Most toilers who have no friends or relations preparing for war have kinsmen already in the trenches—or on the roll of honour. And feelings stronger than those of friendship now unite thousands of soldiers to the young girls of the houses in which they are billeted. For even in the modern age, that now seems to voice the ultimate expression of man’s culture and advance in terrorism and destruction, love and war, vital as the passion of ancient story, go hand in hand up to the trenches and the threat of death.
RATIONS AND SICK PARADE
It has been said that an army moves upon its stomach, and, as if in confirmation of this, the soldier is exhorted in an official pamphlet “Never to start on a march with an empty stomach.” To a hungry rifleman the question of his rations is a matter of vital importance. For the first few weeks our food was cooked up and served out on the parade ground, or in the various gutter-fringed sheds standing in the vicinity of our headquarters. The men were discontented with the rations, and rumour had it that the troops stationed in a neighbouring village rioted and hundreds had been placed under arrest.
Sometimes a haunch of roast beef was doled out almost raw, and potatoes were generally boiled into pulp; these when served up looked like lumps of wet putty. Two potatoes, unwashed and embossed with particles of gravel, were allowed to each man; all could help themselves by sticking their fingers into the doughy substance and lifting out a handful, which they placed along with the raw “roast” on the lid of their mess-tin. This constituted dinner, but often rations were doled out so badly that several men only got half the necessary allowance for their meals.
Tea was seldom sufficiently sweetened, and the men had to pay for milk. After a time we became accustomed to the Epsom Salts that a kindly War Office, solicitous for our well-being, caused to be added, and some of us may go to our graves insisting on Epsom Salts with tea. The feeding ground being in many cases a great distance from the fire, the tea was cold by the time it arrived at the men’s quarters. Those who could afford it, took their food elsewhere: the restaurants in the vicinity did a roaring trade, and several new ones were opened. A petition was written; the men signed it, and decided to send it to the colonel; but the N.C.O.’s stepped in and destroyed the document. “You’ll not do much good at the front,” they told us, “if you are grumbling already.”
A week followed the destruction of the petition, and then appeared the following in Battalion Orders: “From to-morrow until further orders, rations will be issued at the men’s billets.” This announcement caused no little sensation, aroused a great deal of comment, and created a profound feeling of satisfaction in the battalion. Thenceforth rations were served out at the billets, and the householders were ordered to do the cooking. My landlady was delighted. “Not half feeding you; that’s a game,” she said. “And you going to fight for your country! But wait till you see the dishes I’ll make out of the rations when they come.”