It was with this railway-station canteen that my latest memories of the great base are concerned. All the afternoon of our second day at —— was spent in seeing a fine Red Cross hospital, and then in walking or driving round the endless reinforcement and hospital camps in the open country. Everywhere the same vigourous expanding organisation, the same ceaselessly growing numbers, the same humanity and care in detail. “How many years have we been at war?” one tends to ask oneself in bewilderment, as the spectacle unrolls itself. “Is it possible that all this is the work of eighteen months?” And I am reminded of the Scotch sergeant’s reply to his German captive, who asked his opinion about the duration of the war. “I’ll tell you what—it’s the furrst five years that’ll be the worst!” We seem—in the bases—to have slipped through them already, measuring by any of the ordinary ratios of work to time. On my return home, a diplomat representing one of the neutral nations, told me that the Military Secretary of his staff had been round the English bases in France, and had come back with his “eyes starting out of his head.” Having seen them myself, the phrase seemed to me quite natural.
Then, last of all, as the winter evening fell, we turned toward the canteen at the railway-station. We found it going on in an old goods’ shed, simply fitted up with a long tea and coffee bar, tables and chairs; and in some small adjacent rooms. It was filled from end to end with a crowd of soldiers, who after many hours of waiting, were just departing for the front. The old shabby room, with its points of bright light, and its shadowy sides and corners, made a Rembrandtesque setting for the moving throng of figures. Some men were crowding round the bar; some were writing letters in haste to post before the train went off; the piano was going, and a few,