Infomotions, Inc.My Second Year of the War / Palmer, Frederick, 1873-1958



Author: Palmer, Frederick, 1873-1958
Title: My Second Year of the War
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): british; trenches; trench; somme; guns; dugouts; artillery; shell; army; ridge; offensive; shells; machine gun
Contributor(s): Savine, Albert [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 92,604 words (short) Grade range: 12-14 (college) Readability score: 54 (average)
Identifier: etext18497
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Title: My Second Year of the War

Author: Frederick Palmer

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[Illustration: Front Cover]



MY SECOND YEAR
OF THE WAR

BY
FREDERICK PALMER
Author of "The Last Shot," "The Old Blood," "My Year
of the Great War," etc.


NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
1917

COPYRIGHT, 1917

BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, Inc.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                         PAGE

    I BACK TO THE FRONT                            1

   II VERDUN AND ITS SEQUEL                       18

  III A CANADIAN INNOVATION                       35

   IV READY FOR THE BLOW                          50

    V THE BLOW                                    67

   VI FIRST RESULTS OF THE SOMME                  81

  VII OUT OF THE HOPPER OF BATTLE                 94

 VIII FORWARD THE GUNS!                          108

   IX WHEN THE FRENCH WON                        119

    X ALONG THE ROAD TO VICTORY                  130

   XI THE BRIGADE THAT WENT THROUGH              142

  XII THE STORMING OF CONTALMAISON               153

 XIII A GREAT NIGHT ATTACK                       167

  XIV THE CAVALRY GOES IN                        180

   XV ENTER THE ANZACS                           190

  XVI THE AUSTRALIANS AND A WINDMILL             201

 XVII THE HATEFUL RIDGE                          213

XVIII A TRULY FRENCH AFFAIR                      236

  XIX ON THE AERIAL FERRY                        244

   XX THE EVER MIGHTY GUNS                       255

  XXI BY THE WAY                                 269

 XXII THE MASTERY OF THE AIR                     282

XXIII A PATENT CURTAIN OF FIRE                   292

 XXIV WATCHING A CHARGE                          304

  XXV CANADA IS STUBBORN                         319

 XXVI THE TANKS ARRIVE                           332

XXVII THE TANKS IN ACTION                        348

XXVIII CANADA IS QUICK                           360

  XXIX THE HARVEST OF VILLAGES                   374

   XXX FIVE GENERALS AND VERDUN                  385

  XXXI _Au Revoir_, SOMME!                       400




MY SECOND YEAR OF THE WAR




I

BACK TO THE FRONT

   How America fails to realize the war--Difficulties of
   realization--Uncle Sam is sound at heart--In London again--A Chief of
   Staff who has risen from the ranks--Sir William Robertson takes time
   to think--At the front--Kitchener's mob the new army--A quiet
   headquarters--Sir Douglas Haig--His office a clearing house of
   ideas--His business to deal in blows--"The Spirit that quickeneth."


"I've never kept up my interest so long in anything as in this war,"
said a woman who sat beside me at dinner when I was home from the front
in the winter of 1915-16. Since then I have wondered if my reply,
"Admirable mental concentration!" was not ironic at the expense of
manners and philosophy. In view of the thousands who were dying in
battle every day, her remark seemed as heartless as it was superficial
and in keeping with the riotous joy of living and prosperity which
strikes every returned American with its contrast to Europe's
self-denial, emphasized by such details gained by glimpses in the shop
windows of Fifth Avenue as the exhibit of a pair of ladies' silk hose
inset with lace, price one hundred dollars.

Meanwhile, she was knitting socks or mufflers, I forget which, for the
Allies. Her confusion about war news was common to the whole country,
which heard the special pleading of both sides without any
cross-questioning by an attorney. She remarked how the Allies' bulletins
said that the Allies were winning and the German bulletins that the
Germans were winning; but so far as she could see on the map the armies
remained in much the same positions and the wholesale killing continued.
Her interest, I learned on further inquiry, was limited and partisan.
When the Germans had won a victory, she refused to read about it and
threw down her paper in disgust.

There was something human in her attitude, as human as the war itself.
It was a reminder of how far away from the Mississippi is the Somme; how
broad is the Atlantic; how impossible it is to project yourself into the
distance even in the days of the wireless. She was moving in the orbit
of her affairs, with its limitations, just as the soldiers were in
theirs. Before the war luxury was as common in Paris as in New York; but
with so ghastly a struggle proceeding in Europe it seemed out of keeping
that the joy of living should endure anywhere in the world. Yet Europe
was tranquilly going its way when the Southern States were suffering
pain and hardship worse than any that France and England have known.
Paris and London were dining and smiling when Richmond was in flames.

War can be brought home to no community until its own sons are dying and
risking death. In nothing are we so much the creatures of our
surroundings as in war. For the first few weeks when I was at home, a
nation going its way in an era of prosperity had an aspect of vulgarity;
peace itself was vulgar by contrast with the atmosphere of heroic
sacrifice in which I had lived for over a year. I asked myself if my
country could ever rise to the state of exaltation of France and
England. Though first thought, judging by superficial appearances alone,
might have said "No," I knew that we could if there ever came a call to
defend our soil--a call that could be brought home to the valleys of the
Hudson and the Mississippi as a call was brought home to the valleys of
the Somme, the Meuse and the Marne.

Many Americans had returned from Europe with reports of humiliation
endured as a result of their country's attitude. Shopkeepers had made
insulting remarks, they said, and in some instances had refused to sell
goods. They had been conscious of hostility under the politeness of
their French and English friends. A superficial confirmation of their
contention might be taken from the poster I noticed on my way from
Paddington Station to my hotel upon my arrival in England. It advertised
an article in a cheap weekly under the title of "Uncle Sham."

I took this just as seriously as I took a cartoon in a New York evening
paper of pro-German tendencies on the day that I had sailed from New
York, which showed John Bull standing idly by and urging France on to
sacrifices in the defense of Verdun. It was as easy for an American to
be indignant at one as for an Englishman at the other, but a little
unworthy of the intelligence of either. I was too convinced that Uncle
Sam, who does not always follow my advice, is sound at heart and a
respectable member of the family of nations to be in the least disturbed
in my sense of international good will. If I had been irritated I should
have contributed to the petty backbiting by the mischievous uninformed
which makes bad blood between peoples.

I knew, too, from experience, as I had kept repeating at home, that when
the chosen time arrived for the British to strike, they would prove with
deeds the shamelessness of this splash of printer's ink and confound, as
they have on the Somme, the witticism of a celebrated Frenchman who has
since made his apology for saying that the British would fight on till
the last drop of French blood was shed. Besides, on the same day that I
saw the poster I saw in a British publication a reproduction of a German
cartoon--exemplifying the same kind of vulgar facility--picturing Uncle
Sam being led by the nose by John Bull.

Thinking Englishmen and Frenchmen, when they pause in their
preoccupation of giving life and fortune for their cause to consider
this extraneous subject, realize the widespread sympathy of the United
States for the Allied cause and how a large proportion of our people
were prepared to go to war after the sinking of the _Lusitania_ for an
object which could bring them no territorial reward. If we will fight
only for money and aggrandizement, as the "Uncle Sham" style of
reasoners hold, we should long ago have taken Mexico and Central
America. Personally, I have never had anyone say to me that I was "too
proud to fight," though if I went about saying that I was ashamed of my
country I might; for when I think of my country I think of no group of
politicians, financiers, or propagandists, no bureaucracy or particular
section of opinion, but of our people as a whole. But unquestionably we
were unpopular with the masses of Europeans. A sentence taken out of its
context was misconstrued into a catch-phrase indicating the cravenness
of a nation wedded to its flesh-pots, which pretended a moral
superiority to others whose passionate sacrifice made them
supersensitive when they looked across the Atlantic to the United
States, which they saw profiting from others' misfortunes.

By living at home I had gained perspective about the war and by living
with the war I have gained perspective about my own country. At the
front I was concerned day after day with the winning of trenches and the
storming of villages whose names meant as little in the Middle West as a
bitter fight for good government in a Western city meant to the men at
the front. After some months of peace upon my return to England I
resented passport regulations which had previously been a commonplace;
but soon I was back in the old groove, the groove of war, with war
seeming as normal in England as peace seemed in the United States.

In London, recruiting posters with their hectic urgings to the manhood
of England to volunteer no longer blanketed the hoardings and the walls
of private buildings. Conscription had come. Every able-bodied man must
now serve at the command of the government. England seemed to have
greater dignity. The war was wholly master of her proud individualism,
which had stubbornly held to its faith that the man who fought best was
he who chose to fight rather than he who was ordered to fight.

There was a new Chief of Staff at the War Office, Sir William
Robertson, who had served for seven years as a private before he
received his commission as an officer, singularly expressing in his
career the character of the British system, which leaves open to merit
the door at the head of a long stairway which calls for hard climbing.
England believes in men and he had earned his way to the direction of
the most enormous plant with the largest personnel which the British
Empire had ever created.

It was somewhat difficult for the caller to comprehend the full extent
of the power and responsibility of this self-made leader at his desk in
a great room overlooking Whitehall Place, for he had so simplified an
organization that had been brought into being in two years that it
seemed to run without any apparent effort on his part. The methods of
men who have great authority interest us all. I had first seen Sir
William at a desk in a little room of a house in a French town when his
business was that of transport and supply for the British Expeditionary
Force. Then he moved to a larger room in the same town, as Chief of
Staff of the army in France. Now he had a still larger one and in
London.

I had heard much of his power of application, which had enabled him to
master languages while he was gaining promotion step by step; but I
found that the new Chief of Staff of the British Army was not "such a
fool as ever to overwork," as one of his subordinates said, and no
slave to long hours of drudgery at his desk.

"Besides his routine," said another subordinate, speaking of Sir
William's method, "he has to do a great deal of thinking." This passing
remark was most illuminating. Sir William had to think for the whole. He
had trained others to carry out his plans, and as former head of the
Staff College who had had experience in every branch, he was supposed to
know how each branch should be run.

When I returned to the front, my first motor trip which took me along
the lines of communication revealed the transformation, the more
appreciable because of my absence, which the winter had wrought. The New
Army had come into its own. And I had seen this New Army in the making.
I had seen Kitchener's first hundred thousand at work on Salisbury Plain
under old, retired drillmasters who, however eager, were hazy about
modern tactics. The men under them had the spirit which will endure the
drudgery of training. With time they must learn to be soldiers. More raw
material, month after month, went into the hopper. The urgent call of
the recruiting posters and the press had, in the earlier stages of the
war, supplied all the volunteers which could be utilized. It took much
longer to prepare equipment and facilities than to get men to enlist.
New Army battalions which reached the front in August, 1915, had had
their rifles only for a month. Before rifles could be manufactured rifle
plants had to be constructed. As late as December, 1915, the United
States were shipping only five thousand rifles a week to the British.
Soldiers fully drilled in the manual of arms were waiting for the arms
with which to fight; but once the supply of munitions from the new
plants was started it soon became a flood.

All winter the New Army battalions had been arriving in France. With
them had come the complicated machinery which modern war requires. The
staggering quantity of it was better proof than figures on the shipping
list of the immense tonnage which goes to sea under the British flag.
The old life at the front, as we knew it, was no more. When I first saw
the British Army in France it held seventeen miles of line. Only
seventeen, but seventeen in the mire of Flanders, including the bulge of
the Ypres salient.

By the first of January, 1915, a large proportion of the officers and
men of the original Expeditionary Force had perished. Reservists had
come to take the vacant places. Officers and non-commissioned officers
who survived had to direct a fighting army in the field and to train a
new army at home. An offensive was out of the question. All that the
force in the trenches could do was to hold. When the world wondered why
it could not do more, those who knew the true state of affairs wondered
how it could do so much. With flesh and blood infantry held against
double its own numbers supported by guns firing five times the number of
British shells. The British could not confess their situation without
giving encouragement to the Germans to press harder such attacks as
those of the first and second battle of Ypres, which came perilously
near succeeding.

This little army would not admit the truth even in its own mind. With
that casualness by which the Englishman conceals his emotions the
surviving officers of battalions which had been battered for months in
the trenches would speak of being "top dog, now." While the world was
thinking that the New Army would soon arrive to their assistance, they
knew as only trained soldiers can know how long it takes to make an army
out of raw material. So persistent was their pose of winning that it
hypnotized them into conviction. As it had never occurred to them that
they could be beaten, so they were not.

If sometimes the logic of fact got the better of simulation, they would
speak of the handicap of fighting an enemy who could deliver blows with
the long reach of his guns to which they could not respond. But this did
not happen often. It was a part of the game for the German to marshal
more guns than they if he could. They accepted the situation and fought
on. They, too, looked forward to "the day," as the Germans had before
the war; and their day was the one when the New Army should be ready to
strike its first blow.

There was also a new leader in France, king of the British world there.
Sir William sent him the new battalions and the guns and the food for
men and guns and his business was to make them into an army. They
arrived thinking that they were already one, as they were against any
ordinary foe, though not yet in homogeneity of organization against a
foe that had prepared for war for forty years and on top of this had had
two years' experience in actual battle.

On a quiet byroad near headquarters town, where all the staff business
of General Headquarters was conducted, a wisp of a flag hung at the
entrance to the grounds of a small modern chateau. There seemed no place
in all France more isolated and tranquil, its size forbidding many
guests. It was such a house as some quiet, studious man might have
chosen to rest in during his summer holiday. The sound of the guns never
reached it; the rumble of army transport was unheard.

Should you go there to luncheon you would be received by a young aide
who, in army jargon, was known as a "crock"; that is, he had been
invalided as the result of wounds or exposure in the trenches and,
though unfit for active service, could still serve as aide to the
Commander-in-Chief. At the appointed minute of the hour, in keeping with
military punctuality, whether of generals or of curtains of fire, a man
with iron-gray hair, clear, kindly eyes, and an unmistakably strong
chin, came out of his office and welcomed the guests with simple
informality. He seemed to have left business entirely behind when he
left his desk. You knew him at once for the type of well-preserved
British officer who never neglects to keep himself physically fit. It
amounts to a talent with British officers to have gone through campaigns
in India and South Africa and yet always to appear as fresh as if they
had never known anything more strenuous than the leisurely life of an
English country gentleman.

I had always heard how hard Sir Douglas Haig worked, just as I had heard
how hard Sir William Robertson worked. Sir Douglas, too, showed no signs
of pressure, and naturally the masterful control of surroundings without
any seeming effort is a part of the equipment of military leaders. The
power of the modern general is not evident in any of the old symbols.

It was really the army that chose Sir Douglas to be Commander-in-Chief.
Whenever the possibility of the retirement of Sir John French was
mentioned and you asked an officer who should take his place, the answer
was always either Robertson or Haig. In any profession the members
should be the best judges of excellence in that profession, and through
eighteen months of organizing and fighting these two men had earned the
universal praise of their comrades in arms. Robertson went to London and
Haig remained in France. England looked to them for victory.

Birth was kind to Sir Douglas. He came of an old Scotch family with fine
traditions. Oxford followed almost as a matter of course for him and
afterward he went into the army. From that day there is something in
common between his career and Sir William's, simple professional zeal
and industry. They set out to master their chosen calling. Long before
the public had ever heard of either one their ability was known to their
fellow soldiers. No two officers were more averse to any form of public
advertisement, which was contrary to their instincts no less than to the
ethics of soldiering. In South Africa, which was the practical school
where the commanders of the British Army of to-day first learned how to
command, their efficient staff work singled them out as coming men. Both
had vision. They studied the continental systems of war and when the
great war came they had the records which were the undeniable
recommendation that singled them out from their fellows. Sir John French
and Sir Ian Hamilton belonged to the generation ahead of them, the
difference being that between the '50s and the '60s.

It was the test of command of a corps and afterward of an army in
Flanders and Northern France which made Sir Douglas Commander-in-Chief,
a test of more than the academic ability which directs chessmen on the
board: that of the physical capacity to endure the strain of month after
month of campaigning, to keep a calm perspective, never to let the
mastery of the force under you get out of hand and never to be burdened
with any details except those which are vital.

The subordinate who went in an uncertain mood to see either Sir Douglas
or Sir William left with a sense of stalwart conviction. Both had the
gift of simplifying any situation, however complex. When a certain
general became unstrung during the retreat from Mons, Sir Douglas seemed
to consider that his first duty was to assist this man to recover
composure, and he slipped his arm through the general's and walked him
up and down until composure had returned. Again, on the retreat from
Mons Sir Douglas said, "We must stay here for the present, if we all die
for it," stating this military necessity as coolly as if it merely meant
waiting another quarter-hour for the arrival of a guest to dinner.

No less than General Joffre, Sir Douglas lived by rule. He, too,
insisted on sleeping well at night and rising fresh for his day's work.
During the period of preparation for the offensive his routine began
with a stroll in the garden before breakfast. Then the heads of the
different branches of his staff in headquarters town came in turn to
make their reports and receive instructions. At luncheon very likely he
might not talk of war. A man of his education and experience does not
lack topics to take his mind off his duties. Every day at half-past two
he went for a ride and with him an escort of his own regiment of
Lancers. The rest of the afternoon was given over to conferences with
subordinates whom he had summoned. On Sunday morning he always went into
headquarters town and in a small, temporary wooden chapel listened to a
sermon from a Scotch dominie who did not spare its length in awe of the
eminent member of his congregation. Otherwise, he left the chateau only
when he went to see with his own eyes some section of the front or of
the developing organization.

Of course, the room in the chateau which was his office was hung with
maps as the offices of all the great leaders are, according to report.
It seems the most obvious decoration. Whether it was the latest
photograph from an aeroplane or the most recent diagram of plans of
attack, it came to him if his subordinates thought it worth while. All
rivers of information flowed to the little chateau. He and the Chief of
Staff alone might be said to know all that was going on. Talking with
him in the office, which had been the study of a French country
gentleman, one gained an idea of the things which interested him; of the
processes by which he was building up his organization. He was the
clearing house of all ideas and through them he was setting the
criterion of efficiency. He spoke of the cause for which he was fighting
as if this were the great thing of all to him and to every man under
him, but without allowing his feelings to interfere with his judgment of
the enemy. His opponent was seen without illusion, as soldier sees
soldier. To him his problem was not one of sentiment, but of military
power. He dealt in blows; and blows alone could win the war.

Simplicity and directness of thought, decision and readiness to accept
responsibility, seemed second nature to the man secluded in that little
chateau, free from any confusion of detail, who had a task--the greatest
ever fallen to the lot of a British commander--of making a raw army into
a force which could undertake an offensive against frontal positions
considered impregnable by many experts and occupied by the skilful
German Army. He had, in common with Sir William Robertson, "a good deal
of thinking to do"; and what better place could he have chosen than this
retreat out of the sound of the guns, where through his subordinates he
felt the pulse of the whole army day by day?

His favorite expression was "the spirit that quickeneth"; the spirit of
effort, of discipline, of the fellowship of cohesion of
organization--spreading out from the personality at the desk in this
room down through all the units to the men themselves. Though officers
and soldiers rarely saw him they had felt the impulse of his spirit soon
after he had taken command. A new era had come in France. That old
organization called the British Empire, loose and decentrated--and
holding together because it was so--had taken another step forward in
the gathering of its strength into a compact force.




II

VERDUN AND ITS SEQUEL

   German grand strategy and Verdun--Why the British did not go to
   Verdun--What they did to help--Racial characteristics in
   armies--Father Joffre a miser of divisions--The Somme
   country--Age-old tactics--If the flank cannot be turned can the front
   be broken?--Theory of the Somme offensive.


In order properly to set the stage for the battle of the Somme, which
was the corollary of that of Verdun, we must, at the risk of appearing
to thresh old straw, consider the German plan of campaign in 1916 when
the German staff had turned its eyes from the East to the West. During
the summer of 1915 it had attempted no offensive on the Western front,
but had been content to hold its solid trench lines in the confidence
that neither the British nor the French were prepared for an offensive
on a large scale.

Blue days they were for us with the British Army in France during July
and early August, while the official bulletins revealed on the map how
von Hindenburg's and von Mackensen's legions were driving through
Poland. More critical still the subsequent period when inside
information indicated that German intrigue in Petrograd, behind the
Russian lines which the German guns were pounding, might succeed in
making a separate peace. Using her interior lines for rapid movement of
troops, enclosed by a steel ring and fighting against nations speaking
different languages with their capitals widely separated and their
armies not in touch, each having its own sentimental and territorial
objects in the war, the obvious object of Germany's policy from the
outset would be to break this ring, forcing one of the Allies to
capitulate under German blows.

In August, 1914, she had hoped to win a decisive battle against France
before she turned her legions against Russia for a decision. Now she
aimed to accomplish at Verdun what she had failed to accomplish on the
Marne, confident in her information that France was exhausted. It was
von Hindenburg's turn to hold the thin line while the Germans
concentrated on the Western front twenty-six hundred thousand men, with
every gun that they could spare and all the munitions that had
accumulated after the Russian drive was over. The fall of Paris was
unnecessary to their purpose. Capitals, whether Paris, Brussels, or
Bucharest, are only the trophies of military victory. Primarily the
German object, which naturally included the taking of Verdun, was to
hammer at the heart of French defense until France, staggering under the
blows, her _morale_ broken by the loss of the fortress, her supposedly
mercurial nature in the depths of depression, would surrender to
impulse and ask for terms.

After the German attacks began at Verdun all the world was asking why
the British, who were holding only sixty-odd miles of line at the time
and must have large reserves, did not rush to the relief of the French.
The French people themselves were a little restive under what was
supposed to be British inaction. Army leaders could not reveal their
plans by giving reasons--the reasons which are now obvious--for their
action or inaction. To some unmilitary minds the situation seemed as
simple as if Jones were attacked on the street by Smith and Robinson,
while Miller, Jones' friend who was a block away, would not go to his
rescue. To others, perhaps a trifle more knowing, it seemed only a
matter of marching some British divisions across country or putting them
on board a train.

Of course the British were only too ready to assist the French. Any
other attitude would have been unintelligent; for, with the French Army
broken, the British Army would find itself having to bear unassisted the
weight of German blows in the West. There were three courses which the
British Army might take.

_First._ It could send troops to Verdun. But the mixture of units
speaking different languages in the intricate web of communications
required for directing modern operations, and the mixture of transport
in the course of heavy concentrations in the midst of a critical action
where absolute cohesion of all units was necessary, must result in
confusion which would make any such plan impracticable. Only the
desperate situation of the French being without reserve could have
compelled its second consideration, as it represented the extreme of
that military inefficiency which makes wasteful use of lives and
material.

_Second._ The British could attack along their front as a diversion to
relieve pressure on Verdun. For this the Germans were fully prepared. It
fell in exactly with their plan. Knowing that the British New Army was
as yet undeveloped as an instrument for the offensive and that it was
still short of guns and shells, the Germans had struck in the inclement
weather of February at Verdun, thinking, and wrongly to my mind, that
the handicap to the vitality of their men of sleet, frost and cold,
soaking rains would be offset by the time gained. Not only had the
Germans sufficient men to carry on the Verdun offensive, but facing the
British their numbers were the largest mile for mile since the first
battle of Ypres. Familiar with British valor as the result of actual
contact in battle from Mons to the Marne and back to Ypres, and
particularly in the Loos offensive (which was the New Army's first
"eye-opener" to the German staff), the Germans reasoned that, with what
one German called "the courage of their stupidity, or the stupidity of
their courage," the British, driven by public demand to the assistance
of the French, would send their fresh infantry with inadequate artillery
support against German machine guns and curtains of fire, and pile up
their dead until their losses would reduce the whole army to inertia for
the rest of the year.

Of course, the German hypothesis--the one which cost von Falkenhayn his
place as Chief of Staff--was based on such a state of exhaustion by the
French that a British attack would be mandatory. The initial stage of
the German attack was up to expectations in ground gained, but not in
prisoners or material taken. The French fell back skilfully before the
German onslaught against positions lightly held by the defenders in
anticipation of the attack, and turned their curtains of fire upon the
enemy in possession of captured trenches. Then France gave to the
outside world another surprise. Her spirit, ever brilliant in the
offensive, became cold steel in a stubborn and thrifty defensive. She
was not "groggy," as the Germans supposed. For every yard of earth
gained they had to pay a ghastly price; and their own admiration of
French shell and valor is sufficient professional glory for either
Petain, Nivelle, or Mangin, or the private in the ranks.

_Third._ The British could take over more trench line, thus releasing
French forces for Verdun, which was the plan adopted at the conference
of the French and British commands. One morning in place of a French
army in Artois a British army was in occupation. The round helmets of
the British took the place of the oblong helmets of the French along the
parapet; British soldiers were in billets in place of the French in the
villages at the rear and British guns moved into French gun-emplacements
with the orderly precision which army training with its discipline alone
secures; while the French Army was on board railway trains moving at
given intervals of headway over rails restricted to their use on their
way to Verdun where, under that simple French staff system which is the
product of inheritance and previous training and this war's experience,
they fell into place as a part of the wall of men and cannon.

Outside criticism, which drew from this arrangement the conclusion that
it left the British to the methodical occupation of quiet trenches while
their allies were sent to the sacrifice, had its effect for a time on
the outside public and even on the French, but did not disturb the
equanimity of the British staff in the course of its preparations or of
the French staff, which knew well enough that when the time came the
British Army would not be fastidious about paying the red cost of
victory. Four months later when British battalions were throwing
themselves against frontal positions with an abandon that their staff
had to restrain, the same sources of outside criticism, including
superficial gossip in Paris, were complaining that the British were too
brave in their waste of life. It has been fashionable with some people
to criticize the British, evidently under the impression that the
British New Army would be better than a continental army instantly its
battalions were landed in France.

