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J. N. D.





























Strict on parade! When I'm on it I'm ready
To shove blokes about if they do not keep steady!
Comin' the acid! Stow it there! or it
Won't do with me and then you'll be for it!
Swingin' the lead! Them, the dowsiest rankers
That ne'er 'ad C.B. or a dose of the jankers,
Swing it on Snoggers! I'd like them to do it
And good God Awmighty then, I'll put them froo it!

Off it, I'm off. Then I'll brush up my putties,
Try and look posh and get off wiv my butties,
A drink at the Café, a joke wiv the wenches,
Last joke per'aps, for we're due for the trenches.
Then stick to wiv pride as our mateys have stuck it
When kissin' the wenches or kickin' the bucket.

(_From "A Service Song."_)

The night had fallen and the Café Belle Vue was crowded with soldiers
in khaki. The day's work was at an end, and the men had left their
billets to come out and spend a few hours in the wine-shop of Jean
Lacroix. A whole division was quartered in the district; it had come
back from the firing-line and was enjoying a brief period of rest prior
to its departure for the trenches again.

Even here, back near the town of Cassel, the men were not free from the
sights and sounds of the fighting. At night they could see the red
agony of war painting the distant horizon, and hear the far-off
rumbling of the big guns as the thunder and tumult of the conflict
smote across the world. The men back from the line of slaughter tried
not to think too clearly of what was happening out there. In the Café
Belle Vue, where the wine was good, men could forget things.

The Café was crowded. Half-a-dozen soldiers stood at the bar and the
patronne served out drinks with a speedy hand. Behind her was a number
of shelves on which stood bottles of various sizes. Over the shelves
were two photographs; one was her own, the other was that of her
husband when he was a thinner man and a soldier in the army. In the
house there was one child, a dirty, ragged little girl, who sat in a
corner and fixed a dull meaningless stare on the soldiers as they
entered the café.

Jean Lacroix sat beside the long-necked stove stroking his beard, a
neat white little beard which stood perkily out from his fat chin. Jean
Lacroix was fat, a jelly blob of a man with flesh hanging from his
sides, from his cheeks and from his hands. He was a heap of blubber
wrapped in cloth. When he changed his locality he shuffled instead of
walking, when he laughed he shivered and shook his fat as if he wanted
to fling it off. He was seldom serious, when he was, all those near him
laughed. A serious Jean was a ridiculous figure.

His wife was an aggressive female with a dark moustache, the tongue of
a shrew and the eye of a money-lender. She worked like an ant and
seldom spoke to her husband. Jean, wise with the wisdom of a well-fed
man, rarely said a word to her; he sat by the fire all day and spoke to
anyone else who cared to listen.

A sergeant and three men entered and going up to the bar called for
drinks. These soldiers were billeted at Y - - Farm which stood some
three kilometres away from the Café Belle Vue. They belonged to the
London Irish Regiment. The battalion had just come down from Hulluch
for a rest. Having procured their drinks the four men sat down, lit
their cigarettes and entered into a noisy conversation.

Before going any further it will be well to say a few words about these
men, the principal personages of my story.

The sergeant's name was Snogger. He was a well-built man, straight as a
ramrod and supple as an eel. He was very strict on parade, a model
soldier, a terror to recruits and a rank disciplinarian. "When you're
on parade you're on parade," was his pet saying. He had a tendency to
use the letter "w" a little too often when speaking. Once he said
admonishing a dilatory squad: "You blokes in the wear wank must wipe
your wifles wiv woily wags in future!"

Sergeant Snogger was a handsome man, proud as Lucifer and very careful
about his person. His moustache was always waxed, his finger nails were
always clean, and whenever possible he slept with his trousers placed
under his bed and neatly folded. Thus a most artistic crease was

Snogger had peculiar ears. Their tops pressed very closely into the
head and the lobes stood out. Looking at the ears from the side they
had an appearance similar to that of a shovel stretched out to catch
something; seen from behind they looked as if crouching against a
parapet waiting for an oncoming shell.

