Stephen Graham.

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to be caressed, and then certainly to sleep, to
discharge army from the pores for nights and
days, for a whole draft leave, for a special leave,
for a sick-leave how long, think you, would it
take to get it out of the system ? How long is
it going to take for us all ? For by now every
one alive has got somewhat of it.

I remember after my first three weeks, when
I was virtually a prisoner within barrack walls,
and I obtained my first week-end leave and


journeyed twenty miles in Surrey to London on
the top of an omnibus, I was mad at the common
sights I saw, and drank them in like wine, loved
every civilian, grudged no other young man
his black attire and precious liberty. I saw the
Surrey hills and woods as for the first time
sparkling like Eden. It was a most intense hour
and a half of joy. Joy and pain also for the
heart ached.

My second week-end was not nearly so intense.
My third and fourth were progressively duller,
and the 'bus ride was but added boredom, a
prolongation of the curse-sodden bricks of the
drill-yard. I only ached to know myself becom-
ing duller, less sensitive to sights and sounds, more
a possession of the army, more ready to kill and
destroy than to be and to enjoy.

A great spell has been wrought over the earth,
and even I have succumbed to it. Yes, you also.
You and I and all of us. Not only our bodies
but our souls are in uniform and cannot get out
of it. And it will take longer eventually to
demobilise the souls than the bodies. Soldiers
from the Front know the programme of the bath :
the first bath and what it will do, the second,
the third, the tenth ; they know the new odours
they still exude months after getting home, and
the rashes and blotches in the skin the war
which they have taken in being sweated out of
them. That is the physical process, and a
kindred spiritual one also goes on, the getting
war out of the eyes, out of the spirit. Poetry,
love, and Nature will perhaps do it at the last ;


peace and sleep and the gentle quiet beauty of
the unspoiled universe into which we were born.
But I know that years and years after peace has
been proclaimed we shall be doing what I did
to-night before taking up the pen we shall
be washing and purging it away.

Wellington Barracks are only twenty minutes'
walk from my home. It might have been my lot
to have been sent to any other regiment and to
have completed my training in any other part of
Britain, but instead I am remarkably and romantic-
ally near. I can and indeed must lead a double
life. Whenever I am free from duty I am free
to walk home, and I am called upon to make
marvellous quick changes and to re-orient myself
spiritually on the shortest notice.

My day's work is coming to an end, the com-
pany has been dismissed from bayonet-drill,
the barrack-rooms are full of soldiers, and there
is a frantic hurly-burly of talk, swearing, singing,
and clamorous working. Jerry with the massed-
barrel-organ's voice is vocal above all. I am
cleaning my boots again, polishing my buttons
and hat-badge, rubbing up the brasses of my
belt with priceless bath-brick, laying down my
bed to be ready for when I shall return, soaping
and damping my duplicate trousers, and laying
them under the mattress for to-morrow's crease,
tidying up. And all the while my ears are
passively receptive of all manner of indecent
talk, swearing, and brutal or meaningless nonsense


bawled from all sides. But at last I emerge,
and with cries of " Good-byee," called after me
or called back to them, I make good my escape,
pass the scrutinising sergeant at the gate he
will not let you out unless your appearance
keeps up the honour of the regiment and I am
enfranchised of that different and fresher air
which is the other side of barrack railings, that
good air in which civilians luxuriate. A few
minutes' quick walking, which is done mechanic-
ally, brings me to my own door, and it often
seems as if I had arrived instantaneously after
passing the barrack gate, so lost have I been in
my own set thought. And it is difficult to
realise that such a slight difference in time and
space separates me from the inferno of the

I have tea. I do my hour of washing off
the barracks, dream a little, read a little, and then,
it may be, prepare to go out to dinner. I may
not wear evening-dress, but there are certain
changes to make. Then I go forth to old friends
and acquaintances for love and interest, or curi-
osity and the need to know certain things, as
the case may be.

