People over here who have boys at the front mustn’t forget the cigarette supply. Send them along early and often. There’ll never be too many. Smoking is one of the soldier’s few comforts. Two bits’ worth of makin’s a week will help one lad make life endurable. It’s cheap at the price. Come through for the smoke fund whenever you get the chance.
Cafe life among us at Petite-Saens was mostly drinking and gambling. That is not half as bad as it sounds. The drinking was mostly confined to the slushy French beer and vin blanc and citron. Whiskey and absinthe were barred.
The gambling was on a small scale, necessarily, the British soldier not being at any time a bloated plutocrat. At the same time the games were continuous. “House” was the most popular. This is a game similar to the “lotto” we used to play as children. The backers distribute cards having fifteen numbers, forming what they call a school. Then numbered cardboard squares are drawn from a bag, the numbers being called out. When a number comes out which appears on your card, you cover it with a bit of match. If you get all your numbers covered, you call out “house”, winning the pot. If there are ten people in at a franc a head, the banker holds out two francs, and the winner gets eight.
It is really quite exciting, as you may get all but one number covered and be rooting for a certain number to come. Usually when you get as close as that and sweat over a number for ten minutes, somebody else gets his first. Corporal Wells described the game as one where the winner “’ollers ’ouse and the rest ’ollers ’ell!”
Some of the nicknames for the different numbers remind one of the slang of the crap shooter. For instance, “Kelly’s eye” means one. “Clickety click” is sixty-six. “Top of the house” is ninety. Other games are “crown and anchor”, which is a dice game, and “pontoon”, which is a card game similar to “twenty-one” or “seven and a half.” Most of these are mildly discouraged by the authorities, “house” being the exception. But in any estaminet in a billet town you’ll find one or all of them in progress all the time. The winner usually spends his winnings for beer, so the money all goes the same way, game or no game.
When there are no games on, there is usually a sing-song going. We had a merry young nuisance in our platoon named Rolfe, who had a voice like a frog and who used to insist upon singing on all occasions. Rolfie would climb on the table in the estaminet and sing numerous unprintable verses of his own, entitled “Oh, What a Merry Plyce is Hengland.” The only redeeming feature of this song was the chorus, which everybody would roar out and which went like this:
ye beggars, cheer!
Britannia rules the wave!
’Ard times, short times
Never’ll come agyne.
Shoutin’ out at th’ top o’ yer lungs:
Damn the German army!
Oh, wot a lovely plyce is Hengland!