The men liked Snogger and the sergeant preferred the company of
riflemen to that of his brother N.C.O.'s.

Bowdy Benners was a different type of man. A young fellow of
twenty-four, slightly over medium height, but thick-set and sturdy. He
had remarkably long arms, heavy buttocks and broad shoulders. The
latter he swung vigorously when marching. This motion imparted a
certain defiant swagger to the man which his placid nature utterly
belied. He was of a kindly disposition, extremely good-humoured, but
very self-conscious and blushed red as a poppy when spoken to. There
was something very amiable and kind in his face; something good and
comforting in his sleepy eyes, his rather thick lips and full cheeks.
His ears perhaps were out of keeping with the repose which found
expression on the rest of his features. They stood out from his head
alert and ready, as it seemed, to jump from their perch on to the

Bowdy could drink like a fish, but French beer never made him drunk and
champagne merely made him merry. When merry he swore and his companions
laughed at this unaccustomed violence.

"Devil blow me blind," he would say, stretching his long arm across the
table at which he might be sitting and bringing down his massive fist
with a thundering bang. "Devil blow me stone blind for a fool!" And all
the soldiers around would laugh and wink at one another, as much as to
say: "Is he not a big silly fool; not half as clever as we are."

Bowdy was not indeed particularly clever; he lacked excessive sharpness
of wit. But his mates loved him, for his spirit of comradeship was very
genuine and he had a generous sympathy for all things good and noble.
Often when the boys' tongues were loosened in a French tavern one of
them might be heard saying: "Old Bowdy's a damned good sort. I'd follow
him anywhere, even to hell."

Then the others would answer: "None like old Bowdy. One of the best he
is. And a good man."

Bowdy was indeed a good man; a great fighter. In raids, in bayonet
charges and bombing encounters he was a force to be reckoned with and
never had an adversary been known to get the better of him.
Persistence, staying power and dogged courage were his great assets,
and these when taken in conjunction with his good humour and simple
nature made him a loved comrade and worthy friend.

Bowdy was now seated at the inn table, drinking beer with his mate, an
alert youth with a snub nose and bright vivacious eyes. His name was

Spudhole was a Londoner, a native of Walworth. His real name was Thomas
Bubb, but his mates nicknamed him Spudhole, a slang term for the
guard-room. The nickname became him, he liked it and was not a little
proud of the fact that no man in the regiment spent as many days in the
guard-room as did Rifleman Thomas Bubb. He was eternally guilty of
trivial offences against Army regulations. This was in a great measure
due to his inability to accommodate himself to a changed environment.
He was a coster unchangeable and unchanged; to him an officer was
always "Guv'nor," he addressed an officer as such, and the Colonel was
the "ole bloke." His tongue was seldom quiet and the cries of his trade
were ever on his tongue, even on parade he often gave them expression.
He sang well, drank well, fought well, and loved practical jokes.

Once at St. Albans he dressed himself up as a corporal, took two of his
mates to the railway station and relieved the military police on duty
there. Mistaking him for a real N.C.O. they left the station in his
hands. Of course he took the first train to London. On his return he
was awarded fourteen days' spud-hole.

When in the guard-room he decided to escape and at the hour of twelve
on the first night when a sentry stood on watch outside his prison
Spudhole broke the window with a resounding thump. Then he rushed back
and stood behind the door. He was in stocking-soles, his boots were
slung round his shoulders by the laces. On hearing the crash the sentry
opened the door, sprang into the room and hurried to the window
thinking that Spudhole was trying to escape by that quarter - and
Spudhole went out by the door.

He was very good-natured, in fact quixotic. Once a recruit belonging to
Bubb's section was so very slack that the officer brought him out in
front of the squad and got him to perform several movements in musketry
drill. The remainder of the party had to shout out when the man made
any mistakes. As is usual, the onlookers saw many faults and shouted
themselves hoarse. But Bubb was silent. When the slack recruit returned
to his place in the ranks the officer spoke to Spudhole.

"Did you notice any of those mistakes?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Bubb replied.

