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The Irish Guards in the Great War : The First Battalion

by Rudyard Kipling

Published 1997, Spellmount Ltd, Staplehurst Kent TN12 6 AZ.
ISBN 1-873376-72-3. [pages 286-287.]

... No. 2 Company lay in the village of Assevant, with pickets on the broken bridge over the river there, an observation-line by day and all proper supports; No. 4 Company in posts on the road and down to the river [R. Sambre near Maubeuge], and Nos. 1 and 3 in reserve; Yeomanry and Corps Cyclists out in front as though the War were eternal.

And thus dispersed, after a little shelling of Assevant during the night, the Irish Guards received word that "an Armistice was declared at 11 a.m. this morning, November 11 [1918]."

Men took the news according to their natures. Indurated pessimists, after proving that it was a lie, said it would be but an interlude. Others retired into themselves as though they had been shot, or went stiffly off about the meticulous execution of some trumpery detail of kit-cleaning. Some turned round and fell asleep then and there; and a few lost all holds for a while. It was the appalling new silence of things that soothed and unsettled them in turn. They did not realize till all sounds of their trade ceased, and the stillness stung in their ears as soda-water stings on the palate, how entirely these had been part of their strained bodies and souls. ("It felt like falling through into nothing, ye'll understand. Listening for what wasn't there, and tryin' not to shout when you remembered for why.") Men coming up for Details Camp, across old "unwholesome" areas, heard nothing but the roar of the lorries on which they had stolen their lift, and rejoiced with a childish mixture of fear as they topped every unscreened rise that was now mere scenery such as tourists would use later. To raise the head, without thought of precaution against what might be in front or on either flank, into free, still air was the first pleasure of that great release. To lie down that night in a big barn beside unscreened braziers, with one's smiling companions who talked till sleep overtook them, and, when the last happy babbler had dropped off, to hear the long-forgotten sound of a horse's feet trotting evenly on a hard road under a full moon, crowned all that had gone before. Each man had but one thought in those miraculous first hours: "- even I myself, here - have come through the war!" To scorn the shelter of sunken roads, hedges, walls or lines of trees, and to extend in unmartial crowds across the whole width of a pavé, were exercises in freedom that he arrived at later. "We cannot realize it at all." ... "So mad with joy we don't feel yet what it all means." The home letters were all in this strain.

The Battalion was relieved on the 12th November by the 2nd Grenadiers and billeted in the Faubourg de Mons. All Maubeuge was hysterical with its emotions of release, and well provided with wines which, here as elsewhere, had somehow missed the German nose. The city lived in her streets, and kissed everybody in khaki, that none should complain. But the Battalion was not in walking-out order, and so had to be inspected rigorously. Morning-drill outside billets next day was in the nature of a public demonstration - to the scandal of the grave Sergeants.


My thanks to musician and friend Danny Quinn for the loan of this book to while away the nights of a very long and very cold Winter week.
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