But the contrast between being in a friend's
house and being in barracks is even greater than
that of home and barracks. And it is more
difficult to feel at ease. For one thing, civilian
life with its different rhythm comes up against
the steady, hard beating of army time. And as
I listen to the leisurely way of talk of those who
are free, it is inevitable to reflect that they have


all the time in the world, whilst my time is
limited and fleeting, and soon, very soon, I must
return to the gates. I grudge to friends their
sense of time. For indeed the pleasure of their
company is most intense more intense to me
than mine is to them, because they have a shallower
sense of time. With acquaintances it is easier,
though because of the army they seem somewhat
more distant and accidental. Their life seems
somewhat irrelevant. And they for their part
are continually being startled by my uniform
and its plainness. I warn them before I come.
I am a private in the army and must come in
khaki you don't mind ? Not in the least
delighted. Nevertheless I feel strange.

I sat all one evening in the gloomy grandeur
of Carlton House Terrace and was entertained
by a munition manufacturer who, despite his
trade, seemed to nurse ideals and to have been
made melancholy by war. We sat after dinner
in a sort of ballroom, and a Spanish Count and
his wife danced the tango to the strains of a
phonograph, and the other guests applauded,
whilst the manufacturer with tears in his eyes
told me fragments of his soul's tragedy he was
laden with the responsibility of having killed
thousands, of having made a fortune through
the death of others, and he saw, as all saw at that
time, ideals slipping away from the nations,
and the ideal cause for which we fought swallowed
up in greed, bitter materialism, and hate. And
he could not stop the great machines which he
had set up. The shells grew ever bigger, the


numbers greater. Yet he felt it was time for
peace. He thought that Lloyd George did not
treat sufficiently reverently the possible chances
as they came along.

We sat and talked, sadly and seriously, whilst
the perfect Spaniard made his wife more beautiful
and we never seemed to notice them. My time
of returning like a Cinderella to dirt and poverty
drew nearer, but while aware of the strange
contrast, I felt pleasantly peaceful, for somehow
the shell-maker had also got something of my
sense of time. Before we parted he took me down
to the basement of his house, stood me before
an immense and terrible-looking chest, and bade
me shut my eyes. When I opened them again
he had slowly opened the heavy door of the chest,
and I saw in front of me a shell eight feet high,
and as substantial around as the girth of a tree,
apex upward, grey and sinister. " My tragedy,"
said he. " This is the latest type which I

It was already late. I said good-b'ye. I fled
away down the Duke of York's steps and across
the mysterious Park, just getting in before the
gates were shut. And I entered the erstwhile
noisy barrack-room, now dark and stertorian,
smelling thickly with an atmosphere that could
be cut, and I stepped over the many beds till
I came to mine. There I stopped and rapidly
undressed, to become one with my comrades

I had several invitations to speak in London,
which I had to refuse, it being against the army


regulations for a private to appear on a platform
in the King's uniform, and also against the regu-
lations that he should appear in civilian attire. I
tested the matter and was expressly forbidden.
Nevertheless I could not deny myself the pleasure
of accepting one invitation, and that was to give
an address every Friday in Lent at Christ Church.
I found I could get past the regulations by wearing
a cassock over my uniform comprehending the
service of Caesar within the ampler service of
God. It was to R. J. Campbell that I owed this
opportunity and true pleasure. He had read
my Priest of the Ideal^ and would have liked
me to be Hampden in his church. So I spoke
every week on Christian Idealism, and sought
in my new life and experience examples in which
life's barren metal ought to be converted into

The contrast again was strange. For Friday
is a squalid day in barracks. We use every
spare moment to clean our barrack-room, and
every one has to take a share down on his knees
scrubbing the floor. A huge fire is lit to dry
it quickly, every one is angry, and our faces get
red, our hands most grubby. There are always
shirkers or suspected shirkers. And from an
orgy of scrubbing of this kind I would tear
myself away, sit down ten minutes to think
quietly of my subject, and then, with knees still
damp and face and hands still wet, hasten round
into Victoria Street to put on the gloomy cassock,
walk with clanking steps up the nave, and give
my sermon.


It must be said that the better part of such
a contrast in living made the worse more bear-
able. Moreover, it touched a certain sense
of the humorous and gave some precious salt
of wit.

