After Sergeant-Major Weber had left, Sergeant Jenkins addressed the Company. "We'll divide you now into your two Platoons. Lieutenant Condon told you who you are." He pointed at David and said, "You were a good right marker earlier. Are you One Platoon or Two?"
"Step forward six paces."
While David advanced, Jenkins stepped back six paces, then bellowed, "Companeeee, faaaaa lout. One Platoooooon, on your marker, faaaaa lin."
David listened as Sergeant Rawson selected a marker and then fell in Two Platoon.
For the next hour, they reviewed and practised stationary drill, then took a ten-minute break before commencing basic marching drill. At ten forty, they were marched off the parade square, through the gates and along the streets of Oxford, then halted in front of a building and fallen out. Sergeant Jenkins said, "Take ten minutes, then muster inside the first hall on the left for eleven hundred."
While they relaxed, David saw their Platoon Commander approaching. He stood to attention, then stepped forward and addressed the Lieutenant. "Sir, I've a dilemma. Have you a moment?"
Condon nodded. "Yes, what is it?"
"Sir, Sergeant-Major Weber has ordered me to shave. He talked over me when I tried to explain, and I sensed it would have placed him in an embarrassing position had I continued."
"Yes, that would not be good this early in the course. Did he tell you when he expected you to shave? Maybe we can play with it for a while."
"He told me to present myself to him shaved before going to the mess for lunch. I thought I could have my batman bring lunch to me in quarters to get around it."
"That would work if you had a batman." Condon tilted his head and looked at David. "You're Lieutenant... The late addition to this intake, the name evades me..."
"Berry, Sir. David Berry."
"Yes, that's it. Yes, take your lunch in quarters. I'll sort this out."
"I could shave, Sir. That might be the easiest way through this, but I fear my disfigured face might cause some to question wanting to go to the Front."
"No, no, no. Don't even think of shaving. I'll resolve this." He nodded toward the door. "We're due inside shortly. Thank you for your concern. And thank you for bringing it to my attention."
David stood to attention, then Lieutenant Condon turned and headed toward the door.
"Was that about your beard?" Herbert asked as he stepped alongside David. "I heard him tell you during inspection to keep it well trimmed. We were just discussing that." He turned and pointed to the small group watching them.
David nodded. "Yes, but it's a delicate situation."
"Why didn't you explain to Weber?"
"Sergeant-Major Weber was establishing his authority in front of the Company, and it would have been bad timing for me to continue." He looked across to the movement toward the door. "We need to head inside."
The centre of the hall was filled with rows of chairs, and against the far wall was a line of tables covered with displays, many of them flanked by mannequins dressed in uniforms. David and Herbert followed the example of those ahead of them and found seats.
At precisely eleven, the room was called to attention and Lieutenant-Colonel Stenning, the Commanding Officer of the school, was introduced. He stood and strode to the centre of the wide dais, then turned and faced his audience to sweep his eyes slowly over the cadets. After a long pause, he said, "Gentlemen, please be seated."
He welcomed them to the school, giving its history and explaining that Brasenose was one of nine Oxford colleges currently conducting officer training. He emphasised that the sole aim of the Officer Training Centre is to turn men into leaders worthy of holding His Majesty's commission in the Army.
"Most of our programmes here are seven months in length, and they've been designed to turn inexperienced men into officers. Your programme, however, is only four months, since you've already had basic military training and you also have field experience where you've applied that training."
He paused and scanned the room, taking in every set of eyes. "You come from diverse backgrounds, you've a broad range of experience, interests and skills. You already understand, that as a leader, your first job is to get to know your men and to look after them. Show your interest in them and be aware of their pleasures and their problems. Show you are concerned about them as people, not just as soldiers. If you do this, you will find that when the time comes, they will follow you without hesitation."
The Adjutant shouted, "Room." All stood while Lieutenant-Colonel Stenning stepped down from the dais and strode toward the exit, followed by the Adjutant.
Once Stemming had left, Lieutenant Condon stepped onto the dais. "Be seated, Gentlemen. You have seen that you're but a small part of the training here. But what you've seen is only the Oxford portion. There are similar programmes at other universities throughout Britain. You're a small part of the thousands being trained, but each and every one of you is important to our war effort."
He scanned the faces in the room. "An officer leads by authority. That authority can be simply by means of his rank or his appointment. True authority, though, comes through the officer's behaviour, through his deportment and his bearing. He must appear confident, and his presence must command attention. Part of that is his personal appearance. He must strive to be always well-groomed and well-dressed."
Condon pointed his swagger stick across to the side of the room. "Which brings me to the prime reason we're gathered here — uniforms. By now you're all aware, you must purchase uniforms and kit. At the side of the hall are clothiers, tailors, bootmakers, armourers, and others with displays to assist you in making your decisions. Before I turn you loose on them, however, I'll outline the major points for you to consider."
He elaborated on uniform design for a while, then talked about weapons choices and proper footwear, among other things. He concluded by holding up a sheet of paper. "Here on this table is the list of your requirements. It's divided in two, the top portion being what you must have acquired by the end of your fourth week. The other part of the list details what you must have acquired before your graduation."
He pointed his swagger stick to a table beside him. "There's a sheet on this table for each of you. I'll remain here with Second Lieutenants Bishop and Richards to answer your questions." He looked across the faces in the room, then said, "Right, now have at it."
Herbert followed David as he walked across toward the tables at the side of the hall. "You're not going to take the requirements list?" Herbert asked.
"Yes, certainly, but after the queue is gone." He pointed to the long line at the front of the hall. "Meanwhile, I'll discuss ammunition and look at field equipment before those tables become crowded."
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Back In ActionHistorical Fiction
In the early months of the First World War, a young Canadian soldier uses quick thinking and ingenuity to evade capture after being wounded fighting in Flanders. While escaping through Germany to the Swiss border, he becomes intimately entwined with...