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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

God As We See Him

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The adjutant glanced coldly at the prisoner. "What have you to say for yourself?"

The man was ghastly white and shaking like an aspen. "Sir, I'm not the man I was since I saw my best friend, Jimmie, with his head blown off and lying in his hands. It's kind of got me. I can't face up to it."

The adjutant was silent for a few seconds; then he said, "You know you have a double choice. You can either be shot up there, doing your duty, or behind the lines as a coward. It's for you to choose. I don't care."

The interview was ended. He turned again to the Colonel. The man slowly straightened himself, saluted like a soldier and marched out alone to the Front. That's what discipline does for a man who's going back on himself.

One of the big influences that helps to keep a soldier's soul sanitary is what is known in the British Army as "spit and polish." Directly we pull out for a rest, we start to work burnishing and washing. The chaps may have shown the most brilliant courage and self-sacrificing endurance, it counts for nothing if they're untidy. The first morning, no matter what are the weather conditions, we hold an inspection; every man has to show up with his chin shaved, hair cut, leather polished and buttons shining. If he doesn't he gets hell.

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There's a lot in it. You bring a man out from a tight corner where he's been in hourly contact with death; he's apt to think, "What's the use of taking pride in myself. I'm likely to be 'done in' any day. It'll be all the same when I'm dead." But if he doesn't keep clean in his body, he won't keep clean in his mind. The man who has his buttons shining brightly and his leather polished, is usually the man who is brightly polished inside. Spit and polish teaches a man to come out of the trenches from seeing his pals killed, and to carry on as though nothing abnormal had happened. It educates him in an impersonal attitude towards calamity which makes it bearable. It forces him not to regard anything too tragically. If you can stand aside from yourself and poke fun at your own tragedy--and tragedy always has its humorous aspect--that helps. The songs which have been inspired by the trenches are examples of this tendency.

The last thing you find anybody singing "out there" is something patriotic; the last thing you find anybody reading is Rupert Brooke's poems. When men sing among the shell-holes they prefer a song which belittles their own heroism. Please picture to yourself a company of mud-stained scarecrows in steel-helmets, plodding their way under intermittent shelling through a battered trench, whistling and humming the following splendid sentiments from The Plea of The Conscientious Objector:--

"Send us the Army and the Navy. Send us the rank and file.
    Send us the grand old Territorials--they'll face the danger with a smile.
    Where are the boys of the Old Brigade who made old England free?
    You may send my mother, my sister or my brother,
    But for Gawd's sake don't send me."

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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