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Attention! Monthly 'Great War' Art Thread continues to parade this November with:

"Drill Sergeant"

as simple as that... Questions? Dis-Miss!

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I'll get the ball rolling with an old piece - it's the start of a chapter and this particular bit of fiction takes place in 1912. And, though not exactly about about a drill-sergeant per-se, it should hopefully give a good impression of what such a beast is all about and what kind of regime made the Old-Contemptibles ready to face the Kaiser's hordes only two years later.

Chapter 12 – A young man’s fancy.

The seven-hour crossing had been trouble free, except for Finchy’s seasickness; a sailor had told them they’d been lucky to get such a smooth crossing in October. Thank God, thought George, Finchy might have died otherwise.

The throng of disembarking bodies slowed their progress to a snail’s pace as George led his comrades down the packet’s gangplank and onto the quayside at Kingstown, the main passenger port about seven miles to the south of Dublin City. Their movement orders stated that here they were to be met and taken to the Royal Barracks, situated in Dublin itself. George noticed a sign saying, “All disembarking troops to muster here,” so he led his little party over to the group of fifty or so other soldiers, from a variety of regiments, congregating under the huge sign.

No one had put George in charge; he was the same rank as all the others in his party, they just seem to follow his lead. He spotted a Corporal, millboard and pencil in hand, writing furiously in the middle of the uniformed melee, but as they approached that mass of disorganised bodies a familiar sound vibrated in their ears, “Corporal, what are you bloody playing at? I’ve never seen such a shower in all of my days; it’s like a Saturday night up the bloody Monto. You men, get fell in, in three ranks – NOW.”

Not one soldier looked to see who had called out those words – they knew. A voice of such magnitude could only be backed up by the power of at least three stripes. Within thirty seconds, the fifty-odd strong khaki coloured sea of heaving bodies was transformed, as if by magic, into three straight lines.

Up marched the owner of the voice; tall and immaculately turned out. His cap badge told them he was Army Service Corps, and the three brilliant white stripes on each sleeve, topped by a crown, flaunted for all to see that he was a Staff Sergeant and that he was in charge. “Corporal Palmer, if you turn my muster station into a Saturday night up the Monto again, your feet won’t touch, understand?”

“Yes, Staff.”

“Right - lick your pencil and follow me, and I’ll show how it’s done.” He then marched up to George, the first man in line, and yelled, “Last three, name, unit and destination.”

George came to attention, and yelled, “479 Private Wheeler GF, Staff, 2nd Koyli, party of six in transit to Royal Barracks, Staff.”

This same routine continued up and down the ranks - when completed, he turned to face them, “Right, the Corporal will now allocate you to a train, and tell you at which station to detrain. There you will be met and directed to your barracks. If I see any more shenanigans like I’ve just witnessed then none of your feet will touch. Got it? You orrible shower.”

“YES, STAFF,” they all cried with one voice.

With that, he marched away.

The Corporal directed them to the correct train and issued them with warrants, and was about to leave when George asked, “What’s the Monto, Corporal?”

“What’s the bloody Monto? Jesus, do I have a sign above my head saying information? You’ll have to find out about that place all by yourselves, but don’t worry; it shouldn’t take you too long. Now get on your way.”


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Great start... although not directly in line with the given title, the atmosphere in your writing is, as always, some how "close and personal"... I'm eager to study the WW1-era from cultural perspective, including Edwardian era of British community. This type of descriptions always help me to understand it even more.

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Stand by your beds you lot! Here's me poem!

The Drill Sergeant

Five foot ten of the Army's best,

Campaign medals on his big broad chest.

Gleaming buttons, boots and cane

And a shout that would drive any man insane.

Vicious curses, taunts and jibes

Makes you happy to be alive!

A sense of humour that was quite surreal,

All intended to make a recruity squeal.

Arms drill, pack drill, turns, form fours.

There was no busier squad than ours.

Shoulder, slope, present and port,

Mark time, double time, all fagged out.

'Round the square for another turn

At rifle pace 'til your feet would burn.

"Your button's undone you idle man!

So another hours drill I had to stand.

With snarling lips and a vicious glare,

He bullied me 'round the barrack square.

He called me names that would make mother faint

And yelled out "Halt" by the barrack gate.

Now an extra treat he had for me,

On the Guard Room floor on hand and knee.

With bucket, flannel, brush and soap

Scrubbing the boards 'til my fingernails broke.

Then 'round the square for one last lap,

Gasping for breath with every step.

'Til I was stood to attention like a quivering wreck

As the sweat ran in rivulets down my back.

Then he stood in front and came quite close

With his face half an inch from my dripping nose.

