All Quiet On The Western Front Chapter FIVE

Killing each separate louse is a tedious business when a man has hundreds. The little beasts are hard and the everlasting cracking with one’s fingernails very soon becomes wearisome. So Tjaden has rigged up the lid of a boot-polish tin with a piece of wire over the lighted stump of a candle. The lice are simply thrown into this little pan. Crack! and they’re done for.

We sit around with our shirts on our knees, our bodies naked to the warm air and our hands at work. Haie has a particularly fine brand of louse: they have a red cross on their heads. He suggests that he brought them back from the hospital at Thourhout, where they attended personally on a surgeon-general. He says he means to use the fat that slowly accumulates in the tin-lid for polishing his boots, and roars with laughter for half an hour at his own joke.

But he gets little response to-day; we are too preoccupied with another affair.

The rumour has materialized. Himmelstoss has come. He appeared yesterday; we’ve already heard the well-known voice. He seems to have overdone it with a couple of young recruits on the ploughed field at home and unknown to him the son of the local magistrate was watching. That cooked his goose.

He will get some surprises here. Tjaden has been meditating for hours what to say to him. Haie gazes thoughtfully at his great paws and winks at me. The thrashing was the high water mark of his life. He tells me he often dreams of it. Kropp and Müller are amusing themselves. From somewhere or other, probably the pioneer-cook-house, Kropp has bagged for himself a mess-tin full of beans. Müller squints hungrily into it but checks himself and says "Albert, what would you do if it were suddenly peace-time again?"

"There won’t be any peace-time," says Albert bluntly.

"Well, but if---" persists Müller, "what would

you do?"

"Clear out of this!" growls Kropp.

"Of course. And then what?"

"Get drunk," says Albert.

"Don’t talk rot, I mean seriously-"

"So do I," says Kropp, "what else should a man do?"

Kat becomes interested. He levies tribute on Kropp’s tin of beans, swallows some, then considers for a while and says: "You might get drunk first, of course, but then you’d take the next train for home and mother. Peace-time, man, Albert---"

He fumbles in his oil-cloth pocket-book for a photograph and suddenly shows it all round. "My old woman!" Then he puts it back and swears: "Damned lousy war---"

"It’s all very well for you to talk," I tell him. "You’ve a wife and children."

"True," he nods, "and I have to see to it that they’ve something to eat."

We laugh. "They won’t lack for that, Kat, you’d scrounge it from somewhere."

Müller is insatiable and gives himself no peace. He wakes Haie Westhus out of his dream. "Haie, what would you do if it was peace-time?"

"Give you a kick in the backside for the way you talk," I say. "How does it come about exactly?"

"How does the cow-shit come on the roof?" retorts Müller laconically, and turns to Haie Westhus again.

It is too much for Haie. He shakes his freckled head:

"You mean when the war’s over?"

"Exactly. You’ve said it."

"Well, there’d be women of course, eh?"- Haie licks his lips.


"By Jove, yes," says Haie, his face melting, "then I’d grab some good buxom dame, some real kitchen wench with plenty to get hold of, you know, and jump straight into bed. Just you think, boys, a real feather-bed with a spring mattress; I wouldn’t put trousers on again for a week."

Everyone is silent. The picture is too good. Our flesh creeps. At last Müller pulls himself together and says:

"And then what?"

A pause. Then Haie explains rather awkwardly: "If I were a non-com. I’d stay with the Prussians and serve out my time."

"Haie, you’ve got a screw loose, surely!" I say.

"Have you ever dug peat?" he retorts good-naturedly. "You try it."

Then he pulls a spoon out of the top of his boot and reaches over into Kropp’s mess-tin.

"It can’t be worse than digging trenches," I venture.

Haie chews and grins: "It lasts longer though. And there’s no getting out of it either."

"But, man, surely it’s better at home."

"Some ways," says he, and with open mouth sinks into a day-dream.

You can see what he is thinking. There is the mean little hut on the moors, the hard work on the heath from morning till night in the heat, the miserable pay, the dirty labourer’s clothes.

"In the army in peace-time you’ve nothing to trouble about," he goes on, "your food’s found every day, or else you kick up a row; you’ve a bed, every week clean underwear like a perfect gent, you do your non-com.’s duty, you have a good suit of clothes; in the evening you’re a free man and go off to the pub."

