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Blank Cartridges Ian Hay

And Some Fell By The Wayside

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"Firing parrty, revairse arrms!"

Thus the platoon sergeant--a little anxiously; for we are new to this feat, and only rehearsed it for a few minutes this morning.

It is a sunny afternoon in late February. The winter of our discontent is past. (At least, we hope so.) Comfortless months of training are safely behind us, and lo! we have grown from a fortuitous concourse of atoms to a cohesive unit of fighting men. Spring is coming; spring is coming; our blood runs quicker; active service is within measurable distance; and the future beckons to us with both hands to step down at last into the arena, and try our fortune amid the uncertain but illimitable chances of the greatest game in the World.

To all of us, that is, save one.

The road running up the hill from the little mortuary is lined on either side by members of our company, specklessly turned out and standing to attention. At the foot of the slope a gun-carriage is waiting, drawn by two great dray horses and controlled by a private of the Royal Artillery, who looks incongruously perky and cockney amid that silent, kilted assemblage. The firing party form a short lane from the gun-carriage to the door of the mortuary. In response to the sergeant's command, each man turns over his rifle, and setting the muzzle carefully upon his right boot--after all, it argues no extra respect to the dead to get your barrel filled with mud--rests his hands upon the butt-plate and bows his head, as laid down in the King's Regulations.

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The bearers move slowly down the path from the mortuary, and place the coffin upon the gun-carriage. Upon the lid lie a very dingy glengarry, a stained leather belt, and a bayonet. They are humble trophies, but we pay them as much reverence as we would to the bâton and cocked hat of a field-marshal, for they are the insignia of a man who has given his life for his country.

On the hill-top above us, where the great military hospital rears its clock-tower foursquare to the sky, a line of convalescents, in natty blue uniforms with white facings and red ties, lean over the railings deeply interested. Some of them are bandaged, others are in slings, and all are more or less maimed. They follow the obsequies below with critical approval. They have been present at enough hurried and promiscuous interments of late--more than one of them has only just escaped being the central figure at one of these functions--that they are capable of appreciating a properly conducted funeral at its true value.

"They're putting away a bloomin' Jock," remarks a gentleman with an empty sleeve.

"And very nice, too!" responds another on crutches, as the firing party present arms with creditable precision. "Not 'arf a bad bit of eye-wash at all for a bandy-legged lot of coal-shovellers."

"That lot's out of K(1)," explains a well-informed invalid with his head in bandages. "Pretty 'ot stuff they're gettin'. Très moutarde! Now we're off."

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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