Saturday 25 June 2016

Feelings of a Fed-Up Sapper

Sunday 25th June 1916: We understand that a massive “push” is about to take place somewhere in France, so it may be a while before we can print much about our boys in other parts of the World. With this in mind we print the following amusing letter from Sergeant Burrell, 1st/2nd Field Company, East Anglian Royal Engineers, who is stationed in Egypt.

With the thermometer at 120 degrees and the flies about 300 times that amount, the noble, sweat-clad sapper prepares to face another day, and Sunday at that, on the golden desert, the same desert that attracts holiday-makers or sightseers. How will he spend his day? His stock of literature is exhausted, even to the labels of the jam tins. His constant practice of face-gazing in the tent enables him to recognise his fellow sapper opposite him, even in the dark, at a fair range. If he was not a soldier he could probably spend an hour conjuring up in his mind as to how he shall satisfy his hunger. But being a sapper he knows only too well what his midday meal consists of, even for days ahead, for it is all stored in his own air-tight larder round the tent pole – some peach, some apricot. The essence of vulgarity in the jam sense?

What about botany? Well he could become a botanist, but do do that he must also be a professional pedestrian, as the nearest weed would probably loom up some 20 or 30 miles away. If he was given to writing, he could possibly produce and ode to the desert. But, there, the desert gets called enough names as it is.

No, he must content himself more locally. Why not classify his kit? Pooh! He knows the exact number of buckles on his equipment and their respective uses by heart. He knows to a fraction how much wool it took to make his socks; in fact the kit complete has been through it in the like manner. Something entirely new is necessary. They say necessity is the mother of invention. Not so, however, or the British army would be full to overflowing with Edisons. He may feel inclined to sing, but there are seven others in the tent besides himself and a mess-tin is made to fit the eye of the offender in these cases.

And so it goes on from day to day and week to week, and I suppose it will be year to year the same exciting, nerve-racking mode of living, until one by one of these poor sappers drop off, some into old age or senile decay, while others are tortured with magic visions of gilt-edged discharge sheets, or trips to their homeland.

You will see one engaged in a serious rehearsal of home-coming, see him embrace his dear ones. But unfortunately the fellow beside him objects to being hugged while in possession of a mess-tinful of scalding tea and immediately brings the offender from his day-dreams with the arc of his boot.

Hence the arrival of the hospital cart and the departure of another sapper, and consequently more room in the tent and something exciting to talk about.

Source: Luton News 29th June 1916

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