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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

God As We See Him

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Before the war the word "ideals" had grown out-of-date and priggish--we had substituted for it the more robust word "ambitions." Today ideals have come back to their place in our vocabulary. We have forgotten that we ever had ambitions, but at this moment men are drowning for ideals in the mud of Flanders.

Nevertheless, it is true; it isn't natural to be brave. How, then, have multitudes of men acquired this sudden knack of courage? They have been educated by the greatness of the occasion; when big sacrifices have been demanded, men have never been found lacking. And they have acquired it through discipline and training.

When you have subjected yourself to discipline, you cease to think of yourself; you are not you, but a part of a company of men. If you don't do your duty, you throw the whole machine out. You soon learn the hard lesson that every man's life and every man's service belong to other people. Of this the organisation of an army is a vivid illustration. Take the infantry, for instance. They can't fight by themselves; they're dependent on the support of the artillery. The artillery, in their turn, would be terribly crippled, were it not for the gallantry of the air service. If the infantry collapse, the guns have to go back; if the infantry advance, the guns have to be pulled forward. This close interdependence of service on service, division on division, battalion on battery, follows right down through the army till it reaches the individual, so that each man feels that the day will be lost if he fails. His imagination becomes intrigued by the immensity of the stakes for which he plays. Any physical calamity which may happen to himself becomes trifling when compared with the disgrace he would bring upon his regiment if he were not courageous.

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A few months ago I was handing over a battery-position in a fairly warm place. The major, who came up to take over from me, brought with him a subaltern and just enough men to run the guns. Within half-an-hour of their arrival, a stray shell came over and caught the subaltern and five of the gun-detachment. It was plain at once that the subaltern was dying--his name must have been written on the shell, as we say in France. We got a stretcher and made all haste to rush him out to a dressing-station. Just as he was leaving, he asked to speak with his major. "I'm so sorry, sir; I didn't mean to get wounded," he whispered. The last word he sent back from the dressing-station where he died, was, "Tell the major, I didn't mean to do it." That's discipline. He didn't think of himself; all he thought of was that his major would be left short-handed.

Here's another story, illustrating how mercilessly discipline can restore a man to his higher self. Last spring, the night before an attack, a man was brought into a battalion headquarters dug-out, under arrest. The adjutant and Colonel were busy attending to the last details of their preparations. The adjutant looked up irritably,

"What is it?"

The N. C. O. of the guard answered, "We found this man, sir, in a communication trench. His company has been in the front-line two hours. He was sitting down, with his equipment thrown away, and evidently had no intention of going up."

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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