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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Feeding The Tommies

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When there are no games on, there is usually a sing-song going. We had a merry young nuisance in our platoon named Rolfe, who had a voice like a frog and who used to insist upon singing on all occasions. Rolfie would climb on the table in the estaminet and sing numerous unprintable verses of his own, entitled "Oh, What a Merry Plyce is Hengland." The only redeeming feature of this song was the chorus, which everybody would roar out and which went like this:

    Cheer, ye beggars, cheer!
    Britannia rules the wave!
    'Ard times, short times
    Never'll come agyne.
    Shoutin' out at th' top o' yer lungs:
    Damn the German army!
    Oh, wot a lovely plyce is Hengland!

Our ten days en repos at Petite-Saens came to an end all too soon.

On the last day we lined up for our official "bawth."

Petite-Saens was a coal-mining town. The mines were still operated, but only at night--this to avoid shelling from the Boche long-distance artillery, which are fully capable of sending shells and hitting the mark at eighteen miles. The water system of the town depended upon the pumping apparatus of the mines. Every morning early, before the pressure was off, all hands would turn out for a general "sluicing" under the hydrants. We were as clean as could be and fairly free of "cooties" at the end of a week, but official red tape demanded that we go through an authorized scouring.

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On the last day we lined up for this at dawn before an old warehouse which had been fitted with crude showers. We were turned in twenty in a batch and were given four minutes to soap ourselves all over and rinse off. I was in the last lot and had just lathered up good and plenty when the water went dead. If you want to reach the acme of stickiness, try this stunt. I felt like the inside of a mucilage bottle for a week.

After the official purification we were given clean underwear. And then there was a howl. The fresh underthings had been boiled and sterilized, but the immortal cootie had come through unscathed and in all its vigor. Corporal Wells raised a pathetic wail:

"Blimme eyes, mytie! I got more'n two 'undred now an' this supposed to be a bloomin' clean shirt! Why, the blinkin' thing's as lousy as a cookoo now, an me just a-gittin' rid o' the bloomin' chats on me old un. Strike me pink if it hain't a bleedin' crime! Some one ought to write to John Bull abaht it!"

John Bull is the English paper of that name published by Horatio Bottomley, which makes a specialty of publishing complaints from soldiers and generally criticising the conduct of army affairs.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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