"THE New Army," "Kitchener's Army," we go by many names. The older sergeants---men who have served in regular battalions---sometimes call us "Kitchener's Mob," and swear that to take us to war would be another "Massacre of the Innocents." At other times they affirm that we are a credit to our instructors (themselves); but such affirmations have become rarer since beer went up to threepence a pint.
We are a mixed lot---a triumph of democracy, like the Tubes. Some of us have fifty years to our credit and only own to thirty; others are sixteen and claim to be eighteen. Some of us enlisted for glory, and some for fun, and a few for fear of starvation. Some of us began by being stout, and have lost weight; others were seedy and are filling out. Some of us grumble, and go sick to escape parades; but for the most part we are aggressively cheerful, and were never fitter in our lives. Some miss of us miss their glass of claret, others their fish-and-chips; but as we all sleep on the floor, and have only one suit, which is rapidly becoming very disreputable, you would never tell t'other from which.
We sing as we march. Such songs we sing! All about coons and girls, parodies of hymns, parodies about Kaiser Bill, and sheer unadulterated nonsense. We shall sing
"Where's yer girl?
Ain't yer got none?"
as we march into battle.
Battle! Battle, murder, and sudden death! Maiming, slaughter, blood, extremities of fear and discomfort and pain! How incredibly remote all that seems! We don't believe in it really. It is just a great game we are learning. It is part of the game to make little short rushes in extended order, to lie on our bellies and keep our heads down, snap our rifles and fix our bayonets. Just a game, that's all, and then home to tea.
Some of us think that these young officers take the game a jolly sight too seriously. Twice this week we have been late for dinner, and once they routed us out to play it at night. That was a bit too thick! The canteen was shut when we got back and we missed our pint.
Anyhow we are Kitchener's Army, and we are quite sure it will be all right. just send us to Flanders, and see if it ain't. We're Kitchener's Army, and we don't care if it snows ink!
THE unprecedented had occurred. For once a national ideal had proved stronger than class prejudice. In this matter of the war all classes were at one---at one not only in sentiment but in practical resolve. The crowd that surged outside the central recruiting offices in Great Scotland Yard was the proof of it. All classes were there, struggling for the privilege of enlisting in the new citizen Army, conscious of their unity, and determined to give effect to it in the common life of service. It was an extraordinary crowd. Workmen were there in cord breeches and subfusc coats; boys from the East End in the latest fashions from Petticoat Lane; clerks and shop-assistants in sober black; mechanics in blue serge and bowler hats; travelers in the garments of prosperity; and most conspicuously well dressed of all, gentlemen in their oldest clothes. It was like a section cut out of the nation.
Men and boys of the working class formed the majority. They were in their element, shouting, singing, cheeking the "coppers" with as much ribald good humor as if the recruiting office had been a music-hall. But some of the other classes were far less at their ease. They had been brought up from earliest youth to thank God that they were not as other men, to set store by the innumerable little marks that distinguished them from "the lower classes." All these they were now sacrificing to an idea, and they felt horribly embarrassed. Even the gentleman, who had prided himself on his freedom from `the snobbishness of the suburbs," felt ill at ease. Of course he had been to working-men's clubs; but there he had been Mr. Thingumy." Here he was "mate." He told himself that he did not mind being "mate," in fact he rather liked it; but he fervently wished that he looked the part. He felt as self-conscious as if he had arrived at a dinner party in a Norfolk jacket. A little later on, when he sat, one of four nude men, in a cubicle awaiting medical inspection, he did feel that for the moment they had all been reduced to the common denominator of their sheer humanity; but embarrassment returned with his clothes and stayed with him all through the march to the station and the journey to the depot.
At the depot he fought for the prize of a verminous blanket, and six foot of floor to lie on. When he awoke the next morning his clothes were creased and dirty, his collar so filthy that it had to be discarded, and his chin unshaven. He perceived with something of a shock that he was no longer conspicuous. He was no more than the seedy unit of a seedy crowd. In any other circumstances he would have been disgusted. As it was, he sought the canteen at the earliest opportunity and toasted the Unity of the Classes in a pint!
All emerged from the depot clothed exactly alike, and meditated on the symbolism of clothes. They donned the gray shirt and ready-made khaki of the new era, and deposited the emblems of class distinction on a common rag-heap. Even the perfunctory manner of the Q.M.S. could not rob the occasion of an almost religious solemnity. It was the formal beginning of a new life, in which men of all classes, starting with something like equality of opportunity, should gain what pre-eminence they might by the merit of their inherent manhood or the seduction of their native tact. Henceforward all fared alike. All ate the same food, slept on the same floor in similar blankets, and in their shirts. Even the pajamas no longer divided them! All took their share in scrubbing floors and washing dixies; and until the novelty wore off even these menial and dirty jobs caught a certain glamour from the great ideal which they symbolized. Gradually all found their level. The plausible were promoted, found wanting, reduced, and replaced by the men of real grit and force of character. Mechanics joined the machine-gun section, clerks became orderlies, signalers, or telephonists. The dirtiest and most drunken of the old soldiers were relegated to the cookhouse. Equality of opportunity had been granted, and the inequality of man had been demonstrated. It was found that the best formula, after all, was that of St. Paul: "Diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." Of course it was not a perfect democracy because of the existence of the super-class, the officer. He is really an offense against democracy. He is what he is by Divine right, whether of property or of family influence. He is above the democratic law of the promotion of the fittest and the reduction of the incompetent. His position is, from the point of view of this article, an anomaly, and is only rendered possible by the survival in the army of democracy of the ancient religion of the army of aristocracy.
