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  The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

The Road To Blighty

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I am in hospital in London, lying between clean white sheets and feeling, for the first time in months, clean all over. At the end of the ward there is a swinging door; if I listen intently in the intervals when the gramophone isn't playing, I can hear the sound of bath-water running--running in a reckless kind of fashion as if it didn't care how much was wasted. To me, so recently out of the fighting and so short a time in Blighty, it seems the finest music in the world. For the sheer luxury of the contrast I close my eyes against the July sunlight and imagine myself back in one of those narrow dug-outs where it isn't the thing to undress because the row may start at any minute.

Out there in France we used to tell one another fairy-tales of how we would spend the first year of life when war was ended. One man had a baby whom he'd never seen; another a girl whom he was anxious to marry. My dream was more prosaic, but no less ecstatic--it began and ended with a large white bed and a large white bath. For the first three hundred and sixty-five mornings after peace had been declared I was to be wakened by the sound of my bath being filled; water was to be so plentiful that I could tumble off to sleep again without even troubling to turn off the tap. In France one has to go dirty so often that the dream of being always clean seems as unrealisable as romance. Our drinking-water is frequently brought up to us at the risk of men's lives, carried through the mud in petrol-cans strapped on to packhorses. To use it carelessly would be like washing in men's blood----

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And here, most marvellously, with my dream come true, I lie in the whitest of white beds. The sunlight filters through trees outside the window and weaves patterns on the floor. Most wonderful of all is the sound of the water so luxuriously running. Some one hops out of bed and re-starts the gramophone. The music of the bath-room tap is lost.

Up and down the ward, with swift precision, nurses move softly. They have the unanxious eyes of those whose days are mapped out with duties. They rarely notice us as individuals. They ask no questions, show no curiosity. Their deeds of persistent kindness are all performed impersonally. It's the same with the doctors. This is a military hospital where discipline is firmly enforced; any natural recognition of common fineness is discouraged. These women who have pledged themselves to live among suffering, never allow themselves for a moment to guess what the sight of them means to us chaps in the cots. Perhaps that also is a part of their sacrifice. But we follow them with our eyes, and we wish that they would allow themselves to guess. For so many months we have not seen a woman; there have been so many hours when we expected never again to see a woman. We're Lazaruses exhumed and restored to normal ways of life by the fluke of having collected a bit of shrapnel--we haven't yet got used to normal ways. The mere rustle of a woman's skirt fills us with unreasonable delight and makes the eyes smart with memories of old longings. Those childish longings of the trenches! No one can understand them who has not been there, where all personal aims are a wash-out and the courage to endure remains one's sole possession.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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