Joseph Shuter Smith.

Over there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land online

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astonish you. The trials, the troubles, the
dangers of this last tour of duty were behind
us and already they were nearly forgotten.

In another hour we were in our huts.
About fourteen by twenty-four feet in size,
they had a small stove in the center and a
line of straw down either side; straw clean
for a minute, or until we flopped on it with
our muddy clothes or walked over it with
our muddier boots. Candles were stuck at
infrequent intervals around the walls. Some
of the boys began at once to clean their
clothes, scraping diligently with their
knives, and all the while chattering about
the "feeds" they were going to have as soon
as morning came. Some already had fallen
asleep.

A head appeared in the door and a voice
shouted: "All out for mail!"

Have you ever watched a close world's
series game? Well, if you have, you think
you know all about noise and excitement,

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but when ''AH out for mail" sounded
through that door the twenty or thirty men
in the hut got more excited and made more
noise in proportion to numbers than any
crowd the Polo Grounds ever held.

Letters and parcels from home are more
precious out there a thousand fold than any-
where else on earth. The mail man was
almost mobbed, then the boys stood by wait-
ing breathlessly as he called each name.
When one of them heard his name he yelled
with all the abandon of a maniac.

It is almost a ceremony with some bat-
talions, the arrival of the mail after a tour
of the line. They have it brought to billets
regardless of the hour in which they arrive
from the trenches. It was one of our pas-
sions — ^we must have our mail.

When the last envelope, the last package
had been handed out shouts of delight and
peels of laughter rang from every hut. You
read parts of your letter to the chap next
to you, overcome by the sheer joy of receiv-

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ing it. He reads his to you. Parcels were
opened and things were unwrapped and
strewn over each man's allotted bit of straw.
All the while he talked to the hut at large.
Since every other man in the place was en-
gaged in the same way there was very little
that was really intelligible. This fellow
was expressing his approval of some deli-
cacy which took his fancy. His neighbor
snorted his disapproval of some very nice
token manufactured by an energetic con-
cern long on imagination but short on real
information of what a trench warrior needs.
Everyone was as happy as a boy with a
new toy — that is, everyone except a few.
Some men there are bound to be with no
home, no friends beyond their immediate
pals out there with them. A man may have
every inhuman instinct, he may be tough,
and hard, with a four-ply calloused soul,
but it hurts him when the mail comes in and
there is none for him. It hurts terribly!
But more terrible is the hurt to the man

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who has family and friends and creeps back
to the hut with empty hands. He knows
there is no reason on earth why some one of
those at home cannot write, and it stabs
right to the heart. No sympathy helps.
There he is, undergoing horrors such as
never were known before — undergoing
them for the sake of the people at home.
He doesn't need appreciation, he doesn't
want it. But he does want and he does need
a bit of cheery gossip from the home folk;
how Gertie is getting along in the shop,
what "movies" Hannah has seen lately, how
dad is doing at the bench, a word about the
last pantomime.

Remember this when one of your boys is
coming back to billets.

The turmoil from the mail died away.
In its place came long and prodigious
snores. Morning found the orderly cor-
poral dashing madly from hut to hut try-
ing to arouse his company. He did this by
the simplest possible method. Every hut

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was told that all the others were pinching
all the breakfast. It never failed to be
effective.

Breakfast over, parade for inspection was
set for eleven o'clock. For that parade
every spot of mud must be off boot and
uniform, rifle and bayonet must be cleaned
and oiled, you must be shaved and washed
and every bit of equipment must be in per-
fect order.

At eleven, we fell in, clean, spick and
span as though we had never seen a trench
and our C. O. inspected us. One man had
lost his gas helmet and explained that his
dugout fell in and buried it. The officer
couldn't remember the incident of the
caved-in dugout, however, so the man's
name went down on the book to buy
another. A second chap explained that his
entrenching tool had been carried away by
a rat when he had laid it down after chop-
ping some kindling. His name went down
to buy another entrenching tool. Still

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another hadn't scraped all the mud from his
uniform because he had been on kitchen
police, so he stayed on police for another
three days. So things went until finally
we were dismissed to fall in at half-past
two for a bath.

