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Growing Pains

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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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Still, one can get used to anything. Our lot is mitigated, too, by the knowledge that we are all in the same boat. The most olympian N.C.O. stands like a ramrod when addressing an officer, while lieutenants make obeisance to a company commander as humbly as any private. Even the Colonel was seen one day to salute an old gentleman who rode on to the parade-ground during morning drill, wearing a red band round his hat. Noting this, we realise that the Army is not, after all, as we first suspected, divided into two classes--oppressors and oppressed. We all have to "go through it."

Presently fresh air, hard training, and clean living begin to weave their spell. Incredulous at first, we find ourselves slowly recognising the fact that it is possible to treat an officer deferentially, or carry out an order smartly, without losing one's self-respect as a man and a Trades Unionist. The insidious habit of cleanliness, once acquired, takes despotic possession of its victims: we find ourselves looking askance at room-mates who have not yet yielded to such predilections. The swimming-bath, where once we flapped unwillingly and ingloriously at the shallow end, becomes quite a desirable resort, and we look forward to our weekly visit with something approaching eagerness. We begin, too, to take our profession seriously. Formerly we regarded outpost exercises, advanced guards, and the like, as a rather fatuous form of play-acting, designed to amuse those officers who carry maps and notebooks. Now we begin to consider these diversions on their merits, and seriously criticise Second Lieutenant Little for having last night posted one of his sentry groups upon the skyline. Thus is the soul of a soldier born.

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We are getting less individualistic, too. We are beginning to think more of our regiment and less of ourselves. At first this loyalty takes the form of criticising other regiments, because their marching is slovenly, or their accoutrements dirty, or--most significant sign of all--their discipline is bad. We are especially critical of our own Eighth Battalion, which is fully three weeks younger than we are, and is not in the First Hundred Thousand at all. In their presence we are war-worn veterans. We express it as our opinion that the officers of some of these battalions must be a poor lot. From this it suddenly comes home to us that our officers are a good lot, and we find ourselves taking a queer pride in our company commander's homely strictures and severe sentences the morning after pay-night. Here is another step in the quickening life of the regiment. Esprit de corps is raising its head, class prejudice and dour "independence" notwithstanding.

Again, a timely hint dropped by the Colonel on battalion parade this morning has set us thinking. We begin to wonder how we shall compare with the first-line regiments when we find ourselves "oot there." Silently we resolve that when we, the first of the Service Battalions, take our place in trench or firing line alongside the Old Regiment, no one shall be found to draw unfavourable comparisons between parent and offspring. We intend to show ourselves chips of the old block. No one who knows the Old Regiment can ask more of a young battalion than that.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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