THE HAT TRICK (A Military Mystery)
To wit: At 5 p.m. instead of our being dismissed, the Sergts. were sent off to round up all hands on the Parade ground. The cooks, gardeners, bootmakers and candlestick makers, the sick, the lame, the weak-sighted, came trapesing in bewildered rows, whilst officers walked around examining the inside lining of our hats – without one word of explanation. No doubt it was an attempt to identify some man or some hat. One man suggested that it was to see whether our hats harboured any life.
Blackberries (brambles) only just beginning to fall off, have been very good; also plenty of nuts about. A large percentage of my hut-mates are inveterate gamblers and I leave them at it when I go out and find them still at it at 10 p.m. and there they sit until lights out – even then they will finish off with the aid of lucifers. J. ricked his gizzard doing physical jerks and got 2 days light duty.
[Image – NZ Artillery troops on parade, Ewshot Camp, c1918, Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association: New Zealand official negatives, National Library 1/2 014100-G]
Nocturnal ramble with my two co-dabblers to Fleet. We chatted for a time with Mr. & Mrs. Colourman Artist, who took us into their houses at the back of the shop and showed us a lot of paintings and a portfolio, always an interesting jumble.
Have I told you about the Hieland fire-eater? – a brawny old Scot with a walrus moustache, about 60 years of age. He goes to bunk early (usually with his bare feet protruding) and flies into appalling rages if disturbed; gets half out of bed with eyes blazing and “offers out” every man in the hut in the most picturesque (adjectival) Scotch. He has been all through the wars – as wild as the ocean wave is Donald.
After I got into bunk last night and noticed the moonlight shining brightly through the window, it occurred to me that it might be possible to read by it – whereat I hawked your letters out, getting through the whole lot in about half an hour. Just finished tea which we had to the accompaniment of the old Church bell chiming for the Harvest Festival, and what a glorious night for it, with the full moon peering down through the elms and limes! J & I did sketches, showing rows of pollard willows in the foreground. That is an ‘osier bed and there is a basket-making establishment there.
I made myself disliked by pushing my hat back and blundering off over hill and dale reading your letters out in the good old fresh air. By the time I had finished them, and come back to the (English) world, we were somewhere within reach of the road to Odiham. Having glutted ourselves with art, the inner man began to assert himself, so we bethought ourselves where might be the nearest refectory and lo! Mrs. Crondall’s was it, so “Here we are, here we are, here we are again!”.
[Sketch by Lincoln Lee, Osier bed, September 1917]
In the afternoon to the famous Waverley Abbey. The last half mile was unutterably beautiful, a river, ponds, weirs, lovely lodges covered with glowing virginia creeper and ivy, and all enclosed by great masses of towering trees, some still green, others with the autumn tints in full swing. The ruins of the old Abbey, once one of the largest in England which dates to the 11th century, were typical, but the grounds and woods, avenues, streams and lakes which are around and about it, are, to my mind, its chief attraction. We had a talk with the matron of the present building, now a hospital, who was very pleasant and interested in our sketching.
[Waverely Abbey Military Hospital, image from here]
We three daublers made off after tea and effected what purported to be sunset effects in water-colour. We walked to Fleet and visited our now well-known colour-shop. Finished our Fleet episode by a repetition of that plebeianism, fish and chips from newspaper bags in the tell-tale moonshine.
Jull got the tip that if a limited number applied for leave to Aldershot they would get it, so we acquired passes. Of course we didn’t go to Aldershot at all, but went off sketching.
I have been trying to remember some ludicrous mispronunciations by the men last night, one was Robing Hood, another was rhetoric used, very pompously, i.e., a certain play was very rhetoric. The man addressed asked: How the blanket he could be expected to know the meaning of that? There is a half-Italian here named Romano, but all the Sergeants call his name out as Romeo. Another’s name is Sugrue, which gets much mauling, the latest being Sorgee. Satterthwaite baffles them all.