AN INSPIRER ON THE PARAPET
It was in a trench in the early morning. The soldiers were awaiting the word of command which would hurl them against the most strongly fortified position of the battleline. With them was a detachment of the Royal Engineers, whose duty it was to go over with the fighters, and, as each trench was captured, turn the parados against the enemy and prepare for the inevitable counter-attack. The work of the Engineers was not to lead, but to follow; not to attack, but to help the victors to defend their gains. The fighters with their weapons and the Engineers with their tools all stood ready to leap over the parapet.
Promptly the command to advance rang out, and, like a dam bursting its bounds, a flood of living valour rolled upon the foe. Many miles in breadth this living Niagara leapt forth. Its seething mass of men scrambled over the bullet-swept parapet. Some fell back to rise no more. But the mass swept on. Among the first over in the trench of which I write was an Engineer. He ought to have been behind, but he was in front. He leapt upon the parapet, and stood like a lightning-conductor amid a blinding sheet of flame and thunder-bolts. With one arm pointing to the enemy and another outstretched toward the men behind him, his voice rose above the tumult, 'On, Scottish, on! On, Scottish, on!' And, like the wind over their native moors, the kilted lads swept across No Man's Land, and hurled themselves upon the enemy.
I, who helped the wounded down the steps of the advanced dressing-station, know how. well they fought and how manfully they bore their wounds. They smiled bravely at each stab of pain, and murmured, 'The battalion has done well.' When the battle was over, the Engineer who, in the heart of the storm, had cheered them on, was found a nervous wreck. He had risked all, and spent all, in one mad, glorious cheer. And when the colonel of this Scottish regiment sent in his list of heroes deserving decorations he did not forget the stranger who had cheered them on to battle.
The Engineer is, in private life, a modest Christian, and an ardent worker in one of our London churches. Week by week he had, amid the drabness of civil life, sought to guide and inspire the young to deeds of nobleness, and when the blaze of battle burst upon him it found him unchanged---an inspirer still. The bayonet and its glory had been denied him. Only a shovel was his. But if he could not be a warrior, he would be a warrior's inspiration and guard. He would cheer him on to battle, deepen his trench, build up his parados, spread his barbed wire, and prepare his gun-emplacements. And when the fight was over, the self-forgetful hero of the spade found his name written beside the names of the heroes of the sword.
It is well when the doer's name and the inspirer's are placed side by side upon the scroll of honour. They represent two temperaments and two accomplishments which may be equally noble. The one represents the active temperament, and the other the passive. They are the two halves of a circle. The doer is the power upon the throne, and the inspirer is the power behind the throne. Women do not go to war. They are incapable of it. They are the passive half of humanity. But they inspire war. Ruskin said but the truth when he asserted that if the women of the world banded themselves together they could stop all war. So they could, for good or evil. They do not stop all war, because they know there are worse things than war, and they would rather see their sons dead than dishonoured. Women are responsible for war as men. Women have always buckled on the warrior's armour, and always will while wars last.
On my way back to France after leave, I watched from our carriage window the scene as the train slowly drew into the port of embarkation. At the doors of all the houses along the railway-side were women, many with babes in their arms, waving us good-bye. And our hearts replied, 'God bless you.' They know the time of the 'leave train,' and every day they stand at their doors to wave a blessing to the returning soldiers. It is our last sight of English faces and English homes, and could any sight be sweeter or more inspiring? 'Mother,' said a brave Scots boy, a member of my church, 'I enlisted because I read of what the Germans had done in Belgium, and I thought of you and my sister.' The women did more than Kitchener in recruiting an army. They beamed on the men in khaki, praised them, worshipped them, and walked out with them. They transformed common men into heroes, and made them seek to be worthy of the faith reposed in them. The men in khaki walked on the sunny side of the street, while the men in blacks and greys walked in the shadow. If a man wished for the sunshine of a woman's smile he must get into khaki. Then she gave him both smiles and tears. Women could not go to war, but they could, and did, inspire men to go. And now that the men are at the Front the women are still their inspirers.
As one of our wounded lay on a stretcher that July evening I said to him, 'Cheer up, old boy; you'll soon be in a nice white bed, and you'll have women nurses instead of men.' His face lit up with pleasure. 'That will be "a bit of all right,"' he said. A few days later we got the English illustrated papers, and saw photographs of women lined up in rows at Charing Cross Station, and throwing roses into the cars of the wounded as they passed. Even the flower girls were throwing their roses; throwing their very livelihood at the heroes, and refusing purchasers. The sight of such things almost makes the men here wish to get wounded, and pay with red wounds for red roses. It is the knowledge that they have the women's love, admiration, and prayers that keeps the men bright and brave, in the trenches.
