“There is no glory in this war except the glory of sacrifice and friendship”

An anonymous army chaplain shared his experiences seeing off troops headed for the front line with the parishioners of Windsor.

A Draft: A Sketch. By a Chaplain to the Forces at the Front.

Mud and rain and darkness! I looked out of my hut. The station was four miles off. My bicycle was heavy. I was not sure that my lamp was in order. I had already got thoroughly wet. Should I give the train a “miss”?

There were five or six hundred men going from “my” camps. Part of my task is to see men off to the Front. Some chaplains do it, and some do not. One gives out Woodbines and Prayer-card from England, one says something. I am usually reduced to saying “Good luck,” even though I do not believe in luck.

It was very dark, and the “weather of a dog!” Nevertheless, I went, feeling a little like Sentimental Tommy.

The drafts had started half an hour ago from three camps. I had heard the cheering while I was still debating whether I would go. I could even detect, “Well, so long!” How the word “long” seems to come into everything! It was an ominous thing that the first war song spoke of the “long, long way.”

I risked the by-way and arrived before the draft. The station is a great open cobble-paved yard, intersected with rails. There are lights on high poles at intervals. There are store-sheds, and a great coffee-shop, run by English ladies. This shop is kept open day and night.

My draft had not come, but the ante-room of the coffee-shop was full of troops and kit, sent up from another base to entertain with us- I mean the aforesaid draft from three adjacent camps.

The troops in the ante-room were of many races and regiments (I wonder what the Indians think of an English padre?) The British troops were stretched out on the floor, some asleep, others playing cards.

I went to the store-shed and stuffed a haversack with Woodbines. Then, with the aid of an electric torch, I examined the footboards of the carriages and wagons to see where my men were going. Incidentally I saw a group of Guards. The Guards are some soldiers!

At length the draft swung in between the British and French sentries. They were not singing or whistling, and the mouth organs had done their part on the march down. No sound came from them but the measured tread of feet- the most inspiring of all sounds.

I walked down to meet them. One said, “Woodbines!” another, “Here comes the old padre!”- though I am not so very old.

“N—s halt!” “Right turn!” “Stand easy!” – variants of these orders were repeated several times, and the men began to talk. Some of them mentioned Blighty! What were these men in Blighty? Many of them had the refinement and easy manners of what we used to call gentlemen before the war.

It is the ambition – the burning ambition- of them all to get to the Front as quickly as possible. Even the youngster who is “fed up with the whole thing” will weep if put back from a draft. And what awaits them? There is no glory in this war except the glory of sacrifice and, on the private side, the glory of friendship. I have learned that the capacity for friendship possessed by the Elizabethans is more than matched by the Georgians of 1916. There is a wonderful spirit of friendship among the men. That is the glory of this war.
The draft found their carriages, or wagons, and crowded in. I heard no words of complaint. Some of the compartments were without light. The wagons contained forty men apiece.

I climbed up into them and gave what I had to give and said what I had to say- which last was not much. Yet it took me a full hour to get round. Occasionally I had a message or a note from a man I knew. I had been with many of these men in an English camp. One said familiarly, “Hullo H—H—,” –mentioning the name of the town where we had both sojourned. To him I was a bit of H—H—.

“Look out, sir; the train’s starting!”

I ran along, still handing our Prayer-cards and Woodbines.

“Good luck!” “So long!” “Thank you!” “See you up the line!” “Good old —!”

Another of the endless drafts gone. And what are you thinking of them in England.”

New Windsor St John the Baptist parish magazine, March 1916 (D/P149/28A/21/2)

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