Sabre was called up in his Derby Class within eight weeks of his enrolment,—at the end of February, 1916. He was nearly two years in the war; but his ultimate encounter with life awaited him, and was met, at Penny Green. It might have been reached precisely as it was reached without agency of the war, certainly without participation in it. Of the interval only those few events ultimately mattered which had connection with his life at home. They seemed in the night of the war transient as falling stars; they proved themselves lodestars of his destiny. They seemed nothing, yet even as they flashed and passed he occupied himself with them as the falling star catches the attention from all the fixed and constant. They were of his own life: the war life was life in exile.
And, caught up at last in the enormous machinery of the war, his feelings towards the war underwent a great change. First in the training camp in Dorsetshire, afterwards, and much more so, in the trenches in Flanders, it was only by a deliberate effort that he would recapture, now and then, the old tremendous emotions in the thought of England challenged and beset. He turned to it as stimulant in moments of depression and of dismay, in hours of intense and miserable loathing of some conditions of his early life in the ranks, and later in hours when fatigue and bodily discomfort reached degrees he had not believed it possible to endure—and go on with. He turned to it as stimulant and it never failed of its stimulation. “I’m in it. What does this matter? This is the war. It’s the war. Those infernal devils.... If these frightful things were being done in England! Imagine if this was in England! Thank God I’m in it. There you are! I’m absolutely all right when I remember why I’m here.” And enormous exaltation of spirit would lift away the loneliness, remove the loathing, banish the exhaustion, dissipate the fear. The fear—“And thy right hand shall show thee terrible things”—He was more often than once in situations in which he knew he was afraid and held fear away only because, with his old habit of introspection, he knew it for fear,—a horrible thing that sought mastery of him and by sheer force of mental detachment must be held away where it could be looked at and known for the vile thing it was. In such ordeals, in Flanders, he got the habit of saying to himself between his teeth, “Six minutes, six hours, six days, six months, six years. Where the hell will I be?” It somehow helped. The six minutes would go, and one could believe that all the periods would go,—and wonder where they would find one.
But more than that: now, caught up in the enormous machinery of the war, he never could accept it, as other men seemed to accept it, as normal and natural occupation that might be expected to go on for ever and outside of which was nothing at all. His life was not here; it was at home. He got the feeling that this business in which he was caught up was a business apart altogether from his own individual life,—a kind of trance in which his own life was held temporarily in abeyance, a kind of transmigration in which he occupied another and a very strange identity: from whose most strange personality, often so amazingly occupied, he looked wonderingly upon the identity that was his own, waiting his return.