She glitters naked, cold and fair

Siegfried Sassoon.

Siegfried Sassoon, who wrote about the bayonet in his poem “The Kiss.”

I found myself thinking about bayoneting, as one does, while cycling the other day.

Perhaps reading Robert Graves’s “Good-bye To All That” was a subliminal influence, containing his recollections of bayonet practice at a training depot where “the instructor’s faces were set in a permanent ghastly grin. ‘Hurt him, now! In at the belly! Tear his guts out! they would scream, as the men charged the dummies.”

I did my dummy charging during my officer training at Sandhurst, which I was reminded of–“Good-bye To All That” notwithstanding–as I was cycling and composing a text message in my head about being caught unawares.

Being a writer keen to improve his often rusty craft, I was debating if it should be “unawares” or “unaware.” I decided that “off guard” would be a better choice and avoid the problem. And then I heard words from the past forming in my head as I cycled along Trinity Street in the blazing Texas sun:

“On guard!!”

We were taught  at Sandhurst to shout, preferably scream, that cry as we thrust the bayonet at the end of our SA80 rifle into the dummy on the ground, before slamming a combat boot heel just to the side of the bayonet entry point to make it easier to pull out the bayonet.

I cycled on, repeating in hushed mimicry: “On guard! On guard!” and noticing there’s something oddly therapeutic about the mantra.