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Concert Pitch

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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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There are happy, careless souls like McLeary and Hogg. There are conscientious but slow-moving worthies like Mucklewame and Budge. There are drunken wasters like--well, we need name no names. We have got rid of most of these, thank heaven! There are simple-minded enthusiasts of the breed of Wee Pe'er, for whom the sheer joy of "sojering" still invests dull routine and hard work with a glamour of their own. There are the old hands, versed in every labour-saving (and duty-shirking) device. There are the feckless and muddle-headed, making heavy weather of the simplest tasks. There is another class, which divides its time between rising to the position of sergeant and being reduced to the ranks, for causes which need not be specified. There is yet another, which knows its drill-book backwards, and can grasp the details of a tactical scheme as quickly as a seasoned officer, but remains in the ruck because it has not sufficient force of character to handle so much as a sentry-group. There are men, again, with initiative but no endurance, and others with endurance but no initiative. Lastly, there are men, and a great many of them, who appear to be quite incapable of coherent thought, yet can handle machinery or any mechanical device to a marvel. Yes, we are a motley organisation.

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But the great sifting and sorting machine into which we have been cast is shaking us all out into our appointed places. The efficient and authoritative rise to non-commissioned rank. The quick-witted and well-educated find employment on the Orderly Room staff, or among the scouts and signallers. The handy are absorbed into the transport, or become machine-gunners. The sedentary take post as cooks, or tailors, or officers' servants. The waster hews wood and draws water and empties swill-tubs. The great, mediocre, undistinguished majority merely go to stiffen the rank and file, and right nobly they do it. Each has his niche.

To take a few examples, we may begin with a typical member of the undistinguished majority. Such an one is that esteemed citizen of Wishaw, John Mucklewame. He is a rank-and-file man by training and instinct, but he forms a rare backbone for K(1). There are others, of more parts--Killick, for instance. Not long ago he was living softly, and driving a Rolls-Royce for a Duke. He is now a machine-gun sergeant, and a very good one. There is Dobie. He is a good mechanic, but short-legged and shorter-winded. He makes an excellent armourer.

Then there is Private Mellish. In his company roll he is described as "an actor." But his orbit in the theatrical firmament has never carried him outside his native Dunoon, where he follows the blameless but monotonous calling of a cinematograph operator. On enlistment he invited the attention of his platoon, from the start by referring to his rear-rank man as "this young gentleman"; and despite all the dissuading influences of barrack-room society, his manners never fell below this standard. In a company where practically every man is addressed either as "Jock" or "Jimmy," he created a profound and lasting sensation one day, by saying in a winning voice to Private Ogg,--

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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