Every army's methods, every staff's way of thinking, are characteristic
in the long run of the people who supply it with soldiers. The German
Army is what it is not through the application of any academic theory of
military perfection, but through the application of organization to
German character. Naturally phlegmatic, naturally disinclined to
initiative, the Germans before the era of modern Germany had far less of
the martial instinct than the French. German army makers, including the
master one of all, von Moltke, set out to use German docility and
obedience in the creation of a machine of singular industry and rigidity
and ruthless discipline. Similar methods would mean revolt in democratic
France and individualistic England where every man carries Magna Charta,
talisman of his own "rights," in his waistcoat pocket.

The French peasant, tilling his fields within range of the guns, the
market gardener bringing his products down the Somme in the morning to
Amiens, or the Parisian clerk, business man and workman--they are France
and the French Army. But the heart-strength and character-strength of
France, I think, is her stubborn, conservative, smiling peasant. It is
repeating a commonplace to say that he always has a few gold pieces in
his stocking. He yields one only on a critical occasion and then a
little grumblingly, with the thrift of the bargainer who means that it
shall be well spent.

The Anglo-Saxon, whose inheritance is particularly evident in Americans
in this respect, when he gives in a crisis turns extravagant whether of
money or life, as England has in this war. The sea is his and new lands
are his, as they are ours. Australians with their dollar and a half a
day, buying out the shops of a village when they were not in the
trenches, were astounding to the natives though not in the least to
themselves. They were acting like normal Anglo-Saxons bred in a rich
island continent. Anglo-Saxons have money to spend and spend it in the
confidence that they will make more.

General Joffre, grounded in the France of the people and the soil, was a
thrifty general. Indeed, from the lips of Frenchmen in high places the
Germans might have learned that the French Army was running short of
men. Joffre seemed never to have any more divisions to spare; yet never
came a crisis that he did not find another division in the toe of his
stocking, which he gave up as grumblingly as the peasant parts with his
gold piece.

A miser of divisions, Father Joffre. He had enough for Verdun as we
know--and more. While he was holding on the defensive there, he was able
to prepare for an offensive elsewhere. He spared the material and the
guns to cooeperate with the British on the Somme and later he sent to
General Foch, commander of the northern group of French Armies, the
unsurpassed Iron Corps from Nancy and the famous Colonial Corps.

It was in March, 1916, when suspense about Verdun was at its height,
that Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the group of British
Armies, and Sir Henry Rawlinson, who was to be his right-hand man
through the offensive as commander of the Fourth Army, went over the
ground opposite the British front on the Somme and laid the plans for
their attack, and Sir Henry received instructions to begin the elaborate
preparations for what was to become the greatest battle of all time. It
included, as the first step, the building of many miles of railway and
highway for the transport of the enormous requisite quantities of guns
and materials.

The Somme winds through rich alluvial lands at this point and around a
number of verdant islands in its leisurely course. Southward, along the
old front line, the land is more level, where the river makes its bend
in front of Peronne. Northward, generically, it rises into a region of
rolling country, with an irregularly marked ridge line which the Germans
held.

No part of the British front had been so quiet in the summer of 1915 as
the region of Picardy. From the hill where later I watched the attack of
July 1st, on one day in August of the previous year I had such a broad
view that if a shell were to explode anywhere along the front of five
miles it would have been visible to me, and I saw not a single burst of
smoke from high explosive or shrapnel. Apparently the Germans never
expected to undertake any offensive here. All their energy was devoted
to defensive preparations, without even an occasional attack over a few
hundred yards to keep in their hand. Tranquillity, which amounted to the
simulation of a truce, was the result. At different points you might see
Germans walking about in the open and the observer could stand exposed
within easy range of the guns without being sniped at by artillery, as
he would have been in the Ypres salient.

When the British took over this section of line, so short were they of
guns that they had to depend partly on French artillery; and their
troops were raw New Army battalions or regulars stiffened by a small
percentage of veterans of Mons and Ypres. The want of guns and shells
required correspondingly more troops to the mile, which left them still
relying on flesh and blood rather than on machinery for defense. The
British Army was in that middle stage of a few highly trained troops and
the first arrival of the immense forces to come; while the Germans
occupied on the Eastern front were not of a mind to force the issue.
There is a story of how one day a German battery, to vary the monotony,
began shelling a British trench somewhat heavily. The British, in reply,
put up a sign, "If you don't stop we will fire our only rifle grenade at
you!" to which the Germans replied in the same vein, "Sorry! We will
stop"--as they did.

The subsoil of the hills is chalk, which yields to the pick rather
easily and makes firm walls for trenches. Having chosen their position,
which they were able to do in the operations after the Marne as the two
armies, swaying back and forth in the battle for positions northward,
came to rest, the Germans had set out, as the result of experience, to
build impregnable works in the days when forts had become less important
and the trench had become supreme. As holding the line required little
fighting, the industrious Germans under the stiff bonds of discipline
had plenty of time for sinking deep dugouts and connecting galleries
under their first line and for elaborating their communication trenches
and second line, until what had once been peaceful farming land now
consisted of irregular welts of white chalk crossing fields without
hedges or fences, whose sweep had been broken only by an occasional
group of farm buildings of a large proprietor, a plot of woods, or the
village communities where the farmers lived and went to and from their
farms which were demarked to the eye only by the crop lines.

One can never make the mistake of too much simplification in the
complicated detail of modern tactics where the difficulty is always to
see the forest for the trees. Strategy has not changed since prehistoric
days. It must always remain the same: feint and surprise. The first
primitive man who looked at the breast of his opponent and struck
suddenly at his face was a strategist; so, too, the anthropoid at the
Zoo who leads another to make a leap for a trapeze and draws it out from
under him; so, too, the thug who waits to catch his victim coming
unawares out of an alley. Anybody facing more than one opponent will try
to protect his back by a wall, which is also strategy--strategy being
the veritable instinct of self-preservation which aims at an advantage
in the disposition of forces.

Place two lines of fifty men facing each other in the open without
officers, and some fellow with initiative on the right or the left end
will instinctively give the word and lead a rush for cover somewhere on
the flank which will permit an enfilade of the enemy's ranks.
Practically all of the great battles of the world have been won by
turning an enemy's flank, which compelled him to retreat if it did not
result in rout or capture.

The swift march of a division or a brigade from reserve to the flank at
the critical moment has often turned the fortune of a day. All
manoeuvering has this object in view. Superior numbers facilitate the
operation, and victory has most often resolved itself into superior
numbers pressing a flank and nothing more; though subsequently his
admiring countrymen acclaimed the victor as the inventor of a strategic
plan which was old before Alexander took the field, when the victor's
genius consisted in the use of opportunities that enabled him to strike
at the critical point with more men than his adversary. In flank of the
Southern Confederacy Sherman swung through the South; in flank the
Confederates aimed to bend back the Federal line at Kulp's Hill and
Little Round Top. By the flank Grant pressed Lee back to Appomattox.
Yalu, Liao Yang and Mukden were won in the Russo-Japanese war by
flanking movements which forced Kuropatkin to retire, though never
disastrously.

Pickett's charge at Gettysburg remains to the American the most futile
and glorious illustration of a charge against a frontal position, with
its endeavor to break the center. The center may waver, but it is the
flanks that go; though, of course, in all consistent operations of big
armies a necessary incident of any effort to press back the wings is
sufficient pressure on the front, simultaneously delivered, to hold all
the troops there in position and keep the enemy command in apprehension
of the disaster that must follow if the center were to break badly at
the same time that his flanks were being doubled back. The foregoing is
only the repetition of principles which cannot be changed by the length
of line and masses of troops and incredible volumes of artillery fire;
which makes the European war the more confusing to the average reader as
he receives his information in technical terms.

The same object that leads one line of men to try to flank another sent
the German Army through Belgium in order to strike the French Army in
flank. It succeeded in this purpose, but not in turning the French
flank; though by this operation, in violation of the territory of a
neutral nation, it made enemy territory the scene of future action. One
may discuss until he is blue in the face what would have happened if the
Germans had thrown their legions directly against the old French
frontier. Personally, in keeping with the idea that I expressed in "The
Last Shot," I think that they would never have gone through the Trouee
de Miracourt or past Verdun.

With a solid line of trenches from Switzerland to the North Sea, any
offensive must "break the center," as it were, in order to have room for
a flanking operation. It must go against frontal positions,
incorporating in its strategy every defensive lesson learned and the
defensive tactics and weapons developed in eighteen months of trench
warfare. If, as was generally supposed, the precision of modern arms,
with rifles and machine guns sending their bullets three thousand yards
and curtains of fire delivered from hidden guns anywhere from two to
fifteen miles away, was all in favor of the defensive, then how, when in
the days of muzzle-loading rifles and smooth-bore guns frontal attacks
had failed, could one possibly succeed in 1916?

Again and again in our mess and in all of the messes at the front, and
wherever men gathered the world over, the question, Can the line be
broken? has been discussed. As discussed it is an academic question. The
practical answer depends upon the strength of the attacking force
compared to that of the defending force. If the Germans could keep only
five hundred thousand men on the Western front they would have to
withdraw from a part of the line, concentrate on chosen positions and
depend on tactics to defend their exposed flanks in pitched battle.
Three million men, with ten thousand guns, could not break the line
against an equally skilful army of three millions with ten thousand
guns; but five millions with fifteen thousand guns might break the line
held by an equally skilful army of a million with five thousand guns.
Thus, you are brought to a question of numbers, of skill and of
material. If the object be attrition, then the offensive, if it can
carry on its attacks with less loss of men than the defensive, must win.
With the losses about equal, the offensive must also eventually win if
it has sufficient reserves.

There could be no restraining the public, with the wish father to the
thought, from believing that the attack of July 1st on the Somme was an
effort at immediate decision, though the responsible staff officer was
very careful to state that there was no expectation of breaking the line
and that the object was to gain a victory in _morale_, train the army in
actual conditions for future offensives, and, when the ledger was
balanced, to prove that, with superior gunfire, the offensive could be
conducted with less loss than the defensive under modern conditions.
This, I think, may best be stated now. The results we shall consider
later.

One thing was certain, with the accruing strength of the British and the
French Armies, they could not rest idle. They must attack. They must
take the initiative away from the Germans. The greater the masses of
Germans which were held on the Western front under the Allied pounding,
the better the situation for the Russians and the Italians; and,
accordingly, the plan for the summer of 1916 for the first time
permitted all the Allies, thanks to increased though not adequate
munitions--there never can be that--to conduct something like a common
offensive. That of the Russians, starting earlier than the others, was
the first to pause, which meant that the Anglo-French and the Italian
offensives were in full blast, while the Russians, for the time being,
had settled into new positions.

Preparation for this attack on the Somme, an operation without parallel
in character and magnitude unless it be the German offensive at Verdun
which had failed, could not be too complete. There must be a continuous
flow of munitions which would allow the continuation of the battle with
blow upon blow once it had begun. Adequate realization of his task would
not hasten a general to undertake it until he was fully ready, and
military preference, if other considerations had permitted, would have
postponed the offensive till the spring of 1917.




III

A CANADIAN INNOVATION

   Gathering of the clans from Australia, New Zealand and
   Canada--England sends Sir Douglas Haig men but not an army--Methods
   of converting men into an army--The trench raid a Canadian
   invention--Development of trench raiding--The correspondents'
   quarters--Getting ready for the "big push"--A well-kept secret.


"Some tough!" remarked a Canadian when he saw the Australians for the
first time marching along a French road. They and the New Zealanders
were conspicuous in France, owing to their felt hats with the brim
looped up on the side, their stalwart physique and their smooth-shaven,
clean-cut faces. Those who had been in Gallipoli formed the stiffening
of veteran experience and comradeship for those fresh from home or from
camps in Egypt.

Canadian battalions, which had been training in Canada and then in
England, increased the Canadian numbers until they had an army equal in
size to that of Meade or Lee at Gettysburg. English, Scotch, Welsh,
Irish, South Africans and Newfoundlanders foregathering in Picardy,
Artois and Flanders left one wondering about English as "she is spoke."
On the British front I have heard every variety, including that of
different parts of the United States. One day I received a letter from a
fellow countryman which read like this:

"I'm out here in the R.F.A. with 'krumps' bursting on my cocoanut and am
going to see it through. If you've got any American newspapers or
magazines lying loose please send them to me, as I am far from
California."

The clans kept arriving. Every day saw new battalions and new guns
disembark. England was sending to Sir Douglas Haig men and material, but
not an army in the modern sense. He had to weld the consignments into a
whole there in the field in face of the enemy. Munitions were a matter
of resource and manufacturing, but the great factory of all was the
factory of men. It was not enough that the gunners should know how to
shoot fairly accurately back in England, or Canada, or Australia. They
must learn to cooeperate with scores of batteries of different calibers
in curtains of fire and, in turn, with the infantry, whose attacks they
must support with the finesse of scientific calculation plus the
instinctive _liaison_ which comes only with experience under trained
officers, against the German Army which had no lack of material in its
conscript ranks for promotion to fill vacancies in the officers' lists.

From seventeen miles of front to twenty-seven, and then to sixty and
finally to nearly one hundred, the British had broadened their
responsibility, which meant only practice in the defensive, while the
Germans had had two years' practice in the offensive. The two British
offensives at Neuve Chapelle had included a small proportion of the
battalions which were to fight on the Somme; and the third, incomparably
more ambitious, faced heavier concentration of troops and guns than its
predecessors.

What had not been gained in battle practice must be approximated in
drill. Every battalion commander, every staff officer and every general
who had had any experience, must be instructor as well as director. They
must assemble their machine and tune it up before they put it on a
stiffer road than had been tried before.

The British Army zone in France became a school ground for the Grand
Offensive; and while the people at home were thinking, "We've sent you
the men and the guns--now for action!" the time of preparation was
altogether too short for the industrious learners. Every possible kind
of curriculum which would simulate actual conditions of attack had been
devised. In moving about the rear the rattle of a machine gun ten miles
back of the line told of the machine gun school; a series of explosions
drew attention to bombers working their way through practice trenches in
a field; a heavier explosion was from the academy for trench mortars; a
mighty cloud of smoke and earth rising two or three hundred feet was a
new experiment in mining. Sir Douglas went on the theory that no soldier
can know his work too well. He meant to allow no man in his command to
grow dull from idleness.

Trench warfare had become systematized, and inevitably the holding of
the same line for month after month was not favorable to the development
of initiative. A man used to a sedentary life is not given to physical
action. One who is always digging dugouts is loath to leave the
habitation which has cost him much labor in order to live in the open.

Battalions were in position for a given number of days, varying with the
character of the position held, when they were relieved for a rest in
billets. While in occupation they endured an amount of shell fire
varying immensely between different sectors. A few men were on the watch
with rifles and machine guns for any demonstration by the enemy, while
the rest were idle when not digging. They sent out patrols at night into
No Man's Land for information; exchanged rifle grenades, mortars and
bombs with the enemy. Each week brought its toll of casualties, light in
the tranquil places, heavy in the wickedly hot corner of the Ypres
salient, where attacks and counter-attacks never ceased and the
apprehension of having your parapet smashed in by an artillery
"preparation," which might be the forerunner of an attack, was
unremittingly on the nerves.

It was a commonplace that any time you desired you could take a front of
a thousand or two yards simply by concentrating your gunfire, cutting
the enemy's barbed wire and tearing the sandbags of his parapet into
ribbons, with resulting fearful casualties to him; and then a swift
charge under cover of the artillery hurricane would gain possession of
the debris, the enemy's wounded and those still alive in his dugouts.
Losses in operations of this kind usually were much lighter in taking
the enemy's position than in the attempt to hold it, as he, in answer to
your offensive, turned the full force of his guns upon his former trench
which your men were trying to organize into one of their own. Later,
under cover of his own guns, his charge recovered the ruins, forcing the
party of the first part who had started the "show" back to his own
former first line trench, which left the situation as it was before with
both sides a loser of lives without gaining any ground and with the
prospect of drudgery in building anew their traverses and burrows and
filling new sandbags.

It was the repetition of this sort of "incident," as reported in the
daily _communiques_, which led the outside world to wonder at the
fatuousness and the satire of the thing, without understanding that its
object was entirely for the purpose of _morale_. An attack was made to
keep the men up to the mark; a counter-attack in order not to allow the
enemy ever to develop a sense of superiority. Every soldier who
participated in a charge learned something in method and gained
something in the quality considered requisite by his commanders. He had
met face to face in mortal hand-to-hand combat in the trench traverses
the enemy who had been some invisible force behind a gray line of
parapet sniping at him every time he showed his head.

Attack and counter-attack without adding another square yard to the
territory in your possession--these had cost hundreds of thousands of
casualties on the Western front. The next step was to obtain the
_morale_ of attack without wasting lives in trying to hold new ground.

Credit for the trench raid, which was developed through the winter of
1915, belongs to the Canadian. His plan was as simple as that of the
American Indian who rushed a white settlement and fled after he was
through scalping; or the cowboys who shot up a town; or the Mexican
insurgents who descend upon a village for a brief visit of killing and
looting. The Canadian proposed to enter the German trenches by surprise,
remain long enough to make the most of the resulting confusion, and then
to return to his own trenches without trying to hold and organize the
enemy's position and thus draw upon his head while busy with the spade a
murderous volume of shell fire.

The first raids were in small parties over a narrow front and the
tactics those of the frontiersman, who never wants in individual
initiative and groundcraft. Behind their lines the Canadians rehearsed
in careful detail again and again till each man was letter perfect in
the part that he was to play in the "little surprise being planned in
Canada for Brother Boche." The time chosen for the exploit was a dark,
stormy night, when the drumbeat of rain and the wind blowing in their
direction would muffle the movements of the men as they cut paths
through the barbed wires for their panther-like rush. It was the kind of
experiment whose success depends upon every single participant keeping
silence and performing the task set for him with fastidious exactitude.

The Germans, confident in the integrity of their barbed wire, with all
except the sentries whose ears and eyes failed to detect danger asleep
in their dugouts, found that the men of the Maple Leaf had sprung over
the parapet and were at the door demanding surrender. It was an affair
to rejoice the heart of Israel Putnam or Colonel Mosby, and its success
was a new contribution in tactics to stalemate warfare which seemed to
have exhausted every possible invention and novelty. Trench raids were
made over broader and broader fronts until they became considerable
operations, where the wire was cut by artillery which gave the same kind
of support to the men that it was to give later on in the Grand
Offensive.

There was a new terror to trench holding and dwelling. Now the man who
lay down in a dugout for the night was not only in danger of being blown
heavenward by a mine, or buried by the explosion of a heavy shell, or
compelled to spring up in answer to the ring of the gong which announced
a gas attack, but he might be awakened at two a.m. (a favorite hour for
raids) by the outcry of sentries who had been overpowered by the
stealthy rush of shadowy figures in the night, and while he got to his
feet be killed by the burst of a bomb thrown by men whom he supposed
were also fast asleep in their own quarters two or three hundred yards
away.

Trench-raid rivalry between battalions, which commanders liked to
instil, inevitably developed. Battalions grew as proud of their trench
raids as battleships of their target practice. A battalion which had not
had a successful trench raid had something to explain. What pride for
the Bantams--the little fellows below regulation height who had enlisted
in a division of their own on Lord Kitchener's suggestion--when in one
of their trench raids they brought back some hulking, big Germans and a
man's size German machine gun across No Man's Land!

Raiders never attempted to remain long in the enemy's trenches. They
killed the obdurate Germans, took others prisoners and, aside from the
damage that they did, always returned with identifications of the
battalions which occupied the position, while the prisoners brought in
yielded valuable information.

The German, more adaptive than creative, more organizing than
pioneering, was not above learning from the British, and soon they, too,
were undertaking surprise parties in the night. Although they tightened
the discipline for the defensive of both sides, trench raids were of far
more service to the British than to the Germans; for the British staff
found in them an invaluable method of preparation for the offensive. Not
only had the artillery practice in supporting actual rather than
theoretical attacks, but when the men went over the parapet it was in
face of the enemy, who might turn on his machine guns if not silenced by
accurate gunfire. They learned how to cooerdinate their efforts, whether
individually or as units, both in the charge and in cleaning out the
German dugouts. Their sense of observation, adaptability and team play
was quickened in the life-and-death contact with the foe.

Through the spring months the trench raids continued in their process
of "blooding" the new army for the "big push." Meanwhile, the
correspondents, who were there to report the operations of the army,
were having as quiet a time as a country gentleman on his estate without
any of the cares of his superintendent.

Our homing place from our peregrinations about the army was not too far
away from headquarters town to be in touch with it or too near to feel
the awe of proximity to the directing authority of hundreds of thousands
of men. Trench raids had lost their novelty for the public which the
correspondents served. A description of a visit to a trench was as
commonplace to readers as the experience itself to one of our seasoned
group of six men. We had seen all the schools of war and the
Conscientious Objectors' battalion, too--those extreme pacifists who
refuse to kill their fellow man. Their opinions being respected by
English freedom and individualism, they were set to repairing roads and
like tasks.

The war had become completely static. Unless some new way of killing
developed, even the English public did not care to read about its own
army. When my English comrades saw that a petty scandal received more
space in the London papers than their accounts of a gallant air raid,
they had moments of cynical depression.

Between journeys we took long walks, went birds'-nesting and chatted
with the peasants. What had we to do with war? Yet we never went afield
to trench or headquarters, to hospital or gun position, without finding
something new and wonderful to us if not to the public in that vast hive
of military industry.

"But if we ever start the push they'll read every detail," said our
wisest man. "It's the push that is in everybody's mind. The man in the
street is tired of hearing about rehearsals. He wants the curtain to go
up."

Each of us knew that the offensive was coming and where, without ever
speaking of it in our mess or being supposed to know. Nobody was
supposed to know, except a few "brass hats" in headquarters town. One of
the prime requisites of the gold braid which denotes a general or of the
red band around the cap and the red tab on the coat lapel which denote
staff is ability to keep a secret; but long association with an army
makes it a sort of second nature, even with a group of civilians. When
you met a Brass Hat you pretended to believe that the monotony of those
official army reports about shelling a new German redoubt or a violent
artillery duel, or four enemy planes brought down, which read the same
on Friday as on Thursday, was to continue forever. The Brass Hats
pretended to believe the same among themselves. For all time the
British and the French Armies were to keep on hurling explosives at the
German Army from the same positions.

Occasionally a Brass Hat did intimate that the offensive would probably
come in the spring of 1917, if not later, and you accepted the
information as strictly confidential and indefinite, as you should
accept any received from a Brass Hat. It never occurred to anybody to
inquire if "1917" meant June or July of 1916. This would be as bad form
as to ask a man whose head was gray last year and is black this year if
he dyed his hair.

Those heavy howitzers, fresh from the foundry, drawn by big caterpillar
tractors, were all proceeding in one direction--toward the Somme.
Villages along their route were filling with troops. The nearer the
front you went, the greater the concentration of men and material.
Shells, the size of the milk cans at suburban stations, stood in close
order on the platforms beside the sidings of new light railways; shells
of all calibers were piled at new ammunition dumps; fields were cut by
the tracks of guns moving into position; steam rollers were road-making
in the midst of the long processions of motor trucks, heavy laden when
bound toward the trenches and empty when returning; barbed-wire
enclosures were ready as collecting stations for prisoners; clusters of
hospital tents at other points seemed out of proportion to the trickle
of wounded from customary trench warfare.

All this preparation, stretching over weeks and months, unemotional and
methodical, infinite in detail, prodigious in effort, suggested the work
of engineers and contractors and subcontractors in the building of some
great bridge or canal, with the workmen all in the same kind of uniform
and with managers, superintendents and foremen each having some insignia
of rank and the Brass Hats and Red Tabs the inspectors and auditors.

The officer installing a new casualty clearing station, or emplacing a
gun, or starting another ammunition dump, had not heard of any
offensive. He was only doing what he was told. It was not his business
to ask why of any Red Tab, any more than it was the business of a Red
Tab to ask why of a Brass Hat, or his business to know that the same
sort of thing was going on over a front of sixteen miles. Each one saw
only his little section of the hive. Orders strictly limited workers to
their sections at the same time that their lips were sealed. Contractors
were in no danger of strikes; employees received no extra pay for
overtime. It was as evident that the offensive was to be on the Somme as
that the circus has come to town, when you see tents rising at dawn in a
vacant lot while the elephants are standing in line.

Toward the end of June I asked the Red Tab who sat at the head of our
table if I might go to London on leave. He was surprised, I think, but
did not appear surprised. It is one of the requisites of a Red Tab that
he should not. He said that he was uncertain if leave were being granted
at present. This was unusual, as an intimation of refusal had never been
made on any previous occasion. When I said that it would be for only two
or three days, he thought that it could be arranged all right. What this
considerate Red Tab meant was that I should return "in time." Yet he had
not mentioned that there was to be any offensive and I had not. We had
kept the faith of military secrecy. Besides, I really did not know,
unless I opened a pigeonhole in my brain. It was also my business not to
know--the only business I had with the "big push" except to look on.

Over in London my friends surprised me by exclaiming, "What are you
doing here?" and, "Won't you miss the offensive which is about to
begin?" Now, what would a Brass Hat say in such an awkward emergency?
Would he look wise or unwise when he said it? Trying to look unwise, I
replied: "They have the men now and can strike any time that they
please. It's not my place to know where or when. I asked for leave and
they gave it." I was quite relieved and felt that I was almost worthy
of a secretive Brass Hat myself, when one man remarked: "They don't let
you know much, do they?"

