Were People in the Great War As Enlightened As Modern Folk
[An officer, in a clean, well-tailored uniform, saunters into a filthy trench, somewhere near Passchendaele, in 1917, shortly before a scheduled attack.]
Sergeant: Officer present! Attention! Sah!
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: At ease, men; standing to attention is bad for the back. Ah, good, those ladders seem well placed and properly supported. Now are your weapons nice and safe? Ammunition safely put away?
Sergeant: Sah, yes, sah!
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: You, Private—
Sergeant: Hatkins, sah!
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: Ah, Atkins, is your bayonet clean? We don’t want an enemy to catch a nasty infection.
Pvt. Hatkins: Clean, sir, and sharp, sir!
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: Sharp? Sharp!
Sergeant: Well-honed, sah, razor-edged, ὀξύς, acutus—Occupational Health & Safety Officer: Yes, yes, I know. Are any other bayonets similarly sharpened, Sergeant?
Sergeant: Why, all of them are, of course, sah. We must all be keen, and I always keep a sharp look-out, sah!
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: But we can’t have that—someone may get hurt! Dull these bayonets immediately!
[After a few seconds of stunned immobility, a few of the soldiers begin to strike their bayonets against rocks.]
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: Hey, what are you doing? Stop! That’s dangerous! Someone could put out an eye!
Pvt. Hatkins: We have no proper tools with us here, sir.
Occupational Health & Safety Officer: Sergeant, I leave it to you to ensure that these men dull their bayonets, and safely; but I don’t want to hear that you’ve been shouting at them. It could harm their hearing, and it lowers their self-esteem. I, meanwhile, have an appointment to meet Field-Marshall Haig; I must talk to him about this foolhardy practice of firing artillery shells. Farewell, men.
[The officer departs. The men murmur and mutter.]
Sergeant: All right, shaarp, you lot; you heard the officer, we need to devise a tool to blunt the bayonets.
Pvt. Hatkins: How, Sarge?
Sergeant: Men, form a file.