THE PACKING OF COMFORTS.
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A Few Impressions, by One of the Packers, of the Growth of the Distribution Branch of the Campaign Comforts Fund, Interspersed with a Record of Certain "Packing" Incidents.
Time was when a "packing night" was chosen casually in something like the following style. The D.D.C.C.—which is military abbreviation for "Director of Distribution of Campaign Comforts" —would swing round on his chair and would suddenly address the M.-W.—another abbreviation to be explained hereafter—" Know of any reason why we shouldn't have a packing night to-night„ Miss Helsby ? Have you anything on in particular ? "
The M.W., otherwise the Mistress of the Woollens, who has really
known this question was pending for at least ten minutes before it came, and whose decision was arrived at five minutes after at the very least, nevertheless hums and haws, considers the atmospheric conditions, and finally replies : "Well, I really was engaged for the evening, but it seems inclined to be wet, so perhaps I can arrange to stay."
"And you—are you agreeable?" This to the Chief Sub., since promoted to the official position of Registrar to the Fund, and he, mentally deciding that he can go to the Palace just as well some other evening, also signifies his assent. The Junior-in-Chief is next consulted, and as he happens for the nonce to have no pressing appointment of a sociable nature, the rest of the staff unanimously agrees that "packing night" is feasible. It only remains for the D.D.C.C, to ring up his sister and to obtain her accession to his request for assistance, and the party appears to be complete. Those almost happy-go-lucky occasions are now of the dim long ago. The " nights " are still with us. Their frequency, after passing through many stages, is now .governed and set to a definite period. Their importance is such, that two or three days' hardpressed preparation is needed for their successful prosecution. They provide, moreover, work for nearly a score of volunteer packers nowadays, aid in which New Zealand helpers take a prominent part, and which is as generously given as it is gratefully accepted. These commence work about six p.m., and depart homewards, cheerfully tired, little short of the witching hour of midnight.
As well may be imagined, these meetings, each of which is charaeterized from its •commencement by strenuous endeavour and continues so until its close, are none the less full of incident—from the first occasion, on which one of the staff helpers found himself absolutely unable to Count gloves, thus rendering the Registrar hilariously helpless, which state was not at all improved when he was complimented on his marvellous capacity for sleight-of-hand, and asked if he "wouldn't take another pair home for a pal," to one of the most recent incidents, when the Registrar, just on the point of overbalancing with a mountainous bundle of stationery packets in his arras, accidentally collided with the M.W. and fell full length amongst the ruins of his load—a couple of hundred bundles of foreign notepaper and envelopes.
• In the beginning, when the party consisted of perhaps five, including those already enumerated, the lady volunteers used carefully and methodically to pack "mixed woollens" in the little "four by eight" storeroom. The Registrar and the Junior stencilled the addresses on the cases, and, as has already been hinted, labelled, counted, miscounted, packed and repacked gloves, the D. D. C. C. lending a hand to either party as occasion demanded, besides successfully filling the role of light porter, carrying to and fro the empty and full cases.
The packing, stencilling and despatching of ten of these cases per night was then an achievement which caused the swelling of all chests in pride. The insidious promptings of ambition, however, -were already making themselves felt. Twelve cases were, amidst jubilation, cleared during a-further evening. When the next proposal became due, owing to previous engagements, the two regular lady helpers were unable to be present. The available force of the first small Party was thus reduced to three— the male members of the company. These defections were coincident With the arrival of a large consignment of gloves from the manufacturers—some 4500 pairs. The chief gloated;. the assistants "saw, per ceived the possibilities, and tacitly agreed. Here, obviously, was art opportunity to prove to the world at large the infinite superiority of the male helper. Secretly they held solemn conclave. Early in the afternoon the Junior was missing from his accustomed official-place ; he had stolen quietly away to the storeroom, and was busily preparing the newly-arrived goods for shipment. Shortly afterwards exit the Registrar—to stencil the cases, darkly and secretly. At 6.30 prompt the Director got going, and all three put their backs into it. The gloves had to be unpacked, each individual one marked -with a rubber stamp, counted and repacked in bundles of sixes before being finally rammed tightly into the cases for despatch. In order to save time, it was decided -that the Junior should have nothing to do with the counting. He, on the other hand, was heard to mutter something about "keeping an eye on the pockets of the Registrar." This friendly adjustment made, the three frantically pressed on with the preparations for packing, ea.ch . vying with the other with the idea of finishing his share first. The-Chief unpacked, the Junior stamped, and in his excitement it must be admitted he did not neglect to stamp himself, other people's coats, and hands, and anything that was in the vicinity. Soon,. however, he emerged triumphantly with all the gloves marked and the whole place spattered with violet ink.
The upshot of this great effort at frightfulness was 22 cases finished that evening, including over 1200 pairs of gloves. Such an example could only result in further attempts at records, and a new one was set up each evening until the
big total of 74 cases was reached ultimately. This, of course Was only possible on account Of the gradual perfection of the organization, and to the very considerable increase in the number of helpers.
A "night," occurring once' in alternate weeks, is now an event. Great is the chagrin of any of the helpers if he or she, from some cause or another, is prevented from participating, in spite of the expressed opinion of a witty lady helper as to the "propriety of mixed packing." There is an unkind rumour that some of this eagerness is due to the very excellent coffee and sandwiches which are prepared by Miss Mileman and her willing helper Daisy. But, obviously, it is -most due to the spirit of camaraderie which pervades the atmosphere on these occasions, and which brings many workers in to help this all-important operative branch of the Fund and sends chiefs of departments willingly to spend a hard evening stencilling or light portering.
Each member of the party has his or her little idiosyncrasies, and the keenness of the work accomplished is improved without doubt by the cheerful air which pervades the proceedings throughout. It is well known, for example, that -that old soldier, Mr. Plum, never can so manage to pack his particular case that it comes near enough to -the 56 lb. which has been sta,ndardiied. On the other hand, whatever departure he does make is sure to be considerably exaggerated' by the check-weighman, Mr. Morose, at the other end of the room, who is only too pleased, if he can, to roar out, "Case for the 2nd Army Troops Sup. Col. six pounds light.' Invariably Mr. Plum is found to be the culprit, whilst his partner, Miss Plaice, stoutly maintains that someone has tampered with the case en route to the scales. Even this excuse would not avail, however, on the occasion when he was discovered to have packed six footballs at the bottom of six separate cases and to have omitted to include the necessary bladders!
Want of space prevents further disclosures of similar mishaps to other packers. The work, nevertheless, proceeds apace.
When the actual packing is finished, the ladies hurry off, leaving the men finally to check over the addresses on the cases and to stack them ready for the railway people the next morning.