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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

My First Outpost

page 16

My First Outpost.

I don't think I can be charged with egotism, when I claim that I am as game as the next man; but there have been times during my career as a soldier—yes, I said soldier—when I have—well—er—been a bit funky. Not that I'm ashamed of that fact; all of, us get scared at times. The bravest man born is invariably scared to go home and face his wife—sometimes.

However, that's beside the point. What I want to talk about is a time when I was actually scared. It was on my first outpost duty, when I was a raw recruit. I haven't ripened too well, even though it is close on three years since- I was introduced to the game of soldiering Now, abou this outpost. It was a cold, wintry night, with rain falling in torrents. I was second shift. The sergeant, a fatherly sort of chap, realising my inexperience—that word sounds better than "mug", which I undoubtedly was—tolerantly answered my many questions, loaded and put the catch over my rifle; and undertook to lay down beside my post, so as to be hardy if anything did happen. Of course, I protested against this procedure; I was all right. At the same time, I was inwardly praying that be would "carry on," No, I wasn't frightened— not nervous. It was only the cold that caused my limbs to shake; a few nils of rum would have remedied that.

My orders, on taking up post, were most explicit; there was no mistaking them. Give no quarter; the gallant Gobble-ups (of which I was a proud member) must not be caught napping. Nap was something at which they were most adept, be it in bed or at cards. When I took "post" I was a proud man. For the time being, I was the sole guardian of thousands (whoa! of my fellow countr>men; all of them game, and beggars to fight.

The seconds seemed rrinutes, the minutes hours, and the wait for relief an eternity. My eyes ached, peering into empty space; soon I began to get fancies. Visions of battalions of the enemy dashing headling toward me danced before my eyes. Cwld shivers ran down my back. What was that which crackled behind me? Merely the slumbering sergeant, rolling over and disturbing some drift wood with his boot in the act. Something directly ahead arrested my attention. It was obviously, to me, a man's form; but then, there was a glimpse of white. The enemy would surely not be so damn-fool as to leave a piece of white visible. The white momentarily fluttered: that enemy, I thought had been so indiscreet as to risk wiping his nose with a white handkerchief. I felt like doing the same myself, for the cold and rain had manufactured verv annoying, not to say inconveniencing lcicles on the outlet of my nasal organ.

The thought uppermost in my mind was, should I shoot or wait till it advanced closer; call "on it to halt, and then blow it to blazes. Then I thought of waking my friend, the sergeant; no, that wouldn't do, it might be nothing (yet. I believed it was); and probably, besides making myself look like a mug, I might lose the sergeant's much valued friendship by unnecessarily disturbing his slumbers, particularly when it meant that he would get cold and wet. No, I would prove that I possessed that initiative and resourcefulness characteristic of the Australian, even if it cost me my life.

What greater sacrifice can a man make than to be killed in action. The newspapers would (when I was dead) extol my virtues, and express the stereotyped regrets that such a promising young life had been nipped in the bud; that I had died for King and Country, duty nobly done, etc, etc. My relatives would picture my dying agonies. My published biography would divulge who were my relations—you know the stuff: "He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. So and So, brother of So and So, uncle of So and So. nephew of So and So, grand-son of So and So."

But to get back to the "plot" of my story. That object which had arrested my attention drew nearer and nearer. Suddenly a mist are se before me, my overcoat flapped furiously, my hat was blown off my head, something was pelting into my face and stinging, like short, sharp pricks with a pin. Then something hit me fair in the face with a crackling sort of a bang. I felt clammy, and rolled and fell full length over the pro-trate form pf the sergeant, who sat up, a bit dazed. Then he hurriedly groped in the sand, and the next thing I knew was, that my rifle was snatched out of my hand.

"What the blazes is the matter?" Demanded the sergeant.

I could feel throbs like a machine gun in full blast in my left breast, still I managed to mutter "Dunno!" The fatherly, pleasant-speaking sergeant then revealed his true colours.

"No, I'm damned if ] think you do. You nearly frightened tf, e life out of me, and it's a good job you didn't fire. Too damned frightened, I suppose?"

He stood up. How game, I thought, for look at the risks he took of being seen by the enemy.

"I fell . . . over the Sergeant."

"I fell . . . over the Sergeant."

Meanwhile, my eyes were stinging, and on my cheek I had a sticky feeling. I put my hand on it; it felt like a mixture of blood and sand. I had been too excited before to feel or notice blood, that was evidently oozing from my cheek. It was obviously the result of that blow that caused me to reel over and fall; yet I could feel no cut.

"What's that?" suddenly said the sergeant, at the same time indicating something white a few yards distant. We approached—he went first for non-coms, always have the privilege of the lead. He picked it up—it was a piece of newspaper. He dropped it, with the remark, "Damn it. it's all sticky; the blasted thing's all smeared with jam."

I put my hand to my cheek again; then a smeared finger to my mouth. Yes, it was jam on my cheek, all right. The truth then began to dawn on me. It was that piece of newspaper, blown by a gust of wind that had hit me, and it was sand, likewise scatteled, that had stung my face. That was why I had been rubbing my eyes. It wasn't the enemy at all. That Orderly Officer was a romancer of the highest order there was no enemy within miles and miles; and he had only been trying to "put the wind up" us, so that we would know what to do when we did get into enemy territory. You see, we were only recent arrivals from Australia. I was feeling dead game when the relief arrived, The sergeant wasn't a bad sort, and didn't tell any of my cobbers. Nor have I . . . . till now