In like manner the passive past lives in the positive present. The most valuable element in history is its inspiration. The great gift of Nelson to his country was not the defeat of the French, but the inspiration of his example. Nelson and Drake and the heroes of old walk the deck with Jellicoe and Beatty. They being dead yet speak. You cannot superannuate them. They will rule the Navy to the end of time. Gordon, Wolfe, Outram, Havelock, Sir John Moore---these men's greatest gifts to the Nation were not their deeds, but the inspiration of their characters. They rule the Army from their graves more firmly than does the Minister of War. Franklin and Captain Scott gave the world infinitely more by their failures than they could have done by success. Scott will be a fount of inspiration for centuries to come---a well at which all our boys will drink. The inspirer multiplies his life, even in his own generation, and heats the grave by living on in the lives of others long after his bones have turned to dust. The names in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews have shone like stars in every dark age, and have been the inspiration of all the Christian martyrs. As the bones of Elisha brought life to the dead body thrown against them, so the inspirers, even from their graves, touch the world's dead soul into life.
The short-sighted, cold-blooded utilitarian may sneer at enthusiasm and cry, 'Why this waste?' He may denounce it as hysteria or fanaticism, but it is on its wings of inspiration that man has risen to the highest peaks of achievement. There is a Peter the Hermit behind every Crusade, and a gallant encourager on the parapet at every heroic charge. The cynic, sitting in his arm-chair, where shells never burst, may define him as 'a fellow who lost his head,' but the soldiers who followed him over the parapet called him a hero. That great inspirer, the author of the 'Marseillaise,' is as potent in the French Army of to-day as General Joffre himself ; and it is in the acknowledgment of this fact that his bones have been removed to a grave near that of the great doer ---Napoleon. Higher still, it was because Mary, with her alabaster box of ointment, was a great inspirer that Christ declared that her name should for ever be associated with His own great Name. And it is a promise that the Lord of all will not forget the inspirers when He rewards the doers. When the battle is over, they too shall have a share in the decorations of the King.
THE TOUCH OF THE WIND
THERE'S the wind on the heath, brother.' We are town-dwellers and had forgotten. We need Borrow's gypsey to tell us of the unappropriated joy that plays about on the heath. I, for one, had to come to France to learn that Jesus loved the wind, and to understand something of its wonderful---I was going to say---personality. How do I know that Jesus loved the wind? Because, since I landed, His words about the wind come to me as often and unbidden as the wind itself. Most of my services have been held in the corners of fields. As a rule there is no building available; but the earth is wide, and the sky is a beautiful roof---with tracery more delicate than that of King's College Chapel.
It has happened, therefore, that our hymns have been sung where there were no walls to bound them, and where the wind might come like any other worshipper, and not through the crevices of ill-fitting doors and windows. And the wind did come to the services, and they were the richer for its coming. One felt its presence as one feels the presence of a saintly and beautiful woman in a service. While I have been praying and the men stood silently around, the wind has come. It has caressed my cheek as softly as the gentlest mother's hand, and it has whispered in my ear, 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit.' And I have felt encouraged and comforted as one that is comforted of his mother.
None of us has felt a mother's hand out here, but none of us has forgotten its touch. Now the wind's touch is a mother's, and Christ must have felt that when He used the word 'born.' Surely when He spoke of the mysterious comings and goings of the wind He was thinking of a mother's, for it is a mother's comings and goings which are the most intimate and mystic of all. Can anyone tell when his mother first came to him? Has any one been where she could not, and did not, come?
We have no mothers out here, and yet we have. Our mothers come and go just as they. ever did. They look in at our barn, or cottage, or dug-out at night, just as they did when we slept in our little cots. They look at our scattered belongings, and we try to tidy up a bit to please them. They glance at the dinner-table, and we get a white cloth so that we may shock them no longer by our barbarian feasts. We meet in a field for worship, and they come. It is true the service is put in 'Orders," but our mothers don't see the 'Orders.' Yet they find out about the service, and come. We lie in hospital, and they come. The Army Map Department issues them no maps, but they find their way, somehow. A poor fellow smiles in his sleep, and we know why. His mother has come to him. It may be a man doesn't want his mother to come. It may be he shuts his heart against her, as we shut our churches to the wind; but she comes, and with her quick eye she discovers why he did not wish her to come. Oh I the comings and goings of a mother! There is nothing like them but the comings and goings of the wind.
Now Christ loved the wind. It reminded Him of His mother and of God. We know, and yet can hardly say how we know. But Christ was away from His home and mother, and we are. His services were out in the fields, and ours are. The wind kissed His cheeks as He preached, and it kisses ours. He wag a wanderer, and it followed Him. We, too, are wanderers, and sometimes have not where to lay our heads. But the wind wanders with us. He lived under the shadow of violent death, and the faithful wind told Him that His mother would be there when 'it' came upon Him. And we are under the shadow. It lowers so darkly that no one pretends to ignore it.
