Wednesday 7 July 1915
After they had been dismissed from their last morning class on Wednesday, David walked three blocks with Derek, Terrence and Jim to the Hall at Oriel College, where the merchants were set up. They arrived as the class of new intakes was mustering outside. "That was us two weeks ago," David said. "They're just leaving, so we'll have the hall to ourselves for a while."
"Good idea, this. Here first, then lunch," Derek said. "By the time we get back, the lunch line will be gone."
"And this place will be busy." David returned the salutes from the two Platoon Sergeants. "Wise sometimes to do things backwards."
David's boots and Sam Browne were waiting for him at the Foster & Son tables. He sat and removed his puttees and shoes, then pulled on the boots and stood to try them. "These are wonderfully comfortable."
"We pride ourselves on our exacting measurements, Sir." He lowered to one knee and felt the fit up David's calves. "The extraordinary size of your calfs caused questions, but the cobbler understood once I had mentioned your mountaineering background." He stood and took the Sam Browne from the box. "Let me slip this on you, Sir."
David stood in front of the full-length mirror and nodded at his reflection as he bent and twisted. "Also a perfect fit."
As David wrote a cheque for the invoiced amount, the agent asked, "That's a finely crafted uniform, Sir. Where did you have it made?"
"Hawkes & Company of Savile Row."
"Superb tailors, they are. I didn't realise they were set up here."
"I'm told they'll have tailors and agents here beginning today." He tore the completed cheque from his book and handed it to the agent, then after another look at his harness and boots, he extended his hand to shake. "Superb job. Thank you."
"You're missing only a swagger stick, Sir." He nodded to a table display beside him. "We have two leather-capped styles, both of which match your Sam Browne and boots."
David looked at each and chose one. "What's the price of this?"
"Normally twenty-six shillings, Sir, but for you, a Guinea."
David looked at the craftsmanship of the stick again and nodded as he took coins from his pocket and gave a sovereign and a shilling to the agent. "Can you show me how I should carry it. I've seen so many variations."
"I think each regiment has its own fashion, Sir." He shrugged one shoulder and smiled. "Pick one you like." Then he laughed. "You're a Canadian, so you can invent a fashion of your own; no one will know."
David thanked him again, picked up the box with his shoes and puttees, then scanned the room for the Hawkes tables and headed toward them. They appear quite busy. William Tompkins excused himself from a client and stepped forward to greet David as he approached. "Thank you for referring so many to us."
"Simply answering their questions. It's your uniform that piques their interest. I'm delighted with your work — and with your son. He's a fine gentleman."
"Thank you. I'll pass that on to him." He looked over his shoulder at the growing group at his tables. "I must get back."
David spotted Derek and Jim and walked across to join them. "You've both finished?"
"Uniform fittings and adjustments," Jim said. "They'll be here in two weeks."
"That's cutting it close. They're required the following day."
"Seems what most are doing. The Oxford clothiers were all over four weeks by the time I got to them that first day. Many of us had to use a London tailor." He looked at David's uniform. "How'd you get yours so fast? That seemed to take only a few days."
"It was a week. I was measured in my room, then had two fittings there."
"How'd you pull that?"
"My batman's father is a senior tailor with a clothier."
"You've a batman? Another of your surprises." He looked at the pips on David's sleeves and nodded. "Yes, I suppose you do. I was batman to our Company Commander. Certainly learned a lot through that. He's the one who sent me here."
Terrence joined them, and they headed back to Brasenose. When they arrived in the quadrangle, David held up his box and said, "I'll drop this in my room and meet you in the mess."
While the others headed around the end of the wing, David left the package in his room, then took the passage to the foyer, and he was serving himself from the hot line when the three arrived.
Jim shook his head as he picked up a plate. "Alright now, explain this surprise. Am I to believe you also walk through walls?"
"No, it was simply an exercise in navigation and route-finding. I chose to take a shorter way."
As they began eating, Derek nodded to the many who were rushing out of the dining room. "Looks as though the merchant's hall will soon be crowded."
David heard a familiar accent behind him. and he turned to look over his shoulder at the next table. Then in a slightly raised voice, he said, "Pardon my intrusion, but you sound Canadian. What regiment are you with?"
"The Seventh, the British Columbia Regiment."
"That's my old regiment." He stood and extended a hand to shake, then examined the man's face. "I don't recognise you. Which company are you with?"
"The Third, Sir."
"Drop the sir, I'm a student here also, I'm David."
"I'm Bill. From Vancouver." He looked at the three empty seats at David's table. "May I join you?"
"Yes, certainly." David looked at the pips on Bill's shoulders. "It appears you've also received a field commission."
Bill nodded. "In mid-May when we reorganised during a lull. Since I had been leading my platoon for the previous two weeks of fighting, they gave me these." He excused himself from his table, then after introductions to the others, he sat beside David.
"The Regiment still at Ypres?"
"Yes, in reserve at the moment and trying to regroup. Sending me here for the course is part of that." He looked at David's beard. "Pioneers or medical?"
"Pioneers. I'm waiting for the new battalion to be formed."
Bill looked more closely at David's face and his broad shoulders. "You're the Big Dave from the Second, aren't you? I thought you looked familiar."
David clenched his jaws and reddened. "Please. I prefer you keep that quiet."
"Another secret, David?" Jim asked.
David let out a loud sigh, pursed his lips and slowly nodded.
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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...