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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint


 

11:  FATIGUES

Fatigues, fatigues, fatigues. They break our spirits upon this drudgery. One of us ninety recruits (to so many are we grown) already wishes aloud he had not joined the R.A.F. In under a week we have clicked three or four fire-pickets, ('Swinging it on the fucking rookies, they are, the old sweats' grumbled Tug. 'Old soldier, old cunt' quoted Madden with a laugh. 'Ah,' flung back Tug malevolently, 'young soldier, fly fucker. That's me') dust-cart we get, and refuse-collection, scrubbing the shit-houses, the butcher's shop, the Q.M. Stores, Barrack Stores, sweeping and dusting the Cinema. Then there's message running at H.Q., the main point of which is to bring back for the clerk's elevenses their Chelsea buns while warm. China got into disgrace there. 'I wasn't going to fuck about for those toffy-nosed buggers, so I got back after fucking twelve, and they shoved me on the fizzer!'

He received two extra fatigues, as punishment: - which was getting off scot-free, for we are all, innocent and guilty, on extra fatigues, what with stoking the boiler-house or in the cook-house, or at the officers' mess, or hut cleaning or polishing the fire-station, or washing down the pigsties, or feeding the incinerator. At dawn we leap from bed, rush to wet our hands and faces, fall in for P.T.: fall out and fall in for breakfast, put on puttees and overalls, sweep the hut (under the eye of our corporal, who has us all by name, and misses nothing of what we fail to do), tidy our beds again, and fall in for fatigues. After that the hut does not see us, except for a hurried moment each side of dinner, till tea-time: and after tea is fire-picket, save for those who work an evening shift till nine at officers' mess, or dining hall, or civilian hut.

These two last are scullion jobs: - and not in neat sculleries with sinks and racks and hot taps. We dip into a tub of cold water, through its crusted grease, four or five hundred tea-stained mugs and a thousand plates: which afterwards we smooth over with a ball of grease-stiff rag. A stomach-turning smell and feel of muck it is, for hour upon hour: and a chill of water which shrivels our fingers. Then a clattered piling of wet dishes on the table, to drip dry. Nor may you ever call yourself your own, or a job yours. The camp pullulates with recruits, and every employed man's our master, who will get from us what privy convenience he can. Many exercise a spite upon the recruits so that out of fear we may be more accommodating. The Sergeant Major set an example of misuse, when he led the last fatigue man in the rank to his wife's house, and had him black the grate and mind the children, while she shopped. 'Gave me a slab of jam-tart, she did,' boasted Garner, lightly forgiving the crying infant because of the belly-full he'd won. We are always hungry.

The six-weeks men we meet on fatigues shock our moral sense by their easy-going. 'You're silly cunts, you rookies, to sweat yourselves' they say. Is it our new keenness, or a relic of civility in us? For by the R.A.F. we shall be paid all the twenty-four hours a day, at three halfpence an hour; paid to work, paid to eat, paid to sleep: always those halfpence are adding up. Impossible, therefore, to dignify a job by doing it well. It must take as much time as it can for afterwards there is not a fireside waiting, but another job. The gods allow us in our hut just long enough to clean it, and our brass and leather and cloth - and they make the hut bare and regimental, so that we do not wish to linger in it. Our days pass half-choked in dusty offices, or menially in squalid kitchens, to and from which we hurry at a quick-step in fours through the verdant beauty of the park and its river valley: the stamp of our armoured feet fighting down the thrushes' twitter and the grave calling of rooks in the high elms.




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