VI "THE COCKNEY WARRIOR"
"THE COCKNEY WARRIOR"
WHEN war broke out the public-school man applied for his commission in the firm conviction that war was a glorified form of big-game hunting---the highest form of sport. His whole training, the traditions of his kind, had prepared him for that hour. From his earliest school days he had been taught that it was the mark of a gentleman to welcome danger, and to regard the risk of death as the most piquant sauce to life. At school he had learnt, too, to sleep on a hard bed, to endure plenty of fresh air, and a cold bath on even the coldest mornings, and generally speaking to
That turns earth's smoothness rough.
Welcome each rebuff
While in his holidays the joys of shooting and fishing, and perhaps even hunting, had accustomed him to the idea of taking life, so that if the odds were even, it would even be a recognized form of sport to hunt, and to be hunted by, his fellow man.
We who knew him had no doubt about the public-school boy; and when we read of his spirit, his courage, his smiling contempt of death, we told ourselves with pride that we knew it would be so with him. But with the Cockney it was different. When on all hands we heard praise of his bravery, his cheerfulness, his patience, his discipline, even we who knew him best were relieved, and very glad. For in every respect where the traditions of the public school make for soldierly qualities, the traditions of the East End seem to be against their formation. Tell a public-school boy a thrilling tale of adventure and the tradition dictates that he should say, "Oh, how jolly!" Tell the same story to a boy in an East End club and convention demands that he shall say, "Ow, I'm glad I wernt there!" The Cockney is not brought up to see anything good in danger. He is brought up to fear it and avoid it. Nor is be taught to welcome hardship. For him and his kin life is so hard already that he naturally embraces any mitigation of its rigors. He sleeps on a feather bed if possible, with the tiny windows of the tiny room tight shut, and with his brothers nestling close to him for greater warmth. Even when he "changes" for football he generally only takes off his coat, and puts on his jersey over his waistcoat. Well might those who knew him mistrust his power to endure bravely the constant exposure to the elements inseparable from a campaign. Moreover, the Cockney is over-sensitive to pain. About hurt he is fearfully sentimental. He is a thoroughly kind-hearted little fellow, who not only doesn't want to hurt anything, but doesn't want himself or anyone else to be hurt. True, the dangers of the boxing ring have an enormous attraction for him, but as a rule it is a fearful fascination far removed from the idea of emulation. In his quarrels with his mates he often boasts great things; but his anger nearly always evaporates in wordiness. He was, in fact, the last person in the world that we could imagine going out with set teeth to hurt and slay the enemies of his country. To all this we had to add that he was an intense lover of home. The sights, the sounds and smells of his native London are infinitely dear to him. Transplant him even to the glories of a Kentish spring, and in a fortnight he will begin to pine for home. Exile him to the Australian bush, and no matter how high the pay, or rosy the prospects, he will drift inevitably to Sydney or Melbourne, the nearest available imitation of his beloved London. And so we couldn't help wondering how he would endure month after month of exile, subject to every discomfort and danger that he would be most likely to dread, and committed to the very sort of action from which he would be most likely to shrink.
Well, he surprised us all, as we have said, and has given to the world the amazing picture of a soldier who is infinitely brave without vindictiveness, terrible without hate, all-enduring and yet remaining his simple, kindly, jaunty self. For the Cockney warrior does not hate the Hun. Often and often you will hear him tell his mate that "the Bosches is just like us, they wants to get 'ome as much as we do; but they can't 'elp theirselves." At times he has regretful suspicions of the humanity of the Prussians and Bavarians; but they are not long-lived, and even while they endure he consoles himself with the proved good fellowship of the Saxon. Did not such and such a regiment walk out of their trenches and talk to them as man to man? The Cockney reckons that when peace is declared both sides will run out of their trenches and shake hands, and be the best of pals. "They can't 'elp theirselves." This is the burden of the Cockney's philosophy of war---a phrase that seems like the echo of a statelier word of charity, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Caught up from his civilian life by a wave of tremendous enthusiasm that completely overwhelmed his emotional nature, he found himself swimming in a mighty current, the plaything of forces he could neither understand nor control. But in splendid faith in the righteousness of those forces he is content to give up his will completely, and by swimming his best to do his bit to help them to attain their appointed end. In a dim way he feels the conflict of world forces, and is certain that he is on the side of Michael and the Angels, and that the Kaiser is Lucifer and Antichrist.
The Cockney's sacrifice of his personality is for all practical purposes complete, and sublimely heroic. He only makes one reservation---the right so dear to all Englishmen---the right to grumble. To his tongue he allows full license, because he knows that in such liberty there is no real disloyalty because there is no efficacy. He curses the war, the Kaiser, the weather, the food, and everything indiscriminately, with relish and eloquence that is sometimes lacking in good taste. But let it pass. In view of his real heroism we cannot grudge him this one prized luxury.