One night I made one in a joyous party
where my neighbour on the one hand was an
English princess, and next night I was a sentry
at Buckingham Palace. Such a fact might, I
suppose, be cited as evidence of the war making
us more democratic, but it is not so. War makes
us less democratic, and many things which were
comparatively easy for me as a civilian were
distinctly awkward for me as a private in uniform.
Being introduced to officers in a drawing-room
was always difficult, and whilst some treated me
most cordially, others, with official decorum, re-
mained amusingly cold and distant, and even dis-
inclined to shake hands. In the latter period of
the war to be a private soldier was to be of lower
social caste, and if a lip-service of honour was paid
to the common soldier, there was nevertheless the
consciousness that he was without individual power
or voice, and was virtually a slave. I had curious
adventures in treatment outside of barracks.

One night General A asked to see me, and I

went down to Horseguards Avenue in fear and
trepidation, was sent in to him, rigidly saluted,
and stood to attention, but he at once put forth
his hand, and shook hands and smiled, treating
me as an equal. On another occasion I met an
exalted official who knew me quite well as a
writer, and he kept me standing to attention on


his door-mat and treated me so formally that I
felt most chilled. One thing is certain, the
attitude towards the private soldier was a test
for snobs and gentlemen.

One night, after a long discussion on the
religion of the soldier, talked out in the arm-
chair ease of a private club-room, I crossed the

Park with C , a dear, enthusiastic clergyman,

and as we passed the sentry-box at St. James's
Palace at midnight a soft voice whispered,
" Hullo, Graham." I looked round in surprise,
and it was a room-chum on sentry.

:< Don't forget the cake you promised to bring
us," said he with a grin.

The priest was a gentleman in the full sense
of the word. He loved the soldiers, and we
stood talking to the sentry for about five minutes
in the dear, dark dead of night, risking the

" Well, God bless you, my boy, God bless
you," said my friend to the sentry as we passed
on. In myself I felt a little abashed, because
my " room-chum " was in barracks of a lewd
and godless conversation, and here was the
padre saying " God bless you." JBut I learnt
afterwards that the padre knew his man, and that
the soldier was in reality quite edified at being
blessed. He liked it and felt blessed.

I don't know why it should appear to us that
with the poor is reality, with the privates in the


army, with the working man in civil life. The
life of the rich, of the cultured, of the officers,
of the employers must be reality also. It is, I
suppose, because everything depends on the
poor, on the worker, on the common soldier
the others could be dispensed with, they cannot ;
the others are few, they are many. And then
the others think and talk so much about the
life of the soldiers and the workers, and we
feel how much, nevertheless, they are divorced
from it.

I am convinced that this vast life of the poor
on which rich and lettered subsist cannot be
understood except from within. On the other
hand, the poor themselves, the workers, and the
soldiers know nothing, and could not govern
the country or be the nation by themselves.

All that they know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong.

It is necessary to belong to both worlds to
understand and to be able to do anything of
positive value. Therefore I would propose to
the well-wishers of the masses, and especially to
young clergy and literary men, that they give
up the world in which they live, and take a job
and try to work from within. They will find
it appallingly difficult to live what they preach,
and they may fail to affect for good the life of
their neighbours, but they will learn.

" Where the people are gathered together
there it is accustomed to stink," wrote Nietzsche.
Quite so. But the stink proceeds from a


ferment which is always going on, and out of
that ferment are born forces which have power
to change.

I often wondered whether the great ferment
in the ranks meant a revolution after the war.
I myself believe a people embodied under a
King, even were he puny in body and dull of
mind, or merely his father's son, is as excellent
a conception of a nation as a republic. It is as
liberal, it has as many Christian possibilities, and
evolving as it does along the line of limited
personal but unlimited national power, is at
least as democratic. But I need hardly say how
anti-royal our uneducated masses are becoming.
They cannot see the use of a King and
Queen when a Premier and his wife would
serve, think " royalty " very expensive to keep
up, and that it stands in the way of a working-
man's England. Even in the rank and file of the
Guards there seems little enthusiasm in singing
" God save the King," which the soldiers piti-
fully imagine to be a prayer to God to preserve
merely the person, the son of Adam who now
wears the crown. And it seems to them that
" God save the People " would be a better thing
to sing " Not Kings, oh Lord, but men ! " The
ten Americans in our ranks were openly amused
at the hymns and prayers for " George Guelph,"
as they called him. But then, brought up
without our traditions and with republican tradi-
tions, and not having given much thought to
the matter, such mirth as they had at our expense
was only natural. Subjects of another State


