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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint



The hours are not so long: it's their tension. Every ear strains to divine from the first syllable of each order what the whole will be - for in no other way will our yet-deliberate minds respond to it punctually. Every muscle must be held tight, sinews all at stretch, back straight, head up, knees braced back. The drill-book calls it an easy, natural uprightness. Look at the old-soldier strut and the thick red back of his neck!

Remember to be sorry for our feet. They are unnaturally shod with stiff boots, five pounds heavy per pair, and metal plated underneath to click loudly on the ground. At every stride (and recruits are made to march one-third faster than trained men) we must bang down the heel sharply, beating the pace: and at every turn about must lift them high, and stamp, stamp, stamp, thrice before shooting the foot forward in the new direction. Each stamp jars up the spinal column into the brain, which soon aches dully: while our soles burn like fire.

Then, too, in arms drill we must strain to recover the vertical against the unbalancing weight of the cumbersome rifle in the hollow of the right arm or on the left shoulder. Or we must remember to grip the bodkin canes, whose slim malicious smoothness tries to slip from our cold-cramped fingers. Also they make us shout the numbers, one-two-three-four, all in chorus as we march or turn. This makes us feel fools and besides is difficult, for sucking our bellies in while we blow out our chest-ribs seems to paralyse the lungs. I can walk fifty miles in the day, freshly: and am done after twenty minutes' marching. Oh, life is very difficult, even with Taffy Jenkins as instructor!

We start at six forty-five for P.T. and after it dress fully, and rush to fall in for breakfast at a quarter to eight. The preliminary paradings for the meal and ordered defile by left and right flights into mess-deck, take so long that we get only eight minutes to bolt down the food and tea, which fortunately is seldom hot. Then a run to the hut for five minutes of dressing and putting on belts and cleaning guns: and by ten minutes after eight we are fallen in for first period drill.

After a hard hour and a quarter of this they give us ten minutes easy (just enough, on a rasping day, to meet nature's urgency. We sprint to the double-banked latrines and sprint back, dressing and undressing on the road). There follows second period till near eleven o'clock. At eleven we are due for school which is eight minutes' sharp walk-distance. Our instructors make this a demonstration march, of the strictest. So in the school hour we do not shine: we flop over the forms and gather breath for our return journey, another march-race, severer than the first, for the road now goes up-hill.

Before we get back the rest of the Depot has gone on parade for dinner. So for us it's a scamper into the hut to grab knife, fork and spoon, and away, still breathless, across the square in fours. After dinner we at last get a half-hour to ourselves. I then wash my very grubby hands.

Afternoon is like morning. A drill period: an hour and twenty minutes' hard in the gymnasium: a quarter of an hour before tea, to change our sweaty day-shirts for those in which we sleep. We'd like to change our trousers, too; the cotton bits round the waist and the pockets are clammy with wetness: but we have only the one pair. Of course their woolly parts are not cold-feeling. They smell, already.

After tea a lecture, and twice or thrice a week fire-picket with its fatigues to follow. The other nights I change hurriedly into blue (to get the illusion of fresh clothes) and catch the District Railway to Baker Street. Though my boot-soles are so thick, the feel of the London pavements through them is celestial. London is out of bounds, and a service policeman on the local platform examines our tickets as we land. I have a season from the next station down the line (a lawful place) and show him that. The station staff love the joke and help me by lies to the police. They are all ex-service men: and the services are one great union against these domestic spies. The train-conductor told me how in 1919 the late train on Saturday night would be like a public lavatory, with airmen spewing, pissing and fighting along its swaying length. Now it is quiet as a reading room, so much have we and the Air Force changed. Ordinary men and women enter our coaches, unhesitatingly.

This all sounds as though we had much spare time: but our cleaning and polishing take hours longer than they should. Recruits, who are clumsy at the job, are much more minutely inspected than serving airmen. Also they are given a harder task. The older the equipment the easier it cleans. We achieve comparative miracles with our new stiff gear, after heart-breaking expenditure of pains. Perhaps that is right. Service life holds no terror for the man who has endured the full Depot.

That Monday night, for example, when we were to suffer inspection by Stiffy on the morrow: - why the boot-cleaning came in paroxysms. Varnishes and waxes, hot and cold irons, candle-ends, the stove's warmth, hot water: some larded on a spirit polish, and burned it off with a flame: anything to get a smooth shining blackness on the recalcitrant toe-caps. We all ‘mucked-in' together: so it was generally bitter when three fellows failed: - at least, Stiffy was busy and postponed the ordeal without notice; but Corporal Jackson, our equable Jackson, condemned these three to extra duties. It was a sad end to a whole-hearted communism of effort.

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