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Action Front Boyd Cable

As Others See

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The morning was well advanced when they were met by guides and interpreters from the French regiment which they were relieving, and commenced to move into the new trenches. Although at first there were some who were inclined to criticize, and reluctant to believe that a Frenchman, or any other foreigner, could do or make anything better than an Englishman, the Towers had to admit, even before they reached the forward firing trench, that the work of making communication trenches had been done in a manner beyond British praise. The trenches were narrow and very deep, neatly paved throughout their length with brick, spaced at regular intervals with sunk traps for draining off rain-water, and with bays and niches cut deep in the side to permit the passing of any one meeting a line of pack-burdened men in the shoulder-wide alley-way.

When they reached the forward firing trench, their admiration became unbounded; they were as full of eager curiosity as children on a school picnic. They fraternized instantly and warmly with the outgoing Frenchmen, and the Frenchmen for their part were equally eager to express friendship, to show the English the dugouts, the handy little contrivances for comfort and safety, to bequeath to their successors all sorts of stoves and pots and cooking utensils, and generally to give an impression, which was put into words by Private Robinson: "Strike me if this ain't the most cordiawl bloomin' ongtongt I've ever met!"

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The Towers had never realized, or regretted, their lack of the French as deeply as they came to do now. Hitherto dealings in the language had been entirely with the women in the villages and billets of the reserve lines, where there was plenty of time to find means of expressing the two things that for the most part were all they had to express--their wants and their thanks. And because by now they had no slightest difficulty in making these billet inhabitants understand what they required--a fire for cooking, stretching space on a floor, the location of the nearest estaminets, whether eggs, butter, and bread were obtainable, and how much was the price--they had fondly imagined in their hearts, and boasted loudly in their home letters, that they were quite satisfactorily conversant with the French language. Now they were to discover that their knowledge was not quite so extensive as they had imagined, although it never occurred to them that the French women in the billets were learning English a great deal more rapidly and efficiently than they were learning French, that it was not altogether their mastery of the language which instantly produced soap and water, for instance, when they made motions of washing their hands and said slowly and loudly: "Soap--you compree, soap and l'eau; you savvy--l'eau, wa-ter." But now, when it came to the technicalities of their professional business, they found their command of the language completely inadequate. There were many of them who could ask, "What is the time?" but that helped them little to discover at what time the Germans made a practice of shelling the trenches; they could have asked with ease, "Have you any eggs?" but they could not twist this into a sentence to ask whether there were any egg-selling farms in the vicinity; could have asked "how much" was the bread, but not how many yards it was to the German trench.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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