I performed an on-line search of the Australian and New Zealand newspaper archives to extract Ashley Sterne's comic articles associated with the Great War. The dates shown below are the earliest dates for republication in colonial newspapers. The original dates of publication in London newspapers and journals are, of course, earlier.
Sterne's early articles touching upon the war are mostly patriotic tub-thumping (although his suggestions concerning guillotines and concentration camps in his article Pessimists are a bit unsettling, in light of later European history). His later articles, written after he had been called to active service in the early autumn of 1916, are funnier and deal with common boot camp experiences, exaggerated for comic effect.
I am assuming that the articles dealing with military service have some kernel of historicity, but I haven't found any biographical details to confirm this. "Ashley Sterne" was the anagrammic pseudonym of Ernest Halsey (1876-1939). Halsey wrote under the Ashley Sterne by-line for his comic journalism, chiefly for the London Opinion. Halsey would have been forty years old in 1916, a bit long in the tooth, it would seem, to be called up for active duty.
Halsey claimed authorship under his real name for his music compositions, which consisted of organ works (see his Toccata in C minor on YouTube), church cantatas, anthems, settings of pastoral poems, etc. These serious music works were mainly written between 1898 and 1913, according to his list of works on Amazon. As his career as Ashley Sterne, the comic journalist, began to take off in 1913 (that being the earliest publication date I could find in the Australian newspaper archives), he began writing music for popular theatrical revues and sketches, also under his pseudonym of Ashley Sterne. In 1926 he and Archibald De Bear wrote a book entitled The Comic History of the Co-optimists, described as "a light-hearted account of a 1920s theatrical troupe." A man of many parts this Ernest Halsey.
The Great War articles include the following:
Should Germany Win [Mar 1915]
Sport for the Recruit [Jul 1915]
Pessimists [Aug 1915]
A New War Tax [Dec 1915]
When Will It End? Some Whimsical Opinions [Apr 1916]
Called Up [Nov 1916]
My Moustache Difficulty [Nov 1917]
A Humorist in the Army (Joining Up) [Apr 1918]
Much Too Active Service [Jun 1917]
A Humorist in the Army: (Drilling) [May 1918]
A Humorist in the Army: (Rifle Range) [May 1918]
A Humorist in the Army: I become a Junior Sub [May 1918]
Army Mascots: Their Ways and Whims [Apr 1918]
Should Germany Win
By Ashley Sterne
Going to the letter box the other morning (to remove the daily batch of letters from the cream of the world's editors, all eagerly clamouring for my priceless manuscripts) I found the greater part of it occupied by a gratuitous pamphlet entitled "Should Germany Win."
After half an hour devoted to a close and searching study of it, I discovered that it was merely an advertisement for an undigested breakfast cereal, showing how the horrors of a possible German occupation of England might easily be evaded by a timely assimilation of Bolsover's Bifurcated Breakfast beans. Though I was naturally somewhat annoyed to find that I had wasted much valuable time that might otherwise have been spent in working out a new and elaborate Patience ("Boanerges") which our curate has recently shown me, it had one good and immediate effect. It induced me to think.
Probably few people have troubled to consider what the conditions of life in our island home would be if ever we became subservient to Germany. They are quite content to dismiss the problem with that plea of absurdity by which the late Professor Euclid got out of so many tight corners. But, believe me, so long as the Kaiser possesses one single sword on German sward, one single keel in Kiel, just so long will the danger of a German occupation maintain.
Some years ago I spent "A Fortnight in Fair Frankfurt for a Fiver"—though I contrived to spend a fiver in fair Frankfurt in considerably less time than a fortnight—and I know something of what German rule consists. I can best describe how it will affect us by contrasting a few incidents in the everyday life of an average British citizen—as he lives it to-day under the facilities reluctantly granted at Runnymede by our Champion Crown-jewel loser—with that which he would suffer under the joint dictatorship of the Kaiser and Heaven.
Leaving his home (formerly Bella Vista, High Street, Hammersmith, but altered to Schone Aussicht, Hochstrasse, Hammerschmidt) to catch his morning train, our citizen will hurry down to the station, where, instead of making his way to the book-stall there to absorb as much current literature as possible for nothing, he will be herded into a waiting-room to await the incoming train. When the latter arrives an official in a resplendent uniform (resembling a blend of that of a Rear-Admiral and that of a Chelsea pensioner) will open the gate and allow the passengers to emerge on to the platform.
In the consequent scramble for seats no man will be permitted to stand at the carriage-door, and say to a lady, "After you, madam," as this is contrary to German etiquette. Politeness—to the German mind—is of less importance than punctuality, as anybody who has seen a German officer of the Black-Guards forcing his way along a crowded thoroughfare will readily admit. Arrived at his station. Stehwarzenmonche (late Blackfriars), after an exhausting journey, during which his ticket has been clipped, punched and torn until it resembles more a disc of confetti than a ticket, he will proceed via Blackfriars Bridge to his office. But he will not be allowed to cross on whichever side appears to be the less crowded; he will have to cross on the right-hand side. If he is detected in the act of walking on the left-hand side, or even attempting to disillusion the police by proceeding backwards thereon, he will be forcibly conveyed to the correct footway. Any attempt on his part to excuse or justify himself will be met with a charge of lese gendarmerie, and he will then spend the rest of the day in a cell while the magistrate decides whether he shall receive the bastinado for breach of the peace, or the Iron Cross for impertinence.
Assuming, however, that our citizen arrives safely at his office, he may find it necessary for business purposes to swear an affidavit. As matters stand to-day all he has to do is to go to a commissioner, slap one-and-sixpence down upon the counter, take a small portion of Holy Writ into his hand, osculate it violently, and say "Yes" after the commissioner has repeated some formula totally unintelligible to the lay ear. But under German jurisdiction all oaths and other legal formalities will be a long and tedious procedure carried out entirely in the German language. Even the oaths we so often use as mere innocent invective will probably be subject to this condition, and one can well imagine the mental torture endured by a Billingsgate porter who, having suffered the displacement from his head of six boxes of periwinkles, three of crimped skate, and about a square yard of moribund halibut by some careless passerby, cannot think of the German words for "May Heaven preserve and bless you, gentle stranger."
Otherwise the day's routine will be very similar to that to which our citizen has been accustomed. He will be able to cuff the office-boy's head in English as heretofore, and to get switched off from his most lucrative customer or client with all the old facilities. But when he leaves the office for home the domination of the Teuton will once again assert itself. He decides, perhaps, to vary his usual homeward journey by walking through the Park or Kensington Gardens. But there must be no short cuts across the grass. He must adhere rigidly to the footpaths. Grass to the German official is sacrosanct —only grown to keep off of; and the person who has the temerity to use it for ambulatory purposes will be required to explain his brutal desecration of the national herbage, to a retired German financier on the magisterial bench, when he may consider himself lucky if he is allowed to settle for his crime on a strict cash basis.
