The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Night Stunt
The Night Stunt.
The night stunt is the biggest fly in the Light Horseman's ointment and the event that calls for and receives the richest metaphor. Perhaps one's unit is settling down nicely for a spell, and the trustful trooper erects his humble cot with cheerfulness. He looks forward to a few good nights' rest. He makes things comfy within his bivvy and prepares for the evening. Like a great illusionist, he produces a battered stump of candle from the last place one would expect candles to be; or maybe he manufactures that handy illuminant, the slush-lamp. If he is lucky enough to escape the manifold duties associated with making camp, he lights his candle or lamp when it grows dark, and turns in.
The inevitable issue cigarette comes to light and he settles down to contemplation, through the blue and curling smoke. If nothing locally is exciting, his thoughts invariably turn to the land of Golden Wattle and he reviews all that is dear to him there. Perhaps he wonders when the next mail will be in, and what it is likely to bring him—he is a very optimistic soul in this direction, always hoping for the best. With the last quarter-inch of his cigarette reminding him it has done it's duty faithfully and well, he tosses it away, and blowing out his light, soon succumbs to the blandishments of Morpheus. Perhaps he has got nicely to sleep when the dread cry shatters his rest: "Saddle up everywhere." He starts up and listens for confirmation of the cry. Yes, there it is. 'Turn out. Saddle up everywhere".
With a groan and a curse he kicks off his blanket and hastily drags on his boots and leggings—his spurs are invarialy connected with his boots—then drags his belongings outside; a few sharp tugs at the bivvy pegs lays his mansion flat. In less than two minutes he has it all strapped on his saddle, which he gathers up in his arms and then struggles to the horse lines. It is no easy job to find one's horse in the dark; but more by instinct than anything else he does find it, and then comes a rare opportunity for that animal to exhibit his diplomacy, if he as much as looks sideways at the wrong moment things are likely to happen. As a rule the steed is used to this sort of thing, and so the saddle gets on somehow, likewise such other necessities as bivvy poles, water bucket, nose-bags, etc., etc. till the mount looks a very creditable imitation of a Christmas tree.
The ever active Sergt.-Major cajoles the unit to take some semblance of formation, and out into the night ride a crowd with very pessimistic tendencies. All are usually very sleepy, with tempers hanging on a half-ounce trigger pressure. One of the surest misadventures to bring forth a geyser of wrathful biographical matter from the chap ahead, is to ride upon the heels of his horse; that long suffering animal will usually protest, on his own initiative, with a lightning kick and the careless one acquaints the owner, that his horse isn't to be trusted.
At each halt, as "Dismount; spell for ten minutes" is given, one tumbles from his horse and assumes the prone position, linking his arm through the reins and thrusting his hand in his pocket, thus effectively anchoring his steed and preventing him from wandering off without his owner's permission.
There is only tenminutes of this halt; but one tries to pass nine minutes fifty seconds of it in sleep. Some lucky chaps can sleep as they ride along; but others, like the writer, sway ominously for a few seconds, then wake up, or tumble off. Of course you wake up then too.
If the unit is in the vicinity of the enemy, one is not allowed to smoke and that, with not being able to boil-up, adds still a few more creases to the already wrinkled brow. Whatever the objective is, the dawn is always welcome, it means one can smoke, it means one can boil the tea-billy, if there is time, and it means that one can look around and see, in a manner, what is doing. The average Billjim is a keen liver of the present moment, and hates to be in the dark when it is daylight.
Maybe the end of the night ride means a fight, then, despite the fatigue of the journey, he puts up a very decent performance and forgets all about the nasty things he thought during the night. As has often happened, he is quite prepared to ride out one night, do battle all day and ride back the next night, if he thinks there is a rest at the other end and he can get back some lost sleep.
Like the night itself, the night stunt must come to an end, and when does it the hopeful trooper re-erects his temporary home to the accompaniment of a cheerful solo with more or less attention to harmony.