At times His sorrow took Him out of the house where He was lodging with His disciples, and led Him to some upland. There the wind came to Him without hindrance. They were alone under the stars. It caressed Him, and whispered to Him of One who would never leave Him nor forsake Him, of One who would come to Him in His hour of need even as the wind came, and as secretly and mysteriously. As He felt its touch, and listened to its voice, He was comforted. He knelt to pray, and even as He knelt the wind drew its fingers through His hair as His mother had often done when, as a child, He had knelt at her knees.
His prayer ceased, and He listened to the wind in the trees. Was it the wind, or was it the sound of angel wings? He had but to speak, and a legion of angels would be at His side. No, His strength would not fail in the hour of trial. He would be a Conqueror and not a coward on the day of battle.
'There's the wind on the heath, brother' on the heath of France. 'It bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither if goeth. It comforts like a mother, and like a mother it makes us think of God. It was a friend to Jesus, and He loved it. It came to Him in Gethsemane, and was with Him on Olivet. And the wind is still with us as it was with Him. It is here in this Gethsemane of the nations. It is here as a friend, and we love it as we love the mother who led us to God. For it speaks to us of that divine and mysterious Spirit of whom it is the earthly symbol---that Spirit who is moving secretly through the camp, appearing when and where we least expect Him, and causing men to be born again; born to a nobleness they had not dreamed of, and to an experience of spiritual exaltation to which they had been strangers. Thank God! There's a wind on this blood-stained heath, brother; and it bloweth where it listeth.
O Breath of God, breathe on us now I
And move within us while we pray.
WE have the best fed, best clothed, best paid, best washed army that ever, in the world's history, took the field. And these things will tell in the final battle,. Kitchener, like Wellington and Nelson, knew that wars are won by bread and bacon, soap and water, boots and socks, and spare money jingling in the pocket. He knew the value of physical health and comfort, cheerfulness of spirit, and the conviction that every one was having fair and generous treatment. He knew that in a long war the human factor is the chief factor, and that he was not only raising a large army, but a healthy one, a contented one, and a winning one. The Germans put their supreme trust in guns. Kitchener put his in men. And his men will speak when their guns are silent. Guns are easily made. Men are not. A happy body is the first condition for a happy mind. And Tommy has got it. Of course, there are military operations when the body is strained to its utmost, and when the weaker men break down. The marches are long, or the weather inclement. The trenches are muddy, and the dug-outs flooded. Clothing is worn out, or food cut off by the rapidity of the advance or the fire of the enemy. These hardships must come to even the best organized and the most humanely governed army. Tommy knows that, and is contented in mind, though ill at ease in body. It is in these times that Tommy is at his greatest. Our men are the most sublime when their conditions are the most sordid.
I met some of our men coming out of the trenches last week. It had been wet for days, and the trenches were in an awful state. Every man was covered with mire to his shoulders, and a kilted battalion which came out with them was a sight to make one laugh and cry at the same time. Most of the men were limping, or dragging their feet; for the trench was new and narrow, and they could not lie down to rest their legs. They were too tired to march. They simply dragged themselves along the road and threw themselves down to rest till the other companies came up. They said that the trenches had been awful, but not a soldier breathed a word of complaint against any man under the sun. They had contented minds. All that could be done to mitigate their hardships had been done, and they were satisfied.
At the head of one platoon was a young officer from Manchester. He is an exceptionally strong man, but he could hardly drag his feet after him. On other days I had marched at his side for sixteen or seventeen miles, and he had not shown the slightest sign of fatigue. When he had seen one of his men staggering under his pack and about to fall on the march, he had relieved him of his rifle and carried it himself. But on this occasion he, too, was dragging his feet, and his walk was eloquent of the hardships he had endured. We stopped for a word or two. Was he downhearted, or discontented, or beaten in spirit? His face was wreathed in smiles. I looked at the mire on his tunic. The tunic had come out of the trench, but his face seemed to have come out of a bathroom. 'You managed to get a shave,' I said. ' Yes; I was expecting visitors,' he replied, and laughed at the absurdity of the idea of receiving daintily dressed ladies in such a hole. What a glory such a man is! Can any one wonder that he was given the Military Cross in the last list of honours?
I saw the regiment on the next day. There was a smile on every face, but not a hair or speck of dirt; and every particle of trench mire had gone from their clothing and boots. Yet at night they had to return to the trenches to dig till daylight. Tommy's mind is a fine one and a contented one. How does he use it, however, in times of leisure? There are three main things he does with it. He employs it in reading, writing, and listening to gramophones. Perhaps the battalion has been in the line digging all night, but by noon they are all up and about, and have had breakfast. You see them sitting or lying about, anywhere and everywhere, under cover or with only the sky above them. Some are brushing their tunics. Others are sitting half-dressed examining the seams of their clothing for nature's waifs and strays.
