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Blank Cartridges Ian Hay

The Daily Grind

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Table Of Contents: The First Hundred Thousand

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We have been in existence for more than three weeks now, and occasionally we are conscious of a throb of real life. Squad drill is almost a thing of the past, and we work by platoons of over fifty men. To-day our platoon once marched, in perfect step, for seven complete and giddy paces, before disintegrating into its usual formation--namely, an advance in irregular ├ęchelon, by individuals.

Four platoons form a company, and each platoon is (or should be) led by a subaltern, acting under his company commander. But we are very short of subalterns at present. (We are equally short of N.C.O.'s; but then you can always take a man out of the ranks and christen him sergeant, whereas there is no available source of Second Lieutenants save capricious Whitehall.) Consequently, three platoons out of four in our company are at present commanded by N.C.O.'s, two of whom appear to have retired from active service about the time that bows and arrows began to yield place to the arquebus, while the third has been picked out of the ranks simply because he possesses a loud voice and a cake of soap. None of them has yet mastered the new drill--it was all changed at the beginning of this year--and the majority of the officers are in no position to correct their anachronisms.

Still, we are getting on. Number Three Platoon (which boasts a subaltern) has just marched right round the barrack square, without--

(1) Marching through another platoon.

(2) Losing any part or parts of itself.

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(3) Adopting a formation which brings it face to face with a blank wall, or piles it up in a tidal wave upon the verandah, of the married quarters.

They could not have done that a week ago.

But stay, what is this disturbance on the extreme left? The command "Right form" has been given, but six files on the outside flank have ignored the suggestion, and are now advancing (in skirmishing order) straight for the ashbin outside the cookhouse door, looking piteously round over their shoulders for some responsible person to give them an order which will turn them about and bring them back to the fold. Finally they are rounded up by the platoon sergeant, and restored to the strength.

"What went wrong, Sergeant?" inquires Second Lieutenant Bobby Little. He is a fresh-faced youth, with an engaging smile. Three months ago he was keeping wicket for his school eleven.

The sergeant comes briskly to attention.

"The order was not distinctly heard by the men, sir," he explains, "owing to the corporal that passed it on wanting a tooth. Corporal Blain, three paces forward--march!"

Corporal Blain steps forward, and after remembering to slap the small of his butt with his right hand, takes up his parable--

"I was sittin' doon tae ma dinner on Sabbath, sir, when my front teeth met upon a small piece bone that was stickit' in--"

Further details of this gastronomic tragedy are cut short by the blast of a whistle. The Colonel, at the other side of the square, has given the signal for the end of parade. Simultaneously a bugle rings out cheerfully from the direction of the orderly-room. Breakfast, blessed breakfast, is in sight. It is nearly eight, and we have been as busy as bees since six.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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