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The Pipes of War
The Pipes. By Edmund Candler


ON Christmas night the pipers came into the mess. They had piped the regiment across many a hot place in France and escorted bombing parties down many a German trench. In one action four out of the eight were hit and two killed. They touch a chord deep down somewhere which no doubt has its proper scientific name. The eye of the piper which conceals his gladness, denying all rapture, is a key to the undemonstrative temper of the men who would rather die than throw up their bonnets and shout.
A subaltern of nineteen years put the case for the pipes to me in his own eloquent slang.

"Of course I get cold feet sometimes" he said, "like everyone else. But the pipes soon warm one. MacFarlane, the Company Piper, piped us across on the 25th, the regimental slogan, you know. By Jove, it was top- hole."

We called him the Chicken. Being bigger in the beam than in the shoulders and having a slightly forward stoop he looked in his kilt like a preternaturally large nestling just emerged from the egg, To see him walking reminded one of a determined young chicken. He had an assurance unnatural in the new-born which set off his callowness and puzzled one. It was not side. To hear him talk made one smile. You would think he had plumbed experience and was already convinced about the main issues of life, celibacy or marriage, the rights and wrongs of Demos, peace and war, and the like. One smiled in sympathy, not in derision, accepting the indisputable explanation that the Chicken had had special privileges in the egg. And one thanked the war for an ingenuousness of speech, the bloom of which would have been rubbed off in a week of peace-time conditions in a mess.

"MacFarlane was killed with a bombing party," the subaltern went on. They let hell loose,—all their machine guns, rifle grenades, trench mortars, and every rifle thirty rounds at least. Our fellows came in half an hour afterwards, having been snug in a shell-hope through the whole show. Only two of our men were hit—by a trench mortar. One was MacFarlane. It was a horrid sight—made me feel a bit green. Nothing was left of them, and you couldn't tell who they were save by their identity discs. I put a sentry by the traverse on both sides and gave orders that no one was to pass. It wouldn't have done for these young recruits to see the mess," this pink- faced subaltern of nineteen explained with paternal solicitude.

His tenderness for the recruits amused me, for the absence of down on his chin made the Chicken look younger than his years. But I marvelled more at the complacency with which he found himself in command. He spoke of his blooded veterans—Perthshires, if you please, the salt of the British Army, as if he were a huntsman holding them in the leash ; yet it was only in spirit that he had attained to man's estate. One phrase struck me. He was describing the capture of Hun murderers, or if not actual murderers the comrades and accomplices of murderers, men whom his Highlanders wanted to kill.

They were all holding up their hands," the boy told me," and trembling with funk and holding out pictures of their Fraus and kids, and calling out Don't shoot, Kamarade! Don't shoot!' and my men wanted to shoot them. The Perthshires had been out for blood since the 9th of May when the Huns had burnt their wounded comrades, shooting them with petrol bullets so that their clothes burst into flame and they died in agony, and men who couldn't stick the sight of it any longer crept out of their trenches, in spite of orders, to drag them in and were burnt alive too. That day my company swore that they would take no more Prussian prisoners, and now word had been passed round by the Brigade, 'The 15th Prussians are in front of you, who burnt the men of your regiment. You will know how to behave.' My men wanted to shoot them all down, make the place a shambles; but, of course, I wouldn't have it. I told them they had to take the men prisoners."

"Did they obey you? " I asked.

The Nestling looked at me in surprise as if I were a very ignorant person. "Obey They knew very well that the first man who fired I'd blow out his brains with my revolver."

After all, the Chicken's assurance was a compliment to the regiment, where discipline is an elemental fact. And it spoke well for the boy too, that he realized what admission into that Kingdom, or corporation, meant, —all self and chickenhood being merged in the subaltern of the Perthshires, whose powers were as natural and inalienable as the properties of carbon or oxygen.

Yet this callow youth on whom authority sat so lightly spurned his profession. It appeared that he had ambitions. He scoffed at the idea of sticking in the army after the war. He wanted "to do something," he said. I could not understand how he could resist the glamour of it all. His Colonel thought well of him and he knew it. The O.C., a reserved man, and sparing of praise, had been talking to me about the Chicken before dinner he told me that the boy had the right spirit and no fear in him. " I sent him on a patrol," he said, a day or two after he arrived at the front, to a building between the lines which was supposed to be occupied by Germans. My orders were, Find out if the house is held. Find out for yourself, remember, and don't take your men's word for it. They'll always see Germans, especially on a wet night when they want to be snug in the trenches.'