To keep such immense preparations wholly a secret among any
English-speaking people would be out of the question. Only the Japanese
are mentally equipped for security of information. With other races it
is a struggling effort. Can you imagine Washington keeping a military
secret? You could hear the confidential whispers all the way from the
War Department to the Capitol. In such a great movement as that of the
Somme one weak link in a chain of tens of thousands of officers is
enough to break it, not to mention a million or so of privates.




IV

READY FOR THE BLOW

   French national spirit--Our gardeners--Tuning up for the
   attack--Policing the sky--Sausage balloons--Matter-of-fact,
   systematic war--A fury of trench raids--Reserves marching
   forward--Organized human will--Sons of the old country ready to
   strike--The greatest struggle of the war about to begin.


Our headquarters during my first summer at the front had been in the
flat border region of the Pas de Calais, which seemed neither Flanders
nor France. Our second summer required that we should be nearer the
middle of the British line, as it extended southward, in order to keep
in touch with the whole. In the hilly country of Artois a less
comfortable chateau was compensated for by the smiling companionship of
neighbors in the fields and villages of the real France.

The quality of this sympathetic appeal was that of the thoroughbred
racial and national spirit of a great people, in the politeness which
gave to a thickset peasant woman a certain grace, in the smiles of the
land and its inhabitants, in that inbred patriotism which through the
centuries has created a distinctive civilization called French by the
same ready sacrifices for its continuity as those which were made on
the Marne and at Verdun. Flanders is not France, and France is
increasingly French as you proceed from Ypres to Amiens, the capital of
Picardy. I was glad that Picardy had been chosen as the scene of the
offensive. It made the blow seem more truly a blow for France. I was to
learn to love Picardy and its people under the test of battle.

In order that we might be near the field of the Somme we were again to
move our quarters, and we had the pang of saying good-by to another
garden and another gardener. All the gardeners of our different chateaux
had been philosophers. It was Louis who said that he would like to make
all the politicians who caused wars into a salad, accompanying his
threat with appropriate gestures; Charles who thought that once the
"Boches" were properly pruned they might be acceptable second-rate
members of international society; and Leon who wanted the Kaiser put to
the plow in a coat of corduroy as the best cure for his conceit. That
afternoon, when _au revoirs_ were spoken and our cars wound in and out
over the byroads of the remote countryside, not a soldier was visible
until we came to the great main road, where we had the signal that
peaceful surroundings were finally left behind in the distant, ceaseless
roar of the guns, like some gigantic drumbeat calling the armies to
combat.

A giant with nerves of telephone wires and muscles of steel and a human
heart seemed to be snarling his defiance before he sprang into action.
We knew the meaning of the set thunders of the preliminary bombardment.
That night to the eastward the sky was an aurora borealis of flashes;
and the next day we sought the source of the lightnings.

Seamed and tracked and gashed were the slopes behind the British line
and densely peopled with busy men in khaki. Every separate scene was
familiar to us out of our experience, but every one had taken on a new
meaning. The whole exerted a majestic spell. Graded like the British
social scale were the different calibers of guns. Those with the largest
reach were set farthest back. Fifteen-inch howitzer dukes or nine-inch
howitzer earls, with their big, ugly mouths and their deliberate and
powerful fire, fought alone, each in his own lair, whether under a tree
or in the midst of the ruins of a village. The long naval guns, though
of smaller caliber, had a still greater reach and were sending their
shells five to ten miles beyond the German trenches.

The eight-inch and six-inch howitzers were more gregarious. They worked
in groups of four and sometimes a number of batteries were in line.
Beyond them were those alert commoners, the field guns, rapid of fire
with their eighteen-pound shells. These seemed more tractable and
companionable, better suited for human association, less mechanically
brutal. They were not monstrous enough to require motor tractors to draw
them at a stately gait, but behind their teams could be up and away
across the fields on short notice, their caissons of ammunitions
creaking behind them. Along the communication trenches perspiring
soldiers carried "plum puddings" or the trench-mortar shells which were
to be fired from the front line and boxes of egg-shaped bombs which
fitted nicely in the palm of the hand for throwing.

It seemed that all the guns in the world must be firing as you listened
from a distance, although when you came into the area where the guns
were in tiers behind the cover of a favorable slope you found that many
were silent. The men of one battery might be asleep while its neighbor
was sending shells with a one-two-three deliberation. Any sleep or rest
that the men got must be there in the midst of this crashing babel from
steel throats. Again, the covers were being put over the muzzles for the
night, or, out of what had seemed blank hillside, a concealed battery
which had not been firing before sent out its vicious puffs of smoke
before its reports reached your ears. Every battery was doing as it was
told from some nerve-center; every one had its registered target on the
map--a trench, or a road, or a German battery, or where it was thought
that a German battery ought to be.

The flow of ammunition for all came up steadily, its expenditure
regulated on charts by officers who kept watch for extravagance and
aimed to make every shell count. A fortune was being fired away every
hour; a sum which would send a youth for a year to college or bring up a
child went into a single large shell which might not have the luck to
kill one human being as excuse for its existence; an endowment for a
maternity hospital was represented in a day's belch of destruction from
a single acre of trodden wheat land. One trench mortar would consume in
an hour plum puddings for an orphan school. For you might pause to think
of it in this way if you chose. Thousands do at the front.

Down on the banks of the Somme the blue uniforms of the French in place
of the British khaki hovered around the gun-emplacements; the
_soixante-quinze_ with its virtuoso artistic precision was neighbor to
the British eighteen-pounder. Guns, guns, guns--French and English! The
same nests of them opposite Gommecourt and at Estrees thundered across
at one another from either bank of the Somme through summer haze over
the green spaces of the islands edged with the silver of its tranquil
flow in the moonlight or its glare in the sunlight.

Not the least of the calculations in this activity was to screen every
detail from aerial observation. New hangars had risen at the edge of
level fields, whence the swift fighting machines of an aircraft
concentration in keeping with the concentration of guns and all other
material rose to reconnaissance, or to lie in wait as a falcon to pounce
upon an invading German plane. Thus the sky was policed by flight
against prying aerial eyes. If one German plane could descend to an
altitude of a thousand feet, its photographs would reveal the location
of a hundred batteries to German gunners and show the plan of
concentration clearly enough to leave no doubt of the line of attack;
but the anti-aircraft guns, plentiful now as other British material,
would have caught it going, if not coming, provided it escaped being
jockeyed to death by half a dozen British planes with their machine guns
rattling.

To "camouflet" became a new English verb British planes tested out a
battery's visibility from the air. Landscape painters were called in to
assist in the deceit. One was set to "camouflet" the automobile van for
the pigeons which, carried in baskets on the men's backs in charges,
were released as another means of sending word of the progress of an
attack obscured in the shell-smoke. This conscientious artist
"camoufleted" the pigeon-van so successfully that the pigeons could not
find their way home.

Night was the hour of movement. At night the planes, if they went forth,
saw only a vague and shadowy earth. The sausage balloons, German and
Allied, those monitors of the sky, a line of opaque, weird question
marks against the blue, stared across at each other out of range of the
enemy's guns, "spotting" the fall of shells for their own side from
their suspended basket observation posts from early morning until they
were drawn in by their gasoline engines with the coming of dusk. Clumsy
and helpless they seemed; but in common with the rest of the army they
had learned to reach their dugouts swiftly at the first sign of shell
fire, and descended then with a ridiculous alacrity which suggested the
possession of the animal intelligence of self-preservation. Occasionally
one broke loose and, buffeted like an umbrella down the street by the
wind, started for the Rhine. And the day before the great attack the
British aviation corps sprang a surprise on the German sausages, six of
which disappeared in balls of flame.

A one-armed man of middle age from India, who offered to do his "bit,"
refused a post at home in keeping with his physical limitations. His
eyes were all right, he said, when he nominated himself as a balloon
observer, and he never suffered from sea-sickness which sausage balloons
most wickedly induce. Many a man who has ascended in one not only could
see nothing, but wanted to see nothing, and turning spinach lopping over
the basket rail prayed only that the engine would begin drawing in
immediately.

One day the one-armed pilot was up with a "joy-rider"; that is, an
officer who was not a regular aerial observer but was sight-seeing. The
balloon suddenly broke loose with the wind blowing strong toward Berlin,
which was a bit awkward, as he remarked, considering that he had an
inexperienced passenger.

"We mustn't let the Boches get us!" he said. "Look sharp and do as I
say."

First, he got the joy-rider into the parachute harness for such
emergencies and over the side, then himself, both descending safely on
the right side of the British trenches--which was rather "smart work,"
as the British would say, but all to the taste of the one-armed pilot
who was looking for adventures. I have counted thirty-three British
sausage balloons within my range of vision from a hill. The previous
year the British had not a baker's dozen.

What is lacking? Have we enough of everything? These questions were
haunting to organizers in those last days of preparation.

After dark the scene from a hill, as you rode toward the horizon of
flashes, was one of incredible grandeur. Behind you, as you looked
toward the German lines, was the blanket of night pierced and slashed by
the flashes of gun blasts; overhead the bloodcurdling, hoarse sweep of
their projectiles; and beyond the darkness had been turned into a
chaotic, uncanny day by the jumping, leaping, spreading blaze of
explosives which made all objects on the landscape stand out in
flickering silhouette. Spurts of flame from the great shells rose out of
the bowels of the earth, softening with their glow the sharp,
concentrated, vicious snaps of light from shrapnel. Little flashes
played among big flashes and flashes laid over flashes shingle fashion
in a riot of lurid competition, while along the line of the German
trenches at some places lay a haze of shimmering flame from the rapid
fire of the trench mortars.

The most resourceful of descriptive writers is warranted in saying that
the scene was indescribable. Correspondents did their best, and after
they had squeezed the rhetorical sponge of its last drop of ink
distilled to frenzy of adjectives in inadequate effort, they gaspingly
laid their copy on the table of the censor, who minded not "word
pictures" which contained no military secrets.

Vision exalted and numbed by the display, one's mind sought the meaning
and the purpose of this unprecedented bombardment, with its precision
of the devil's own particular brand of "kultur," which was to cut the
Germans' barbed wire, smash in their trenches, penetrate their dugouts,
close up their communication trenches, do unto their second line the
same as to their first line, bury their machine guns in debris, crush
each rallying strong point in that maze of warrens, burst in the roofs
of village billets over their heads, lay a barrier of death across all
roads and, in the midst of the process of killing and wounding, imprison
the men of the front line beyond relief by fresh troops and shut them
off from food and munitions. Theatric, horrible and more than
that--matter-of-fact, systematic war! There was relatively little
response from the German batteries, whose silence had a sinister
suggestion. They waited on the attack as the target of their revenge for
the losses which they were suffering.

By now they knew from the bombardment, if not from other sources, that a
British attack was coming at some point of the line. Their flares were
playing steadily over No Man's Land to reveal any movement by the
British or the French. From their trenches rose signal rockets--the only
real fireworks, leisurely and innocent, without any sting of death in
their sparks--which seemed to be saying "No movement yet" to commanders
who could not be reached by any other means through the curtains of fire
and to artillerists who wanted to turn on their own curtains of fire
instantly the charge started. Then there were other little flashes and
darts of light and flame which insisted on adding their moiety to the
garish whole. And under the German trenches at several points were vast
charges of explosives which had been patiently borne under ground
through arduously made tunnels.

So much for the machinery of material. Thus far we have mentioned only
guns and explosions, things built of steel to fire missiles of steel and
things on wheels, and little about the machine of human beings now to
come abreast of the tape for the charge, the men who had been "blooded,"
the "cannon fodder." Every shell was meant for killing men; every German
battery and machine gun was a monster frothing red at the lips in
anticipation of slaughter.

A fury of trench raids broke out from the Somme to Ypres further to
confuse the enemy as to the real front of attack. Men rushed the
trenches which they were to take and hold later, and by their brief
visit learned whether or not the barbed wire had been properly cut to
give the great charge a clear pathway and whether or not the German
trenches were properly mashed. They brought in prisoners whose
identification and questioning were invaluable to the intelligence
branch, where the big map on the wall was filled in with the location
of German divisions, thus building up the order of battle, so vital to
all plans, with its revelation of the disposition and strength of the
enemy's forces. It was known that the Germans were rapidly bringing up
new batteries north of the Ancre while low visibility postponed the day
of the attack.

The men that worked on the new roads keeping them in condition for the
passage of the heavy transport, whether columns of motor trucks, or
caissons, or the great tractors drawing guns, were no less a part of the
scheme than the daring raiders. Every soldier who was going over the
parapet in the attack must have his food and drink and bombs to throw
and cartridges to fire after he had reached his objective.

Most telling of all the innumerably suggestive features to me were the
streets of empty white tents at the casualty clearing stations, and the
empty hospital cars on the railway sidings, and the new enclosures for
prisoners--for these spoke the human note. These told that man was to be
the target.

The staff might plan, gunners might direct their fire accurately against
unseen targets by the magic of their calculations, generals might
prepare their orders, the intricate web of telephone and telegraph wires
might hum with directions, but the final test lay with him who, rifle
and bomb ready in hand, was going to cross No Man's Land and take
possession of the German trenches. A thousand pictures cloud the memory
and make a whole intense in one's mind, which holds all proudly in
admiration of human stoicism, discipline and spirit and sadly, too, with
a conscious awe in the possession as of some treasure intrusted to him
which he cheapens by his clumsy effort at expression.

Stage by stage the human part had moved forward. Khaki figures were
swarming the village streets while the people watched them with a sort
of worshipful admiration of their stalwart, trained bodies and a
sympathetic appreciation of what was coming. These men with their fair
complexion and strange tongue were to strike against the Germans. Two
things the French had learned about the English: they were generous and
they were just, though phlegmatic. Now they were to prove that with
their methodical deliberation they were brave. Some would soon die in
battle--and for France.

By day they loitered in the villages waiting on the coming of darkness,
their training over--nothing to do now but wait. If they went forward it
was by platoons or companies, lest they make a visible line on the
chalky background of the road to the aviator's eye. A battalion drawn up
in a field around a battalion commander, sitting his horse sturdily as
he gave them final advice, struck home the military affection of loyalty
of officer to man and man to officer. A soldier parting at a doorway
from a French girl in whose eyes he had found favor during a brief
residence in her village struck another chord. That elderly woman with
her good-by to a youth was speaking as she would to her own son who was
at the front and unconsciously in behalf of some English mother. Up near
the trenches at dusk, in the last billet before the assembly for attack,
company officers were recalling the essentials of instructions to a line
standing at ease at one side of the street while caissons of shells had
the right of way.

With the coming of night battalions of reserves formed and set forth on
the march, going toward the flashes in the heavens which illumined the
men in their steady tramp, the warmth of their bodies and their breaths
pressing close to your car as you turned aside to let them pass. "East
Surreys," or "West Ridings," or "Manchesters" might come the answer to
inquiries. All had the emblems of their units in squares of cloth on
their shoulders, and on the backs of some of the divisions were bright
yellow or white patches to distinguish them from Germans to the gunners
in the shell-smoke.

Nothing in their action at first glance indicated the stress of their
thoughts. Officers and men, their physical movements set by the mold of
discipline, were in gesture, in voice, in manner the same as when they
were on an English road in training. This was a part of the drill, a
part of man's mastery of his emotions. None were under any illusions as
soldiers of other days had been. Few nursed the old idea of being the
lucky man who would escape. They knew the chances they were taking, the
meaning of frontal attacks and of the murderous and wholesale quickness
of machine gun methods.

Will, organized human will, was in their steps and shining out of their
eyes. It occurred to me that they might have escaped this if England had
kept out of the war at the price of something with which Englishmen
refused to part. "The day" was coming, "the day" they had foreseen, "the
day" for which their people waited.

When they were closing in with death, the clans which make up the
British Empire kept faith with their character as do all men. These
battalions sang the songs and whistled the tunes of drill grounds at
home, though in low notes lest the enemy should hear, and lapsed into
silence when they drew near the front and filed through the
communication trenches.

Quiet the English, that great body of the army which sees itself as the
skirt for the Celtic fringe, ploddingly undemonstrative with memories of
the phlegm of their history holding emotions unexpressed; the Scotch in
their kilts, deep-chested, with their trunk-like legs and broad hips,
braw of face under their mushroom helmets, seemed like mediaeval men of
arms ready in spirit as well as looks for fierce hand-to-hand
encounters; the Welsh, more emotional than the English, had songs which
were pleasant to the ear if the words were unrecognizable; and the
ruddy-faced Irish, with their soft voices, had a beam in their eyes of
inward anticipation of the sort of thing to come which no Irishman ever
meets in a hesitating mood. No overseas troops were there except the
Newfoundland battalion; for only sons of the old country were to strike
on July 1st.

Returning from a tour at night I had absorbed what seemed at one moment
the unrealness and at another the stern, unyielding reality of the
scenes. The old French territorial, with wrinkled face and an effort at
a military mustache, who came out of his sentry box at a control post
squinting by the light of a lantern held close to his nose at the bit of
paper which gave the bearer freedom of the army and nodding with his
polite word of concurrence, was a type who might have stopped a traveler
in Louis XIV.'s time. All the farmers sleeping in the villages who would
be up at dawn at their work, all the people in Amiens, knew that the
hour was near. The fact was in the air no less than in men's minds.
Nobody mentioned that the greatest struggle of the war was about to
begin. We all knew that it was in hearts, souls, fiber.

There were moments when imagination gave to that army in its integrity
of organization only one heart in one body. Again, it was a million
hearts in a million bodies, deaf except to the voice of command. Most
amazing was the absence of fuss whether with the French or the British.
Everybody seemed to be doing what he was told to do and to know how to
do it. With much to be left to improvisation after the attack began,
nothing might be neglected in the course of preparation.

In other days where infantry on the march deployed and brought up
suddenly against the enemy in open conflict the anticipatory suspense
was not long and was forgotten in the brief space of conflict. Here this
suspense really had been cumulative for months. It built itself up,
little by little, as the material and preparations increased, as the
battalions assembled, until sometimes, despite the roar of the
artillery, there seemed a great silence while you waited for a string,
drawn taut, to crack.

On the night of June 30th the word was passed behind a closed door in
the hotel that seven-thirty the next morning was the hour and the
spectators should be called at five--which seemed the final word in
staff prevision.




V

THE BLOW

   Plans at headquarters--A battle by inches--In the observation
   post--The debris of a ruined village--"Softening" by shell fire--A
   slice out of the front--The task of the infantryman--The dawn before
   the attack--Five minutes more--A wave of men twenty-five miles
   long--Mist and shell-smoke--Duty of the war-correspondent.


I was glad to have had glimpses of every aspect of the preparation from
battalion headquarters in the front line trenches to General
Headquarters, which had now been moved to a smaller town near the
battlefield where the intelligence branch occupied part of a
schoolhouse. In place of exercises in geography and lithographs of
natural history objects, on the schoolroom walls hung charts of the
German Order of Battle, as built up through many sources of information,
which the British had to face. There was no British Order of Battle in
sight. This, as the Germans knew it, you might find in a German
intelligence office; but the British were not going to aid the Germans
in ascertaining it by giving it any publicity.

By means of a map spread out on a table an officer explained the plan of
attack with reference to broad colored lines which denoted the
objectives. The whole was as explicit as if Bonaparte had said:

"We shall engage heavily on our left, pound the center with our
artillery, and flank on our right."

The higher you go in the command the simpler seem the plans which by
direct and comprehensive strokes conceal the detail which is delegated
down through the different units. At Gommecourt there was a salient, an
angle of the German trench line into the British which seemed to invite
"pinching," and this was to be the pivot of the British movement. The
French who were on both sides of the Somme were to swing in from their
southern flank of attack near Soyecourt in the same fashion as the
British from the northern, thus bringing the deepest objective along the
river in the direction of Peronne, which would fall when eventually the
tactical positions commanding it were gained.

Not with the first rush, for the lines of the objective were drawn well
short of it, but with later rushes the British meant to gain the
irregular ridge formation from Thiepval to Longueval, which would start
them on the way to the consummation of their siege hammering. It was to
be a battle by inches; the beginning of a long task. German _morale_ was
still high on the Western front; their numbers immense. _Morale_ could
be broken, numbers worn down, only by pounding.

Granted that the attack of July 1st should succeed all along the line,
it would gain little ground; but it would everywhere break through the
first line fortifications over a front of more than twenty-five miles,
the British for about fifteen and the French for about ten. The
soldierly informant at "Intelligence" reminded the listener, too, that
battalions which might be squeezed or might run into unexpected
obstacles would suffer fearfully as in all great battles and one must be
careful not to be over-depressed by the accounts of the survivors or
over-elated by the roseate narratives of battalions which had swept all
before them with slight loss.

The day before I saw the map of the whole I had seen the map of a part
at an Observation Post at Auchonvillers. The two were alike in a
standardized system, only one dealt with corps and the other with
battalions. A trip to Auchonvillers at any time during the previous year
or up to the end of June, 1916, had not been fraught with any particular
risk. It was on the "joy-riders'" route, as they say.

When I said that the German batteries were making relatively little
reply to the preliminary British bombardment I did not mean to imply
that they were missing any opportunities. At the dead line for
automobiles on the road the burst of a shrapnel overhead had a
suggestiveness that it would not have had at other times. Perhaps the
Germans were about to put a barrage on the road. Perhaps they were
going to start their guns in earnest. Happily, they have always been
most considerate where I was concerned and they were only throwing in a
few shells in the course of artillery routine, which happened also on
our return from the Observation Post. But they were steadily attentive
with "krumps" to a grove where some British howitzers sought the screen
of summer foliage. If they could put any batteries out of action while
they waited for the attack this was good business, as it meant fewer
guns at work in support of the British charge.

An artilleryman, perspiring and mud-spattered from shell-bursts, who
came across the fields, said: "They knocked off the corner of our
gun-pit and got two men. That's all." His eyes were shining; he was in
the elation of battle. Casualties were an incident in the preoccupation
of his work and of the thought: "At last we have the shells! At last it
is our turn!"

On our way forward we passed more batteries and wisely kept to the open
away from them, as they are dangerous companions in an artillery duel.
Then we stepped into the winding communication trench with its system of
wires fast to the walls, and kept on till we passed under a lifted
curtain into a familiar chamber roofed with heavy cement blocks and
earth.

"Safe from a direct hit by five-point-nines," said the observation
officer, a regular promoted from the ranks who had been "spotting"
shells since the war began. "A nine-inch would break the blocks, but I
don't think that it would do us in."

Even if it did "do us in," why, we were only two or three men. All this
protection was less perhaps to insure safety than to insure security of
observation for these eyes of the guns. The officer was as proud of his
O.P. as any battalion commander of his trench or a battery commander of
his gun-position, which is the same kind of human pride that a man has
in the improvements on his new country estate.

There was a bench to sit on facing the narrow observation slit, similar
to that of a battleship's conning tower, which gave a wide sweep of
vision. A commonplace enough _mise-en-scene_ on average days, now
significant because of the stretch of dead world of the trench systems
and No Man's Land which was soon to be seething with the tumult of
death.

Directly in front of us was Beaumont-Hamel. Before the war it had been
like hundreds of other villages. Since the war its ruins were like
scores of others in the front line. Parts of a few walls were standing.
It was difficult to tell where the debris of Beaumont-Hamel began and
that of the German trench ended. Dust was mixed with the black bursts
of smoke rising from the conglomerate mass of buildings and streets
thrown together by previous explosions. The effect suggested the regular
spout of geysers from a desert rock crushed by charges of dynamite.

Could anybody be alive in Beaumont-Hamel? Wasn't this bombardment
threshing straw which had long since yielded its last kernel of grain?
Wasn't it merely pounding the graves of a garrison? Other villages,
equally passive and derelict, were being submitted to the same
systematic pounding, which was like timed hammer-beats.

"We keep on softening them," said the observer.

Soldiers have a gift for apt words to describe their work, as have all
professional experts. Softening! It personified the enemy as something
hard and tough which would grow pulpy under enough well-mapped blows
striking at every vital part from dugouts to billets.

All the barbed-wire entanglements in front of the first-line trenches
appeared to be cut, mangled, twisted into balls, beaten back into the
earth and exhumed again, leaving only a welt of crater-spotted ground in
front of the chalky contour of the first-line trenches which had been
mashed and crushed out of shape.

"Yes, the Boche's first line looks rather messy," said the officer.
"We've been giving him an awful doing these last few days. Turning our
attention mostly to the second line, now. That's our lot, there," he
added, indicating a cluster of bursts over a nest of burrows farther up
on the hillside.

"Any attempts to repair their wire at night?" I asked.

"No. They have to do it under our machine gun fire. Any Boches who have
survived are lying doggo."

How many dugouts were still intact and secure refuges for the waiting
Germans? Only trench raids could ascertain. As well might the observer
with his glasses or an aeroplane looking down try to take a census of
the number of inhabitants of a prairie dog village who were all in their
holes.

The officer spread out his map marked "Secret and confidential,"
delimiting the boundaries of a narrow sector. He had nothing to do with
what lay to the right and left--other sectors, other men's business--of
the area inclosed in the clear, heavy lines crosswise of British and
German trenches--a slice out of the front, as it were. Speaking over the
telephone to the blind guns, he was interested only in the control of
gunfire in this sector. The charge to him was lines on the map parallel
with the trenches which would be at given points at given moments--lines
which he must support when their soldier counterparts were invisible
through the shell-smoke in the nice calculation of time and range which
should put the shells into the enemy and never into the charging man.