These are only a few of the disabilities under which we shall labour if Germany's Mailed Fist ever sets foot in England; and it is not too much to say that should such an event ever come to pass, life here will be neither all beer and skittles, lavender, cakes and ale, bread, cheese, nor kisses.
Sport for the Recruit
By Ashley Sterne
Any man possessing health and a day, and wishing to put these tools to a worthy use, has only to apply to the nearest recruiting depot, where he will receive precise details how he may assist in making the pomp of a brace of Emperors ridiculous.
Men who have experienced this fascinating sport are loud in its praises, claiming for it that it is far superior to tickling for tigers in Tarai, zogging for zebras in Zambesta, or paternostering for panthers in Pernambuco. These—all these—are as nothing, they maintain, compared to the excitement of Hun hunting, and the possibility of acquiring as a trophy a real 24-carat Emperor (whose mailed fist would look so well on your billiard-room wall between the penguin's antlers and the wombat's tall feathers), or a solid silver, hall-marked Crown Prince, worth his weight in apostle spoons.
A few days ago I met a friend who has just returned from an extended sporting trip through British Ipecacuanhaland. He told me that his one regret was that he did not come back eight months sooner. When he started off, over a year ago, his object was to hunt rhinoceros. To possess the fur of a self-shot rhinoceros, he confided to me, was the ambition of his life. But had he known (he continued) that we were so near war, he would willingly have sacrificed his chance at rhinoceros for the inestimable privilege of bagging a Hun. As it is, he has returned home after being charged by the said rhinoceros (a female, whom he disturbed in the act of gathering worms for her youthful brood), tossed by a Cape buffalo, mauled by a lion, trampled by an elephant, pecked by an ostrich, gored by a wart-hog, punctured all over by ravenous mosquitoes, besides narrowly escaping being neatly divided into two distinct portions by a frenzied hippopotamus and amputated at most of his loose ends by an infuriated crocodile. And all he has to show for the trip in the way of trophies is a bruised, battered and bumped body and a constitution in a general and permanent state of disablement.
Naturally, when he exhibited this rich and variegated collection of bruises, batters and bumps of every shape, size and color to the medical officer at the recruiting depot, the latter informed him that it was men they were recruiting, not accident museums; and now all my poor friend can do is to sit on the softest India rubber cushion procurable, inflated with the softest air that ever blew, in the window of his club, watching the able-bodied sportsmen rallying for the great "drive" and cursing the fate that compels him to remain behind with one foot in the grave and the other in a complicated surgical bandage.
For, of course, it is only the fit that can participate in the sport. It is not much good, however crack a shot you may be, applying for inclusion in the shooting-party if, for example, your teeth happen to be of the kind that are made, not born. Nor is it any good to offer your services when, in order to distinguish between a mountain and a mole-hill, or a needle and a hay-stack, it is necessary for you permanently to wear opera-glasses. Nor are your chances particularly felicitous if, in your enthusiasm, you should happen to turn up before the medical officer in the early stages of scarlet fever. For, however much you may urge that under normal circumstances your customary health is the pink of perfection, it is useless to attempt to convince him of this when your condition at the moment may best be described as the pink of "in"-fection.
Again, it is futile for you to put in for a vacancy if you are under three feet in height. They simply will not look at you—even if you stand on a chair and tell them where to look. They will not even accept you as a regimental pet or mascot. Your only hope, then, will be to give up the depraved habit of growing downwards, and grow upwards instead. The War Office imposes no limit to stature—only to lack of it.
Thus, given health and reasonable physical proportions, you are qualified to join in the greatest sporting expedition the world has ever known. Don't hesitate to go because you imagine the hunting-ground will be unduly overcrowded. Remember, if we are to make soup of the War Lord, what the proverb says: Many cooks make light broth.
By Ashley Sterne
An American paper, I see, has been advocating a club for pessimists. Upon first reading the headline I must confess that I misinterpreted the word "club," and I imagined that the article would prescribe the use of that weapon which, when wielded with enthusiasm, raises a nasty bump on the head. This, I thought, would be an admirable way to treat pessimists, though perhaps erring a little too much on the humane side. The tomahawk or the guillotine seemed to me to be more fitting tools of punishment for the crime of pessimism. Then I read the article through and discovered that "club" was used in its social sense, and that the idea was to establish recognised official headquarters for these lugubrious individuals—a kind of M.C.C. [Marylebone Cricket Club] for pessimists, as it were—where they could foregather, happy, and contented people with the germ of their miserable complaint (which is the nearest approach to recreation in which a pessimist ever indulges)—they might pessimise among their own kind until they were black (or any other suitably pessimistic color) in the face.
Here again, however, I could not help thinking that the proposed club was too lenient a means of isolating the pessimists. Had I my way I should intern them all in concentration camps and shoot at least one of their number, as an example to the rest, at cock crow every morning. But I live in a tolerant land, and a tender-hearted Legislature does not allow me to take even a very small piece of the law into my own hands, and to destroy pessimists without my first obtaining from the Excise Office a special licence to shoot rubbish.
But in spite of this I am bound to admit that the founding of such a club would be a step in the right direction, for if the club once established itself its footing, even though tt would only be a club-footing, there is no reason why other institutions on similar lines should not be opened where men whose views on life have become jaundiced by chronic dyspepsia, or by losing all their money through' following the advice of their stockbroker, or by marrying a widow would be exclusively catered for. Thus we might have a free library for pessimists where nothing more frivolous in literature than Bradshaw's Railway Guide, Foxes Book of Martyrs, and the German comic papers would be procurable. There might be restaurants for these gentry where a depressing diet of black bread, black puddings, black coffee and the usual constituents of a railway-station buffet would alone be available for consumption, and where selections of' funeral marches and compositions of the Futurist School would be rendered by a more than usually depressing restaurant orchestra.
Again, a theatre for pessimists might be opened where nothing but the plays of Ibsen and those of the most lurid "problem" dramatists would be performed, and in which no leading lady under the age of 80 would be permitted to appear. And a church might be founded in which the dreariest long-distance ecclesiastics would preach daily from ten to four on the subject of eternal punishment; and there is no reason why a Royal Academy Exhibition of Pessimistic Art should not be instituted, wherein would be exhibited only pictures portraying such
Lastly, special compartments on trains might very well be reserved for pessimists, and the same penalty be exacted for being pessimistic in an optimistic carriage as for smoking in a non-smoking carriage. Too often lately have I seen the bright, clean, happy faces of a carriage of people' turned to anguish and dismay by the' words of some miserable wretch who has maintained that the war will never end, or, if it does, Germany is bound to win; who has a friend that is acquainted with someone at the Admiralty who has heard that our North Sea Fleet was harpooned last October, and that since then Sir John Jellicoe has been a prisoner in Heliogoland; or who, upon hearing you give a slight (though doubtless, sceptical) cough, informs you that the ailment to which his great-grand-mother succumbed at the youthful age of 96 began in a precisely similar manner.
