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Title: Nobby on Getting Commissions Author: Edgar Wallace * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1500751h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jul 2015 Most recent update: Jul 2015 This eBook was produced by Charles Stone-Tolcher and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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Between 1904 and 1918 Edgar Wallace wrote a large number of mostly humorous sketches about life in the British Army relating the escapades and adventures of privates Smith (Smithy), Nobby Clark, Spud Murphy and their comrades-in-arms. A character called Smithy first appeared in articles which Wallace wrote for the Daily Mail as a war correspondent in South Africa during the Boer war. (See "Kitchener's The Bloke", "Christmas Day On The Veldt", "The Night Of The Drive", "Home Again", and "Back From The War—The Return of Smithy" in the collection Reports From The Boer War). The Smithy of these articles is presumably the prototype of the character in the later stories.
In his autobiography People Edgar Wallace describes the origin of of his first "Smithy" collection as follows: "What was in my mind... was to launch forth as a story-writer. I had written one or two short stories whilst I was in Cape Town, but they were not of any account. My best practice were my 'Smithy' articles in the Daily Mail, and the short history of the Russian Tsars (Red Pages from Tsardom, R.G.) which ran serially in the same paper. Collecting the 'Smithys', I sought for a publisher, but nobody seemed anxious to put his imprint upon my work, and in a moment of magnificent optimism I founded a little publishing business, which was called 'The Tallis Press.' It occupied one room in Temple Chambers, and from here I issued "Smithy" at 1 shilling and sold about 30,000 copies." — R.G.
"THERE was a feller of ours," said Smithy, "who thought he could get a commission. Sooms his name was, owin' to a fam'ly misfortune, the fam'ly misfortune bein' that his father's name was the same. A highly-educated feller he was, too. He could tell yer how many rifles it would take to reach from High Street, London, to High Street, Moon. He could tell yer who won the Derby in 1866 and who was second an' third, an' why. If you ever wanted anybody to dish you out information about the Army, football, electricity, or catchin' mice, you had only to go to Soomsy to get more information in half-an-hour than you could possibly forget in ten years, however hard you tried.
"Soomsy was one o' those fat-headed fellers you sometimes meet—clean- shaven, very fair hair plastered down both sides, and a khaki moustache that was wholly invisible in certain lights.
"In the olden days before the war, fellers never used to think about commissions. The officer lived on the other side o' the fence, so to speak, an' nobody ever wanted to jump over. But when the war broke out, there was a new spirit abroad.
"'I see they want ten thousand officers,' sez Spud Murphy one day, very thoughtful. 'I suppose they'd give the preference to a feller with a lot o' military experience?'
"'If you mean you,' sez Nobby, 'I think they'd rather have brains an' good looks,' he sez.
"But still, Spud wasn't goin' to be put off.
"'It must be bloomin' fine bein' an officer,' he sez. 'Nothin' to do but give orders.'
"'Fine,' sez Nobby, 'for sometimes you'd get people who'd obey you.'
"As a matter of fact, Spud didn't put in his application, so we don't know what would have happened to it; an' the reason he didn't put it in was owin' to Nobby studyin' the German methods an' applyin' them.
"I said that Soomsy was a fairly well-educated feller, an' whilst at first we didn't worry much about his idea of bein' an officer, when we saw some o' the chaps who were driftin' into the Army, there was a sort o' panic.
"'I believe the blighter will get his commission,' said Nobby agitatedly. 'And then what will prevent Spud gettin' it?'
"All might have been well if Soomsy hadn't started givin' himself airs. Apparently he had got his papers signed by his schoolmaster at home. He told Nobby so.
"'What?' says Nobby, incredulous. 'Ain't Doctor Barnardo dead?'
"'I'll have you understan', Private Clark,' sez Soomsy, very haughty, 'that I went to a private grammar school—one o' the best in England. It's what I might term my Alma Mater.'
"This happened when we were in billets behind Bethune, an' when naturally we had time to think about things which didn't matter. Nobby came into our billet one night almost upset.
"'Smithy,' he sez, very serious, 'this commission business is gettin' a bit overdone. There's a regular epidemic of chaps goin' in for it. I think someone ought to see the real officers about it.'
"What Nobby sez was true. There was Punch Wilson, Jim Spedding, Tiny White, Flusher Mason—a whole crowd of 'em was writin' to their Alma Maters for a character. If a chap was put on fatigue an' he didn't like it, he didn't grouse any more—he just went straight back to his billet an' wrote on a bit o' paper: "Dear Sir, I beg to apply for a vacancy in Officer Department. My Alma Mater's address is as follows, etc.'
"'I've got an idea, Smithy,' sez Nobby one day, 'an' I'm goin' to put it up to some o' these bright boys.'
"He got Sooms an' a few other would-be officers round him.
"'Gentlemen,' he sez, 'all you young officers in a month or two will, perhaps, or perhaps not, be leadin' us on to death an' glory. Me an' a number of the common privates of the regiment think it would be a grand idea if you chaps started gettin' ready for Der Tag, so to speak, an' gettin' yourselves accustomed to livin' with gentlemen.'
