Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ashley Sterne Soldiers' Packs

A topical piece from the 11 May 1917 Graphic of Australia.

Soldiers' Packs
By Ashley Sterne.

It is doubtful whether the ingenious individual who invented the soldier's pack and equipment will ever attain what you could honestly call genuine popularity.

The truth is that the soldier is not demonstratively affectionate towards his pack.

The first thing that strikes the eye is the very large number of leather straps that are observed to be flapping about at all points of his anatomy. There are 40 buckles, all of which have to be undone in order to manipulate any one particular strap; and in time of peace it was, I should think, no unusual thing for a soldier, having got his straps and his buckles all mixed up into an inseparable amalgam of leather and brass, to buy his discharge, rather than persevere in the hopeless task of sorting them out again.

The next thing you will remark is the large square valise (or pack) attached to the shoulders. This cumbersome piece of furniture is not, as you might suppose, a footwarmer or typewriter. It merely contains the soldier's greatcoat and mess-tin; and most of the insanity developed amongst the rank and file of the Army must be attributable to the soldier's heart-breaking struggles to induce four cubic feet of coat to occupy three cubic feet of pack.

The observer will next notice slung round the soldier's waist a rich variety of articles reminiscent of a Penny Bazaar and an Agricultural Exhibition. In front there are two leather pouches which were originally designed, I believe, to contain ammunition; but the only thing which I ever saw extracted from them were a pack of playing cards. Then there is the water-bottle, which one is ordinarily commanded to fill with limpid, crystalline water; but as no soldier, when in training, is ever removed more than ten minutes' walk from an unlimited supply of limpid, crystalline beer, the burden seems to me to be an unnecessary one.

Next comes the haversack, in which is carried the ration that a kindly quartermaster has provided for the soldier's consumption, and which is so useful for storing away any wild flowers he may collect during the march. This, together with the bayonet and frog, the entrenching-tool and helve (or wooden handle, to which the blade of the entrenching tool is supposed to be attached — a feat which nobody, to my knowledge, has ever succeeded in performing), completes the soldier's equipment.

When completely furnished, the soldier is physically incapable of presenting arms without the aid of a steam crane, and to avoid a scandal I am seriously thinking of asking the army authorities if the soldier may have an acolyte in attendance to carry the luggage while he attends to the ceremonial.

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