At the end of a week I asked the M.O. if I would get Blighty and he said he didn’t think so, not directly. He rather thought that they would keep me in hospital for a month or two and see how I came out. The officer was a Canadian and had a sense of humor and was most affable. I told him if this jamming wasn’t going to get me Blighty, I wanted to go back to duty and get a real one. He laughed and tagged me for a beach resort at Ault-Onival on the northern coast of France.
I was there a week and had a bully time. The place had been a fashionable watering place before the war, and when I was there the transient population was largely wealthy Belgians. They entertained a good deal and did all they could for the pleasure of the four thousand boys who were at the camp. The Y.M.C.A. had a huge tent and spread themselves in taking care of the soldiers. There were entertainments almost every night, moving pictures, and music. The food was awfully good and the beds comfortable, and that pretty nearly spells heaven to a man down from the front.
Best of all, the bathing was fine, and it was possible to keep the cooties under control,—more or less. I went in bathing two and three times daily as the sloping shore made it just as good at low tide as at high.
I think that glorious week at the beach made the hardships of the front just left behind almost worth while. My chum, Corporal Wells, who had a quaint Cockney philosophy, used to say that he liked to have the stomach ache because it felt so good when it stopped. On the same theory I became nearly convinced that a month in the trenches was good fun because it felt so good to get out.
At the end of the week I was better but still shaky. I started pestering the M.O. to tag me for Blighty. He wouldn’t, so I sprung the same proposition on him that I had on the doctor at the base,—to send me back to duty if he couldn’t send me to England. The brute took me at my word and sent me back to the battalion.
I rejoined on the Somme again just as they were going back for the second time in that most awful part of the line. Many of the old faces were gone. Some had got the wooden cross, and some had gone to Blighty.
I sure was glad when old Wellsie hopped out and grabbed me.
“Gawd lumme, Darby,” he said. “Hi sye, an’ me thinkin’ as ’ow you was back in Blighty. An’ ‘ere ye are yer blinkin’ old self. Or is it yer bloomin’ ghost. I awsks ye. Strike me pink, Yank. I’m glad.”
And he was. At that I did feel more or less ghostly. I seemed to have lost some of my confidence. I expected to “go west” on the next time in. And that’s a bad way to feel out there.
BACK ON THE SOMME AGAIN
When I rejoined the battalion they were just going into the Somme again after a two weeks’ rest. They didn’t like it a bit.