Half past two found us with towels
around our necks and marching off to the
divisional baths, located in an old ram-
shackle building. We halted outside. As
usual a platoon already was inside bathing,
and we had to wait until they were finished.
Outside the building were heaps of dirty
clothes ready to go into the near-by wash.
As the platoon ahead of us came out, look-
ing almost sickly pale they were so clean,
we marched into the disrobing room and
stripped. Our uniforms we handed to an
attendant who shoved them into a fumi-
gator where they stayed until we came out.
Our soiled laundry we carried in our hands
to the door of the bathroom proper, where
another attendant took it from us.

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The bathroom was about forty feet
square, with barrels cut in half placed all
around the walls and plenty of cold wind
coming in through the cracks. Each man
made a dive for a tub in which were two
pails of water, one hot and one cold. Here
we scrubbed for five minutes or so, then
getting out of the tub we went to a counter
and drew clean underclothing and a towel.
It was time then to return to the dressing
room where we got our uniforms back
smelling worse than ever. We dressed, and
bath time was over for another fortnight.

''Eats" was the next big thing of the day
— not government ''eats," but nice, fluffy,
light omelettes, cooked as only Madame
knows how, with toast and coffee. We were
now luxuriously bathed and fed. The only
thing lacking was amusement and we got
it through the Y. M. C. A., motion pictures
and our own special entertainments.

Every division has its own troupe of

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entertainers at the front. These men are
selected for their talent. They give per-
formances every night to the different com-
panies. They name themselves, taking such
titles as ^The Whizzbangs," ^The
Crumps," and so on.

On top of this the British and French
governments allow the men and women of
the stage in London and Paris to take trips
to the front at different times and before
returning they manage to cover ^'back of
the lines" all along the front. The enter-
tainments are always delightful and they
are very much appreciated by the men.

Battalions also have their own concerts,
which are always amusing, but their humor
is strictly local. One not living with the
men would fail to catch the points in dia-
logues and songs which send members of
the battalion into peals of laughter.

Thus time passes rapidly. ^^Six days
out" are crowded full of concerts, football

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and clean fun for the men, aided by the
estaminets which sell their harmless beer.
So when troops are ordered into the line
again they have been refreshed with good
fun in plenty, they have played hard and
again are ready for hard work.



122



VII

The Bullring and its neighborhood had
been a hard strain on the nerves of all of
us. Taken out for our rest in billets, dur-
ing which some working parties were sand-
wiched in, we were not very keen to get
back so soon for another tour of the
trenches. We were grousing a bit at our
luck when a battalion orderly stuck his
head in the door of our hut.

"All right, you. Report at battalion
headquarters." He was speaking to me.

I tumbled out and ran to headquarters
as fast as I could, wondering what I had
done to call down the wrath of the mighty
on me. I thought of everything which was
against regulations and couldn't figure how
I could have been caught.

*Teave" flashed in my mind, then flashed
right out again. No such luck!

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Would you believe it though? That was
what my summons was for. I walked into
the orderly room, very meek and mild,
ready to receive anything coming to me.
The sergeant just glanced at me. He was
busy, for the battalion was going into the
trenches that evening.

^'This is for you,'* he said, ^^be back on
time."

And he handed me a return trip ticket
to London, or as is known in the British
army, a warrant. All soldiers from France,
on leave, travel free any place in the British
Isles.

I looked at my warrant, the sergeant, and
everybody else in the place, then in a trem-
bling voice said: ^Thank you," and stag-
gered out into the fresh air.

Leave! Ten days of it! I couldn't be-
lieve it. Then the fresh air cleared my
brain. I let out a whoop that almost scared
the headquarters sentries to death and
started down the road as hard as I could



OVER THERE AND BACK



run toward our hut. I went through the
door with a crash.

'^Hurrah, fellows, leave! I've got leave!
To hell with all of you!"

So I raved till the crowd downed me.
We wrestled in the straw until we were out
of breath, then I took messages from the
fellows for those in England, took orders
for things to be sent out, took on a dozen
jobs which I never did. Too busy.