So by all means let us encourage the setting-up of any and every sort of institution "for Pessimists only." Let them have, besides those already mentioned, their own workhouses, their own prisons, their own cemeteries, their own—. But why not ship them off to Potsdam? They will be in excellent company there—very shortly, thanks to the efforts of. our fighting optimists.
A New War Tax
By Ashley Sterne.
A familiar character has cropped up again in the correspondence columns of the daily papers. He is the individual who, in normal times always writes at this time of year to tell the editor that yesterday he picked the last primrose, or that today he threw the first snowball, or to ask if anybody can recommend an effect ive method for pickling crab-apples. This year, however, his tone is somewhat different. Only a month or so ago he wanted to know whether a deceased wife's sister could invest in the War Loan, and this morning, I see, he has written, apropos of the new war taxes, to advocate once again the oft-suggested tax on cats.
Now, of course, we are all full of helpful suggestions for the Chancellor. My own, for example, is that if the war is likely to last much longer, it would probably be fairer, and hurt us less financially, to pay our incomes over to the Revenue and keep the tax. But though the cat tax sounds promising enough, it would not, I fear, work out very well in practice. If ever such a tax were imposed, I can foresee an immediate advance in the price, if not an actual shortage in the supply, of string and brickbats. Few people could not longer afford to maintain the vast hordes of cats which to-day form the solace and joy of so many households, and our rivers and waterways would soon become congested and unnavigable in our efforts to get rid, by the only really effective means known to science, of all the nine lives of our cats simultaneously.
Then, too, there would be another difficulty. Even supposing a cat tax wore levied which was not absolutely prohibitive, and that it would still be possible for those of us who are neither cinema stars nor mining magnates to afford to keep a cat or two without having to sell the wife's jewels or rifle the child's money-box, a question involving the niceties of etiquette at once arises. Most people, as you know, make a habit, when their family circle is enriched by a fresh cluster of kittens, of retaining only a few for their own immediate use, and of presenting the rest either to a needy friend or catless relation, or else to a bazaar to be raffled for. The point at issue will then be: Who is to pay the tax? It scarcely seems fair that the donor should pay it, because he will not have the cat to enjoy. On the other hand, it would seem so niggardly to write: "Dear Aunt Louisa, —Enclosed please find one cat as per invoice attached, which please accept with my best love," and then to mark the hamper, "Tax forward." This would involve Aunt Louisa in an expenditure of any thing from half-a-crown upwards for an animal whose intrinsic value is, perhaps, threepence. Of course, if it were a rare breed, such as a Chippendale or a Stradivarius, the case would be different, because there would be a good chance of earning the tax by exhibiting the cat at shows. But then, again, the rarer the cat the higher the tax would probably be, so it's practically as broad as it's long. (The financial result, that is; not the cat.)
Naturally a dearth of cats would mean an enormous increase in our present rather large reserves of mice, for though we do our best to keep their numbers down by the aid of cunningly devised snares, it is a well-known fact—as Robert Burns, a poet with some little local reputation in Glasgow, I believe, remarked—that "The best-laid traps o' men for mice Gang aft agley." And though it is a long time since I did any gang-aft-agleying on my own account, I can nevertheless affirm that it's a most unreliable method of mouse-collecting.
In view of this fact, it would appear to be a much sounder measure to levy a tax on mice. The revenue would, I am sure, benefit largely, not withstanding that it would have to retain a large staff of highly-qualified mouse inspectors, all with the letters M.I.C.E. after their name. Then folk who had conscientious objections to paying the tax—there are some who object, on principle, to paying any sort of tax whatsoever—could avoid it by sitting up late at night in the kitchen with a piece of '54 Gorgonzola in one hand and the coke-hammer in the other. Meanwhile, I offer the suggestion to Mr. McKenna for his consideration, but I think it only fair to say that personally I don't keep any mice. That, perhaps, is because I have five cats.
When Will It End? Some Whimsical Opinions
By Ashley Sterne
Several prominent people have been giving their opinions in reply to the question, "How long will it be before the war is over?" Here are some of the answers that got omitted from the other symposium:—
Mr Asquith: "I should have preferred to have notice of your question, but since you ask for a definite reply at once, my answer is in the negative."
Dean Inge: "Not before 1946, I fear.''
Lord Northcliffe: "Say, rather, 'How long will it be before the war begins?' I doubt whether the nation has awakened to the fact that, far from the war being over the real business has scarcely— (Etc. The mixture as before.)
Dr. Woodrow Wilson: "What war?"
Colonel Maude, C.B.: "According to my statistics the war should end next Tuesday; but, to be on the safe side, let me say next Wednesday."
Lord Kitchener: "Didn't you read my preliminary prospectus in 1914? Three years."
Mrs Elinor Glynn: "Three weeks."
Lord Fisher: "War would have been over a year ago if the pilot had not been dropped."
The Postmaster-General, in a printed letter, dated the tenth instant, acknowledges my favour of the third instant, and begs to inform me that the contents have been noted and will receive attention in due course.
Mr Justice Darling: "Ten days, or forty shillings and costs.''
Sir Herbert Tree: "I can best answer your question by recounting a bon mot of mine made to a friend as I was standing on the steps of the Green Room Club a few weeks ago. 'Herb,' said my friend, 'I wish I could see an end to this infernal war.' 'So you can,' I replied in my best epigrammatic tone of voice, 'if you remember August 4th, 1914. That's one end'." (Copyright in the U.S.A. by H. Beerbohm Tree.)
Out in Flanders "The Salient," the organ of the Sixth Corps in Flanders, has been giving more views upon how long the war will last. We quote:—
"Just as long as Asquith remains in power. —Lloyd George.
"My pearls at Little Willies feet if it would shorten zee war a day—although my doctor 'e say that would mean pneumonic.''—Gaby.
"As long as Northcliffe is at large." —Sir J. A. Simon.
