Blunden's War - Part 15: Sprinkle me with kisses...
In the horror of war, humour helps survival. Blunden deliberately makes light of his time in the Beaumont Hamel sector - and well he may.
Blunden and Colonel Harrison developed a special relationship that was to last the rest of their lives. It was one based on the need to survive, and the reliance that each had on the other. Harrison invites Blunden ("Rabbit") for a drink and a tune:
'The September sun burned, and a young line of aspens silvered with musical restlessness at their western entry. And over them, the guns made argument, and into them the fires descended. The season-change of apple boughs and berried hedgerows tapestried the sky behind us, where we lived in a kind of log cabin...annexed to the trench called Second Avenue. So there was Pratt, all courtesy and fun, and Harrison, delighted, though hidden secrets of responsibility and anticipation gnawed at him, and Lintott, manliest and wisest of adjutants...Millward just back from a...walk around the companies' and Blunden, operating the gramophone. Gossip ranges from Col. Allerdyce's bath ('well sir, a five-nine nearly spoiled his bath yesterday...he sends his regards and sorry he blew your front line up the other night') - a dark reference to friendly fire - to Harrison's clear humour:
'Is Mr Pratt's signaller having his supper?'
'He is, sir.'
'Good. Now Rabbit, recite your favourite poem from Alfred Lester. Or Horace. Or one of your own. He's a shy fellow, this Rabbit.' (The Mind's Eye, 1934)
Blunden busies himself with self-employment; he and Lintott discover some forgotten piles of carpenter's stores and build dugouts for the winter. His freedom of action is envied, as he experiments with a trench catapult to see how far it will throw a Mills bomb, listens at the bottom of a mineshaft in 'hateful Hunter Street' for enemy underground activity; adopts a stray mongrel, making a bed for him and attaching him to a bayonet driven into the chalk; explores the books and papers in an abandoned notary's house - 'a man after my own heart!;' and manages to sleep in his flannel mask during a gas attack - as confirmed by Harrison who was the only man with a box respirator.
But in a letter to his mother he wonders why his siblings don't find time to write to him.
'Often it's a case of: Write that letter or get an hour's sleep. A nasty dilemma.'
Fun and games are all very well to ward off fear and loneliness. And the battalion is on the move again as coded instruction is received by Harrison from the General:
'You will have your tea this evening, Harrison, (are you there, Harrison?) you will have your tea where I told you. (Can you hear me Harrison?),' and humour continues as Blunden's batman sings: 'You must sprinkle me with kisses if you want my love to grow'.
The Germans mark the relief as 'the dirty brown smoke of their parting presents could be seen sprouting on the parapets and communications at a score of points at once while our companies handed over.'