One Young Man's Leave
( Originally Published 1917 )
HE again writes:
" We had done two days out of our six in the trenches a little south of Albert. They were in such a state that it was impossible to walk from one post to another. The mud was over our knees and all communication was cut off by day. At night we fetched our rations, water, and rum by going over the topóa little sought-after job, for Fritz was most active and cover scarce. I had just finished my two hours at the listening-post, and had crawled into my dug-out for a four-hour stretch. It was bitterly cold, and although I had piles of sandbags over me I couldn't get warm, and, like Bairnsfather's I fed-up one,' had to get out and rest a bit. Two hours of my four had passed when word came down that I was wanted by the Sergeant-Major. Hallo, thinks I, what am I wanted for ? Ah, letters !
I was a source of continued annoyance to the Captain because of my many letters.
However, he that expecteth nothing shall receive his seven days' leave, for that's what it proved to be. I stood with unbelieving ears whilst the Serjeant-Major rattled off something to the effect that I was on the next party for leave, and was to go down H.Q. the following night. I crawled back to my dug-out, wondering if I was really awake. Eventually reaching our post, I cried, I John, my boy, this child's on a Blightly trip.' No profuse congratulations emanated from that quarter, but a voice from a dug-out cried,
Good ! you can take that clip of German cartridges home for me.' This was our souvenir hunter ; he'd barter his last biscuit for a nose cap of a Hun shell, and was a frequenter of the artillery dug-outs. My next two hours' guard was carried out in a very dreamy sort of way. I had already planned what I should do and how I would surprise them all. Next day I was busy scraping off the mud from my tunic and overcoat. I spent hours on the job, but they seemed very little different when I had finished_
" That night I covered the three miles of mud and shell-holes to H.Q. in record time. There I met the other lucky ones and received orders to turn in and parade at 9 a.m. for baths and underclothing. There were no trousers, puttees, or overcoats in the stores, and so we had to come over as we were, a picture that had no fitting background other than the trenches. At. dusk we boarded the motor-bus which conveyed us to the rail-head. That old bus had never had such a cargo of light hearts when plying between Shepherd's Bush and Liverpool Street. At the rail-head we transferred to the waiting train, and it was not long before we were on our way. Bully beef and biscuits were on the seats, our day's rations. Never mindówe shall soon be having something a good deal more appetising. We did wish we had something warmer than the water in our bottles, and at our next stop we found our old benefactors. This was another platform canteen, and we were able to refresh ourselves for the remainder of the journey, which was all too slow.
" Two R.F.A. and one A.S.C. man shared the carriage with me up to London. We did not speak at all, we were far too much occupied with our thoughts and visions of our welcome. It was Sunday, and there were very few people about when we got in. I clambered out of the carriage prepared to rush to the Bakerloo, when a voice at my elbow asked, Is there anything I can do for you ? Are you a Londoner ? " and a host of questions bearing on my future actions. It was a Y.M. official. He took me to the little box where my francs were converted into English coin, then to Bakerloo Tube Station, got my ticket, and with a handclasp dashed off to help another. Had I been bound for the North he would have taken me and given me a dinner, and put me into the right train at the right time. I tell you these Y.M. chaps do their job uncommonly well.