By Ashley Sterne
I don't think that anyone who knows me really well would ever accuse me of being a coward. To be quite candid, I don't mind confessing to you confidentially that I am rather addicted to deeds of derring-do. I once fetched a policeman to stop a runaway horse. On another occasion I captured single-handed a felon whom I discovered one day at the bottom of my garden gorging himself on my best Ribston rhubarb. I knew the fellow by sight, and next day I went round to the Council school and complained to his schoolmaster. Another time I saved an old gentleman from drowning. He was standing somewhat close to the edge of the Old Swan Pier at London Bridge, and absolutely reckless of my own life I stepped up to him and suggested that he should stand farther back. Fortunately for him, he took my advice, but I shudder to think what might have happened if he had not done so, and had seen seized with a sudden attack of vertigo, and had fallen into the river, and in the excitement of the moment had forgotten how to swim. Why, he would have perished before I could have found someone to go in after him.
Thus, since now my country finds it can't get on with the war without me (I knew I should get mixed up in it sooner or later), the summoning of my Group has no terrors for me. I shall come; I shall saw; I shall conquer.
The only thing about which I have any hesitation is, which branch of the Service shall I enrich with my presence? My personal inclination is towards the Life Guards. I should just love to defy the Hun from the back of my charger in Whitehall. My one fear is that my physique might perhaps be a trifle too—compact, shall I say? —to comply with the Life Guards' standard. Be that as it may, I know I should look exceedingly noble and impressive with one of those tin hats on and elevators inside those commodious boots; and I am certain, too, that I could grow a moustache as big as a cucumber if I sat up late and really put my back into it.
Or I shouldn't mind being a Grenadier. I can imagine the martial ardor that would be aroused in me when the band played:
"Ti turn tum tum tum tum tiddle um Tiddle um tum tiddle iddle um."
(Readers of tonic sol-fa will at once be able to identify this as the tune of "The British Grenadiers.") With strains like these in my ears and mother's muff balanced on my skull, I should feel capable of dealing with the most ferocious enemy Knightsbridge could produce.
Then the Royal Engineers are not to be sneezed at. You just sneeze at a Royal Engineer and see. I adore any thing to do with engines. I once made an engine out of an empty pineapple tin, the wheels of the family sewing machine, and the pendulum of the dining-room clock. It went beautifully; and you'll find the pineapple-tin still stuck in the scullery ceiling of my ancestral mansion to this very day. Should I become a Royal Engineer I should be addressed as "Sapper," which seems very attractive. It may even be "Your Royal Sapness" for aught I know to the contrary. Any way, "Sapper" is good enough for me, and if I should ever box Bombadier Wells, just think how imposing some such sentence as this would look in print: "The Sapper landed a pretty cut on the point, and the Bombadier went down like a wolf on the fold" —I mean, like a log. Or there's the band—the Army Orchestral Corps. I rather fancy myself as a double-bassoon. Moreover, I have been carefully through all the casualty lists, and I cannot find a single instance of a double-bassoon's being wounded, killed, missing, taken prisoner, or shot at dawn. Then, too, imagine the sensation I should create when friends inquire of my people the latest news of me. "Oh, haven't you heard? He's in the Army, doing awfully well .... Tuppence to go into the next street . . A double-bassoon, you know." And folk will think it's a kind of commissioned rank, like that of the new-obsolete corner; and the Editor of "Tit-Bits" will write for my photograph, and when he's seen it he'll write and tell me to come and fetch it away, or it will be burnt on the steps of the Royal Exchange in deference to the wishes of the printing-staff.
Yes, there'll be no little swank in the Sterne family on the day when, with my double-bassoon at the trail gripped between my resolute, bulldog jaws, I am called up with the rest of the flower of England's manhood to render a blow for my country.
My Moustache Difficulty
By Ashley Sterne
In anticipation of my joining the Army within the next few days, I have been wondering whether I ought not to get busy and grow a moustache. All my life I have been clean-shaven (a habit I contracted in my earliest infancy, and have seen no reason to break since), and though there have been occasions when, through pressure of work, I have omitted to use my razor for two or three days, I can truly say I've never had any official hair on my face.
Indeed, the curious growth which during these casual lapses makes its appearance is not of a very encouraging or inspiring nature, one side of my lip producing red hair and the other black—reminiscent of a small cloth pen-wiper. As the hair on my head is a very pale flaxen, my eyes of that distinctive shade of blue which one only sees in those big glass bottles in chemists' shop-windows, my nose mottled with gorgeous golden brown freckles, and my cheeks of that delicate rose-pink hue which ladies buy in sixpenny pots, you can well imagine that any stranger seeing me for the first time in a strong light would look twice at this extraordinary color scheme before he could swear that it was a human face and not a Turkey carpet.
Moreover, there is a tradition in my family that its male members shall not indulge in any facial decoration of a hirsute nature, in evidence whereof I still have portraits and photographs of my intrepid ancestors who, even in those days when men who did not possess a cluster of side-whiskers like asparagus ferns were accounted social pariahs, were yet sufficiently steadfast and loyal of purpose to show.their faces in public places without attempt at trimming or embroidery of any nature whatsoever. That they thus laid themselves open to comment of usual ribald kind goes without saying, and for many years my two great-uncles were known to most habitues of West-end clubland as Michael the Melon and Vincent the Vegetable Marrow respectively.
Now time is getting short. In the course of a few days the country will require the benefit of my military ex perience (two church parades in, and 5447 absences from the ranks of the Balham Bombardiers), and I must decide at once whether to break a family tradition and do my best to look like Sir Douglas Haig, or to remain clean-shaven and run the risk of being mistaken for a Boy Scout and given all the regimental boots and knives to clean. In any event I foresee difficulties. It is all very well for me to say that family traditions be blowed, I will have a moustache; but I cannot help feeling that with me it will be a case of "first catch your hair." I should not be in the least surprised to find that through generations of abstention I am hereditarily incapable of getting a moustache to come up. My moustache-growing glands have very likely become atrophied through constant discouragement, and probably the few days' growth that I have already alluded to marks the limit of their potentialities. And even supposing that by intensive culture, moustache fertilisers and other cosmetics I did succeed in inducing my upper lip to blossom with luxuriant vegetation, should I not, with half of it red and half of it block, run a very grave risk of being court-martialled for holding His Majesty's moustaches up to ridicule?
On the other hand, I may, for all know to the contrary, incur grave penalties if I report myself clean shaven. I should feel very cut, I am sure, if my first day in the Army was made notable by the fact that I was blown from a gun, or propped up against the side of the Tower of London in front of a firing-party. And all because I had omitted to grow a moustache!
Really, I think the best way out of the difficulty will be to include one of those false moustaches, mounted on gauze and backed with some strong adhesive mixture, in my personal kit. I can then face the future with a clear conscience. If when I enroll, they say to me: "Where's your moustache? Don't you know that King's Regulations, No. 50.871, sub-section 25,394(a), says that any man," etc., etc., I shall promptly apply for two minutes' leave on "urgent private business," retire behind the Japanese screen in the orderly room, and rectify the omission.