To infantry commanders with similar maps those lines were breathing
human lines of men whom they had trained, and the gunfire a kind of
spray which the gunners were to adjust for the protection of the
battalions when they should cross that dead space. Once the British were
in the German front trenches, details which had been told off for the
purpose were to take possession of the dugouts and "breach" them of
prisoners and disarm all other Germans, lest they fire into the backs of
those who carried the charge farther on to the final stage of the
objective. What awaited them they would know only when they climbed over
the parapet and became silhouettes of vulnerable flesh in the open. Yes,
one had the system in the large and the small, by the army, the corps,
the division, the brigade, the battalion, and the man, the individual
infantryman who was to suffer that hazard of marching in the open toward
the trenches which not guns, or motor trucks, or trench-mortar shells
could take, but only he could take and hold.

The advantage of watching the attack from this O.P. in comparison with
that of other points was mooted; for the spectator had to choose his
seat for the panorama. This time we sought a place where we hoped to
see something of the battle as a whole.

"_C'est arrive!_" said the old porter to me at the door when I left the
hotel before dawn. The great day had arrived!

Amiens was in darkness, with the lightnings of the guns which had never
ceased their labors through the night flashing in the heavens their
magnetic summons to battle. When a dip into a valley shut out their roar
a divine hush lay over the world. On either side of the main road was
the peace of the hour before the dawn which would send the peasants from
their beds to the fields. There were no lights yet in the villages. It
had not occurred to the inhabitants to try to see the battle. They knew
that they would be in the way; sentries or gunners would halt them.

The traffic was light and all vehicles, except a flying staff officer's
car, were going their methodical way. Vaguely, as an aviation station
was passed, planes were visible being pushed out of their sheds; the hum
of propellers being tried out was faintly heard. The birds of battle
were testing their wings before flight and every one out of the hundreds
which would take part that day had his task set, no less than had a
corps, a regiment of artillery, or the bombers in a charge.

"This is the place," was the word to the chauffeur as we swept up a
grade in the misty darkness.

Stretched from trunk to trunk of the trees beside the road were canvas
screens to hide the transport from enemy observation. Passing between
them had the effect of going through the curtains into a parterre box.
Light was just breaking and we were in a field of young beets on the
crest of a rise, with no higher ground beyond us all the way to
Thiepval, which was in the day's objective, and to Pozieres, which was
beyond it. Ordinarily, on a clear day we should have had from here a
view over five or six miles of front and through our glasses the action
should have been visible in detail.

This morning the sun was not showing his head and the early mist lay
opaque over all the positions, holding in place the mighty volume of
smoke from bursting shells. As it was not seven o'clock the sun might
yet realize its duty in July and dissipate this shroud, which was so
thick that it partially obscured the flashes of the guns and the
shell-bursts.

Seven-ten came and seven-twenty and still no more light. It was too late
now to seek another hill and, if we had sought one, we should have had
no better view. At least, we were seeing as much as the Commander of the
Fourth Army in his dugout near by. The artillery fire increased. Every
gun was now firing, all stretching their powers to the maximum. The
mist and smoke over the positions seemed to tremble with the blasts.
Near-by shells, especially German, broke brilliantly against a
background so thick that it swallowed up the flashes of more distant
shells in its garishly illumined density. Thousands of officers were
studying their wrist watches for the tick of "zero" as the minute-hands
moved on with merciless fatalism; and hundreds of thousands of men who
had come into position overnight were in line in the trenches looking to
their officers for the word.

Our little group in the beet field was restless and silent; or if we
spoke it was not of what was oppressing our minds and stilling our
heartbeats. Our glasses gave no aid; they only made the fog thicker. Had
we been in the first-line British trenches we could hardly have seen the
men who left them through this wall of smoke and mist as they entered
the German first line and the answering German "krumps" would have
driven us to the dugouts and German curtains of fire held us prisoner.

One of us called attention to a lark that had risen and was singing with
all the power in his little throat. Another mentioned a squadron of
aeroplanes against the background of a soft and domeless sky, flying
with the precision of wild geese. We knew that the German guns were
responding now, for the final blasts of British concentration had been
a sufficient signal of attack if some British prisoner taken in a trench
raid had not revealed the hour.

Seven-twenty-five! someone said, but not one of us needed any reminder.
Five minutes more and the great experiment would begin. Had Sir Douglas
Haig made an army equal to the task? What would be the answer to
skeptics who said that the London cockneys and the Manchester factory
hands and all the others without military training could not be made
into a force skilful enough to take those trenches? Was the feat of
conquering those fortifications within the bounds of human courage,
skill and resource?

Not what one saw but what one felt and knew counted. A crowd is
spellbound in watching a steeplejack at work, or an aviator doing a
"loop-the-loop," or an acrobat swinging from one bar to another above
the sawdust ring, or the "leap of death" of the movies; and here we were
in the presence of a multitude who were running a far greater risk in an
untried effort, with their inspiration not a breathless audience but
duty. For none wanted to die. All were human in this. None had any sense
of the glorious sport of war, only that of grim routine.

Our group was not particularly religious, but I think that we were all
uttering a prayer for England and France. At seven-thirty something
seemed to crack in our brains. There was no visible sign that a wave of
men twenty-five miles long, reaching from Gommecourt to Soyecourt,
wherever the trenches ran across fields, through villages and along
slopes to the banks of the Somme and beyond, had left their parapets. I
knew the men who were going into that charge too well to have any
apprehension that any battalion would falter. The thing was to be done
and they were to do it. Now they were out in No Man's Land; now they
were facing the reception prepared for them. Thousands might already be
down. We could discern that the German guns, long waiting for their
prey, were seeking it in eager ferocity as they laid their curtains of
fire on the appointed places which they had registered. The hell of the
poets and the priests must have some emotion, some temperamental
variation. This was sheer mechanical hell, its pulse that of the dynamo
and the engine.

Seven-forty-five! Helplessly we stared at the blanket. If the charge had
gone home it was already in the German trenches. For all we knew it
might have been repulsed and its remnants be struggling back through the
curtains of artillery fire and the sweep of machine gun fire. As the sun
came out without clearing away the mist and shell-smoke over the field
we had glimpses of some reserves who had looked like a yellow patch
behind a hill deploying to go forward, suggestive of yellow-backed
beetles who were the organized servitors of a higher mind on some other
planet.

This was all we saw; and to make more of it would not be fair to other
occasions when views of attacks were more intimate. Yet I would not
change the impression now. It has its place in the spectator's history
of the battle.




VI

FIRST RESULTS OF THE SOMME

   At the little schoolhouse--Twenty miles of German fortifications
   taken--Doubtful situation north of Thiepval--Prisoners and
   wounded--Defeat and victory--The topography of Thiepval--Sprays of
   bullets and blasts of artillery fire--"The day" of the New Army--The
   courage of civilized man--Fighting with a kind of divine
   stubbornness--Braver than the "Light Brigade"--Died fighting as final
   proof of the New Army's spirit--Crawling back through No Man's
   Land--Not beaten but roughly handled.


In the room at the head of the narrow stairs in the schoolhouse of the
quiet headquarters town we should have the answer to the question, Has
the British attack succeeded? which was throbbing in our pulsebeats. By
the same map on the table in the center of the room showing the plan of
attack with its lines indicating the objectives we should learn how many
of them had been gained. The officer who had outlined the plan of battle
with fine candor was equally candid about its results, so far as they
were known. Not only did he avoid mincing words, but he avoided wasting
them.

From Thiepval northward the situation was obscure. The German artillery
response had been heavy and the action almost completely blanketed from
observation. Some detachments must have reached their objective, as
their signals had been seen. From La Boisselle southward the British had
taken every objective. They were in Mametz and Montauban and around
Fricourt. For the French it had been a clean sweep, without a single
repulse. Twenty miles of those formidable German fortifications were in
the possession of the Allies.

On the ledge of the schoolroom window, with the shrill voices of the
children at recess playing in the yard below rising to my ears, I wrote
my dispatch for the press at home, less conscious then than now of the
wonder of the situation. Downstairs the cure of the church next door was
standing on the steps, an expectant look in his eyes. When I told him
the news his smile and the flash of his eye, which lacked the meekness
usually associated with the Church, were good to see.

"And the French?" he asked.

"All of their objectives!"

"Ah!" He drew a deep breath and rubbed his hands together softly. "And
prisoners?"

"A great many."

"Ah! And guns?"

"Yes."

Thus he ran up the scale of happiness. I left him on the steps of the
church with a proud, glad, abstracted look.

Beyond the town peaceful fields stretched away to the battle area, where
figures packed together inside the new prisoners' inclosures made a
green blot. Litters were thick in the streets of the casualty clearing
stations which had been empty yesterday. There were no idle ambulances
now. They had passengers in green as well as in khaki. The first
hospital trains were pulling out from the rail-head across from a
clearing station. Thus promptly, as foreseen, the processes of battle
had worked themselves out.

From "light" cases and from "bad" cases, from officers and men, you had
the account of an individual's supreme experience, infinitesimal
compared to the whole but when taken together making up the whole. The
wounded in the Thiepval-Gommecourt sector spoke of having "crawled" back
across No Man's Land. South of Thiepval they had "walked" back. This,
too, told the story of the difference between repulse and victory.

As the fight went for each man in the fray, so the battle went to his
conception. The spectator going here and there could hear accounts at
one headquarters of battalions that were beyond the first-line trenches
and at another of battalions whose survivors were back in their own
trenches. He could hear one wounded man say: "It was too stiff, sir.
There was no getting through their curtains of fire against their
machine guns, sir;" and another: "We went into their first line without
a break and right on, gathering in Boches on the way."

Victory is sweet. It writes itself. Perhaps because failure is harder to
write, though in this case it is equally glorious, we shall have this
first. To make the picture of that day clearer, imagine a movement of
the whole arm, with the shoulder at Gommecourt and the fist swinging in
at Montauban, crushing its way against those fortifications. It broke
through for a distance of more than from the elbow to the fingers' ends
twenty miles southward from Thiepval--a name to bear in mind. Men
crossing the open under protecting waves of shell fire had proved that
men in dugouts with machine guns were not invincible.

From a certain artillery observation post in a tree you had a good view
of Thiepval, already a blackened spot with the ruins of the chateau
showing white in its midst and pricked by the toothpick-like trunks of
trees denuded of their limbs, which were to become such a familiar sight
on the battlefield. It was uphill all the way to Thiepval for the
British. A river so-called, really a brook, the Ancre, runs at the foot
of the slope and turns eastward beyond Thiepval, where a ridge called
Crucifix Ridge north-east of the village takes its name from a Christ
with outstretched arms visible for many miles around. Then on past the
bend of the Ancre the British and the German positions continued to the
Gommecourt salient.

Along these five miles the odds of terrain were all against the British.
The high ground which they sought to gain was of supreme tactical value.
Nature was an ally of soldierly industry in constructing defenses. The
German staff expected the brunt of the offensive in this sector and
every hour's delay in the attack was invaluable for their final
preparations. Thiepval, Beaumont-Hamel and Gommecourt would not be
yielded if there were any power of men or material at German command to
keep them. Indeed, the Germans said that Thiepval was impregnable. Their
boast was good on July 1st but not in the end, as we shall see, for,
before the summer was over, Thiepval was to be taken with less loss to
the British than to the defenders.

At Beaumont-Hamel and Thiepval, particularly, and in all villages house
cellars had been enlarged and connected by new galleries, the debris
from the buildings forming a thicker roof against penetration by shells.
Where there had seemed no life in Beaumont-Hamel battalions were snug in
their refuges as the earth around trembled from the explosions. Those
shell-threshed parapets of the first-line German trenches which appeared
to represent complete destruction had not filled in all the doorways of
dugouts which big shells had failed to reach. The cut and twisted
fragments of barbed wire which were the remains of the maze of
entanglements fringing the parapets no longer protected them from a
charge; but the garrisons depended upon another kind of defense which
sent its deadly storms against the advancing infantry.

The British battalions that went over the parapet from Thiepval
northward were of the same mettle as those that took Montauban and
Mametz; their training and preparation the same. Where battalions to the
southward swept forward according to plan and the guns' pioneering was
successful, those on this front in many cases started from trenches
already battered in by German shell fire. A few steps across that dead
space and officers knew that the supporting artillery, working no less
thoroughly in its preliminary bombardment here than elsewhere, had not
the situation in hand.

All the guns which the Germans had brought up during the time that
weather delayed the British attack added their weight to the artillery
concentration. Down the valley of the Ancre at its bend they had more or
less of an enfilade. Machine guns had survived in their positions in the
debris of the trenches or had been mounted overnight and others appeared
from manholes in front of the trenches. Sprays of bullets cut crosswise
of the blasts of the German curtains of artillery fire. How any men
could go the breadth of No Man's Land and survive would have been called
miraculous in other days; in these days we know that it was due to the
law of chance which will wound one man a dozen times and never bark the
skin of another.

Any troops might have been warranted in giving up the task before they
reached the first German trench. Veterans could have retired without
criticism. This is the privilege of tried soldiers who have won
victories and are secured by such an expression as, "If the Old Guard
saw that it could not be done, why, then, it could not." But these were
New Army men in their first offensive. Their victories were yet to be
won. This was "the day."

Each officer and each man had given himself up as a hostage to death for
his cause, his pride of battalion and his manhood when he went over the
parapet. The business of the officers was to lead their men to certain
goals; that of the men was to go with the officers. All very simple
reasoning, this, yet hardly reason: the second nature of training and
spirit. How officers had studied the details of their objectives on the
map in order to recognize them when they were reached! How like drill it
was the way that those human waves moved forward! But they were not
waves for long in some instances, only survivors still advancing as if
they were parts of a wave, unseen by their commanders in the
shell-smoke, buffeted by bursts of high explosives, with every man
simply keeping on toward the goal till he arrived or fell. Foolhardy,
you say. Perhaps. It is an easy word to utter over a map after the
event. You would think of finer words if you had been at the front.

Would England have wanted her New Army to act otherwise?--the first
great army that she had put into the field on trial on the continent of
Europe against an army which had, by virtue of its own experience, the
right to consider the newcomers as amateurs? They became more skilful
later; but in war all skill is based on such courage as these men showed
that day. Those who sit in offices in times of peace and think otherwise
had better be relieved. It is the precept that the German Army itself
taught and practiced at Ypres and Verdun. On July 1st a question was
answered for anyone who had been in the Manchurian war. He learned that
those bred in sight of cathedrals in the civilization of the epic poem
can surpass without any inspiration of oriental fatalism or religious
fanaticism the courage of the land of Shintoism and Bushido.

In most places the charge reached the German trenches. There, frequently
outnumbered by the garrison, the men stabbed and bombed, fought to put
out machine guns that were turned on them and so stay the tide coming
out of the mouths of dugouts--simply fought and kept on fighting with a
kind of divine stubbornness.

Tennyson's "Light Brigade" seems bombast and gallery play after July
1st. In that case some men on horses who had received an order rode out
and rode back, and verse made ever memorable this wild gallop of
exhilaration with horses bearing the men. The battalions of July 1st
went on their own feet driven by their own will toward their goals,
without turning back. Surviving officers with objectives burned in their
brains led the surviving men past the first-line trenches if the
directions required this. "Theirs not to reason why--theirs but to do
and die--cannon to right of them volleyed and thundered,"--old-fashioned,
smoke-powder cannon firing round shot for the Light Brigade; for these
later-day battalions every kind of modern shell and machine guns, showers
of death and sheets of death!

The goal--the goal! Ten men out of a hundred reached it in a few cases
and when they arrived they sent up rocket signals to say that they were
there! there! there! Two or three battalions literally disappeared into
the blue. I thought that the Germans might have taken a considerable
number of prisoners, but not so. Those isolated lots who went on to
their objectives regardless of every other thought died fighting, as
final proof of the New Army's spirit, against the Germans enraged by
their heavy losses from the preliminary British bombardment.

It was where gaps existed and gallantry went blindly forward, unable in
the fog of shell-smoke to see whether the units on the right or the left
were up, that these sacrifices of heroism were made; but where command
was held over the line and the opposition was not of a variable kind
counsel was taken of the impossible and retreat was ordered. That is,
the units turned back toward their own trenches under direction. They
had to pass through the same curtain of shell fire in returning as in
charging, and ahead of them through the blasts they drove their
prisoners.

"Never mind. It's from your own side!" said one Briton to a German who
had been knocked over by a German "krump" when he picked himself up; and
the German answered that this did not make him like it any better.

Scattered with British wounded taking cover in new and old shell-craters
was No Man's Land as the living passed. A Briton and his prisoner would
take cover together. An explosion and the prisoner might be blown to
bits, or if the captor were, another Briton took charge of the prisoner.
Persistently stubborn were the captors in holding on to prisoners who
were trophies out of that inferno, and when a Briton was back in the
first-line trench with his German his delight was greater in delivering
his man alive than in his own safety. Out in No Man's Land the wounded
hugged their shell-craters until the fire slackened or night fell, when
they crawled back.

Where early in the morning it had appeared as if the attack were
succeeding reserve battalions were sent in to the support of those in
front, and as unhesitatingly and steadily as at drill they entered the
blanket of shell-smoke with its vivid flashes and hissing of shrapnel
bullets and shell-fragments. Commanders, I found, stood in awe of the
steadfast courage of their troops. Whether officers or men, those who
came out of hell were still true to their heritage of English phlegm.

Covered with chalk dust from crawling, their bandages blood-soaked,
bespattered with the blood of comrades as they lay on litters or hobbled
down a communication trench, they looked blank when they mentioned the
scenes that they had witnessed; but they gave no impression of despair.
It did not occur to them that they had been beaten; they had been
roughly handled in one round of a many-round fight. Had a German
counter-attack developed they would have settled down, rifle in hand, to
stall through the next round. And that young officer barely twenty,
smiling though weak from loss of blood from two wounds, refusing
assistance as he pulled himself along among the "walking wounded,"
showed a bravery in his stoicism equal to any on the field when he said,
"It did not go well this time," in a way that indicated that, of course,
it would in the end.

It was over one of those large scale, raised maps showing in facsimile
all the elevations that a certain corps commander told the story of the
whole attack with a simplicity and frankness which was a victory of
character even if he had not won a victory in battle. He rehearsed the
details of preparation, which were the same in their elaborate care as
those of corps which had succeeded; and he did not say that luck had
been against him--indeed, he never once used the word--but merely that
the German fortifications had been too strong and the gunfire too heavy.
He bore himself in the same manner that he would in his house in
England; but his eyes told of suffering and when he spoke of his men his
voice quavered.

Where the young officer had said that it had not gone well this time and
a private had said, "We must try again, sir!" the general had said that
repulse was an incident of a prolonged operation in the initial stage,
which sounded more professional but was no more illuminating. All spoke
of lessons learned for the future. Thus they had stood the supreme test
which repulse alone can give.

What could an observer say or do that was not banal in the eyes of men
who had been through such experiences? Only listen and look on with the
awe of one who feels that he is in the presence of immortal heroism. And
an hour's motor ride away were troops in the glow of that success which
is without comparison in its physical elation--the success of arms.




VII

OUT OF THE HOPPER OF BATTLE

   An army of movement--Taking over the captured space--At Minden Post,
   a crossroads of battle--German prisoners--Their desire to live--Their
   variety--The ambulance line--The refuse from the hopper of
   battle--Resting in the battle line--Reminiscences of the fighters--A
   mighty crater--The dugouts around Fricourt--Method of taking a
   dugout--The litter over the field.


When I went southward through that world of triumph back of Mametz and
Montauban I kept thinking of a strong man who had broken free of his
bonds and was taking a deep breath before another effort. Where from
Thiepval to Gommecourt the men who had expected to be organizing new
trenches were back in their old ones and the gunners who had hoped to
move their guns forward were in the same positions and all the plans for
supplying an army in advance were still on paper, to the southward
anticipation had become realization and the system devised to carry on
after success was being applied.

A mighty, eager industry pervaded the rear. Here, at last, was an army
of movement. New roads must be made in order that the transport could
move farther forward; medical corps men were establishing more advanced
clearing stations; new ammunition dumps were being located; military
police were adapting traffic regulations to the new situation. Old
trenches had been filled up to give trucks and guns passageway. In every
face was the shining desire which overcomes fatigue. An army long
trench-tied was stretching its limbs as it found itself in the open. At
corps headquarters lines were drawn on the maps of positions gained and
beyond them the lines of new objectives.

Could it be possible that our car was running along that road back of
the first-line trenches where it would have been death to show your head
two days ago? And could battalions in reserve be lying in the open on
fields where forty-eight hours previously a company would have drawn the
fire of half a dozen German batteries? Was it dream or reality that you
were walking about in the first-line German trenches? So long had you
been used to stationary warfare, with your side and the other side
always in the same places hedged in by walls of shell fire, that the
transformation seemed as amazing as if by some magic overnight lower
Broadway with all its high buildings had been moved across the North
River.

Among certain scenes which memory still holds dissociated from others by
their outstanding characterization, that of Minden Post remains vivid
as illustrating the crossroads man-traffic of battle. A series of big
dugouts, of houses and caves with walls of sandbags, back of the first
British line near Carnoy was a focus of communication trenches and the
magnet to the men hastening from bullet-swept, shell-swept spaces to
security. The hot breath of the firing-line had scorched them and cast
them out and they came together in congestion at this clearing station
like a crowd at a gate. Eyes were bloodshot and set in deep hollows from
fatigue, those of the British having the gleam of triumph and those of
the Germans a dazed inquiry as they awaited directions.

Only a half-hour before, perhaps, the Germans had been fighting with the
ferocity of racial hate and the method of iron discipline. Now they were
simply helpless, disheveled human beings, their short boots and green
uniforms whitened by chalk dust. Hunger had weakened the stamina of many
of them in the days when the preliminary British bombardment had shut
them off from supplies; but none looked as if he were really underfed. I
never saw a German prisoner who was except for the intervals when battle
kept the food waiting at the rear away from his mouth, though some who
were under-sized and ill-proportioned looked incapable of absorbing
nutrition.

In order to make them fight better they had been told that the British
gave no quarter. Out of hell, with shells no longer bursting overhead or
bullets whimpering and hissing past, they were conscious only that they
were alive, and being alive, though they had risked life as if death
were an incident, now freed of discipline and of the exhilaration of
battle, their desire to live was very human in the way that hands shot
up if a sharp word were spoken to them by an officer. They were wholly
lacking in military dignity as they filed by; but it returned as by a
magic touch when a non-commissioned officer was bidden to take charge of
a batch and march them to an inclosure. Then, in answer to the command
shoulders squared, heels rapped together, and the instinct of long
training put a ramrod to their backbones which stiffened mere tired
human beings into soldiers. Distinct gratitude was evident when their
papers were taken for examination over the return of their
identification books, which left them still docketed and numbered
members of "system" and not mere lost souls as they would otherwise have
considered themselves.

"All kinds of Boches in our exhibit!" said a British soldier.

As there were, in truth: big, hulking, awkward fellows, beardless
youths, men of forty with stoops formed in civil life, professional men
with spectacles fastened to their ears by cords and fat men with the
cranial formation and physiognomy in keeping with French comic pictures
of the "type Boche."

Mixed with the British wounded they came, tall and short, thin and
portly, the whole a motley procession of friend and foe in a strange
companionship which was singularly without rancor. I saw only one
incident of any harshness of captor to prisoner. A big German ran
against the wounded arm of a Briton, who winced with pain and turned and
gave the German a punch in very human fashion with his free arm. Another
German with his slit trousers' leg flapping around a bandage was leaning
on the arm of a Briton whose other arm was in a sling. A giant Prussian
bore a spectacled comrade pickaback. Germans impressed as litter-bearers
brought in still forms in khaki. Water and tobacco, these are the
bounties which no man refuses to another at such a time as this. The
gurgle of a canteen at a parched mouth on that warm July day was the
first gift to wounded Briton or German and the next a cigarette.

Every returning Briton was wounded, of course, but many of the Germans
were unwounded. Long rows of litters awaited the busy doctors' visit for
further examination. First dressings put on by the man himself or by a
comrade in the firing-line were removed and fresh dressings substituted.
Ambulance after ambulance ran up, the litters of those who were "next"
were slipped in behind the green curtains, and on soft springs over
spinning rubber tires the burdens were sped on their way to England.

Officers were bringing order out of the tide which flowed in across the
fields and the communication trenches as if they were used to such
situations, with the firing-line only two thousand yards away. The
seriously wounded were separated from the lightly wounded, who must not
expect to ride but must go farther on foot. The shell-mauled German
borne pickaback by a comrade found himself in an ambulance across from a
Briton and his bearer was to know sleep after a square meal in the
prisoners' inclosure.

And all this was the refuse from the hopper of battle, which has no
service for prisoners unless to carry litters and no use at all for
wounded; and it was only a by-product of the proof of success compared
to a trip over the field itself--a field still fresh.

Artillery caissons and ambulances and signal wire carts and other
specially favored transport--favored by risk of being in range of
hundreds of guns--now ran along the road in the former No Man's Land
which for nearly two years had had no life except the patrols at night.
The bodies of those who fell on such nocturnal scouting expeditions
could not be recovered and their bones lay there in the midst of rotting
green and khaki in the company of the fresh dead of the charge who were
yet to be buried.

There was the battalion which took the trenches resting yonder on a
hillside, while another battalion took its place in the firing-line. The
men had stripped off their coats; they were washing and making tea and
sprawling in the sunshine, these victors, looking across at curtains of
fire where the battle was raging. Thus reserves might have waited at
Gettysburg or at Waterloo.

"They may put some shells into you," I suggested to their colonel.

"Perhaps," he said. The prospect did not seem to disturb him or the men.
It was a possibility hazy to minds which asked only sleep or relaxation
after two sleepless nights under fire. "The Germans haven't any
aeroplanes up to enable them to see us and no sausage balloons, either.
Since our planes brought down those six in flames the day before the
attack the others have been very coy."

