There was a charcoal brazier going in the middle with two or three mess tins of char boiling away. Everybody was smoking, and the place stunk to high heaven, or it would have if there hadn’t been a bit of burlap over the door.
I crowded up into a corner with my back against the mud wall and my knees under my chin. The men didn’t seem overglad to see us, and groused a good deal about the extra crowding. They regarded me with extra disfavor because I was a lance corporal, and they disapproved of any young whipper-snapper just out from Blighty with no trench experience pitchforked in with even a slight superior rank. I had thought up to then that a lance corporal was pretty near as important as a brigadier.
“We’ll soon tyke that stripe off ye, me bold lad,” said one big cockney.
They were a decent lot after all. Since we were just out from Blighty, they showered us with questions as to how things looked “t’ ’ome.” And then somebody asked what was the latest song. Right here was where I made my hit and got in right. I sing a bit, and I piped up with the newest thing from the music halls, “Tyke Me Back to Blighty.” Here it is:
me back to dear old Blighty,
Put me on the tryne for London town,
Just tyke me over there
And drop me anywhere,
Manchester, Leeds, or Birmingham,
I don’t care.
want to go see me best gal;
Cuddlin’ up soon we’ll be,
Hytey iddle de eyety.
Tyke me back to Blighty,
That’s the plyce for me.
It doesn’t look like much and I’m afraid my rendition of cockney dialect into print isn’t quite up to Kipling’s. But the song had a pretty little lilting melody, and it went big. They made me sing it about a dozen times and were all joining in at the end.
Then they got sentimental—and gloomy.
“Gawd lumme!” says the big fellow who had threatened my beloved stripes. “Wot a life. Squattin’ ’ere in the bloody mud like a blinkin’ frog. Fightin’ fer wot? Wot, I arsks yer? Gawd lumme! I’d give me bloomin’ napper to stroll down the Strand agyne wif me swagger stick an’ drop in a private bar an’ ’ave me go of ‘Aig an’ ’Aig.”
“Garn,” cuts in another Tommy. “Yer blinkin’ ’igh wif yer wants, ayen’t ye? An’ yer ‘Aig an’ ’Aig. Drop me down in Great Lime Street (Liverpool) an’ it’s me fer the Golden Sheaf, and a pint of bitter, an’ me a ‘oldin’ ’Arriet’s ‘and over th’ bar. I’m a courtin’ ’er when,” etc., etc.
And then a fresh-faced lad chirps up: “T’ ‘ell wif yer Lonnon an’ yer whuskey. Gimme a jug o’ cider on the sunny side of a ’ay rick in old Surrey. Gimme a happle tart to go wif it. Gawd, I’m fed up on bully beef.”
And so it went. All about pubs and bar-maids and the things they’d eat and drink, and all of it Blighty.
They were in the midst of a discussion of what part of the body was most desirable to part with for a permanent Blighty wound when a young officer pushed aside the burlap and wedged in. He was a lieutenant and was in command of our platoon. His name was Blofeld.