Historic Trentham, 1914-1917: The Story of a New Zealand Military Training Camp, and Some Account of the Daily Round of the Troops within Its Bounds
Curly was Kissin' the barmaid,
An the others were tellin' their sins
But they all were "mum,"
When the picket come,
An' stand-in' steady as pins.
The names of the men who were to go on leave had been posted in the hut, and those of Curly, Long Mac, and Hoe were included. The orderly-sergeant was busy making out leave passes and collecting shillings from the soldiers to pay for their tickets. Presently he dashed away to Headquarters to have the leave passes stamped and to buy railway tickets for the men of his unit who were to visit the city that night. What is really a branch booking office for the railways is established at Headquarters, and all soldiers' tickets for the troop trains are issued there. When the sergeant returned, Curly-could not help asking him if it was all right. The sergeant said it was and would continue to be if Curly did not miss the troop-train back to camp. If he did, it would mean orderly-room and C.B. Curly protested that he had only missed one troop-train in his life, to which the sergeant replied that he knew all about that, and the matter dropped.
As soon as drill was finished in the afternoon, Curly and Mae and Hoe made frantic haste to get into their uniforms with shining buttons and their clean boots and putties. Then, with the others of their company who had leave, they paraded outside the huts and were given their passes and rail tickets. An officer and n.c.o. took them to the main gates, where some hundreds of soldiers were forming a column of route at one side of the roadway. The gates were shut by the police on duty, only individuals with special passes being allowed in or out. When the column was completed, the Captain of the Day took charge of it, while officers of whose units more than twenty men were going on leave accompanied it. The gates were flung open, the order to march was given, and the light-hearted soldiers stepped out for the railway station.
The train was waiting there—a long train of seated wagons and carriages. But the men at the head of the column did not march into the first carriage they came to. They passed along the platform till the rear of the column was opposite a carriage. The order to halt was given.page 63
"Left turn!" was the next order, and then the men streamed into the carriages. In three minutes every man was on the train, the officers had entered their carriage at the rear of the train, and the guard was giving the signal to start. As the train steamed out, Curly said:
"Well, that was simple. I can't see how a fellow could miss a train, that way."
With scarcely a pause the train rushed onwards, and reached Wellington at about six o'clock. The lights were just beginning to show their golden beams in the gathering darkness, and the thrill of being free from duty and in the city at night made the three soldiers as gay as the rest.
"What about something to eat?" said Hoe.
"Just the thing," agreed Curly. "Trust the rake to show us round. Lead on, Sir Galahad!"
They were crossing the street, when Long Mac stopped, at the risk of being run over, and read aloud from an illuminated sign, "Soldiers' Club." "Look, boys, there's a club for us round the corner! Let us go there!"
The others read the sign, too.
"Sounds cheap, eh, Mac?" laughed Curly.
"Nay, it sounds decent," corrected Mac.
Dozens of men in khaki were hurrying across the road, up the rise, and round the corner, and the three followed and came to a brightly-lighted building on the doorway of which was the legend, "All Soldiers Welcome."
They entered and found themselves in a cosy hall with billiard tables, lounges, chairs, and reading matter, and a stage and piano. Leading from it was a writing-room and a bathroom where hot baths could be had. Smiling matrons and pretty girls flitted here and there, and the stream of khaki through the open door steadily increased. A little at sea in these surroundings, Curly suggested that they should sit down and watch the show. They did so, and immediately appeared before them a vision, who asked them if they did not want some tea. They sprang to attention—Hoe saluted with his wrong hand, but that was overlooked—and said,
"Come this way, then. You're new men, aren't you? At least, we've not seen you here before."
"Yes, we're just in off the grass, miss," said Curly, recovering his aplomb. "Gettin' mouthed and handled a bit, just now, and taught our paces."
"Well, you all look all right," said the vision, and fixed her eyes on Long Mac, who blushed. "Now, sit at this table and we'll look after you."page 64
When they rose to leave and make room for others who were waiting, Long Mac put a shilling on the table.
"Oh, there's nothing to pay," a lady told him. "This is all free to soldiers."
"I'd rather, if you please, ma'am," Mae said, nervously. "You see, I came because I liked to come, and not because it was cheap. It'll be a subscription, ma'am."
"Thank you," she said, as he followed Curly and Hoe, and smiled again at his quaintness and the rugged simplicity of him.
Hundreds of soldiers had their meal at this Soldiers' Club, which is controlled by Wellington ladies and financed by them and other patriotic citizens. In the kitchen, huge coppers boiled the water to make tea and coffee in quantities that, large as they were, were all too little to meet the demand. Women and girls waited upon the soldiers, and when the meal was over it took the staff of voluntary workers nearly two hours to wash up and clear away and get ready for the supper rush, which would come about ten o'clock.
As Curly and Mac and Hoe strolled along the Quay, they heard the tramp of marching feet. They stopped, and saw, on the other side of the road, the town picket coming from the railway station. As they watched, the picket halted and a corporal and three men detached themselves from it and marched to the Soldiers' Club. The remainder of the picket, consisting of a sergeant, a corporal, and ten men, under the subaltern of the day, went on their way. There was a businesslike determination about the picket's stride: it brought the camp discipline into the city streets, so far as the soldiers were concerned.
The town picket had halted again, outside the Police Station. The subaltern of the day, who was in charge of the picket, entered the station to see whether any soldiers had been taken there. All was clear, so he and his men set off smartly again, and passed along the main streets to the corner of Cuba Street and Manners Street. There he detailed them for their work of the evening. In pairs they patrolled the streets and visited hotels, restaurants, and other places to see that there were no disorderly soldiers. One hour before the troop train was due to leave for the Camp, the picket assembled. Once more they marched through the streets. With them marched a few soldiers who had needed looking after. The Red Caps, who are the town military police, were in charge at the railway station, and there were camp military police on the train. The picket's duty for the evening was finished, save that they took charge of all prisoners of that evening and carried them under escort to the camp, where the prisoners would be handed over to the Quarter Guard.page 65 page 66