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Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

On His Own

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I said it was a big happy family, and so it is, but as in all happy families, there are servants, so in the British Army there are also servants, officers' servants, or "O. S." as they are termed. In the American Army the common name for them is "dog robbers." From a controversy in the English papers, Winston Churchill made the statement, as far as I can remember, that the officers' servants in the British forces totaled nearly two hundred thousand. He claimed that this removed two hundred thousand exceptionally good and well-trained fighters from the actual firing line, claiming that the officers, when selecting a man for servant's duty, generally picked the man who had been out the longest and knew the ropes.

But from my observation I find that a large percentage of the servants do go over the top, but behind the lines, they very seldom engage in digging parties, fatigues, parades, or drills. This work is as necessary as actually engaging in an attack, therefore I think that it would be safe to say that the all-round work of the two hundred thousand is about equal to fifty thousand men who are on straight military duties. In numerous instances, officers' servants hold the rank of lance-corporals and they assume the same duties and authority of a butler. The one stripe giving him precedence over the other servants.

There are lots of amusing stories told of "O. S." One day one of our majors went into the servants' billet and commenced "blinding" at them, saying that his horse had no straw, and that he personally knew that straw had been issued for this purpose. He called the lance-corporal to account. The Corporal answered, "Blime me, sir, the straw was issued, but there wasn't enough left over from the servants' beds; in fact, we had to use some of the 'ay to 'elp out, sir."

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It is needless to say that the servants dispensed with their soft beds that particular night.

Nevertheless it is not the fault of the individual officer, it is just the survival of a quaint old English custom. You know an Englishman cannot be changed in a day.

But the average English officer is a good sport, he will sit on a fire step and listen respectfully to Private Jones's theory of the way the war should be conducted. This war is gradually crumbling the once unsurmountable wall of caste.

You would be convinced of this if you could seem King George go among his men on an inspecting tour under fire, or pause before a little wooden cross in some shell-tossed field with tears in his eyes as he reads the inscription. And a little later perhaps bend over a wounded man on a stretcher, patting him on the head.

More than once in a hospital I have seen a titled Red Cross nurse fetching and carrying for a wounded soldier, perhaps the one who in civil life delivered the coal at her back door. Today she does not shrink from lighting his fag or even washing his grimy body.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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