Three, goaded at last to a sufficiency of daring, ventured to mutter something about “was going to order it.”
The instructor caught up the phrase and flayed him again with it. “’Was going to,’” he repeated, “‘was going to order it.’ Perhaps some day, when a bullet comes along and drills a hole in your thick head, you will want to tell it you ‘was going to’ get out of the way. You maybe expect the detachment to halt and stand easy, and light a cigarette, and have a chat while you wait to make up your mind what you’re going to say, and when you’re going to say it! And if ever you get past recruit drill in the barracks square, my lad, and smell powder burnt in action, you’ll learn that there’s no such thing as ‘going to’ in your gun drill. If you’re slow at it, if you fumble your fingers, and tie knots in your tongue, and stop to think about your ‘going to,’ you’ll find maybe that ‘going to’ has gone before you make up your mind, and the only thing ‘going to’ will be you and your detachment; and its Kingdom Come you’ll be ‘going to’ at that. And now we’ll try it again, and if I find any more ‘going to’ about it this time it’s an hour’s extra drill a day you’ll be ‘going to’ for the next week.”
He kept the detachment grilling and grinding for another hour before he let them go, and at the end of it he spent another five minutes pointing out the manifold faults and failings of each individual in the detachment, reminding them that they belonged to the Royal Regiment of Artillery that is “The right of the line, the terror of the world, and the pride of the British Army,” and that any man who wasn’t a shining credit to the Royal Regiment was no less than a black disgrace to it.
When the detachment dismissed, and for the most part gravitated to the canteen, they passed some remarks upon their instructor almost pungent enough to have been worthy of his utterance. “Him an’ his everlastin’ ‘Cut the Time!’”
“I’m just about fed up with him,” said Gunner Donovan bitterly, “and I’d like to know where’s all the sense doing this drill against a stop-watch. You’d think from the way he talks that a man’s life was hanging on the whiskers of a half-second. Blanky rot, I call it.”
“I wouldn’t mind so much,” said another gunner, “if ever he thought to say we done it good, but not ’im. The better we does it and the faster, the better and the faster he wants it done. It’s my belief that if he had a gun detachment picked from the angels above he’d tell ’em their buttons and their gold crowns was a disgrace to Heaven, that they was too slow to catch worms or catch a cold, and that they’d ’ave to cut the time it took ’em to fly into column o’ route from the right down the Golden Stairs, or to bring their ’arps to the ’Alt action front.”
These were the mildest of the remarks that passed between the smarting Numbers of the gun detachment, but they would have been astonished beyond words if they could have heard what their instructor Sergeant “Cut-the-Time” was saying at that moment to a fellow-sergeant in the sergeants’ mess.