Cookie policy: on we use analytics cookies to understand how visitors use the site. The anonymous information they provide suggests improvements and alerts us to technical errors. For more information, see our cookies page, which also explains how to block or remove cookies.  Search T. E. Lawrence Studies

Contents lists


T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




At dinner time Headquarters suddenly informed Sergeant Jenkins that he was next for guard, with every man below five feet eight in his flight. The tall men are for memorial service tomorrow. The figure gives a large surplus of shorties: however, Taffy's chosen his guard-party, and I am one.

He was angry about it. We've been so concentrated on ceremonial and cenotaph for weeks that our routine training has ceased. P.T., ceremonial, school, P.T., ceremonial: - that's been our round, day after day. Guard-duties are a speciality and we've not even touched them. Taffy went to tell Stiffy this, and said we couldn't do a guard. 'Nonsense,' replied Stiffy. 'It'll be Harry Tate of course: but I don't care for once.' 'All right,' said Taffy, 'orders is orders. Only don't call me responsible.' Behind the hut he gave us a first idea of guard-mounting; so we scrambled through the faintly silly preliminaries not too ill.

I was cast for first sentry. Along came Sergeant Major II, the decent one. On his passing me I ported arms. He gave me a look, hesitated and went on. He came back through the gate. I ported again. 'Why?' he asked simply. 'Must do something, Sir, for a Sergeant Major, I suppose.' He laughed. 'Oh, you're the rag guard. Only don't do it to anyone else.' The evening fatigue swung past, overalled, in fours. I upped my rifle to the present. Sergeant Poulton glared at me. 'What the hell do you mean, sentry, presenting to a fatigue party?' 'Token of respect, Sergeant: they do all the work.' Taffy's laugh rippled out behind me, from the shadow of the verandah. 'You piss off, Pissquick. Nobody loves you, in my squad.' It was the night of the sergeants' mess dance. Taffy, dripping obscenities, sat on the doorstep and checked the guest-women coming in: over fifty of them. He had for each a salutation which brought giggles, a blush or a squawking laugh. In his day Taffy was a 'lad': now he prefers beer to fornication. I noticed he did not use his own manner to one single woman. Do they ever hear men's real voices? Till two in the morning sergeants, more or less unsteady, rolled in and out of the gates. Only eight of the fifty women had gone out of the legitimate exit by dawn.

A bucket of drink was carried to the guard-room as Taffy's share of the dance's refreshment. Jock Mackay, too tight to dance, came over to help Taff drink it. The two warriors sat beside the stove, ignoring us, to chop tales of old wild service, of campaigns in India and France, of adventures in mean streets: dipping, between tales, their enamelled mugs into the beer-bucket and hiccoughing it down.

After rounds at four in the morning they sang for thirty minutes the marching songs (airs official, words the troops' own) of all the regiments they'd met. That finished, they stood up to drill. A moment before they had been swaying drunk. The touch of arms sobered them: they went through the manual from A to Z before us perfectly. More than mechanically perfect it was: a living, intelligent pattern and poem of movement. Auld Lang Syne... and Jock staggered homeward to sleep it off. Taffy fell down on our sleeping bench and was off in a moment.

Dawn came or half-came. Reveille, and the trumpeter sounded in the road by headquarters. Dimly I remembered the guard had a reveille performance. 'Sergeant' I called, urgently shaking Taffy's shoulder. He jerked up before the call had ended, and in a moment realised the situation and our lateness. In two strides he was at the door, out of it, on the murky verandah. 'Guard attention: advance arms'. . . the whole procedure of morning salute he shouted into the blank mist, lest the orderly officer be on the prowl listening for us.

We guards were meanwhile struggling back from sleep off the benches, rubbing eyes and settling the night-tossed equipment into place on our shoulders. 'What's old Taffy's row all about?' wondered Park. The Sergeant stepped back to the door, mustered us with a glance of his laughter-inflamed eye and gave a last yell 'Guard, to the guard-room, DISMISS!' 'A bloody smart lot' he grumbled, at us crackling over his presence of mind. Out came the threatening stick and we shoved our fists into our mouths to be sober. Highly irregular, Taffy's whacking us: but we love him even for that. He's a pleasure to serve. We mollified him with the drainings of the beer-bucket. 'Good lad' he said to me, at length.

It had fallen to little Nobby, sentry at the solitary laundry gate, to call Stiffy's batman at half-five, that the great man's cup of tea might be ready for him before work. Nobby crept timorously into the eerie black house, through the kitchen door, and incontinently lost his way. He opened one door - a box-room: another, and there was the obscure outline of a bed. He felt over it with his hands, to put them straight upon a warm face. 'Coo' he cried, jumping back. A head, two heads, rustled up from the pillows. 'Is that Stiffy's batman?' queried Nobby, shaking: and the great known voice wrathfully clanged back 'No, it's Stiffy.'

Copyright, privacy, contact | Cookies help