|| volunteered to
carry it. We grew to love that fire-bucket and became more
attached to it than old Ebenezer did to his.
About mid-day we were absolutely famished again, and an
S.O.S. was sent to H.Q. for sandwiches and hot drinks. The
return of the messenger was eagerly awaited.
We still hadn't seen any signs of the enemy, which was
perhaps as well, for had we done so I really believe we
should have torn him limb from limb and devoured him. There
was no doubt whatever that the men were really hungry and
thoroughly cold. Even the mildest of them were prowling
around like ravening wolves. My own section Second-in-command,
normally the best-tempered of men and a good husband and
father, became so hard-pressed by hunger and cold that he
frightened the wits out of a woman in a near-by cottage
by giving her what he fondly imagined was an appealing smile,
but what in reality was a ghastly Grande Guignol grin, so
horrible that, instead of coming out with food and drink,
the poor woman fled shrieking from the window. It wasn't
long, though, before our little van bearing our provisions
hove into sight, and this gladdened our hearts immensely.
The sandwiches (nice substantial ones they were, too) were
quickly distributed, but, alas, when enquiries came to be
about the hot drinks, it turned out that there was only that
horrible bottled beverage, miscalled beer, on board. Strong
men wept and tore their hair. All except No. 1 Section Leader.
He hadn't any. Never have I seen so much beer refused by so
many. Explanations were demanded of the driver. It appeared
that when the cook had prepared the tea the clumsy oaf turned
round quickly and kicked it over, and there was no tea left
to make more. That cook and all his relations were cursed
steadily and fluently for fully an hour. Even his great-grandparents
must have stirred uneasily in their graves. This, indeed,
was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Interest in the proceedings had now sunk to a lamentably
low level, and even the Platoon Sergeant's heroic efforts
to whip up interest did not meet with much success. He let
it be known that the enemy had been seen about a hundred
yards away, but when we went there, there was never a sign
of him. This fable was related to us at intervals for the
rest of the afternoon, but that will-o'-the-wisp which we
had hunted all night and all day never materialised.
It didn't matter now. We were beyond ordinary disappointments
and, in any case, the end could not now be very far off.
This led to speculation as to how many of us were ever likely
to survive to the end. The best we could hope for, we thought,
was double pneumonia.
However, when we came to the last position of the day,
conditions were such that we began to take a rather less
jaundiced view of life. Our good companion, the fire, was