Haie is extraordinarily set on his idea. He’s in love with it.

"And when your twelve years are up you get your pension and become the village bobby, and you can walk about the whole day."

He’s already sweating on it. "And just you think how you’d be treated. Here a dram, there a pint. Everybody wants to be well in with a bobby."

"You’ll never be a non-com, though, Haie," interrupts Kat.

Haie looks at him sadly and is silent. His thoughts still linger over the clear evenings in autumn, the Sundays in the heather, the village bells, the afternoons and evenings with the servant girls, the fried bacon and barley, the care-free hours in the ale-house---

He can’t part with all these dreams so abruptly; he merely growls: "What silly questions you do ask."

He pulls his shirt over his head and buttons up his tunic.

"What would you do, Tjaden!" asks Kropp.

Tjaden thinks of one thing only. "See to it that Himmelstoss didn’t get past me."

Apparently he would like most to have him in a cage and sail into him with a club every morning. To Kropp he says warmly: "If I were in your place I’d see to it that I became a lieutenant. Then you could grind him till the water in his backside boils."

"And you, Detering!" asks Müller like an inquisitor. He’s a born schoolmaster with all his questions.

Detering is sparing with his words. But on this subject he speaks. He looks at the sky and says only the one sentence: "I would go straight on with the harvesting."

Then he gets up and walks off.

He is worried. His wife has to look after the farm. They’ve already taken away two more of his horses. Every day he reads the papers that come, to see whether it is raining in his little corner of Oldenburg. They haven’t brought in the hay yet

At this moment Himmelstoss appears. He comes straight up to our group. Tjaden’s face turns red. He stretches his length on the grass and shuts his eyes in excitement.

Himmelstoss is a little hesitant, his gait becomes slower. Then he marches up to us. No one makes any motion to stand up. Kropp looks up at him with interest.

He continues to stand in front of us and wait. As no one says anything he launches a "Well!"

A couple of seconds go by. Apparently Himmelstoss doesn’t quite know what to do. He would like most to set us all on the run again. But he seems to have learned already that the front-line isn’t a parade ground. He tries it on though, and by addressing himself to one instead of to all of us hopes to get some response. Kropp is nearest, so he favours him.

"Well, you here too?"

But Albert’s no friend of his. "A bit longer than you, I fancy," he retorts.

The red moustache twitches: "You don’t recognize me any more, what?"

Tjaden now opens his eyes. "I do though."

Himmelstoss turns to him: ’Tjaden, isn’t it?"

Tjaden lifts his head. "And do you know what you are?"

Himmelstoss is disconcerted. "Since when have we become so familiar? I don’t remember that we ever slept in the gutter together?"

He has no idea what to make of the situation. He didn’t expect this open hostility. But he is on his guard: he has already had some rot dinned into him about getting a shot in the back.

The question about the gutter makes Tjaden so mad that he becomes almost witty: "No you slept there by yourself."

Himmelstoss begins to boil. But Tjaden gets in ahead of him. He must bring off his insult: "Wouldn’t you like to know what you are? A dirty hound, that’s what you are. I’ve been wanting to tell you that for a long time."

The satisfaction of months shines in his dull pig’s eyes as he spits out: "Dirty hound!"

Himmelstoss lets fly too, now. "What’s that, you muck-rake, you dirty peat-stealer? Stand up there, bring your heels together when your superior officer speaks to you."

Tjaden waves him off. "You take a run and jump at yourself, Himmelstoss."

Himmelstoss is a raging book of army regulations. The Kaiser couldn’t be more insulted. "Tjaden, I command you, as your superior officer: Stand up!"

"Anything else you would like?" asks Tjaden.

"Will you obey my order or not?"

Tjaden replies, without knowing it, in the well-known classical phrase.

At the same time he ventilates his backside.

"I’ll have you court-martialled," storms Himmelstoss.

We watch him disappear in the direction of the Orderly Room. Haie and Tjaden burst into a regular peat-digger’s bellow. Haie laughs so much that he dislocates his jaw, and suddenly stands there helpless with his mouth wide open. Albert has to put it back again by giving it a blow with his fist.

Kat is troubled: "If he reports you, it’ll be pretty serious."

"Do you think he will?" asks Tjaden.

"Sure to," I say.

"The least you’ll get will be five days close arrest," says Kat.