This ancient religion is called "Military Discipline." Like other religions, it has its mysteries, its hierarchy, its dogmas and its ritual. We are only concerned with the last two. Both relate to the status of the officer. The dogmas define his position, and the ritual symbolizes it. As in other religions of authority, the dogmas are not required to square absolutely with facts, nor is more than a formal acquiescence demanded from the faithful. For example, it is a dogma that the officer alone possesses common sense. But it has happened that an individual officer has been lacking in this gift, whereas the sergeant has possessed it. In such circumstances an officer may borrow his sergeant's common sense, and religion is satisfied so long as only the officer exercises it. An officer may even borrow common sense from a private provided that it is done through the medium of an N.C.O. Another dogma is that only officers can think. To safeguard this dogma from ridicule it is necessary that the men should be prevented from thinking. Their attention is to be fully occupied with such mechanical operations as the polishing of their buttons., in order that the officer may think without fear of contradiction. In war, however, if all the officers are killed, the sergeants may think, and if they are killed the corporals may think, and so on; but this is a relaxation of strict orthodoxy, a concession to the logic of facts which must only be permitted in extreme circumstances. The ritual of this religion will be found in the official manuals. This account of the super-class may sound a little bitter. It is not intended to be so. Most officers of the citizen Army have had an education in skepticism, and possess a sense of humor. They are such good sportsmen that no one minds performing the ritual for their benefit; and as often as not they accept it in the spirit in which it is given.
In due course the citizen Army reached the front. Now the front may be divided into two parts, the trenches and the rest camps. In the trenches the real white man finally and conclusively comes to his own. The worm, no matter how exalted his rank, automatically ceases to count. The explanation of this phenomenon is very simple. In the moment of crisis the white man is always on the spot, while the worm is always in his dug-out. The rest camp, on the other hand, exists for the restoration of the status quo ante. It is the trench failure's opportunity to reassert himself. There the officer or N.C.O. who has lost prestige by his devotion to his dug-out regains it by the repetition of the ritual; and the private who has done ten men's work in repairing the trenches under fire is awarded an hour's extra drill for failing to cut away the left hand smartly. So is the damaged religion of the Army restored. In the rest camp, too, the shirker among the men raises again his diminished head, and comes out strong as a grumbler and, until his mates become unpleasantly reminiscent, a boaster.
On the whole, though, actual experience of war brings the best men to the fore, and the best qualities of the average man. Officers and men are welded into a closer comradeship by dangers and discomforts shared. They learn to trust each other, and to look for the essential qualities rather than for the accidental graces. One learns to love men for their great hearts, their pluck, their indomitable spirits, their irrepressible humor, their readiness to shoulder a weaker brother's burden in addition to their own. One sees men as God sees them, apart from externals such as manner and intonation. A night in a bombing party shows you Jim Smith as a man of splendid courage. A shortage of rations reveals his wonderful unselfishness. One danger and discomfort after another you share in common till you love him as a brother. Out there, if anyone dared to remind you that Jim was only a fireman while you were a bank clerk, you would give him one in the eye to go on with. You have learned to know a man when you see one, and to value him.
When the war is over, and the men of the citizen Army return to their homes and their civil occupations, will they, I wonder, remember the things that they have learned? If so, there will be a new and better England for the children. One would like to prophesy great things. In those days great talkers and boasters shall be of no account, for men shall remember that in the hour of danger they were wanting. In those days there shall be no more petty strife between class and class, for all shall have learned that they are one nation, and that they must seek the nation's good before their own. In those days men shall no longer pride themselves on their riches, or on the material possessions which distinguish them from their brethren, for they shall have learned that it is the qualities of the heart which are of real value. Men shall be prized for their courage, their honesty, their charity, their practical ability. In those days there shall be no false pride, for all have lived hardly, all have done dirty and menial work, all have wielded pick and spade, and have munted it no dishonor but rather glory to do so. In those days charity and brotherly love shall prevail mightily, for all shall have learned mutual understanding and respect.
Would that it might be so! But perhaps it is more likely that the lessons will be forgotten, and that men will slip back into the old grooves. Much depends on the women England. If they carefully guard the ancient ruts against our return, and if their gentle fingers press us back into them, we shall acquiesce; but if at this hour of crisis they too have seen a wider vision of national unity, and learned a more catholic charity, the future is indeed radiant with hope.
I ONCE met, in an obscure corner of the world, a young priest of the Roman Church who confessed to me quite openly that he was a complete skeptic. He thought, it seemed, that, though the Church had played a necessary and useful part in the development of mankind, the time was very near when its function in history would have been fulfilled, and that it would then share the fate of all obsolete institutions. It was obviously a great relief to him to say this to anyone who mattered as little as myself, and whom he was never likely to meet again; but my reception of his confession astonished him almost as much as his confession had startled me. Of course what shocked me was that, holding the opinions that he did, he should remain a priest. I felt that his position must be an intolerable and humiliating one, and I immediately offered to help him to make a fresh start in some other profession, where he could regain his self-respect. He thanked me, but coolly informed me that the training which a clergyman received in the Roman Church and the mechanism which he had to use were so perfect that the individual views of the priest did not matter in the least. He himself was perfectly able and content to carry on his work without believing in it, and in many ways it was work that suited him. He understood my amazement. He agreed that in the Reformed Churches such a course would be impossible. There the training of the clergy was so inadequate, and the science of souls so little systematized, that every thing depended on the sincerity of the individual minister; but he assured me that in the Roman Church it was not so.