That face that could sink a thousand ships

And a snarl emerged from his twisted lips.

He took one step back and stopped to stare;

Whatever he did I was beyond all care.

Then he pursed his lips and he a drew a deep breath

And I had a vision of an early death.

But, his face broke in to a kindly grin

And he looked me up and down again.

"You'll make a soldier yet young lad,

The finest career a man ever had.

In ten years time you could be like me

The terror of the entire Company.

But it's all for your good that I give you pain

'Cause if you move when I yell then move again,

When the firing starts and the bullets fly

On some foreign field where the dead men lie,

You'll survive 'cause you jumped and jumped once more

At the sound of the voice with the deafening roar!"

Tony Nutkins November 2009

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Thanks GB - looking forward to your contribution as always.

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There were many times I regretted my impulsive decision to enlist in the CEF.

Most of them were on the square at drill.

About a third of my platoon had served in the Militia, and so had some familiarity with drill and Drill Sergeants. There were even one or two time-expired Regulars, who had even more.

For the rest of us, willing or not, it was a form of Hell.

For office-workers like myself, our arm muscles were not up to the contortions we were expected to perform with the Ross Rifle Mk. II**, a nice-looking, but long and HEAVY firearm.

We had sweated through a week of foot drill. The Drill Sergeant was a barrel-shaped five foot six inches of uniform perfection, with an attitude that brought a new meaning to misanthropy. His chest bore a colourful line of campaign ribbons, which, our ex-Regulars told us, meant that he'd served in the Sudan, India, and South Africa. From his gleaming boots (to which the Camp Borden dust refused to cling) to the blinding brilliance of his cap badge, he was everything, as he frequently told us, that we could never hope to be.


Wearily we tried to identify our shortcoming this time.




We slammed our Rosses into shoulders already bruised.


HUP two three

HACROSS two three


Worn out, and thoroughly terrified, one Private dropped his rifle. The sergeant pounced.


With the Sergeant's apoplectic face one inch from his white trembling one, the Private wondered why he had ever been born, let alone joined the Army.

The Sergeant's voice dropped to a menacing purr.

"Avin' a bit o' trouble 'oldin' yer bundook? Maybe yer need some 'elp? Nope, no one 'ere to 'elp yew carry it. Maybe a bit o' prarctise 'uld 'elp. Pick it up, lad. Naow, 'ave y'got a firm grip onnit? Good. Naow rise it hover yer 'ead.


EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' EF' RI' !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Needless to say, no one dropped his rifle again.

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"Ah! Warner. I'm glad I've caught you before you take your last drill. I'd be obliged if you'd take a whisky with me before you go out."


"Oh, take a seat man, take a seat. There's no need to stand on ceremony with me; we've known each other for too long. I just want to say how impressed I've been with the way you've worked with the men. Good stuff. Good stuff. And don't look so modest. Drink up."

"Thank you Sir."

"I recall having a devil of a job persuading you to agree to my request, but I was never going to accept a refusal so there it was. One last chance to serve Lord Kitchener, eh?"

"Yes Sir. Something like that."

"Those were some times we lived through, weren't they! Well, the Boers may have taken your leg, but they couldn't touch your spirit. I must admit I hadn't realised how difficult walking was for you, but you've done me proud. Out there is what is turning into a fine body of men and it's all down to you."

"Thank you Sir."

"When I came to see you, well, we were fast raising a whole battalion of completely untrained men with virtually no military background at all. Admittedly they were mostly middle class and educated, but a daunting task, nonetheless, a daunting task. When I was looking for someone to give them their basic grounding in the military way I couldn't think of anyone better than the most experienced Drill Instructor I know, and you haven't let me down. Once a soldier, always a soldier, as they say. The men respected you right from the start; they recognised a brave man when they saw one."

"Sir, you're embarrassing me!"


"Well Sir, now the uniforms have arrived, and the ranks of the officers and NCOs have been made official it's time for me to hand over to your enlisted men. The Pals will do very well now."

"Thank you, Warner. I'm sure they will. As an unofficial Drill Sergeant you've been an excellent help to the Battalion. Congratulations, and thank you again. Now let's go out and you can take your last drill."


"Hip! Hip! Hurrah!"

A thousand strong voices filled the air and echoed off the walls of the Cathedral and the sweet factory next to the park. "Hurrah for Albert!"


(Just a little tribute to Albert from the pawn shop, this month.)

Edited: a couple of clumsy sentences.....

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Nice story CGM - just slipped under the wire with that one.

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Are there some budding writers poets and artists out there?

287 views, 12 posts and only 4 entries - don't be shy chip in for December.

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Given the small field, shall we forego the poll for November? Squirrel? CGM? Salesie?

