Chapter 13

That ‘Fool’ was the Sergeant-Major

 

At an unearthly hour a bugle sounded and a coarse voice bellowed, 'Fall in on Square Four!' I was trying to hide my belongings as best I could under my mattress when a voice bawled in my ear, 'What the hell are you doing?' I tried to turn towards my tormentor asking pointedly, 'Who do you think you are. .

I got no further, for he caught me by the back collar of my jacket with one hand, preventing me from completely turning, screamed a score of angry oaths and roughly pushed me aside. There seemed to be a great silence among the men as I now spun to face the man with the dirty tongue and shouted back, 'You brute! You fool! Who...?'

My words faded and then died on my suddenly parched lips because the offender was no other than Sergeant-Major Fox, the man with the limp who advised me earlier that morning to forget the damned fools around me. He ordered me out to the square with the others.

Towards the end of the ensuing half hour exercise session of running around the square I was called into the sergeant-major's office. I was scared. I could not run away, so I summoned up my courage and marched in as smartly as I knew how and stood to attention to be told severely, 'Caseby, you are a soldier now, you must learn to obey every order without question. Failure to do so will mean punishment.'

I looked Foxy straight in the eyes and replied, 'Thank you, Sir. I now understand.'

I was a soldier, the youngest in the group and my mind was now made up to try my best. Quickly I proved to be one of the smartest at all drills on the square. I obeyed and it was well worth while. My initial irritations were over, I kept myself clean, fell into no temptations, used my money wisely on food and never even once on drink, smoking or gambling. In the latter three I was keeping my promises to my mother and my minister and so I was inwardly happy.

I did not know what lay before me: vaccination, inoculations and twenty soldiers housed in a dirty horse box, previously only thought fit for one stallion. Quick switch to the splendid new Redford Barracks in Edinburgh, where I had lots of friends and was not far from home. Real practice on eighteen-pounder guns, passing tests that added to my pay. Then came riding school tests, brand new uniform and an inspection by a high ranking officer. His remarks were mostly about horses, guns and materials. He mentioned as an afterthought that the men were first class. Questions were called for and one soldier asked, 'Why horses first, sir?'

The inquisitive gunner was given the reply that shocked us all, 'Horses cost on average 40, men are plentiful at 1/- each. Next question.'

It was the second time we had heard the cold logic of this argument that horses were more valuable than men. Even so, I still felt that the officer was half-joking. I was soon to learn better!

Another move was made to Aldershot for gunnery practice with live ammunition on Salisbury Plain and several long marches on iron rations as test periods for active service.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.