"'Hear, hear!' sez the fellers, an' Nobby went on to explain his scheme.
"His idea was to start a young officers' mess for privates who wanted commissions, where they would be taught the way to hold a chicken bone when eatin' same, an' what spoon they ought to use when they're eatin' peas, an' how much coffee a saucer holds.
"Nobby's idea was that each noble young officer should pay five bob a week to a mess fund an' to pay the heavy wages of instructors.
"The idea caught on, till Nobby went round to collect the money.
"'I'll give you a cheque,' sez Sooms.
"'What for?' sez Nobby in amazement.
"'Officers always give cheques,' sez Sooms very off-handedly.
"'You give me six francs an' we'll say no more about it,' sez Nobby.
"'Do you doubt my honour?' sez Sooms. 'My word's my bond,' he sez.
"'Six francs,' sez Nobby, very patient, 'an' we'll let bygones be bygones.'
"But he never got that money, an', what's more, these young officers pinched his idea an' started their little mess on their own. I never saw Nobby so wild as he was when comin' back from the trenches one night to billets he heard about this mess bein' formed.
"He wouldn't have worried about it so much only he had an idea that Spud Murphy had started it.
"He got Spud Murphy aside.
"'Spud,' he sez, 'how long have you been in France?'
"'Eight months,' sez Spud.
"'Have you ever heard of German frightfulness?' sez Nobby.
"'Naterally,' sez Spud.
"'Well,' sez Nobby, 'if you don't chuck up my idea an' get out of that class for educatin' young officers, you're goin' to get a clump in the neck that'll make a Jack Johnson shell feel like a feather ticklin' you.'
"'Don't threaten me, Private Clark,' sez Spud, 'or I'll—'
"Spud got away with his life an' that's about all.
"After this Nobby was very unpleasant, an' especially to Soomsy.
"It wasn't jealousy, an' it wasn't Hymn of Hatery, it was just wildness.
"In the Army," reflected Private Smith, "it's pretty difficult to tell what a chap was before he enlisted unless you knew him. Nobody knew what Soomsy was, but the general idea was that he used to sell coke. This is where we were all wrong, for he must have gone to a decent school an' had pretty influential friends. Some say that he got into trouble over money affairs, bein' somewhat careless, but if that was so the Member of Parliament who knew his brother's wife wasn't aware of the fact, for accordin' to what we've heard, he's signed Soomsy's papers like a bird.
"Nobby had been down to the base to bring up our new Colonel's luggage, an' brought the news to us.
"'Soomsy's got a commission,' he sez in a wonderin' wav—an' it was true.
"You could have knocked me down with a feather, and you could have knocked the rest of 'B' company over, too.
"'This,' sez Nobby very solemn—'this is where we're going to lose the war.'
"Soomsy didn't know about it because he was in the support trenches—'C ' Company bein' on duty whilst 'B' was in billets.
"He heard by telephone, an' I knew he was a bit upset, but he hadn't much time to think about it, because that night every man was rushed up to the fightin' line, new brigades were pushed in to support our corps, and in the mornin', when we should have been discussin' the matter, we were crouchin' in our trenches, with cotton wool in our ears, while about two hundred guns of the —th and the —th corps was hammerin' at the German line.
"The guns stopped at 9.30, and a minute later the Anchesters, Warchesters, the Ross Highlanders, and the Kents were racin' across the ground through barbed wire an' pitfall at the German trench.
"I don't know how long the fight lasted, but I do know that a whole Bavarian Corps an' a Saxon Division came for us, drove us back, an' pinned us to a ruined farmhouse, where we dug ourselves in an' waited.
"'Hold on to the last man,' sez the Colonel.
We looked round to count our officers.
"There weren't manv left. Then—
"'I'm blowed if that blighter Soomsy isn't commandin' "B" Company!' sez Nobby, an' so he was.
"It was the most astonishin' thing in the world.
"Soomsy, big-headed an' red-faced, lookin' more like a tramp-cyclist than an officer, was givin' orders as calm an' as cheery as you please.
"'Do they expect us,' he sez, 'to follow a perishin' van boy? What!' he sez. bitter as anythin', 'are the likes of me an' you to take orders from a bloomin' Tommy?'
"All the time the fight was goin' on Nobby was mutterin' to himself an' sayin' the mos' awful things about Soomsy you have ever heard.
"We were gettin' it in the neck. The enemy brought their machine guns to a little wood on our left front an' was pourin' a deadly fire into our defences.
"'I wouldn't mind bein' knocked out,' sez Nobby, 'if only I had the feelin' that I was dyin' in good company, but to be commanded bv a flat-footed recruit….'
"He occupied his time this way every now an' then, lookin' over his shoulder to scowl at Soomsy, who was as calm as if he was watchin' a football match.
"'The Army,' sez Nobby, shootin' viciously at the wood whenever he saw a helmet, 'is goin' to the dogs. Who'd ever 'ave thought that a pie- faced—'
"Suddenly we heard old Soomsy shout;
"'I'm goin' for that wood, boys—with the bayonet. Who'll follow me?'
"Nobby was up in a second.
"'Me, sir,' he sez."
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