His young officers were all New Army products; he, the commander, being
the only regular. There were still enough regulars left to provide one
for each of the New Army battalions, in some cases even two.

"The men were splendid," he said, "just as good as regulars. They went
in without any faltering and we had a stiffish bit of trench in front of
us, you know. It's jolly out here, isn't it?"

He was tired and perhaps he would be killed to-morrow, but nothing could
prevent him from going some distance to show us the way to the trenches
that his men had taken. They were heroes to him and he was one to them;
and they had won. That was the thing, victory, though they regarded it
as a matter of course, which gave them a glow warmer than the sunlight
as they lay at ease on the grass. They had "been in;" they had seen the
day for which they had long waited. A quality of mastery was in their
bearing, but their elation was tempered by the thought of the missing
comrades, the dead.

"I wish as long as Bill had to go that he hadn't fallen before we got to
the trench," said one soldier. "He had set his heart on seeing what a
Boche dugout was like."

"George was beside me when a Boche got him with a bomb. I did for the
Boche with a bayonet," said another.

"When the machine gun began I thought that it would get us all, but we
had to go on."

They were matter-of-fact, dwelling on the simple essentials. Men had
died; men had been wounded; men had survived. This was all according to
expectation. Mostly, they did not rehearse their experiences. Their
brains had had emotion enough; their bodies asked for rest. They lay
silently enjoying the fact of life and sunlight. Details which were lost
in the haze of action would develop in the memory in later years like
the fine points of a photographic plate.

The former German trench on a commanding knoll had little resemblance to
a trench. Here artillerists had fulfilled infantry requirements to the
letter. Areas of shell-craters lay on either side of the tumbled walls
and dugout entrances were nearly all closed. The infantry which took the
position met no fire in front, but had an enfilade at one point from a
machine gun. Where the dead lay told exactly the breadth of its sweep
through which the charge had unfalteringly passed; and this was only a
first objective. As you could see, the charge had gone on to its second
with slight loss. A young officer after being wounded had crawled into a
shell-crater, drawn his rubber sheet over him and so had died
peacefully, the clot of his life's blood on the earth beside him.

In the field of ruins around Fricourt a mighty crater of one of the
mines exploded on July 1st at the hour of attack was large enough to
hold a battalion. Germans had gone aloft in a spatter with its vast
plume of smoke and dust scooped from the bowels of the earth. Famous
since to sightseers of war were the dugouts around Fricourt which were
the last word in German provision against attack. The making of dugouts
is standardized like everything else in this war. There is the same
angle of entrance, the same flight of steps to that underground refuge,
in keeping with the established pattern. Depth, capacity and comfort are
the result of local initiative and industry. There may be beds and
tables and tiers of bunks. Many such chambers were as undisturbed as if
never a shell had burst in the neighborhood. The Germans in occupation
had been told to hold on; a counter-attack would relieve them. The faith
of some of them endured so well that they had to be blasted out by
explosives before they would surrender.

There was reassurance in the proximity of such good dugouts when
habitable to a correspondent if shells began to fall, as well as
protection for the British in reserve. Some whence came foul odors were
closed by the British as the simplest form of burial for the dead within
who had waited for bombs to be thrown before surrendering. For the
method of taking a dugout had long since become as standardized as its
construction. The men inside could have their choice from the Briton at
the entrance.

"Either file out or take what we send," as a soldier put it. "We can't
leave you there to come out and fire into our backs, as the Kaiser told
you to do, when we've started on ahead."

You could follow for miles the ruins of the first line, picking your way
among German dead in all attitudes, while a hand or a head or a foot
stuck out of the shell-hammered chalk mixed with flesh and fragments of
clothing, the thing growing nauseatingly horrible and your wonder
increasing as to how gunfire had accomplished the destruction and how
men had been able to conquer the remains that the shells had left. It
was a prodigious feat, emphasizing again the importance of the months of
preparation.

And the litter over the whole field! This, in turn, expressed how varied
and immense is the material required for such operations. One had in
mind the cleaning up after some ghastly debauch. Shell-fragments were
mixed with the earth; piles of cartridge cases lay beside pools of
blood. Trench mortars poked their half-filled muzzles out of the toppled
trench walls. Bundles of rocket flares, empty ammunition boxes, steel
helmets crushed in by shell-fragments, gasbags, eye-protectors against
lachrymatory shells, spades, water bottles, unused rifle grenades, egg
bombs, long stick-handled German bombs, map cases, bits of German "K.K."
bread, rifles, the steel jackets of shells and unexploded shells of all
calibers were scattered about the field between the irregular welts of
chalky soil where shell fire had threshed them to bits.

The rifles and accoutrements of the fallen were being gathered in piles,
this being, too, a part of a prearranged system, as was the gathering of
the wounded and later of the dead who had worn them. Big, barelegged
forms of the sturdy Highland regiment which would not halt for a machine
gun were being brought in and laid in a German communication trench
which had only to be closed to make a common grave, each identification
disk being kept as a record of where the body lay. Another communication
trench near by was reserved for German dead who were being gathered at
the same time as the British. In life the foes had faced each other
across No Man's Land. In death they were also separated.

Up to the first-line German trenches, of course, there were only British
dead, those who had fallen in the charge. It was this that made it seem
as if the losses had been all on one side. In the German trenches the
entries on the other side of the ledger appeared; and on the fields and
in the communication trenches lay green figures. Over that open space
they were scattered green dots; again, where they had run for cover to a
wood's edge, they lay thick as they had dropped under the fire of a
machine gun which the British had brought into action. A fierce game of
hare and hounds had been played. Both German and British dead lay facing
in the same direction when they were in the open, the Germans in
retreat, the British in pursuit. An officer called attention to this
grim proof that the initiative was with the British.

By the number of British dead lying in No Man's Land or by the blood
clots when the bodies had been removed, it was possible to tell what
price battalions had paid for success. Nothing could bring back the
lives of comrades who had fallen in front of Thiepval to the survivors
of that action; but could they have seen the broad belts of No Man's
Land with only an occasional prostrate figure it would have had the
reassurance that another time they might have easier going. Wherever the
Germans had brought a machine gun into action the results of its work
lay a stark warning of the necessity of silencing these automatic
killers before a charge. Yet from Mametz to Montauban the losses had
been light, leaving no doubt that the Germans, convinced that the weight
of the attack would be to the north, had been caught napping.

The Allies could not conceal the fact and general location of their
offensive, but they did conceal its plan as a whole. The small number of
shell-craters attested that no such artillery curtains of fire had been
concentrated here as from Thiepval to Gommecourt. Probably the Germans
had not the artillery to spare or had drawn it off to the north.

All branches of the winning army making themselves at home in the
conquered area among the dead and the litter behind the old German first
line--this was the fringe of the action. Beyond was the battle itself,
with the firing-line still advancing under curtains of shell-bursts.




VIII

FORWARD THE GUNS!

   An audacious battery--"An unusual occasion"--Guns to the front at
   night--Close to the firing-line--Not so dangerous for observers--The
   German lines near by--Advantages of even a gentle slope--Skilfully
   chosen German positions--A game of hide and seek with
   death--Business-like progress--Haze, shell-smoke and moving
   figures--Each figure part of the "system."


Hadn't that battery commander mistaken his directions when he emplaced
his howitzers behind a bluff in the old No Man's Land? Didn't he know
that the German infantry was only the other side of the knoll and that
two or three score German batteries were in range? I looked for a
tornado to descend forthwith upon the gunners' heads. I liked their
audacity, but did not court their company when I could not break a habit
of mind bred in the rules of trench-tied warfare where the other fellow
was on the lookout for just such fair targets as they.

For the moment these "hows" were not firing and the gunners were in a
little circumscribed world of their own, dissociated from the movement
around them as they busily dug pits for their ammunition. In due course
someone might tell them to begin registering on a certain point or to
turn loose on one which they had already registered. Meanwhile, very
workmanlike in their shirt-sleeves, they had no concern with the traffic
in the rear, except as it related to their own supply of shells, or with
the litter of the field, or the dead, or the burial parties and the
scattered wounded passing back from the firing-line. Their business
relations were exclusively with the battle area hidden by the bluff. I
thought that they were "rather fond of themselves" (as the British say)
that morning, though not so much so, perhaps, as the crew of the
eighteen pounders still farther forward within about a thousand yards of
the Germans whom they were pelting with shrapnel.

Ordinarily, the eighteen pounders were expected to keep a distance of
four or five thousand yards; but this was "rather an unusual occasion"
as an officer explained. It would never do for the eighteen pounders to
be wall-flowers; they must be on the ballroom floor. Had these men who
were mechanically slipping shells into the gun-breeches slept last night
or the previous night? Oh, yes, for two or three hours when they were
not firing.

What did fatigue matter to an eighteen-pounder spirit released from the
eternal grind of trench warfare and pushing across the open in the way
that eighteen pounders were meant to do? Weren't they horse artillery?
What use had they had for their horses in the immovable Ypres salient
except when they drew back their guns to the billets after their tour of
duty?--they who had drilled and drilled in evolutions in England under
the impression that field guns were a mobile arm!

When orders came on the afternoon of July 1st to go ahead "right into
it" it was like a summons to a holiday for a desk-ridden man brought up
in the Rockies. Out into the night with creaking wheels and caissons
following with sharp words of urging from the sergeant, "Now, wheelers,
as I taught you at Aldershot," as they went across old trenches or up a
stiff slope and into the darkness, with transport giving them the right
of way, and on to a front that was in motion, with officers studying
their maps and directions by the pocket flashlight--this was something
like. And a young lieutenant hurried forward to where the rifles were
talking to signal back the results of the guns firing from the midst of
the battle. Something like, indeed! The fellows training their pieces in
keeping with his instructions might be in for a sudden concentration of
blasts from the enemy, of course. Wasn't that part of the experience?
Wasn't it their place to take their share of the pounding, and didn't
they belong to the guns?

These were examples close at hand, but sprinkled about the well-won area
I saw the puffs from other British batteries which, after a nocturnal
journey, morning found close to the firing-line. While I was moving
about in the neighborhood I cast glances in the direction of that
particular battery of eighteen pounders which was still serenely firing
without being disturbed by the German guns. There was something unreal
about it after nearly two years of the Ypres salient.

But the worst shock to a trench-tied habit of mind was when I stood upon
the parapet of a German trench and saw ahead the British firing-line and
the German, too. I ducked as instinctively, according to past training,
as if I had seen a large, black, murderous thing coming straight for my
head. In the stalemate days a dozen sharpshooters waiting for such
opportunities would have had a try at you; a machine gun might have
loosened up, and even batteries of artillery in their search for game to
show itself from cover did not hesitate to snipe with shells at an
individual.

I must be dead; at least, I ought to be according to previous formulae;
but realizing that I was still alive and that nothing had cracked or
whistled overhead, I took another look and then remained standing. I had
been considering myself altogether too important a mortal. German guns
and snipers were not going to waste ammunition on a non-combatant on the
skyline when they had an overwhelming number of belligerent targets. A
few shrapnel breaking remotely were all that we had to bother us, and
these were sparingly sent with the palpable message, "We'll let you
fellows in the rear know what we would do to you if we were not so
preoccupied with other business."

I was near enough to see the operations; to have gone nearer would have
been to face in the open the sweep of bullets over the heads of the
British front line hugging the earth, which is not wise in these days of
the machine gun. A correspondent likes to see without being shot at and
his lot is sometimes to be shot at without being able to see anything
except the entrance of a dugout, which on some occasions is more
inviting than the portals of a palace.

In the distance was the main German second trench line on the crest of
Longueval and High Wood Ridge, which the British were later to win after
a struggle which left nothing of woods or villages or ridges except
shell-craters. Naturally, the Germans had not restricted their original
defenses to the ridge itself, any more than the French had theirs to the
hills immediately in front of Verdun. They had placed their original
first-line trenches along the series of advantageous positions on the
slope and turned every bit of woods and every eminence into a strong
point on the way back to the second line, whose barbed-wire
entanglements rusted by long exposure were distinct under the glasses.
A German officer stood on the parapet looking out in our direction,
probably trying to locate the British infantry advance which was hugging
a fold in the ground and resting there for the time being. I imagined
how beaver-like were the Germans in the second line strengthening their
defenses. I scanned all the slopes facing us in the hope of seeing a
German battery. There must be one under those balls of black smoke from
high explosives from British guns and another a half mile away under the
same kind of shower.

"They withdrew most of their guns behind the ridge overnight," said an
officer, "in order to avoid capture in case we made another rush."

On the other side of this natural wall they would be safe from any
except aerial observation, and the advanced British batteries, though
all in the open, were in folds in the ground, or behind bluffs, or just
below the skyline of a rise where they had found their assigned position
by the map. How much a few feet of depression in a field, a slightly
sunken road, the grade of a gentle slope, which hid man or gun from view
counted for I did not realize that day as I was to realize in the fierce
fight for position which was to come in succeeding weeks.

It was easy to understand why the Germans had made a strong point in the
first line where I was standing, for it was a position which, in
relation to both the British and the German trenches, would instantly
appeal to the tactical eye. Here they had emplaced machine guns manned
by chosen desperate men which had given the British charge its worst
experience over a mile front. I could see all the movement over a broad
area to the rear which, however, the rise under my feet hid from the
ridge where the German officer stood. The advantage which the Germans
had after their retreat from the Marne was brought home afresh once you
were on conquered ground. A mile more or less of depth had no
sentimental interest to them, for they were on foreign soil. They had
chosen their positions by armies, by corps, by battalions, by hundreds
of miles and tens of miles and tens of yards with the view to a command
of observation and ground. This was a simple application of the formula
as old as man; but it was their numbers and preparedness that permitted
its application and wherever the Allies were to undertake the offensive
they must face this military fact, which made the test of their skill
against frontal positions all the stiffer and added tribute to success.

The scene in front reminded one of a great carpet which did not lie flat
on the floor but was in undulations, with the whole on an incline toward
Longueval and High Wood Ridge. The Ridge I shall call it after this,
for so it was in capital letters to millions of French, British and
German soldiers in the summer of 1916. And this carpet was peopled with
men in a game of hide and seek with death among its folds.

No vehicle, no horse was anywhere visible. Yet it was a poignantly live
world where the old trench lines had been a dead world--a world alive in
the dots of men strung along the crest, in others digging new trenches,
in messengers and officers on the move, in clumps of reserves behind a
hillock or in a valley. Though bursting shrapnel jackets whipped out the
same kind of puffs as always from a flashing center which spread into
nimbus radiant in the sunlight and the high explosives sent up the same
spouts of black smoke as if a stick of dynamite had burst in a coal box,
the shell fire seemed different; it had a quality of action and
adventure in comparison with the monotonous exhibition which we had
watched in stalemate warfare. Death now had some element of glory and
sport. It was less like set fate in a stationary shambles.

Directly ahead was a bare sweep of field of waste wild grass between the
German communication trenches where wheat had grown before the war, and
the British firing-line seemed like heads fastened to a greenish
blanket. Holding the ground that they had gained, they were waiting on
something to happen elsewhere. Others must advance before they could go
farther.

The battle was not general; it raged at certain points where the Germans
had anchored themselves after some recovery from the staggering blow of
the first day. Beyond Fricourt the British artillery was making a
crushing concentration on a clump of woods. This seemed to be the
hottest place of all. I would watch it. Nothing except the blanket of
shell-smoke hanging over the trees was visible for a time, unless you
counted figures some distance away moving about in a sort of detached
pantomime.

Then a line of British infantry seemed to rise out of the pile of the
carpet and I could see them moving with a drill-ground steadiness toward
the edge of the woods, only to be lost to the eye in a fold of the
carpet or in a changed background. There had been something workmanlike
and bold about their rigid, matter-of-fact progress, reflective of
man-power in battle as seen very distinctly for a space in that field of
baffling and shimmering haze. I thought that I had glimpses of some of
them just before they entered the woods and that they were mixing with
figures coming out of the woods. At any rate, what was undoubtedly a
half company of German prisoners were soon coming down the slope in a
body, only to disappear as if they, too, were playing their part in the
hide and seek of that irregular landscape with its variation from white
chalk to dark green foliage.

Khaki figures stood out against the chalk and melted into the fields or
the undergrowth, or came up to the skyline only to be swallowed into the
earth probably by the German trench which they were entering. I wondered
if one group had been killed, or knocked over, or had merely taken cover
in a shell-crater when a German "krump" seemed to burst right among
them, though at a distance of even a few hundred yards nothing is so
deceiving as the location of a shell-burst in relation to objects in
line with it. The black cloud drew a curtain over them. When it lifted
they were not on the stage. This was all that one could tell.

What seemed only a platoon became a company for an instant under
favorable light refraction. The object of British khaki, French blue and
German green is invisibility, but nothing can be designed that will not
be visible under certain conditions. A motley such as the "tanks" were
painted would be best, but the most utilitarian of generals has not yet
dared to suggest motley as a uniform for an army. It occurred to me how
distinct the action would have been if the participants had worn the
blue coats and red trousers in which the French fought their early
battles of the war.

All was confused in that mixture of haze and shell-smoke and maze of
trenches, with the appearing and disappearing soldiers living patterns
of the carpet which at times itself seemed to move to one's tiring,
intensified gaze. Each one was working out his part of a plan; each was
a responsive unit of the system of training for such affairs.

The whole would have seemed fantastic if it had not been for the sound
of the machine guns and the rifles and the deeper-throated chorus of the
heavy guns, which proved that this was no mesmeric, fantastic spectacle
but a game with death, precise and ordered, with nothing that could be
rehearsed left to chance any more than there was in the regulation of
the traffic which was pressing forward, column after column, to supply
the food which fed the artillery-power and man-power that should crush
through frontal positions.




IX

WHEN THE FRENCH WON

   A big man's small quarters--General Foch--French capacity for
   enjoying a victory--Winning quality of French as victors--When the
   heart of France stood still--The bravery of the race--Germany's
   mistaken estimate of France--Why the French will fight this war to a
   finish--French and Germans as different breeds as ever lived
   neighbor--The democracy of the French--_Elan_--"War of movement."


The farther south the better the news. There was another world of
victory on the other side of a certain dividing road where French and
British transport mingled. That world I was to see next on a day of
days--a holiday of elation.

A brief note, with its permission to "circulate within the lines,"
written in a bold hand in the chateau where General Foch directed the
Northern Group of French Armies, placed no limitation on freedom of
movement for my French friend and myself.

Of course, General Foch's chateau was small. All chateaux occupied by
big commanders are small, and as a matter of method I am inclined to
think. If they have limited quarters there is no room for the intrusion
of anyone except their personal staff and they can live with the
simplicity which is a soldier's barrack training.

Joffre, Castelnau and Foch were the three great names in the French Army
which the public knew after the Marne, and of the three Foch has,
perhaps, more of the dash which the world associates with the French
military type. He simplified victory, which was the result of the same
arduous preparation as on the British side, with a single gesture as he
swept his pencil across the map from Dompierre to Flaucourt. Thus his
army had gone forward and that was all there was to it, which was enough
for the French and also for the Germans on this particular front.

"It went well! It goes well!" he said, with dramatic brevity. He had
made the plans which were so definite in the bold outline to which he
held all subordinates in a cooerdinated execution; and I should meet the
men who had carried out his plans, from artillerists who had blazed the
way to infantry who had stormed the enemy trenches. There was no
mistaking his happiness. It was not that of a general, but the common
happiness of all France.

Victory in France for France could never mean to an Englishman what it
meant to a Frenchman. The Englishman would have to be on his own soil
before he could understand what was in the heart of the French after
their drive on the Somme. I imagined that day that I was a Frenchman.
By proxy I shared their joy of winning, which in a way seemed to be
taking an unfair advantage of my position, considering that I had not
been fighting.

There is no race, it seems to me, who know quite so well how to enjoy
victory as the French. They make it glow with a rare quality which
absorbs you into their own exhilaration. I had the feeling that the
pulse of every citizen in France had quickened a few beats. All the
peasant women as they walked along the road stood a little straighter
and the old men and old women were renewing their youth in quiet
triumph; for now they had learned the first result of the offensive and
might permit themselves to exult.

Once before in this war at the Marne I had followed the French legions
in an advance. Then victory meant that France was safe. The people had
found salvation through their sacrifice, and their relief was so
profound that to the outsider they seemed hardly like the French in
their stoic gratitude. This time they were articulate, more like the
French of our conception. They could fondle victory and take it apart
and play with it and make the most of it.

If I had no more interest in the success of one European people than
another, then as a spectator I should choose that it should be to the
French, provided that I was permitted to be present. They make victory
no raucous-voiced, fleshy woman, shrilly gloating, no superwoman, cold
and efficient, who considers it her right as a superior being, but a
gracious person, smiling, laughing, singing in a human fashion, whether
she is greeting winning generals or privates or is looking in at the
door of a chateau or a peasant's cottage.

An old race, the French, tried out through many victories and defeats
until a vital, indescribable quality which may be called the art of
living governs all emotions. Victory to the Germans could not mean half
what it would to the French. The Germans had expected victory and had
organized for it for years as a definite goal in their ambitions. To the
French it was a visitation, a reward of courage and kindly fortune and
the right to be the French in their own world and in their own way,
which to man or to State is the most justifiable of all rights.

Twice the heart of France had stood still in suspense, first on the
Marne and then at the opening onslaught on Verdun; and between the Marne
and Verdun had been sixteen months when, on the soil of their France and
looking out on the ruins of their villages, they had striven to hold
what remained to them. They had been the great martial people of Europe
and because Napoleon III. tripped them by the fetish of the Bonaparte
name in '70, people thought that they were no longer martial. This puts
the world in the wrong, as it implies that success in war is the test of
greatness. When the world expressed its surprise and admiration at
French courage France smiled politely, which is the way of France, and
in the midst of the shambles, as she strained every nerve, was a little
amused, not to say irritated, to think that Frenchmen had to prove again
to the world that they were brave.

Whether the son came from the little shops of Paris, from stubborn
Brittany, the valley of the Meuse, or the vineyards, war made him the
same kind of Frenchman that he was in the time of Louis XIV. and
Napoleon, fighting now for France rather than for glory as he did in
Napoleon's time; a man cured of the idea of conquest, advanced a step
farther than the stage of the conqueror, and his courage, though slower
to respond to wrath, the finer. He had proven that the more highly
civilized a people, the more content and the more they had to lose by
war, the less likely they were to be drawn into war, the more
resourceful and the more stubborn in defense they might
become--especially that younger generation of Frenchmen with their
exemplary habits and their fondness for the open air.

If France had been beaten at the Marne, notice would have been served on
humanity that thrift and refinement mean enervation. We should have
believed in the alarmists who talk of oriental hordes and of the vigor
of primitive manhood overcoming art and education.

The Germans could not give up their idea that both the French and the
English must be dying races. The German staff had been well enough
informed to realize that they must first destroy the French Army as the
continental army most worthy of their steel and, at the same time, they
could not convince themselves that France was other than weak. She loved
her flesh-pots too well; her families would yield and pay rather than
sacrifice only sons.

At any time since October, 1914, the French could have had a separate
peace; but the answer of the Frenchman, aside from his bounden faith to
the other Allies, was that he would have no peace that was given--only a
peace that was yielded. France would win by the strength of her manhood
or she would die. When the war was over a Frenchman could look a German
in the face and say, "I have won this peace by the force of my blows;"
or else the war would go on to extermination.

At intervals in the long, long months of sacrifice France was very
depressed; for the French are more inclined than the English to be up
and down in their emotions. They have their bad and their good days.
Yet, when they were bluest over reports of the retreat from the Marne or
losses at Verdun they had no thought of making terms. Depression merely
meant that they would all have to succumb without winning. Thus, after
the weary stalling and resistance of the blows at Verdun, never making
any real progress in driving the enemy out of France, ever dreaming of
the day when they should see the Germans' backs, France had waited for
the movement that came on the Somme.

The people were always talking of this offensive. They had heard that it
was under way. Yet, how were they to know the truth? The newspapers gave
vague hints; gossip carried others, more concrete, sometimes correct but
usually incorrect; and all that the women and the old men and the
children at home could do was to keep on with the work. And this they
did; it is instinct. Then one morning news was flashed over France that
the British and the French had taken over twenty thousand prisoners. The
tables were turned at last! France was on the march!

"Do you see why we love France?" said my friend T----, who was with me
that day, as with a turn of the road we had a glimpse of the valley of
the Somme. He swung his hand toward the waving fields of grain, the
villages and plots of woods, as the train flew along the metals between
rows of stately shade trees. "It is France. It is bred in our bones. We
are fighting for that--just what you see!"

"But wouldn't you take some of Germany if you could?" I asked.

"No. We want none of Germany and we want no Germans. Let them do as they
please with what is their own. They are brave; they fight well; but we
will not let them stay in France."

Look into the faces of the French soldiers and look into the faces of
Germans and you have two breeds as different as ever lived neighbor in
the world. It would seem impossible that there could be anything but a
truce between them and either preserve its own characteristics of
civilization. The privilege of each to survive through all the centuries
has been by force of arms and, after the Marne and Verdun, the Somme put
the seal on the French privilege to survive. If there be any hope of
true internationalism among the continental peoples I think that it can
rely on the Frenchman, who only wants to make the most of his own
without encroaching on anybody's else property and is disinterested in
human incubation for the purpose of overwhelming his neighbors. True
internationalism will spring from the provincialism that holds fast to
its own home and does not interfere with the worship by other countries
of their gods.