I do not for one moment suggest that this young priest was in the smallest degree typical of the Roman priesthood; but I can see his point---that where the discipline is strong and procedure stereotyped the strain on the individual leader is very greatly reduced. I have often thought of this point since I enlisted in "Kitchener's Army." Indeed, the difference between the old and new Armies is not at all unlike the difference between the Roman and Reformed Churches.
In the old Regular Army it has always been recognized that all officers and N.C.O.'s could not be expected to be born leaders of men. The whole system of military discipline has been built up with a view to relieving the strain on the individual. The officer's authority is carefully guarded by an elaborate system designed to give him prestige. He is a man apart. He does not mix with the men under his command.
They may not even approach him directly, but only through the medium of an N.C.O. He is always something of an unknown quantity to them, and omne ignotum pro magnifico. The N.C.O. is protected by the machinery of discipline. His authority is made to depend as little as possible on his own force of character. He exercises an authority which is vested in the whole body of officers and N.C.O.'s throughout the Army. The smallest piece of impertinence offered to the most junior lancecorporal is, if he likes to make it so, an offense against the discipline of the whole battalion, even of the whole Army, and is punishable as such. He too has to be as far as possible a man apart. He must not have friends among the private soldiers, nor be seen in their company. When he receives his promotion first, he is generally transferred from one company to another. In fact the Regular Army is a magnificent example of the efficiency of discipline.
Theoretically the "New Army" is under the same law as the old, the standard of discipline as high, and the method of enforcing it identical. But as a matter of fact it is quite impossible to enforce such a system in practice. In a Regular battalion the tradition, when once established and accepted, is handed down automatically. The recruits arrive in small batches, and have to adapt themselves to the conditions which they find to be already in existence. If a recruit fails to adapt himself, he is heavily punished, and his life made a burden to him. He has sold himself to his country for a term of years, and his feelings do not have to be considered. He is either "made or broken"---and that is the very phrase which my priest used to describe his training at the seminary. Discipline can be enforced because there is always a majority which has already been inured to it, and an executive of N.C.O.'s who have it bred in the bone. But in a battalion of the New Army the conditions are wholly different. The vast majority both of the N.C.O.'s and men are, at the time of formation, recruits. They are quite new to discipline, and full of pernicious civilian ideas about "liberty" and "the rights of man." Even if it were possible to enforce discipline by rigorous punishment, such a course would be inadvisable. Recruiting depends for its success very largely on the reports of men newly enlisted as to how they are treated. As long as we have to obtain the largest possible number of recruits in the shortest possible time, the good-will of the men already enlisted is a primary consideration, and discipline must be tempered with tact.
The net result is that a greatly increased strain is thrown on the individual leader. To some extent this applies to all ranks; but it is more especially true of the section leader. The commissioned officer, even in the citizen Army, has a good deal of prestige as long as he does not give it away. He appears, by virtue of his immunity from manual work and competition, his superior dress and standard of living, to be a higher sort of being altogether. The senior N.C.O. also has a prestige of his own, due to the fact that he is usually an ex-Regular, and has an intimate knowledge of his job, and the manner of one who is accustomed to be obeyed. But the young lance-corporal who is put in charge of a section has absolutely no prestige. A few weeks since he was a recruit himself. Of the work he knows little more than the men. He lives and sleeps and messes with them. They know all his faults and weaknesses a great deal better than he does himself. They are inclined to be jealous of him, and have no respect for him except what he can inspire by his inherent force of character. To a great extent he is dependent on their good-will. They can cover his deficiencies or emphasize them as they like. If he tries to establish his authority by reporting them, he can by no means count on the sure support of his superiors. Unless they have a very high opinion of him, they will be quite likely to conclude that he is more bother than he is worth., and reduce him to the ranks. In fact, if one wants to study the conditions of sheer natural leadership, one can hardly choose a better subject than the average section leader in a "service battalion."
Of course the types vary enormously. At first it is generally the men who want promotion that obtain the stripe, and they mostly belong to one of two classes. They are either ambitious youngsters or blustering bullies. The youngster who wants promotion has probably been a clerk and lived in a suburb. He is better educated and has a smarter appearance than the general run of the men. He covets the stripe because he wants to get out of the many menial and dirty jobs incidental to barrack life; because he thinks himself "a cut above" his fellows and wants the fact to be recognized; because, in short, he thinks that as a lance-corporal he will find life easier and more flattering to his self-esteem. He soon finds his mistake. He annoys the sergeant-major by his incompetence and the men by his superior airs. Soon he gets into a panic and begins to nag at the men. That is just what they hate. The whole situation reminds one of nothing so much as of a terrier barking at a herd of cows. As soon as the cows turn on him the terrier begins to waver, and, after trying to maintain his dignity by continuing to bark, ends by fleeing for dear life with his tail between his legs. So the young lancecorporal begins by hectoring the men, and, having roused them to a fury of irritation, ends by abject entreaty. Finally he is reduced to the ranks. The career of the bully is different. He is generally a vulgar, pushing fellow, who likes boasting and threatening, likes to feel that men are afraid of him, likes to be flattered by toadies, and likes getting men punished. The men hate him; but he sometimes manages to bluff the officers and sergeants into thinking that he is a "smart N.C.O." Usually he comes to a bad end, either through drink or gambling. When he is reduced to the ranks his lot is not an enviable one.
