Read CHAPTER XVII - “HERE COMES THE GENERAL” of Mud and Khaki Sketches from Flanders and France , free online book, by Vernon Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

A servant brought me a note to my dug-out:

“Come down and have some lunch in trench 35D,” it ran, “in C Company officers’ dug-out. Guests are requested to bring their own plates and cutlery; and, if it is decent, their own food. Menu attached. R.S.V.P.”

The menu was as follows:

MENU OF LUNCHEON GIVEN BY C COMPANY AT THEIR COUNTRY RESIDENCE, “THE
RETREAT,” 15/5/15.

SOUPS

Soup a la Bully Beef. Soup a l’Oxo.

FISH

Salmon (and Shrimp Paste) without Mayonnaise Sauce.
Sardines a l’Huile (if anyone provides them).

ENTREES

Maconochie, very old.
Bully beef and boiled potatoes.

SWEETS

Pineapple Chunks, fresh from the tin.
English Currant Cake.

SAVOURY

Welsh Rarebit.

I read through the menu, and decided to risk it, and, procuring the necessary crockery, I clanked through fully half a mile of trenches to C Company. The officers’ dug-out was in the cellar of an old cottage which just came in our line of trenches. The only access to it was by means of a very narrow stairway which led down from the trench. The interior, when I arrived, was lit by three candles stuck in bottles, which showed officers in almost every vacant spot, with the exception of one corner, where a telephone orderly was situated with his apparatus. I occupied the only untenanted piece of ground I could find, and awaited events.

The soup was upset, as the moment when the servant was about to bring it down from the outer air was the moment chosen for a rehearsal of that famous game, “Here comes the General.” The rules of this game are simple. The moment anyone utters the magic phrase there is an immediate rush for the steps, the winner of the game being he who manages to arrive at the top first and thus impress the imaginary general with his smartness.

The soup stood but a poor chance in a stampede of eleven officers, the candles were kicked out, and a long argument ensued as to whose plate was which, and why Martin’s spoon should have gone down Fenton’s neck, and if the latter should be made to forfeit his own spoon to make up for his unintentional theft.

Order was at length restored, and the meal was proceeding in comparative peace, when, suddenly, Jones, who had not been invited to the luncheon, appeared at the top of the steps.

“I say, you fellows,” he cried excitedly. “Here comes the General.”

“Liar!” shouted someone. But the magic words could not be allowed to pass unnoticed, even though we were eating pineapple chunks at the time, and they are very sticky if you upset them over your clothes.

A fearful scramble took place, in which everyone with the exception of Walters, who placed himself in the further corner with the tin of pineapple tried to go together up steps which were just broad enough to allow the passage of one man at a time.

A conglomerate mass of officers, all clinging convulsively to each other, suddenly burst into the open trench almost at the feet of the General, who came round the traverse into view of them at that moment.

When I returned to C Company’s dug-out, an hour or so later, to try to recover my plate and anything else that had not been smashed, I found three officers reading a message that had just come by telephone from Battalion Headquarters. It was prefixed by the usual number of mysterious letters and figures and ran:

“The Brigadier has noticed with regret the tendency of several officers to crowd into one dug-out. This practice must cease. An officer should have his dug-out as near those of his own men as possible, and should not pass his time in the dug-outs belonging to officers of other companies.”

“Here comes the General!” whispered somebody.

I got first up the steps and hurried, a battered plate in my hand, along the trenches to my dug-out.