All this may seem rambling, but to a spectator of war indulging in a
little philosophy it goes to the kernel of the meaning of victory to the
French and to my own happiness in seeing the French win. Sometimes the
Frenchman seems the most soldierly of men; again, a superficial observer
might wonder if the French Army had any real discipline. And there,
again, you have French temperament; the old civilization that has
defined itself in democracy. For the French are the most democratic of
all peoples, not excluding ourselves. That is not saying that they are
the freest of all peoples, because no people on earth are freer than the
English or the American.

An Englishman is always on the lookout lest someone should interfere
with his individual rights as he conceives them. He is the least
gregarious of all Europeans in one sense and the French the most
gregarious, which is a factor contributing to French democracy. It is
his gregariousness that makes the Frenchman polite and his politeness
which permits of democracy. An officer may talk with a private soldier
and the private may talk back because of French politeness and equality,
which yield fellowship at one moment and the next slip back into the
bonds of discipline which, by consent of public opinion, have tightened
until they are as strict as in Napoleon's day. Gregariousness was
supreme on this day of victory; democracy triumphant. Democracy had
proved itself again as had English freedom against Prussian system.
Vitality is another French possession and this means industry. The
German also is industrious, but more from discipline and training than
from a philosophy of life. French vitality is inborn, electrically
installed by the sunshine of France.

When a battery of French artillery moves along the road it is
democratic, but when it swings its guns into action it is military. Then
its vitality is something that is not the product of training, something
that training cannot produce. A French battalion moving up to the
trenches seems not to have any particular order, but when it goes over
the parapet in an attack it has the essence of military spirit which is
cooerdination of action. No two French soldiers seem quite alike on the
march or when moving about a village on leave. Each seems three beings:
one a Frenchman, one a soldier, a third himself. German psychology left
out the result of the combination, just as it never considered that the
British could in two years submerge their individualism sufficiently to
become a military nation.

There is a French word, _elan_, which has been much overworked in
describing French character. Other nations have no equivalent word;
other races lack the quality which it expresses, a quality which you
get in the wave of a hand from a peasant girl to a passing car, in the
woman who keeps a shop, in French art, habits, literature. To-day old
Monsieur Elan was director-general of the pageant.

This people of apt phrases have one for the operations before the trench
system was established; it is the "war of movement." That was the word,
movement, for the blue river of men and transport along the roads to the
front. We were back to the "war of movement" for the time being, at any
rate; for the French had broken through the German fortifications for a
depth of four to five miles in a single day.




X

ALONG THE ROAD TO VICTORY

   A thrifty victory--Seventeen-inch guns asleep--A procession of guns
   that gorged the roads--French rules of the road--Absence of system
   conceals an excellent system--Spoils of war--The Colonial Corps--The
   "chocolates"--"Boches"--Dramatic victors--The German line in front of
   the French attack--Galloping _soixante-quinzes_.


Anyone with experience of armies cannot be deceived about losses when he
is close to the front. Even if he does not go over the field while the
dead of both sides are still lying there, infallible signs without a
word being spoken reflect the truth. It was shining in panoplies of
smiles with the French after the attack of July 1st. Victory was sweet
because it came at slight cost. Staff officers could congratulate
themselves on having driven a thrifty bargain. Casualty clearing
stations were doing a small business; prisoners' inclosures a driving
one.

"We've nothing to fire at," said an officer of heavy artillery. "Our
targets are out of reach. The Germans went too fast for us; they left us
without occupation."

Where with the British I had watched the preparations for the offensive
develop, the curtain was now raised on the French preparations, which
were equally elaborate, after the offensive had gone home. General
Joffre had spared more guns from Verdun for the Somme than optimism had
supposed possible. Those immense fellows of caliber from twelve to
seventeen-inch, mounted on railway trucks, were lions asleep under their
covers on the sidings which had been built for them. Their tracks would
have to be carried farther forward before they roared at the Germans
again.

Five miles are not far for a battalion to march, though an immense
distance to a modern army with its extensive and complicated plant. Even
the aviators wanted to be nearer the enemy and were looking for a new
park. Sheds where artillery horses had been sheltered for more than a
year were empty; camps were being vacated; vast piles of shells must
follow the guns which the tractors were taking forward. The nests of
spacious dugouts in a hillside nicely walled in by sandbags had served
their purpose. They were beyond the range of any German guns.

For the first time you realized what the procession which gorged the
roads would be like if the Western front were actually broken. Guns of
every caliber from the 75's to the 120's and 240's, ammunition pack
trains, ambulances horse-drawn and motor-drawn, big and little motor
trucks, staff officers' cars, cycle riders and motor cycle riders, small
two-wheeled carts, all were mixed with the flow of infantry going and
coming and crowding the road-menders off the road.

There was none of the stateliness of the columns of British motor trucks
and none of the rigidity of British marching. It all seemed a great
family affair. When one wondered what part any item of the variegated
transport played it was always promptly explained.

Officers and men exchanged calls of greeting as they passed. Eyes were
flashing to the accompaniment of gestures. There were arguments about
right of way in which the fellow with the two-wheeled cart held his own
with the chauffeur of the three-ton motor truck. But the argument was
accompanied by action. In some cases it was over, a decision made and
the block of traffic broken before a phlegmatic man could have had
discussion fairly under way. For Frenchmen are nothing if not quick of
mind and body and whether a Frenchman is pulling or pushing or driving
he likes to express the emotions of the moment. If a piece of transport
were stalled there would be a chorus of exclamations and running
disputes as to the method of getting it out of the rut, with the result
that at the juncture when an outsider might think that utter confusion
was to ensue, every Frenchman in sight had swarmed to the task under the
direction of somebody who seemed to have made the suggestion which won
the favor of the majority.

Much has been written about the grimness of the French in this war.
Naturally they were grim in the early days; but what impresses me most
about the French Army whenever I see it is that it is entirely French.
Some people had the idea that when the French went to war they would
lose their heads, run to and fro and dance about and shout. They have
not acted so in this war and they never have acted so in any other war.
They still talk with eyes, hands and shoulders and fight with them, too.

The tide never halted for long. It flowed on with marvelous alacrity and
a seeming absence of system which soon convinced you as concealing a
very excellent system. Every man really knew where he was going; he
could think for himself, French fashion. Near the front I witnessed a
typical scene when an officer ran out and halted a soldier who was
walking across the fields by himself and demanded to know who he was and
what he was doing there.

"I am wounded, sir," was the reply, as he opened his coat and showed a
bandage. "I am going to the casualty clearing station and this is the
shortest way"--not to mention that it was a much easier way than to hug
the edge of the road in the midst of the traffic.

The battalions and transport which made up this tide of an army's rear
trying to catch up with its extreme front had a view, as the road dipped
into a valley, of the trophies which are the proof of victory. Here were
both guns and prisoners. Among the guns nicely parked you might have
your choice between the latest 77's out of Krupps' and pieces of the
vintage of the '80's. One 77 had not a blemish; another had its muzzle
broken off by the burst of a shell, its spokes slashed by
shell-fragments, and its armored shield, opened by a jagged hole, was as
crumpled as if made of tin.

Four of the old fortress type had a history. They bore the mark of their
French maker. They had fired at the Germans from Maubeuge and after
having been taken by the Germans were set to fire at the French. One
could imagine how the German staff had scattered such pieces along the
line when in stalemate warfare any kind of gun that had a barrel and
could discharge a shell would add to the volume of gunfire.

Such a ponderous piece with its heavy, old-fashioned trail and no recoil
cylinder was never meant to play any part in an army of movement. You
could picture how it had been dragged up into position back of the
German trenches and how a crew of old Landsturm gunners had been
allowed a certain number of shells a day and told off to fire them at
certain villages and crossroads, with that systematic regularity of the
German artillery system which often defeats its own purpose, as we on
the Allies' side well know.

Very likely, as often happened, the crew fired six rounds before
breakfast and eight at four o'clock in the afternoon, and the rest of
the time they might sit about playing cards. Of course, retreat was out
of the question with a gun of this sort. Yet through the twenty months
that the opposing armies had sniped at each other from the same
positions the relic had done faithful auxiliary service. The French
could move it on to some other part of the line now where no offensive
was expected and some old territorials could use it as the old
Landsturmers had used it.

All the guns in this park had been taken by the Colonial Corps, which
thinks itself a little better than the Nancy (or Iron) Corps, a view
with which the Iron Corps entirely disagreed. Scattered among the
Colonial Corps, whether on the march or in billets, were the black men.
There is no prejudice against the "chocolates," as they are called, who
provide variation and amusement, not to mention color. Most adaptable of
human beings is the negro, whom you find in all lands and engaged in all
kinds of pursuits, reflecting always the character of his surroundings.
If his French comrades charged he would charge and just as far; if they
fell back he would fall back and just as far. No Frenchman could
approach the pride of the blacks over those captured guns, which brought
grins that left only half of their ebony countenances as a background
for the whites of their eyes and teeth.

The tide of infantry, vehicles and horses flowing past must have been a
strange world to the German prisoners brought past it to the inclosures,
when they had not yet recovered from their astonishment at the
suddenness of the French whirlwind attack. The day was warm and the
ground dry, and those prisoners who were not munching French bread were
lying sardine fashion pillowing their heads on one another, a confused
mass of arms and legs, dead to the world in sleep--a green patch of
humanity with all the fight out of them, without weapons or power of
resistance, guarded by a single French soldier, while the belligerent
energy of war was on that road a hundred yards away.

"They are good Boches, now," said the French sentry; "we sha'n't have to
take that lot again."

Boches! They are rarely called anything else at the front. With both
French and English this has become the universal word for the Germans
which will last as long as the men who fought in this war survive.
Though the Germans dislike it that makes no difference. They will have
to accept it even when peace comes, for it is established. One day they
may come to take a certain pride in it as a distinction which stands for
German military efficiency and racial isolation. The professional
soldier expressing his admiration of the way the German charges, handles
his artillery, or the desperate courage of his machine gun crews may
speak of him as "Brother Boche" or the "old Boche" in a sort of amiable
recognition of the fact of how worthy he is of an enemy's steel if only
he would refrain from certain unsportsmanlike habits.

At length the blue river on the way to the front divided at a crossroad
and we were out on the plain which swept away to the bend of the Somme
in front of Peronne. Officers returning from the front when asked how
the battle was going were never too preoccupied to reply. It was
anybody's privilege to ask a question and everybody seemed to delight to
answer it. I talked with a group of men who were washing down their
bread with draughts of red wine, their first meal after they had been
through two lines of trenches. Their brigade had taken more prisoners
than it had had casualties. Their dead were few and less mourned because
they had fallen in such a glorious victory. Rattling talk gave gusto to
every mouthful.

Unlike the English, these victors were articulate; they rejoiced in
their experiences and were glad to tell about them. If one had fought it
out at close quarters with a German and got his man, he made the
incident into a dramatic episode for your edification. It was war; he
had been in a charge; he had escaped alive; he had won. He liked the
thrill of his exploit and enjoyed the telling, not allowing it to drag,
perhaps, for want of a leg. Every Frenchman is more or less of a
general, as Napoleon said, and every one knew the meaning of this
victory. He liked to make the most of it and relive it.

After having seen the trenches that the British had taken on the high
ground around Fricourt, I was the more interested to see those that the
French had taken on July 1st. The British had charged uphill against the
strongest fortifications that the Germans could devise in that chalky
subsoil so admirably suited for the purpose. Those before the French
were not so strong and were in alluvial soil on the plain. Many of the
German dugouts in front of Dompierre were in relatively as good
condition as those at Fricourt, though not so numerous or so strong;
which meant that the artillery of neither army had been able completely
to destroy them. The ground on the plain permitted of no such
advantageous tactical points for machine guns as those which had
confronted the British, in front of whom the Germans had massed immense
reserves of artillery, particularly in the Thiepval-Gommecourt sector
where the British attack had failed, besides having the valuable ridge
of Bapaume at their backs. In front of the French the Germans had
smaller forces of artillery on the plain where the bend of the Somme was
at their backs.

This is not detracting from the French success, which was complete and
masterful. The cooerdination of artillery and infantry must have been
perfect, as you could see when you went over the field where there were
surprisingly few French dead and the German dead, though more plentiful
than the French, were not very numerous. It seemed that the French
artillery had absolutely pinioned the Germans to their trenches and
communication trenches in the Dompierre sector and the French appearing
close under their own shells in a swift and eager wave gathered in all
the German garrison as prisoners. The ruins of the villages might have
been made either by French, British or German artillery. There is true
internationalism in artillery destruction.

It was something to see the way that French transport and reserves were
going right across the plain in splendid disregard of any German
artillery concentration. But, as usual, they knew what they were doing.
No shells fell among them while I was at the front, and out on the
plain where the battle still raged the _soixante-quinze_ batteries were
as busy as knitting-machines working some kind of magic which protected
that column from tornadoes of the same kind that they themselves were
sending. The German artillery, indeed, seemed a little demoralized.
Krump-krump-krump, they put a number of shells into a group of trees
beside the road where they mistakenly thought that there was a battery.
Swish-swish-swish came another salvo which I thought was meant for us,
but it passed by and struck where there was no target.

I have had glimpses of nearly every feature of war, but there was one in
this advance which was not included in my experiences. The French
infantry was hardly in the first-line German trench when the ditch had
been filled in and the way was open for the _soixante-quinze_ to go
forward. For the guns galloped into action just as they might have done
at manoeuvers. Some dead artillery horses near the old trench line told
the story of how a German shell must have stopped one of the guns, which
was small price to pay for so great a privilege as--let us
repeat--galloping the guns into action across the trenches in broad
daylight and keeping close to the infantry as it advanced from position
to position on the plain.

Here was a surviving bit of the glory and the sport of war, whose
passing may be one of the great influences in preventing future wars;
but there being war and the French having to win that war, why, the
spectacle of this marvelous field gun, so beloved of its alert and
skilful gunners, playing the part that was intended for it on the heels
of the enemy made a thrilling incident in the history of modern France.
The French had shown on that day that they had lost none of their
initiative of Napoleon's time, just as the British had shown that they
could be as stubborn and determined as in Wellington's.




XI

THE BRIGADE THAT WENT THROUGH

   A young brigadier--A regular soldier--No heroics--How his brigade
   charged--Systematically cleaning up the dugouts--"It was orders. We
   did it."--The second advance--Holding on for two sleepless days and
   nights--Soda water and cigars--Yorkshiremen, and a stubborn
   lot--British phlegm--Five officers out of twenty who had "gone
   through"--Stereotyped phrases and inexpressible emotions.


No sound of the guns was audible in this quiet French village where a
brigade out of the battle line was in rest. The few soldiers moving
about were looking in the shop windows, trying their French with the
inhabitants, or standing in small groups. Their faces were tired and
drawn as the only visible sign of the torment of fire that they had
undergone. They had met everything the German had to offer in the way of
projectiles and explosives; but before we have their story we shall have
that of the young brigadier-general who had his headquarters in one of
the houses. His was the brigade that went "through," and he was the kind
of brigadier who would send a brigade "through."

With its position in the attack of July 1st in the joint, as it were,
between the northern sector where the German line was not broken and
the southern where it was, this brigade had suffered what the charges
which failed had suffered and it had known the triumph of those which
had succeeded, at a cost in keeping with the experience.

The brigadier was a regular soldier and nothing but a soldier from head
to foot, in thought, in manner and in his decisive phrases. Nowadays,
when we seem to be drawing further and further away from versatility,
perhaps more than ever we like the soldier to be a soldier, the poet to
be a poet, the surgeon to be a surgeon; and I can even imagine this
brigadier preferring that if another man was to be a pacifist he should
be a real out and out pacifist. You knew at a glance without asking that
he had been in India and South Africa, that he was fond of sport and
probably fond of fighting. He had rubbed up against all kinds of men, as
the British officer who has the inclination may do in the course of his
career, and his straight eye--an eye which you would say had never been
accustomed to indefiniteness about anything--must have impressed the men
under his command with the confidence that he knew his business and that
they must follow him. Yet it could twinkle on occasion with a pungent
humor as he told his story, which did not take him long but left you
long a-thinking. A writer who was as good a writer as he was a soldier
if he had had the same experience could have made a book out of it; but
then he could not have been a man of action at the same time.

He made it clear at once that he had not led his brigade in person over
the parapet, or helped in person to bomb the enemy's dugouts, or
indulged in any other kind of gallery play. I do not think that all the
drawing-rooms in London or all the reception committees which receive
gallant sons in their home towns could betray him into the faintest
simulation of the pose of a hero. He was not a hero and he did not
believe in heroics. His occupation was commanding men and taking
trenches.

Not once did he utter anything approaching a boast over a feat which his
friends and superiors had expected of him. This would be "swank," as
they call it, only he would characterize it by even a stronger word. He
is the kind of officer, the working, clear-thinking type, who would earn
promotion by success at arms in a long war, while the gallery-play crowd
whose promotion and favors come by political gift and academic reports
in time of peace would be swept into the dustbin. He was simply a
capable fighter; and war is fighting.

His men had gone over the "lid" in excellent fashion, quite on time. He
had seen at once what they were in for, but he had no doubt that they
would keep on, for he had warned them to expect machine gun fire and
told them what to do in case it came. They applied the system in which
he had trained them with a coolness that won his approbation as a
directing expert--his matter-of-fact approbation in the searching
analysis of every detail, with no ecstasies about their unparalleled
gallantry. He expected them to be gallant. However, I could imagine that
if you said a word against them his eyes would flash indignation. They
were his men and he might criticize them, but no one else might except a
superior officer. The first wave reached the first-line German trench on
time, that is, half of them did; the rest, including more than half of
the officers, were down, dead or wounded, in No Man's Land in the swift
crossing of two hundred yards of open space.

He had watched their advance from the first-line British trench. Later,
when the situation demanded it, I learned that he went up to the
captured German line and on to the final objective, but this fact was
drawn out of him. It might lead to a misunderstanding; you might think
that he had been taking as much risk as his officers and men, and risk
of any kind for him was an incident of the business of managing a
brigade.

"How about the dugouts?" I asked.

This was an obvious question. The trouble on July 1st had been, as we
know, that the Germans hiding in their dugouts had rushed forth as soon
as the British curtain of fire lifted and sometimes fought the British
in the trench traverses with numbers superior. Again, they had
surrendered, only to overpower their guards, pick up rifles and man
their machine guns after the first wave had passed on, instead of filing
back across No Man's Land in the regular fashion of prisoners.

"I was looking out for that," said the brigadier, like a lawyer who has
stated his opponent's case; but other commanders had taken the same
precautions with less fortunate results. When he said that he was
"looking out for that" it meant, in his case, that he had so thoroughly
organized his men--and he was not the only brigadier who had, he was a
type--in view of every emergency in "cleaning up" that the Germans did
not outwit them. The half which reached the German trench had the
situation fully in hand and details for the dugouts assigned before they
went on. And they did go on. This was the wonderful thing.

"With your numbers so depleted, wasn't it a question whether or not it
was wise for you to attempt to carry out the full plan?"

He gave me a short look of surprise. I realized that if I had been one
of the colonels and made such a suggestion I should have drawn a curtain
of fire upon myself.

"It was orders," he said, and added: "We did it."

Yes, they did it--when commanding officers, majors and senior captains
were down, when companies without any officers were led by sergeants and
even by corporals who knew what to do, thanks to their training.

In order to reach the final objective the survivors of the first charge
which had gone two hundred yards to the first line must cover another
thousand, which must have seemed a thousand miles; but that was not for
them to consider. The spirit of the resolute man who had drilled them,
if not his presence, was urging them forward. They reached the point
where the landmarks compared with their map indicated their stopping
place--about one-quarter of the number that had left the British trench.

They had enough military sense to realize that if they tried to go back
over the same ground which they had crossed there might be less than
one-quarter of the fourth remaining. They preferred to die with their
faces rather than their backs to the enemy. No, they did not mean to
die. They meant to hold on and "beat the Boche," according to their
teaching.

As things had been going none too well with the brigade on their left
their flank was exposed. They met this condition by fortifying
themselves against enfilade in an old German communication trench and
rushing other points of advantage to secure their position. When a
German machine gun was able to sweep them, a corporal slipped up another
communication trench and bombed it out of business. Running out of bombs
of their own, they began gathering German bombs which were lying about
plentifully and threw these at the Germans. Short of rifle ammunition
they found that there was ammunition for the German rifles which had
been captured. They were not choice about their methods and neither were
the Germans in that cheek-by-jowl affair with both sides so exhausted
that a little more grit on one side struck the balance in its favor.

This medley of British and Germans in a world of personal combat shared
shell fire, heat and misery. The British sent their rocket signals up to
say that they had arrived. In two or three other instances the signals
had meant that a dozen men only had reached their objective, a force
unable to hold until reinforcements could come. Not so this time. The
little group held; they held even when the Germans got some fresh men
and attempted a counter-attack; they held until assistance came. For two
sleepless days and nights under continual fire they remained in their
dearly won position until, under cover of darkness, they were relieved.

In the most tranquil of villages the survivors looking in shop windows
and trying out their French might wonder how it was that they were
alive, though they were certain that their brigadier thought well of
them. Ask them or their officers what they thought of their brigadier
and they were equally certain of that, too. Theirs was the best
brigadier in the army. Think what this kind of confidence means to men
in such an action when their lives are the pawns of his direction!

I felt a kind of awe in the presence of one of the battalions in billet
in a warehouse, more than in the presence of prime ministers or
potentates. Most of them were blinking and mind-stiff after having slept
the clock around. They were Yorkshiremen, chiefly workers in worsted
mills and a stubborn lot.

"What did you most want to do when you got out of the fight?" I asked.

They spoke with one voice which left no question of their desires in a
one-two-three order. They wanted a wash, a shave, a good meal, and then
sleep. And personal experiences? Tom called on Jim and Jim had bayoneted
two Germans, he said; then Jim called on Bill, who had had a wonderful
experience according to Jim, though all that Bill made of it was that he
got there first with his bombs. Told among themselves the stories might
have been thrilling. Before a stranger they were mere official reports.
It had been quick work, too quick for anything but to dodge for cover
and act promptly in your effort to get the other fellow before he got
you.

Generically, they had a job to do and they did it just as they would
have done one in the factories at home. They were not so interested in
any exhibition of courage as in an encounter which had the element of
sport. Each narrator invariably returned to the subject of soda water.
The outstanding novelty of the charge to these men was the quantity of
soda water in bottles which they had found in the German dugouts. They
went on to their second objective with bottles of soda water in their
pockets and German light cigars in the corners of their mouths and
stopped to drink soda water between bombing rushes after they had
arrived. It was a hot, thirsty day.

Through the curtains of artillery fire which were continually maintained
back of their new positions supplies could not be brought up, but Boche
provisions saved the day. In fact, I think this was one of the reasons
why they felt almost kindly toward the Germans. They found the canned
meat excellent, but did not care for the "K.K." bread.

Thus in the dim light of the warehouse they talked on, making their task
appear as a half-holiday of sport. It seemed to me that this was in
keeping with their training; the fashionable attitude of the British
soldier toward a horrible business. If this helps him to endure what
these men had endured without flinching, with comrades being blown to
bits around them by shell-bursts, why, then, it is the attitude best
suited to develop the fighting quality of the British. They had it from
their officers who, in turn, perhaps, had it in part from such British
regulars as the brigadier, though mostly I think that it was inborn
racial phlegm.

I met the five officers who were the survivors of the twenty in one
battalion, the five who had "carried through." One was a barrister,
another just out of Oxford, a third, as I remember, a real estate broker
in a small town. They told their stories without a gesture, quite as if
they were giving an account of a game of golf. It might have seemed
callous, but you knew better.

You knew when they said that it was "a bit stiff," or "a bit thick," or
"it looked as if they had us," what inexpressible emotion lay behind the
accepted army phrases. The truth was they would not permit themselves to
think of the void in their lines made by the death of their comrades.
They had drawn the curtain on all incidents which had not the appeal of
action and finality as a part of the business of "going through." One
officer with a twitch of the lips remarked almost casually that new
officers and drafts were arriving and that it would seem strange to see
so many new faces in the mess.

Those of their old comrades who were not dead were already in hospital
in England. When an officer who had been absent joined the group he
brought the news that one of their number who had been badly hit would
live. The others' quiet ejaculation of "Good!" had a thrill back of it
which communicated its joy to me. Eight of the wounded had not been
seriously hit, which meant that these would return and that, after all,
only four were dead. This was the first intimate indication I had of how
the offensive exposing the whole bodies of men in a charge against the
low-velocity shrapnel bullets and high-velocity bullets from rifles and
machine guns must result in the old ratio of only one mortal wound for
every five men hit.

There was consolation in that fact. It was another advantage of the war
of movement as compared with the war of shambles in trenches. And none,
from the general down to the privates, had really any idea of how
glorious a part they had played. They had merely "done their bit" and
taken what came their way--and they had "gone through."




XII

THE STORMING OF CONTALMAISON

   The mighty animal of war makes ready for another effort--New charts
   at headquarters--The battle of the Somme the battle of woods and
   villages--A terrible school of war in session--Mametz--A wood not
   "thinned"--The Quadrangle--Marooned Scots--"Softening" a
   village--Light German cigars--Going after Contalmaison--Aeroplanes in
   the blue sky--Midsummer fruitfulness and war's destruction--Making
   chaos of a village--Attack under cover of a wall of smoke--A
   melodrama under the passing shells.


If the British and the French could have gone on day after day as they
had on July 1st they would have put the Germans out of France and
Belgium by autumn. Arrival at the banks of the Rhine and even the taking
of Essen would have been only a matter of calculation by a schedule of
time and distance. After the shock of the first great drive in which the
mighty animal of war lunged forward, it had to stretch out its steel
claws to gain further foothold and draw its bulky body into position for
another huge effort. Wherever the claws moved there were Germans, who
were too wise soldiers to fall back supinely on new lines of
fortifications and await the next general attack. They would parry every
attempt at footholds of approach for launching it; pound the claws as
if they were the hands of an invader grasping at a window ledge.