"And why did you not say so?" enquired the officer.

"Well, I didn't want to give the bloke away," was Bubb's answer.

The youngster had spent four years in a reformatory; afterwards as a
coster he presided over a barrow in a turning off Walworth Road. His
pitch was one of the best in the locality. He fell in love with a girl
who kept a barrow beside him. He often spoke of her to Bowdy Benners.

"She's not 'arf a bird," he would say. "Nobody can take a mike out 'er.
I'm goin' to get spliced after the war too."

Near the stove sat the remaining soldier, an Irishman named Fitzgerald.
He was a thin graceful fellow of about five-and-twenty, and could not,
to judge by his appearance, boast of very good health. His lips full
and red, his straight nose, delicate nostrils, black liquid eyes and
long lashes betrayed a passionate and sensitive nature. He was a
thoughtful man, grave and dutiful, but at times as petulant and
perverse as a child. Even when most perverse he was good company.

He was exceedingly superstitious. His thoughts generally wandered with
startling suddenness from one subject to another but this was probably
due to the use of strong drink. He had had a college education but took
to drink early and squandered all his resources. Then he became a rover
and wandered through many parts of the world as sailor, tramp and
outcast. He had slept in doss-houses, on the pavements, in the fields.
Once indeed he was a trombone player in the Salvation Army, and again
he fought in a Mexican rebellion. Then he belonged to a regiment, the
soldiers of which had to wear great coats on their triumphal march
through a certain town because of the bad condition of their trousers.
Fitz knew a smattering of most languages but vowed that he was only
proficient in one - bad language.

At present he was in a gay good humour and as he spoke to young Benners
his voice, loud enough but very soft and pleasant, penetrated to the
very corners of the inn.

"Do you ever feel afraid, Bowdy?" he asked. "Funky, you know." Then,
without waiting for an answer, he went on: "God! I do feel afraid,
sometimes. Out on listening patrol. It's hell for a man with
imagination. Crawling out in the darkness between the lines. You hear
the grass whispering, and the darkness ahead of you may hide anything.
An awful face covered with blood may rise up in front, a hand may come
out and grasp you by the hair. The dead are lying around you, poor
quiet creatures, but you know that they're stronger than you are. I
often wish I couldn't think, that I lacked imagination, that I was a
clod of earth, just something like that plebeian there." Fitzgerald
raised his finger and pointed to Bubb who was rapping his idle fingers
on the legs of his chair. Bubb gazed at Fitzgerald and laughed.

"Fleebian," he exclaimed. "I know wot that is. We 'ad one but the wheel
came off."

"No imagination there," said Fitzgerald with an air of finality. "He
couldn't be afraid, that creature. No soul. I dare ten thousand times
as much to overcome my fear as that man would dare to win the V.C. When
I go out on listening patrol I am always furthest out. I feel if I'm a
yard behind the front man he'll consider me a coward, so I get out a
yard ahead of him and I tremble all the time.

"God! I had a bad dream last night," Fitzgerald remarked swinging from
one topic to another. "I dreamt I saw a woman dressed in black looking
into an empty grave."

"That's a bad sign," said the sergeant. "You'll be damned unlucky the
next time yer go up to the trenches. Ye'll never come back. Ye'll get
done in."

"Oh, I'll come back safe and sound," Fitzgerald replied in all
seriousness. "The dream was a bad one and portended some evil."

"And is it not bad enough to get done in?" asked Benners.

"There are things worse than death," was Fitzgerald's answer. "Death is
not the supreme evil. But women! It's not good to dream of them
especially if they're red-haired. Did you ever dream of red-haired
women, Bowdy?"

Bowdy laughed but did not speak. Women apparently did not attract him
much and in their company he was shy and diffident. Wanting to get away
as quickly as possible from their presence he would rake up some
imaginary appointment from the back of his head, ask to be excused and
disappear. Behaviour of this kind though natural to Bowdy Benners was
quite inexplicable to his mates. Fitzgerald having had a drop of wine
was now in a mood to discuss womanhood.

