4 NOVEMBER 1916, Page 20


ISUPPOSE that there are very few officers or men who have been at the front for any length of time who would not be secretly, if not openly, relieved and delighted if they " got a cushy one " and found themselves en route for "Blighty" ; yet in many ways soldiering at the front is infinitely preferable to soldiering at home. One of the factors which count most heavily in favour of the front is the extraordinary affection of officers for their men. In England officers hardly know their men. They live apart, only meet on parade, and their intercourse is carried on through the prescribed channels. Even if you do get keen on a particular squad of recruits, or a particular class of would-be bombers, you lose them so soon that your enthusiasm never ripens into anything like intimacy. But at the front you have your own platoon, and week after week, month after month, you are living in the closest proximity, you see them all day, you get to know the'character of each individual man and boy, and the result in nearly every case is this extraordinary affection of which I have spoken. You will find it in the most unlikely subjects. I have heard a Major, a Regular with, as I thought, a good deal of regimental stiffness, talk about his men with a voice almost choked with emotion. " When you see what they have to put up with, and how amazingly cheery they are through it all, you feel that you can't do enough for them. They make you feel that you're not fit to black their boots." And then he went on to tell how it was often the fellows whom in England, you had despaired of, fellows who were always " up at orders," who out at the front became your right-hand men, the men on whom you found yourself relying. I had a letter not long ago from a gunner Captain, also a Regular, who has been out almost since the beginning of the war. He wrote : " One of my best friends has just been killed " ; and the " best friend " was not the fellow he had known at " the shop," or played polo with in India, or hunted with in Ireland, but a scamp of a telephonist, who had stolen his whisky and owned up ; who had risked his life for him, who had been a fellow-sportsman who could be relied on in a tight corner in the most risky of all games.*

There is indeed a glamour and a pathos about the private soldier, especially when, as so often happens, he is really only a boy. When you meet him in the trenches, wet, covered with mud, with tired eyes speaking of long watches and hours of risky work, he never fails to greet you with a smile, and you love him for it, and feel that nothing you can do can- make up to him for it. For you have slept in a much more comfortable place than he has. You

• As proof of what the men feel for their officers we may recall the statement In a letter from a Red Cross nurse in last week's Spectator. She tells how two of her patients each pointed out to her, after reading A Student in Anna, that they had had an °Mau just like The Beloved Captain" described by Lieutenant Ilaukey. r et "The Beloved Captain" describes the ideal odicer.—Bo. Spedator, have had unlimited tobacco and cigarettes. You have had a servant to cook for you. You have fared sumptuously com-

pared with him. You don't feel his superior. You don't want

to be " gracious without undue familiarity." Exactly what you want to do is a bit doubtful—the Major said he wanted to black

his boots for him, and that is perhaps the best way of expressing it. When he goes over the top and works away in front of the parapet with the moon shining full and the machine guns busy all along ; when he gets back to billets, and throws off his cares and bathes and plays games like any irresponsible schoolboy ; even when he breaks bounds and is found by the M.P. skylarking in , you can't help loving him. Most of all, when he lies still and white with a red stream trickling from where the sniper's bullet has made a hole through his head, there comes a lump in your throat that you can't swallow, and you turn away so that you sha'n't have to wipe the tears from your eyes.

Gallant souls, those boys, and all the more gallant because they hate war so much. Their nerves quiver when a shell or a Minnie

falls into the trench near them, and then they smile to hide their weakness. They hate going over the parapet when the machine guns are playing ; so they don't hesitate, but plunga over with a smile to hide their fears. Their cure for every mental worry is a smile, their answer to every prompting of fear is a plunge. They have no philosophy or fanaticism to help them—only the sporting instinct which is in every healthy British boy.

Then there are " the old men," less attractive, less stirring to the imagination, less sensitive, but who grow upon you more and more as you get to know them. Any one over twenty-three or so is an " old man." They have lost the grace, the irresponsibility, the sensibility of youth. Their eyes and mouths are steadier, their movements more deliberate. But they are the fellows whom you would choose for a patrol, or a raid, where a cool head and a stout heart are what is wanted. It takes you longer to know these.

They are less responsive to your advances. But when you have tested them and they have tested you, you know that you have that which is stronger than any terror of night or day, a loyalty which nothing can shake.

And then when he thinks how little he deserves all this love and loyalty, the subaltern's heart aches with a feeling that can find no expression either in word or deed.