The Subaltern had the sight of an owl, but he was determined not to come back until he had seen Germans. So far he had seen none, having arrived at the trenches straight from Winchester, where he held a commission in the O.T.C. and had just won a scholarship for New College. He swore he would see Germans that night or promenade the empty house between the lines.

A slip of a moon showed above the clouds and the rain ceased when they were within fifty yards of the building. The Corporal touched the Subaltern's sleeve and said, "They're there, Sir. I can see about a dozen of them."

"Where? I don't see."

"Straight ahead, Sir, by the wall."

The Chicken approached nearer. Within forty—thirty yards. The Corporal warned him again in a throaty whisper:-­ "There's 'arf a company, Sir, lining the side of the house. We're almost agin them."

Still the Chicken could not see. Be gave the order to move forward.

At fifteen yards the Germans opened fire. A quick volley. The patrol threw themselves flat. Luckily they were concealed in a slight depression, and in a few seconds the moon went under a dark cloud.

The Subaltern whispered the order to return the enemy's fire, and his four men blazed away into the shadow under the house. The Germans replied vigorously by a miracle none of the little party were hit. Then the Huns turned the machine gun on to them from somewhere farther back. The Subaltern heard the spray of bullets coming nearer, spattering the earth, searching every inch of soil, passing with a thirsty sucking noise overhead. He was the most exposed of his party, but he felt for the body of the dead man he had stumbled against, and drew it into a close embrace. The current of lead passed an inch over them where they lay interlaced, the live man clinging for life to the dead. The fire dropped. The body received a bullet and shook as if it were wrestling with him. It's head butted his own. A faint smell of cigar fume clung to its moustache. The boy had let the situation go for a moment, and was wondering, with a detachment at which he was surprised, whether all Germans smoked Havanas in the trenches, when a new kind of explosion added to the din. It was "A" Company's patrol bombing the house. The little scouting party received their first casualty from them. The man behind the Chicken uttered a cry of pain. A splinter from a bomb had taken away part of his right ear.

This extended attack was too much for the Huns, who thought the whole line was advancing and decamped. The moon peeped out again as they were going off, and the Subaltern, Corporal and the two men accounted for at least half a dozen of them. These dark figures which rolled up like rabbits were the first Germans the Chicken had seen.

The Subaltern entered the house with the two privates and sent the Corporal back to tell the Colonel that we were in possession. He had taken a rather important Observation Post marked 2.22 on the map.

I had some of the story from the boy and some from the Colonel, but I will let the boy finish it.

The next day we had some burying," he said. " From the new post we could send out patrols to bring in our fellows who had been knocked out on the 12th. You won't mind me talking about things which make you feel a bit squeamish, will you, Sir?"—the boy called everybody above the age of forty "Sir "-"Tell me to shut up if it is too beastly but, you see, most of these bodies had been out for six weeks and were more or less decomposed. We dug a shallow trench towards them, threw out a hook on a bit of rope and drew them in. We had to find their identification discs. It was not a pleasant business taking off a man's shirt and not always easy, and my Corporal being sick every minute didn't help things either. I generally went for their pockets for letters ; that was easier, but .omit here some details which are too unpleasant to print. "The Corporal with his weak stomach was a bit of a nuisance, especially at night, for if the Germans heard him they would send up a flare."

Then he told me about a frontal attack at Loos. The Chicken had seen and suffered more and lived more in six months in France, and done more for England than I had in two score odd years. He was clearly a born soldier. He was happy in the regiment and quite one of them —one of the new incarnation at least who approximate in some ways to the old. I could not see what more he desired.

"You really think of throwing up the army after the war?" I asked. The Chicken turned on me the wistful smile that talk of "after the war" evoked among the sanguine at the time. "In war time of course everybody has got to be a soldier," he said, "but in peace time—no thank you!"

"But what are you going to do?"

"Anything, but inspect meat and tunic buttons. Something that counts. I suppose I shall go into the Bar or Parliament."

I would have asked him if he really thought these talking shops counted more than the Perthshircs; but the pipes were coming in again and they were playing the regimental slogan. It gave one the most extraordinary feeling in the pit of one's stomach and all down one's back.

"I'm not sure, though," the boy said ingenuously when they had gone out, "I may stick to the regiment on the chance of another show."

I understood, I had passed through the two moods myself in a long route march when the pipes took over charge from the brass band.


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