Fifteen minutes later I met him leaving his billet, his haversack on the wrong side, his cartridge pouches open, the bolt of his gun unfastened; his whole general appearance was a discredit to his battalion and a disgrace to the Army. I helped to make him presentable as he bellowed his woes into my ear. “No bloomin’ grub this mornin’,” he said. “Left my breakfast till I’d come back, and ’aven’t no time for it now. Anyway I’m going out on the march; no light duties for me. I know what they are.” He was still protesting against the hardships of things as he swung out of sight round the corner of the street. Afterwards I heard that he got three days C.B. for disobeying the orders of the M.O.
Save for minor ailments and accident, my battalion is practically immune from sickness; colds come and go as a matter of course, sprains and cuts claim momentary attention, but otherwise the health of the battalion is perfect. “We’re too healthy to be out of the trenches,” a company humorist has remarked, and the company and battalion agrees with him.
PICKETS AND SPECIAL LEAVE
One of the first things we had to learn was that our ancient cathedral town has its bounds and limits for the legions of the lads in khaki. Beyond a certain line, the two-mile boundary, we dare not venture alone without written permission, and we can only pass the limit in a body when led by a commissioned officer.
The whole world, with the exception of the space enclosed by this narrow circle, is closed to the footsteps of Tommy; he cannot now visit his sweetheart, his sweetheart must come and visit him. The housemaid from Hammersmith and the typist from Tottenham have to come to their beaux in billets, and as most of the men in our town are single, and nearly all have sweethearts, it is estimated that five or six thousand maidens blush to hear the old, old story within the two-mile limit every week-end.
Once only every month is a soldier allowed week-end leave, and then he has permission to be absent from his billet between the hours of 3 p.m. on Saturday and 10 p.m. on Sunday. His pass states that during this time he is not liable to be arrested for desertion. Some men use one pass for quite a long period, and alter the dates to suit every occasion.
One Sunday, when returning from week-end leave, I travelled from London by train. My compartment was crowded with men of my division, and only one-half of these had true passes; one, who was an adept calligraphist, wrote his own pass, and made a counterfeit signature of the superior who should have signed the form of leave. Another had altered the dates of an early pass so cleverly that it was difficult to detect the erasure, and a number of men had no passes whatsoever. These boasted of having travelled to London every week-end, and they had never been caught napping.