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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

The Road To Blighty

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"What's yours?"

"Machine-gun caught me in both legs."

"Going to lose 'em?"

"Don't know. Can't feel much at present. Hope not."

Then the questioner raises himself on his elbow. "How's it going?"

It is the attack. The conversation that follows is always how we're hanging on to such and such an objective and have pushed forward three hundred yards here or have been bent back there. One thing you notice: every man forgets his own catastrophe in his keenness for the success of the offensive. Never in all my fortnight's journey to Blighty did I hear a word of self-pity or complaining. On the contrary, the most severely wounded men would profess themselves grateful that they had got off so lightly. Since the war started the term "lightly" has become exceedingly comparative. I suppose a man is justified in saying he's got off lightly when what he expected was death.

I remember a big Highland officer who had been shot in the knee-cap. He had been operated on and the knee-cap had been found to be so splintered that it had had to be removed; of this he was unaware. For the first day as he lay in bed he kept wondering aloud how long it would be before he could re-join his battalion. Perhaps he suspected his condition and was trying to find out. All his heart seemed set on once again getting into the fighting. Next morning he plucked up courage to ask the doctor, and received the answer he had dreaded.

"Never. You won't be going back, old chap."

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Next time he spoke his voice was a bit throaty. "Will it stiffen?"

"You've lost the knee-joint," the doctor said, "but with luck we'll save the leg."

His voice sank to a whisper. "If you do, it won't be much good, will it?"

"Not much."

He lay for a couple of hours silent, readjusting his mind to meet the new conditions. Then he commenced talking with cheerfulness about returning to his family. The habit of courage had conquered--the habit of courage which grows out of the knowledge that you let your pals down by showing cowardice.

The next step on the road to Blighty is from the Casualty Station to a Base Hospital in France. You go on a hospital train and are only allowed to go when you are safe to travel. There is always great excitement as to when this event will happen; its precise date usually depends on what's going on up front and the number of fresh casualties which are expected. One morning you awake to find that a tag has been prepared, containing the entire medical history of your injury. The stretcher-bearers come in with grins on their faces, your tag is tied to the top button of your pyjamas, jocular appointments are made by the fellows you leave behind--many of whom you know are dying--to meet you in London, and you are carried out. The train is thoroughly equipped with doctors and nurses; the lying cases travel in little white bunks. No one who has not seen it can have any idea of the high good spirits which prevail. You're going off to Blighty, to Piccadilly, to dry boots and clean beds. The revolving wheels underneath you seem to sing the words, "Off to Blighty--to Blighty." It begins to dawn on you what it will be like to be again your own master and to sleep as long as you like.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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