Canada in Warpaint, 1917
If fate cherishes an especial grievance against you, you will be made an Adjutant.
One of those bright beautiful mornings, when all the world is young and, generally speaking, festive, the sword of Damocles will descend upon you, and you will be called to the Presence, and told you are to be Adjutant. You will, perhaps, be rather inclined to think yourself a deuce of a fellow on that account. You will acquire a pair of spurs, and expect to be treated with respect. You will, in fact, feel that you are a person of some importance, quite the latest model in good little soldiers. You may—and this is the most cruel irony of all—be complimented on your appointment by your brother officers.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, saith the preacher!
As soon as you become the " voice of the C.O.," you lose every friend you ever possessed. You are just about as popular as the proverbial skunk at a garden party. It takes only two days to find this out.
The evening of the second day you decide to have a drink, Orderly Room or no Orderly Room. You make this rash decision, and you tell the Orderly-Room Sergeant—only heaven knows when he sleeps—that you are going out.
"I will be back in half an hour," you say.
Then you go forth to seek for George—George, your pal, your intimate, your bosom friend. You find George in your old Coy. head-quarters, and a pang of self-pity sweeps over you as you cross the threshold and see the other fellows there: George, Henry, John, and the rest.
"Come and have a——" you begin cheerily. Suddenly, in the frosty silence you hear a cool, passionless voice remark,
"Good evening, SIR!"
It is George, the man you loved and trusted, whom you looked on as a friend and brother
"George, come and have a ——" again the words stick in your throat. George answers, in tones from which all amity, peace, and goodwill towards men have vanished:
"Thanks very much, sir" —oh baleful little word— "but I've just started a game of poker."
Dimly light dawns in your reeling brain; you realise the full extent of your disabilities, and you know that all is over. You are the Adjutant--the voice of the C.O. !
Sadly, with the last glimmer of Adjutant pride and pomp cast from out your soul, you return to Orderly Room, drinkless, friendless, and alone.
"The Staff Captain has been ringing you up, sir. He wants to know if the summary of evidence . . ." and so on. In frenzied desperation you seize the telephone. Incidentally you call the Staff Captain away from his dinner. What he says, no self-respecting man—not even an Adjutant—could reveal without laying bare the most lacerated portions of his innermost feelings.
You go to bed, a sadder and a wiser man, wondering if you could go back to the Company, even as the most junior sub., were you to make an impassioned appeal to the C.O.
About 1 A.M. some one comes in and awakens you.
"Message from Brigade, sir."
With an uncontrite heart you read it: "Forward to this office immediately a complete nominal roll of all men of your unit who have served continuously for nine months without leave." That takes two hours, and necessitates the awakening of all unit commanders, as the last Adjutant kept no record. In psychic waves you feel curses raining on you through the stilly night. Having made an application—in writing—to the C.O., to be returned to duty, you go to bed.
At 3.30 A.M. YOU are awakened again. "Movement order from Brigade, sir!"
This time you say nothing. All power of speech is lost. The entire regiment curses you, while by the light of a guttering candle you write a movement order, "operation order number "—what the deuce is the number anyhow. The Colonel is—shall we say— indisposed as to temper, and the companies get half an hour to fall in, ready to march off. One Company loses the way, and does not arrive at the starting-point.
"Did you specify the starting-point quite clearly, Mr. Jones?"
"Where did you say it was?"
"One hundred yards south of the 'N' in CANDIN, sir."
"There are two 'N's in CANDIN, Mr. Jones; two 'N's'! How can you expect a company commander to know which 'N'? Gross carelessness. Gross carelessness. Go and find the Company, please."
You find the Company only just out of billets, after scouring the miserable country around the wrong 'N' for fifteen minutes, and falling off your horse into one of those infernal ditches.
The battalion moves off half an hour later, and the C.O. has lots to say about it. He also remarks that his late Adjutant was " a good horseman "—a bitter reflection!
There is absolutely no hope for an Adjutant. If he is a good man at the " job " everybody hates him. If he is feeble the C.O. hates him. The Brigade staff hate him on principle. If he kow-tows to them they trample on him with both feet, if he does not they set snares for him, and keep him up all night. He is expected to know everything: K. R. and O. backwards and forwards, divisional drill, and the training of a section. Routine for the cure of housemaid's knee in mules, and the whole compendium of Military Law. He is never off duty, and even his soul is not his own. He is, in fact, The Adjutant. Sometimes people try to be nice to him. They mean well. They will come into the Orderly Room and say: "Oh, Mr. Jones, can you tell me where the 119th Reserve Battery of the 83rd Reserve Stokes Gun Coy. is situated?" Of course, Adjutants know everything.
And when you admit ignorance they look at you with pained surprise, and go to Brigade.
"I asked the Adjutant of the —th Battalion, but he did not seem to know."
Adjutants die young.