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Live Rounds Ian Hay

"Dirty Work At The Cross-Roads To-Night"

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The methodical Bobby produced a notebook.

"You will require to wash occasionally. Take a canvas bucket, some carbolic soap, and a good big towel. Also your toothbrush, and--excuse the question, but do you shave?"

"Twice a week," admitted the blushing Bobby.

"Happy man! Well, take a safety-razor. That will do for cleanliness. Now for clothing. Lots of socks, but only one change of other things, unless you care to take a third shirt in your greatcoat pocket. Two good pairs of boots, and a pair of slacks. Then, as regards sleeping. Your flea-bag and your three Government blankets, with your valise underneath, will keep you (and your little bedfellows) as warm as toast. You may get separated from your valise, though, so take a ground-sheet in your pack. Then you will be ready to dine and sleep simply anywhere, at a moment's notice. As regards comforts generally, take a 'Tommy's cooker,' if you can find room for it, and scrap all the rest of your cuisine except your canteen. Take a few meat lozenges and some chocolate in one of your ammunition-pouches, in case you ever have to go without your breakfast. Rotten work, marching or fighting on a hollow tummy!"

"What about revolvers?" inquired Bobby, displaying his arsenal, a little nervously.

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"If the Germans catch you with that Mauser, they will hang you. Take the Webley. Then you can always draw Service ammunition." Wagstaffe ran his eye over the rest of Bobby's outfit. "Smokes? Take your pipe and a tinder-box: you will get baccy and cigarettes to burn out there. Keep that electric torch; and your binoculars, of course. Also that small map-case: it's a good one. Also wire-cutters. You can write letters in your field-message-book. Your compass is all right. Add a pair of canvas shoes--they're a godsend after a long day,--an air-pillow, some candle-ends, a tin of vaseline, and a ball of string, and I think you will do. If you find you still have a pound or so in hand, add a few books--something to fall back on, in case supplies fail. Personally, I'm taking 'Vanity Fair' and 'Pickwick.' But then, I'm old-fashioned."

* * * * *

Bobby took Wagstaffe's advice, with the result that that genial obstructionist, the Quartermaster, smiled quite benignly upon him when he presented his valise; while his brother officers, sternly bidden to revise their equipment, were compelled at the last moment to discriminate frantically between the claims of necessity and luxury--often disastrously.

However, we had all found our feet, and developed into seasoned vagabonds when we set out for the trenches last week. A few days previously we had been inspected by Sir John French himself.

"And that," explained Major Kemp to his subalterns, "usually means dirty work at the cross-roads at no very distant period!"

* * * * *

Major Kemp was right--quite literally right.

Our march took us back to Armentières, whose sufferings under intermittent shell fire have already been described. We marched by night, and arrived at breakfast-time. The same evening two companies and a section of machine-gunners were bidden to equip themselves with picks and shovels and parade at dusk. An hour later we found ourselves proceeding cautiously along a murky road close behind the trenches.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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