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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


page 54


Through sleep's dim-lightea valley
They heard its voice afar,
And then the lance-jack's rally:
"What sleeny blokes you are !
Turn out, son, that's revally,
It aint grand onera."

The sun was rising above the hills behind the camp when a bugle called. It had scarcely ceased when another took up the call and sent it echoing softly up the valley.

"That is a pretty tune," a man in Curly's hut remarked. At that moment a lance-corporal entered the hut.

"Pretty tune! Here, that's revally! Turn out, you men! Snoring here like millionaires! Show a leg!"

The hut was all activity after that. Men, half-dressed, took washbowls, soap, and towels across to the covered washing-places, where there are rows of taps, and splashed and spluttered. Others were shaving, and a few trotted off to the bath-house to have a cold shower. At half-past six the platoons fell in and were taken for a half-hour's march, to be taught march-discipline. The new men learned in this short tramp what marching really means.

"It was the row of the boots on the gravel that surprised me. I suppose it is always like that, and a man will get used to it," said Curly at breakfast, when the men were discussing their new surroundings and work. He was right—the sound is in the ears of officers and men all the time; only the first few front files in the column, who are able to see the roadway ahead, are not obsessed by it. On the march, at every quarter-hourly halt, the leading company falls to the rear and the second one takes page 55the lead. It is much easier to march at the head of the column, and one of the reasons is that the sound of the marching column is behind the men—not ahead of them and about them, as well as behind them. The leading company misses the dust, too, and sees where it is going.

There is something irresistibly impressive in the sound of marching troops, especially at night. In the stillness the stride—stride—stride can be heard a long way off, and on night marches there are no other sounds, except the whispering of orders, which is not a sound that carries far. The column comes into hearing; louder and louder grows the beat of boots on the gravel; and then it passes away, grows fainter and fainter in the distance, and one realises that a large body of troops has passed, borne on thousands of booted feet that made the same steady stride—stride—stride that is the symbol of marching men.

It would seem strange to a civilian to be suddenly placed between two marching companies. He would think, at first, that the noise of the boots would subside presently; no doubt the men ahead of him and behind him were crossing rough metal. Then he would realise that the sound was the usual accompaniment of marching. It would fascinate him, this ceaseless, rhythmic beat that came from far ahead and could be heard far behind him, and seeming to warn all other sounds away.

"Stride—stride—stride—stride!" Never a miss in the regular beat. It would perhaps come to the civilian that he would like to stop it, if only for an instant—Would like to hear a mis-step. He would hear plenty of these among a body of new men. If he had marched behind Chinny Dew, for example, for five minutes he would have had no need to complain of monotony of sound.

The platoons fell in again at half-past eight to go on their first parade. Their platoon sergeant, a hardy-looking young n.c.o., inspected them to see that they were all properly shaved and washed and their boots cleaned.

"You must clean the heels of your boots as well as the toes," he told Lusty.

"Yes, sir," said the big man. The platoon commander had reached the last man, when the company sergeant-major, with a fine pair of lungs, shouted, "Markers !"

One man from each platoon doubled out, and the four were placed at distances of seven paces from one another. They were the right markers of each platoon. The commander handed them over to the platoon sergeant, who had a bustling way but smiling eyes.

page 56

"Fall in on your markers!" the sergeant-major with the big voice ordered. "Lively, now!"

"What, in Jerusalem, does that mean?" Long Mac muttered to Curly.

"Just line up behind those fellows at the end, that's all. Watch me!"

The ranks were formed up a pace and a-half in the rear of the markers. The company Sergeant-major bellowed,

"Attention! Right dress!"

A shuffling of feet followed—much anxious glancing along the lines of manly chests that were disguised in the loose denims. When the lines looked fairly straight and the shuffling was finished, the company sergeant-major reported to the company commander that the parade was present and correct. The company was ready to march off.

On arriving at the racecourse, the order was,

"Company markers!"

Again markers were placed and the four platoons of each company became a conglomerate body by "marching up on their markers." Reports were collected by the senior sergeant-major from the company sergeants-major and the parade was then handed over by the staff sergeant-major to the instructor in charge, the staff sergeant-major reporting,

"Parade present, sir!"

