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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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Suddenly we are called upon to give a test of our quality. A rotund figure upon horseback appears at a bend in the road. Captain Blaikie recognises General Freeman.

(We may note that the General's name is not really Freeman. We are much harried by generals at present. They roam about the country on horseback, and ask company commanders what they are doing; and no company commander has ever yet succeeded in framing an answer which sounds in the least degree credible. There are three generals; we call them Freeman, Hardy, and Willis, because we suspect that they are all--to judge from their fondness for keeping us on the run--financially interested in the consumption of shoe-leather. In other respects they differ, and a wise company commander will carefully bear their idiosyncrasies in mind and act accordingly, if he wishes to be regarded as an intelligent officer.)

Freeman is a man of action. He likes to see people running about. When he appears upon the horizon whole battalions break into a double.

Hardy is one of the old school: he likes things done decently and in order. He worships bright buttons, and exact words of command, and a perfectly wheeling line. He mistrusts unconventional movements and individual tactics. "No use trying to run," he says, "before you can walk." When we see him, we dress the company and advance in review order.

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Willis gives little trouble. He seldom criticises, but when he does his criticism is always of a valuable nature; and he is particularly courteous and helpful to young officers. But, like lesser men, he has his fads. These are two--feet and cookery. He has been known to call a private out of the ranks on a route-march and request him to take his boots off for purposes of public display. "A soldier marches on two things," he announces--"his feet and his stomach." Then he calls up another man and asks him if he knows how to make a sea-pie. The man never does know, which is fortunate, for otherwise General Willis would not be able to tell him. After that he trots happily away, to ask some one else.

However, here we are face to face with General Freeman. Immediate action is called for. Captain Blaikie flings an order over his shoulder to the subaltern in command of the leading platoon--

"Pass back word that this road is under shell fire. Move!"

--and rides forward to meet the General.

In ten seconds the road behind him is absolutely clear, and the men are streaming out to right and left in half-platoons. Waddell's platoon has the hardest time, for they were passing a quickset hedge when the order came. However, they hurl themselves blasphemously through, and double on, scratched and panting.

"Good morning, sir!" says Captain Blaikie, saluting.

"Good morning!" says General Freeman. "What was that last movement?"

"The men are taking 'artillery' formation, sir. I have just passed the word down that the road is under shell fire."

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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