Read CHAPTER XIX - “PONGO” SIMPSON ON OFFICERS of Mud and Khaki Sketches from Flanders and France , free online book, by Vernon Bartlett, on

“Orficers,” said “Pongo” Simpson, “is rum blokes. I’ve got a fam’ly of six kids back at ‘ome, not counting Emma what’s in service, an’ I reckon my orficer’s more trouble to look after nor all the lot of ’em put together. It’s always: ‘Simpson, where the dooce is my puttees?’ or ’Simpson, you’ve sewed this ‘ere button on in the wrong place,’ or ’Simpson, the soup tastes like cocoa and the cocoa tastes like soup’ does ‘e expect me to kerry a bloomin’ collection of canteens? Don’t ’e think it better to ‘ave cocoa what’s got a bit o’ soup in it than to ’ave a canteen what’s been washed in a shell ’ole along of a dead ‘Un? Why, if we was goin’ to charge to Berlin to-morrer I’d ’ave to spend ‘arf the night cleanin’ ’is boots and buttons.

“Yes, ‘e’s a funny sort o’ bloke, my orficer, but, my Gawd!” and here Simpson expectorated to give emphasis to his statement “I’d foller ’im against a crowd of ’Uns, or a lot of wimmen what’s waiting for their ’usbands what ain’t come ’ome at three in the morning, or anythink else you like. ’E’s an ‘elpless sort of chap, an’ ’e’s got funny ideas about shavin’ and washin’ sort of disease, you know but ’e’s a good sort when you knows ’is little ways.

“Do you remember that young Mr. Wilkinson?” asked “Pongo,” and a few of the “old hands” in the dug-out nodded affirmatively. “’E was a one, ’e was,” resumed “Pongo.” “Do you remember the day we was gassed on ’Ill 60? ’E used to be my bloke then, and I was with ’im all the time. ’E was a proper lad! When the gas ’ad gone over there was only five of A Company left, with ’im in charge, and we knew as ’ow the ’Uns would attack as soon as they thought we was properly wiped out. And Mr. Wilkinson was fine. All down the trench ‘e put blokes’ rifles on the parapet, and the ‘ole bloomin’ six of us ran up an’ down the trench like a lot of rabbits, firin’ off rifle after rifle till the Alleymans must ’ave thought we was an ’ole battalion. The only times when Mr. Wilkinson wasn’t firin’ rifles, ‘e was fusin’ bombs, jest as busy as that little girl be’ind the counter of the Nag’s ’Ead of a Saturday night. ’E must ’ave sent a good number of ’Uns ’ome that day with bits of bombs inside of them.

“And you should ‘a’ seen Mr. Wilkinson when the Sergeant wos for givin’ in and goin’ back to the second line! We’d all the gas in us more or less, and ’e could ’ardly talk, ’e was that bad, but when ’e ’eard the Sergeant say as ’ow ‘e was goin’ back, ’e shouted like the Colonel on a battalion parade. ‘Curse you, Sergeant!’ ’e yelled, ’what’s the good of goin’ back? We’ve got to ’old this trench or ’op it. If you don’t like the air down there, come up on the parapet with me.’ And up ’e jumps on to the parapet with the gas clearin’ away, and the Fritzes only 30 or 40 yards off.

“’It? Why, of course ’e was ’it. ‘E was laughin’ like a kid what’s stealin’ apples all excited like when they got ’im right through the ’ead, and ’e fell down on the other side of the parapet. But ’e’d done what ‘e wanted to, for the Sergeant wasn’t talkin’ any more about goin’ back. ’E crawled out over the parapet and brought poor Mr. Wilkinson back, and got ’it in the leg while ‘e was doin’ it, too. But that didn’t matter to ’im, for ’e was out to ’ave ’is own back, was the Sergeant, and we ‘eld that bloomin’ trench for another hour until the blokes got up the communication trench to ’elp us. There’s a lot of medals what ought to go to blokes as don’t get them, and it might ’ave ’elped Mr. Wilkinson’s mother if they’d given ’im the V.C., but there weren’t no other orficers about, and they didn’t take any notice of us chaps.”

“Talkin’ of ’Ill 60,” said Bert Potter, “there was that Captain I misremember ’is name you know, that bloke what got into trouble at the ole farm for giving a cow a tin o’ bully beef, and the cow died next day. I was in ’is trench with a machine gun when ’e got ’is little bit. A chunk out of an ’and grenade ’it ’im in the thigh, and ’e laughed like ’ell becos ’e’d got a ‘cushy’ wound. Why, ’e even said as ’ow ’e could walk down to the dressing station, and we envied ’im like ’ell and thought it was only a flesh wound. I got ’it the next day and went to the same ’orspital where ’e was. ’E’d ’ad ’is thigh bone smashed all to bits, and they’d jest taken ’is leg off when I saw ’im. ’E was weak as a kid and chirpy as a sparrer, and only cursin’ becos ’e was out of things for the rest of the war. I never ’eard what ’appened to ’im, but the nurse told me as ’ow they was afraid ’e wouldn’t recover becos of emmyridge, or something with a name like that. And ’e wasn’t more nor twenty-one years old neither, pore bloke.”

“But you won’t beat the Medical Orficer anywhere,” said Jones, one of the stretcher-bearers who was on duty in the trenches. “’E don’t ’ave to fight, but you should see ’im when things is busy up ‘ere. Coat off an’ sleeves up, workin’ for ’ours on end till any man what wasn’t an ’orse would drop dead. ’E’s ’ard on the shirkers and scrimshankers e’s the sort of bloke what would give you a dose o’ castor oil for earache or frost-bitten feet, but ’e’s like a mother with the wounded. I’ve seen ‘im, too, goin’ along the cutting when the whizz-bangs was burstin’ all the way down it, carryin’ some wounded fellow in ’is arms as calmly as if ‘e were an ole girl carryin’ a parcel along Regent Street. And then,” said Jones, as he named the greatest point in the M.O.’s favour, “’e’s the best forward on a wet day as ever I seed.”

Just at that moment a voice sounded from farther up the trench. “Simpson,” it said, “where the deuce is my toothbrush?”

“Jest comin’, sir. I’ve got ’un,” answered “Pongo” Simpson as he produced a greasy-looking toothbrush from his pocket. “’Ere, give us that canteen of ’ot water,” he said quietly, “I used ’is toothbrush to grease ’is boots with yesterday didn’t think ’e’d miss it, for you don’t come out ’ere to wash your teeth. They ’ave got funny ways, these ’ere orficers. ’Owever,” he continued as he wiped the brush dry on the sleeve of his tunic, “what the eye don’t see, the ’eart don’t grieve over. ’E’ll only think as ’ow it’s the water what’s greasy.”

“Simpson,” came the voice from farther along the trench, a moment or so later, “this is the greasiest water I’ve ever tasted. What the deuce you’ve done to it I don’t know.”