ought not to have been enlisted in our army
but, of course, necessity and the war broke many
rules. As regards our other revolutionaries, I
try to teach them that " God save the King "
means " God save the People/' but is a nicer
way of saying it better than saying " God
save our noble selves " ; that the King is a
symbolic personality, a living symbol of nation-
hood, that he is like the colours we salute, not
valuable because of stuff or pattern, but because
of a spiritual significance ; that to have a President
is excellent for a business State, but not so excellent
for a nation with traditions and a complicated
inheritance of feudal nobility, many-peopled
empire, and historic Church ; that a President
and a Republic and first man first is too obvious
an organism, and that a King stands in the midst
of the people, whereas a President goes ahead and
leads ; that the President wears a crown as much
as any King, but that his crown is too often the
crown of personal ambition, whereas the King's
crown is the crown of the dignity of the people
as a whole.

Such ideas, however, I found difficult to
impart. For the world wind was constantly
blowing against thrones. The ruin of Russia
consequent upon the Revolution was the only
object-lesson in current history, but the con-
fusion of Press opinions left men too confused
regarding Russia to be able to say anything of
her. The working man looked forward to an
England with a President.

We held the privilege of guarding the person


of the King, and that is why we, above other
soldiers, should have had a simple but sound
notion of what royalty means. The officers no
doubt understood, being as they are the flower
of Britain and of many noble families. In their
attitude to the King breathes the atmosphere of
Eton. But they are enough unto themselves.
That perfect restraint which marks an officer
with his men comes too naturally and is not
entirely a virtue. If every officer would only
make an effort to teach his men the real things, the
value of our five Spartan regiments could be quin-
tupled they could be converted into living
power. The fact is, the whole system of training
needs to be overhauled with reference to higher
national values. Already, theoretically, esprit
de corps is accepted as the most valuable quality
to be cultivated. The fact that "those who
guard the King never retire," the glorious
military traditions, are duly enforced. But the
purely military aspect of esprit de corps ought to
be supplemented in many ways.

" I could not think of a greater privilege
than to mount guard over the King. It would
always be something to look back upon, to have
been on guard at Buckingham Palace," said a
friend to me. I agreed. Every one who serves
the King loyally, even in the smallest way,
honours and preserves something more than the
mere person of royalty. To be a Guard should
be to be consecrated not only to the King, but
to the nation through him.

Kings and Queens cannot themselves save


themselves. And if they could they would not
be worth saving. But we can save ours if it
is worth while and not merely as " a golden
link of Empire," but as the crown of splendid

To be put on Royal guard is the crown of
training. As far as parade is concerned, it is
the soldier's greatest ordeal. No doubt there
are many who would rather be in a bayonet
charge than " mount Buck," and frequently a
man who " bobs on it," as the saying is, gets a
comrade to do it for him for a few shillings.
For an exchange of duties is nearly always
allowed. Old hands, however, who have done
it five or six times, see nothing difficult in it,
for they know exactly what is expected of them.

