One Young Man Joins The Army
( Originally Published 1917 )
SYDNEY BAXTER was most decidedly getting on in business. And then the war came. I do not want you to have the impression that, at this time, he was one of those sturdy, strapping young fellows who gladly rushed into the ranks for the very joy of fighting. There were thousands of them, I know, a glorious breed, but Sydney Baxter was not of that build. So that there may be no mistake let me give his own words.
They are frank enough to be convincing.
" When war fell upon Europe I was one of those foolish people who imagined that the Kaiser and his army would be completely crushed before Xmas, 1914. For the first two months I never gave a thought to the possibility of my becoming a soldier. I couldn't imagine myself with a rifle and bayonet chasing Huns, or standing the rough-and-ready life of the soldier, and the thought of blood was horrible. I had worn glasses since I was a boy of twelve, and for that reason, among others, I had not learnt the art of self-defence where quickness of vision is half the battle. From appearances and manners one would have ticketed me as a Conscientious Objector. I thank God I had not that conception of my duty to Him."
And so Sydney Baxter went on with his work. There was plenty to do. Reservists had been called up. Opportunities of advancement were many. Some must stay and " keep the home fires burning." You know all the arguments, all the self-justification of those days.
His chance had undoubtedly arrived. He was badly needed in the office. You shall read his own confession.
" It was well into October before I realised the Call to Arms was a personal one, and that the Hun was not so easily to be beaten. The treatment of the Belgians hit me very hard, and, but for my home circumstances, I should have donned khaki straight away. My position was just this. My father had died some few months before, and left to my care my mother and my sister. Their protection was my solemn charge—there was no doubt about it in my mind. And yet, what was my duty ? To fight—or to stay and look after our little home ? It is a problem that thousands of us young men have had to wrestle with, and for several days I wrestled with it alone. Mother was purely neutral; she refused to influence me either way. Mother-like she could not encourage my going, but she would never lift a finger to deter me. Her answer was that it was entirely a. matter of what I conscientiously felt was my foremost duty. I never went near a recruiting meeting, so that I should not be carried away by enthusiasm to the recruiting office. I must decide when my thoughts were cool and collected. The second week in November brought the climax. I knew my duty was to fight.
" So I enlisted in a London Territorial Regiment whose first battalion was already in France and would require frequent drafts. I did not hesitate about joining a fighting unit. Other units are very necessary, but I wouldn't let another man do my fighting for me. I had some difficulty about a slightly weak heart caused by a severe illness a few years before. However, with the words that ' the life would either make or break me,' I was accepted for active service,"
I am told that Sydney Baxter omits one thing here. Unlike so many in those early days, when he announced to the chief that he had joined, he asked no question about any possible allowance. He asked no advice, he suggested no help. He just joined. All he said was, " I felt I had to go, sir, and my mother says it will be all right. She says she will be able to manage quite well." Let me pay my tribute to this one young man's mother. There are so many like her that I pay it to thousands.
Not only did she refuse to put obstacles in the way, but she would have no bargaining with patriotism. " She would manage quite well."
It meant more boarders in the little home, it meant the breaking up of the old sweet privacy and quietude of the household, but—she would manage quite well. God knows the heartache and the sorrow behind the sacrifice she and the thousands like her have made surely a sacrifice very acceptable in His sight.