But it was at night, at bedtime, that the hut became generally sociable. Lights-Out sounded at 10.15; and at 10.10 we were all scrambling into our pyjamas. In winter our disrobing was hasty; in summer it was an affair of leisure, and deshabille roamings to and fro in the aisle, and gossip. When the bugle blew and the electric lights suddenly ceased to glow, leaving the hut in a darkness broken only by the dim shapes of the windows and the red of cigarette-ends, many of us still had to complete our undressing. We became adepts at doing this in the dark and so disposing of the articles of our attire that they could be instantly retrieved in the morning. Once between the blankets, conversation at first waxed rather than waned. The Night Wardmaster, whose duty it was to make the round of the orderlies’ huts, disapproved of conversation after Lights-Out, and was apt to say so, loudly and menacingly, when he surprised us by popping his head in at the door. But—well—the Night Wardmaster always departed in the long run.... And then uprose, between bed and bed, those unconclusive debates in which the masculine soul delighteth: Theology; Woman; Victuals; Politics; Art; the Press; Sport; Marriage; Money—and sometimes even The War; likewise the purely local topics of Sisters and their Absurdities; Our Officers; The Other Huts; What the Sergeant-Major Said; Why V.A.D.’s can’t replace Male Orderlies; What this Morning’s Operations Looked Like; Whether an Officers’ Ward or a Men’s Ward is the nicer; Who Deserves Stripes; C.O.’s Parade and its Terrors; Advantages of Volunteering for Night Duty; The Cushy Job of being in charge of a Sham Lunacy Case; Other Cushy Jobs less cushy than They Sounded; and so forth; until at last protests began to be voiced by the wearier folk who wanted silence.
Silence it was, except for the thunder of occasional passing trains in the near-by railway cutting. These had little power to disturb. Tucked in the brown army blankets, which at first sight look so hard and so prickly, we slumbered, the twenty-one of us, as one man; until, with a cruel jolt, at 5.15 that wretched alarm-clock crashed forth its summons for the fastidious few who liked to rise in ample time to bath and shave before early parade. Sometimes I was of that virtuous band, and sometimes I wasn’t; but, either way, I hated the alarm-clock at 5.15,—though not so virulently as did those members of the hut who never by any chance dreamt of rising until five to six. These gentry had reduced the ritual of dressing, and of rolling up their bedding, to a speed at which it might almost be compared to expert juggling: the quickness of the hand deceived the eye. At five minutes to six you would see the juggler asleep on his pillow, in blissful innocence; at six he would be on parade, as correctly attired as you were yourself, and having left behind him, in the hut, a bed as neatly folded as yours. The world is sprinkled with people who can do this kind of thing—and