There are hours to spend washing and drying
equipment, polishing the brasses, squaring the
pack, fitting the braces and cartridge-pouches,
the belt, the water-bottle, the haversack. Our
regiment prided itself on the use of white equip-
ment, which through much washing had become
like alabaster. Each strap had a surface as of
beautifully ironed linen. The brasses, under
the influence of brasso, became like little mirrors,
flashing at all points of the person. The rifle
had to be luminous, the bayonet unimpeachable,
the trousers creased correctly, the tunic without
spot, hat-badge perfectly poised like a star, hat
put on squarely with peak down over the eyes.
One must also know something of the ritual of



guard-mounting and the mystery of open order
march. The N.C.O.'s get into a frantic state
of nervous tension. The drill-sergeant who
carries the colours and at the same time as he
marches shouts the drill orders for himself and
the escort On the lejt, left form : forward ! had
a perturbed mien which caused my eyes and my
lips to murmur, " Alexander of Macedon was
a great man certainly, but that's no reason for
smashing the furniture." Even our R.S.M., a
perfect Malvolio, seemed troubled. The officers,
however, take things much more calmly, and
even when making mistakes do so with an air
that makes good the deficiency. When I did my
first guard the inspection was made by the
neatest and sharpest officer who ever took charge
of the battalion whilst I was there, and he did it
well there is no doubt of that. It took a long
time, and all the while the regimental band
played soft music. We were standing like wood,
the lieutenant and the R.S.M. looked from
one to another with beady eyes, and some one
else with the black book was writing down the
reprimands as they occurred. It reminded me
somehow of the moment of Bassanio's choice,
and I fully expected to make "a swan-like end,
fading in music." But I passed muster only
Malvolio pulled the peak of my hat a little
further down over my eyes as he passed, his
object being to make me lift my head higher, I
think. One of the Americans was next to me,
and he whispered after the inspecting officers had
passed by, ' ' What do you think of it, eh, to


mount guard over the King ? It's the proudest
moment of my life." He understood the matter
emotionally, and did not talk of George Guelph

It is quite right that the Guard mounting
should be taken thus seriously. For the occasion
is one where honour is expressed in care and
smartness. And the honour is national. It struck
me, however, that a great deal of the impression
was lost by the cheap airs rendered by the band.

A crowd of accidental passers-by collects.
The old guard at the Palace marches into position
to be relieved, the new guard, preceded by the
band and the colours of the regiment, marches
out of barracks. Off we go to a jingling music-
hall air, and a sense of mortification steals into
the heart that the pipes have not preceded us.
For the pipes are always national, or at least
in good taste, whereas these wretched ragtime
songs of the brass band put us on the level of
some sort of South American Republic or less.
If the music be wrong the whole ritual is wrong,
and the other impressiveness counts for nought.

However, be that as it may, we present arms,
we approach in a goose-step, poising uplifted
toes, we exchange, and the old guard marches
away, leaving us in possession and at our posts.

We do two hours' sentry-go and have four
hours off. It makes four spells in the twenty-
four hours, and there is nothing difficult about
it. It is quiet duty, affording at least during the
night hours time for thought and reflection.

In the daytime it is merely necessary to keep


alert, to present arms to members of the Royal
Family and to the battalion should it march past,
and to salute officers and armed parties. At
night nothing happens : one has the company
of the stars and the glamour of motor-lights
racing through the Park. Fifteen paces to march
up, turn, and fifteen paces to march down, turn,
fifteen paces again, fifteen paces, halt, order arms,
a pace to the rear, stand at ease. . . .

It is very pleasant to say poetry to oneself
whilst marching to and fro. Two lines of Gray's
Elegy will take the sentry up and the other two
lines of the verse will bring him back again.
One verse of Omar will take him up, another will
take him down. And at night, when the moon-
light disguises with theatrical grandeur the shoddy
masonry of the Palace, the noble lines of English
come aptly to the mind and guide the steps.
" Whatever it is your lot to do in this war try to
live nobly, make a heaven of hell, go inward."
So I often whisper to myself often whisper in

Whilst off duty and lying in full equipment
in the guard-house, this night of my guard,
the Germans came over and, prom, prom, posh,
the maroons shot forth, and hard upon them
the metallic reports of many air-craft guns.

" Stand to ! "

We all get up and stand ready with our rifles
for any emergency. Every one grumbles. But
the guard-room fire blazes merrily, and the guns
keep up a joyful hubbub. Suddenly some one
says, " No one can persuade Queen Alexandra


to leave her bedroom and go down to the cellars.

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Online LibraryStephen GrahamA private in the guards → online text (page 6 of 22)