Most of the other men are reading or writing. You will see scores of them sitting solitary and writing letters. If a shell sounds rather near, the lad lifts up his head for a moment, looks in the direction of the sound, and goes on with his writing. Nine out of ten of the letters are to women. They are to mothers, wives and sweethearts. A father gets one sometimes and a sister occasionally, but only a mother can compete with a sweetheart (actual or possible) or a wife. A soldier's letter is not easy to write, and the people at home must not expect much. The girls, in particular, must read between the lines. Even though he is only going to sign his name ' Jack' or ' Harry,' a lad doesn't care to speak in a letter as he would speak under ' the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale.' The letter has to be read by an officer before it can be sealed and sent. Neither can he say anything about the War. ' Mum's the word.' And as there is nothing else here, except the weather, he must be content to write about the weather. The rest of the letter he has to fill up with thanks for past parcels and hopes for future ones. If you see 'dear mother' in the middle of a letter it is a sure sign that the next word is a request for a parcel. They know that a mother would pawn her Sunday dress to be called 'dear' by her boy at the Front. They are wonderfully sly, these boys, sly as children, and they know how to talk to their mothers. 'Dear' at the beginning of a letter is a free gift, but 'dear' in the middle must be paid for. It is 'dear' in more senses than one. But the mother has not yet been born who would not gladly pay for the word to the extent of half her kingdom. Ah, these rascally boys! They will never act as anything but boys to their mothers. It doesn't pay to grow up. Mothers don't like it. Mothers will be mothers, so boys will be boys.
All the other soldiers are reading. I was passing some the other day when I noticed a new kind of grave. There were a mound and a kind of a cross bearing the words, 'A live shell buried here.' ' So you bury things alive here, and warn one another against their resurrection?' 1 said to a lad standing with a book in his hand. 'Yes,' he said, 'and there, close by, under that sack, is one laid out, and not buried. We couldn't find an undertaker.' ' Oh,' I said, glancing at his book, 'so you're studying shorthand.' 'Yes,' he said; 'one must do something to occupy one's mind.' I asked several men if they wanted anything to read. 'Oh, yes,' they said eagerly; 'have you got anything? ' 'I have just added some books to my " Little Lending Library,"' I replied, 'and you will find them in a biscuit-box hung up under the archway near the Orderly Room.' The men rushed out, and when I returned, a few minutes later, the box was empty. I have sometimes offered socks to a man and he has replied, 'We have just had new socks served out; you had better give them to some one else who needs them more.' But I have never known the offer of a book declined. The bodies of the men are infinitely better fed and clothed than their minds. It is forgotten that the man in the army of to-day is a reader and thinker.. He would infinitely prefer books to cigarettes and chocolates. He is not a child, neither is he the illiterate soldier of fifty years ago. Tommy has a mind as well as a body. There are no bookstalls here, and he cannot bring books with him because, like the snail, he has to carry on his back all he possesses, and weapons and clothing must come first.
On Saturday night I met one of my old boys from Old Ford. 'Do you remember,' he asked, 'those Saturday nights when you used to give us talks on books? I have borrowed Palgrave's Treasury of Songs and Lyrics from a chum, and I read it at nights, when the guns are going loudly, to calm my mind. It has to be a good book to do that, sir---rubbish won't do it. And bless me, when I get to Burns's poems, such as "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon," the memory of those Saturday nights all comes back to me. He'll never get the book back. I cannot part with it. I shall hold on to it till the end of the War.' There is an appetite for books, but not enough books to satisfy it. And the desire is for worthy books, books that a man can live on and die on. The Churches ought to have a 'Book Sunday' to buy books for the boys at the Front, and the Town Councils ought to send out their lending libraries.
I THINK A Student in Arms is wrong when he says that the men believe absolutely in the Christian virtues without ever connecting them in their minds with Christ. I am sure they do connect them with Christ. He is the background of all their moral and religious thinking. But a background is all-pervading rather than obtrusive and striking. The more perfect and potent the artist has made the background the less noticeable it is. We do not notice the sky much, but it is more to us than we are aware. Behind the British soldier's thinking stands Christ. Take Christ away, and he would feel as desolate and lost as if you took the sky away. He never forgets, in his heart, that there once lived on this bloodstained earth a real 'White Man.' Talk of Christ lightly, and the soldiers distrust you and say one to another, 'I hope he isn't a humbug.' But speak Christ's name quietly and sincerely, and there falls a hush over the mess-room or billet. There is no other name that has such instant and extraordinary power over a group of soldiers. Christ's name is not often mentioned, and rarely taken in vain. He seems to stand behind the soldier's life, mildly yet strongly influencing it, like some sweet mother or wife or child who has passed within the veil, and whose name is so sacred that we only speak it in high moments. When the soldiers march into the trenches to die for others, they faintly feel that they are following Christ. But they do not speak of it, because they are too humble to compare their self-sacrifice with His. It is because of this inward, half-unconscious looking to Christ that they have been so much impressed by the wayside Calvaries. I do not think there is a man in the Army who could be got, on any consideration whatever, to fire a shot at one of these wayside crosses. They represent Christ, the 'White Man,' their Man. I believe a man would have a bad time out here if he dared to say anything against Christ.
