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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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The firing-trench is our place of business--our office in the city, so to speak. The supporting trench is our suburban residence, whither the weary toiler may betake himself periodically (or, more correctly, in relays) for purposes of refreshment and repose. The firing-trench, like most business premises, is severe in design and destitute of ornament. But the suburban trench lends itself to more imaginative treatment. An auctioneer's catalogue would describe it as A commodious bijou residence, on (or of) chalky soil; three feet wide and six feet deep; in the style of the best troglodyte period. Thirty seconds brisk crawl (or per stretcher) from the firing line. Gas laid on--

But only once, in a field near Aldershot, where Private Mucklewame first laid bare, and then perforated, the town main with his pick.

--With own water supply--ankle-deep at times--telephone, and the usual offices.

We may note that the telephone communicates with the observing-station, lying well forward, in line with the dummy trench. The most important of the usual offices is the hospital--a cavern excavated at the back of the trench, and roofed over with hurdles, earth, and turf.

It is hardly necessary to add that we do not possess a real field-telephone. But when you have spent four months in firing dummy cartridges, performing bayonet exercises without bayonets, taking hasty cover from non-existent shell fire, capturing positions held by no enemy, and enacting the part of a "casualty" without having received a scratch, telephoning without a telephone is a comparatively simple operation. All you require is a ball of string and no sense of humour. Second Lieutenant Waddell manages our telephone.

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Meanwhile we possess our souls in patience. We know that the factories are humming night and day on our behalf; and that if, upon a certain day in a certain month, the contractors do not deliver our equipment down to the last water-bottle cork, "K" will want to know the reason why; and we cannot imagine any contractor being so foolhardy as to provoke that terrible man into an inquiring attitude of mind.

Now we are at work. We almost wish that Freeman, Hardy, and Willis could see us. Our buttons may occasionally lack lustre; we may cherish unorthodox notions as to the correct method of presenting arms; we may not always present an unbroken front on the parade-ground--but we can dig! Even the fact that we do not want to, cannot altogether eradicate a truly human desire to "show off." "Each man to his art," we say. We are quite content to excel in ours, the oldest in the world. We know enough now about the conditions of the present war to be aware that when we go out on service only three things will really count--to march; to dig; and to fire, upon occasion, fifteen rounds a minute. Our rapid fire is already fair; we can march more than a little; and if men who have been excavating the bowels of the earth for eight hours a day ever since they were old enough to swing a pick cannot make short work of a Hampshire chalk down, they are no true members of their Trades Union or the First Hundred Thousand.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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