The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Army Sketches — 2. A General Inspection
When's the General's inspection?" inquired the cook, uneasily, of the Orderly Room Sergeant. The Sergeant, being Scotch, and in daily converse with "The Heads" was always supposed to know everything about everybody in the Military world. "What are you worrying about?" he said. "You never know what a General'll want", the cook explained. One's all for drill, another for shootin'; and all that. "One come one day, and it seems his dream was to have every officer know the men's names and all about 'em. Our Captain had been put fly to this, so he sez to us, just before the General came round, 'Whatever name I give you men to-day, see you answer to it', he says. So the General come along the line, lookin' at our boots and feelin' our toonics between his finger and thumb, because some of em were different issue to the others; and all of a sudden he points to me, and he sez, 'What's that man's name?', he sez. An', of course, our Captain knew my name all right; but bein' st sudden that way, he got rattled and outs with the first name he can think of. 'His name's McFarland', he says. Well, there was a McFarland about ten paces further down the line; and just as the General comes opposite to him, he halts and snaps out, 'Trooper McFarland, two paces to the front, march!' He wanted to see if our Captain had give me the right name or not. So, o' course, this real McFarland, he steps out, and I steps out, too. And the General lamps us a bit, and he says, 'What's this', he says. 'Is there two McFarlands, are you brothers? he says. So I says 'Yes, Sir', and the other real McFarland he siys, 'No, Sir', both together, just like that: and, of course, the General went off a treat. So you see, Scotty, you want to know what this one will ask?".
The Orderly Sergeant was quite in the dark as to what form the General's questions were likely to take, so he side-stepped te problem.
"Wha the deuce keers whit happens tae a kuk?" he said.
"Oh! don't they" said the cook. "That's all you know. I bet you the General'll ask me more questions than any man in the Regiment".
All this Scotty pondered till you could almost hear his brain working; and then he put forward a valuable suggestion.
"He'll go tae the Light Horrse lines before he comes here" he said "You step over to yon Light Horrse kuk-house, and find out what he asks them, an' ye'll be a' richt!"
It was a quarter of a mile to the Light Horse cook-house; and a half mile walk on a hot day over loose desert sand did not appeal to our cook, who is a credit to his own cooking: but he saw nothing else for it, so he set off doggedly to plod over the sand in the blazing heat and disappeared among the Light Horse tents. Soon we saw the cavalcade of the inspecting General moving slowly up the Light Horse line, and with our mental vision, we could see, and with the ear of imagination we could hear, the General pointing with his cane and asking why the tent flaps were not rolled evenly, and why there were so many Egyptian beds in the tents.
There came a long halt before the Light Horse cook-house: and it is a singular fact that Generals often show great interest in the doings of cooks. One has been known, after shaking everybody from the C.O. to the Company Sergeant
Major to their foundations, to speak quite pleasantly with the cooks, and ask them what they did for a living before the war. Possibly the reason for this is, that an army travels on its stomach, and the cook is really a very important man. "No cook, no company" would be a very good Military maxim to be elaborated in lectures at Duntroon and elsewhere.
At last the General moved away from the Light Horse cook-house, and soon afterwards we could see our own cook in the distance ploughing his way back through the sand. When he arrived he was sweating profusely, but wore a contented look. The Orderly Room Sergeant had made a job for himself to take some papers to the Quartermaster's, so as to escape for a while from the state of high nervous tension that prevails in orderly room when a General Inspection is on. He hailed the cook as he passed.
"Find oot onything?" he said.
"I think so" said the cook. "I went to both cook-houses after the Head had been there; and he ast each of'em whether they gave the men roast meat or only stoos. He roared one of e'm up a treat for not having an oven to roast meat in. Roast meat!"
By this time the General rode up, with his A.D.C, and the local Commandant the regulation distance behind him. He noted whether the Officers' Mess room was in good order, and whether the mess-orderly was tidy. For it is by details that military shows are judged: and incident to this it may he mentioned, that one of the greatest station inspectors in Australia once said that he always judged a stationmanager by his gates. If the gates were in good order, then everything else was likely to be in good order: by their gates ye shall know them! But to return to the inspection.
The General, having immediately awarded full points for neatness of turn-out to the Officers' mess, and for speed style and action to the mess-orderly, set off round the camp. At the first squadron, the squadron leader rode up and saluted and fell in beside the General to receive whatever of praise or blame might be coming his way. Now, the squadron leader had put in a couple of anxious hours going about his lines, seeing that the white stones round the camp were nicely whitewashed, all dunnage and litter out of the road, everybody dressed correctly, and so on. But he had made his inspection on foot, and, not being able to see to the roofs of the sheds, had missed the fact that all the natives employed in the lines had stacked their gallabiehs on the roofs of one of the sheds. The General's eagle-eye fell on this: "What have you got up on that roof," he said, "an old clothes store?" Then he found a fire-bucket empty and volunteered the remark, that firebuckets without water in them would not be of much use in case of a conflagration. "You can't put out fires with 'eye-wash', you know", he said, pointing to the rows of beautifully whitewashed stones on which such hopes had been built. In fact, things were going badly all along the line, and it was felt that it rested with the cook house to redeem the day. Had not all the cook-house staff once been awarded a prize of two pounds for the best and cleanest cook-house in camp? All was not yet lost!
The General rode up to the cook-house and the cook came out, saluted, and stood to attention.
The General asked the usual questions as to how long the cook had been at the job and whether he was a cook in civil life, to which latter question he received the reply, that the cook, in private life, was a revolving window shutter manufacturer! Not being able to carry the conversation further in that line, the General turned to the cook-house.
"Very good", he said. "No flies. Sink in good order. Brick floor. Very clean. What did the men have for breakfast this morning?".
"Porridge and bacon, Sir; and most of 'em buys a few eggs, and I fry 'em."
"Very good. And what did they have for dinner?"
"They had roast meat and baked potatoes and puddin'" he said.
"Very good, very good. That's it. Not too much stew. Feed men well, and they'll do well at any job. Very satisfactory."
The day was saved. Our cook had redeemed the honor of the Regiment; but alas, just as the General drew his bridle to move off, his eye lit on the cook's bare, hairy chest, which was. exposed by an open shirt. "Where's your identity disc?" said the General. A personal search revealed, that not only the cook, but two of his assistants were minus their discs. The General moved on without a word. And thus it was that our report of the inspection contained the dreadful sentence: "A little more attention to details would be desirable". And thus it was that our cook trod the orderly room tarpaulin next morning on a charge of "neglect, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline in that he omitted to wear his identity disc."
"There you are", said the cook, "me walkin' all that way to the Light Horse for nothin'. I wish I'd told him the men had stoo for dinner. He'd a gone that wild, he wouldn't ha' noticed the identity disc!"