Life in a dugout dur­ing wartime

The Compass - - OPINION -

The New­found­lan­der, Ge­orge Whitefield Rid­out (1870-1954), may not be re­mem­bered by many peo­ple to­day. How­ever, dur­ing the First World War he dis­tin­guished him­self as chap­lain with the 38th Reg­i­ment in France.

Born in St. John’s, he went to Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, as a young man, and was ed­u­cated at Tem­ple Univer­sity. He served as pro­fes­sor of the­ol­ogy at Up­land, In­di­ana.

Fol­low­ing the war, he ac­cepted the chair of the­ol­ogy at As­bury Col­lege, where he re­mained un­til 1927. En­ter­ing reli­gious work, he trav­elled ex­ten­sively in Ja­pan, China, In­dia, Africa and South Amer­ica. He was a mem­ber of the British Philo­sophic So­ci­ety and a fel­low of the Royal Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety.

He wrote sev­eral books, in­clud­ing “The Cross and Flag: Ex­pe­ri­ences in the Great World War.” Pub­lished in 1919, so soon af­ter the war ended, it reads to­day with a keen sense of im­me­di­acy. He says noth­ing about the so-called glamour of war, but ev­ery­thing about the way it re­ally was.

“To live in a dugout,” he writes, “is an ex­pe­ri­ence rather un­usual in­deed. One feels a bit of sur­prise at times at the way men take to this kind of thing when it be­comes a ne­ces­sity of war, as well as a mat­ter of safety and pro­tec­tion. I have seen men liv­ing in holes in the ground, in holes dug out of the side of the bank, as well as in the larger dugouts ca­pa­ble of hold­ing quite a num­ber … I am with sev­eral lieu­tenants, and a cap­tain in a large dugout. The ad­van­tage of a dugout is, you are pro­tected from shell­fire, and then the en­emy aero­planes can­not lo­cate you and you can sleep free from the feel­ing that bombs might get you as you sleep …

“Life in a dugout is very sim­ple. Lots of things you don’t have to do; you don’t have to sweep the floors or dust the fur­ni­ture or be care­ful of the fur­nish­ings, and then you are not so very par­tic­u­lar about the mat­ter of at­tire. There are no tai­lors around the cor­ner to press your uni­form, and as you have to sleep with your clothes on, ready to jump up and out in a mo­ment, if need be, you don’t grow very par­tic­u­lar, and then, as you never meet any of wo­mankind, you don’t mind be­ing a bit rough in ap­pear­ance for the time be­ing. Then again, you don’t have to be over care­ful about the din­ing room. Your eat­ing uten­sils are nei­ther china nor glass, but tin or alu­minum, and your din­ing ta­ble may be a box, or a rock, or a patch of straw. You have to forego nap­kins, etc., but in­vari­ably you have a good ap­petite and are al­ways ready when mess time comes around.

“The other night I had to visit a com­pany quite a dis­tance away, and in reach­ing them I had to pass through some very in­ter­est­ing bit of ter­ri­tory, and in re­turn­ing had to meet many a guard who, in com­pli­ance with his or­ders, halted with bay­o­net fixed and pointed at ev­ery­one who came by. The im­por­tant thing at a mo­ment like that is to stand still and not move till told to ad­vance with the coun­ter­sign. I of course had the coun­ter­sign and was per­mit­ted to pass, ar­riv­ing back at my dugout about mid­night.

“I had no sooner laid down than the gas alarm was sounded and a lieu­tenant rushed in and yelled ‘Gas.’ This is a cry of­ten heard within the war zone, and woe to the sol­dier who ne­glects to heed the warn­ing. In­stantly I grasped my gas mask and put it on. For­tu­nately, this was not a se­vere at­tack and none of us had to keep the un­com­fort­able gas mask on very long.

“About this war there is not much of the po­et­i­cal; it is noth­ing but prac­ti­cal drab war with no brass band at­tach­ments. Of­ten we read of the sol­dier march­ing into bat­tle with flags fly­ing and bands play­ing, etc. Not so in this war.

“You never hear the band play within the war zone, and the mu­si­cians them­selves are called upon to be stretcher bear­ers and per­form other du­ties. There are no flags fly­ing, be­cause it is im­por­tant that your po­si­tions should not be known by the en­emy, who has his aero­planes fly­ing all over, ob­serv­ing all move­ments. Be­sides, there are ob­ser­va­tion bal­loons con­stantly be­ing em­ployed and the man sit­ting up in that ob­ser­va­tion seat with his bal­loon at­tached to the ground can see for many miles with his all-pow­er­ful glass all that is go­ing on.”

Rid­out writes much more, but space is lim­ited.

Lest we for­get.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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