A deplorable number of those who are first promoted finish by forfeiting their stripe. Then comes the turn of the man who does not covet rank for its own sake, but accepts it because he thinks that it is "up to him" to do so. Generally he is a man of few words and much character. He gives an order. The man who receives it begins to argue: it is not his turn, he has only just finished another job, and so on. The N.C.O. looks at him., and repeats "Git on and do it." The man "curls up," and does as he is told. An N.C.O. of this sort is popular. He saves any amount of wear and tear, and this is appreciated by the men. He gets things done, and that is appreciated by the sergeants and officers.
Finally, there is the gentleman, who is the most interesting of all from our point of view. He is generally a thoroughly bad disciplinarian in the official sense, and at the same time he is often a magnificent leader of men. He is fair and disinterested. He has a certain prestige through being rather incomprehensible to the average private. He does not care a scrap for his rank. He is impervious to the fear of losing it. He takes it from a sense of duty, and his one idea is to get things done with as little friction as possible. He often succeeds in gaining the confidence of his men, so that they will work for him as for no one else. But, on the other hand, his methods are apt to be quite unorthodox and highly prejudicial to the cause of discipline as a whole. His authority is so personal that it is very hard for an ordinary N.C.O. to take his place.
A man of this sort was given the strip while his battalion was in a rest camp in Flanders, and was put in charge of a section which was quite new to him. It was a very uncomfortable camp, and there were endless tiresome fatigues to be done. The men, who had just come out of the trenches, and had been looking forward to a comparatively easy and luxurious time, were in the worst of tempers. The lance-corporal did his best. He tried to be scrupulously fair, and to put each man on fatigue in his turn; but the men were "out for a row." In the afternoon he entered the hut, and detailed one of the worst grumblers for a fatigue. The man started to grumble, and made no sign of moving. The corporal took out his watch and announced that if he did not go in two minutes he would "put him on the peg," which means report him to the captain for refusing to obey an order. The man was defiant, and remarked that that was all "lancejacks" were for, to get men into trouble, and that they could not stand up to a fellow as man to man. This was a peculiarly subtle taunt, because of course it would mean instant reduction if an N.C.O. were found fighting with a man. In the interests of discipline, the offender ought to have been made a prisoner at once. This course, however, did not commend itself to the corporal. He was the sort of man who, if he could only maintain his authority by such means, would rather resign it. He put back his watch; explained for the benefit of the audience that it was this man's turn, that he was not an N.C.O. for his own amusement, and that it gave him no pleasure to get men into trouble; and finally ended up by inviting the man to step outside there and then and see whether or no he would stand up to him. The man collapsed and did as he was ordered, and the lance-corporal was well on his way to winning the respect of his section; but of course he had committed a dire offense against military discipline.
If I am not mistaken, it was the same N.C.O. who, a few days later, was guilty of a similar neglect of duty in the trenches. It was at night, and the trench had been badly damaged by shell-fire during the afternoon. It was necessary to build up the parapet, and owing to the sodden nature of the ground it was not possible to take any more earth from the floor of the trench. In order to fill the sandbags required, someone had to get out of the trench at the back and dig in the open field. The corporal detailed a man for the job, and the man flatly refused to go. He had not been out long; his nerves had been shaken by the shell-fire that afternoon; he did not like the idea of going out into the open; he was afraid that when the flares went up the Germans would see him; he was, afraid of the rain of random bullets which always falls at night. Of course he ought to have been put under arrest, and tried for (1) cowardice in the face of the enemy, and (2) refusing to obey an order. His punishment might have been "death" or "any less penalty." The corporal knew that there was very little real danger. He looked at the man contemptuously, and went and did the job himself. He had not been at it more than two minutes when the boy---for he was little more---came and joined him.
This N.C.O. certainly gained the respect and confidence of his men, and there is no possession better worth having from the point of view of the individual; but his authority was purely personal, and on the whole bad for discipline. He was to realize it a little later. An officer, who was in charge of a big working party, called for two volunteers to accompany a corporal in stalking a German sniper. Not a man volunteered. After some minutes, during which the officer appealed and rated in vain, a boy came up to this N.C.O. and asked: "Who's the corporal that's going?" The N.C.O. replied that he didn't know. "Oh.," said the boy, with obvious disappointment, "if it had been you I would have volunteered." For the corporal it was at once his reward and his condemnation. He realized then that though it is a fine thing when men trust their leader and will follow him anywhere, it is a still finer thing when they will stand by any leader, whether they know him or not; and this last is the fruit of perfect discipline.