That doesn’t worry Tjaden. "Five days clink are five days rest."

"And if they send you to the Fortress?" urges the thoroughgoing Müller.

"Well, for the time being the war will be over so far as I am concerned."

Tjaden is a cheerful soul. There aren’t any worries for him. He goes off with Haie and Leer so that they won’t find him in the first flush of excitement.


Müller hasn’t finished yet. He tackles Kropp again.

"Albert, if you were really at home now, what would you do?"

Kropp is contented now and more accommodating:

"How many of us were there in the class exactly?"

We count up: out of twenty, seven are dead, four wounded, one in a mad-house. That makes twelve.

"Three of them are lieutenants," says Müller. "Do you think they would still let Kantorek sit on them?"

We guess not: we wouldn’t let ourselves be sat on for that matter.

"What do you mean by the three-fold theme in "William Tell’?" says Kropp reminiscently, and roars with laughter.

"What was the purpose of the Poetic League of Göttingen?" asked Müller suddenly and earnestly.

"How many children had Charles the Bald?" I interrupt gently.

"You’ll never make anything of your life, Bäumer," croaks Müller.

"When was the battle of Zana?" Kropp wants to know.

"You lack the studious mind, Kropp, sit down, three minus---" I say.

"What offices did Lycurgus consider the most important for the state?" asks Müller, pretending to take off his pince-nez.

"Does it go: ’We Germans fear God and none else in the whole world,’ or ’We, the Germans, fear God and---’ " I submit.

"How many inhabitants has Melbourne?" asks Müller.

"How do you expect to succeed in life if you don’t know that?" I ask Albert hotly.

Which he caps with: "What is meant by Cohesion?"

We remember mighty little of all that rubbish. Anyway, it has never been the slightest use to us. At school nobody ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood-nor that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn’t get jammed, as it does in the ribs.

Müller says thoughtfully: "What’s the use? We’ll have to go back and sit on the forms again."

I consider that out of the question. "We might take a special exam."

"That needs preparation. And if you do get through, what then? A student’s life isn’t any better. If you have no money, you have to work like the devil."

"It’s a bit better. But it’s rot all the same, everything they teach you."

Kropp supports me: "How can a man take all that stuff seriously when he’s once been out here?"

"Still you must have an occupation of some sort," insists Müller, as though he were Kantorek himself.

Albert cleans his nails with a knife. We are surprised at this delicacy. But it is merely pensiveness. He puts the knife away and continues: "That’s just it. Kat and Detering and Haie will go back to their jobs because they had them already. Himmelstoss too. But we never had any. How will we ever get used to one after this, here?"-he makes a gesture toward the front.

"What we’ll want is a private income, and then we’ll be able to live by ourselves in a wood," I say, but at once feel ashamed of this absurd idea.

"But what will really happen when we go back?" wonders Müller, and even he is troubled.

Kropp gives a shrug. "I don’t know. Let’s get back first, then we’ll find out."

We are all utterly at a loss. "What could we do?" I ask.

"I don’t want to do anything," replies Kropp wearily. "You’ll be dead one day, so what does it matter? I don’t think we’ll ever go back."

"When I think about it, Albert," I say after a while rolling over on my back, "when I hear the word ’peace-time,’ it goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing-something, you know, that it’s worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can’t even imagine anything. All I do know is that this business about professions and studies and salaries and so on-it makes me sick, it is and always was disgusting. I don’t see anything at all, Albert."

All at once everything seems to me confused and hopeless.

Kropp feels it too. "It will go pretty hard with us all. But nobody at home seems to worry much about it. Two years of shells and bombs-a man won’t peel that off as easy as a sock."

We agree that it’s the same for everyone; not only for us here, but everywhere, for everyone who is of our age; to some more, and to others less. It is the common fate of our generation.

Albert expresses it: "The war has ruined us for everything."

He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.


The Orderly Room shows signs of life. Himmelstoss seems to have stirred them up. At the head of the column trots the fat sergeant-major. It is queer that almost all of the regular sergeant-majors are fat.

Himmelstoss follows him, thirsting for vengeance. His boots gleam in the sun.

We get up.

"Where’s Tjaden?" the sergeant puffs.

No one knows, of course. Himmelstoss glowers at us wrathfully. "You know very well. You won’t say, that’s the fact of the matter. Out with it!"

