The circumstances under which men enlist in the Army are, no doubt, varied enough. But not a few find their place under the colours in obedience to that fighting spirit which has for centuries been strong in the hearts of the islanders from Great Britain and Ireland. That spirit has anyhow carried the colours over the world.
Among the wounded there are many who, to use an expression common on the soldiers’ lips, "were fed up with the war": they had had enough of it. There were others who were eager to be at it again, who felt that they had a score to wipe off; and even among the desperately hurt there would be here and there a man keen for revenge, and full of a passionate desire "to have another go at ’em." These men, ill as they often were, would describe with a savage delight, and in savage language, the part they had played in the battle out of which they had been finally dragged on a stretcher. A little success, a victory however small, did much to lessen the torment of a wound and to gild the contemplation of a life henceforth to be spent as a cripple. One gallant lad had been paralysed by a Mauser at short range, and had little prospect of other than permanent lameness. He had been in the assault on Vaal Krantz, had escaped without hurt until just towards the end, and was shot as his victorious company were rushing the last trench. After he had been examined, and while he was still lying on his stretcher, I could not avoid the remark, "This is a bad business." To which he replied, "Yes, but we took the bally trench."
To many and many of the dying the last sound of which they were conscious must have belonged to the clamour of war, and it was well for those who heard, or fancied they heard, above the roar of guns the shout of victory. One officer, dying in the hospital at Spearman’s, had his last moments made happy by the sound of battle. He had sunk into a state of drowsiness, and was becoming gradually unconscious. Every now and then the boom of the 4.7 gun, firing from the hill above us, would rattle through the tents, and with each shot a smile would come over his face, and he would mutter with great satisfaction, "They are getting it now." He repeated these words many times, and they were, indeed, the last he uttered. Things were evidently going better with the army in his dream than they were at that moment with the real regiments by the river.
Some most vivid suggestions of what may pass through the soldier’s mind during the actual circumstances of war were afforded by the utterances of more or less unconscious men when passing under the influence of chloroform in the operation-tent. Before they fell into the state of sleep, it was evident that the drug, with its subtle intoxicating power, brought back to the fading sense some flash of a scene which may have been real, but which was rendered lurid, spectral, and terrifying by the action of the poison. Under this condition incoherent words of command would be uttered in rapid tones, full of an agony of eagerness and haste; and cries for help would be yelled forth in what seemed to be a maniacal frenzy. Many of the actual utterances that escaped these unconscious lips, and gave glimpses of a phantom war as seen through the vapor of chloroform, were too fragmentary to be remembered, but two at least were muttered with such an emphasis of horror that I took note of them.
One of the wounded from Spion Kop had evidently engraved upon his mind the hideous scene of slaughter which the trenches on that hill presented. As he was being anæsthetised it was apparent that in his dream he was back again in the trenches, and was once more among his dead and mangled comrades. The vision of one wounded man especially haunted him and fascinated him, and at last he screamed out: "There goes that bloke again whose leg was shot away; blimy, if he ain’t crawling now!"
Another poor fellow had before his eye the spectre of an awful kopje. His fragmentary utterances made vivid the unearthly land he was traversing. All who stood by could picture the ghostly kopje, and could almost share in his anguish when he yelled: "There they are on the hill! For God’s sake, shoot! Why don’t we shoot?"