But while they connect their belief in the Christian virtues with Christ, they do not---the bulk of them---connect these virtues with the Church. Christ is a 'White Man,' but they suspect the ordinary church-going Christian of being but a white-washed man. Scratch him, and they fear the white will come off. They see the likeness in name between Christ and Christian, but not the likeness in life. They have weighed up the Church, and, in their judgment, it is found wanting. The Church must alter, or I fear it will, at the end of the War, have little attraction for the men at the Front. Christ attracts them, but not the Church, and for the simple reason that it is not sufficiently like Him, and everybody knows it and feels it.
The Church must replace Don't by Do. With the Church's present conception of religion one might almost define a Christian as a man who does not drink, does not smoke, does not swear, does not waste money, does not dance, does not go to theatres, does not work or play on Sundays, does not associate with 'doubtful characters,' does not gamble, &c., &c. He is a man who 'does not.' Now let a man take, say, the Gospel of St. Luke and read it through at a sitting, forgetting all the commentaries and all his own preconceptions, and at the end let him say if the Christianity of the churches is the Christianity of Christ. Is it as the moon to the sun, a faithful though faint reflection? Rightly or wrongly, most of the men in the Army believe it is not. Yet they are looking for the shimmering white robe of Christ, and will follow its gleam---even into the churches.
A FEW days ago an over-anxious father, writing to me about a boy in this division, said, 'I thought when he joined the Army there would be a chance of reform, but it seems to be one of the worst places in the world to bring about a reformation of character. I believe there are thousands of our young fellows now in France who never touched this cursed thing (drink) before joining the Army who to-day both drink and swear.'
Now is that the whole truth, or only one side of it? I have lived with this division (mostly London men) for over six months at the Front, and in the little villages at the back of the Front. Without using either a whitewash brush or a tar brush, I will paint Tommy as I have seen him. I am not a policeman, but a padre, and have looked for the good in men as earnestly as for the bad. Some think of Tommy as being clothed in sins of scarlet hue. Others think of him as robed in the spotless white of righteousness. But, as a matter of fact, Tommy's moral dress is neither scarlet nor white. It is khaki. I have seen the khaki turn to glistening white, but that has been in the great moments of life, when he has climbed the Mount that looks down both on the Valley of Life and the Valley of Death. Then Tommy has stood transfigured.
But his everyday dress is khaki, and it is the only one he cares for the crowds to see. Sing a song of his courage, and he drives you off the stage with ironical cheers. Speak of him as a hero, and he thinks you are 'pulling his leg,' and winks a knowing wink at his neighbour. He tells you of times when he 'got the wind up,' but never of deeds of daring. It is bad form in the Army.
The Tommy at the Front is temperate. There are about twenty thousand men in a division, and I have seen many divisions. But in my six months here I have not seen one helplessly drunk or disorderly soldier. And I have only seen four or five showing any signs of intoxication. A soldier in this regiment lost a stripe through being found intoxicated, but I did not see him. Also, on July 1, a sergeant of the Royal Engineers ran amuck with a loaded revolver, and shot a corporal who used to be a member of my church at Old Ford. I buried my comrade, but I did not see the sergeant. He is said to have been drunk, but this could only have been by stealing the rum ration. Those of us who lived through the bombardment of that day know that he may have been driven temporarily insane. The verdict of the court-martial I did not hear.
I have seen in five minutes at Euston Station more drunkenness than in six months out here. It is a crime here to sell spirits to soldiers, and a crime to buy. Officers can buy spirits in cases of a dozen bottles, but not by the glass. Tommy cannot get it at all. Whisky is seen in, I think, all officers' messes, though some officers prefer their water neat. Doctors' messes have, so far as I have observed, the most teetotallers. A non-commissioned officer is sometimes offered a glass of whisky by his officer; and the sergeants' mess is, in some companies, able to get an occasional bottle from the captain, but the practice is illegal. It is a left-handed action that must be done secretly. Tommy's meals are necessarily teetotal. The estaminets are only open to soldiers for two hours at noon and two hours in the evening, and all drinks must be consumed on the premises. The drinks available are mostly light wines, light beers, cider, grenadine, and citron. French wines and beers are lighter than English, and are the daily drink of French families. I have seen no French civilian drunk on them, and on his shilling a day the most thirsty Tommy could hardly reach intoxication through them. English beers are, however, to be obtained at the more enterprising estaminets. No doubt many men who came out as teetotallers now take French wines and beers. This does not, however, mean that they have 'gone to the dogs,' or will continue the habit in England.