Then, too, nobody will be able to accuse me of breaking a family tradition if the moustache I exhibit came not from any hair-roots of my own. but out of a box in Mr. Willie Clarkson's shop. In fact, in justice to my self and my posterity, I shall see that on all my papers and the official records of me the words "Moustache by Clarkson" are inserted. This, in the eyes of my own family at all events, should serve to "save my face" in both senses of the term.
A Humorist in the Army (Joining Up)
By ASHLEY STERNE.
It was in the early autumn of 1916 that Lord Derby turned up his pocketbook and discovered that he hadn't called me up. He accordingly wrote me: "Dear Sterne,—How will next Monday suit you? —Yours categorically, Derby." To which I replied: "Dear Derby,—Nicely, thanks. Remember me to Joan. Your affectionate grouper, Sterne." Of course, the letters may have been worded slightly differently, but that was the gist of them, anyway.
I didn't wait for the day appointed, but at once proceeded to look around for some suit-able regiment to grace with, my presence.
Well, it occurred to me that I should look rather well in kilts, and I had thoughts of trying for one of the Scottish regiments. There was nothing extraordinary in this, as I have Scottish ancestors in both halves of my pedigree. My great-great-grandfather was the Haggis of Haggis—a famous athlete in his day, who, for several years in succession at the Clan-ma-gael, won the prize for tossing the usquebaugh. My great-great-grandmother, too, boasted Scottish blood in her veins, having been vaccinated with vaccine extracted from the lymphatic glands of one of the most expensive brands of Highland cattle; while I myself am a member of the firm of Caledonia, Sterne, and Wild, writers to the Cygnet—a task, by the by, which we invariably perform with a "Swan.''
However, I learned with regret that all the Scottish regiments were full, a large number of recruits of the clan McCohen having recently arrived from the Stock Exchange, and I had, perforce, to look out for some other unit to join. I was looking for a unit one day in the grill-room at the Trocadero when I chanced to meet a friend. In the course of conversation I told him that I had been called up, and was anxious to get into some regiment where leave was a speciality, pay five pounds a day, and attendance at parades purely optional. He said: "Come with me. After lunch I'm going to try and get into the Bohemians' Rifles. You may as well try your luck at the same time."
To this I agreed, and after lunch we both presented ourselves at the Bohemians' headquarters in the city. Here they took my name, address, number of my watch, size in collars and gloves, next of kin, next of kith, telegraphic address, and a lot more particulars, including my achievements in sports and games. They were much impressed when I owned to getting my blue for ludo, a half blue for roller-skating, and a double blue for cooncan and shrimping. My friend, who had only represented his county and country in first-class cricket, was simply nowhere. However, the preliminary examination passed off favourably for both of us, and we were sent to be overhauled by the doctor.
When my turn arrived I put on my best smile—it was all I did put on —and stepped into the room,
"Feeling pretty fit?" asked the doctor, putting his stethoscope to my forehead and listening to my brain.
"Fine—like four aces in one hand," I replied.
"Any insanity in your family?" he inquired, still listening to my works.
"Nothing worth mentioning," I answered. He then transferred his stethoscope to my heart. "Smoke much?" he asked.
"Like a bloater-factory."
"Like a fi—, I mean no, never —either at or between meals."
"Ever had rheumatic fever, chromatic scales, glanders, Flanders, mumps, no trumps? No? Good. Now," he continued, placing; his stethoscope in my right eye, "read that card hanging over there on the wall. "A, C, E " I began, and so forth (you probably recognise the card I mean) right through without hesitation.
"Excellent!" the doctor cried. "Unfortunately, however, you read the card underneath the uppermost one. This one happens to begin B, E, D —"
"Well," I said, "I know that one by heart, too! I learned them all some days ago."
"But I want to test your eyesight," said the doctor.
"Oh," I remarked, "I didn't know that. I thought you just wanted to hear me recite."
My eyesight is nothing to write home about, but I was able to persuade the doctor, by pointing out with all the wealth of rhetoric at my command, that inability to read a small card twenty feet away did not prevent my being able to form fours, threes, two-deep, and so forth, with all the grace and agility of a chamois, with the result that he finally passed me as fit. My friend, I regret to record, got thrown out, as he was suffering from "athlete's heart" — a weird and peculiar complaint which seemingly permits the victim to play county cricket every day for five months of the year without ill effect, but which forms an insuperable barrier to his undergoing a comparatively slack course of military training.
Thus I entered the ranks of the Bohemians. I was duly fitted out with a fair percentage of the recognised panoply of war, and spent the remainder of the day in being instructed in saluting and in whom to salute. "Remember," said the N.C.O. instructor, "that it is the uniform you salute, not the man inside it."
Going homewards through the city that same evening I passed a military tailor's. In the window was an officer's uniform draping a stern and noble "dummy." Remembering what I had been told, I promptly saluted it. I hold that I was quite right in so doing, the only point at issue being whether the uniform should have returned my salute. Owing to my somewhat uncertain vision I also saluted a postman, the Lord Mayor's coachman, a gas inspector, a station-master, and a cinema-porter, eventually reaching home with both puttees undone, and "a long, long trail unwinding."
Much Too Active Service
By Ashley Sterne
Until I had experienced some, I had no idea active service was half so active. I hadn't been in the Army ten minutes before I really got quite busy. I had the proverbial busy bee whacked in the first round.
The first job I had was to get my uniform. It was a lengthy business. I could have bought a pound of sugar quicker. The quartermaster man, who was big enough to be at least a halfmaster man, gave me two suits of different sizes, but both of the same shape and color, notwithstanding that I told him I preferred something rather thinner and of a light, fancy check for spring wear. Then he threw a lot of boots at me—not in a passion, you understand, but because the Army Council says I've got to have them. Beautiful, roomy boots they were, large enough to keep rabbits in. I knew they weren't submarines because there were no periscopes on them.
He also gave me some shirts that were so tickly that they would have made Peter the Hermit wriggle, and several undergarments which one usually only alludes to in whispers, to say nothing of a pair of puttees with which I nearly garrotted myself in my endeavors to serpentine them round my legs.
Next he presented me with quite a number of things in the hardware, haberdashery, and. cutlery line, and I was just going out to get a pantechnicon to put them all in when the quartermaster man threw me a little canvas bag just about so big, and told me to put everything in it except one set of uniform, which I was to wear. Well, I'm not Maskelyne and Devant, and fifty different things into one won't go, anyway; and so, with the help of half-a-dozen other chaps, I just managed to squeeze one sock, two collar-studs, a pair of bootlaces, and most of a shirt into the bag. The rest of the clothes I had to put on; there was nowhere else to put them. Fortunately, my greatcoat was a large-sized one. It looked as if it had been made for a tandem.
