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Concert Pitch

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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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To take a last survey of the regiment which we have created--one little drop in the incredible wave which has rolled with gathering strength from, end to end of this island of ours during the past six months, and now hangs ready to crash upon the gates of our enemies--what manner of man has it produced? What is he like, this impromptu Thomas Atkins?

Well, when he joined, his outstanding feature was a sort of surly independence, the surliness being largely based upon the fear of losing the independence. He has got over that now. He is no longer morbidly sensitive about his rights as a free and independent citizen and the backbone of the British electorate. He has bigger things to think of. He no longer regards sergeants as upstart slave-drivers--frequently he is a sergeant himself--nor officers as grinding capitalists. He is undergoing the experience of the rivets in Mr. Kipling's story of "The Ship that Found Herself." He is adjusting his perspectives. He is beginning to merge himself in the Regiment.

He no longer gets drunk from habit. When he does so now, it is because there were no potatoes at dinner, or because there has been a leak in the roof of his hut for a week and no one is attending to it, or because his wife is not receiving her separation allowance. Being an inarticulate person, he finds getting drunk the simplest and most effective expedient for acquainting the powers that be with the fact that he has a grievance. Formerly, the morning list of "drunks" merely reflected the nearness or remoteness of payday. Now, it is a most reliable and invaluable barometer of the regimental atmosphere.

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He has developed--quite spontaneously, for he has had few opportunities for imitation--many of the characteristics of the regular soldier. He is quick to discover himself aggrieved, but is readily appeased if he feels that his officer is really doing his best for him, and that both of them are the victims of a higher power. On the other hand, he is often amazingly cheerful under uncomfortable and depressing surroundings. He is growing quite fastidious, too, about his personal appearance when off duty. (You should see our quiffs on Saturdays!) He is quite incapable of keeping possession of his clothing, his boots, his rifle, his health, or anything that is his, without constant supervision and nurse-maiding. And that he is developing a strong bent towards the sentimental is evinced by the choruses that he sings in the gloaming and his taste in picture post-cards.

So far he may follow the professional model, but in other respects he is quite sui generis. No sergeant in a Highland regiment of the line would ever refer to a Cockney private, with all humility, as "a young English gentleman"; neither would an ordinary soldier salute an officer quite correctly with one hand while employing the other to light his pipe. In "K(1)" we do these things and many others, which, give us a cachet of our own of which we are very rightly and properly proud.

So we pin our faith to the man who has been at once our despair and our joy since the month of August. He has character; he has grit; and now that he is getting discipline as well, he is going to be an everlasting credit to the cause which roused his manhood and the land which gave him birth.

* * * * *

That is the tale of The First Hundred Thousand--Part One. Whether Part Two will be forthcoming, and how much of it there will be, depends upon two things--the course of history, and the present historian's eye for cover.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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