"Well, if you knows of a better 'ole, go to it." A cartoon by Capt Bruce Bairnsfather, from Fragments From France, published by The Bystander.
Billets and Batmen; Being a Few Reminiscences of the Lighter Side of War (Excerpts)
Published in the Canadian Defence Quarterly, Vol. XI, No. 1, October, 1933
…it was not until I went to France that I was taken charge of by Bill. He was an time-expired R.E. who was homesteading in Canada when the war started, and although well over fifty, he had lied his way back into the Army. But though the spirit was willing, his feet let him down and so he became a bright particular star in the Corps of Batmen. He was a fine, upstanding old chap of over six feet, with a complexion that was the co-operative achievement of Indian suns and British beer, and the typical huge drooping moustache of the old army.
So long as I was on this cushy job Bill was quite content to remain in billets, but if I had a re reconnaissance to make or some front line wire to put up, he would contrive to get my runner, who was quite a youngster, out of the way when I wanted him, and would turn up himself with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
"Where's Tompkins," I would enquire.
"I sent 'im down for rations" (or something else) "sir, so I'll come along myself."
During the following summer, we had just come out of the line for the usual alleged rest, when a full parade was ordered, as the G.O.C. in C. was coming to look us over. It happened that by reason of leave and casualties, I was acting as second-in-command of the company and therefore in charge of the mounted section. So I went into conference with Bill …
"I'll have to look pretty posh tomorrow, Bill, because the G.O.C. is going to inspect us."
"All right, Sir, you just leave it to me," said he, "I'll 'ave yer lookin' like a bleedin' rainbow."
And so he did. I positively glittered. I learned later that he had taken my charge from the lines the night before and kept it in his billet with him until the parade the next day. the mare' coat was something to admire, Bill having spent most of the night polishing her up with by best, and only, silk handkerchief, while in place of the steel bit and stirrups, these were nickel plated, borrowed (?) from some Artillery lines a mile or so away.
It was Bill's habit, when we moved out to rest, to make a reconnaissance of the village. In the evening he would come to me, ostensibly to see if my billet was to my liking.
"Got a spare water bottle, Sir?" he would ask.
"What for, Bill?"
"Well, Sir, I've 'eard as 'ow there's a good drop of beer to be 'ad in this 'ere village, and I thogh p'raps you'd like to try it."
"All right, Bill, how much?"
"Well, Sir, wot about ten francs?"
Now ten francs would buy nearly all the beer in the village, but I guess that was what Bill had in mind.
Anyway, presently he would depart with several water bottles slung around him, to return later in a cheerful frame of mind, but he would never forget to deliver my beer to me.