All Quiet On The Western Front Chapter THREE

Reinforcements have arrived. The vacancies have been filled and the sacks of straw in the huts are already booked. Some of them are old hands, but there are twenty-five men of a later draft from the base. They are about two years younger than us. Kropp nudges me: "Seen the infants?"

I nod. We stick out our chests, shave in the open, shove our hands in our pockets, inspect the recruits and feel ourselves stone-age veterans.

Katczinsky joins us. We stroll past the horseboxes and go over to the reinforcements, who are already being issued with gas masks and coffee.

"Long time since you’ve had anything decent to eat, eh?" Kat asks one of the youngsters.

He grimaces. "For breakfast, turnip-bread- lunch, turnip-stew-supper, turnip-cutlets and turnip-salad." Kat gives a knowing whistle.

"Bread made of turnips? You’ve been in luck, it’s nothing new for it to be made of sawdust. But what do you say to haricot beans? Have some?"

The youngster turns red: "You can’t kid me."

Katczinsky merely says: "Fetch your mess-tin."

We follow curiously. He takes us to a tub beside his straw sack. Sure enough it is half full of beef and beans. Katczinsky plants himself in front of it like a general and says:

"Sharp eyes and light fingers! That’s what the Prussians say."

We are surprised. "Great guts, Kat, how did you come by that?" I ask him.

"Ginger was glad I took it. I gave him three pieces of parachute-silk for it. Cold beans taste fine, too."

Patronizingly he gives the youngster a portion and says:

"Next time you come with your mess-tin have a cigar or a chew of tobacco in your other hand. Get me?" Then he turns to us. "You get off scot free, of course."


We couldn’t do without Katczinsky; he has a sixth sense. There are such people everywhere but one does not appreciate it at first. Every company has one or two. Katczinsky is the smartest I know. By trade he is a cobbler, I believe, but that hasn’t anything to do with it; he understands all trades. It’s a good thing to be friends with him, as Kropp and I are, and Haie Westhus too, more or less. But Haie is rather the executive arm, operating under Kat’s orders when things come to blows. For that he has his qualifications.

For example, we land at night in some entirely unknown spot, a sorry hole, that has been eaten out to the very walls. We are quartered in a small dark factory adapted to the purpose. There are beds in it, or rather bunks-a couple of wooden beams over which wire netting is stretched.

Wire netting is hard. And there’s nothing to put on it. Our waterproof sheets are too thin. We use our blankets to cover ourselves.

Kat looks at the place and then says to Haie Westhus "Come with me." They go off to explore. Half an hour later they are back again with arms full of straw. Kat has found a horse-box with straw in it. Now we might sleep if we weren’t so terribly hungry.

Kropp asks an artilleryman who has been some time in this neighbourhood: "Is there a canteen anywhere abouts?"

"Is there a what?" he laughs. "There’s nothing to be had here. You won’t find so much as a crust of bread here."

"Aren’t there any inhabitants here at all then?"

He spits. "Yes, a few. But they hang round the cook-house and beg."

"That’s a bad business!-Then we’ll have to pull in our belts and wait till the rations come up in the morning."

But I see Kat has put on his cap.

"Where to, Kat?" I ask.

"Just to explore the place a bit." He strolls off. The artilleryman grins scornfully. "Go ahead and explore. But don’t strain yourself in carrying what you find."

Disappointed we lie down and consider whether we couldn’t have a go at the iron rations. But it’s too risky; so we try to get a wink of sleep.

Kropp divides a cigarette and hands me half. Tjaden gives an account of his national dish- broad-beans and bacon. He despises it when not flavoured with bog-myrtle, and, "for God’s sake, let it all be cooked together, not the potatoes, the beans, and the bacon separately." Someone growls that he will pound Tjaden into bog-myrtle if he doesn’t shut up. Then all becomes quiet in the big room-only the candles flickering from the necks of a couple of bottles and the artilleryman spitting every now and then.

We are just dozing off when the door opens and Kat appears. I think I must be dreaming; he has two loaves of bread under his arm and a bloodstained sandbag full of horse-flesh in his hand.

The artilleryman’s pipe drops from his mouth. He feels the bread. "Real bread, by God, and still hot too?"

Kat gives no explanation. He has the bread, the rest doesn’t matter. I’m sure that if he were planted down in the middle of the desert, in half an hour he would have gathered together a supper of roast meat, dates, and wine.

"Cut some wood," he says curtly to Haie.

Then he hauls out a frying pan from under his coat, and a handful of salt as well as a lump of fat from his pocket. He has thought of everything. Haie makes a fire on the floor. It lights up the empty room of the factory. We climb out of bed.

The artilleryman hesitates. He wonders whether to praise Kat and so perhaps gam a little for himself. But Katczinsky doesn’t even see him, he might as well be thin air. He goes off cursing.

Kat knows the way to roast horse-flesh so that it’s tender. It shouldn’t be put straight into the pan, that makes it tough. It should be boiled first in a little water. With our knives we squat round in a circle and fill our bellies.