Water out here is scarce and bad. No well must be used until the doctor has analysed the water. Long use has inoculated the people against its germs, and they can drink with impunity water that would kill new-comers. Even the best water needs boiling. Much of it must be chlorinated. Tommy cannot get aerated waters. Mineral waters seem unknown. The French cannot make tea. Coffee they make perfectly, but serve it without milk and in cups like thimbles. Tommy has, therefore, little choice in drinks. Also, in the little villages along the line where most of the troops are, the estaminets are the only places where the men can gather under a roof and sit at a table. At best Tommy's billet is a barn, and at worst a trench. The warmth, light, and comfort of an estaminet are not to be despised. He pays for his seat by a glass or two of liquors but slightly alcoholic. It is that, or the cold barn with chlorinated water, or the everlasting stew called tea. Even so, many choose the barn, and they were not used to barns at home.
In winter a rum ration of an eighth of a pint is issued to all the men in the trenches who care to take it. The ration is not issued as a beverage, but as a medicine. It is supposed to keep out the cold and induce sleep. It is, so far as I can gather, recommended by most of the regimental doctors. In summer the ration is dropped, except that before a battle a ration is sometimes served out.
Many people in the homeland have been alarmed by their boys' references to 'canteens.' A canteen is a good thing with a bad name. It is a shop, opened by the military authorities, where soldiers can buy groceries and other necessaries at reasonable prices. It is very seldom that a canteen sells drink, though cases of wines and spirits can be bought at some of the largest. Many canteens are run by chaplains.
To sum up: If there are fewer strict teetotallers in the Army in France than in civil life, there are also fewer drunkards. I wish our brave lads were as safe from strong drink when home on leave as they are here; and that the people of England were as sober as their soldiers at the Front.
Barrack life has a tendency to increase immorality, and after wars there is generally an increase of venereal disease. The separation of masses of men from the influence and conversation of pure women has led them into the company of evil women. In this War the separation is on a larger scale than ever. Will it be followed by the same evil effects? I think not, for there is a moral purpose in this War unknown since Cromwell's day. It is not safe to foretell the future from the past, for the foreteller is not always a seer. Often he fails to see vital spiritual differences. Two years ago the papers were full of baneful prophecies of the immoral conduct which would ensue as a result of the raising and billeting of the new armies. It was a libel on our youth. The foretellers had not realized the moral fervour which made our lads soldiers and our girls their inspirers and comrades. There is immorality in the Army, but there is also immorality in civil life. Is it greater in the Army than it would have been in civil life? I doubt it. The imminence of death is an example of influences which cut both ways. Some it makes reckless, and they say, 'Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die.' 'We are young,' they say; 'we have not lived, and yet we have to die. We may not eat the permitted fruit; let us eat the forbidden.' Others the imminence of death sobers and sanctifies, and barring the entrance to the house of sin they see an angel with a flaming sword. So it is with other deciding influences. What spurs on one man restrains another. We cannot, therefore, foretell the final gain or loss. I will therefore relate only what I have seen.
I met a youth of this division at the Field Ambulance. He was eighteen years of age, and tainted with venereal disease. He had been trained near Cambridge for several months. He came to France pure. At the Base he was in a camp three weeks. One night he got a pass into the town, and with another soldier entered a State-regulated house of vice. There were, he said, several such houses, and many soldiers frequenting them. When I met him he had just reached the Front, and as a result of his one transgression found himself unfit for duty. I have heard of other cases, but I have not been at the Base, nor in the other towns where such houses are said to exist. I can, therefore, only speak from hearsay.
Here, on the actual Front, I have come across no proved case of immorality. There is no possibility of immorality in the trenches, and in the villages where the men rest when out of the trenches I have neither seen nor heard of any misconduct. Our soldiers are friendly and respectful to the French women and girls, but there is no 'walking out' with them, and no unseemly familiarity. They have lived up to Lord Kitchener's counsel, and are popular and respected in the homes of the people. They are as well behaved here as in our own homes. They think there are no girls like English girls, and their respect for them makes them respectful to all.
Even in Shakespeare's time the soldier was 'full of strange oaths,' and his vocabulary has been handed down from generation to generation. My correspondent speaks of the Army as a place where men learn to swear, and the newspapers are constantly printing protests against the language used in the camp and on the parade ground. It is undoubtedly bad, but is it, much more so than in the mine and workshop? Much of the language complained of is not morally bad at all. It is merely a misuse of words, as when a Varsity man calls a thing 'awfully jolly.' Tommy wants to be emphatic, and having few words at command he uses such as are in fashion at the moment. His strong adjectives offend our taste, but are certainly not immoral. Nor must we confound bullying, hectoring language with blasphemy.
