The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
A Night Trek
A Night Trek.
Boot and saddle! See the slanting
Rays begin to fall,
Flinging lights and colours flaunting
Through the shadows tall.
Behind the men are their saddles and gear, thrown down when the horses were off-saddled not an hour ago. The horses are picketed near by, and have their heads in the depths of the now empty feed-bags—for three pounds of grain without tibbin is a scant meal for the horse that goes a-stunt-ing. One of them paws the bag with his forefeet, another tosses his head high in the air in an endeavour to get the last stray grains of barley in crease and fold, and then they stand still until their owners take off the feed-bags. One lad pats his nag on the neck, fondles its ears, and tickles the soft muzzle; and he lays his face against the horse's cheek and whispers that he is sorry the grain issue is meagre.
"Never mind, old girl," he says, "we'll all have a big feed when the rations come—here are the wagons now.
The wagons draw in, and the quartermaster takes charge. He doles out the boxes of bully, the tins of biscuit, the tea and the sugar, and divides the forage into heaps to be lifted by their respective troops.
"It's a big issue, Cookeyl" says someone.
"Big issue be blowed! There's two days' rations here, and an emergency ration to replace that iron ration we used yesterday."
"Ah! another night march for us."
"Look slippy," Cookey breaks in, "and get these rations and that grain issued."
"Hey, Bill! Bring up our feed-bags and the sand-bag for the biscuits—the rations are here—and wake up the rest of the push."
The sergeant comes along from the direct-ion of Headquarters in a hurry, denoting that he is worried about the situation. Everybody anticipates the order, and is prepared to receive it calmly.
"Get ready to move off in half an hour!"
The men around the now dead fire arise from the litter of empty bully tins, throw out the tea leaves from their fire blackened fruit cans which serve as billies, and take the feed-bags off their horses. Some busy themselves with their saddles, and tighten up the buckles which have loosened during the afternoon trek, and others draw the rations—three days te is in those bulging bags that they take along to their saddles. There is no hurry—no excitement.
The saddle blanket is shaken and refolded, and placed on the horse's back—brave back that has had but little freedom from
the saddle these ten days. Over that goes the sleeping blanket (old comrade, it will ease the load for you), and the saddle is lifted on. How heavy is the sadule! As the girths are tightened the horse looks around bravely, but the reproach is in his eyes. How noble is this true friend that will plod gamely on, mile after mile, without feed and without water. Put an arm around his neck and whisper that there are green fields ahead, and granaries, and streams of sparkling water to quench his burning thirst,
The order rings across the little hollow and echoes back from the ridge. There is a final tightening of girths, lifles are slung over shoulders, equipment rattles as the men swing into the saddle, harness creaks and stirrups jingle, and the column moves out through the long shadows of the hills.
The horses are fresh after their brief afternoon halt and are restless for a time, tossing their heads often and pranoing at times, but soon they settle down to the long, easy walk which eats up the miles, and sees them over hill and plain, through sandy desert and stony wadi-bed, until the moon pales and the first flush of dawn tints the eastern sky. For an hour—mayhap two hours—after the column starts, the twilight stands them in good stead, but then comes the black night in close pursuit of the glowing sunset; soon its dark pall has covered the last rosy gleam of day, and the horsemen become but blurred shapes, sinister and tremendous in the gloom. The jewels of Orion burn steadily in their belt, the lone North Star gleams inscrutably through the darkness, and the glowing constellation of the friendly Bear is there for a guiding light. A golden glow diffuses the eastern sky, and the moon—a day past fullness—mounts with majesty into the melting blackness to pale the stars. Ah, false moon! You rise in a beautiful world full of promise, but how soon you change to aloofness with your silvern light. You are jealous of the little stars and their very kindness. Are they not as pure as you, with all your white array?
Hour after hour passes, mile after mile slips by, and the first halt is called. The men tumble off their saddles, drop the reins on the ground, and lie down to sleep in an instant. The horses stand by with heads and necks drooped dejectedly, for they, too, are tired and glad to rest awhile; and then they go questing amongst the slunted scrub of the wayside for sweet grasses to allay their hunger.
For ten minutes men and horses rest, then the order to mount is passed quietly down the line. The men are alert in a moment —as they fall into slumber so do they awake from it—and spring quickly up to find their horses, and with rattling and shuffling and clinking, they are ready for the road again. There is quiet talk as they find their places in the sections, and an occasional muffled exclamation from one of them as his rifle becomes tangled in the saddle gear as hemounts, or his water-bottle gets out of place beneath his greatcoat as he swings himself into the saddle.
On the march there is little talk; each man is occupied with the burden of his own throughts. Perhaps he thinks of home and of those who wait for him, of the old days in city or bush, of the sunlight and trees of Australia, of the armies who followed this road he is on, of the moon and of biscuits, and of the pipe or cigarettes he may not touch until dawn. He watches towards the east for the first signs of the new dav, sees the false dawn in the sky, and feels again for his beloved pipe. His thoughts ever return to the fragrancifs and peace of tobacco. If he could only smoke, how pleasant all things would become; this fatigue would vanish with the smoke of the fnchanted weed. At last it is day. and down the line comes the magic permission, "Men may smoke." There is a sigh of relief as pipes are brought out, and fags are lit. With the first few puffs tongues are loosened and cheery talk is flung back and forth from rider to rider. The night is forgotten, and the new day brings new life in its train.