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No problem with that Michael - perhaps the lack of entries was something to do with my suggestion of the topic.

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"Excuse me Ma'am, isthis man bothering you?"

Last month I was over.

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So, poll or no poll? Small amount of entries doesn't necessary mean that the suggested title is bad. I was simply too busy with other projects. I'll be back this month. Someone, please start December...

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I vote for no poll this month and I've had a word with my muse who now understands better the significance of a deadline and will possibly work a little faster and so be of more help to me during December.

It's hard to take in, but this time last year I had no idea that I would start writing. No idea at all!

I joined the forum last November and in January I wrote my first piece. December's piece will complete a whole year of entries and I find this totally amazing.

To those of you who look at the MGWAT entries each month and are tempted to join in I would just say - go for it! :)

I'm so glad I did. It's a place to experiment; to try out ideas and test yourself - and everyone is very friendly and supportive.

The best part for me is the discipline involved in working to a given title.

The race to find out lots of information about a GW topic I know nothing about.........

(and then take it and force it to fit into a Home Front setting - to cover up my ignorance of life in the armed forces and on the battlefields... )



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Sorry Folks a bit late stretching the brief to the limit

Father Ryan dropped the two large packages outside of the YMCA hut and stretched his back. He was, he thought, too old to be carrying heavy parcels around himself. He paused for a moment as he looked across the vast camp at Etaples, the Bullring. A vast metropolis of flapping white canvas and huts, a frontier town where every yard of ground was claimed by a vast host of inexperienced soldiers, newly arrived, being marched and drilled to the point of collapse and receiving instruction in the science of taking another human beings life on an industrial scale. Old hands too, brought out from the trenches to be trained in the latest tactics in open warfare that was promised to soon follow and guaranteed to shorten the war. All under the watchful eyes of the instructors, the “canaries” with their yellow armbands, strict disciplinarians who put the men through their paces, and none too quietly Father Brown thought to himself, wishing for a moment to be back in the relative tranquillity of the trenches.

He stood over the bundles, reluctant to have to lift and carry them the few remaining steps into the hut. He hadn't noticed the two figures approaching him somewhat hesitantly from behind so was surprised when a young private, pushed forward by his companion addressed him in stammering tones.

“errrrm excuse me sir errrr padre...sir”

The priest turned to see a pale young lad, not much older than 19 wringing his cap in his hands, his companion stood at his shoulder looking around nervously.

“Errrr....Thompson here said I could talk to you and you can't tell anyone.....have to keep it secret like” the young lad looked toward his friend for confirmation Thompson nodded.

“If you speak to me in the sanctity of confession then I cannot tell anyone...are you a catholic?”

The pale lad turned to his friend angrily “Told you he wouldn't help if I wasn't a catholic” he turned to leave but at a signal from the priest, Thompson stopped him.

“What is your name?” the priest enquired gently

The young lad snapped to attention“604562 Jones.....”

The priest stopped him with a raised hand “There is no need for all that shouting lad, just tell me your name”

“William Jones...sir” the young lad looked at his boots.

“and what is it you want to talk to me about...”

Jones looked round nervously to his friend who urged him to reply

“It's Sergeant Hollister sir, he's one of the canaries....errr I mean one of the instructors sir....he is...errr” Jones faltered

“He is a right ******* ...” Thompson interjected “Oh begging your pardon padre...”

“I have heard much worse in my time....now Jones in your own words tell me what the problem is”

Jones visibly trembled as he summoned the strength to speak, he swallowed hard and looked to Father Ryan pleadingly, begging the priest with his eyes to excuse him for having to speak

“I want to kill him!” he looked up at the priest his eyes full of shame, he expected the priest to lash out in condemnation, to denounce him loudly as a sinner.

The priest didn't speak his gaze implacable

“He has had it in for me the moment I got here....every opportunity he can he singles me out...points out my every fault...laughs at me... taunts me...tells me I can't hack it....tells me I am going to crack....sometimes he raises his stick as if he is going to beat me and then laughs if I flinch....if I make a mistake in drill he makes me run with my rifle above my head....tells me he will get me tied to a gun-wheel if I so much as breathe out of time...”

“is he like this with others? the priest asked

“No sir...not all the time...it's mainly me....I've had enough padre, I hate him...I want to.” he stopped himself

Father Ryan looked at the boys face, he was perplexed, it was not uncommon for men to hate their drill instructors, it was their job to toughen up men, often boys,on their journey to become a soldier, but rarely had he seen such fear in the eyes of a man outside of the trenches. It was a difficult one was Hollister overstepping the boundaries with this lad or simply doing his job.

