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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

One In a 1000

page 32

One In a 1000

"How did you feel as we passed the gate?
Did you think of your bairns and wife?"
"I felt I was one in a thousand, mate,
For the first time in my life."

On the day preceding the entry of Curly and his friends, Trentham was a busy place. A thousand men went into camp on that day—the busiest one of the week. They were medically examined, put through the records, allotted to their units, and supplied by the Camp Quartermaster's staff with knives, forks, plates, and pannikins, and then given a good meal of hot meat, vegetables, tea, bread and butter, and jam. Afterwards they were marched to the issue store, which was the busiest spot in the busiest department in the busy camp. The Camp Quartermaster knew they were coming, of course. Like everyone else in authority in camp, he had been making preparations for days, and the machinery of the issue store was oiled and ready. It is not really machinery, though the swift, smooth way in which the work is done suggests the simile. There is a strong human side to the issue store, as there is throughout the camp. The new soldier is strange and nervous and excited on his first day. It is a new and, to some, an upsetting experience. Nowhere is this more noticeable than at the issue store, where the soldiers receive their outfits of clothing. The greatest "grouser" in the ranks was excited when he received his first issue of soldiers' clothes.

On that busy day, not only were raw troops coming in; trained troops were awaiting embarkation overseas; it was the last of these who chaffed page 33Curly when marching in. And the work attached to troops departing was as heavy as that of welcoming the incoming soldiers. Curly found that out for himself later on when he embarked.

Draft after draft of new men were marched up to the two doorways, that are sheltered by a wide verandah. They were in fours, and four men entered at a time. Before doing so they were told to unlace both boots and to remember the sizes they took in boots and hats.

"Be sure to get well-fitting boots, and take care of your kit when yon get it," they were told.

"I don't remember the size of my hat," a facetious youth said, "but I take fifteens in collars."

"But they don't issue dog-collars here," a quiet-voiced corporal replied.

"Don't get bustled—take your time, but be quick," was the advice given to the first file.

The four men marched into the store. Two followed an orderly down a passage that was stacked with clothing; the other two were taken in hand by another orderly and bade to choose an overcoat. One of them made a choice in ten seconds—it was a happy coincidence in sizes. The other was not so rapid. Hats came next, and then boots. Then they moved on to select denim suits.

"A soldier's feet and head require careful fitting," said the Quartermaster; "they are both inclined to swell at times."

With spare hat jammed on top of his old one, overcoat on, and boots and denims in his hands, the soldier returned to the table where an n.c.o. had the new man's issue card before him. On the floor lay the rest of the issue, neatly laid out on the soldier's oil sheet.

"Keep your eye on your kit," an n.c.o. warned the man. Then the Quartermaster-Sergeant read out:—

"One greatcoat—one hat—one palliasse—one kit-bag—three blankets—one pair boots—two drawers—two shirts—two undershirts—one suit denims—three pairs socks—one jersey—one knife—fork—spoon—one plate—mug—two towels—one waterproof sheet—sign here!"

During this breathless sentence the new soldier listened attentively and with a rather puzzled expression on his face. He was trying to follow the inventory. His anxiety would have been lessened had he remembered that his corporal was standing beside the orderlies who made up the bundle in the waterproof sheet. The eagle eye of this n.c.o. never left the articles as they were deftly placed on the waterproof sheet. If an item had been missing he would have raised a protest, for his orders were to keep silent page 34unless he saw a mistake being made. Very rarely has an n.c.o. in this position to raise his voice, mistakes being exceedingly few.

The recruit stepped forward and signed his issue card, upon which the items had been entered before the list was read out. Then he was led outside, staggering under his load. With dozens of others he spread his issue out on the ground and ran over the items. Other n.c.o's assisted the new men to take stock, after which everything that could be so disposed of was crammed into the white kit-bag. Over the men's shoulders were hung such trifles as boots, and, having fallen in when this was done, the men were taken away, in squads of about twenty, to their huts, where they would get into their soldier's garb and realise that the plunge into military life had been made.

Led by their smart corporal, a squad tramped away with shouldered burdens. As they passed a cook-house the cooks indulged in humorous remarks.

"What time would you like to be called in the morning, sir?" they Cried. "How do you like your eggs boiled?"

A civilian who was not a recruit came in for it, too.

"Why, there's a gentleman without his portmanteau," a cook shouted. "Shall we send a hansom for it, sir?"

"Left! Left!" the corporal said, as though to show his disdain of frivolity. A cook sent a parting shot:

"Don't forget to put your boots out, boys. Number nines, I take."

Long after the bulk of the recruits were in bunk that night the camp remained busy. "Lights out" had sounded long since ere the tired staff was able to follow that sound, soldierly advice.