HE came in the early days, when we were still at recruit drills under the hot September sun. Tall, erect, smiling: so we first saw him, and so he remained to the end. At the start he knew as little of soldiering as we did. He used to watch us being drilled by the sergeant; but his manner of watching was peculiarly his own. He never looked bored. He was learning just as much as we were, in fact more. He was learning his job, and from the first he saw that his job was more than to give the correct orders. His job was to lead us. So he watched, and noted many things, and never found the time hang heavy on his hands. He watched our evolutions, so as to learn the correct orders; he watched for the right manner of command, the manner which secured the most prompt response to an order; and he watched every one of us for our individual characteristics. We were his men. Already he took an almost paternal interest in us. He noted the men who tried hard, but were naturally slow and awkward. He distinguished them from those who were inattentive and bored. He marked down the keen and efficient amongst us. Most of all he studied those who were subject to moods, who were sulky one day and willing the next. These were the ones who were to turn the scale. If only he could get these on his side, the battle would be won.
For a few days he just watched. Then he started work. He picked out some of the most awkward ones, and, accompanied by a corporal, marched them away by themselves. Ingenuously he explained that he did not know much himself yet; but he thought that they might get on better if they drilled by themselves a bit, and that if he helped them, and they helped him, they would soon learn. His confidence was infectious. He looked at them, and they looked at him, and the men pulled themselves together and determined to do their best. Their best surprised themselves. His patience was inexhaustible. His simplicity could not fail to be understood. His keenness and optimism carried all with them. Very soon the awkward squad found themselves awkward no longer; and soon after that they ceased to be a squad, and went back to the platoon.
Then he started to drill the platoon, with the sergeant standing by to point out his mistakes. Of course he made mistakes, and when that happened he never minded admitting it. He would explain what mistakes he had made, and try again. The result was that we began to take almost as much interest and pride in his progress as he did in ours. We were his men, and he was our leader. We felt that he was a credit to us, and we resolved to be a credit to him. There was a bond of mutual confidence and affection between us, which grew stronger and stronger as the months passed. He had a smile for almost everyone; but we thought that he had a different smile for us. We looked for it, and were never disappointed. On parade, as long as we were trying, his smile encouraged us. Off parade, if we passed him and saluted, his eyes looked straight into our own, and his smile greeted us. It was a wonderful thing, that smile of his. It was something worth living for, and worth working for. It bucked one up when one was bored or tired. It seemed to make one look at things from a different point of view, a finer point of view, his point of view. There was nothing feeble or weak about it. It was not monotonous like the smile of "Sunny Jim." It meant something. It meant that we were his men, and that he was proud of us, and sure that we were going to do jolly well---better than any of the other platoons. And it made us determine that we would. When we failed him, when he was disappointed in us, he did not smile. He did not rage or curse. He just looked disappointed, and that made us feel far more savage with ourselves than any amount of swearing would have done. He made us feel that we were not playing the game by him. It was not what he said. He was never very good at talking. It was just how he looked. And his look of displeasure and disappointment was a thing that we would do anything to avoid. The fact was that he had won his way into our affections. We loved him. And there isn't anything stronger than love, when all's said and done.
He was good to look on. He was big and tall, and held himself upright. His eyes looked his own height. He moved with the grace of an athlete. His skin was tanned by a wholesome outdoor life, and his eyes were clear and wide open. Physically he was a prince among men. We used to notice, as we marched along the road and passed other officers, that they always looked pleased to see him. They greeted him with a cordiality which was reserved for him. Even the general seemed to have singled him out, and cast an eye of special approval upon him. Somehow, gentle though he was, he was never familiar. He had a kind of innate nobility which marked him out as above us. He was not democratic. He was rather the justification for aristocracy. We all knew instinctively that he was our superior---a man of finer temper than ourselves, a "toff" in his own right. I suppose that that was why he could be so humble without loss of dignity. For he was humble too, if that is the right word, and I think it is. No trouble of ours was too small for him to attend to. When we started route marches, for instance, and our feet were blistered and sore, as they often were at first, you would have thought that they were his own feet from the trouble he took. Of course after the march there was always an inspection of feet. That is the routine. But with him it was no mere routine. He came into our rooms, and if anyone had a sore foot he would kneel down on the floor and look at it as carefully as if he had been a doctor. Then he would prescribe, and the remedies were ready at hand, being borne by the sergeant. If a blister had to be lanced he would very likely lance it himself there and then, so as to make sure that it was done with a clean needle and that no dirt was allowed to get in. There was no affectation about this, no striving after effect. It was simply that he felt that our feet were pretty important, and that he knew that we were pretty careless. So he thought it best at the start to see to the matter himself. Nevertheless, there was in our eyes something almost religious about this care for our feet. It seemed to have a touch of the Christ about it, and we loved and honored him the more.
We knew that we should lose him. For one thing, we knew that he would be promoted. It was our great hope that some day he would command the company. Also we knew that he would be killed. He was so amazingly unself-conscious. For that reason we knew that he would be absolutely fearless. He would be so keen on the job in hand, and so anxious for his men, that he would forget about his own danger. So it proved. He was a captain when we went out to the front. Whenever there was a tiresome job to be done, he was there in charge. If ever there were a moment of danger, he was on the spot. If there were any particular part of the line where the shells were falling faster or the bombs dropping more thickly than in other parts, he was in it. It was not that he was conceited and imagined himself indispensable. It was just that he was so keen that the men should do their best, and act worthily of the regiment. He knew that fellows hated turning out at night for fatigue, when they were in a "rest camp." He knew how tiresome the long march there and back and the digging in the dark for an unknown purpose were. He knew that fellows would be inclined to grouse and shirk, so he thought that it was up to him to go and show them that he thought it was a job worth doing. And the fact that he was there put a new complexion on the matter altogether. No one would shirk if he were there. No one would grumble so much, either. What was good enough for him was good enough for us. If it were not too much trouble for him to turn out, it was not too much trouble for us. He knew, too, how trying to the nerves it is to sit in a trench and be shelled. He knew what a temptation there is to move a bit farther down the trench and herd together in a bunch at what seems the safest end. He knew, too, the folly of it., and that it was not the thing to do--not done in the best regiments. So he went along to see that it did not happen, to see that the men stuck to their posts, and conquered their nerves. And as soon as we saw him, we forgot our own anxiety. It was: "Move a bit farther down., sir. We are all right here; but don't you go exposing of yourself." We didn't matter. We knew it then. We were just the rank and file, bound to take risks. The company would get along all right without us. But the captain, how was the company to get on without him? To see him was to catch his point of view, to forget our personal anxieties, and only to think of the company, and the regiment, and honor.