“You need to speak to your platoon commander...speak to your sergeant first...don't tell them all that you have told me...but tell them what this Sergeant Hollister is doing. If needs be I will come and speak on your behalf” Father Ryan was aware as he spoke the words that his advice was somehow inadequate but he was simply unsure of what he should do, he hadn't witnessed any brutality for himself.

A loud shout of “OI YOU TWO!!!” interrupted his thoughts and the two young privates froze like startled rabbits

A burly figure, paced furiously toward them, the yellow armband and his manner betrayed his identity as Sergeant Hollister.

“What do you two think you are doing....I said fall out for a brew...what are you doing here...Jones get that cap back on...you're not properly dressed?”

“It's my fault Sergeant” They are helping me with these parcels “ if you could just take them in for me and leave them on the counter” The two privates carried the bundles into the hut “reading materials...donated by my former parishioners...probably nothing more illuminating than penny dreadfuls but a comfort to some nevertheless” the priest took off his glasses and wiped them not entirely a lie he thought.

The two privates emerged from the hut and stood stiffly to attention.

“well thank you for your assistance... you had better go back to your normal duties now...oh and don't forget....what we said...I can often be found here..we can talk some more..about books and things..”

“Right you two get back to your platoon and get fell in...tell Corporal Munroe I will be along presently...Right move...double it MOVE!

The two privates scurried off without a backwards glance. The Sergeant waited until they had turned a corner and took his pipe out of his pocket and lit it. His voice was mellow but authoritative

“No problem with you getting the lads to help you padre but if you could let us know....we thought for a minute they had done a runner” he took a few puffs on his pipe “ confidentially we are having a few problems with one of them....Jones...the fair haired one...a nice lad but soft as butter needs toughening up a bit”

“Oh really” the priest feigned surprise

“It may seem cruel to many, but we have to push 'em....better it shows up here than they crack out there where their mates depend on them” The Sergeant paused to strike another match, the priest noticed three wound stripes on the cuff, this was no parade ground martinet “I have been around long enough to tell....I think he will be alright when he toughens up a bit.”

The sergeant finished his pipe in silence and excused himself he wandered back to the waiting platoon no doubt to give them and Jones in particular merry hell. The priest wondered whether he should say something now to Hollister ...he wasn't bound by the sanctity of confession and as an officer he had duty to act on what he had been told, but the boy had come to him in confidence in the belief that the priest was bound to keep silent. Father Ryan watched the sergeant round the corner and realised that the discussion with Hollister had left him with more questions than answers, he shook his head, he had his rounds to do, he would pray and seek God's guidance.

Later that afternoon Father Ryan was at the base hospital, sharing a joke with one or two of the patients when he was brought to his feet by the arrival of a stretcher borne by some shocked looking youths and attended by several medics. As the stretcher was lowered an arm fell over the side and the priest noticed three wound stripes on the cuff, he was pushed aside by two doctors rushing over to assist. Father Ryan pulled one of the stretcher bearers aside, a youth visibly shaken and asked what had happened the boy could hardly speak. The priest shook him by the shoulders and the boy stuttered “bayonet practise...Sergeant Hollister...shouting at Jones... you couldn't ***** a pin cushion..let alone run a bayonet through a hun...he said something about Jones' sweetheart and Jones not being man enough for her and that she would find a real man...not a mummy's boy like him....then Jones ran him through....they had to club him with a rifle to get him off Hollister....they're saying that he will get the firing squad....is that right padre?”

The priest didn't answer, he sat down heavily on a bed and put his head in hands, he had failed a youth that had come for help, he had failed an old soldier who had survived all the hun had thrown at him and now lay dying at the hand of one of his own men. Ryan looked to the heavens, he had prayed for guidance and not for he first time in this damned war, God seemed not to be listening.

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I usually try not to look at the MGWAT entries until I've finished mine. Something to do with not wanting my limited knowledge of the topic, and therefore the content of my entry, to be restricted to what others have already written or produced.

Now I've looked at this month's entries and, as usual, I'm fascinated by the different approaches to the subject. I also now know a fair bit about Drill Sergeants and their raison d'etre.

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Squirrel, I found myself "Quick Marching" to your poem - it just seemed to ask for it as the rhythm is so right. A great poem!

Salesie and Michal now I can see why sergeants had (have) to be so 'hard'.

Gunboat, it's good to see Father Ryan back again, but what a powerful, and very moving piece!


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Really enjoyed your late entry...a nice but sad twist on the theme and well worth the wait. The Father Ryan character is developing well.

The pen pushers have stolen the show this month with all parties providing a great mix of styles and moods.....I don't know how you guys (ladies included) appear to rattle off such fine work in so short a time.

cheers, ET

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