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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

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It is only fair to say that Mad Harry was not a usual type of British officer. He simply carried to excess the idea of discipline and unquestioning obedience. The principle of discipline is the guts and backbone of any army. I am inclined to think that it is more than half the making of any soldier. There has been a good deal of talk in the press about a democratic army. As a matter of fact fraternization between men and officers is impossible except in nations of exceptional temperament and imagination, like the French. The French are unique in everything. It follows that their army can do things that no other army can. It is common to see a French officer sitting in a cafe drinking with a private.

In the British army that could not be. The new British army is more democratic, no doubt, than the old. But except in the heat of battle, no British officer can relax his dignity very much. With the exception of Mr. Blofeld, who was one of those rare characters who can be personally close and sympathetic and at the same time command respect and implicit obedience, I never knew a successful officer who did not seem to be almost of another world.

Our Colonel was a fine man, but he was as dignified as a Supreme Court Judge. Incidentally he was as just. I have watched Colonel Flowers many times when he was holding orders. This is a kind of court when all men who have committed crimes and have been passed on by the captains appear before the Colonel.

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Colonel Flowers would sit smiling behind his hand, and would try his hardest to find "mitigating circumstances"; but when none could be dug out he passed sentence with the last limit of severity, and the man that was up for orders didn't come again if he knew what was good for himself.

I think that on the hike we all got to know our officers better than we had known them in the trenches. Their real characters came out. You knew how far you could go with them, and what was more important, how far you couldn't go.

It was at Dieval that my rank as lance corporal was confirmed. It is customary, when a rookie has been made a non-com in training, to reduce him immediately when he gets to France. I had joined in the trenches and had volunteered for a raiding party and there had been no opportunity to reduce me. I had not, however, had a corporal's pay. My confirmation came at Dieval, and I was put on pay. I would have willingly sacrificed the pay and the so-called honor to have been a private.

Our routine throughout the hike was always about the same, that is in the intervals when we were in any one place for a day or more. It was, up at six, breakfast of tea, bread, and bacon. Drill till noon; dinner; drill till five. After that nothing to do till to-morrow, unless we got night 'ops, which was about two nights out of three.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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