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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




More Poulton. This has been an awful day. The morning was just average bad: but through the afternoon hours, a muggy, sweating afternoon, he slowly tightened his pressure on us. Some display was preparing in the gym, and this cancelled our second P.T. The fellows regretted it: they like the gym, which leaves my heart hammering one hundred and ten to the minute; while my breathing gets so forced from exhaustion that it prys my mouth distressfully half-open: and anything like a meal for the next hour turns my stomach sick. Usually I wait till six o'clock, and then have a mug of the warm wash-like tea of the canteen, with two tuppenny wads. Contrarily I half-enjoy the drilling, which tires out the others. I have to thank my past life for the power to 'stay put' indefinitely.

When the tea trumpet sounded Sergeant Poulton was almost at his worst. We were jaded in mind and body. An angry instructor makes miserable men, and a miserable squad flops like a wet dish-cloth. Individuals may be doing their best, but there is no ensemble.

Perfection of drill resides not in individual perfections: nor would fifty of the best men in a new squad drill well. Smartness depends on knowing the man in front, and the man behind, and those on each side. All must bring down their left heels simultaneously, with a slightly-marked beat to keep time with a metronome in the brain. This comes with time, after training. It can only be done by a mind absolutely serene. It's a matter of trust, of unconscious certainty to tell you what right and left are going to do. Then all the feet will clash as one, and the flight be a flight, and not fifty men.

After six hours' rough handling we could not be like that. Poulton insisted. The trumpets went on calling. He set his teeth. 'No tea for you skunks today. I'll keep you here all night.' He had not seen Stiffy, the Drill-Adjutant, approaching from his rear, to learn why one squad was delayed in dismissal. Stiffy called the Sergeant, endured a low explanation, and replied loudly for us to hear. 'Put them on again at five-fifteen, and let them have it.' So we fell in again after half an hour, knowing we were to be crucified.

Some of the rear rank were heard muttering, as Poulton checked us off. 'Pack that up,' he snarled, 'else you'll all be in the guardroom. I'll break your bastard hearts.' He began to double us up and back, with many quick turns. Any man's mistake communicated itself to all behind him: so we fell into confusion. Poulton bared his gums at us in rage, like a dog, and sent us to the hut for full packs and rifles.

This is punishment-kit, and greatly increases the severity of quick drill. He weighted the load to the utmost of his power, by often pulling us suddenly to the halt, as we ran. This is the rankest collar-work, each single artificial pound eating up tissue to start or stop it instantaneously. The cross-straps sawed into our shoulders, and the rifle, banging loosely with the spring of each running stride, bruised cruelly my four-times broken, knotty collar-bone. Each time anyone faulted Poulton stopped the lot, to repeat the movement.

The lights flicked on, all down one side of the drill-ground. The Sergeant took us over there to have us in plain view. The shadows filled with the other squads, wondering. After three quarters of an hour without an easy the sweat had oozed out from our shirts, through the tunics, to the cross-braced equipment whose brown-clayed texture it turned oily black in spots. My hands and knees trembled violently, my gape-mouthed breathing was surely very loud. Every so many gulps erected a catch in my throat, which ran convulsively into my lung. Then the broken rib in the wall of my chest leaped.

At last he halted us facing the big arc-lamp and stood us easy. I rubbed the sweat blindness from my eyes unsteadily, with my sleeve: and saw the vapour of my breathing pale in the dark. Poulton going down the front rank paused by me and peered, wrinkling his nose with disgust. 'When did you last have a bath' 'Yesterday Sergeant' I gasped, truthfully; for every Thursday and Monday a little tea house in the village street finds me a hot bath. It costs little and feels worth all my pay. Hot water is rare in the Depot. 'Open your collar' he ordered, thrust his hand roughly inside, against my wet breast. 'Christ, the bloody man's lousy. You and you' to Sailor and Hoxton, others of his dislikes, 'march the filthy bugger over to the wash-house and scrub the shit out of him, properly.'

I tried to walk away between my escort, in front of everybody, as if I did not care: but any firm accusation convinces me of guilt. So soon as the doorway hid us from the crowd, I wanted to choke out something in my defence. Sailor wouldn't have a word of it. 'God,' he swore, 'if that long spunking streak of piss pokes his head in here after us, I'll knock seven different sorts of shit out of him. But, mate, you let the flight down, when he takes the mike out of you every time. Give the ignorant shit-bag a fucking great gob of your toffology.'

Next day, in the first stand-at-ease of first period: - 'Short-arse you there, Ross, what's your bleedin' monaker: - what d'you know?' Such nonplussing questions are Poulton's favourite gambit for a hazing. Spring to attention. 'Sergeant,' I dutifully intone. He wouldn't stop. 'I arst you a question, you little cunt.' But I am not tired at this time of day: by Sailor's advice of priggery I made to drawl out 'Well, Sergeant, specifically of course we can know nothing unqualified - but like the rest of us, I've fenced my life with a scaffolding of more or less speculative hypotheses.'

The rear rank deflated appreciatively, tired sounding, like the wind in wet trees. The Sergeant stared: then whispered to himself 'Jesus fucking Christ.' At that Sailor let out a high, sudden, singing laugh. 'Flight - Attention' Poulton yelled, and the drill went forward, gingerly. 'My Christ' exulted James, thumping my back later, in the hut's safety, 'the silly twat didn't know if his arse-hole was bored, punched, drilled, or countersunk.'

It was the last time I was called out to make public sport. Soon after roll call Sergeant Jenkins, rosy and round with drink, burst into our hut, and called us from bed to the one gangway. 'Fall in properly' he hiccoughed, reeling down the floor. We lined up barelegged, in shirts, blinking the first sleep out of our eyes. 'Flight attention: right dress: as you were: right dress: as you were: right dress: jump to it: eyes front: number: move to the right in fours: form fours: right: left turn: stand at ease.'

'You're mine, tomorrow' he roared, shaking his marching-stick at us. It was brass-pointed, split lengthwise, and hinged like a pair of callipers, to measure the infantry-pace. 'See that point? It's going up your fucking guts till it's full of blood. I mean to have three rings on it a day. Flight attention: dismiss: no, not that way: smartly: let me hear your boot-heels click.'

'But, Sergeant, we haven't our boots on' - that was Nobby piping up. 'No boots? You bloody-fucking-cunting-syphilitic bastard. You're improperly dressed: all of you. Well, I don't care a bugger. Per ardua ad asbestos. What does that mean? All together after me "Fuck you, Jack, I'm fireproof." On the hands down. Up, down: make the clinkers rattle round your shitty arseholes. Keep still down there. You're like a donkey's tool: will move for anything. Now I'll tell you the story of when I drilled the W.A.A.C.s. Left leg raise: right leg raise. Haircut you, and you, and you. What yer laughing at? All right: get to bed. I'm Taff' Jenkins, and you're a damned good first-week squad. 'night everybody. Ar-r-r hyd yr N, N, N, Nos.' The beery song died away behind the falling rain.

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