And even then they weren't tired of giving me things to carry. They gave me a rifle, although I pointed out that, as I was not the aggressor, choice of weapons lay with me, and I'd rather have a stiletto. However, it appears that the Army Council at the last general meeting said I was to have a rifle. "Right-o!" I said. "But I think I've got as much as I can carry unless the Army Council give mes a slave. Don't bother to give me anything else. Consider what the cost to the country is of all this bazaar you've given me already. Remember the need for National Economy. If you want to give me a howitzer or a sentry-box to carry under my spare arm, I pray you stay your charity.... No, really, I don't want that portmanteau."
They had dumped a large square satchel arrangement in front of me, called a pack, which seemed to be full of carpenter's tools. I protested that I didn't know how to use them, and that the most I could aspire to in the carpentry line was a little fretwork. But they explained that the Army Council at a recent extraordinary meeting of the shareholders had discovered that the soldiers had nothing to carry on their backs or round their waists, and that the pack had been specially designed to remedy the deficiency. "Now," said the sergeant, when we had got all our clothes on, our packs on our backs, the tool things tastefully draped round our waists, our rifles over our left shoulders, and our kit-bags under our right arms. "Now you're in what's called full marching order."
This, of course, was merely one of the sergeant's little jokes. Sergeants are funnier and more prolific in humor than Joe Miller. For every soldier knows that when he's equipped in full marching order he can't march a step. He's far too heavy.
A Humorist in the Army (Drilling)
By Ashley Sterne
I remained at headquarters for two days, during which time I was instructed in several graceful and pleasing evolutions of the more elementary kind, such as the various turns, forming fours, forming squad, and other pretty patterns whose construction was overlooked by Euclid. And here I may mention that I am afflicted with the peculiar disability of never being able, when suddenly called upon, to differentiate between right and left. It was chiefly luck that enabled me to survive these preliminary drills without becoming an object of censure. But more of this anon.
On the third day I was sent with a number of other recruits to camp, where.we were promptly introduced to the delights of inoculation. I am not quite clear, however, against what calamities mentioned in the "British Pharmacopoeia" we were inoculated. Opinion in the ranks was fairly evenly divided between clergy man's sore-throat and ingrowing toe nails. The performance of puncturing us proved a very popular one, as inoculatees are excused all duties for forty-eight hours. As we were injected we were one and all cautioned by the M.O. to eschew alcoholic refreshment for two days—a warning that left one man so sceptical that he at once retired to a shadowy recess of the canteen and there ingurgitated three consecutive bottles of Bass. On moral grounds I regret to have to record that he was the only one among us who escaped entirely. free from the somewhat painful effects of the inoculation.
Two Days Later "Active Service" Begins.
Now if any civilian imagines that military training commences by your being armed to the teeth with a complete and expensive set of cutlery and ironmongery, taken out a safe distance into the country, and there dumped down into the middle of a muddy ploughed field, where you spend few crowded hours of joyous life squirming about on your tummy engaged in that exhilarating pastime known as manoeuvres, he will be greatly mistaken. Apparently it is an accepted Army axiom that you can not possibly become an efficient soldier until you can sweep up dead leaves, or my initial stage of training consisted of collecting defunct and moribund foliage and removing it to a salubrious and highly-perfumed refuse-pit.
For the following week or two I did practically little else but fatigues. I carted coal, I staggered about with carcasses of frozen mutton enfolded in my arms, I felled trees, and one day found me as scullery-maid in the kitchen of the officers' mess. In this capacity I helped the war along by washing up plates and scouring cooking utensils. I also scrubbed the kitchen floor, broke a tumbler, and killed a blackbeetle—the only act of slaying I have committed up to time of going to press.
And then one day they thought a little drilling would make a pleasant change for me, and at a ridiculously early hour in the morning I was turned out on to a cold and heartless parade-ground, where I formed a lot more fours and two-deeps and things with much agility and grace. I have already mentioned my inability to distinguish right from left, and this often made me take long, lonely, and totally unauthorised excursions into the surrounding country. On one occasion we were being marched about in file, with myself on the leading flank, when the command "right wheel" was given. In all good faith I promptly wheeled to the left, and intent on keeping my head up and my eye on a point to march upon, I remained in complete oblivion of the fact that the rest of the squad were moving in the opposite direction. The yells of an indignant N.C.O. were—as they always are—quite unintelligible to me, and I merely interpreted his orders as shouts of admiration and encouragement for the exceedingly efficient progress I was making in my drill.
Performing a Solo.
Now, there were other squads drilling on the parade-ground, and from the babel of orders that were constantly streaming up to the heavens I distinguished the order "double." I doubled accordingly and in my very best form (I once belonged to some Beagle things). I ran about half a mile before I ultimately realised that I was performing a solo, and that the rest of the army had got mislaid somewhere. I pulled up and turned around. From the dim blue distance an escort was advancing on winged feet to meet me, declaiming fair and honeyed words as it came. The situation suddenly dawned upon me. It was clear that the escort had been sent to arrest me as a deserter, and that I was fated to be severely shot at cock-crow. However, on my return to a caustic and derisive N.C.O. I managed to clear myself of every charge save that of excessive zeal, and the incident closed. But frequently in the days to come I made these solitary country rambles, hugely to the delight of the rest of the squad (who, I may perhaps say in extenuation of my own behavior, all had their own little peculiarities) and the growing exasperation of the N.C.O.
On another occasion we were marching in fours along the road to the parade-ground, when the sergeant in charge of us ran along the line, saying: "Now, pull yourselves together! The sergeant-major's on parade, and if he sees you slouching along like a lot of rag-time camels there'll be trouble. Swing those adjective arms! Hold up those something heads!"
A "tick-off" from the sergeant-major was tantamount to forfeiting a Saturday half-holiday, so we naturally did our best to manipulate our anatomy as ordered. We made an imposing and awe-inspiring spectacle, and I felt like Richard Coeur de Lion marching slap through a crusade. Presently the order came: "Halt! —left turn." As usual, I turned in the wrong direction. Crash went my rifle against that of the unfortunate man beside me, who was heroically attempting to form two deep. He got into his correct place with a struggle, thus revealing to me the enraged and rufous visage of the sergeant-major. I cannot think now what prompted me to say it—possibly it was. the strained and ominous silence which I felt proving irksome. But the fact remains that, finding myself riveted by the sergeant-major's infuriated glare, and feeling that somebody ought to say something, I stupidly remarked "Good afternoon!"
Then, for the next five minutes, I listened to a flow of impassioned rhetoric that put to shame the finest efforts of the world's noblest orators.
