THE GENERAL INSPECTION AND THE EVERLASTING WAITING
One of our greatest trials is the general inspection, which takes place every month, and once Lord Kitchener inspected the battalion, in company with the division quartered in our town. But that was before I joined. It involves much labour in the way of preparation. On one occasion, midnight the night before, a Friday, found us still busy with our work. My cot-mate was in difficulties with his rifle—the cloth of the pull-through stuck in the barrel, and he could not move it, although he broke a bamboo cane and bent a poker in the attempt. “It’s a case for the armoury,” he remarked gloomily. “What a nuisance that ramrods are done away with! We’ve been at it since eight o’clock, and getting along A1. Now that beastly pull-through!”
What an evening’s work! On the day following the brigadier-general was to inspect us, and we had to appear on parade spick and span, with rifles spotless, and every article of our equipment in good order. Packs were washed and hung over the rim of the table by our billet fire, web-belts were cleaned, and every speck of mud and grease removed. Our packs, when dry, were loaded with overcoat, mess-tin, housewife, razor, towel, etc., and packed tightly and squarely, showing no crease at side or bulge at corner. Ground-sheets were neatly rolled and fastened on top of pack, no overlapping was allowed; rifles were oiled and polished from muzzle to butt-plate, and swords rubbed with emery paper until not a single speck of rust remained.
Saturday morning found us trim and tidy on the parade ground. An outsider would hardly dream that we were the men who had ploughed through the muddy countryside and sunk to the knees in the furrowed fields daily since the wet week began. Where was the clay that had caked brown on our khaki, the rust that spoilt the lustre of our swords, and the fringes that the wire fences tore on our tunics? All gone; soap and water, a brush, needle and thread, and a scrap of emery paper had worked the miracle. We stood easy awaiting the arrival of the general; platoons sized from flanks to centres (namely, the tallest men stood at the flanks, and the khaki lines dwindled in stature towards the small men in the middle), and company officers at front and rear. The officers saw that everything was correct, that no lace-ends showed from under the puttees, that no lace-eye lay idle, and that laces were not crossed over the boots. Each man had shaved and got his hair cut, his hat set straight on his head, and the regimental badge in proper position over the idle chin-strap. Pocket-flaps and tunics were buttoned, water-bottles and haversacks hung straight, the tops of the latter in line with the bayonet rings, and entrenching tool handles were scrubbed clean—my mate and I had spent much soap on ours the night before.