Monday, September 17, 2012

Military Monday - "Hell no, I want a smoke!"


World War I cigarette case
 
Cigarettes became all the rage during World War I. Tobacco was originally something reserved for the upper classes, but when the war came along it was decided that cigarettes would help to calm a Soldier's nerves. Cigarettes quickly became part of a Soldier's daily rations. Organizations around the country began drives to raise money for cigarettes and they became a mainstay of any care package overseas.

The cigarette case above is a recent addition to my World War I collection. Cigarette cases would have been highly prized for Soldiers in the trenches as they could keep cigarettes dry and "whole" during fighting.

While I am not and have never been a smoker, I can understand the need for a Soldier to have something that calmed his nerves...even if for a few moments. This news article from the Tulsa World, printed January 8, 1918, puts the cigarette into perspective.

"Hell No, I Want A Smoke" (click the link for a .PDF version)



"Hell, No! I want a Smoke" Was Words of a Dying Soldier
Arthur Guy Empy, Author of "Over the Top," Tells of Pleasures of a Fag.
I had been slightly wounded in an attack on the German lines and had been sent to the base hospital at Rouen.
The bed next mine was empty. The sheets were turned down, the pillow was missing and a rubber sheet was stretched across the center of the bed, the ends of which were neatly tucked under the mattress. It was my first time in a hospital, but even to me, a recruit, it seemed that the bed was specially prepared, was waiting for some special case. I was right, it was.
               
In the bed on my left was a Jock, a Scottie from the Fifteenth Royal Scots, or "ladies from hell" as these Highland regiments were lovingly called by Fritz our neighbor across No Man's Land. This Jock had lost his left foot from a shell burst. I asked him why the bed was made up in such a peculiar manner. He told me that the occupant, a Canadian, was up in the "pictures" (operating theater), having both hands amputated at the wrists, and also the Canadian was blind, caused by the explosion of a bomb while raiding the German trenches.

In about half an hour four orderlies came down the ward carrying a stretcher. In the wake of the stretcher came a Red Cross nurse. They halted before the unoccupied bed at my right. Then I marveled at the efficient and gentle way in which the wounded man was transferred from the stretcher to the bed. The "undertaker's squad" left, but the Red Cross nurse sat beside her patient, every now and then shooing a fly away from the bandaged head or using a piece of gauze bandage to wipe away the white froth which constantly oozed from the half open lips of the bandaged form.

In a short time the ether began to die out and the frothy lips twitched. Then a sign and the man began to sing, not "God Save the King" or "The Maple Leaf Forever," but "Never Introduce a Bloke to Your Lady Friend."
               
Pretty soon this tune changed, to shouts of "Ammo (ammunition)! Ammo! Ammo forward!" You could hear him all over the ward. The nurse started to sing a crooning little lullaby. The shouting ceased. Further twitching and twisting, and the ether was expelled into the ever-ready little receptacle held in the hands of the nurse. In a few minutes rays of consciousness penetrated to the brain of the wounded man and he started to mutter:
               
"Turn on the lights, it's dark, it's dark, I can't see. It's dark--dark. Take that damned pillow off my head. It's dark, dark, I tell you. What's the matter with my mitts? They're tied--cobblestones on them. Where am I, Smokey? This dugout is dark. Switch on the glim."
               
The nurse was talking to him in a low voice and crooning her lullaby. My God, how that girl could sing!
               
It was not long before the blinded Soldier fell asleep. He slept for three hours, the nurse seated beside him. Not for a second did she leave her post. I inwardly wished that the patient would sleep for hours longer. The presence of that nurse made me feel happy and contented all over.
               
The form on the bed stirred and then in a plaintive voice:
               
 "Where am I? Where am I? Turn on the lights! Turn on the lights!"
               
The sun was streaming thru the window.
               
The nurse was crying. So was I. The Jock on my left was softly cursing to himself.
               
The angel of mercy leaned over her patient and in a low voice whispered:
               
"Never mind, dearie; you are in the hospital and will soon be in Blighty for a nice long rest."
               
The Canadian's mouth twitched, I thought he was going to cry. It was a pretty mouth, but the lips were blanched to a blush white.
               
He asked the nurse, "What time is it?"
               
She answered: "Three o'clock, dearie. Try to go to sleep. You'll feel better soon."
               
The Canadian asked in a piteous voice, "Why is it so dark?" Then he shouted, in a terror-stricken voice: "I know! I know! They've put my lights out! Good God, I'm blind! I'm blind! My eyes are gone--gone--gone---" And his voice died out in a long sob.
               
Three doctors came thru and held a low-voiced consultation. Two of them left, one stayed.
               
The Jock whispered to me: "Poor bloke! He's going west. I know the signs."
               
The dying man began to mutter. The nurse bent over him. She had a writing pad and pencil in her hand. She whispered to him: "Dearie, the mail is going out. Do you want me to write a note home to the folks? Just a short note telling them that you are all right and will be with them in a couple of months?"
               
 The patient answered:
               
"Home? Folks? I've never had any since I was a kid. Home! God, I wish I had one!"
               
The writing pad in the nurse's hand was wet. The bandage on my shoulder was wet. Perhaps the blood was soaking thru. But blood is red.
               
The voice of the wounded man again: "I want--want--Iwanta---"
               
The nurse: "What do you want, boy? What can I get for you--a nice cool drink?"
               

 The answer came back:
               
"A drink? Hell, no! I want a smoke! Where's my makings! I want a fag--a smoke--a smoke!"
               
She looked at the doctor. He nodded. She left the patient and came over to me. I felt as if I were in the presence of God. She whispered to me, "Have you got a cigarette, my dear, for that poor boy? We are all out--have not received any for ten days. If the people at home only realized what a godsend tobacco is for these poor wounded lads they would send them out. They are as important as shells."
               
I told her to look in my kit bag. She looked thru it and found one, all out of shape--a Goldflake. I think it was the only smoke left in that ward of 69 patients.
               
With joy in her eyes she went back to her patient, gently put the cigarette between his lips and lighted it.
               
A contented sigh, two or three weak puffs and the lighted cigarette fell out of his mouth on the sheet. He was asleep.
               
It was getting late. I fell asleep. When I awoke in the morning the bed on my right was empty. The nurses in the ward had red eyes. They had been crying.
               
I turned an inquiring gaze to the Jock on my left. He solemnly nodded and his mouth twitched. I thought he was going to cry, but suddenly he looked at me, tears in his eyes, and said, "Aw, go to hell!" and turned over on his side.


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