From The Archives

The first world war comes home to a Kensington bus

From the archive, 1916: It is hard for a man in uniform to do wrong at present

21 May 2016

9:00 AM

21 May 2016

9:00 AM

From ‘The softening of street manners’, The Spectator, 20 May 1916: Generally the public opinion of the ’bus entirely upholds the conductor. The influence of the tyrant is too strong to allow of protest, but now and then cases of rebellion occur, and bold females who consider themselves slighted vow that they will write to the company. But an ordinary ’bus-load contains no such heroines…. Sometimes, however, the will of the passengers prevails by reason of unanimity. A few nights ago a drunken soldier got, late at night, into a West End ’bus. The conductor civilly asked him to get out. The man began to argue, and a number of elderly women took his part. ‘Let him stop,’ they begged, one after another. ‘It was not as if he were abusive,’ said one. ‘No, indeed,’ agreed another, ‘considering he has had a drop too much he’s very nice.’

‘If you don’t mind, ladies, I don’t,’ said the conductor, and he retired to the top of the vehicle. Finally, it became necessary to eject the drunkard, and the little force used was deprecated by several passengers. ‘What a shame to push the poor fellow!’ sighed an old lady.

A great deal is permitted to soldiers just now. It is not easy to refuse a favour to a man whose coat is covered with the mud of Flanders. A week or two ago a puppy, declared by its owner to be ‘born in the trenches’ and to have come that very day from the Verdun neighbourhood, kept a ’busful of people fascinated by its tricks and its efforts to lick every face within reach.

Disagreeables occasionally arise when military-minded young ladies take it into their heads that sufficient homage is not being paid to wounded heroes who offer seats not only to women but to old men. The other day, in a Knightsbridge omnibus, a poor old gentleman was volubly upbraided for accepting the seat of a young officer with a beplastered head.

The old man was mute, but his wife turned upon the lady, and the young officer, in obvious terror and embarrassment, left the ’bus under cover of hostilities. The conductor remained an interested spectator, and punctuated the argument with shouts of ‘Hold tight!’

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