There was not one of us but would gladly have died for him. We longed for the chance to show him that. We weren't heroes. We never dreamed about the V. C. But to save the captain we would have earned it ten times over, and never have cared a button whether we got it or not. We never got the chance, worse luck. It was all the other way. We were holding some trenches which were about as unhealthy as trenches could be. The Bosches were only a few yards away, and were well supplied with trench mortars. We hadn't got any at that time. Bombs and air torpedoes were dropping round us all day. Of course the captain was there. It seemed as if he could not keep away. A torpedo fell into the trench, and buried some of our chaps. The fellows next to them ran to dig them out. Of course he was one of the first. Then came another torpedo in the same place. That was the end.
But he lives. Somehow he lives. And we who knew him do not forget. We feel his eyes on us. We still work for that wonderful smile of his. There are not many of the old lot left now; but I think that those who went West have seen him. When they got to the other side I think they were met. Someone said: "Well done, good and faithful servant." And as they knelt before that gracious pierced Figure, I reckon they saw nearby the captain's smile. Anyway, in that faith let me die, if death should come my way; and so, I think, shall I die content.
I ONCE heard Mr. Ramsay MacDonald hold forth on the, glories of the ideal socialistic state. In a spirit of exalted prophecy he told how in that state there would be no tyranny, no strife, no crime, no private property. Men would no longer work for sordid gain, but for the sheer joy of labor. "Do you believe that?" shouted a man in the audience. "Of course he does!" cried a little old man just in front of me. "Haven't I done it all my life?" But the majority of the audience were with the doubter. To them the idea of working for sheer joy was incomprehensible. They worked because they had to; because they would starve if they did not. If you examine the speeches and writings of men more truly representative of labor than Mr. MacDonald you will find that this is their idea too. They have little to say of the dignity of labor, and much about its indignity. Their ideal is not the apotheosis of work, but its reduction and more even distribution. All men must share the burden, that all may taste the joy of relaxation. A minimum of work and a maximum of leisure, that is the ideal of the laborer.
This is a point of view which one can very easily understand; yet I venture to think that there is nothing inherently bad in labor---and by labor I mean manual labor. To a man who has suffered from an excess of leisure, and who knows the terrors of boredom, manual labor, performed under wholesome conditions, is a delight. I once went for six months to the Australian bush. To rise early, to spend the day in the open air wielding an axe, or to spend it at the bottom of a forty-foot well with a bar and shovel, to come back in the evening hungry and thirsty and tired, was one of the best experiences that have ever come my way. I not only felt fit in body and wholesome in mind, I had a feeling of self-respect such as has never come from the manipulation of a typewriter. I felt that I had justified my manhood, and experienced the dignity of labor. Personally I feel convinced that labor is good, and that a working day of less than eight hours would be bad for the nation, and would only increase discontent.
If I am right we must seek the root of the indignity of labor, not in labor itself, but in the conditions under which it is performed. These conditions are, one must admit, often very bad. However much improvement there may have been in the last few years, hours are still often too long, the atmosphere tainted, and the relations between employers and employed, and between the workers themselves, permeated with mutual suspicion and dislike. It is this last aspect of the problem that I want to discuss in the present article, because it is one which at first sight seems capable of improvement as a result of the war. At the present moment I suppose that nearly all employers of labor who are of military age and bodily fitness are holding commissions in the Army. Similarly nearly all their employees who are eligible are in the ranks of the Army. Yet in their new rôles as officer and private none of the old suspicion and dislike appears to survive. In the Army the relations between officers and men are, as a rule, excellent. Is it too much to hope that when the war is over, and both go back to their former positions, these good relations may in many cases survive?