At headquarters there was a new chart with different colored patches
numbered by the days of the month beginning July 1st, each patch
indicating the ground that had been won on that day. Compare their order
with a relief map and in one-two-three fashion you were able to grasp
the natural tactical sequence; how one position was taken in order to
command another. Sometimes, though, they represented the lines of least
resistance. Often the real generals were the battalions on the battle
front who found the weak points and asked permission to press on. The
principle was the same as water finding its level as it spreads from a
reservoir.

I have often thought that a better name for the battle of the Somme
would be the battle of woods and villages. Their importance never really
dawned on the observer until after July 1st. Or, it might be called the
battle of the spade. Give a man an hour with a spade in that chalky
subsoil and a few sandbags and he will make a fortress for himself which
only a direct hit by a shell can destroy. He ducks under the sweep of
bullets when he is not firing and with his steel helmet is fairly safe
from shrapnel while he waits in his lair until the other fellow comes.

Thus the German depended on the machine gun and the rifle to stop any
charge which was not supported by artillery fire sufficient to crush in
the trenches and silence his armament. When it was, he had his own
artillery to turn a curtain of fire onto the charge in progress and to
hammer the enemy if he got possession. This was obviously the right
system--in theory. But the theory did not always work out, as we shall
see. Its development through the four months that I watched the Somme
battle was only less interesting than the development of offensive
tactics by the British and the French. Every day this terrible school of
war was in session, with a British battalion more skilful and cunning
every time that it went into the firing-line.

Rising out of the slopes toward the Ridge in green patches were three
large woods, not to mention small ones, under a canopy of shell-smoke,
Mametz, Bernafay and Trones, with their orgies of combat hidden under
their screens of foliage. They recall the Wilderness--a Wilderness
lasting for days, with only one feature of the Wilderness lacking which
was a conflagration, but with lachrymatory and gas shells and a few
other features that were lacking in Virginia. In the next war we may
have still more innovations. Ours is the ingenious human race.

It is Mametz with an area of something over two hundred acres that
concerns us now. The Germans thought highly of Mametz. They were
willing to lose thousands of lives in order to keep it in their
possession. For two years it had not been thinned according to French
custom; now shells and bullets were to undertake the task which had been
neglected. So thick was the undergrowth that a man had to squeeze his
way through and an enemy was as well ambushed as a field mouse in high
grass.

The Germans had run barriers of barbed wire through the undergrowth.
They had their artillery registered to fringe the woods with curtains of
fire and machine guns nestling in unseen barricades and trenches.
Through the heart of it they had a light railway for bringing up
supplies. All these details had been arranged in odd hours when they
were not working on the main first- and second-line fortifications during
their twenty months of preparation. I think they must have become weary
at times of so much "choring," judging by a German general's order after
his inspection of the second line, in which he said that the battalions
in occupation were a lazy lot who were a disgrace to the Fatherland.
After the battle began they could add to the defenses improvements
adapted to the needs of the moment. Of course, large numbers of Germans
were killed and wounded by British shell fire in the process of
"thinning" out the woods; but that was to be expected, as the Germans
learned during the battle of the Somme.

How the British ever took Mametz Wood I do not understand; or how they
took Trones Wood later, for that matter. A visit to the woods only
heightened perplexity. I have seen men walk over broken bottles with
bare feet, swallow swords and eat fire and knew that there was some
trick about it, as there was about the taking of Mametz.

The German had not enough barbed wire to go all the way around the
woods, or, at least, British artillery would not let him string any more
and he thought that the British would attack where they ought to
according to rule; that is, by the south. Instead, they went in by the
west, where the machine guns were not waiting and the heavy guns were
not registered, as I understand it. A piece of strategy of that kind
might have won a decisive battle in an old-time war, but I confess that
it did not occur to me to ask who planned it when I heard the story.
Strategists became so common on the Somme that everybody took them as
much for granted as that every battalion had a commander.

Mametz was not taken with the first attack. The British were in the
woods once and had to come out; but they had learned that before they
could get a proper _point d'appui_ they must methodically "clean up" a
small grove, a neighboring cemetery, an intricate maze of trenches
called the Quadrangle, and a few other outlying obstacles. In the first
rush a lot of Tyneside Scots were marooned from joining in the retreat.
They fortified themselves in German dugouts and waited in siege, these
dour men of the North. When the British returned eighty of the Scots
were still full of fight if short of food and "verra well" otherwise,
thank you. At times they had been under blasts of shells from both
sides, and again they had been in an oasis of peace, with neither
British nor German gunners certain whether they would kill friend or
foe.

Going in from the west while the Germans had their curtains of fire
registered elsewhere, the British grubbed their way in one charge
through most of Mametz and when night fell in the midst of the
undergrowth, with a Briton not knowing whether it was Briton or German
lying on the other side of a tree-trunk, they had the satisfaction of
possessing four big guns which the Germans had been unable to withdraw,
and had ascertained also that the Germans had a strong position
protected by barbed wire at the northern end of the woods.

"This will require a little thinking," as one English officer said, "but
of course we shall take it."

The purchase on Mametz and the occupation of Bailiff's Wood, the
Quadrangle, La Boisselle and Ovillers-la-Boisselle brought the circle
of advancing British nearer to Contalmaison, which sat up on the hills
in a sea of chalk seams. Contalmaison was being gradually "softened" by
the artillery. The chateau was not yet all down, but after each bite by
a big shell less of the white walls was visible when the clouds of smoke
from the explosion lifted. Bit by bit the guns would get the chateau,
just as bit by bit a stonemason chips a block down to the proper
dimensions to fit it into place in a foundation.

A visit to La Boisselle on the way to Contalmaison justified the
expectation as to what was in store for Contalmaison. I saw the
blackened and shell-whittled trunks of two trees standing in La
Boisselle. Once with many others they had given shade in the gardens of
houses; but there were no traces of houses now except as they were mixed
with the earth. The village had been hammered into dust. Yet some
dugouts still survived. Keeping at it, the British working around these
had eventually forced the surrender of the garrison, who could not raise
their heads to fire without being met by a bullet or a bomb-burst from
the watchful besiegers.

"Slow work, but they had to come out," was the graphic phrase of one of
the captors, "and they looked fed up, too. They had even run out of
cigars"--which settled it.

Oh, those light German cigars! Sometimes I believe that they were the
real mainstay of the German organization. Cigars gone, spirit gone! I
have seen an utterly weary German prisoner as he delivered his papers to
his captor bring out his last cigar and thrust it into his mouth to
forestall its being taken as tribute, with his captor saying with
characteristic British cheerfulness, "Keep it, Bochy! It smells too much
like a disinfectant for me, but let's have your steel helmet"--the
invariable prize demanded by the victor.

The British had already been in Contalmaison, but did not stay. "Too
many German machine guns and too much artillery fire and not enough
men," to put it with colloquial army brevity. It often happened that a
village was entered and parts of it held during a day, then evacuated at
night, leaving the British guns full play for the final "softening."
These initial efforts had the result of reconnaissances in force. They
permitted a thorough look around the enemy's machine gun positions so as
to know how to avoid their fire and "do them in," revealed the cover
that would be available for the next advance, and brought invaluable
information to the gunners for the accurate distribution of their fire.
Always some points important for future operations were held.

"We are going after Contalmaison this afternoon," said a staff officer
at headquarters, "and if you hurry you may see it."

As a result, I witnessed the most brilliant scene of battle of any on
the Somme, unless it was the taking of Combles. There was bright
sunshine, with the air luminously clear and no heat waves. From my
vantage point I could see clear to the neighborhood of Peronne. The
French also were attacking; the drumhead fire of their _soixante-quinze_
made a continuous roll, and the puffs of shrapnel smoke hung in a long,
gossamery cloud fringing the horizon and the canopy of the green ridges.

Every aeroplane of the Allies seemed to be aloft, each one distinct
against the blue with shimmering wings and the soft, burnished aureole
of the propellers. They were flying at all heights. Some seemed almost
motionless two or three miles above the earth, while others shot up from
their aerodromes.

Planes circling, planes climbing, planes slipping down aerial toboggan
slides with propellers still, planes going as straight as crows toward
the German line to be lost to sight in space while others developed out
of space as swift messengers bound for home with news of observations,
planes touring a sector of the front, swooping low over a corps
headquarters to drop a message and returning to their duty; planes of
all types, from the monsters with vast stretch of wing and crews of
three or more men, stately as swans, to those gulls, the saucy little
Nieuports, shooting up and down and turning with incredible swiftness,
their tails in the air; planes and planes in a fantastic aerial minuet,
flitting around the great sausage balloons stationary in the still air.

With ripening grain and sweet-smelling harvests of clover and hay in the
background and weeds and wild grass in the foreground, the area of
vegetation in the opulence of midsummer was demarked from the area of
shell-craters, trenches and explosions. You had the majesty of battle
and the desolation of war; nature's eternal seeding and fruiting
alongside the most ruthless forms of destruction. In the clear air the
black bursts of the German high explosives hammering Mametz Wood, as if
in revenge for its loss, seemed uglier and more murderous than usual;
the light smoke of shrapnel had a softer, more lingering quality;
soldiers were visible distinctly at a great distance in their comings
and goings; the water carts carrying water up to the first line were a
kind of pilgrim circuit riders of that thirsty world of deadly strife; a
file of infantry winding up the slope at regular intervals were
silhouettes as like as beads on a string. The whole suggested a hill of
ants which had turned their habits of industry against an invader of
their homes in the earth, and the columns of motor trucks and caissons
ever flowing from all directions were as a tide, which halted at the
foot of the slope and then flowed back.

There were shell-bursts wherever you looked, with your attention drawn
to Contalmaison as it would be to a gathering crowd in the thick of city
traffic. All the steel throats in clumps of woods, under cover of road
embankments, in gullies and on the reverse side of slopes, were
speaking. The guns were giving to Contalmaison all they had to give and
the remaining walls of the chateau disappeared in a fog like a fishing
smack off the Grand Banks. Super-refined, man-directed hell was making
sportive chaos in the village which it hid with its steaming breath cut
by columns of black smoke from the H.E.'s and crowned with flashes of
shrapnel; and under the sun's rays the gases from the powder made
prismatic splendor in flurries and billows shot with the tints of the
rainbow.

Submerging a simple farming hamlet in this kind of a tempest was only
part of the plan of the gunners, who cut a pattern of fire elsewhere in
keeping with the patterns of the German trenches, placing a curtain of
fire behind the town and another on the edge, and at other points not a
curtain but steady hose-streams of fire. Answering German shells
revealed which of the chalky scars on the slope was the British
first-line trench, and from this, as steam from a locomotive runs in a
flying plume along the crest of a railway cutting, rose a billowing wall
of smoke which was harmless, not even asphyxiating, its only purpose
being to screen the infantry attack, with a gentle breeze sweeping it on
into the mantle over Contalmaison as the wind carries the smoke of a
prairie fire. Lookout Mountain was known as the battle in the clouds,
where generals could not see what their troops were doing. Now all
battles are in a cloud.

From the first-line British trench the first wave of the British attack
moved under cover of the smoke-screen and directly you saw that the
shells had ceased to fall in Contalmaison. Its smoke mantle slowly
lifting revealed fragmentary walls of that sturdy, defiant chateau still
standing. Another wave of British infantry was on its way. Four waves in
all were to go in, each succeeding one with its set part in supporting
the one in front and in mastering the dugouts and machine gun positions
that might have survived.

With no shells falling in Contalmaison, the bomb and the bayonet had the
stage to themselves, a stage more or less hemmed in by explosions and
with a sweep of projectiles from both sides passing over the heads of
the cast in a melodrama which had "blessed little comedy relief," as one
soldier put it. The Germans were already shelling the former British
first line and their supports, while the British maintained a curtain of
fire on the far side of the village to protect their infantry as it
worked its way through the debris, and any fire which they had to spare
after lifting it from Contalmaison they were distributing on different
strong points, not in curtains but in a repetition of punches. It was
the best artillery work that I had seen and its purpose seemed that of a
man with a stick knocking in any head that appeared from any hole.

Act III. now. The British curtain of fire was lifted from the far edge
of the village, which meant that the infantry according to schedule
should be in possession of all of the village. But they might not stay.
They might be forced out soon after they sent up their signals. When the
Germans turned on a curtain of fire succeeding the British fire this was
further evidence of British success sufficient to convince any skeptic.
The British curtain was placed beyond it to hold off any counter-attack
and prevent sniping till the new occupants of the premises had "dug
themselves in."

The Germans had not forgotten that it was their turn now to hammer
Contalmaison, through which they thought that British reserves and fresh
supplies of bombs must come; and I saw one of the first "krumps" of this
concentration take another bite out of the walls of the chateau.

By watching the switching of the curtains of fire I had learned that
this time Contalmaison was definitely held; and though they say that I
don't know anything about news, I beat the _communique_ on the fact as
the result of my observation, which ought at least to classify me as a
"cub" reporter.




XIII

A GREAT NIGHT ATTACK

   Following hard blows with blows--Trones Woods--Attack and
   counter-attack--A heavy price to pay--"The spirit that quickeneth"
   knew no faltering--Second-line German fortifications--A daringly
   planned attack--"Up and at them!"--An attack not according to the
   scientific factory system--The splendid and terrible hazard--Gun
   flashes in the dark numerous as fireflies--Majestic, diabolical,
   beautiful--A planet bombarding with aerolites--Signal flares in the
   distance--How far had the British gone?--Sunrise on the attack--Good
   news that day.


Of all the wonderful nights at the front that of July 13th-14th was
distinctive for its incomparable suspense. A great experiment was to be
tried; at least, so it seemed to the observer, though the staff did not
take that attitude. It never does once it has decided upon any daring
enterprise. When you send fifty thousand men into a charge that may fail
with a loss of half of their number or may brilliantly succeed with a
loss of only five per cent., none from the corps commanders and division
commanders, who await results after the plans are made, down to the
privates must have any thought except that the plan is right and that it
will go through.

There is no older military maxim than to follow up any hard blow with
other blows, in order that the enemy may have no time to recuperate;
but in moving against a frontal line under modern conditions the
congestion of transport and ammunition which must wait on new roads and
the filling in of captured trenches makes a difficult problem in
organization. Never had there been and never were there necessary such
numbers of men and such quantities of material as on the Somme front.

The twelve days succeeding July 1st had seen the taking of minor
position after position by local concentrations of troops and artillery
fire, while the army as a whole had been preparing for another big
attack at the propitious moment when these preliminary gains should
justify it.

Half a tactical eye could see that the woods of Mametz, Bernafay and
Trones must be held in order to allow of elbow room for a mass movement
over a broad front. The German realized this and after he had lost
Mametz and Bernafay he held all the more desperately to Trones, which,
for the time being, was the superlative horror in woods fighting, though
we were yet to know that it could be surpassed by Delville and High
Woods.

In Trones the Germans met attack with counter-attack again and again.
The British got through to the east side of the woods, and in reply the
Germans sent in a wave forcing the British back to the west, but no
farther. Then the British, reinforced again, reached the east side.
Showers of leaves and splinters descended from shell-bursts and machine
guns were always rattling. The artillery of both sides hammered the
approaches of the woods to prevent reinforcements from coming up.

In the cellars of Guillemont village beyond Trones the Germans had
refuges for concentrating their reserves to feed in more troops, whose
orders, as all the prisoners taken said, were to hold to the last man.
Trones Wood was never to be yielded to the British. Its importance was
too vital. Grim national and racial pride and battalion pride and
soldierly pride grappled in unyielding effort and enmity. The middle of
the woods became a neutral ground where the wounded of the different
sallies lay groaning from pain and thirst. Small groups of British had
dug themselves in among the Germans and, waterless, foodless, held out,
conserving their ammunition or, when it was gone, waiting for the last
effort with the bayonet.

For several days the spare British artillery had been cutting the barbed
wire of the second line and smashing in the trenches; and the big guns
which had been advanced since July 1st were sending their shells far
beyond the Ridge into villages and crossroads and other vital points, in
order to interfere with German communications.

The Thiepval-Gommecourt line where the British had been repulsed on
July 1st had reverted to something approaching stalemate conditions,
with the usual exchange of artillery fire, and it was along the broader
front where the old German first line had been broken through that the
main concentrations of men and guns were being made in order to continue
the advance for the present through the opening won on July 1st. The
price paid for the taking of the woods and for repeated attacks where
initial attacks had failed might seem to the observer--unless he knew
that the German losses had been equally heavy if not heavier since July
1st--disproportionate not only to the ground gained but also to general
results up to this time which, and this was most important, had
demonstrated, as a promise for the future, that the British New Army
could attack unremittingly and successfully against seasoned German
troops in positions which the Germans had considered impregnable.

"The spirit that quickeneth" knew no faltering. Battle police were
without occupation. There were no stragglers. With methodical,
phlegmatic steadiness the infantry moved up to the firing-line when its
turn came.

The second-line German fortifications, if not as elaborate, were even
better situated than the first; not on the crest of the Ridge, of
course, where they would be easily swept by artillery blasts, but where
the latest experience demonstrated that they could make the most of the
commanding high ground with the least exposure. Looking through my
glasses I could see the portion of the open knoll stretching from
Longueval to High Wood which was to be the object of the most extensive
effort since July 1st.

As yet, except in trench raids over narrow fronts, there had been no
attempt to rush a long line under cover of darkness because of the
difficulty of the different groups keeping touch and identifying their
objectives.

The charge of July 1st had been at seven-thirty in the morning.
Contalmaison had been stormed in the afternoon. Fricourt was taken at
midday. When the bold suggestion was made that over a three-mile front
the infantry should rush the second-line trenches in the darkness,
hoping to take the enemy by surprise, it was as daring a conception
considering the ground and the circumstances as ever came to the mind of
a British commander and might be said to be characteristic of the dash
and so-called "foolhardiness" of the British soldier, accustomed to
"looking smart" and rushing his enemy from colonial experiences. Nelson
had the "spirit that quickeneth" when he turned his blind eye to the
enemy. The French, too, are for the attack. It won Marengo and
Austerlitz. No general ever dared more than Frederick the Great, not
even Caesar. Thus the great races of history have won military dominion.

"Up and at them!" is still the shibboleth in which the British believe,
no less than our pioneers and Grant and Stonewall Jackson believed in
it, and nothing throughout the Somme battle was so characteristically
British as not only the stubbornness of their defense when small parties
were surrounded, but the way in which they would keep on attacking and
the difficulty which generals had not in encouraging initiative but in
keeping battalions and brigades from putting into practice their
conviction that they could take a position on their own account if they
could have a chance instead of waiting on a systematic advance.

Thus, an attack on that second line on the Ridge after the Germans had
had two weeks of further preparation was an adventure of an order, in
the days of mechanical transport, aeroplanes and indirect artillery fire
when all military science is supposed to be reduced to a factory system,
worthy of the days of the sea-rovers and of Clive, of Washington's
crossing of the Delaware or of the storming of Quebec, when a bold
confidence made gamble for a mighty stake.

So, at least, it seemed to the observer, though, as I said, the staff
insisted that it was a perfectly normal operation. The Japanese had
made many successful night attacks early in the Russo-Japanese war, but
these had been against positions undefended by machine gun fire and
curtains of artillery fire. When the Japanese reached their objective
they were not in danger of being blasted out by high explosives and
incidentally they were not fighting what has been called the most highly
trained army on earth on the most concentrated front that has ever been
known in military history.

But "Up and at them!" Sir Douglas Haig, who had "all his nerve with
him," said to go ahead. At three-thirty a.m., a good hour before dawn,
that wave of men three miles long was to rush into the night toward an
invisible objective, with the darkness so thick that they could hardly
recognize a figure ten yards away. Yet as one English soldier said, "You
could see the German as soon as he saw you and you ought to be able to
throw a bomb as quickly as he and a bayonet would have just as much
penetration at three-thirty in the morning as at midday."

When I saw the battalions who were to take part in the attack marching
up I realized, as they did not, the splendid and terrible hazard of
success or failure, of life or death, which was to be theirs. Along the
new roads they passed and then across the conquered ground, its uneven
slopes made more uneven by continued digging and shell fire, and
disappeared, and Night dropped her curtain on the field with no one
knowing what morning would reveal.

The troops were in position; all was ready; all the lessons learned from
the attack of July 1st were to be applied. At midnight there was no
movement except of artillery caissons; gunners whose pieces two hours
later were to speak with a fury of blasts were sound asleep beside their
ammunition. The absolute order in this amazing network of all kinds of
supplies and transport contributed to the suspense. Night bombardments
we had already seen, and I would not dwell on this except that it had
the same splendor by night that the storming of Contalmaison had by day.

The artillery observer for a fifteen-inch gun was a good-humored host.
He was putting his "bit," as the British say, into Bazentin-le-Petit
village and the only way we knew where Bazentin was in the darkness was
through great flashes of light which announced the bursting of a
fifteen-hundred-pound shell that had gone hurtling through the air with
its hoarse, ponderous scream. All the slope up to the Ridge was merged
in the blanket of night. Out of it came the regular flashes of guns for
a while as the prelude to the unloosing of the tornado before the
attack.

Now that we saw them all firing, for the first time we had some idea of
the number that had been advanced into the conquered territory since
July 1st. The ruins and the sticks of trees of Fricourt and Mametz with
their few remaining walls stood out spectral in the flashes of batteries
that had found nesting places among the debris. The whole slope had
become a volcanic uproar. One might as well have tried to count the
number of fireflies over a swamp as the flashes. The limitation of
reckoning had been reached. Guns ahead of us and around us and behind us
as usual, in a battle of competitive crashes among themselves, and near
by we saw the figures of the gunners outlined in instants of weird
lightning glow, which might include the horses of a caisson in a flicker
of distinct silhouette flashed out of the night and then lost in the
night, with the riders sitting as straight as if at drill. Every voice
had one message, "This for the Ridge!" which was crowned by hell's
tempest of shell-bursts to prepare the way for the rush by the infantry
at "zero."

The thing was majestic, diabolical, beautiful, absurd--anything you
wished to call it. Look away from the near-by guns where the faces of
the gunners were illumined and you could not conceive of the scene as
being of human origin; but mixing awed humility with colossal egoism in
varying compounds of imagination and fact, you might think of your
little group of observers as occupying a point of view in space where
one planet hidden in darkness was throwing aerolites at another hidden
in darkness striking it with mighty explosions, and the crashes and
screams were the sound of the missiles on their unlighted way.

It was still dark when three-thirty came and pyrotechnics were added to
the display, which I could not think of as being in any sense
pyrotechnical, when out of the blanket as signals from the planet's
surface in the direction of some new manoeuver appeared showers of
glowing red sparks, which rose to a height of a hundred feet with a
breadth of thirty or forty feet, it seemed at that distance. One shower
was in the neighborhood of Ovillers, one at La Boisselle and one this
side of Longueval. Then in the distance beyond Longueval the sky was
illumined by a great conflagration not on the fireworks program, which
must have been a German ammunition dump exploded by British shells.

It was our planet, now, and a particular portion of it in Picardy. No
imaginative translation to space could hold any longer. With the charge
going in, the intimate human element was supreme. The thought of those
advancing waves of men in the darkness made the fiery display a
dissociated objective spectacle. On the Ridge more signal flares rose
and those illumining the dark masses of foliage must be Bazentin Wood
gained, and those beyond must be in the Bazentin villages, Little
Bazentin and Big Bazentin, though neither of them, like most of the
villages, numbering a dozen to fifty houses could be much smaller and be
called villages.

This was all the objective. Yes, but though the British had arrived, as
the signals showed, could they remain? It seemed almost too good to be
true. And that hateful Trones Wood? Had we taken that, too, as a part of
the tidal wave of a broad attack instead of trying to take it piecemeal?

Our suspense was intensified by the thought that this action might be
the turning-point in the first stage of the great Somme battle. We
strained our eyes into the darkness studying, as a mariner studies the
sky, the signs with which we had grown familiar as indicative of
results. There was a good augury in the comparatively slight German
shell fire in response, though we were reminded that it might at any
minute develop with sudden ferocity.

Now the flashes of the guns grew dim. A transformation more wonderful
than artillery could produce, that of night into day, was in process.
Not a curtain but the sun's ball of fire, undisturbed by any efforts of
the human beings on a few square miles of earth, was holding to his
schedule in as kindly a fashion as ever toward planets which kept at a
respectful distance from his molten artillery concentration.

Out of the blanket which hid the field appeared the great welts of chalk
of the main line trenches, then the lesser connecting ones; the woods
became black patches and the remaining tree-trunks gaunt, still and
dismal sentinels of the gray ruins of the villages, until finally all
the conformations of the scarred and tortured slope were distinct in the
first fresh light of a brilliant summer's day. Where the blazes had been
was the burst of black smoke from shells and we saw that it was still
German fire along the visible line of the British objective, assuring us
that the British had won the ground which they had set out to take and
were holding it.

"Up and at them!" had done the trick this time, and trick it was; a
trick or stratagem, to use the higher sounding word; a trick in not
waiting on the general attack for the taking of Trones according to
obvious tactics, but including Trones in the sweep; a trick in the
daring way that the infantry was sent in ahead of the answering German
curtain of fire.

All the news was good that day. The British had swept through Bazentin
Wood and taken the Bazentin villages. They held Trones Wood and were in
Delville and High Woods. A footing was established on the Ridge where
the British could fight for final mastery on even terms with the enemy.
"Slight losses" came the reports from corps and divisions and
confirmation of official reports was seen in the paucity of the wounded
arriving at the casualty clearing stations and in the faces of officers
and men everywhere. Even British phlegm yielded to exhilaration.