When we come to the real thing we find that there is comparatively little blasphemy in the New Army. You can live in a camp for days without ever hearing the words 'God' or 'Christ' taken in vain. The men neither swear by God nor call on God to curse. The word 'damn' is often used, but the men do not associate it with God. It is merely an expression of irritation, like the Yorkshire 'drat it.' We must compare the language of to-day with the language of the past to realize the new reverence for God's name which has come into the Army. The old language lingers in some of the drill instructors, but even these feel that they lack appreciative audiences. Slang and vulgarity are common, but these are matters of artistic taste rather than of morals. There is, however, one unclean word for which, an interpreter informs me, the French have no equivalent. The French are saved from it by their superior delicacy of mind. Our Tommies used it in civil life, and they use it even more in camp life. The only saving thing about the habit is that the men use the word without, as a rule, the slightest thought of its meaning. On the other hand, if they did think of its meaning, they would cease to use it, for their general conversation is not lewd. The language at the Front is not very refined, for we are not an artistic people, but we are a moral and religious people, and there is very little blasphemy in the speech of our soldiers. The excision of five or six words would make an enormous improvement.
There is a considerable amount of gambling at the Front, but not more, I think, than in civil life---perhaps not so much. It must not be forgotten that here life is in the open. There are no doors or blinds to hide vice as in civil life. No doubt many youths have been exposed to temptations they would have escaped at home, and some have yielded to them. But, on the other hand, many are infinitely stronger and nobler through their life here. They came out boys in body and soul, and they will go back men.
Alas, I have not spoken of Tommy's real morals at all, but only of four of his negative virtues, and a man might have all these and still be a thoroughly bad man, bad as a Pharisee. But who can speak adequately of his positive virtues? Think of his fine comradeship. In the fighting of this week a soldier told me that he saw a dead officer and a dead sergeant in a shell-hole, and their arms were clasped round one another's necks. Think of Tommy's courage, fortitude, cheerfulness, self-denial, generosity, honesty, loyalty, obedience, and forgiving spirit. Think of his love of duty, home, and country. I have seen our Tommies live, and suffer, and die. They are men, and I never receive a salute from one of them but I give an equally respectful one in return.
TOMMY'S IDEA OF THE CHURCHES
I REMEMBER, some years ago, knocking at a door in the East End and inviting the man who opened it to attend the services of our church. 'I shall not attend the services,' he replied bluntly; 'we do not need the church, and we are as good as the people who go to church.' It was rather rude of him, and I was inclined to put him down as having a double dose of original sin, besides much that he had acquired. The idea of thinking that the people outside the Churches were as good as the people in them! I was surprised. We have assumed that we are better. We have taken it for granted. We ought to be; but are we? My neighbour said 'No.' He knew our claim to be better, but he would not admit the claim, and regarded it as an impertinence. Now, after nine months at the Front, I have been forced to the conclusion that the average man in the Army agrees with the man in the street. It is easy to put down his lack of appreciation to sin. We can say that he savours not the things of God; that he lacks spirituality; is worldly minded; and irks putting a restraint upon his lusts.
Such an assumption is easy. It gives us a fine feeling of superiority, such as the Pharisees possessed. But the assumption is dangerous. It is in morals what arguing in a circle is in dialectics. We become the victims of our own assumptions. If we were better, would it not be obvious? Would any one deny it? Has any one ever claimed to be as good as Christ? I forget whether Mr. Bernard Shaw has or not. Probably he has, for he will claim anything to make the multitude wonder how he got his feet where his head ought to be. But, intellectual shockers apart, did ever any one claim to be 'as good as' Christ? If the average man is blinded by sin, how does he realize that Christ was good? The New Testament teaches us that Christ is the Head, and the Church His body. But the man in the Army, having looked at both, declares the Head to be of gold ---and the feet of clay. If, spiritually, he is too blind to distinguish the metal of which the feet are made, how does be manage to distinguish that the Head is 'of pure gold?' We do not get rid of his judgment of us by giving him the rejoinder of the Pharisees, 'Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?' 'The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,' and no doubt he has his share of its evil, but are not our hearts the hearts of men? And may they not be deceiving us? If we claim that God has given us a 'new heart,' is our neighbour wrong in asking for proofs? Likeness to Christ is the only acceptable proof, and, in the judgment of the outsider, whatever it is worth, we are like Christ only as clay is like gold.