A Humorist in the Army (Rifle Range)
By Ashley Sterne
One of the most noteworthy points of resemblance between the late Napoleon Bonaparte and myself lay in the faculty we possessed in common of being able to sleep at unlikely times and in unconventional places. A difference existed, however, in the fact that, whereas Napoleon could perform this feat voluntarily, I could only do it involuntarily. I acquired this rather doubtful boon about my third week in camp by reason of my almost total inability to sleep during the authorised hours. This was partly due to the fact that I could not rest on soft and luxurious boards after being accustomed for so many years previously to the Spartan rigors of a spring-mattress and a feather-bed; and partly to the fact that the stertorous nasal exhalations of thirty fellows pitched in every key known to "Hymns Ancient and Modern" were not exactly the soporific serenade that the nocturnes of the nightingale are. The consequence was that I was usually exceedingly drowsy in the daytime, and one afternoon, when we were practising the "prone position" in the musketry-squad, I pillowed my ear upon the butt of my rifle and quietly dropped off to sleep. A friendly, well-timed kick of at least one horse-power from a tried and trusty comrade, who had formerly played full-back for England, fortunately roused me before I was spotted. Had my appalling breach of discipline been discovered by the musketry instructor, I believe I should have been liable to be shot in several important places of my anatomy—but not, I trust, by the fellow-members of my squad, some of whom might, with painstaking training, aspire one day to hit the Crystal Palace at a hundred yards. I don't think I should mind being shot at once, but I should strongly object to being potted at by neophytes. The odds are that I should perish miserably of starvation, exposure, or senile decay long before I were punctured in a vital spot. I regret to have to record that personally I was not a great success with the rifle. Neither was I with the bayonet. I could never "see red" sufficiently vividly to derive any sort of enthusiasm from plunging madly across a cow-pasture, uttering blood curdling ululations, and finally achieving a climax by sticking my bayonet into a sack stuffed full of disused banana-skins. Besides, I nearly always fell down before I had covered half the distance, and when I did eventually arrive I was invariably too exhausted to plunge a needle into a doughnut.
Again, on the miniature rifle-range it was with difficulty that I confined my shooting to the shed, let alone the target-card. This was mainly on account of my eyesight. My right eye, without the aid of glasses, can distinguish an elephant from an apricot with a tolerable amount of certainty at twenty paces, while with glasses I would even wager the shirt off your back that I would pick the elephant nine times out of ten. But an elephant, I admit, is of rather more extensive calibre than a bull's-eye, and when it came to firing at the latter I merely placed myself unreservedly in the hands of Providence and blazed away across the far blue hills, Marie, with my eyes reverently closed.
When I was doing my preliminary shoot on the miniature range, prior to being passed qualified to shoot at the butts, I tried the plan of keeping both eyes open. This gave me a superb vision of two targets, but I could not make up my mind as to which was the real and which the illusory target. So I shot at each alternately. However, my card came back just the fair, white, unsullied thing it was before, and the sergeant-instructor gave me some gems of irony and wit culled from the pages of the sergeants' gag-book.
"Well," I explained, "I did my best. My glasses made me see two targets. If I had shooting-goggles—"
"My lad," he cried, patting me soothingly on the shoulder, "if you saw two targets you don't want shooting-goggles. You want vibro-massage and a syphon of soda."
It was at the conclusion of the miniature shoot that I was unexpectedly called off parade to proceed to the Cadet School. Some few weeks previously I had had an interview with our company commander, some what to this effect: "I scarcely think, Private Sterne, that you are suitable for the infantry. Now, what do you say to the artillery?"
If I had been George Robey I should probably have replied that I never, on principle, say anything whatever to the artillery, as I don't know them to speak to. But being merely a private soldier, I had perforce to restrain my ebullient wit. However, the officer continued: "Do you know anything about trigonometry?"
"I remember my Uncle Peter having a small excision made in his throat and a silver tube inserted—" I began.
"No, no. Trigonometry," he said, "not tracheotomy. Can you solve trachiang—that is to say, triangles?"
I hadn't the ghost of a notion what he meant, but having once known a man who was deputy-triangle in the Handel Festival Orchestra, I answered, "Yes, sir."
"Very well, then," he said. "Now, what's the tangent of forty-five degrees?"
"Good, I see you haven't forgotten all about it"
Now, as a matter of fact, 1 is the tangent of forty-five degrees, but that was not what I intended to convey. I was going to explain that "One forgets all one's mathematics, sir, when once one leaves school." However, I was ear-marked for the artillery from that moment, and just before Christmas I shook the dust of the Bohemians' camp from my feet, swept it up neatly into a heap, and deposited it in the incinerator. Then, placing the white band of a blameless life around my cap, I became a Cadet.
A Humorist in the Army: I Become a Junior Sub
By Ashley Sterne.
Life at the Cadet School was not all lavender; neither was it all beer and skittles; nor—to pursue these picturesque similes a little farther—was it all bread, cheese and kisses. Indeed, I never had a lavender or a kiss all the time I was there. I worked very hard, frequently till long after midnight (I rarely got back from the theatre before that hour), and with my brows encircled in cold tea bandages I slogged away at my trigonometry, investigating the manifold beauties of the squares on the hypotenuse and rhinocenuse, and learning by heart more tangents and logarithms and cosecants and things than I could possibly use in a lifetime.
Unhappily, my inability to sleep still hampered me. This was chiefly due to the fact that I was provided with a palliasse to sleep on instead of the bare boards I had frollicked on in camp. Though officially alleged to be inflated with straw, I was singularly unfortunate in obtaining a palliasse that merely contained an assortment of weird, exotic flora. Mine was seemingly stuffed with branches culled from that tiresome arboreal freak commonly known as a "monkey puzzle," supplemented by cactus, holly, and porcupines' fur. Often as I lay awake at night did I envy St. Lawrence his comparatively easy couch upon the gridiron. I stood this hideous torture for three nights, and then applied for a sleeping-out pass. In great detail I described to the Commandant the miseries I endured from my nightly impalement, and finally I drew in three different-colored chalks upon the blackboard a vivid and harrowing picture of my spinal cord. He was so shocked at my sufferings. that I obtained my pass straight away, and thereafter I slept at an hotel.
