which a man is trained, in order that under all circumstances he shall carry out without secondary reasoning any order that may be given him by a superior. There is nothing of a servile nature in this form of obedience. Each man realizes that it is for the good of the whole. By placing his implicit confidence in the commands of one of a higher rank than his own, he gives an earnest of his ability to himself command at some future time. It is but another proof of the old adage, that the man who obeys least is the least fitted to command.

Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N.Y.


When this war started, certain large formations, with the sheer lust for fighting in their blood, did not, while being formed, realize the absolute necessity of unending drill and inspection. Their first cry was, "Give us a rifle, a bayonet, and a bomb, show us how to use them, and we will do the rest." Acting upon this idea, they flung themselves into battle, disregarding the iron rules of a preliminary training. At first their very impetus and courage carried them over incredible obstacles. But after a time, and as their best were killed off, the original blaze died down, and the steady flame of ingrained discipline was not there to take the place of burning enthusiasm. The terrible waste and useless sacrifice that ensued showed only too plainly that even the greatest individual bravery is not enough.

In this modern warfare there are many trials and experiences unimagined before, which wear down the actual will-power of the men who undergo them. When troops are forced to sit in a trench under the most terrific shell-fire, the nerve-racking noise, the sight of their comrades and their defences being blown to atoms, and the constant fear that they themselves will be the next to go, all deprive the ordinary mind of vital initiative. Having lost the active mental powers that a human being possesses, they are reduced to the level of machines. The officers and non-commissioned officers, on whom the responsibility of leadership rests, have that spur to maintain their equilibrium, but the private soldiers, who have themselves only to think of, are the most open to this devastating influence. If these machines are to be controlled, as they must be, by an exterior intelligence, they must obey automatically, and if in the past automatic obedience has not been implanted, there is nothing to take its place.

The only means by which to obtain inherent response to a given order is so to train a man in minute details, by constant, inflexible insistence on perfection, that it becomes part of his being to obey without thinking.

It must not be presumed that, in obtaining this almost inhuman reaction, all independent qualities are obliterated. For, though a man's mind is adjusted to carrying out, without questioning, any task that is demanded of him, yet in the execution of this duty he is allowed the full scope of his invention and initiative.

Thus, by this dull and unending routine, we laid the foundation of that inevitable success toward which we were slowly working.

When the Company dismissed, the Major, Talbot, and the Old Bird walked over to lunch together.

"Well, it's a great war, isn't it?" said the Major, turning to the other two.

"It's very nice to have got through a couple of shows, sir," replied Talbot. "What do you think about it, Old Bird?"

"Well, of course, war is all very well for those who like it. But give me the Base every time," answered the Old Bird, true to his reputation. Then, turning to the Major with his most ingratiating smile, he said, "By the way, sir, what about a few days in Boulogne?"

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[1] A late, third-rate English pantomime producer.

[2] Stands for Army Service Corps, and its equivalent in the American Army is the Quartermaster's Corps.

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