General Mud

Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.

3 Madrigal Court, Yorke
1 June 1017


I think I shall choke from all the dust and grime. And the mud.

I really do not understand it. All the despatches, strident letters, and other paperwork that I am going through came from His Lordship’s camp in a military pouch, was perhaps reviewed, and was funneled into a box for safe keeping. The boxes have lids. So how is the dust getting in? Perhaps the dustman delivers to the Army Records Office instead of taking the ashes away?

And what about the mud? Do they never clean these pouches? Just today I saw bits of mud from Saint-Rémy, Antequera, and Estepona, places where the mire became, if not an old friend, at least a miserable acquaintance.

You civilians can have no proper notion of mud. Oh, yes, I know, Armand, you are no longer quite the city dweller. Yes, Bois-de-Bas is in the country, as we should say here. I have no doubt that Patches the Goat spills you into every mud hole she can find, aye, and then climbs in with you out of fellow feeling.

But though you may encounter mud from time to time, you can have no notion of what is to live in it, to sleep in it, to walk through it to the canteen, the food line, the latrines. The less said about those, the better. Cold, greasy, sucking mud. The only way to keep it out of your uniforms is to keep your kit locked up tight until you shift the camp somewhere drier. The only way to get it off of your boots is to overwork your batman.

Me, Armand, I am well-acquainted with all the kinds of mud there are: the rich black mud that used to be a field of beans; the seemingly inoffensive thin brown mud that soon coats every surface with a tan glaze; the thick green mud that will pull off your boots no matter how tightly you lace them up, and your trousers as well if you don’t watch yourself.

There was a Lieutenant Caldwell, once upon a time. Green as a new apple, he was, the ink still wet on his commission. He came to us on a Thursday morning, handed his belongings to his batman, and went off to review his men without asking the advice of his sergeant. He said he could find his own way.

We all shook our heads, but we didn’t send out a search party until he missed dinner. They found him up to his neck in the deepest mud hole in the camp, cursing the air blue. It was a bit of a puzzle how he’d remained there for so many hours, undiscovered; I later learned that his sergeant had had a word with the sergeant-major, who had arranged for the men in that part of the camp to be sent off on various work details.

The RSM has ways of making new lieutenants learn their place in the scheme of things. Or, as Sergeant Murdock explained to me during my first posting, “Tha makes the big decisions, sir, an’ I make the little ‘uns. I’ll let tha know when a big ‘un pops up.” He did, too.

So I am quite used to mud as a bosom companion—but not as the kind of companion one invites home to introduce to Mother. Surely His not-yet-Lordship could have taken a moment to turn the pouch inside-out and give it a good shake before cramming it full of despatches and cris-de-coeurs?

Still, at least all the bits of mud are dry. I have acquired a broom and dustpan from stores, and I have resolved, as a true Cumbrian soldier, to leave no clod unturned.

Your no-longer-besmirched cousin,


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Photo by Jonathan Lampel on Unsplash

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