"You're too damned modest, Bowdy," he said. "And you don't shine in the
company of the fair, dear women. You know the natural mission of woman
is to please man, and man, no matter what he feels, should try and look
pleased when in her company. If he looks bored what does that signify,
Bowdy Benners? Eh? It means that he has found her ugly. That's an
insult to the sex, to feminine charms and womanly qualities. For myself
I'd much sooner sin and please a woman than pose as a saint and annoy
her. Women don't like saints; what they want most in life is Love."

"Love! Love is the only allurement in existence," said Fitzgerald
rising to his feet. "It is the essence of life. Love, free and
unrestrained, not tied to the pillars of propriety by the manacles of
marriage. (That's a damned smart phrase, isn't it, Spudhole?) Love is
sacred, marriage is not, marriage is governed by laws, love is not.
Nature has given us love. It is an instinct and we shouldn't fight
against it too much. Why should we fight against a gift from God? Some
sacrilegious fool tried to improve on God's handiwork and made laws to
govern love. It's like man to poke his nose in where it's not wanted.
He'd give the Lord soda water at the Last Supper."

Snoggers laughed boisterously, Bubb chuckled and a lazy smile spread
over Bowdy's face. The gestures of the excited Irishman amused them. He
sat down, took a deep breath, then went on to speak in a calmer voice.

"Love sweetens life," he said. "It is like sugar in children's physic.
Here, Spudhole, were you ever in love?"

"Blimey, not arf," Spudhole answered and winked. "I'm not arf a beggar
wiv the birds. I'm...."

"That wench down at the farm, that girl Fifi is a nice snug parcel o'
love," Snoggers interrupted, "I 'aven't arf got my 'and in down that
quarter. Wot d'ye fink o' 'er, Fitz?"

"Who?" asked Fitzgerald. He had become suddenly alert.

"'Ear 'im," said Bubb, winking at the Sergeant. "Old Fitz ain't arf a
dodger; one o' the nuts that's wot 'e is."

"Fifi, the girl at the farm," said Snogger in answer to Fitzgerald's
question. "Yer don't say much when you're down there and 'er in the
room but your eyes are never off 'er.... I wouldn't say nothin' against
rollin' 'er in the straw.... This mornin' ... a funny thing ... she
came up to me and told me to put my 'and in 'ers. I obliged 'er. Then
she said to me: 'Two sous for your thoughts.' I didn't tell 'er wot I
was finkin' of, but I didn't arf fink."

Snogger laughed loudly; Fitzgerald was silent.

"Bet yer, yer wos finkin' somefing wot wasn't good, sarg," said Bubb.

"Aye; and old Fitz is gwine dotty on the wench," said the sergeant. "I
see it in his eyes."

"Botheration," Fitzgerald remarked. "I know the girl by sight and I
know she makes good café-au-lait, but I didn't even know her name until

"Sing a song, Fitz," Bubb called out. "A good rousin' song wiv 'air

"I pay no heed to that creation, his tap-room wit and yokel humour,"
muttered Fitzgerald, turning to Benners. "But if you desire it...."

"Give us a bit o' a song, Fitz," Benners replied.

"Give me a cigarette and I'll sing you a song that I love very much,"
Fitzgerald said. "It was sung in Ireland by the old women in the famine
times when they were dying of starvation. You must picture the
famine-stricken leaning over their turf fires and singing their songs
of desolation. (God! I think it was the turf-fires that kept the race



"I want to go 'ome,
I want to go 'ome,
I don't want to go to the trenches no more,
Where the bullets and shrapnel do whistle and roar,
I want to go over the sea,
Where the Alley man can't get at me;
Oh, my!
I don't want to die,
I want to go 'ome!"

(_A Trench Song._)

A strange glow overspread Fitzgerald's face and he rose from his seat
by the stove and sat down again on a bench in a corner and spread out
his hands timorously towards an imaginary fire. He bent his head
forward until it drooped almost to his knees and his whole attitude
took on a semblance of want and woe beset with an overpowering fear.
Benners gasped involuntarily as he waited for the song.