Fatty looks round enquiringly; but Tjaden is not to be seen. He tries another way.

"Tjaden will report at the Orderly Room in ten minutes."

Then he steams off with Himmelstoss in his wake.

"I have a feeling that next time we go up wiring I’ll be letting a bundle of wire fall on Himmelstoss’s leg," hints Kropp.

"We’ll have quite a lot of jokes with him," laughs Müller-

That is our sole ambition: to knock the conceit out of a postman.

I go into the hut and put Tjaden wise. He disappears.

Then we change our possy and lie down again to play cards. We know how to do that: to play cards, to swear, and to fight. Not much for twenty years;-and yet too much for twenty years.

Half an hour later Himmelstoss is back again. Nobody pays any attention to him. He asks for Tjaden. We shrug our shoulders.

"Then you’d better find him," he persists. "Haven’t you been to look for him?"

Kropp lies back on the grass and says: "Have you ever been out here before?"

"That’s none of your business," retorts Himmelstoss. "I expect an answer."

"Very good," says Kropp, getting up. "See up there where those little white clouds are. Those are anti-aircraft. We were over there yesterday. Five dead and eight wounded. And that’s a mere nothing. Next time, when you go up with us, before they die the fellows will come up to you, click their heels, and ask stiffly: ’Please may I go? Please may I hop it? We’ve been waiting here a long time for someone like you.’"

He sits down again and Himmelstoss disappears like a comet.

"Three days C.B.," conjectures Kat.

"Next time I’ll let fly," I say to Albert.

But that is the end. The case comes up for trial in the evening. In the Orderly Room sits our Lieutenant, Bertink, and calls us in one after another.

I have to appear as a witness and explain the reason of Tjaden’s insubordination.

The story of the bed-wetting makes an impression. Himmelstoss is recalled and I repeat my statement.

"Is that right?" Bertink asks Himmelstoss.

He tries to evade the question, but in the end has to confess, for Kropp tells the same story.

"Why didn’t someone report the matter, then?" asks Bertink.

We are silent: he must know himself how much use it is in reporting such things. It isn’t usual to make complaints in the army. He understands it all right though, and lectures Himmelstoss, making it plain to him that the front isn’t a parade-ground. Then comes Tjaden’s turn, he gets a long sermon and three days’ open arrest. Bertink gives Kropp a wink and one day’s open arrest. "It can’t be helped," he says to him regretfully. He is a decent fellow.

Open arrest is quite pleasant. The clink was once a fowl-house; there we can visit the prisoners, we know how to manage it. Close arrest would have meant the cellar.

They used to tie us to a tree, but that is forbidden now. In many ways we are treated quite like men.

An hour later after Tjaden and Kropp are settled in behind their wire-netting we make our way into them. Tjaden greets us crowing. Then we play skat far into the night. Tjaden wins of course, the lucky wretch.


When we break it up Kat says to me: "What do you say to some roast goose?"

"Not bad," I agree.

We climb up on a munition-wagon. The ride costs us two cigarettes. Kat has marked the spot exactly. The shed belongs to a regimental headquarters. I agree to get the goose and receive my instructions. The out-house is behind the wall and the door shuts with just a peg.

Kat hoists me up. I rest my foot in his hands and climb over the wall. Kat keeps watch below.

I wait a few moments to accustom my eyes to the darkness. Then I recognize the shed. Softly I steal across, lift the peg, pull it out and open the door.

I distinguish two white patches. Two geese, that’s bad: if I grab one the other will cackle. Well, both of them-if I’m quick, it can be done.

I make a jump. I catch hold of one and the next instant the second. Like a madman I bash their heads against the wall to stun them. But I haven’t quite enough weight. The beasts cackle and strike out with their feet and wings. I fight desperately, but Lord! what a kick a goose has! They struggle and I stagger about. In the dark these white patches are terrifying. My arms have grown wings and I’m almost afraid of going up into the sky, as though I held a couple of captive balloons in my fists.

Then the row begins; one of them gets his breath and goes off like an alarm clock. Before I can do anything, something comes in from outside; I feel a blow, lie outstretched on the floor, and hear awful growls. A dog. I steal a glance to the side, he makes a snap at my throat. I lie still and tuck my chin into my collar.

