A man beside me suddenly laid down his shovel and battled with a cough that strove to break free and riot in the darkness. I could see his face go purple, his eyes stare out as if endeavouring to burst from their sockets. Presently he was victor, and as he bent to his shovel again I heard him whisper huskily, “’Twas a stiff go, that; it almost floored me.”
Thrown from tongue to tongue as a ball is thrown in play, a message from the captain on the flank hurried along the living line. “Close in on the left,” was the order, and we hastened to obey. Trenching tools were unhafted and returned to their carriers, equipments were donned again, belts tightened, and shoulder-straps buttoned. Singly, in pairs, and in files we hurried back to the point of assembly, to find a very angry captain awaiting us.
“I am very disappointed with to-night’s work,” he said. “I sent five messages out; two of them died on the way; a third reached its destination, but in such a muddled condition that it was impossible to recognise it as the one sent off. The order to cease work was the only one that seemed to hurry along. Out at the front, where all orders are passed along the trenches in this manner, it is of the utmost importance that every word is repeated distinctly, and that no order miscarries. Even out there, it is found very difficult to send messages along.”
The captain paused for a moment; then told a story. “It is said that an officer at the front gave out the following message to the men in the trenches: ‘In the wood on the right a party of German cavalry,’ and when the message travelled half a mile it had changed to: ’German Navy defeated in the North Sea.’ We don’t know how much truth there is in the story, but I hope we will not make a mistake like that out there.”
Lagging men were still stealing in as we took up our places in columns of fours. A clock struck out the hour of twelve, and the bird in the hedgerow was still singing as we marched out to the roadway, and followed our merry pipers home to town.
DIVISIONAL EXERCISE AND MIMIC WARFARE