This is a tale that has often been told, and which people in England know by heart. It cannot be told too often. It cannot be learnt too well. For the time will come when we shall need to remember it, and when it will be easy to forget. Will you remember it, 0 ye people, when the boy has become a man, and the soldier has become a workman ? But there are other tales to tell. There are the tales of the sergeant-major and the sergeants, the corporals and the " lance-jacks." Sergeant-majors, sergeants, and corporals are not romantic figures. If you think of them at all, you probably think of rum-jars and profanity. Yet they are the very backbone of the Army. I have been a sergeant and I have been a private soldier, and I know that the latter has much the better time of the two. He at least has the kind of liberty which belongs to utter irresponsibility. If he breaks bounds in the exuberance of his spirits, no one thinks much worse of him as long as be does not make a song about paying the penalty ! Of course he has to be punished. So many days of sleeping in the guard tent, extra fatigues, pack-drill, and perhaps a couple of hours tied up as an example to evildoers. But if he has counted the cost, and pays the price with a grin, we just say " Young scamp!" and dismiss

the matter. But if a sergeant or a corporal does the same, that's a

very different matter. He has shown himself unfit for his job. He has betrayed a trust. We cannot forgive him. Responsibility has its disadvantages. The senior N.C.O. gets no relaxation from discipline. In the line and out of it he must always be watchful, self-controlled, orderly. He must never wink. These men have not the glamour of the boy private ; but their high sense of duty and discipline, their keenness and efficiency, merit all the honour that we can give them.

Finally—for it would not do for a subaltern to discuss his superiors we come to the junior officer. Somehow I fancy that in the public eye he too is a less romantic figure than the private. One does not associate him with privations and hardships, but with parcels from home. Well, it is quite right. He has such a much less uncomfortable time than his men that be does not deserve or want sympathy on that score. He is better off in every way. He has better quarters, better fool, more kit, a servant, and in billets

far greater liberty. And yet there is many a man who is_now an officer who looks back on his days as a private with regret. Were be to have his time over again . . . yes, he would take a commission ; but he would do so, not with any thought for the less hardship of it, but from a stern sense of duty—the sense of

duty which does not allow a man with any self-respect to refuse to shoulder a heavier burden when called upon to do so. For those apparently irresponsible subalterns whom you see entertaining their lady friends at the Carlton or Ciro's do, when they are at the front, have very heavy responsibilities. Even in the ordinary routine of trench life so many decisions have to be made, with the chance of a "telling off" whichever way you choose, and the lives of other men hanging in the balance. Suppose you are detailed for a wiring party, and you arrive to find a full moon beaming sardonically down at you. What are you to do ? If you go out you may be seen. Half-a-dozen of your men may be mown down by a machine gun. You will be blamed and will blame yourself for not having decided to remain behind the parapet. If you do not go out you may set a precedent, and night after night the work will be postponed, till at last it is too late, and the Hun has got through, and raided the trench. If you hesitate or ask advice you are lost. You have to make up your mind in an instant, and to stand by it. If you waver your men will never have confidence in you again. Still more in a push, a junior subaltern is quite likely to find himself at any time in command of a company, while he may for a day even have to command the relics' of a battalion. I have seen boys almost fresh from a Public School in whose faces there were two personalities expressed : the one full of the light- hearted, reckless, irresponsible vitality of boyhood, and the other scarred with the anxious lines of one to whom a couple of hundred exhausted and nerve-shattered nizn have looked, and not looked in vain, for leadership and strength in their grim extremity. From a boy in such a position is required something far more difficult than personal courage. If we praise the boy soldier for his smile in the face of shells and machine guns, don't let us forget to praise still more the Loy officer who, in addition to facing death on his own account, has to bear the responsibility of the lives of a hundred other men. There is many a man of undoubted courage whose nerve would fail to bear that strain.

A day or *two ago I was reading Romance, by Joseph Conrad and Madox Hueffer. It is a glorious tale of piracy and adventure in the West Indies ; but for the moment I wondered how it came about that Conrad, the master of psychology, should have helped to write such a book. And then I understood. For these boys who hate the war, and suffer and endure with the smile that is sometimes so difficult, and long with a great longing for home and peace—some day some of them will look back on these days and will tell themselves that after all it was Romance," the adventure which made their lives worth while. And they will long to feel once again the stirring of the old comradeship and love and loyalty, to dip their clasp-knives into the same pot of jam, and lie in the same dug-out, and work on the same bit of wire with the same machine gun striking secret terror into their hearth, and look into each other's eyes for the same courageous smile. For Romance, after -all, is woven of the emotions, especially the elemental ones of love and loyalty and fear and pain. We men are never content ! In the dull routine of normal life we sigh for Romance, and sometimes seek to create it artificially, stimulating spurious passions, plunging into muddy depths in search of it. Now we have got it we sigh for a quiet life. But some day those who have not died will say " Thank God I have lived ! I have loved, and endured, and trembled, and trembling, dared. I have had my