As the rest of the fellows packed up to
go into the line, I packed up ready to go
on leave, and I lost precious little time
about it. A man going on leave takes every-
thing he owns with him except his ammu-
nition. It is necessary to leave this behind
because the fellows over there are very sore
on the pacifists.

One Scotty went home on leave and was
in a "pub" listening to a pacifist argument.
They were going to do this and that and
the other thing and were generally arrang-
ing the world so that we could live without

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argument. The Scotty got fed up with lis-
tening. He drew out a Mills bomb he
had in his pocket which he had brought
home as a souvenir, and tossed it under the
pacifists' table. ^Take that," he shouted.
They did, and in consequence no one is al-
lowed to carry home anything in the way
of explosives. Otherwise some of the fel-
lows would carry back 9.2 shells.

I didn't bother with souvenirs. I was my
own souvenir and it didn't take me long to
reach railhead. It was seven miles from
our billets, but I made it in record time. I
never stopped once. I wanted to get that
train and get it I did. If the battalion had
ever been marched at that speed I would
have howled all day. So would everybody
else, but it was a case of going on leave
now so it didn't matter. That train would
take a fearful beating. It was slow; noth-
ing could describe the slowness of all these
trains. Every three miles they stop as
though to get their breath and when they

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Stop, half a dozen Frenchmen pile in until
one compartment will be holding about
twenty men instead of ten.

Now everybody loves a Frenchman. I
do. I think they are a marvelous race;
wonderful fighters; but have you ever been
the lone Anglo-Saxon in a compartment
with nineteen French ^Tommies" with all
windows closed and all nineteen of them
smoking the vilest tobacco and chattering?
— Heavens, how they can talk! A China-
man is dumb beside them.

On top of all this, have it happen on a
train with no schedule and an engineer with
a great ambition for overtime and if by the
time you reach your journey's end you don't
almost hate the word "French," then you
are superhuman.

Funny, though, but I didn't mind it
much. All I could see was a quick run on
the train and London. So, when we arrived

at I pulled myself out of the human

mess, shook myself, counted my arms and

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legs and finding all of them with me, I
made for the boat.

The boat was as badly crowded as the
train, but everybody spoke English and
smoked good tobacco; at least it smelled
good. We chattered like fury, too, but you
could understand it and everybody was
happy, gloriously happy, as we pulled out
for Blighty. We sat with our lifebelts on,
all over the decks and in the diflferent
salons, which, being overcrowded over-
flowed upon the staircases so that once a
man sat down, he could not move until he
reached England. The boat that took us
across was very fast and it was convoyed by
destroyers, airships and goodness knows
what not, for if a German will sink a Red
Cross ship when all its markings are per-
fectly plain, who knows what he would do
to a British leave boat?

They didn't catch us, though, so we piled

off the boat at and rushed for the

train.

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We were an excited, happy mob. Cries
of "here ye are, Jerry," and "comin' ole
top," flew up and down the platform. Fel-
lows jumped out of one compartment to run
to another, others ran up and down the plat-
form just out of sheer joy of being alive.
They were actually on English soil again,
and had to do something to keep their feel-
ings from running over. Everybody tried
to send telegrams at once and there was
much confusion. With quite a bit of dif-
ficulty we were all put aboard and we
slipped away toward London.

The crowds on the street waved handker-
chiefs and cheered. Back came the cry
from some one of our crowd: "Are we
downhearted?" And every head, sticking
out of the windows, roared, "No-o-o."

The town passed, we settled down to en-
joy the ride and anticipate the sight of loved
ones.

I was a colonial, though. We colonials
would have to go another six thousand five

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hundred miles to meet loved ones, and the
English know it and try to make it up to
us in their open-hearted way. They can't
say Presto! and produce our families, but
they do the next best thing; they give us
their homes for clubs, with beds, sheets,
bathrobes, lounging and billiard rooms,
along with their chefs to cook the food we
like, and they even wait on us. Their clubs,
organized years ago, which some men spend
all their lives trying to pry their way into,
are thrown open to us. We own them, as
far as these people are concerned. They
even open their private homes to us "for-
eigners," do these splendid people, whom
the world mock as haughty, snobbish Eng-
lish. What they have is ours, even to their
own privacy. The badge of entry, your in-
troduction to them, both the highest and
the lowest, is an American, Canadian, Aus-
tralian or New Zealand uniform. That is
all; the fact that you are away, far away,
from home.

