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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint



Nearly three days pass




Wednesday, October the fourth: only our third evening as a Flight, only three days completed on the square; yet from what seems a grey distance blurring by its lapse all first impressions, at last I attempt a note on our new life. The night is younger than used to be my writing-time: it's before nine o'clock, indeed. Then, at this hour, only two or three beds would have carried figures: but tonight, and last night, and the night before, each bed's been loaded with its prone man: and the hut is blanketed with fatigue.

Our first day was a dizzying whirl: our second the bleared fog of exhaustion: and the third? today? Well, for myself traces of light appear about the issue of our trial: but the rest are prostrate. In these days I have been a little better than them. My purgatory was passed during the fatigue period, and surely my nerves and sinews will never so hurt me again.

The flight staggers off parade to drop bonelessly into bed; and there they lie without speaking above a whisper till sleep-time, regardless of their bellies' appeal for food. Some have not faced the stripping off socks and trousers since we began our drills. Whereas for me the square is not so harsh as that former labour. Sitting to artists taught me to be still for three quarters of an hour at once, and the military positions are less severe than studio poses. I have been tired, of course, dog-tired; but not drained right out. Even I've limped the other fellows' errands, half a dozen times, to Y.M. or coffee-stall, for wads and mess-tins of tea. They are too sorely demoralized to attack those few score yards of grass or gravel. Strange, heartening, heady to find myself not the feeblest here.

Our Sergeant Jenkins went down with griping pains, the first morning he had charge of us. Jenkins seemed a foul-mouthed, confident, kindly Welshman. Upon his going our flight became a job-lot, hacked out for the day to this one or that of the specialist instructors - whoever can be best-spared from his proper technicality: and these revenge on our guiltless bodies their misemployment. They have put us into maudlin fear, to moral abasement. A little longer as prey for every snapping dog upon the square, and we're hospital cases. Five have slunk there already: or rather three have slunk, and two decent lads were carried in.

I have been before at depots, and have seen or overseen the training of many men: but this our treatment is rank cruelty. While my mouth is yet hot with it I want to record that some of those who day by day exercise their authority upon us, do it in the lust of cruelty. There is a glitter in their faces when we sob for breath; and evident through their clothes is that tautening of the muscles (and once the actual rise of sexual excitement) which betrays that we are being hurt not for our good, but to gratify a passion. I do not know if all see this: our hut is full of innocents, who have not been sharpened by my penalty of witnessing: - who have not laid their wreath of agony to induce: - the orgasm of man's vice.

But they know there is more in this severity than training. Lawful discipline would not have scared them into the present funk, which with exactness of adjective we call piddling. Sit a moment on some bed in the hut, and your nose will tell you how the fellow's been: see us pack, a half-dozen at once, into the latrines three minutes before the next parade. Another week and the R.A.F. will have confirmed the coward in every one of us.

Am I overdone, emotional? Is it only the impact of strenuous conditions upon a frame unfitted by nature and its career for present hardship? It may be that there is nothing on the barrack square which can injure a wholesome man. I do not swear the contrary. Perhaps: - but recollect I am coming through easier than my companions. Alone of the hut I've energy at this moment to protest. If time has made me more worn than them, also it has made me deeper. Man's emotions, like water-plants, sprout far-rooted from his basic clay pushfully into the light. If very luxuriant they dam life's current. But these fellows' feelings, because of their youngness, seem like shallops on a river, splashily important, but passing without trace, leaving their surface clean, weedless, purling over the sunlit stones. Whereas to root out one of my thoughts - what upstirring of mud, what rending of fibre in the darkness!

I am not frightened of our instructors, nor of their over-driving. To comprehend why we are their victims is to rise above them. Yet despite my background of achievement and understanding, despite my willingness (quickened by a profound dissatisfaction with what I am) that the R.A.F. should bray me and re-mould me after its pattern: still I want to cry out that this our long-drawn punishing can subserve neither beauty nor use.

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