CHAPTER I. IN WHICH MY KING AND COUNTRY NEED ME
I left the office of The Scout, 28 Maiden Lane, W.C., on September 8th, 1914, took leave of the editor and the staff, said farewell to my little camp in the beech-woods of Buckinghamshire and to my woodcraft scouts, bade good-bye to my father, and went off to enlist in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
I made my way to the Marylebone recruiting office, and after waiting about for hours, I went at last upstairs and "stripped out" with a lot of other men for the medical examination.
The smell of human sweat was overpowering in the little ante-room. Some of the men had hearts and anchors and ships and dancing-girls tattooed in blue on their chests and arms. Some were skinny and others too fat. Very few looked fit. I remarked upon the shyness they suffered in walking about naked.
"Did yer pass?"
"No, 'e spotted it," said the dejected rejected.
"Got through, Alf?"
"No: eyesight ain't good enough."
So it went on for half-an-hour.
Then came my turn.
"Ha!" said the little doctor, "this is the sort we want," and he rubbed his gold-rimmed glasses on his handkerchief. "Chest, thirty-four—thirty-seven," said the doctor, tapping with his tape-measure, "How did yer do that?"
"What, sir?" said I, gasping, for I was trying to blow my chest out, or burst.
"Had breathing exercises?"
"No, sir—I'm a scout."
"Ha!" said he, and noticed my knees were brown with sunburn because I always wore shorts.
I passed the eyesight test, and they took my name down, and my address, occupation and age.
"Ever bin in the army before?"
"Ever bin in prison?"
"What's yer religion?"
"Nothing at all."
"Ah, but you've got to 'ave one in the army."
"Yes, you must. Wot's it to be—C. of E.?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Church of England. Most of 'em do."
Awful thoughts of church parade flashed through my mind.
"Right you are—Quaker!" said I.
"Quaker! Is that a religion?" he asked doubtfully.
I watched him write it down.
"Right, that'll do. Report at Munster Road recruiting station, Fulham, to-morrow."
We were all dressed by this time. After a lot more waiting about outside in a yard, a sergeant came and took about eight of us into a room where there was a table and some papers and an officer in khaki.
I spotted a Bible on the table. We had to stand in a row while he read a long list of regulations in which we were made to promise to obey all orders of officers and non-commissioned officers of His Majesty's Service. After that, he told us he would swear us in. We had to hold up the right hand above the head, and say, all together: "Swhelpmegod!"
I immediately realised that I had taken an oath, which was not in accordance with my regimental religion!
No sooner were we let out than I began to feel the ever-tightening tangle of red tape.
What the dickens had I enlisted for? I asked myself. I had lost all my old-time freedom: I could no longer go on in my old camping and sketching life. I was now a soldier—a "tommy"—a "private." I loathed the army....