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I knew this and while I knew I would
miss my family, I didn't worry. I would
have a good time and be made welcome any-
where.

Fields flash by as we travel at sixty
miles an hour. Soon, almost before we
know it, we are clanking over numerous
switches and are running into Victoria sta-
tion. Even before the train stops the fel-
lows are piling out and rushing for the gate,
while the guards frantically shout ^'Wait
'til she stops!" No heed is given, though.
There, just ahead, are loved ones and no one
can wait.

Swinging open a gate is a very neat young
woman of the railway. She is a ticket col-
lector and, more still, a woman war worker.
I watch her rather than the crowd of those
who have met again after a long separation.

There is no cheering, no heroics; an ex-
clamation, "John," "Mary," a fervent em-
brace, a kiss, a second's look into each
other's eyes, then a dash for a 'bus or a

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taxi, and home. Ten days, after all, is not
much, and a lot must be done in that time.

For those who must cross London to some
other station for a connection, it appears a
formidable task. London with its twistings
and turnings, some streets running on end-
lessly, and to me it seems, aimlessly, others
running short distances into blind alleys,
landing one up against a wall, is mystifying
and perplexing, but the people of London
don't let the ^'Tommies'' who pass through
their great city get lost. Automobiles are
there to help those who must get a quick
connection or lose a day of their precious
leave. These men are rapidly sorted out,
piled into the cars, and rushed to their
trains.

For those in no hurry, aged men, even
young women, appear as guides and lead
the way to a nearby club. There the men
eat and rest until train time. Or, if time
permits, the guide will take them to a play
or show them some interesting sights.

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The persons who do this are men too old
for service at home or abroad and are
known, if I remember right, as the Volun-
teer Home Defense Corps. They wear a
little band on their arm with the royal coat
of arms and the letters "G. R." The person
who evolved the design meant it for
^'George Reigns," but the "Tommies" went
them one better and call these men "God's
rejected." Not out of disrespect, but just
because they are "Tommies." They like
the guards; they wouldn't know what to do
without them, and the grand old fellows
come out in any kind of weather to shep-
herd and nurse a soldier through wicked
old London.

To those of us who are going to stay in
London, it is simple. We pile into a taxi,
say "Canadian Club, Berkeley Square,"
and away we go.

Everything looks great! There is life,
movement which is free and without hin-
drance. One doesn't have to continually

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hide in a trench. The relaxation and free-
dom are contagious. We feel so good we
sing. People look around and smile. They
know we are ^'Tommies" back from the
front as everybody who comes from there
is always happy. Singing, we arrive at the
club, pile out, give the driver a tip that
makes his eyes pop wide open, go into the
club, register, and then a bath. As I regis-
ter, I think of "eats." What a glorious feed
that is going to be!

Our beds cost us sixteen cents a night —
a bed in the West End of London. Break-
fast and luncheon cost us the same. Dinner
at night is twenty-five cents. It's a great
club, but a bath is all we want now.

A tub and a clean change of clothing, for
the club also gives you that in exchange for
your dirty things, and we are ready to go to
dinner, so three of us stroll out into the
gathering dusk. We go down along Pica-
dilly to a favorite spot we have known be-
fore. Buses pass us and on every one is a

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woman conductor. A man conductor is as
strange a sight now as was once a woman,
but the girls handle the job right well.

We go to our old haunt. The men wait-
ers are gone. The girls are even there, and
the service has improved. So much for us
mere men. We eat— such a meal; soup,
fish, meat— but why go on? The girls
carry food and still more food until they are
amazed, when but once we get over our
awe of white table linen, silver and glass-
ware. Finally, breathless and uncomfort-
able, we lean back for a smoke, speechless
but happy.

