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A First World War Soldier

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"Please give us a drop of Johnnie Walker before you do my dressing," said my Irish sergeant, who had lost his leg in the fight at Kangata. Lest you might think that by "Johnnie Walker" he asked for his favourite brand of whiskey, I may tell you that we had no stimulant of that kind with us. It was chloroform he wanted to dull the pain that dressing his severed nerves entailed. Always full of cheer and blarney, he kept our ward alive, only when the time for daily dressing came round did his countenance fall. Then anxious eyes begged for ease from pain. But this once over, he laid his tired dirty face upon the embroidered pillow and jested of all the things the careful German housewife would say could she but see her embroidered sheets and the blue silk cushion from her drawing-room that kept his amputated leg from jars. We had no water to wash the men, barely enough for cooking and for surgical dressings, but there were silk bedspreads and eiderdown quilts and all the treasures of German sitting-rooms. And the fact that they were taken from the Germans was balm to these wounded men.

There was Murray, a regimental sergeant-major, his leg badly broken by the lead slug from a German Askari's rifle, ever the fore-most at the padre's services, chanting the responses and leading all the hymns. And Wehmeyer, the young Boer, who had accidentally blown a great hole through his leg above the ankle joint. And Green, the Rhodesian sergeant who had been brought in, almost in extremis, with blackwater. Nor was his condition improved by the experience of having been blown up in the ambulance by a land mine, hidden in the thick dust of the road. Thrown into the air by the force of the explosion, the car had turned over on him and the driver, who was killed. And there was Becker the blue-eyed German prisoner with a bullet through his femoral artery and his hip. Blanched from loss of blood before I could tie the vessel and stanch the bleeding, his leg suspended in our improvised splints, and on his way to make a splendid recovery. And Taube, another German prisoner, shot through the abdomen, and recovering after his operation. Gentle and conciliatory, with eyes of a frightened rabbit, he was the son of the great Taube, the physiologist of Dresden.

Cheek by jowl, in the best bed, was Zahn, the hated Ober-Leutenant, loathed by his own men, one of whom wrote in his diary that he loved to see the bombardment of Tanga, "for Zahn was there, the ----, and I hope he'll meet a 12-inch shell." Jealous of his officer's prerogative, and disinclined to be nursed in the same ward with our soldiers and his own, he gave a lot of trouble, demanding inordinately, victimising our orderly, unashamedly selfish. But he was sheltered from my wrath by the grave gunshot wound of his thigh. Cowardly under suffering, he was in striking contrast to Becker, who stood graver pain with hardly a flinch. After a great struggle he was eventually moved to Korogwe to the stationary hospital. There it became necessary to amputate his leg, and Zahn surrendered what little courage he had left. "No leg to-night, no Zahn to-morrow," he said to his nurse. And he was right, for at eleven that night he had no leg, and at two the next morning there was no Zahn upon this earth.

And there was Sergeant Eve of the South African Infantry, who got a D.C.M., a Londoner, and of unquenchable good humour. Vastly pleased with the daily bottle of stout we got for him with such difficulty, from supplies, he faced the awful daily dressing of his shattered leg without flinching, pretending to great comfort and an excellent position of his splint, which his crooked leg and my practised eye belied.

And there was Smith, yet a boy, but who always felt "champion" and "quite comfortable," though his days were few in the land and his pain must have been very severe. Yet in his case he had days of that merciful euthanasia, the wonderful ease from pain that sometimes lasts for days before the end. In great contrast with these was an individual with a wound through the fleshy part of the thigh, by far the least seriously wounded of all in the ward, who never failed with his unending requests to the patient orderlies and his eternal complainings, until a public dressing-down from me brought him to heel. And Glover who wept that I had lost his bullet, that unforgivable carelessness in a surgeon that allows a bullet, removed at an operation, to be thrown away with discarded dressings.

But, of all, the perfect prince was De La Motte, a subaltern in the 29th Punjabis, ever the leader of the dangerous patrols along the native bush paths that give themselves so readily to ambush. Shot through the spine and paralysed below the waist his life was only a question of months. But if he had little time to live, he had determined to see it through with a gay courage that was wonderful to see. Previously wounded in France, he yet seemed, though he cannot possibly have been in ignorance, to be buoyed up with the perfect faith in recovery with which fractured spines so often are endowed; never asking me awkward questions, he made it so easy for me to do his daily dressing, so grateful for small attentions, and so ready to believe me when I told him that it was only a question of weeks before he would be home again. And in spite of all fears I have just heard he did get home to see his people, and by his cheerful courage to rob Death of all his terrors.

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