As I have already said, the wounded took their turn of "hard luck" like men. A few were sullen, a few relieved their feelings by fluent but meaningless profanity, in which the Boers were cursed with as much thoroughness as was the Jackdaw of Rheims. The majority were silent or said little. The tendency of most of the men was to make the least of their wounds, and some of those who were the worst hit were the most cheery. They were, with scarcely an exception, unselfish, and were singularly patient, considering that the exercise of patience is not a marked quality in men.
They ministered to one another’s wants with a tender solicitude which was not marred by the occasional uncouthness of its method. There was a wide-spread belief that tobacco was a panacea for all ills, and any man who had the wherewithal to smoke shared the small luxury with his mates. If there was only one pipe in a tent it was kept circulating. One would see a man on one stretcher trying to arrange a pillow for a comrade on the next: the pillow in question being commonly made out of a squashed helmet with a boot inside it. The man in any tent who was the least disabled was never so well pleased as when he was given something to do for those who were under the same canvas with him. With a pannikin and a spoon he would feed those who could not feed themselves, until they were glad to be rid of the attention; or he would readjust a dressing, or cut off a boot, or get the dried blood from an exposed surface with a never-wearying anxiety.
With few exceptions the men were honestly anxious "not to give trouble." It was an article of faith with them to "take their turn," and no man would try to make out that his case gave him a claim for attention over his fellows. Indeed, on the occasion of a visit, the occupants of a tent were eager with one voice to point out what they considered to be the worst case, and to claim for it the earliest notice. The men of a tent were, in the kindliest way, a little proud of having a "real bad" case in their midst. When the curtain of a tent is up the occupants whose heads are nearest to the tent ropes can easily converse with those who are similarly placed in the adjoining tent. Thus I heard one man on the ground, whose head was nearly in the open, call out to another head just in view on the floor of the next tent: "We’ve a real hot ’un in along with us; he’s got ’it through the lungs and the liver both, and the doctor has been in to him three times." To which the other head replied: "That’s nothing to a bloke in here. He’s been off his chump all night; his language has been a fair treat, and he’s had four fits. We’ve had a night, I don’t think!"
Another article of faith with the soldier takes the form of a grim stoicism under pain. Some of the wounded endured the examination of their wounds with Spartan pluck. They seemed to consider it above all things essential that they should not cry out "until they were obliged." One enormous Irishman with a shattered thigh yelled out in agony as he was being lifted upon the operating table to be examined. The pain was evidently terrible and excuse enough for any degree of exclamation. But he apologised quaintly and profusely for the noise he made, urging as an excuse that "he had never been in a hospital before." He expressed his regret much as a man would do who had wandered into a church with his hat on and who excused himself on the ground that he had never been in a church before.
Every patient took a lively interest in his own case, and especially in the removal of any bullet which may have lodged in any part of him. One ruddy youngster, a Devonshire lad, had had a shrapnel bullet through his leg, and the bullet could be felt, on the side opposite to the point of entry, under the unbroken skin. He begged that it should be taken out without chloroform, as he wanted to see it come out and to keep it and take it home. He sat up with his back against the tent pole during the operation, and watched the cutting out of the lead without a murmur. No doubt this Boer missile will find a place in a corner cupboard in some cottage among the delectable villages of Devon, and will be for long the wonder and admiration of devoted women folk.
Among other traits, one notices that the soldier clings with great pertinacity to his few possessions, and especially to his boots. When the haversack has been lost, and when the tunic has been cut up to make its removal more easy, or left behind because it is too blood-stained, there is little remaining in which the owner may bestow his goods unless it be in his boots. There was one poor man I remember at Spearman’s, who was in great distress because, just as he was being sent down to the base, he had lost his solitary boot. He said it contained a puttie, a tin of jam, two shillings in money, and a bullet that had been taken out of him. These are no mean possessions.
The puttie also is not lightly discarded. If not used as a gaiter it is useful for many other purposes, and especially is it considered well to wind it round the abdomen as a cholera belt, for the soldier has great faith in anything in the way of a belt.
When the men were bathing together in hundreds at Springfield, there was an opportunity of seeing such variety in the matter of abdominal belts as could never have been dreamed of. Some of these favoured garments were mere shreds and rags, and were worn probably in order to keep faith with some good soul at home who had made her boy promise he would never leave off his belt. Other binders were undoubtedly home-made, and the work of anxious mothers and wives who believed in red flannel and plenty of it. Some of the belts were knitted, and were made to be pulled on, but they had shrunk so much from repeated wettings, and had become so infantile in their proportions that the owner of the garment had to get at least one comrade to help him pull it over his hips. When it was at last in place it quite constricted the body, and justified the comment of one bather, who exclaimed to his belted but otherwise naked friend: "Well, ye’ve got a waist on ya, if nothink else!"