The day was very interesting; the whole division, thousands of men, numberless horses, a regiment of artillery, and all baggage and munition for military use took up position in battle formation. In front lay an imaginary army, and we had to cross a river to come into contact with it. Engineers, under cover of the artillery, built pontoon bridges for our crossing; on the whole an intensely interesting and novel experience. So interesting indeed that I lost all count of time, and only came to consciousness of the clock and remembrance of friends making ready for dinner when some one remarked that the hour of four had passed, and that we were still five miles from home.
I got to my billet at six; there I flung off my pack, threw down my rifle, and in frenzied haste consulted a railway timetable. A slow train was due to leave our town at five minutes to seven. I arranged my papers, made a brief review of matters which would come before me later, and with muddy boots and heavy heart I arrived at the station at seven minutes to seven and took the slow train for London.
When I told the story of my adventures at dinner a soldier friend remarked: “You’ve been more than a little lucky in getting away at all. I was very unlucky when I applied—”
But his story was a long one, and I have forgotten it.
OFFICERS AND RIFLES
As I have said, I have learned among other things to obey my officers and depend upon my rifle. At first the junior officers appeared to me only as immaculate young men in tailor-made tunics and well-creased trousers, wearing swords and wrist-watches, and full of a healthy belief in their own importance. My mates are apt to consider them as being somewhat vain, and no Tommy dares fail to salute the young commissioned officers when he meets them out with their young ladies on the public streets. For myself, I have a great respect for them and their work; day and night they are at their toil; when parade comes to an end, and the battalion is dismissed for the day, the officers, who have done ten or twelve hours’ of field exercise, turn to their desks and company accounts, and time and again the Last Post sees them busy over ledgers, pamphlets, and plans.
Accurate and precise in every detail, they know the outs and ins of platoon and company drill, and can handle scores and hundreds of men with the ease and despatch of artists born to their work. Where have these officers, fresh youngsters with budding moustaches and white, delicate hands, learned all about frontage, file, flank, and formation, alignment, echelon, incline, and interval? Words of direction and command come so readily from their lips that I was almost tempted to believe that they had learned as easily as they taught, that their skill in giving orders could only be equalled by the ease with which I supposed they had mastered the details of their work. Later I came to know of the difficulty that confronts the young men, raw from the Officers’ Training Corps, when they take up their preliminary duties as commanders of trained soldiers. No “rooky” fresh to the ranks is the butt of so many jokes and such biting sarcasm as the young officer is subjected to when he takes his place as a leader of men.