His compelling eye happened to be focussed upon Wat Hoe at the moment. That sensitive soldier began to feel that he was the parade, and a severe attack of stage-fright was only averted by the instructor rapping out,


The officers commanding companies were to march their handsome-looking bodies of men to their respective parade-grounds—an order which the O.C.C.'s acknowledged by saluting. The companies were marched up, and on their parade-grounds were broken up into squads of from twelve to fifteen men, to be taken in hand by a corporal or sergeant or sergeant-major, and the new men began to learn their drill.

The squad containing Curly and his comrades was in charge of a boyish-looking corporal who knew his drill. He had spent three months in camp before these, his trusty warriors, were sent in, so he knew more than they did or thought they did.

"The work you are going to do now is simple and elementary," he said. "Use your common sense and don't get fussed. Squad, 'shun!"

The squad " 'Shunned" rather well.

"Stand at ease!"

They drooped visibly, with their feet glued to the ground.

page 57

"We're going to do turnings, now," said the n.c.o.—"One two—like that. Attention! Right turn—one, two! That man"—singling out the Rooster—"lift your feet smartly—one, two! That's better!" From dozens of squads on the parade-ground the voices of the n.c.o's sounded. It was a clear, sunny morning, and the voices carried. One squad was learning to salute. From a distance the men looked like animated semaphores, while their n.c.o., saluting beautifully, tried to instruct them in this soldiers' art. For an hour the drill went on. Then all the squads began to pace slowly, like men on a balancing-board, across their parade-ground. Every now and then they paused, only to resume their ludicrous, slow marching.

"This gives you poise and ease in marching," an n.c.o. said. He walked up to his resting squad, talking as he did so, and with a hand on the shoulders of two men absently kicked a stone away that lay between them.

"Yes. Squad, slow march!"

The two men referred to looked relieved. They thought he was going to use them as demonstrators.

From a quarter-past ten till half-past ten there was a welcome rest and smoke-oh, during which the platoon commander gave a little lecture on discipline. Another spell of drill followed, and in the rest between eleven and a quarter past the men had to answer questions on the lecture they had heard. At noon the troops were marched off to their private parade-grounds and dismissed to their huts.

Bugles sounded the "dress for parade" at one o'clock, and the afternoon was like the morning, except that there was a lecture on the etiquette of saluting—a most important matter when a soldier is on sentry duty. Not only must he be able to distinguish officers by their stars and other emblems of rank: he must also know when to turn out the guard and whom to salute and how to do it. At first it was puzzling, and all hands were glad when companies were formed in close column of mass by the senior instructor and, preceded by the Camp Band, were marched off.

As the men scattered to their huts after being dismissed, Curly met the chief instructor, and, to his surprise, the officer stopped and spoke.

"How do you like the life, so far?" he asked.

"Oh, all right," replied Curly. "I'm quite satisfied. But my mates are quarrelling with their boots, sir."

"You feel it tiring to the feet at first," said the instructor, "but that wears off."

page 58

"Honestly I expected to get a stiffer day than this," continued Curly. "It was much easier than we expected. I like it all right, sir."

But there was one tired man in the hut, who, feeling petulant, complained about his potatoes, saying they were undercooked. It was when the officer of the day and the orderly-sergeant made their rounds from hut to hut with the question,

"Any complaints?"

"Yes, sir," said Chinny Dew—"potatoes, sir."

Word was accordingly sent to the Assistant Camp Quartermaster, and he came to the hut some time later. The senior n.c.o. called the men in the hut to attention.

"I am given to understand, men," he said, "that the potatoes you are having this evening are undercooked. "Is that so?"


"Come on, now—you are quite in order in complaining if the matter is not trivial. Which mess complained?"

There are three messes or tables in each hut. None replied.

"Was it No. 1?"

"No, sir."

"No. 2?"

"No, sir,"

"No. 3?"

"Yes, sir," a timid voice said. It was Chinny Dew, very red and nervous.

"Let me see those undercooked potatoes."

"Well, sir," said Chinny Dew, "we've eaten them. You see, they were rather large, but we managed to get them down with plenty of gravy."

When the Assistant Camp Quartermaster had gone, someone chaffed Chinny Dew about his appetite and his temper.

"If you have another day like that you will eat the crockery."

But the next day it rained, and they were given instruction in a hall regarding their rifles and equipment and work, including the proper method of putting on putties. Day after day, during the first fortnight, they progressed in their exercises and infantry work, and presently arrived at the stage when serious attention began to be paid to musketry, one half of the day being devoted to that and the other half to infantry training.