That is Kat. If for one hour in a year something eatable were to be had in some one place only, within that hour, as if moved by a vision, he would put on his cap, go out and walk directly there, as though following a compass, and find it.

He finds everything-if it is cold, a small stove and wood, hay and straw, a table and chairs- but above all food. It is uncanny; one would think he conjured it out of the air. His masterpiece was four boxes of lobsters. Admittedly we would rather have had a good beef steak.


We have settled ourselves on the sunny side of the hut. There is a smell of tar, of summer, and of sweaty feet. Kat sits beside me. He likes to talk. Today we have done an hour’s saluting drill because Tjaden failed to salute a major smartly enough. Kat can’t get it out of his head.

"You take it from me, we are losing the war because we can salute too well," he says.

Kropp stalks up, with his breeches rolled up and his feet bare. He lays out his washed socks to dry on the grass. Kat turns his eyes to heaven, lets off a mighty fart, and says meditatively: "Every little bean must be heard as well as seen."

The two begin to argue. At the same time they lay a bottle of beer on the result of an air-fight that’s going on above us. Katczinsky won’t budge from the opinion which as an old Front-hog, he rhymes:

Give ’em all the same grub and all the same pay

And the war would be over and done in a day.

Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.

The subject is dropped. Then the conversation turns to drill.

A picture comes before me. Burning midday in the barrack-yard. The heat hangs over the square. The barracks are deserted. Every thing sleeps. All one hears is the drummers practising; they have installed themselves somewhere and practise brokenly, dully, monotonously. What a concord! Midday heat, barrack square, and drummers beating!

The windows of the barracks are empty and dark. From some of them trousers are hanging to dry. The rooms are cool and one looks toward them longingly.

O dark, musty platoon huts, with the iron bedsteads, the chequered bedding, the lockers and the stools! Even you can become the object of desire; out here you have a faint resemblance to home; your rooms, full of the smell of stale food, sleep, smoke, and clothes.

Katczinsky paints it all in lively colours. What would we not give to be able to return to it! Farther back than that our thoughts dare not go.

Those early morning hours of instruction- "What are the parts of the 98 rifle?"-the midday hours of physical training-"Pianist forward! By the right, quick march. Report to the cook-house for potato-peeling."

We indulge in reminiscences. Kropp laughs suddenly and says: "Change at Lohne!"

That was our corporal’s favourite game. Lohne is a railway junction. In order that our fellows going on shouldn’t get lost there, Himmelstoss used to practise the change in the barrack-room. We had to learn that at Lohne, to reach the branch-line, we must pass through a subway. The beds represented the subway and each man stood at attention on the left side of his bed. Then came the command: "Change at Lohne!" and like lightning everyone scrambled under the bed to the opposite side. We practised this for hours on end.

Meanwhile the German aeroplane has been shot down. Like a comet it bursts into a streamer of smoke and falls headlong. Kropp has lost the bottle of beer. Disgruntled he counts out the money from his wallet.

"Surely Himmelstoss was a very different fellow as a postman," say I, after Albert’s disappointment has subsided. "Then how does it come that he’s such a bully as a drill-sergeant?"

The question revives Kropp, more particularly as he hears there’s no more beer in the canteen. "It’s not only Himmelstoss, there are lots of them. As sure as they get a stripe or a star they become different men, just as though they’d swallowed concrete."

"That’s the uniform," I suggest.

"Roughly speaking it is," says Kat, and prepares for a long speech; "but the root of the matter lies somewhere. For instance, if you train a dog to eat potatoes and then afterwards put a piece of meat in front of him, he’ll snap at it, it’s his nature. And if you give a man a little bit of authority he behaves just the same way, he snaps at it too. The things are precisely the same. In himself man is essentially a beast, only he butters it over like a slice of bread with a little decorum. The army is based on that; one man must always have power over the other. The mischief is merely that each one has much too much power. A non-com, can torment a private, a lieutenant a non-com, a captain a lieutenant, until he goes mad. And because they know they can, they all soon acquire the habit more or less. Take a simple case: we are marching back from the parade-ground dog-tired. Then comes the order to sing. We sing spiritlessly, for it is all we can do to trudge along with our rifles. At once the company is turned about and has to do another hour’s drill as punishment. On the march back the order to sing is given again, and once more we start. Now what’s the use of all that? It’s simply that the company commander’s head has been turned by having so much power. And nobody blames him. On the contrary, he is praised for being strict. That, of course, is only a trifling instance, but it holds also in very different affairs. Now I ask you: Let a man be whatever you like in peacetime, what occupation is there in which he can behave like that without getting a crack on the nose? He can only do that in the army. It goes to the heads of them all, you see. And the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him."

"They say, of course, there must be discipline," ventures Kropp meditatively.

