Five or six regiments were already on the move; transport wagons, driven by khaki-clad drivers with rifles slung over their shoulders, lumbered through the dimly-lighted thoroughfares; ammunition vans stood at every street corner; guns rattled along drawn by straining horses, the sweat steaming from the animals’ flanks and withers; an ambulance party sped through the greyness of the foggy morning, accompanied by a Red Cross lorry piled high with chests and stretcher poles, and soldiers in files and fours, in companies and columns, were in movement everywhere—their legions seemed countless and endless.
Ammunition was given out from the powder magazine; each man was handed 150 rounds of ball cartridge—a goodly weight to carry on a long day’s march! With our ammunition we were now properly equipped and ready for any emergency. Each individual carried on his person in addition to rifle, bayonet (sword is the military name for the latter weapon) and ball cartridge, a blanket and waterproof sheet, an overcoat, a water-bottle, an entrenching tool and handle, as well as several other lighter necessaries, such as shirts, socks, a knife, fork, and spoon, razor, soap, and towel.
At eight o’clock, when the wintry dawn was breaking and the fog lifting, we entered the station. Hundreds of the inhabitants of the town came to see us off and cheer us on the long way to Tipperary: and Tipperary meant Berlin. One of the inhabitants, a kindly woman who is loved by the soldiers of my company, to whom she is very good, came to the station as we were leaving, and presented a pair of mittens to each of fifty men.
The train started on its journey, puffed a feeble cloud of smoke into the air, and suddenly came to a dead stop. Heads appeared at the windows, and voices inquired if the engine-driver had taken the wrong turning on the road to Berlin. The train shunted back into the station, and we all went back to our billets again, but not before our officers informed us that we had done the work of entraining very smartly, and when the real call did come we would lose no time on the journey to an unknown destination.
Later we had two further lessons in entraining, and we came to fear that when the summons did come dry eyes would watch us depart and sarcastic jibes make heavy our leave-taking. Indeed, some of the inhabitants of our town hinted that we should never leave the place until the local undertakers make a profit on our exit. So much for their gentle sarcasm! But well they knew that one day in the near future it would suddenly occur to our commanders to take us with them in the train to Berlin.
READY TO GO—THE BATTALION MOVES
Rumour had been busy for days; the whole division was about to move, so every one stated, except our officers, and official information was not forthcoming.
“You are going between midnight and five o’clock to-morrow morning,” announced my landlord positively. He is a coal-merchant by trade.