As a matter of practice the pack nearly always runs ten and even twenty pounds over the official equipment, as Tommy is a great little accumulator of junk. I had acquired the souvenir craze early in the game, and was toting excess baggage in the form of a Boche helmet, a mess of shell noses, and a smashed German automatic. All this ran to weight.
I carried a lot of this kind of stuff all the time I was in the service, and was constantly thinning out my collection or adding to it.
When you consider that a soldier has to carry everything he owns on his person, you’d say that he would want to fly light; but he doesn’t. And that reminds me, before I forget it, I want to say something about sending boxes over there.
It is the policy of the British, and, I suppose, will be of the Americans, to move the troops about a good deal. This is done so that no one unit will become too much at home in any one line of trenches and so get careless. This moving about involves a good deal of hiking.
Now if some chap happens to get a twenty-pound box of good things just before he is shifted, he’s going to be in an embarrassing position. He’ll have to give it away or leave it. So—send the boxes two or three pounds at a time, and often.
But to get back to Petite-Saens. We commenced our hike as it is was getting dark. As we swung out along the once good but now badly furrowed French road, we could see the Very lights beginning to go up far off to the left, showing where the lines were. We could distinguish between our own star lights and the German by the intensity of the flare, theirs being much superior to ours, so much so that they send them up from the second-line trenches.
The sound of the guns became more distant as we swung away to the south and louder again as the road twisted back toward the front.
We began to sing the usual songs of the march and I noticed that the American ragtime was more popular among the boys than their own music. “Dixie” frequently figured in these songs.
It is always a good deal easier to march when the men sing, as it helps to keep time and puts pep into a column and makes the packs seem lighter. The officers see to it that the mouth organs get tuned up the minute a hike begins.
At the end of each hour we came to a halt for the regulation ten minutes’ rest. Troops in heavy marching order move very slowly, even with the music—and the hours drag. The ten minutes’ rest though goes like a flash. The men keep an eye on the watches and “wangle” for the last second.
We passed through two ruined villages with the battered walls sticking up like broken teeth and the gray moonlight shining through empty holes that had been windows. The people were gone from these places, but a dog howled over yonder. Several times we passed batteries of French artillery, and jokes and laughter came out of the half darkness.