“The dope” [short story, 8 March 1918]

[Editor: A short story published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 3, 8 March 1918.]

“The dope”

Written and illustrated by “Worrap”

Very few of us knew his real name, very few of us wanted to — until after the following episode happened. He fell into the Battalion the same as he fell out. He blundered through his parade-ground drill as “dopily” as he walked through a decent-sized barrage. I’d never seen him doing much else off the parade than standing where the crowd was thickest, a childlike grin on his fat, vacant-looking face, on very rare occasions a stump of cigarette between his lips, puffing at it with a smacking noise that would have turned a milk-bottle baby green with envy.

In the days before he became an accepted Battalion institution the S.M. would try and pound a grain or two of his own undoubted briskness into him. I’ve seen the platoon aching with suppressed laughter at the clumsy attempts the Dope would make at comparatively easy drill movements. The S.M. could have been better employed trying to lure the German Naval Squadron out of its hiding place with a magnet. “Stand at ease” was an order the Dope did know fairly well and obeyed with enthusiasm. He would be standing in the usual way with his legs apart and a stupidly proud look on his face, when the S M. would give the order to slope arms (I don’t think the order needs explaining to soldier readers). The Dope’s rifle would come up alright, but his legs wouldn’t move. There you’d see him, his rifle on his shoulder, his stomach stuck out and his floppy pedal extremities at an angle of eighty degrees.

Well, about a couple of months after the installation of the Dope, the Battalion received orders to move up to where “blighties” and tickets for either regions are obtained. It was for a stunt we knew and therefore felt horribly light-hearted over the prospect.

Nothing unusual happened until we reached reserves, where we were a sort of temporary salvage corps, to swell the comforts of the Battalion, so we were told.

The Dope seemed to liven up slightly on the march towards the line — I suppose some latent martial blood from some long-dead ancestor giddily running through his veins.

One morning he wandered out on a salvaging crusade alone. Nobody saw anything of him until about one o’clock, when one of our party spotted him trundling an eight inch dud shell down the opposite hill in our direction. He’d stop every now and again and wipe perspiration from an evidently very fevered brow with the sleeve of his tunic, then bend down to his task of rolling his booty over sundry bricks, minor holes, etc., in the worn road.

We yelled out warnings. We threw things at him. All of no avail. Along he came as steadily as a tank going into action. He was getting nearer — so was the dud, which he was unconsciously aggravating. We fled.

Well out of range of any stray pieces we stopped and turned round. Nothing had happened. There was the Dope calmly sitting on the dud, trying to light one of his rare cigarettes.

After that little incident the other chaps in his platoon fought rather shy of him.

We had taken over the support line. The enemy shelling had been of a widely desultory nature and mostly small stuff, whizzbangs, etc. It was not a lively place. We found plenty of time on our hands for reading and fooling about. My chief occupation was studying the Dope, to see how he’d take to the whole business. I was somewhat disappointed. He was just as immovable and stupidly stolid as on the day he joined us up.

Things went on like this for about a week. Then, suddenly, without warning, Fritz got nasty. He presented us with nose-cap souvenirs and gas shells galore. Our expected stunt was hastened. We moved up into the front line that night.

I won’t go into details of the attack. We got our objective after a hard scrap and many casualties. What really concerns this story is the Dope. You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather when I saw him. But I’m anticipating.

We had been waiting some time in the front trench for the reappearance of a patrol in charge of an officer. The show was timed to start at twelve and the patrol had not returned. Only ten minutes remained then Hell would break loose.

Time went on. . . . Two minutes to go. . . . Twelve o’clock!

Like a well-disciplined earthquake our guns broke out. We said good-bye to ever seeing that belated officer and his patrol again, when a timely star shell from out of the Boche’s ample firework display fell about fifty yards ahead of the trench, lighting up two figures in unmistakably Aussie uniform staggering in our direction. Nearer they came, until we could make out a third figure being carried by one of the other two. They scrambled down into the sheltered place where we were standing. Then I got the shock of my life. There stood the Dope, a seraphic grin trying to break through some clotted blood on his face, giving orders to the men about him to look after the huddled figure of the officer whom he had just carried in!

We never asked questions, we had too much to do. The last I saw of the Dope was as he plumped down in a dead faint alongside the officer. They were both wounded.

I don’t know whether the Dope got any decoration for his act, but he did get a trip to Blighty in a hospital ship. He may get to Aussie. Anyway, he earned it.

Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 3, 8 March 1918, pages 8-9

Editor’s notes:
Blighty [1] = (slang) England; or, in a wider context, Britain

Blighty [2] = (World War One slang) a “Blighty” was a wound which was severe enough that it was necessary for the military to send the recipient to England; some shell-shocked or war-traumatized soldiers gave themselves self-inflicted wounds in the hope that such “blighties” would get them sent from the battlefield, however, if those wounds were deemed to be self-inflicted then the soldiers faced a prison sentence
See: 1) Rita Cheng, “Traumas”, Front Line: Life in the Trenches of WWI (accessed 10 March 2014)
2) John Simkin, “Blighty Wounds”, Spartacus Educational (accessed 10 March 2014)

dud = something which does not work properly or does not work at all; in a military context, “dud” commonly refers to an artillery shell, a bomb, or similar, which does not explode

Fritz = Germans (“Fritz” could be used in a singular sense to refer to an individual German, as well as in a collective sense to refer to the German military or to Germans in general) (similar to the usage of “Hun”)

S.M. = Sergeant Major

tickets for either regions = a reference to earning a ticket (a pass) to either Heaven or Hell

whizzbang = (slang) a small high-velocity artillery shell, which makes a “whizzing” sound as it travels through the air and then makes a “bang” when it explodes

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