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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

The Growing Of The Vision

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"I don't want it," he said sharply. "There's nothing the matter with me. Thanks all the same. I'll stand."

This habit of being self-forgetful gives one time to be remindful of others. Last January, during a brief and glorious ten days' leave, I went to a matinee at the Coliseum. Vesta Tilley was doing an extraordinarily funny impersonation of a Tommy just home from the comfort of the trenches; her sketch depicted the terrible discomforts of a fighting man on leave in Blighty. If I remember rightly the refrain of her song ran somewhat in this fashion:

"Next time they want to give me six days' leave
    Let 'em make it six months' 'ard."

There were two officers, a major and a captain, behind us; judging by the sounds they made, they were getting their full money's worth of enjoyment. In the interval, when the lights went up, I turned and saw the captain putting a cigarette between the major's lips; then, having gripped a match-box between his knees so that he might strike the match, he lit the cigarette for his friend very awkwardly. I looked closer and discovered that the laughing captain had only one hand and the equally happy major had none at all.

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Men forget their own infirmities in their endeavour to help each other. Before the war we had a phrase which has taken on a new meaning now; we used to talk about "lending a hand." To-day we lend not only hands, but arms and eyes and legs. The wonderful comradeship learnt in the trenches has taught men to lend their bodies to each other--out of two maimed bodies to make up one which is whole, and sound, and shared. You saw this all the time in hospital. A man who had only one leg would pal up with a man who had only one arm. The one-armed man would wheel the one-legged man about the garden in a chair; at meal-times the one-legged man would cut up the one-armed man's food for him. They had both lost something, but by pooling what was left they managed to own a complete body. By the time the war is ended there'll be great hosts of helpless men who by combining will have learnt how to become helpful. They'll establish a new standard of very simple and cheerful socialism.

There's a point I want to make clear before I forget it. All these men, whether they're capturing Hun dug-outs at the Front or taking prisoner their own despair in English hospitals, are perfectly ordinary and normal. Before the war they were shop-assistants, cab-drivers, plumbers, lawyers, vaudeville artists. They were men of no heroic training. Their civilian callings and their previous social status were too various for any one to suppose that they were heroes ready-made at birth. Something has happened to them since they marched away in khaki--something that has changed them. They're as completely re-made as St. Paul was after he had had his vision of the opening heavens on the road to Damascus. They've brought their vision back with them to civilian life, despite the lost arms and legs which they scarcely seem to regret; their souls still triumph over the body and the temporal. As they hobble through the streets of London, they display the same gay courage that was theirs when at zero hour, with a fifty-fifty chance of death, they hopped over the top for the attack.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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