27: A SERMON
Our holiday continues. Still there is no corporal in the hut. So we planned a lie-in this Sunday morning, getting up just nicely for breakfast in the warm comfort of daylight. Use, however, roused us at the habitual six o'clock. We lay curled in our beds and chatted. A large leisured opening of the day. There was a dissolute raffishness in thus taking ease under the long nose of authority. Lofty, our six-foot-two weed of a naval telegraphist, unfolded himself from the bed, and in his short shirt (the same size shirt as that which tightly filled the trouser-butt of little me) paraded with his sheet before each of us, triumphantly showing its traces of wet dreams. 'This top one,' he boasted, 'is the dead spit of a map of Ireland.' Sailor was curt with him. 'You should leave off pulling your plonk.' Lofty, the grinning, chicken-hearted fool, protested with a break of feeble indignation in his throat. 'I'm engaged to the best bride in Devonport, and it's of her I dream every night. Since we fixed it up I haven't tasted cunt. A bloke knows when he's well off.'
A fine morning for church parade. The whole R.A.F. band had turned out, and during our division into flights, and sizing, and arrangement, they made plaintively beautiful music of the Christchurch call, by the sheer slow richness of their reeds. These became our sentiments, too. Worship seemed due from us on so sunny a morning: though I missed my posh space by the font, and had no mediaeval art to entertain me. Only the tombstone (without virtues) of Mr. Daniel Stonard who died in 1724, aged nineteen. I'm glad I've lived this long, anyway.
So perforce I heard another unreal service, and again its misapplication stung me, preached as it was over the serried ranks of those healthy irks I knew from the skins upward. Now they were alike-dressed, and all singing 'The King of Love My Shepherd Is' with the voices and the pagan enjoyment of their everyday blaspheming. Nor did their minds see any contradiction between their worship and their life. Neither their clean words nor their dirty words had a significance. Words were like our boots, dirty on the fields, clean indoors: a daily convention, no index of the fellows' mind. They had not learned to speak.
The blind padre was still labouring to draw a response from the dumb. The truckling humility of his general confession, his tremendous pretence of absolution, jarred across the blue congregation - as stridently as would one of our oaths across a hushed church. Simply there was no contact between these worlds. The fellows were mask-less, transparently unhesitant to declare their inmost or their whole purpose, practising the sinless honesty of all things clearly done. Such openness was holy.
Nor did we afford the padre justification for his opposing Man and God. By looking too inwardly upon his single self, such a one could see his spirit divorced from mankind and Godkind at once, and so stand physically preaching his trichotomy from the pulpit; while mentally he, somewhere in loneliness, considered the animals how they lived. But hardly in a service. Enlistment brought the shock of a rediscovery of the basis of life: - in the troops' phrase, that every jack-man had his bicycle pump and tool-bag. In our boldest thrustings across the furthest airs, we carry that equipment with us: and uniformed men mean too much to each other to leave room for paracletes. Each of us is a little part of all the rest - as all the rest of us.
The parade ended without a formality of goose-stepping round the square. Nor did any shattered death's head glower upon us from beside the flag. I lay in the grass all afternoon, with the sunlight melting the week's aches out of me, joint by joint, till my whole being glowed with welfare.