Once when I was an enthusiastic freshman (it seems ages ago) I joined a Latin society that had for its inspiration the phrase, forsan haec olim meminisse juvabit.
All I can remember about the society is the motto, and there is nothing particularly pleasant about the recollection, either. But somehow to-night that fool phrase comes back to me and makes a pessimist of me right off. I wonder how pleasant these things are going to be and whether I will want to remember them hereafter. Perhaps I won’t have much choice. I’ll probably remember them whether I want to or not. Already my first eight hours of active service as Conscript 2989 have some sharp edges sticking out which I am likely to remember, though many of them are far from pleasant.
I am now truly a member of the army of the great unwashed and unwashable—no, I take that back. They are washable. I saw a grizzly old Sergeant herding four of them out to the washroom this evening. Each of them carried a formidable square of yellow soap and a most unhappy expression. But the Sergeant looked pleased with his detail.
Never in my wildest flights of fancy can I picture some of these men as soldiers. Slavs, Poles, Italians, Greeks, a sprinkling of Chinese and Japs—Jews with expressionless faces, and what not, are all about me. I’m in a barracks with 270 of them, and so far I’ve found a half dozen men who could speak English without an accent. Is it possible to make soldiers of these fellows? Well, if muscle and bone (principally bone) is what is wanted for material, they have got it here with a vengeance. But, then, from the looks of things they have been doing wonders and they may make creditable soldiers of them at that. Goodness knows, they may even make a soldier out of me, which would be a miracle. Here’s hoping.
I only need to glance back over the page I wrote last night to see how I felt. This conscripting must have gotten under my skin a little deeper than I thought. I’ll admit I was homesick, and I guess it made me a little testy. I think I really should tear that page out and begin over. It isn’t exactly fair, and, besides, it doesn’t fulfil the function of a diary, anyway, which, I take it, is a record of events and things—not a criticism of everybody in general and an opportunity to give vent to disagreeable feelings.
Never in my wildest flights of fancy can
I picture some of these men as soldiers
From a “close-up” view yesterday may have seemed like a trying day, but to-night it looks a lot different and a lot more interesting. I must confess that all the “good-byes,” and the bands, and the weeping mothers and sweethearts, and the handshakes, and the pompous old turtles (who dodged the draft in the Civil War or bought substitutes) who slapped you on the back and told you how they wished they were young again, along with the arrival of the “Kaiser Kanners,” who unquestionably were “kanners” of another variety, and the parade and the Home Guard and the dozen and one “Comfort Kits” that every one handed you, and the mystery of what was to come, and the scared look on every one’s face, including my own, and the vacant feeling in the pit of one’s stomach, superinduced by sandwiches and coffee, fudge, oranges and chocolates in lieu of a real meal, did get on my nerves.
Every one of them had a fiendish grin on his face
But, hang it, when I look back we got a great farewell, at that. And the local Board did things up mighty well. I find myself possessed of a razor, razor strop, wrist watch, two pocket knives, unbreakable mirror, drinking cup and a lot of other things that I never expected to own or need. I haven’t the remotest idea where many of them came from.
Then there was that long, almost never ending train ride, which seemed to be taking me on an unbearable distance from the place I really felt I belonged.
And the arrival; all I saw when I tumbled off the train were thousands of unpainted buildings and millions of fellows in khaki, and every one of them had a fiendish grin on his face as he shouted: “Oh, you rookey. Wait, just wait; you’ll get yours! When they bring on the needle. Oh, the needle.”
I had a vague idea of what the “needle” might be, but it wasn’t pleasant to hear about it from every one I met. But I guess there were a lot of fellows who were not quite certain what this threatening “needle” was. Foolishly two of them asked one of the Sergeants who met us at the train and what they heard in reply to their queries made them paler than they were before, if that were possible. Thereafter, for the rest of the afternoon and evening, the “needle” was the subject of earnest conversation among us all, and the doubts and misgivings about that instrument of torture, coupled with a thoroughly good case of homesickness on the part of every one of us helped to make a pleasant (?) evening. And that most of us worried until far into the night is certain. I know I did, and the Italian on my left cried himself to sleep, and didn’t try to hide his unhappiness either. Oh, it was a delightful evening, all things considered.
Forty-seven of us, all from my own district, came down together, and while we remained in one group there was a measure of consolation to be had for us all. But our hopes that we would stay together at camp were dashed immediately we got off the train. In fact we were so thoroughly split up that I managed to get into a squad composed entirely of foreigners, and I’m still with them. But the prospects of a change are excellent.
Quite as docile as sheep, and just as ignorant, we were marched down one camp street after another. My friends of foreign extraction, with due regard for anything that looked like a uniform, saluted every one that passed, and they were tolerably busy until we were halted outside of our present abode, a big two-story, unpainted barracks building.
Here mess kits were served to each of us, and though we did not know the combination that unlocked the mysterious looking things, we were glad to get them, because they added so much to the dozen and one things we were already carrying. Then, completely smothering us, came two tremendous horse blankets and a comforter. Those comforters were everything their name implies. Not only did they afford warmth, but amusement as well. They ranged in shades from baby blue and pink to cerise and lavender, and some one with a sense of humour must have distributed them. The stout, pudgy, black-haired Italian to my left reposes under the voluminous folds of a beautiful pink creation, and across the room sits a huge Irishman, with hands as big as hams and shoulders of a giant, with a baby blue comforter wrapped about him. Mine is a bewitching old rose. But, believe me, it’s there with the quality if it isn’t much on looks. I