I got to the Convoy to find there was no news of the barge, but I had to dismount all the same—duty is duty—and I kissed the grey’s nose, little thinking I should never see him again. The barge did not come down till 9 o’clock the next morning. C’est la guerre—and a very trying one to boot!
The weather was ideal just then: warm and sunny and not a cloud in the sky except for those little round white puffs where the Archie shells burst round the visiting Huns.
One afternoon about 5 o’clock, when breakfast had been at lunch time and consequently that latter meal had been n’apoo’d altogether, I went into the E.M.O.’s for the chits before leaving for camp. (These initials stood for “Embarkation Medical Officer” and always designated the office and shed where the blankets and stretchers were kept; also, incidentally, the place where the Corporal and two men slept.) As I entered a most appetising odour greeted my nostrils and I suddenly realized how very hungry I was. I sniffed the air and wondered what it could be.
“Just goin’ to have a cockle tea,” explained the Corporal. “I suppose, Miss, you wouldn’t care to join us?” I knew the brew at the Convoy would be long since cold, and accepted the invitation joyfully.
Their “dining-room” was but the shed where the stretchers were piled up, many of them brown and discoloured by blood, and bundles of fusty army blankets, used as coverings for the wounded, reached almost to the ceiling. They were like the stretchers in some cases, and always sticky to the touch. I could not repress a shudder as I turned away to the much more welcome sight of tea. A newspaper was spread on the rough table in my honour and Wheatley was despatched “at the double” to find the only saucer! (Those who knew the good Wheatley will perhaps fail to imagine he could attain such a speed—dear Wheatley, with his long spindle legs and quaint serio-comic face. He was a man of few words and a heart of gold.)
I look back on that “cockle tea” as one of my happiest memories. It was so jolly and we were all so gay and full of hope, for things were going well up the line.
I had never tasted cockles before and thought they were priceless. We discussed all manner of things during tea and I learnt a lot about their aspirations for apres la guerre. It was singular to think that within a short month, of that happy party Headley the Corporal alone remained sound and whole. One was killed by a shell falling on the E.M.O. One was in hospital crippled for life, and the third was brought in while I was there and died shortly after from septic pneumonia. Little did we think what was in store as we drank tea so merrily!