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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

Follow the Drums

page 25

Follow the Drums

Theirs is the measure that spurs men on,
Rolling gaily, or, hoarse and hollow,
Bids them go where our best have gone,
Theirs are the voices the true men follow.
Theirs is the call to our hearts that comes:
"Follow the Drums!
Follow the Drums!"

It was a hot forenoon. The Camp railway station shimmered in the heat-rays, and the score of bandsmen who waited looked tired. Daring four consecutive days they had met every draft of new men and Played them into Camp. It was the welcome that is offered to those who have given up everything to follow the drums; and it was a hearty welcome—one that caused the train-weary men to smarten up and march in with swing and dash. But it was liable to make the bandsmen rather tired, for Trentham Camp Band is busy at any time. They were waiting, now, for the last draft, which included some stragglers who had fallen out by the way on their journeys from remote places.

Presently the train came in and paused, in the breathless way that expresses have when ordered to pull up at a station that is not on their schedule. The soldiers in mufti tumbled out, being urged to haste in getting themselves and luggage on to the platform. The train drew out again and left the newcomers in the limelight. Among them was a party of ten stragglers who had no luggage and no hats. Nine of them were huge, powerful-looking men, who appeared to be rather nonplussed by the situation.

"What now, Curly?" they said, addressing the tenth man, who was a short, dark, curly-headed man with a bright eye and a smile.

"This way, boys," said Curly, leading the way towards the first lieutenant who was superintending the detraining of the draft.

He halted and saluted, and his comrades copied his manner carefully. The officer said,

"Where are your hats?"

"We've lost them, sir," the spokesman said, "and our luggage, and jolly near lost ourselves."

"What happened?"

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The dark man glanced at his comrades, as though to make certain that they were not leaving him in the lurch—behind his back, as it were—and replied,

"Well, sir, we're from Gisborne. Got on the train at Napier, and all goes well till we gets to Waipuk. Know Waipukurau, sir?"

The lieutenant nodded.

"Well, in we steams into Waipuk. And there's old Jimmy Mason. Know—of course you wouldn't!

"'Hullo, old sons!' says Jimmy. 'Come out and have a spot.'

"Well, seeing it was Jimmy, out we hops, leaving all our dunnage in the train.

"'Here's plenty of Germans!' says Jimmy, to cut it short, sir, and just as we tastes it, whoop! goes the engine-whistle. We're out like redshanks after her. But it's no use. The guard waves his hand to us in farewell. Back we goes to talk it over, and bless me, if somebody hadn't drunk our beer! So there we are, sir—lost our passage, lost our luggage, lost our hats, and lost our beer!"

His silent comrades were moved to expressions of assent to this tale of culminating disaster. Curly watched the officer's face with anxious eyes. For all his cheeriness, he had a vague idea that he and the nine giants with him were liable to be shot at dawn as deserters. But the officer's smile was friendly.

"You will find your luggage in camp," he told them, "and your hats, too. But there'll be no beer."

"Oh, that, sir," said Curly, "that was only a circumstance—one of them, though, that alters cases."

"Fall in with the others. Here, sergeant, take these men. You will be all right in camp," was the officer's dismissal. The baud was waiting at the end of the platform—waiting for the budding soldiers. After a few awkward attempts the new men succeeded in forming fours and marched along to the band, which was executing what, to the civilian eye, looked like a quadrille. Even in his drill the bandsman is picturesque.

"Quick march!" the order came.

Boom—boom—boom! The big drum made the air quiver. The band struck up that tune which no one ever seems to remember the name of—the tune that lifts men along and puts a skirl into their blood. The new soldiers held their heads high, and the little dark man called Curly, in his efforts to hold his chin as high as the others, trod the earth like an emperor.

page 27

Through the camp gates they passed, where the white-belted police stood and the sentries paced on their beats. There was an awakening of interest at the sight of the men who had just joined the colours.

"Hold up your head!" a veteran of six weeks called out to Curly.

"Are we downhearted ?" chanted a group at the corner, as the procession turned into a side street.

"NO!" was the answer roared by lusty lungs, and they went gaily on their way behind the band. Cheers greeted them from doorsteps where men of the senior draft in camp lounged with blase superiority. They were only waiting for their ship, to be off to the war. These new ones were interesting specimens. They deserved to be bucked up and given a hearty welcome.

"Hurray! Hurray!" roared the veterans.

"Hurray yourselves," replied Curly, in high good humour. "Tell the Bosches the Umty-eighths are coming."

Outside one of the large camp halls the band halted. The column gradually stopped without running right over the band, and stood and waited for further orders. Presently the men were manceuvred into the building and told to strip for medical examination. They had already been examined at the time of enlistment, and the camp examination was only a superficial one, for the weeding-out of men who were palpably unfit. In the draft of that day all passed the test and were marched away on another stage of their journey of initiation as soldiers. Led by their n.c.o., who was beginning to feel proud of them, they swung along to headquarters and were paraded beside the flagstaff, under the blue ensign that flies there from Reveille till Retreat.

So far their names had not been mentioned. To the medical officers who examined them they were merely men who were becoming soldiers. Unless they found one who must be sent out again, they did not bother about names. But it was to be different now. A sergeant-major with a pile of papers approached and began to read out the names which appeared on the papers. These were the enrolment and attestation papers of each man. As his name was called the recruit answered and stepped forward to be given his papers. Then the draft was marched away in its component units, to be dealt with by the Records Department.