Our ten days en repos at Petite-Saens came to an end all too soon.
On the last day we lined up for our official “bawth.”
Petite-Saens was a coal-mining town. The mines were still operated, but only at night—this to avoid shelling from the Boche long-distance artillery, which are fully capable of sending shells and hitting the mark at eighteen miles. The water system of the town depended upon the pumping apparatus of the mines. Every morning early, before the pressure was off, all hands would turn out for a general “sluicing” under the hydrants. We were as clean as could be and fairly free of “cooties” at the end of a week, but official red tape demanded that we go through an authorized scouring.
On the last day we lined up for this at dawn before an old warehouse which had been fitted with crude showers. We were turned in twenty in a batch and were given four minutes to soap ourselves all over and rinse off. I was in the last lot and had just lathered up good and plenty when the water went dead. If you want to reach the acme of stickiness, try this stunt. I felt like the inside of a mucilage bottle for a week.
After the official purification we were given clean underwear. And then there was a howl. The fresh underthings had been boiled and sterilized, but the immortal cootie had come through unscathed and in all its vigor. Corporal Wells raised a pathetic wail:
“Blimme eyes, mytie! I got more’n two ‘undred now an’ this supposed to be a bloomin’ clean shirt! Why, the blinkin’ thing’s as lousy as a cookoo now, an me just a-gittin’ rid o’ the bloomin’ chats on me old un. Strike me pink if it hain’t a bleedin’ crime! Some one ought to write to John Bull abaht it!”
John Bull is the English paper of that name published by Horatio Bottomley, which makes a specialty of publishing complaints from soldiers and generally criticising the conduct of army affairs.
Well, we got through the bath and the next day were on our way. This time it was up the line to another sector. My one taste of trench action had made me keen for more excitement, and in spite of the comfortable time at Petite-Saens, I was glad to go. I was yet to know the real horrors and hardships of modern warfare. There were many days in those to come when I looked back upon Petite-Saens as a sort of heaven.
HIKING TO VIMY RIDGE
We left Petite-Saens about nine o’clock Friday night and commenced our march for what we were told would be a short hike. It was pretty warm and muggy. There was a thin, low-lying mist over everything, but clear enough above, and there was a kind of poor moonlight. There was a good deal of delay in getting away, and we had begun to sweat before we started, as we were equipped as usual with about eighty pounds’ weight on the back and shoulders. That eighty pounds is theoretical weight.