I remained for some weeks at the Cadet School, and then one day I was summoned to the orderly-room and in formed that, as I had been no good in the infantry and what I knew about artillery work could all be inscribed on the back of a threepenny-bit and still leave room for the Ten Commandments, it had been decided, as a last resource, to threaten me with a commission. (I don't mean a "brokerage 1-8" sort of commission, but a real Sam Browne commission.) In vain I told them all about the square on the hypotenuse. I gave an impassioned and heartrending recital of all the tangents and logarithms and cosecants and things which I could call to mind. With meticulous detail I recited gun-drill, accompanying it with such a wealth of dramatic and elocutionary power that the adjutant finally burst into sobs, and through a mist of blinding tears hastily ran over King's Regulations to see if I could be awarded seven days' C.B. instead of a commission. But all to no avail. The sentence, it appeared, could not be revoked. It couldn't even be allowed to run concurrently. Apparently I was so utterly useless that the only thing to do with me was to give me a commission. In fact, I subsequently learned that it was touch and go with me whether or no I deserved to be put on the General Staff. However...
I have had the honor of holding His Majesty's commission for a year now, and during that period you may perhaps have noted that no other countries have come into the war on the side of Germany. It is not for me to point out any inference, but it is only fair to myself, I think, to draw your attention to this rather significant fact. That my name has not yet been mentioned in despatches is, of course, just one of those phenomena that would require a very expensive scientist to explain. Nor have I yet received any decoration that would entitle me to trail a portion of the alphabet after my name. However, peace has not yet broken out, and the brain specialist attached to the last travelling medical board informed me that some of the best years of my second childhood are yet to come.
Contrary to popular belief, the life of a junior sub in the Army is not all lavender; neither is it all beer and skittles: nor—to pursue these picturesque similes a little farther—is it all— (I beg your pardon. Please see lines 1 to 5). He has many duties to perform of which the layman knows nothing. One of these is the compiling of a quaint document known as a "return." It is called a "return," I imagine, because it invariably comes back to you for correction. "Returns" are always wrong. The only artillery officer who ever succeeded in rendering a correct one is now in a bottle of methylated spirits in the Artillery Museum at Woolwich. A "return" is made somewhat after this fashion: —
You are peacefully lying in bed one morning, wondering what excuse you would make to your C.O. for being in pyjamas at 10.30 a.m. if he should suddenly decide to pay your station a surprise visit, when your telephone rings violently. "Please render a return in quadruplicate, to reach headquarters by 11 a.m., of all men of your detachment who have previously been employed as ventriloquists, artesian-well sinkers, Dutch cheese strainers, oratorio singers, or numismatists." If you are conscientious you at once proceed to dress, parade your men, and extort the required information, from them. If, on the other hand. you possess a sluggish, torpid conscience that won't work till after lunch, you merely shout back through the 'phone: "Line out of order—can't hear a word," and then clamber back into bed again. Another method of disposing of this "return" nuisance is to send a memo to headquarters saying: ,"Reference return of ventriloquists and so forth, I beg to report that my return is nil." This saves an appalling amount of bother, and, besides, you can here again, also clamber back into bed.
"Doctor, I've got a little money saved up."
"And I feel that I can afford an illness of some sort."
"All right; perhaps we can make a deal."
"That's' just it. I'm willing to pay you a reasonable fee. but you're not to get it all. Understand me, I don't want an operation this time. What I want you to do is to order me south for several weeks' where I can play golf."
Army Mascots I Have Met: Their Ways and Whims
By Ashley Sterne
Yes, I am a firm believer in mascots. They help to make life in the Army quite exciting at times. Never shall I forget the occasion when a piece of bully-beef that we had reared from the tin broke loose one night and bit the sentry.
But I am anticipating., I ought first to explain that Army mascots are not issued as part of one's equipment. 'They have to be acquired privately, and sometimes it happens that the supply of goats, cockatoos, chimpanzees, and all the other animals that are ordinarily employed as mascots is exhausted in the particular spot where one happens to be stationed. In these circumstances one has to take the best substitute that offers, and I know of one instance where the men of a small isolated detachment were driven to adopt a box of sardines, that being the only specimen of the animal kingdom available for mascot purposes.
Of course, there s no reason why vegetables and minerals should not be employed as mascots, but naturally they do not make such affectionate pets and companions as animals. You can't get much amusement from petting a horseshoe, and a conversation with a cucumber or a tin of baked beans tends to be a trifle one-sided. Animals, on the other hand, can not only be used in their ordinary mascoting duties, but can also be trained to do light military fatigues quite as efficiently as the soldier himself. I remember we once had a kangaroo named Kate, and every day she used to jump round the camp picking up all the empty cigarette packets, burnt matches, and scraps of paper, which she carefully collected in her pouch.
At another period we owned an anteater named Alphonse, and he also did good and useful work for us licking the ants off the daily rations. Indeed, on one occasion he rendered us a service that was most opportune and invaluable. Somehow one night the bung managed to come out of the oil-barrel which stood next to the kennel where Alphonse was billeted. What did the sagacious animal do but extend his long, cylindrical, sticky tongue and insert it in the hole from which the oil was flowing. We found him there next morning still at his self-appointed post of duty, and there was not a man on the station but spent his every leisure moment that day in catching ants with which to feed Alphonse.
Certainly this achievement deserves to rank in history with that of our little Dutch boy who, you will doubtless remember, upon finding a leak in one of the dyke arrangements which prevent Holland from being washed out to sea, thrust his finger into the orifice until the plumber arrived.
But certainly the most unique mascot we ever had was Lizzie the lizard—unique because only the sergeant ever saw her. I remember we were very hard pressed for a mascot at the time, and it was then that we fell back on Benjamin, the piece of bully-beef to which I have already alluded. But after it had bitten the sentry we had, of course, to shoot it. We obviously couldn't allow the sentries to run the awful risk of being bitten to death in their sleep.
Then, fortunately, on the very day that Benjamin was blown from the muzzle of one of our D.P. rifles the sergeant found Lizzie. He first descried her crawling up the wall of the wet canteen—a beautiful, sleek, green lizardess covered with lovely pink "wiggly patterns. The sergeant, I should explain, was a sufferer for years with a chronic irritation in the throat—a kind of perpetual dryness, as it were, from which he only found relief in the atmosphere of the canteen, just as sufferers from asthma can only find life tolerable in smoky air. Lizzie followed him back to the men's quarters, and for weeks afterwards seemed to live entirely in the sergeant's society. It slept on his bed, or playfully gambolled about on the walls or ceiling.
But for some reason or other none of the men ever actually saw it. They just took the sergeant's word that it was there all right. However, Lizzie disappeared shortly after the sergeant met with a regrettable accident one night on returning from his daily treatment at the canteen. It appears that in the dark he mistook a newly-dug trench for his bunk, with the result that he sprained his ankle, displaced his knee-cap, and got his Achilles tendon into such a tangle that it took two M.O.'s and three R A.M.C. orderlies the better part of a fortnight to unravel it. Lizzie followed the sergeant into hospital, and for three days and nights the devoted creature sat on the coverlet of his bed gazing wistfully at the patient. Then, the sergeant told me later, she "sorter faded away."