It’s a bull dog. After an eternity he withdraws his head and sits down beside me. But if I make the least movement he growls. I consider. The only thing to do is to get hold of my small revolver, and that too before anyone arrives. Inch by inch I move my hand toward it.

I have the feeling that it lasts an hour. The slightest movement and then an awful growl; I lie still, then try again. When at last I have the revolver my hand starts to tremble. I press it against the ground and say over to myself: Jerk the revolver up, fire before he has a chance to grab, and then jump up.

Slowly I take a deep breath and become calmer. Then I hold my breath, whip up the revolver, it cracks, the dog leaps howling to one side, I make for the door of the shed and fall head over heels over one of the scuttering geese.

At full speed I seize it again, and with a swing toss it over the wall and clamber up. No sooner am I on top than the dog is up again as lively as ever and springs at me. Quickly I let myself drop. Ten paces away stands Kat with the goose under his arm. As soon as he sees me we run.

At last we can take a breather. The goose is dead, Kat saw to that in a moment. We intend to roast it at once so that nobody will be any wiser. I fetch a dixie and wood from the hut and we crawl into a small deserted lean-to which we use for such purposes. The single window space is heavily curtained. There is a sort of hearth, an iron plate set on some bricks. We kindle a fire.

Kat plucks and cleans the goose. We put the feathers carefully to one side. We intend to make two cushions out of them with the inscription: "Sleep soft under shell-fire." The sound of the gunfire from the front penetrates into our refuge. The glow of the fire lights up our faces, shadows dance on the wall. Sometimes a heavy crash and the lean-to shivers. Aeroplane bombs. Once we hear a stifled cry. A hut must have been hit.

Aeroplanes drone; the tack-tack of machine-guns breaks out. But no light that could be observed shows from us.

We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don’t talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have.

We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another, and the hour is like the room: flecked over with the lights and shadows of our feelings cast by a quiet fire. What does he know of me or I of him? formerly we should not have had a single thought in common-now we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak.

It takes a long time to roast a goose, even when it is young and fat. So we take turns. One bastes it while the other lies down and sleeps. A grand smell gradually fills the hut.

The noises without increase in volume, pass into my dream and yet linger in my memory. In a half sleep I watch Kat dip and raise the ladle. I love him, his shoulders, his angular, stooping figure- and at the same time I see behind him woods and stars, and a clear voice utters words that bring me peace, to me, a soldier in big boots, belt, and knapsack, taking the road that lies before him under the high heaven, quickly forgetting and seldom sorrowful, for ever pressing on under the wide night sky.

A little soldier and a clear voice, and if anyone were to caress him he would hardly understand, this soldier with the big boots and the shut heart, who marches because he is wearing big boots, and has forgotten all else but marching. Beyond the sky-line is a country with flowers, lying so still that he would like to weep. There are sights there that he has not forgotten, because he never possessed them-perplexing, yet lost to him. Are not his twenty summers there?

Is my face wet, and where am I? Kat stands before me, his gigantic, stooping shadow falls upon me, like home. He speaks gently, he smiles and goes back to the fire.

Then he says: "It’s done."

"Yes, Kat."

I stir myself. In the middle of the room shines the brown goose. We take out our collapsible forks and our pocket-knives and each cuts off a leg. With it we have army bread dipped in gravy. We eat slowly and with gusto.

"How does it taste, Kat?"

"Good! And yours?"

"Good, Kat."

We are brothers and press on one another the choicest pieces. Afterwards I smoke a cigarette and Kat a cigar. There is still a lot left.

"How would it be, Kat if we took a bit to Kropp and Tjaden?"

"Sure," says he.

We carve off a portion and wrap it up carefully in newspaper. The rest we thought of taking over to the hut. Kat laughs, and simply says: "Tjaden."

I agree, we will have to take it all.

So we go off to the fowl-house to waken them. But first we pack away the feathers.

Kropp and Tjaden take us for magicians. Then they get busy with their teeth. Tjaden holds a wing in his mouth with both hands like a mouth-organ, and gnaws. He drinks the gravy from the pot and smacks his lips:

"May I never forget you!"

We go to our hut. Again there is the lofty sky with the stars and the oncoming dawn, and I pass beneath it, a soldier with big boots and a full belly, a little soldier in the early morning-but by my side, stooping and angular, goes Kat, my comrade.

The outlines of the huts are upon us in the dawn like a dark, deep sleep.