Our new friend was rather a troublesome individual to begin with. In rising to the slope he had the trick of breaking free and falling on the muddy barrack square. A muddy rifle gets rusty, and brings its owner into trouble, and a severe penalty is considered meet for the man who comes on parade with a rusty rifle. Bringing the friend from the slope to the order was a difficult process for us recruits at the start the back-sight tore at the fingers, and bleeding hands often testified to the unnatural instinct of the rebellious weapon. But the unkindest kick of all was given when the slack novice fired the first shot, and the heel of the butt slipped upwards and struck the jaw. Then was learnt the first real lesson. The rifle kicks with the heel and aims for the jaw. Control your friend, humour him; keep him well in hand and beware his fling.
I was unlucky in my first rifle practice on the miniature range, and out of my first five shots I did not hit the target once. The instructor lay by my side on the waterproof ground-sheet (the day was a wet one, and the range was muddy) and lectured me between misses on the peculiarities of my weapon and the cultivation of a steady eye.
“Keep the beggar under control,” he said. “You’ve got to coax him, and not use force. Pull the trigger easily, as though you loved it, and hold the butt affectionate-like against the shoulder. It’s an easy matter to shoot as you’re shooting now. There’s shooting and shooting, and you’ve got to shoot straight. If you don’t you’re no dashed good! Give me the rifle, you’re not aiming at the bull, man, you’re aiming at the locality where the bull is grazing.”
He took my rifle, slid a cartridge into the breech, and coaxed the trigger lovingly towards him. Three times he fired, then we went together to look at the target. Not a bullet fired by him had struck it. The instructor glared down the barrel of the gun, made some nasty remarks about deflection, and went back to yell at an orderly corporal.
“What the dickens did you take this here for?” he cried. “It’s a blooming wash-out, and was never any good. Old as an unpaid bill and worn bell-mouth it is, and nobody can fire with it.”
[Footnote 1: “Wash-out” is a term used by the men when their firing is so wide of the mark that it fails to hit any spot on the card. The men apply it indiscriminately to anything in the nature of a failure.]
On a new rifle being obtained I passed the preliminary test, and a rather repentant instructor remarked that it might be possible to make a soldier of me some day.