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
"And here is the clock," says the n.c.o.,
And mops at his dewy brow;
"But what," says the rookie, "I want to know,
Is where do you keep the cow ?"
Ate in the afternoon of their arrival in camp, Curly and his nine companions were grouped gracefully about the steps to the hut in which they had changed from civilians to soldiers. They were admiring one another's uniforms, criticizing boots, and making remarks about the little differenees which existed between the shape of their legs.
"Not bad, taken all round," Long Mac remarked with sarcasm. "Curly is the smartest of the bunch. It's the boots that worry me. 'Take a big enough pair—you can't change 'em,' says the officer with the blue uniform. I took his advice, and I could just about swim in them."
Wat Hoe, a still, silent man, took his hat off and examined it thoughtfully. It was a bright brown felt, and the crown stood round and high, with no crease or fold in it. His eyes wandered to the hat and puggaree of a passing soldier, a veteran of the camps.
"Change you hats, mate," said Hoe.
"Don't you," replied the soldier. "That suits your make-up. You can't be a tourist without one of them hats."
After the men had passed, Hoe turned to Curly.
"Who wants to be a tourist?" he asked.
"That's what he said, and I suppose we are, sitting here and watching the passing show, like. Personally, I feel more like a mislaid umbrella that doesn't harmonise with the strange hall-stand. But we'll soon settle down, don't fret. This is going to be an interesting turn, and I'm going to be a corporal."
"That's next to a kernel, ain't it?" asked Blasty, in a loud voice.
"Not exactly, but you're one of the nuts, just the same."
"Come for a walk round," a voice interrupted. "Come and see the camp, your future temporary home."
The group brought its eyes from the dreaming distance to see a corporal standing before them. He was big in build, but not as big as the nine who eyed him calmly and in silence.page 40
"Righto," said Curly. "Come on, sons."
The nine rose obediently and joined the walking party. Curly walked with the corporal, Long Mac was at the n.c.o'c other elbow, and the remaining eight walked behind. The corporal waved a hand.
"Bunch up, there, rear rank, and I'll tell you about the camp."
They looked at Curly and he nodded. So they bunched up.
"This place," said Long Mac, as they walked past headquarters, where the staff officers' horses were being led up and down by orderlies—"this place reminds me of a show—an agricultural show. Big buildings, you know, and crowds of people."
"Seems to me like a factory," said Hoe.
"No, it's a town," corrected the corporal, "and there is the town clock."
They all stared up at the clock in the tower opposite headquarters.
"Set your watches by it. That's Trentham town time," said the n.c.o.
Solemnly they followed his advice, and then passed on to the post office.
"The sixth in importance in New Zealand," said the guide. "More letters, parcels, postal notes, and telegrams pass through that office than there does in a town like—well, like Gisborne, for instance."
"I don't believe you," said Blasty.
"I don't want you to," was the calm retort; "statistics prove it—no need for me to."
He led them into the road again and showed them the Engineers' camp of tents, arranged in neat rows, and with a garden outside the officers' tents.
"Nice cosmos, those," said Mills, who had been fond of his garden at home. "Very nice."
The A.S.C. quarters and the bakery were next observed. The n.c.o. waved his hand towards the distant hills.
"The trenches and rifle ranges are away over there. Now," as they turned from looking, "this is the Soldiers' Club. Come here of an evening and I'll pip any of you at billiards—any of you."
"Don't know about that, son," said Curly. "We'll give it a go, some day, any way."
Past the shops and along to the camp gates and guardhouse and the hospital the party went. Other tourists, similarly conducted, were being shown round, too. It was all full of interest to the new men, and the n.c.o.'s seemed to take a pleasure in explaining it. Perhaps they recalled the day when they were new men, walking in new boots and strange clothing in a land full of surprises.page 41
"It's the first two days that are hard," the corporal was telling Curly. "By the end of the second day in Massey's boots you'll want to sit down and swear. Then, all of a sudden you get over it. At the end of a week—after you've had a leave in town in your new uniform—you're just the fellow. And then you never look back."
He paused to show them the Dental Hospital and explain how soldiers were treated there.
"Like going to sleep in an armchair—till you wake up," he said facetiously, and they listened with solemn eyes, except Curly, whose eyes were always twinkling, and Laney, who always wore an air of inscrutable quietness. Back, by a side-road that led them to the shower-baths, the party went, and then the guide said he would show them something they had never seen before, the evening "dismiss."
The sunset was flooding the hills behind the camp with a purple glow; far up the valley light rain-clouds were gathering and moving from the distant mountains towards the camp. A vivid rainbow spanned from hills to hills across the valley. There was not a breath of wind, and the smoke from the camp cook-houses and incinerators rose in black and grey columns.
On the parade-ground 4000 men were drawn up in companies. The khaki mass was relieved by the red of puggarees, the healthy brown of sunburned faces, and the glint of accoutrements. Bugles sounded and the companies wheeled and turned until they were arrayed in a long line facing the camp, where the Camp Band was stationed at the end of one of the streets. As the band burst into martial music the men presented arms and remained at the "present" while the Camp Commandant rode along the lines. It was such a sight as makes the pulses beat faster. Then the band paused. The rifles, moving like parts of one vast machine, leaped to the slope, an order was given, and the band played a lively march. It seemed, then, that the companies began to perform in the intricacies of a gigantic maze. Here one wheeled to the left, another to the right; one came straight towards the road where the band played.
In a few minutes the camp was astir with marching men. On every road and in every lane they moved, no company clashing with the other. Opposite each hut platoons swerved from the ranks and were dismissed, to rush, shouting and singing, into their quarters, tossing off hats and accoutrements and hanging rifles up hastily. In ten minutes the camp was noisy with the voices of healthy, hungry men. Mess orderlies dashed away, and the smell of wholesome food in the still evening air was as balm to the dismissed soldiers.