From a seat in the paymaster's office of the depôt barracks at Bury one afternoon in November, 1899, I could look either into the barrack yard or out along the Bolton Road. A four-wheeler clove its way through the crowd surrounding the gates, and the sentries presented arms to it. It contained my friend, the paymaster, who presently came upstairs carrying a bag in which were several hundred pounds sterling—the real sinews of war. This was the man whose business it was to call up the Reservists, and he had a very simple way of doing it. He had several books containing large forms divided by perforation into four parts. The first was a counterfoil on which was written the Reservist's name and the date of posting the order; the second was a railway warrant requesting the railway company to furnish him with a ticket available by the most direct route from his place of residence to the depôt; the third was the order requiring him to present himself at the barracks on or before a certain date; and the fourth was a money-order for three shillings, officially called an advance, but virtually a present from a considerate Government. On the 11th of the month the paymaster at Bury had signed about six hundred of these notices, and had seen them posted; on Sunday and Monday they had begun to fall like bombs on the breakfast tables of prosperous civilians all over the country; and soon the pieces of blue paper had made a sad disturbance in several hundreds of cottage homes, and added several hundred men to the strength of the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. The business of the pay office, or at least my friend's part of it—a few subalterns rushing up in a hurry to get money for their various companies; eighty pounds for A, a hundred pounds for D, and so on—was soon over, and then he told me something of how the Reserve system works.
All the men in the Reserve have put in at least seven years' service. They go into the Reserve first for a term of five years at sixpence a day, and then (if they wish) for a term of four years at fourpence a day. Of course when the Reserves are called out they receive the same pay as regular soldiers, and their wives have separation allowances. As everyone knows, this was the first time that any considerable number of the Reserves had been called up, and the system has worked admirably. About 98 per cent, in some districts presented themselves, the small remainder being either ill or in gaol. A small proportion of those who came up were rejected by the doctor, but on the whole the men were tough and fit. In this district they were allowed eight days in which to settle their affairs and present themselves at the depôt, but most of them did not come until the last minute, and several not until after the last minute of the time allowed by the order.
The crowd outside the barrack gates was composed chiefly of women and loafers, but every now and then it opened to admit a handful of reluctant-looking men, who had probably stayed outside until their money was exhausted. And many of them were hanging about outside the gates having nothing to do and no money to spend, but deferring to the last moment the final step of self-submission to the iron hand of discipline. For once the Reservist was inside the barrack yard he could have no more liberty, probably, for many a long month—unless, indeed, he gained an endless liberty on the battlefield. The scene through the opposite window looking on to the barrack yard was very different from the rather sombre picture without. The yard was gay with the wonderful red that has done so much to make the army popular. For movement there were a few squads of Militia recruits being drilled by the trumpet-voiced sergeants; and for music there was the ring of a hundred rifle-butts striking the ground together, the tramp and click of many feet, and the clatter of the colonel's horse as he rode across the yard.
But the most interesting people were the Reservists and their friends, who dotted the yard in many-coloured groups. Here was a party of girls and women taking a farewell of some engaging blade whose course of gallantry had been suddenly interrupted. There was a father standing with his wife and small family grouped round him, no one saying very much, but everyone feeling a good deal. And another group would be laughing and singing, not quite recovered from the means they had taken to drown regrets.
Sitting in the window, one could trace the Reservist's progress from his entrance at the gate to his disappearance into quarters. The square was filled with little processions containing six or eight men each; first from the orderly-room to the hospital, in all kinds of civilian raiment: black, grey, brown, green, blue, drab—anything but red; hatless, capless, black-hatted, cloth-capped, shabby, spruce, dirty, soiled, clean, pretty clean, white-faced, red-faced, unkempt, well-groomed, hungry, well-fed, thin, fat—every class between clerks and tramps; every condition between prosperity and destitution. A procession was also constantly flowing from the hospital to the quartermaster's stores—the same procession, with one military touch; for this time the men did not straggle, but were marched single file in charge of a sergeant. The next procession was from the stores to the men's quarters; but now each man had a great bundle under his arms containing his entire kit wrapped up in an overcoat.