Recovering our breath in time, we pay
our bill and start out for the theater; one
with a revue on. We don't want dramas.
We have been living in a human drama
with all the play-acting cut out, a drama
with life and death as the entrance and exit;
something they cannot put on the stage.
What we want is musical comedy; a laugh
a second, with lots of music and pretty cho-

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ruses, and we get it. With luck, we find
good seats for the best show in town. The
house is packed, the fun is fast and furious.
We roar with laughter. War is forgotten.
Two nights before, we were in France,
waiting to go into the trenches. To-night
the other fellows are "in," thinking and
dreaming of the time when they will see
what we are watching now. Next week,
the week after, we will be back on our jobs.
To-morrow morning the civilians will be
on their's under the abnormal pressure of
war, but at night, every one plays and puts
war a little out of mind. It is not good to
be too serious too long.

Theater out, we go to the street and come
face to face with war again. The streets are
practically dark, but the crowds, none the
less, are flowing back and forth full of good-
natured chafT at the inconveniences.

We go to a "lobster palace" for a little
supper. Outside, the doors and windows
are pitch black. The only indication of

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business as usual is the liveried attendant
who swings open the door, letting us into a
blaze of light, the smell of good cigarettes
and the sight of beautiful women. It is
something our eyes are hungry for. It is
what we dreamed about while we were
standing up to our hips in mud, and now we
are realizing it while we may. We take
the full enjoyment while we can and ^4sh
ka bibble." We eat everything that is good
to the taste and bad for the stomach, but
what care we? It is leave, grand and glo-
rious !

When we finish eating, we make our exit
in a lordly manner, hailing a taxi which
drives us to our club, where we go to bed.
What a wonderful feeling — beds, and no
"stand to" in the morning! Up any time we
like! War has its compensations, after all.

The next day we are out early, and climb
on a 'bus for a ride. We don't know where
the thing is going and don't care. The girl
comes up, collects our fares, punches a re-

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ceipt, all very businesslike; smiles as any
good-natured person would do, and goes
down stairs.

They are wonders, these women. They
are every place. Our 'bus passed a stun-
ning team of horses drawing a big van
through Fleet street. Perched up in the air
on a level with our eyes was a young girl,
the reins in her hands. By her side was her
assistant, both dressed in serviceable uni-
forms, with caps perched cockily on the
sides of their heads and strong boots, lacing
to well above the ankles. The teamsteress
had one foot resting lightly on the brake
and there they were, sailing along as mer-
rily as could be.

You can't help but admire the women of
the British Isles, and it will keep our girls
jumping to keep up with them.

Some time afterward I saw a girl in
Edinburgh driving one of the old-fashioned
street cars that have the hand brakes, and
Edinburgh is no level plain.

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Others unload freight cars; they farm;
they are carpenters, and they drive ambu-
lances and taxis. They are in France. They
are like the Y. M. C. A. and I am sure
that like the Y. M. C. A., when 'Tommy"
gets to that world-famed spot where the
fires are always burning, she will be stand-
ing outside helping the Y. M. C. A. make
ice-cold lemonade for the poor fellows as
they arrive.

The munition factories employ them by
the hundreds of thousands, and by a good
many score have they given their lives for
their country as the result of accidental ex-
plosions in these places. They are glorious
women! My hat, everybody's hat, is off to
them. The only tragic thing about it is that
we men are finding out how really useless
we are.

Our days are crowded with excitement
and sight seeing; 'bus rides, taxi rides, din-
ners, theaters, and peaceful sleep. A great
and glorious existence!

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Coming out of the theater one night the
quiet of the city was gone. The air was full
of rapid pops. A raid was on. The sky
was full of searchlights, crossing and re-
crossing one another, traveling with great
sweeps like giant fingers seeking to point
out to the anti-air craft guns where the
raider was hiding. The air was full of
little red flashes as the shells burst. The
tops of the buildings where the guns were,
seemed to spit little flames like sparks com-
ing out of a chimney. The people in the
street were curious and stood out in the
open looking up until constables chased
them in. Some caught taxis, telling the
driver to go where the bombs were drop-
ping.

We hailed a taxi, and even as we started
to tell the driver where to go, there was a
distant boom. ^'Go to where those noises
are," we told him as we climbed in and


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Online LibraryJoseph Shuter SmithOver there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land → online text (page 5 of 10)