Late in 1915, we had entered the front line trenches for a spell of 8 days duty. Everything was very quiet, with little or no activity. No firing from us - none from the Germans. A quiet sector where there was a mutual understanding of a "live and let live" policy. This was a time to do more worthwhile things than to fire a few rounds from a rifle at an enemy you could not see. Chiefly writing home, and answering letters from friends.
It was night and I had just finished my two hour "Stand To" duty in the firing bay, gazing fixedly into No Man's Land at nothing. Two Officers came into the bay and said "We want two volunteers to inspect and repair our wire, and to make barbed wire entanglements to seal off a listening post which (is) going to be abandoned". I made one of the two. Wearing protective gloves and wire cutters we formed the wire into large ball shaped entanglements. Pushing them over the top of our trenches we quickly followed into No Man's Land. There was always an element of danger when venturing in No Man's Land, as one could be caught in the light of flares and met with bursts of machine gun fire, searching for our patrols. There was however no incident or trouble. We completed the job, and climbed back into our trenches. It was perishing cold, and my hands and feet were numb as we accompanied the two Officers back to their dugout. One of them produced two glasses, and poured into them a good measure of whisky. Passing one to his fellow Officer he said "You did a good job, thanks very much. GOOD NIGHT". One of these Officers came from "THE SPORTSMAN BATTALION"! I had never been so disgustingly angry in my life. I was furious. On leaving their dugout, on the way back to the front line, I had to pass through an adjoining dugout where the Officers' food stores were kept, such as tinned food, spirits etc. Looking up at these, I grabbed the nearest tin to hand. Back in the front line I looked at the tin to see what I had taken prisoner. It was Condensed Milk! Not so bad, but I wish it had been food.
My turn again for another two hour spell of "Stand To" duty. "Brew up some tea, Pat" I said to my pal. "No milk," said Pat "and I don't like tea without milk". I showed him the tin of condensed. He knew where I had been, so he asked no questions. Many a brew that tin helped. How sweet would have been all those brews if I had only known what consternation and anger that missing tin was responsible for among the Officers. It was their last tin, and there would be a four day wait before their next ration supply!
At a Re-union meeting after the War the story of their behaviour was told to me by the Lance Corporal who was in charge of the Officer's Mess. He told me they acted like spoilt children, not like men, threatened with a reduction in rank, and stupidly a Court Martial! Neither happened.
It was long after, but I had the satisfaction of knowing the misery suffered by the Officers.
At this re-union I had asked the question "Tea, do you remember missing a tin of condensed milk in 1915?", and confessed my theft. "So it was you! They were so enraged at going without milk in their tea, I thought they were going to shoot me!"