The quartermaster, not without pardonable pride, took me over the stores in which the men's kits are prepared. There were hundreds of racks containing bundles so cunningly rolled that you could see at a glance what was in each. And beside each bundle was a valise already packed with everything that a campaigner could need; indeed, when I read the printed list showing what was in each my heart warmed with the same joy that I felt when I first read Robinson Crusoe. Government, who is rigorous and unyielding as a disciplinarian to her soldiers, is a mother to them in her provision for their wants. Each bag contained a knife, fork, spoon, tin canteen, shaving brush, soap, razor, boot brushes, clothes brush, hair brush, pipeclay, button polisher, cleaning paste, and a dozen other things just as interesting and as useful. Out of curiosity I opened a housewife, and my heart was touched with the almost feminine consideration that it indicated; for there, cunningly folded up, were skeins of wool and cotton in many different shades, as well as half a dozen sizes of needles. Surely the War Office is human, and not the strange machine that some of us esteem it, for how else could it provide that Tommy shall not have to darn his socks with scarlet, nor his tunic with grey, nor his trousers with white wool? As the men came into the stores each one received his share of these excellent things, and the quartermaster's sergeants displayed quite a genius in estimating and fitting the various proportions of the men. And the men's eyes brightened at the sight of the glorious new red cloth; I believe that, although they wore it for a few days only, it did much to reconcile them with the inconvenience and hardship that some of them endured in rejoining. Khaki uniforms were served out later.
All round the barrack square the men stood in groups as I have described, and in one corner were clusters of men arrayed in their new garments. One could read pretty easily in their faces the story of the last few days. One saw several men who had evidently risen in the world since they had left the army. They had an air of sleekness and delicacy that made them seem out of place. Others had evidently been going down in the social scale, and wore their new clothes like fine feathers. Some were evidently glad at the prospect of action and excitement, and fell back into the regimental routine as a man sits down in a comfortable chair. To others, not a few, all this hustle was an act in a domestic tragedy. Sometimes it was a comedy, as in the case of one man who had built up a "nice little butchering business," snatching his profits from the niggard hand of competition; and now he must go forth to kill men, leaving his rival master in the field of domestic butchery. But the comedies were few, or else I did not come across them, for it was the serious side of this business that impressed me the most. Men caught away from new-found family joys, not for personal advancement or glory, but to take their places as units in the huge war-machine that is fed with human bodies. It is so easy to speak and think of "losses" when we count them by the hundred; it is so hard and bitter to think of one death and all that it means when one stands and speaks to a soldier. I found one man standing apart by himself—a young man, with a good, clean, hardy face—and there were tears in his eyes. As I was passing he asked me what time it was, and in a few minutes he told me his story. He had been married two years; he had one little child; he had left his wife dying of pneumonia. That was all; but I think one can hardly realise how much it meant. I should like some civilians who do their soldiering in an armchair, and who really seem to like a war for the spice with which it flavours their newspaper, to have seen that man and heard his short tale of misery. He is, of course, one of the few on whom an admirable system inflicts a fearful wound; but he is an example (if one were needed) of the matchless discipline that can teach a man to obey without question or complaint a command that has two edges for death. I am glad to say that I met no other man in half so dreadful a plight as his, but there were dozens of men to whom the order came as an ending of happiness, and of course one knew, although the thought was not dwelt upon, that many of the little homes of which these men had been the centre and support would have that support no more. Yet of one thing I am very sure. Not one of the men to whom I spoke but was willing and anxious to serve his country; not one but looked proud to be wearing the old uniform again. The sadness and trouble was all in the retrospect, not in the outlook. Tommy Atkins, with his great, simple, conspicuous vices and his obscure, surprising, and enduring virtues was unconsciously putting into practice the precept of a certain Old Buccaneer: No regrets; they unman the heart we want for to-morrow.
 This man's wife died a week after he had sailed.