I have no right to lay down the law about the relations of employers or employed. I belong to neither category. I have no experience of the inner workings of an industrial concern. I have no idea of apportioning praise and blame. I only judge from what my friends---and I have friends among both classes---tell me. Often and often I have heard my employer friends denounce the workingman. They say that he has no sense of honor, no conception of the meaning of a contract, no gratitude, no loyalty. If an employer arranges to give his men, in addition to their wages, a share in the profits of the business, they will pocket their bonus without a "thank you" in the fat years, and in the lean years they will desert him without a thought. No matter how generously an employer treats his workmen., if there is a strike they will not be left out of it. It does not pay to treat men well. If there is any chance of shirking, defrauding, or doing shoddy work without being brought to book, the workman will take it. So say the employers. I know nothing but what I am told. On the other hand, workmen always seem to suspect their employer of trying to get more out of them than he is paying for. If he can get work done for less than the standard wage, he will. If he can make one man do two men's work for one man's money, he will. If in a bumper year he makes big profits, the workers see nothing of them except what they earn by overtime. If a lean year follows, hands are dismissed ruthlessly without any regard to the length or fidelity of their service, or their chance of obtaining work elsewhere; and the whole business is reorganized with a view to extracting yet more work out of those whose services are retained. So say my workmen friends. Moreover, so far as I can judge, the relations between the workers themselves seem to be tainted with the same poison. They eye each other with suspicion, accuse each other on the slightest provocation with trying to curry favor with the foreman or the "boss" at the expense of their mates, and of prejudicing the interests of the latter by accepting less than a fair wage, or by doing more than a fair day's work. It is only when the workmen are banded together in a defensive alliance against their masters, and the wages to be accepted and the amount of work to be done by each man strictly laid down, that there is even the appearance of cordiality between man and man; and even then the league is always on the lookout for treachery. I may be quite wrong, but such are my impressions of the spirit obtaining in industrial life. And if these impressions are correct, and if this atmosphere of mutual suspicion and mistrust does exist, it seems quite adequate to account for the workman's hatred of labor, and his denial of its inherent dignity.
In speaking of the Army I feel far more confident, for I have known it both as a private and N.C.O. and as an officer.
I have no hesitation in saying that in the vast majority of cases the relations between officers and men are quite extraordinarily good. In the average company or platoon the officer is proud of his men, and the men reciprocate the feeling. The men do their work cheerfully, and are content. Of course they grumble. Who doesn't? But there is no bitterness or mistrust. The men trust their officers and the officers trust their men, to an extent which I fancy has no parallel in civil life.
It is not easy to say why this should be so. The work of the soldier is not interesting. For the most part his training consists of long monotonous hours of drill and physical training, varied by spells of menial drudgery and hard, unskilled navvying. His pay, though not so little as it sounds, is considerably less than he would be likely to earn in civil life. The accommodation and food are of the roughest.
Although the work is healthy and there is no anxiety in the life, these facts do not in themselves account for the good spirit that prevails, for in cases where officers fail to gain the confidence of their men the men hate the life with a bitter loathing, and will take big risks to escape from it. I feel pretty sure that as a matter of fact the comparative contentment of most soldiers is mainly due to the persistence of a traditional good feeling between officers and men, just as with less confidence I believe that the discontent that seems to prevail in industrial life is due to the survival of a bad tradition.
When one comes to study the subject more deeply one is immediately struck by the fact that it is not easy-going laxity on the part of an officer that produces a spirit of contentment among the men. Rather the reverse is the case. It is more often the strict officer, who knows his work and sets a high standard, that is the popular commander of a self-satisfied unit. Under a slack officer the men never know quite what is expected of them. One day on parade they will pass muster. On the next, for no greater slovenliness, they will be dropped on. Unconsciously their aim becomes, not to do their best, but to do the least that will save them from punishment. In such a unit as this there is no self-respect, no confidence. The men work unwillingly, despise and dislike their officer, and quarrel among themselves. On the other hand, where an officer is strict the men know exactly where they are. They know what is expected of them, and they know the results of negligence. They aim high, and the knowledge that they are doing so increases their self-respect and contentment. They are pleased with their officer and pleased with themselves. There is esprit de corps. In such a unit you will find the nearest approach that I know to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's ideal of work well done for the sheer joy and pride of it.
Of course when I speak of a strict officer I do not mean a mere meticulous martinet. There are officers whose strictness amounts to positive hostility towards their men, and what a man sows that shall he reap. The sort of strictness that I mean is that of the officer who believes in himself and his men, and who for that reason will be content with nothing but the highest efficiency. Such an officer is never hostile to his men. Even when he is most severe it is only because he cannot bear that his men should do themselves less than justice. The men know it. They recognize that it is not his own credit that he is seeking, but their common glory. It is his company, but it is also theirs, of whose honor he is so jealous. Such officers are common in the British Army; in fact I think it would be true to say that the average officer sets a high standard both for his men and for himself, and that he seldom fails to secure their loyal co-operation in attaining to it.
These are the facts, or what appear to me to be the facts. Now we come back to our question. Is there any chance that, when the war is over and officers become employers, and privates employed, these good relations between them will be reproduced in industrial life? I know what Mr. MacDonald would say. He would point out that in the Army there is no competition, only emulation; that officers are salaried officials of the State, and privates the employees of the State; that all work in the Army is done for the common weal, and that the scale of remuneration is fixed; that no man can be discharged (this is almost literally true now), and that all punishment is due to the law of the State. Reproduce these conditions in industrial life, and you have Socialism, and, according to Mr. MacDonald, the Utopian era dawns. Regretfully I dissent. I doubt whether it would be possible to run the socialistic State on aristocratic lines, or to reproduce the "public school tradition," which whatever its limitations does place honor, discipline, and public spirit in the forefront of the virtues. Without this tradition I very much question whether it would be possible to eliminate corruption to anything like the same extent as has been done in the Army. Moreover, I very much question whether the average man would consent to give up his individuality permanently to the extent that he has done in this national crisis. In the dull times of peace his sense of the dramatic would fail him.
