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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

The Road To Blighty

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You discovered the spirit of the man when you heard him wandering in delirium. All night in the shadowy ward with its hooded lamps, he would be giving orders for the comfort of his men. Sometimes he'd be proposing to go forward himself to a place where a company was having a hot time; apparently one of his officers was trying to dissuade him. "Danger be damned," he'd exclaim in a wonderfully strong voice. "It'll buck 'em up to see me. Splendid chaps--splendid chaps!"

About dawn he was usually supposed to be sinking, but he'd rallied again by the time the day-sister arrived. "Still here," he'd smile in a triumphant kind of whisper, as though bluffing death was a pastime.

One afternoon a padre came to visit him. As he was leaving he bent above the pillow. We learnt afterwards that this was what he had said, "If the good Lord lets you, I hope you'll get better."

We saw the Colonel raise himself up on his elbow. His weak voice shook with anger. "Neither God nor the Devil has anything to do with it. I'm going to get well." Then, as the nurse came hurrying to him, he sank back.

When I left the Base Hospital for Blighty he was still holding his own. I have never heard what happened to him, but should not be at all surprised to meet him one day in the trenches with a wooden leg, still leading his splendid chaps. Death can't kill men of such heroic courage.

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At the Base Hospital they talk a good deal of "the Blighty Smile." It's supposed to be the kind of look a chap wears when he's been told that within twenty-four hours he'll be in England. When this information has been imparted to him, he's served out with warm socks, woollen cap and a little linen bag into which to put his valuables. Hours and hours before there's any chance of starting you'll see the lucky ones lying very still, with a happy vacant look in their eyes and their absurd woollen caps stuck ready on their heads. Sometime, perhaps in the small hours of the morning, the stretcher-bearers, arrive--the stretcher-bearers who all down the lines of communication are forever carrying others towards blessedness and never going themselves. "At last," you whisper to yourself. You feel a glorious anticipation that you have not known since childhood when, after three hundred and sixty-four days of waiting, it was truly going to be Christmas.

On the train and on the passage there is the same skillful attention--the same ungrudging kindness. You see new faces in the bunks beside you. After the tedium of the narrow confines of a ward that in itself is exciting. You fall into talk.

"What's yours?"

"Nothing much--just a hand off and a splinter or two in the shoulder."

You laugh. "That's not so dusty. How much did you expect for your money?"

Probably you meet some one from the part of the line where you were wounded--with luck even from your own brigade, battery or battalion. Then the talk becomes all about how things are going, whether we're still holding on to our objectives, who's got a blighty and who's gone west. One discussion you don't often hear--as to when the war will end. To these civilians in khaki it seems that the war has always been and that they will never cease to be soldiers. For them both past and future are utterly obliterated. They would not have it otherwise. Because they are doing their duty they are contented. The only time the subject is ever touched on is when some one expresses the hope that it'll last long enough for him to recover from his wounds and get back into the line. That usually starts another man, who will never be any more good for the trenches, wondering whether he can get into the flying corps. The one ultimate hope of all these shattered wrecks who are being hurried to the Blighty they have dreamt of, is that they may again see service.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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