"True," growls Kat, "they always do. And it may be so; still it oughtn’t to become an abuse. But you try to explain that to a black-smith or a labourer or a workman, you try to make that clear to a peasant-and that’s what most of them are here. All he sees is that he has been put through the mill and sent to the front, but he knows well enough what he must do and what not. It’s simply amazing, I tell you, that the ordinary tommy sticks it all up here in the front-line. Simply amazing!"

No one protests. Everyone knows that drill ceases only in the front-line and begins again a few miles behind, with all absurdities of saluting and parade. It is an Iron law that the soldier must be employed under every circumstance.

Here Tjaden comes up with a flushed face. He is so excited that he stutters. Beaming with satisfaction he stammers out: "Himmelstoss is on his way. He’s coming to the front!"


Tjaden has a special grudge against Himmelstoss, because of the way he educated him in the barracks. Tjaden wets his bed, he does it at night in his sleep. Himmelstoss maintained that it was sheer laziness and invented a method worthy of himself for curing Tjaden.

He hunted up another piss-a-bed, named Kindervater, from a neighbouring unit, and quartered him with Tjaden. In the huts there were the usual bunks, one above the other in pairs, with mattresses of wire netting. Himmelstoss put these two so that one occupied the upper and the other the lower bunk. The man underneath of course had a vile time. The next night they were changed over and the lower one put on top so that he could retaliate. That was Himmelstoss’s system of self-education.

The idea was not low but ill-conceived. Unfortunately it accomplished nothing because the first assumption was wrong: it was not laziness in either of them. Anyone who looked at their sallow skin could see that. The matter ended in one of them always sleeping on the floor, where he frequently caught cold.

Meanwhile Haie sits down beside us. He winks at me and rubs his paws thoughtfully. We once spent the finest day of our army-life together-the day before we left for the front. We had been allotted to one of the recently formed regiments, but were first to be sent back for equipment to the garrison, not to the reinforcement-depot, of course, but to another barracks. We were due to leave next morning early. In the evening we prepared ourselves to square accounts with Himmelstoss.

We had sworn for weeks past to do this. Kropp had even gone so far as to propose entering the postal service in peacetime in order to be Himmelstoss’s superior when he became a postman again. He revelled in the thought of how he would grind him. It was this that made it impossible for him to crush us altogether-we always reckoned that later, at the end of the war, we would have our revenge on him.

In the meantime we decided to give him a good hiding. What could he do to us anyhow if he didn’t recognize us and we left early in the morning?

We knew which pub he used to visit every evening. Returning to the barracks he had to go along a dark, uninhabited road. There we waited for him behind a pile of stones. I had a bed-cover with me. We trembled with suspense, hoping he would be alone. At last we heard his footstep, which we recognized easily, so often had we heard it in the mornings as the door flew open and he bawled: "Get up!"

"Alone?" whispered Kropp.


I slipped round the pile of stones with Tjaden.

Himmelstoss seemed a little elevated; he was singing. His belt-buckle gleamed. He came on unsuspectingly.

We seized the bed-cover, made a quick leap, threw it over his head from behind and pulled it round him so that he stood there in a white sack unable to raise his arms. The singing stopped. The next moment Haie Westhus was there, and spreading his arms he shoved us back in order to be first in. He put himself in position with evident satisfaction, raised his arm like a signal-mast and his hand like a coal-shovel and fetched such a blow on the white sack as would have felled an ox.

Himmelstoss was thrown down, he rolled five yards and started to yell. But we were prepared for that and had brought a cushion. Haie squatted down, laid the cushion on his knees, felt where Himmelstoss’s head was and pressed it down on the pillow. Immediately his voice was muffled. Haie let him get a gasp of air every so often, when he would give a mighty yell that was immediately hushed.

Tjaden unbuttoned Himmelstoss’s braces and pulled down his trousers, holding the whip meantime in his teeth. Then he stood up and set to work.

It was a wonderful picture: Himmelstoss on the ground; Haie bending over him with a fiendish grin and his mouth open with bloodlust, Himmelstoss’s head on his knees; then the convulsed striped drawers, the knock knees, executing at every blow most original movements in the lowered breeches, and towering over them like a woodcutter the indefatigable Tjaden. In the end we had to drag him away to get our turn.

Finally Haie stood Himmelstoss on his feet again and gave one last personal remonstrance. As he stretched out his right arm preparatory to giving him a box on the ear he looked as if he were going to reach down a star.

Himmelstoss toppled over. Haie stood him up again, made ready and fetched him a second, well-aimed beauty with the left hand. Himmelstoss yelled and made off on all fours. His striped postman’s backside gleamed in the moonlight.

We disappeared at full speed.

Haie looked round once again and said wrathfully, satisfied and rather mysteriously:

"Revenge is black-pudding."

Himmelstoss ought to have been pleased; his saying that we should each educate one another had borne fruit for himself. We had become successful students of his method.

He never discovered whom he had to thank for the business. At any rate he scored a bed-cover out of it; for when we returned a few hours later to look for it, it was no longer to be found.

That evening’s work made us more or less content to leave next morning. And an old buffer was pleased to describe us as "young heroes."