It is a pity that we have claimed to be better than those outside the Churches. Are we not pitching our tents rather near the camp of the Pharisees? Does the sun need to tell us that it is brighter than the moon? It is a pity that we have even thought of our goodness. A goodness that thinks of itself is suspect. Can a man be humble and know it? Only an egotist thinks how humble he is. Goodness is like health. It never thinks of itself. The pure in heart cannot know they are pure because they do not know what impurity is. If they did they would not be pure. They only know they 'see God.' A man is as unconscious of his goodness as a rose of its perfume. In Christ's account of the Last judgment (Matt. xxv.) the only people who thought they were good were the bad people. 'Lord,' they say, 'when we saw Thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?' But the good people were astounded at the news that they had been good. 'Lord,' they asked, 'when we saw Thee an hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? When we saw Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee?'
We ought to know we are lovers of Christ as surely as we know we are lovers of our wives, but we ought not to know we are good followers of Christ any more than we ought to know we are good husbands. The wife needs to be pitied whose husband knows he is a good husband. Her heart is probably very near to breaking. The husband who is truly good doesn't know it. He thinks himself utterly unworthy of his wife, and wonders what she sees in him to love. Moral goodness had the same unconsciousness. The Pharisees thought they were good, and Christ told them they were worse than the drunkards and harlots. This was no hyperbole. We who profess to be religious ought to read at least once a month, very carefully and honestly, Matt. xxiii. And it would be much more to the point if, instead of painting the Ten Commandments over the communion table, or behind the pulpit, we were to paint there some of these terrible words of Christ. Our temptations are more subtle than those we are put on our guard against in the Ten Commandments. A man cannot drift into murder without knowing it, but he can into self-righteousness. The rich young ruler had kept the Ten Commandments from his youth up, but he was not great enough to be a Christian. He did not know it was so hard to follow Christ, and he went away sorrowful. We don't go away sorrowful; we go to church instead, and think that is being a Christian. There will be a rude awakening for some of us some day. It will not be a rude neighbour from the slums who will tell us we are no better than the people outside the Churches. It will be Christ. Had we not better, while there is time, listen to the voice of this man of the street? He is unordained, and wears no white collar or black coat. His manners are not the best, nor his language the purest, but he speaks with the sting and boldness of a prophet.
Much of the preaching of the last fifty years has been on the theory of salvation, and an unexpected thing has happened. We have, almost unconsciously, come to think that holding the correct theory of how God saves us, combined with attending the services, and living a respectable life-such as not drinking, not swearing, not gambling, and a lot of other 'nots'--is being a Christian, and doing all that is required of us. The argumentative style of St. Paul has rather overshadowed the more terrible simplicity and fiercer challenge of Christ's teaching. We have recoiled before the awful simplicity and reality of Christ's words, and have found a sort of dugout with St. Paul. We have got our texts from him, and have used them for debates about the correct and incorrect theories held by men in relation to the Atonement, the Sacraments, and the Church. No man of sense will say that theories are of no consequence, and that a man can think what he likes if only he acts rightly. Men cannot think wrongly and act rightly for long. But we have overdone the theory part, and we have forgotten that just as right thinking assists us to right acting, so right acting assists us to right thinking. 'If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine.' When Newton saw the apple fall he pondered on the law by which it fell, but he probably also picked it up and took it to the cook. There are household questions as well as cosmic questions to be solved. Theory, alone, leads to sterility. The farmer must sow as well as think. We have given to our people, and to the world, the impression that a Christian is a man who holds correct views of Christian doctrine, and abstains from evil. He is a man who thinks this and that, and does not do this and the other. We did not mean to give such an impression. It is due to wrong emphasis. We have emphasized the negative virtues rather than the positive, and right thinking rather than right acting. In other words, we have taken the line of least resistance, and sent few away sorrowful at the greatness of our demands. We are known by what we don't believe and don't do, rather than by what we do believe, and do. Is what we don't do more impressive than what we do? 'What do ye more than others?' comes the stinging question.
I was in an officers' mess some time ago, and they were discussing a new arrival. One of them said, 'He is very quiet; he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't play bridge, and doesn't swear.' 'He must be religious,' concluded another. That is it. The words were not spoken in malice. It is the conception of a Christian that we have given them. If the new officer had been described as cheerful, generous, hospitable, and brave, they would not have concluded that he must be religious. Yet which description is the more like Christ? How brave, cheerful, generous, and hospitable Christ was! He was the soul of chivalry. No virtue had been associated with the new officer that a swindler and criminal might not possess, yet he had at once been classified as a Christian. But men possessing the cardinal Christian virtues of charity, humility, joy, generosity, hospitality, hope, courage, and self-sacrifice are not classified as Christians, but merely as 'good fellows.' They are 'white men.' These 'white men' may be in the Church or out of it. There is, in the popular mind, no necessary connexion. That is the tragedy of the Church. Well may we ask, 'What is wrong with the Church?"
Chapter XIV: The Chivalrous Religion our Citizen Soldiers will require
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