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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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We have stuck to the phraseology of our old calling.

"Whaur's ma drawer?" inquires Private Hogg, a thick-set young man with bandy legs, wiping his countenance with a much-tattooed arm. He has just completed five strenuous minutes with a pick. "Come away, Geordie, wi' yon shovel!"

The shovel is preceded by an adjective. It is the only adjective that A Company knows. (No, not that one. The second on the list!)

Mr. George Ogg steps down into the breach, and sets to work. He is a small man, strongly resembling the Emperor of China in a third-rate provincial pantomime. His weapon is the spade. In civil life he would have shovelled the broken coal into a "hutch," and "hurled" it away to the shaft. That was why Private Hogg referred to him as a "drawer." In his military capacity he now removes the chalky soil from the trench with great dexterity, and builds it up into a neat parapet behind, as a precaution against the back-blast of a "Black Maria."

There are not enough, picks and shovels to go round--cela va sans dire. However, Private Mucklewame and others, who are not of the delving persuasion, exhibit no resentment. Digging is not their department. If you hand them a pick and shovel and invite them to set to work, they lay the pick upon the ground beside the trench and proceed to shovel earth over it until they have lost it. At a later stage in this great war-game they will fight for these picks and shovels like wild beasts. Shrapnel is a sure solvent of professional etiquette.

However, to-day the pickless squad are lined up a short distance away by the relentless Captain Wagstaffe, and informed--

"You are under fire from that wood. Dig yourselves in!"

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Digging oneself in is another highly unpopular fatigue. First of all you produce your portable entrenching-tool--it looks like a combination of a modern tack-hammer and a medieval back-scratcher--and fit it to its haft. Then you lie flat upon your face on the wet grass, and having scratched up some small lumps of turf, proceed to build these into a parapet. Into the hole formed by the excavation of the turf you then put your head, and in this ostrich-like posture await further instructions. Private Mucklewame is of opinion that it would be equally effective, and infinitely less fatiguing, simply to lie down prone and close the eyes.

After Captain Wagstaffe has criticised the preliminary parapets--most of them are condemned as not being bullet-proof--the work is continued. It is not easy, and never comfortable, to dig lying down; but we must all learn to do it; so we proceed painfully to construct a shallow trough for our bodies and an annexe for our boots. Gradually we sink out of sight, and Captain Wagstaffe, standing fifty yards to our front, is able to assure us that he can now see nothing--except Private Mucklewame's lower dorsal curve.

By this time the rain has returned for good, and the short winter day is drawing to a gloomy close. It is after three, and we have been working, with one brief interval, for nearly five hours. The signal is given to take shelter. We huddle together under the leafless trees, and get wetter.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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