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Action Front Boyd Cable


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"Enemy airmen appearing over our lines have been turned back or driven off by shell fire."--EXTRACT FROM DESPATCH.

Gardening is a hobby which does not exist under very favorable conditions at the front, its greatest drawback being that when the gardener's unit is moved from one place to another his garden cannot accompany him. Its devotees appear to derive a certain amount of satisfaction from the mere making of a garden, the laying-out and digging and planting; but it can be imagined that the most enthusiastic gardener would in time become discouraged by a long series of beginnings without any endings to his labors, to a frequent sowing and an entire absence of reaping.

There are, however, some units which, from the nature of their business, are stationary in one place for months on end, and here the gardener as a rule has an opportunity for the indulgence of his pursuit. In clearing-hospitals, ammunition-parks, and Army Service Corps supply points, there are, I believe, many such fixed abodes; but the manners and customs of the inhabitants of such happy resting-places are practically unknown to the men who live month in month out in a narrow territory, bounded on the east by the forward firing line and on the west by the line of the battery positions, or at farthest the villages of the reserve billets. In any case these places are rather outside the scope of tales dealing with what may be called the "Under Fire Front," and it was this front which I had in mind when I said that gardening did not receive much encouragement at the front. But during the first spring of the War I know of at least one enthusiast who did his utmost, metaphorically speaking, to beat his sword into a plowshare, and to turn aside at every opportunity from the duty of killing Germans to the pleasures of growing potatoes. He was a gunner in the detachment of the Blue Marines, which ran a couple of armored motor-cars carrying anti-aircraft guns.

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It is one of the advantages of this branch of the air-war that when a suitable position is fixed on for defense of any other position, the detachment may stay there for some considerable time. There are other advantages which will unfold themselves to those initiated in the ways of the trench zone, although those outside of it may miss them; but everyone will see that prolonged stays in the one position give the gardener his opportunity. In this particular unit of the Blue Marines was a gunner who intensely loved the potting and planting, the turning over of yielding earth, the bedding-out and transplanting, the watering and weeding and tending of a garden, possibly because the greater part of his life had been lived at sea in touch with nothing more yielding than a steel plate or a hard plank.

The gunner was known throughout the unit by no other name than Mary, fittingly taken from the nursery rhyme which inquires, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" The similarity between Mary of the Blue Marines and Mary of the nursery rhyme ends, however, with the first line, since Blue Marine Mary made no attempt to rear "silver bells and cockle shells" (whatever they may be) all in a row. His whole energies were devoted to the raising of much more practical things, like lettuces, radishes, carrots, spring onions, and any other vegetable which has the commendable reputation of arriving reasonably early at maturity.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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