Crossing the Tropick.
I had been a fortnight in the infirmary, when one morning at ten o’clock one of the Sergeants of my squadron ordered me to dress in tunic and kept saying that he had received orders to take me before the Conseil. This word simply means court, and is applied to the Conseil de discipline (regimental court-martial) as well as to the Conseil de réforme (Invalidation Commission), but I had by that time become so accustomed to threats of being sent before a regimental court-martial, that I could only think of that, and asked the Sergeant on what charge I was going to be tried.
“I can’t tell you” he replied, smiling. He was a friend of mine, and I thought him most heartless to ridicule my trouble. In vain I asked him, while I was dressing, to explain what it meant, but he would not, and tortured me by asking in a jocular way how I would like a change of air and surroundings. At last I lost my temper.
“It’s all very fine” I said, “to chaff a fellow when you know that he is going to be sent for three years and a half to hard labour in … Read the rest
I have omitted to mention that in compliance with the regulations I had been obliged, before being taken to the prison, to hand over to my Sergeant-major whatever money or jewellery I had at the time. Accordingly I handed over to Sergeant-major Vaillant my gold watch and chain, £30 in bank-notes, and two valuable rings, only keeping with me a few pounds in gold and silver, which I carefully hid. The day before I was to leave prison, the Sergeant-major came to see me, and explained that as he was going away on leave he wanted to give me back my belongings. This he did, and he further reminded me that he owed me a long-standing gambling debt of £5 and this he also handed over to me. He added that he might be a long time away, and that I could render him a great service by lending him some civilian clothes. He had allowed me to keep in his room a suit of clothes and an overcoat, and I told him that he was very welcome to them. I also offered to lend him some money, and suggested his paying me the gambling debt on his return ; … Read the rest
When I was sent to prison there were four other troopers undergoing a similar punishment, but I did not see anything of them until the call for “Soup” as they were kept out all day on fatigue duty and punishment drill. Before they returned the Adjutant came again to see me, and advised me to go to the medical visit the following morning. He told me that he had seen the doctor, and laid my case before him, and that the doctor had promised to exempt me from punishment drill and from fatigue duty. He sent me, too, at my request, some paper and ink, and all the books we had to study for our examinations. I had also smuggled into the prison Conway’s admirable little guide-book to the highest peaks of the chain of Monte Rosa, which I meant to translate into French to while away the time. I also went with the Corporal of the Guard to fetch a straw mattress and a blanket, to which, as previously explained, a prisoner is entitled.
In the evening I asked the Corporal of the Guard to put my name down for the medical visit of the next morning. When the … Read the rest
I do not intend to enter into many of the details of my second year’s service, as this was a mere repetition of what I had already gone through, and I will therefore confine myself to a brief description of that portion of my adventures which may offer some special points of interest. Some time elapsed before the arrival of the new Volontaires, and during this period we had practically no work to do with the exception of “stables”
AlI the Sergeants of my squadron, and many of those belonging to other squadrons, had made friends with me, and they all pitied me for the cruel position I was placed in. Meanwhile the senior Adjudant retired with a pension, and my Sergeant-major was appointed in his stead, while Sergeant fourrier Vaillant became Sergeant-major. Vaillant was a particular friend of mine, so that with his help, and the support I knew the Adjutant would give me, I hoped that if a decent Sergeant was put in charge of the Volontaires I should soon obtain my discharge. There was no chance of our being entrusted again to the tender mercies of Legros, as he had also been appointed Sergeant-major. A number of … Read the rest
In June we began “squadron school” and were drilled on the manoeuvring ground with our respective squadrons. It was only then that all the officers attended the drill, for the training of the peloton had been left almost entirely to the Sergeants. By this time we might be regarded as trained troopers, and, indeed, in time of war the Volontaires would have been quite fit to act as Sergeants, although it did not seem to be the aim of the French military authorities to use the Volontaires as such, in the reserve, in case of war. All the reserve men had their own Sergeants already, and it was therefore difficult to understand why so much of our time was wasted in giving us a military education far superior to that of the average non-commissioned officer.
Since we had begun to see less of Sergeant Legros I had not been incessantly punished as I had been when we were constantly under his orders, and I almost dared to hope that I should be able to finish my time without getting further acquainted with the Salle de Police. However, it was not so to be.
One Sunday morning at six o’clock a … Read the rest
Although my Sergeant-major had altered his behaviour towards me, he could only help me in the squadron, having no power over the Volontaires, who were under the absolute command of Sergeant Legros. Captain Hermann, who was nominally our chief, and who was supposed to give us lectures twice a week, never took the trouble to do so, and we scarcely ever saw him for more than a few minutes at a time. He left, in fact, the whole of our instruction in Legros’ hands, and the latter’s powers seemed to become greater every week. Hitherto, whenever we had wanted to apply for leave we used to send our application through the usual channel, handing it over to our Sergeant-major, who transmitted it to the Captain ; but the Colonel issued a regimental order to the effect that in future any Volontarre wishing to get leave would have to apply for it through Sergeant Legros. Our Captain also strictly forbade us to apply for ten o’clock or midnight leave from the officer of the week (to whom all such demands were made by the other troopers), and told us that in future we should have to apply on the Saturday to … Read the rest
At the end of January we passed our first examination. Each one of us had to command in turn the various kinds of drill we had been taught so far-ı-viz., drill on foot with out arms, carbine and sword drill, as well as mounted drill in the riding-school. We were also examined on hippology and the first principles of topography, and were questioned on that portion of the regulations which referred to the duties of Corporals, and we were further examined as to our individual proficiency in Voltige and gymnastics.
There was not a single one of us who hadn’t received by that time a more complete military education than any of the Corporals in the regiment, but although troopers can, according to the regulations, be promoted to the rank of Corporal at the end of three months’ service, none of us received any promotion. I was the fifth by marks out of the fourteen of us. After this examination the order of our day’s work was altered, and mounted drill, instead of taking place in the riding-school, was carried out on the manoeuvring ground, about three miles outside the town. This was a vast area of loose sand, a … Read the rest
It must not be imagined that a trooper can be sent to hospital without having to go through innumerable formalities, the French administrative system being so devised as to complicate the simplest matter. Before going to hospital, a full inventory of all the trooper’s belongings has to be drawn up by the Sergeant fourrier, the trooper being allowed to retain only the undress uniform which he wears. The remainder of his kit, including his arms, are returned to the stores, where a fresh inventory is made, his saddle alone remaining in the squadron saddle-room. It would be tedious to describe the in-numerable documents which have to be drawn up on the occasion. All these formalities having been at length completed, I was marched to the hospital by a Corporal, and, on arriving there, fresh ceremonials had to be gone through, after which I was handed over to the tender mercies of a Sister of Charity.
She took me to the ward reserved for soldiers, the hospital being a mixed one, where civilians also were received. Our ward contained about twenty-four beds, and was spotlessly clean. The beds were excellent, and certainly far superior to those usually found in English hospitals. … Read the rest