FALL IN, GHOSTS
foot-bridges, when I noticed three or four insects of an unfamiliar kind whip past with a whining ‘Bizzz’ – bullets! I bustled, and behold! we came under the lee of an apparently gigantic breastwork. Here I felt I should be able to study these random shots with more comfort; but first of all we had to report our arrival.
The Colonel, grey and evidently an Anglo-Indian, was sitting with the Adjutant, in a small sandbag hutch barely holding a rough table on which were a bowl of oranges, some maps, and three candles, all weaving winding-sheets. Ceiling and walls were decently veiled with canvas, behind which there seemed to be occasional scurryings, scratchings, and squeaks. The CO addressed us kindly but the Adjutant already eyed me with evident disesteem. From the Colonel’s remarks it appeared that we were the saviours of the battalion, the first new officers since it came out two months earlier; D— was allotted to A Company and myself to C, who by great good fortune were in support. So we were given guides and once more tramped away. My temporary home was no great distance off, and after stumbling along various trenches I was urged through an aperture screened with sacking into a small and stuffy dugout. My new Company Commander, a fair-headed youth evidently no more than twenty years of age, but to my inward surprise possessing three stars, was in the middle of a profane argument with his three subalterns, and I hardly felt sure whether his ‘Well, what the hell – ?’ was in reference to his subject or my unlooked-for apparition. However, he elucidated my name and business, imparted those of himself and the other officers, and raised his voice in an elongated shriek ‘Mess!’ From without a hoarse responsive grunt was heard, with mutterings: and shortly a batman curiously like the Fat Boy in Pickwick, brought me in my first experience of Maconachie on an enamelled plate. Immediately forgetting what I had been trying to realise – namely that I was actually in a dugout at Festubert, that place of carnage – I ‘fell to with an appetite’. The slight ripple of interest that my short-winded entry had