One of our officers gave us instructions as to how we had to behave during the inspection, more especially when we were under the direct gaze of the general.
“Not a movement,” he told us. “Every eyelash must be still. If the general asks me your name and I make a mistake and say you are Smith instead of Brown, your real name, you’re not to say a word. You are Brown for the time being. If he speaks to you, you’re to answer: ‘Sir,’ and ‘Sir’ only to every question. If you’re asked what was your age last birthday, ‘Sir’ is to be the only answer. Is that clear to every man?”
It was, indeed, clear, surprisingly clear; but we wondered at the command, which was new to us. To answer in this fashion appeared strange to us; we thought (the right to think is not denied to a soldier) it a funny method of satisfying a general’s curiosity.
He came, a tall, well-set man, with stern eyebrows and a heavy moustache, curled upwards after the manner of an Emperor whom we heartily dislike, attended by a slim brigade major, who wore a rather large eyeglass, and made several entries in his notebook, as he followed on the heels of the superior inspecting the battalion.
We stood, every unit of us, sphinx-like, immovable, facing our front and resigned to our position. To an onlooker it might seem as if we were frozen there—our fingers glued on to our rifles and our feet firm to the earth at an angle of forty-five degrees. I stood near the rear, and could see the still platoons in front, not a hat moved, not a boot shifted. The general broke the spell when he was passing me.
“Another button. There were forty-seven the last time,” he said, and the man with the eyeglass made an entry in the notebook. Through an oversight, I had helped to lower the prestige of the battalion: a pocket flap of my tunic was unbuttoned.
Kit inspection was a business apart; the general picked out several soldiers haphazard and ordered their packs to be opened for an examination of the contents—spoons, shirts, socks, and the various necessaries which dismounted men in full marching order must carry on their persons were inspected carefully. A full pack is judged best by its contents, and nearly all packs passed muster. One man was unlucky: his mate was chosen for kit inspection, but this hapless individual came out minus a toothbrush and comb, and the friend in need took his place in the freshly-formed ranks. Here, the helper found that his own kit was inefficient, he had forgotten to put in a pair of socks. That afternoon he had to do two hours’ extra drill.
Perhaps an even greater trial than Divisional Inspection was that of waiting orders when we were the victims of camp rumours. But this was as nothing to the false alarms. There is some doggerel known to the men which runs:
“We’re off to the front,”
said the colonel,
as he placed us in the train,
“And we went at dawn from the station,
and at night came back again.”