I fear that we must face the fact that when the war is over competition will continue to exert its ruthless pressure on employers, and through them on the employed. Labor will still have to combine against capital for self-defense. But it is legitimate to hope that here and there a better spirit will prevail. Here and there an employer will have learnt a better way of handling men, and will be able to inspire them with respect and loyalty, and to make them feel that they are more than servants of the firm---rather partners, jointly responsible for its credit, and participating in its successes. And he will succeed where others before him have failed, because the workers, too, will have learnt a better day of work. They will have learnt that loyalty does not demean a man, and that not every olive branch need be mistrusted. And finally, in the firms where these good relations between master and men are realized, there will also be comradeship between man and man, such as we have known in the Army, and the indignity of labor shall have been done away with.
WHEN war broke out the public-school man applied for his commission in the firm conviction that war was a glorified form of big-game hunting---the highest form of sport. His whole training, the traditions of his kind, had prepared him for that hour. From his earliest school days he had been taught that it was the mark of a gentleman to welcome danger, and to regard the risk of death as the most piquant sauce to life. At school he had learnt, too, to sleep on a hard bed, to endure plenty of fresh air, and a cold bath on even the coldest mornings, and generally speaking to
Welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough.
While in his holidays the joys of shooting and fishing, and perhaps even hunting, had accustomed him to the idea of taking life, so that if the odds were even, it would even be a recognized form of sport to hunt, and to be hunted by, his fellow man.
We who knew him had no doubt about the public-school boy; and when we read of his spirit, his courage, his smiling contempt of death, we told ourselves with pride that we knew it would be so with him. But with the Cockney it was different. When on all hands we heard praise of his bravery, his cheerfulness, his patience, his discipline, even we who knew him best were relieved, and very glad. For in every respect where the traditions of the public school make for soldierly qualities, the traditions of the East End seem to be against their formation. Tell a public-school boy a thrilling tale of adventure and the tradition dictates that he should say, "Oh, how jolly!" Tell the same story to a boy in an East End club and convention demands that he shall say, "Ow, I'm glad I wernt there!" The Cockney is not brought up to see anything good in danger. He is brought up to fear it and avoid it. Nor is be taught to welcome hardship. For him and his kin life is so hard already that he naturally embraces any mitigation of its rigors. He sleeps on a feather bed if possible, with the tiny windows of the tiny room tight shut, and with his brothers nestling close to him for greater warmth. Even when he "changes" for football he generally only takes off his coat, and puts on his jersey over his waistcoat. Well might those who knew him mistrust his power to endure bravely the constant exposure to the elements inseparable from a campaign. Moreover, the Cockney is over-sensitive to pain. About hurt he is fearfully sentimental. He is a thoroughly kind-hearted little fellow, who not only doesn't want to hurt anything, but doesn't want himself or anyone else to be hurt. True, the dangers of the boxing ring have an enormous attraction for him, but as a rule it is a fearful fascination far removed from the idea of emulation. In his quarrels with his mates he often boasts great things; but his anger nearly always evaporates in wordiness. He was, in fact, the last person in the world that we could imagine going out with set teeth to hurt and slay the enemies of his country. To all this we had to add that he was an intense lover of home. The sights, the sounds and smells of his native London are infinitely dear to him. Transplant him even to the glories of a Kentish spring, and in a fortnight he will begin to pine for home. Exile him to the Australian bush, and no matter how high the pay, or rosy the prospects, he will drift inevitably to Sydney or Melbourne, the nearest available imitation of his beloved London. And so we couldn't help wondering how he would endure month after month of exile, subject to every discomfort and danger that he would be most likely to dread, and committed to the very sort of action from which he would be most likely to shrink.
Well, he surprised us all, as we have said, and has given to the world the amazing picture of a soldier who is infinitely brave without vindictiveness, terrible without hate, all-enduring and yet remaining his simple, kindly, jaunty self. For the Cockney warrior does not hate the Hun. Often and often you will hear him tell his mate that "the Bosches is just like us, they wants to get 'ome as much as we do; but they can't 'elp theirselves." At times he has regretful suspicions of the humanity of the Prussians and Bavarians; but they are not long-lived, and even while they endure he consoles himself with the proved good fellowship of the Saxon. Did not such and such a regiment walk out of their trenches and talk to them as man to man? The Cockney reckons that when peace is declared both sides will run out of their trenches and shake hands, and be the best of pals. "They can't 'elp theirselves." This is the burden of the Cockney's philosophy of war---a phrase that seems like the echo of a statelier word of charity, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Caught up from his civilian life by a wave of tremendous enthusiasm that completely overwhelmed his emotional nature, he found himself swimming in a mighty current, the plaything of forces he could neither understand nor control. But in splendid faith in the righteousness of those forces he is content to give up his will completely, and by swimming his best to do his bit to help them to attain their appointed end. In a dim way he feels the conflict of world forces, and is certain that he is on the side of Michael and the Angels, and that the Kaiser is Lucifer and Antichrist.
The Cockney's sacrifice of his personality is for all practical purposes complete, and sublimely heroic. He only makes one reservation---the right so dear to all Englishmen---the right to grumble. To his tongue he allows full license, because he knows that in such liberty there is no real disloyalty because there is no efficacy. He curses the war, the Kaiser, the weather, the food, and everything indiscriminately, with relish and eloquence that is sometimes lacking in good taste. But let it pass. In view of his real heroism we cannot grudge him this one prized luxury.
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