A long, drawn out, hardly audible note that wavered like a thread of
smoke quivered out into the evil atmosphere of the apartment, it was
followed by a second and a third. A strange effect was produced on all
the listeners by the trembling voice of the singer. Bubb gaped
stupidly, his eyes fixed on the roof, as he rubbed his chin with the
fingers of his right hand. The sergeant drew himself up and listened,
fascinated. Fitzgerald's song was the song of a soul condemned to
inevitable sorrow; there was not a relieving touch, not a glow of hope,
it was the song of a damned soul.

"Oh, the praties they are small
Over here.
Oh, the praties they are small
Over here.
The praties they are small
And we ate them skins and all,
Aye, and long afore the Fall,
Over here.

No help in hour of need
Over here.
And God won't pay much heed
Over here.
Then whisht! Or He'll take heed
And He'll rot the pratie seed
And send other mouths to feed
Over here.

I wish I was a duck
Over here.
To be eating clay and muck
Over here.
I'd sooner ... sooner ... I'd sooner...."

"My God, I've forgotten it, Benners, forgotten the rest of the song,"
Fitzgerald exclaimed, throwing his unlighted cigarette on the floor and
gripping his hair with both hands as if going to pull it out of his
head. Then, as if thinking better of it, he brought both his hands to
his sides and sat down on his original seat, his whole face betokening
extreme self-pity.

"My memory!" he exclaimed. "My memory! Why was I brought into being?"

A minute's silence followed, then an eager glow lit up Fitzgerald's
face. A happy inspiration seemed to have seized hold of him. "Benners!"
he exclaimed in an eager voice. "Have you a cigarette to spare,

"Gorblimey!" laughed Bubb. "Listen to 'im. 'E's always on the 'ear-'ole
for fags, an' 'e throws arf of 'em away. 'E's not arf a nib, ole Fitz."

"Good Heavens, how can I endure such remarks from a damned Sassenach!
(I beg your pardon, Bubb)" Fitzgerald exclaimed, gripping with both
fingers the cigarette which Benners had given him and breaking it in
two. "You don't understand me, Bubb, you can't. I don't bear you any
malice, but, heavens! you are trying at times.... By the way," he
added, "can you give us one of your songs?"

Bubb looked at Fitzgerald for a moment then lit a cigarette and got to
his feet.

"Wot about Ole Skiboo?" he asked, addressing the remark to all in the

The soldiers knew that he was going to oblige and applauded with their

Bubb fixed his eyes on the patronne and started:

"Madame, 'ave yer any good wine?
Skiboo! Skiboo!
Madame, 'ave yer any good wine?
Madame, 'ave yer any good wine
Fit for a rifleman o' the line?
Skiboo! Skiboo! Skiboolety bill skiboo!

"Madame, 'ave yer a daughter fair?
Skiboo! Skiboo!
Madame, 'ave yer a daughter fair?
Madame, 'ave yer a daughter fair?
And I will take her under my care,
Skiboo! Skiboo! Skiboolety bill skiboo!

"Madame, I've got money to spend,
Cinq sous! Cinq sous!
Madame, I've got money to spend,
Cinq sous!
Madame, I've got money to spend,
Seldom the case with your daughter's friend,
Cinq sous! Cinq sous, cinq slummicky slop! Cinq sous!"

The song, an old one probably, but adapted to suit modern
circumstances, was lustily chorused by the soldiers in the room. Bubb
having finished sat down, but presently rose to his feet again.

"'Oo'l whistle the chorus of 'It's a long way to Tipperary'?" he asked.
"Everybody do it together and the one that does it froo I'll stand 'im
a drink. Nobody to laugh. And the one that's not able to do it will
stand me a drink. Is that a bargain? Nobody to laugh, mind."

The men agreed to Bubb's terms and started whistling. But they did not
get far. They had drunk quite a lot and Bubb's final injunction tickled

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Online LibraryPatrick MacGillThe brown brethren → online text (page 1 of 13)