XIV

THE CAVALRY GOES IN

   The "dodo" band--Cavalry a luxury--Cavalry, however, may not be
   discarded--What ten thousand horse might do--A taste of action for the
   cavalry--An "incident"--Horses that had the luck to "go in"--Cavalrymen
   who showed signs of action--The novelty of a cavalry action--A camp
   group--Germans caught unawares--Horsemen and an aeroplane--Retiring in
   good order--Just enough casualties to give the fillip of danger to
   recollection.


Sometimes a squadron of cavalry, British or Indian, survivors of the
ardent past, intruded in a mechanical world of motor trucks and tractors
drawing guns. With outward pride these lean riders of burnished, sleek
horses, whose broad backs bore gallantly the heavy equipment, concealed
their irritation at idleness while others fought. They brought
picturesqueness and warm-blooded life to the scene. Such a merciless war
of steel contrivances needed some ornament. An old sergeant one day,
when the cavalry halted beside his battalion which was resting, in an
exhibit of affectionate recollection exclaimed:

"It's good to stroke a horse's muzzle again! I was in the Dragoon Guards
once, myself."

Sometimes the cavalry facetiously referred to itself as the "Dodo"
band, with a galling sense of helplessness under its humor; and others
had thought of it as being like the bison preserved in the Yellowstone
Park lest the species die out.

A cynical general said that a small force of cavalry was a luxury which
such a vast army of infantry and guns might afford. In his opinion, even
if we went to the Rhine, the cavalry would melt in its first charge
under the curtains of fire and machine gun sprays of the rearguard
actions of the retreating enemy. He had never been in the cavalry, and
any squadron knew well what he and all of those who shared his views
were thinking whenever it passed over the brow of a hill that afforded a
view of the welter of shell fire over a field cut with shell-craters and
trenches which are pitfalls for horses. Yet it returned gamely and with
fastidious application to its practice in crossing such obstacles in
case the command to "go in" should ever come. Such preparations were
suggestive to extreme skeptics of the purchase of robes and the
selection of a suitable hilltop of a religious cult which has appointed
the day for ascension.

Excepting a dash in Champagne, not since trench warfare began had the
cavalry had any chance. The thought of action was an hypothesis
developed from memory of charges in the past. Aeroplanes took the
cavalry's place as scouts, machine guns and rifles emplaced behind a
first-line trench which had succumbed to an attack took its place as
rearguard, and aeroplane patrols its place as screen.

Yet any army, be it British, French, or German, which expected to carry
through an offensive would not turn all its cavalry into infantry. This
was parting with one of the old three branches of horse, foot and gun
and closing the door to a possible opportunity. If the Japanese had had
cavalry ready at the critical moment after Mukden, its mobility would
have hampered the Russian retreat, if not turned it into a rout. When
you need cavalry you need it "badly," as the cowboy said about his
six-shooter.

Should the German line ever be broken and all that earth-tied, enormous,
complicated organization, with guns emplaced and its array of congested
ammunition dumps and supply depots, try to move on sudden demand, what
added confusion ten thousand cavalry would bring! What rich prizes would
await it as it galloped through the breach and in units, separating each
to its objective according to evolutions suited to the new conditions,
dismounted machine guns to cover roads and from chosen points sweep
their bullets into wholesale targets! The prospect of those few wild
hours, when any price in casualties might be paid for results, was the
inspiration of dreams when hoofs stamped in camps at night or bits
champed as lances glistened in line above khaki-colored steel helmets on
morning parade.

A taste, just a taste, of action the cavalry was to have, owing to the
success of the attack of July 14th, which manifestly took the Germans by
surprise between High and Delville Woods and left them staggering with
second-line trenches lost and confusion ensuing, while guns and
scattered battalions were being hurried up by train in an indiscriminate
haste wholly out of keeping with German methods of prevision and
precision. The breach was narrow, the field of action for horses
limited; but word came back that over the plateau which looked away to
Bapaume between Delville and High Woods there were few shell-craters and
no German trenches or many Germans in sight as day dawned.

Gunners rubbed their eyes at the vision as they saw the horsemen pass
and infantry stood amazed to see them crossing trenches, Briton and
Indian on their way up the slope to the Ridge. How they passed the crest
without being decimated by a curtain of fire would be a mystery if there
were any mysteries in this war, where everything seems to be worked out
like geometry or chemical formulae. The German artillery being busy
withdrawing heavy guns and the other guns preoccupied after the
startling results of an attack not down on the calendar for that day
did not have time to "get on" the cavalry when they were registered on
different targets--which is suggestive of what might come if the line
were cleft over a broad front. A steel band is strong until it breaks,
which may be in many pieces.

"Did you see the charge?" you ask. No, nor even the ride up the slope,
being busy elsewhere and not knowing that the charge was going to take
place. I could only seek out the two squadrons who participated in the
"incident," as the staff called it, after it was over. Incident is the
right word for a military sense of proportion. When the public in
England and abroad heard that the cavalry were "in" they might expect to
hear next day that the Anglo-French Armies were in full pursuit of the
broken German Armies to the Rhine, when no such outcome could be in the
immediate program unless German numbers were cut in two or the Prussian
turned Quaker.

An incident! Yes, but something to give a gallop to the pen of the
writer after the monotony of gunfire and bombing. I was never more eager
to hear an account of any action than of this charge--a cavalry charge,
a charge of cavalry, if you please, on the Western front in July, 1916.

In one of the valleys back of the front out of sight of the battle there
were tired, tethered horses with a knowing look in their eyes, it
seemed to me, and a kind of superior manner toward the sleek, fresh
horses which had not had the luck to "go in"; and cavalrymen were lying
under their shelters fast asleep, their clothing and accoutrements
showing the unmistakable signs of action. We heard from their officers
the story of both the Dragoon Guards and the Deccan Horse (Indian) who
had known what it was to ride down a German in the open.

The shade of Phil Sheridan might ponder on what the world was coming to
that we make much of such a small affair; but he would have felt all the
glowing satisfaction of these men if he had waited as long as they for
any kind of a cavalry action. The accounts of the two squadrons may go
together. Officers were shaving and aiming for enough water to serve as
a substitute for a bath. The commander with his map could give you every
detail with a fond, lingering emphasis on each one, as a battalion
commander might of a first experience in a trench raid when later the
same battalion would make an account of a charge in battle which was
rich with incidents of hand-to-hand encounters and prisoners breached
from dugouts into an "I-came-I-saw" narrative, and not understand why
further interest should be shown by the inquirer in what was the
everyday routine of the business of war. For the trite saying that
everything is relative does not forfeit any truth by repetition.

The cavalry had done everything quite according to tactics, which would
only confuse the layman. The wonder was that any of it had come back
alive. On that narrow front it had ridden out toward the Germany Army
with nothing between the cavalry and the artillery and machine guns
which had men on horses for targets. In respect to days when to show a
head above a trench meant death the thing was stupefying, incredible.
These narrators forming a camp group, with lean, black-bearded,
olive-skinned Indians in attendance bringing water in horse-buckets for
the baths, and the sight of kindly horses' faces smiling at you, and the
officers themselves horsewise and with the talk and manner of
horsemen--only they made it credible. How real it was to them! How real
it became to me!

There had been some Germans in hiding in the grass who were taken
unawares by this rush of gallopers with lances. Every participant agreed
as to the complete astonishment of the enemy. It was equivalent to a
football player coming into the field in ancient armor and the more of a
surprise considering that those Germans had been sent out after a
morning full of surprises to make contact with the British and
reestablish the broken line.

Not dummies of straw this time for the lance's sharp point, but
startled men in green uniform--the vision which had been in mind when
every thrust was made at the dummies! This was what cavalry was for, the
object of all the training. It rode through quite as it would have
ridden fifty or a hundred years ago. A man on the ground, a man on a
horse! This feature had not changed.

"You actually got some?"

"Oh, yes!"

"On the lances?"

"Yes."

From the distance came the infernal sound of guns in their threshing
contest of explosions which made this incident more impressive than any
account of a man buried by shells, of isolated groups holding out in
dugouts, or of venturesome soldiers catching and tossing back German
bombs at the man who threw them, because it was unique on the Somme.
Both British and Indians had had the same kind of an opportunity. After
riding through they wheeled and rode back in the accepted fashion of
cavalry.

By this time some of the systematic Germans had recollected that a part
of their drill was how to receive a cavalry charge, and when those who
had not run or been impaled began firing and others stood ready with
their bayonets but with something of the manner of men who were not
certain whether they were in a trance or not, according to the account,
a German machine gun began its wicked staccato as another feature of
German awakening to the situation.

This brings us to the most picturesque incident of the "incident." Most
envied of all observers of the tournament was an aviator who looked down
on a show bizarre even in the annals of aviation. The German planes had
been driven to cover, which gave the Briton a fair field. A knightly
admiration, perhaps a sense of fellowship not to say sympathy with the
old arm of scouting from the new, possessed him; or let it be that he
could not resist a part in such a rare spectacle which was so tempting
to sporting instinct. He swooped toward that miserable, earth-tied
turtle of a machine gun and emptied his drum into it. He was not over
three hundred feet, all agree, above the earth, when not less than ten
thousand feet was the rule.

"It was jolly fine of him!" as the cavalry put it. To have a charge and
then to have that happen--well, it was not so bad to be in the cavalry.
The plane drew fire by setting all the Germans to firing at it without
hitting it, and the machine gun, whether silenced or not, ceased to
bother the cavalry, which brought back prisoners to complete a
well-rounded adventure before withdrawing lest the German guns, also
entering into the spirit of the situation, should blow men and horses
off the Ridge instead of leaving them to retire in good order.

Casualties: about the same number of horses as men. Riders who had lost
their horses mounted riderless horses. A percentage of one in six or
seven had been hit, which was the most amazing part of it; indeed, the
most joyful part, completing the likeness to the days when war still had
the element of sport. There had been killed and wounded or it would not
have been a battle, but not enough to cast a spell of gloom; just enough
to be a part of the gambling hazard of war and give the fillip of danger
to recollection.




XV

ENTER THE ANZACS

   Newfoundland sets the pace--Australia and New Zealand lands that
   breed men--Australians "very proud, individual men"--Geographical
   isolation a cause of independence--The "Anzacs'" idea of
   fighting--Sir Charles Birdwood--How he taught his troops
   discipline--Bean and Ross--Difference between Australians and New
   Zealanders--The Australian uniform and physique--A dollar and a half
   a day--General Birdwood and his men--Australian humor.


It was British troops exclusively which started the Grand Offensive if
we except the Newfoundland battalion which alone had the honor of
representing the heroism of North America on July 1st; for people in
passing the Grand Banks which makes them think of Newfoundland are wont
to regard it as a part of Canada, when it is a separate colony whose
fishermen and frontiersmen were attached to a British division that went
to Gallipoli with a British brigade and later shared the fate of British
battalions in the attack on the Thiepval-Gommecourt sector.

On that famous day in Picardy the Newfoundlanders advanced into the
smoke of the curtains of fire unflinchingly and kept on charging the
machine guns. Survivors and the wounded who crept back at night across
No Man's Land had no need to trumpet their heroism. All the army knew
it. Newfoundland had set the pace for the other clans from oversea.

It was British troops, too, which took Contalmaison and Mametz, Bernafay
and Trones Woods and who carried out all the attack of July 15th, with
the exception of the South African brigade which stormed Delville Wood
with the tearing enthusiasm of a rush for a new diamond mine.

Whenever the troops from oversea are not mentioned you may be sure that
it is the British, the home troops, who are doing the fighting, their
number being about ten to one of the others with the one out of ten
representing double the number of those who fought on either side in any
great pitched battle in our Civil War. After the Newfoundlanders and
South Africans, who were few but precious, the Australians, an army of
themselves, came to take their part in the Somme battle.

I have never been in Australia or New Zealand, but this I know that when
the war is over I am going. I want to see the land that breeds such men.
They are free men if ever there were such; free whether they come from
town or from bush. I had heard of their commonwealth ideas, their
State-owned utilities, their socialistic inclinations, which might
incline you to think that they were all of the same State-cut pattern of
manhood; but I had heard, too, how they had restricted immigration of
Orientals and limited other immigration by method if not by law, which
was suggestive of a tendency to keep the breed to itself, as I
understood from my reading.

Whenever I saw an Australian I thought: "Here is a very proud,
individual man," but also an Australian, particularly an Australian.
Some people thought that there was a touch of insolence in his bearing
when he looked you straight in the eye as much as to say: "The best
thing in the world is to be an upstanding member of the human race who
is ready to prove that he is as good as any other. If you don't think
so, well--" There was no doubt about the Australian being brave. This
was as self-evident as that the pine is straight and the beech is hard
wood.

The Australians came from a great distance. This you knew without
geographical reference. Far away in their island continent they have
been working out their own destiny, not caring for interference from the
outside. To put it in strong language, there is a touch of the "I don't
care a rap for anybody who does not care a rap for me" in their extreme
moments of independence. It is refreshing that a whole population may
have an island continent to themselves and carry on in this fashion.

They had had an introduction to universal service which was also
characteristic of their democracy and helpful in time of war. The
"Anzac" had caught the sense of its idea (before other English-speaking
people) not to let others do your fighting for you but all "join in the
scrum." Orientals might crave the broad spaces of a new land, in which
event if they ever took Australia and New Zealand they would not be
bothered by many survivors of the white population, because most of the
Anzacs would be dead--this being particularly the kind of people the
Anzacs are as I knew them in France, which was not a poor trial ground
of their quality.

When they went to Gallipoli it was said that they had no discipline; and
certainly at first discipline did irritate them as a snaffle bit
irritates a high-spirited horse. "Little Kitch," as the stalwart Anzacs
called the New Army Englishman, thought that they broke all the military
commandments of the drill-grounds in a way that would be their undoing.
I rather think that it might have been the undoing of Little Kitch, with
his stubborn, methodical, phlegmatic, "stick-it" courage; but after the
Australians had fought the Turk a while it was evident that they knew
how to fight, and their general, Sir Charles Birdwood, supplied the
discipline which is necessary if fighting power is not to be wasted in
misplaced emotion.

Lucky Birdwood to command the Australians and lucky Australians to have
him as commander! It was he who in choosing a telegraph code word made
up "Anzac" for the Australian-New Zealand corps, which at once became
the collective term for the combination. What a test he put them to and
they put him to! He had to prove himself to them before he could develop
the Anzacs into a war unit worthy of their fighting quality. Such is
democracy where man judges man by standards, set, in this case, by
Australian customs.

When he understood them he knew why he was fortunate. He was one of them
and at the same time a stiff disciplinarian. They objected to saluting,
but he taught them to salute in a way that did not make saluting seem
the whole thing--this was what they resented--but a part of the routine.
It was said that he knew every man in the corps by name, which shows how
stories will grow around a commander who rises at five and retires at
midnight and has a dynamic ubiquity in keeping in touch with his men.
Such a force included some "rough customers" who might mistake war for a
brawler's opportunity; but Sir Charles had a way with them that worked
out for their good and the good of the corps.

Though they were of a free type of democracy, the Australian government,
either from inherent sense or as the result of distance, as critics
might say, or owing to General Birdwood's gift of having his way, did
not handicap the Australians as heavily as they might have been
handicapped under the circumstances by officers who were skilful in
politics without being skilful in war.

As publicist the Australians had Bean, a trained journalist, a
red-headed blade of a man who was an officer among officers and a man
among men and held the respect of all by Australian qualities. If there
could be only one chronicler allowed, then Bean's choice had the
applause of a corps, though Bean says that Australia is full of just as
good journalists who did not have his luck. The New Zealanders had Ross
to play the same part for them with equal loyalty and he was as much of
a New Zealander as Bean was an Australian.

For, make no mistake, though the Australians and the New Zealanders
might seem alike to the observer as they marched along a road, they are
not, as you will find if you talk with them. The New Zealanders have
islands of their own, not to mention that the Tasmanians have one, too.
Besides, the New Zealanders include a Maori battalion and of all
aborigines of lands where the white races have settled in permanence to
build new nations, the Maoris have best accustomed themselves to
civilization and are the highest type--a fact which every New Zealander
takes as another contributing factor to New Zealand's excellence. Quiet
men the New Zealanders, bearing themselves with the pride of Guardsmen
whose privates all belong to superior old families, and New Zealanders
every minute of every hour of the day, though you might think that civil
war was imminent if you started them on a discussion about home
politics.

Give any unit of an army some particular, readily distinguishable
symbol, be it only a feather in the cap or a different headgear, and
that lot becomes set apart from the others in a fashion that gives them
_esprit de corps_. With the Scots it is the kilt and the different
plaids. All the varied uniforms of regiments of the armies of olden days
had this object. Modern war requires neutral tones and its necessary
machinelike homogeneity may look askance at too much rivalry among units
as tending toward each one acting by itself rather than in co-operation
with the rest.

All the forces at the front except the Anzacs were in khaki and wore
caps when not wearing steel helmets in the trenches or on the
firing-line. The Australians were in slate-colored uniform and they
wore looped-up soft hats. The hats accentuated the manner, the height
and the sturdiness of the men whose physique was unsurpassed at the
British front, and practically all were smooth-shaven. For generations
they had had adequate nutrition and they had the capacity to absorb it,
which generations from the slums may lack even if the food is
forthcoming.

There was no reason why every man in Australia should not have enough to
eat and, whether bush or city dweller, he was fond of the open air where
he might exercise the year around. He had blown his lungs; he had fed
well and came of a daring pioneer stock. When an Anzac battalion under
those hats went swinging along the road it seemed as if the men were
taking the road along with them, such was their vigorous tread. On leave
in London they were equally conspicuous. Sometimes they used a little
vermilion with the generosity of men who received a dollar and a half a
day as their wage. It was the first time, in many instances, that they
had seen the "old town" and they had come far and to-morrow might go
back to France for the last time.

My first view of them in the trenches after they came from Gallipoli was
in the flat country near Ypres whose mushiness is so detested by all
soldiers. They had been used to digging trenches in dry hillsides,
where they might excavate caves with solid walls. Here they had to fill
sandbags with mud and make breastworks, which were frequently breached
by shell fire. At first, they had been poor diggers; but when democracy
learns its lesson by individual experience it is incorporated in every
man and no longer is a question of orders. Now they were deepening
communication trenches and thickening parapet walls and were
mud-plastered by their labor.

Having risen at General Birdwood's hour of five to go with him on
inspection I might watch his methods, and it means something to men to
have their corps commander thus early among them when a drizzly rain is
softening the morass under foot. He stopped and asked the privates how
they were in a friendly way and they answered with straight-away
candor. Then he gave some directions about improvements with a
we-are-all-working-together suggestiveness, but all the time he was the
general. These privates were not without their Australian sense of
humor, which is dry; and in answer to the inquiry about how he was one
said:

"All right, except we'd like a little rum, sir."

In cold weather the distribution of a rum ration was at the disposition
of a commander, who in most instances did not give it. This stalwart
Australian evidently had not been a teetotaler.

"We'll give you some rum when you have made a trench raid and taken some
prisoners," the general replied.

"It might be an incentive, sir!" said the soldier very respectfully.

"No Australian should need such an incentive!" answered the general, and
passed on.

"Yes, sir!" was the answer of another soldier to the question if he had
been in Gallipoli.

"Wounded?"

"Yes, sir."

"How?"

"I was examining a bomb, sir, to find out how it was made and it went
off to my surprise, sir!"

There was not even a twinkle of the eye accompanying the response, yet I
was not certain that this big fellow from the bush had been wounded in
that way. I suspected him of a quiet joke.

"Throw them at the Germans next time," said the general.

"Yes, sir. It's safer!"

Returning after that long morning of characteristic routine, as we
passed through a village where Australians were billeted one soldier
failed to salute. When the general stopped him his hand shot up in
approved fashion as he recognized his commander and he said contritely,
with the touch of respect of a man to the leader in whom he believes:

"I did not see that it was you, sir!"

The general had on a mackintosh with the collar turned up, which
concealed his rank.

"But you might see that it was an officer."

"Yes, sir."

"And you salute officers."

"Yes, sir."

Which he would hereafter now that it was General Birdwood's order,
though this everlasting raising of your hand, as one Australian said,
made you into a kind of human windmill when the world was so full of
officers. Gradually all came to salute, and when an Australian salutes
he does it in a way that is a credit to Australia.

After a period of fighting a tired division retired from the battle
front and a fresh one took the place. Thus, following the custom of the
circulation of troops by the armies of both sides, whether at Verdun or
on the Somme, the day arrived when along the road toward the front came
the Australian battalions, hardened and disciplined by trench warfare,
keen-edged in spirit, and ready for the bold task which awaited them at
Pozieres. This time the New Zealanders were not along.




XVI

THE AUSTRALIANS AND A WINDMILL

   The windmill upon the hill--Pozieres--Its topography--Warlike
   intensity of the Australians--A "stiff job"--An Australian
   chronicler--Incentives to Australian efficiency--German complaint
   that the Australians came too fast--Clockwork efficiency--Man-to-man
   business--Sunburned, gaunt battalions from the vortex--The fighting
   on the Ridge--Mouquet Farm--A contest of individuality against
   discipline--"Advance, Australia!"--New Zealanders--South Africans.


When I think of the Australians in France I always think of a windmill.
This is not implying that they were in any sense Quixotic or that they
tilted at a windmill, there being nothing left of the windmill to tilt
at when their capture of its ruins became the crowning labor of their
first tour on the Somme front.

In their progress up that sector of the Ridge the windmill came after
Pozieres, as the ascent of the bare mountain peak comes after the
reaches below the timber line. Pozieres was beyond La Boisselle and
Ovillers-la-Boisselle, from which the battle movement swung forward at
the hinge of the point where the old first-line German fortifications
had been broken on July 1st.

To think of Pozieres will be to think of the Australians as long as the
history of the Somme battle endures. I read an interview in a New York
paper with the Chief of Staff of the German Army opposite the British in
which he must have been correctly quoted, as his remarks passed the
censorship. He said that the loss of Pozieres was a blunder. I liked his
frankness in laying the blame on a subordinate who, if he also had
spoken, might have mentioned the presence of the Australians as an
excuse, which, personally, I think is an excellent one.

Difficult as it now becomes to keep any sequence in the operations when,
at best, chronology ceases to be illuminative of phases, it is well here
to explain that the attack of July 15th had not gained the whole Ridge
on the front ahead of the broad stretch of ruptured first line. Besides,
the Ridge is not like the roof of a house, but a most illusive series of
irregular knolls with small plateaus or valleys between, a sort of
miniature broken tableland. The foothold gained on July 15th meant no
broad command of vision down the slope to the main valley on the other
side. Even a shoulder five or ten feet higher than the neighboring
ground meant a barrier to artillery observation which shells would not
blast away; and the struggle for such positions was to go on for weeks.

Pozieres, then, was on the way to the Ridge and its possession would
put the formidable defenses of Thiepval in a salient, thus enabling the
British to strike it from the side as well as in front, which is the aim
of all strategy whether it works in mobile divisions in an open field or
is biting and tearing its way against field fortifications. Therefore,
the Germans had good reason to hold Pozieres, which protected first-line
trenches that had required twenty months of preparation. Wherever they
could keep the Briton or the Frenchman from forcing the fight into the
open which made the contest an even one in digging, they were saving
life and ammunition by nests of redoubts and dugouts.

The reason that the Australians wanted to take Pozieres was not so
tactical as human in their minds. It was the village assigned to them
and they wished to investigate it immediately and get established in the
property that was to be theirs, once they took it, to hold in trust for
the inhabitants. I had a fondness for watching them as they marched up
to the front looking unreal in their steel helmets which they wore in
place of the broad-brimmed hats. There was a sort of warlike intensity
about them which may come from the sunlight of an island continent
reflecting the histrionic adaptability of appearances to the task in
hand.

Their first objective was to be the main street. They had a "stiff job"
ahead, as everybody agreed, and so had the British troops operating on
their right.

"This objective business has a highly educated sound, which might limit
martial enthusiasm," said one Australian. "As I understand it, that's
the line where we stop no matter how good the going and which we must
reach no matter how hard the going."

Precisely. An Australian battalion needed a warning in the first
instance lest it might keep on advancing, which meant that commanders
would not know where it was in the shell-smoke and it might get
"squeezed" for want of support on the right and left, as I have
explained elsewhere. Certainly, warning was unnecessary in the second
instance about the hard going.

Bean has all the details of the taking of Pozieres; he knows what every
battalion did, and I was going to say what every soldier did. When the
Australians were in he was in making notes and when they were out he was
out writing up his notes. His was intimate war correspondence about the
fellows who came from all the districts of his continent, his home
folks. I am only expressing the impressions of one who had glimpses of
the Australians while the battle was raging elsewhere.

Of course, skeptics had said that Gallipoli was one thing and the Somme
another and the Australian man-to-man method might receive a shock from
Prussian system; but, then, skeptics had said that the British could not
make an army in two years. The Australians knew what was in the
skeptics' minds, which was further incentive. They had a general whom
they believed in and they did not admit that any man on earth was a
better man than an Australian. And their staff? Of course, when it takes
forty years to make a staff how could the Australians have one that
could hold its own with the Germans? And this was what the Australians
had to do, staff and man: beat the Germans.

When with clockwork promptness came the report that they had taken all
of their objectives it showed that they were up to the standard of their
looks and their staff signals were working well. They had a lot of
prisoners, too, who complained that the Australians came on too fast.
Meanwhile, they were on one side of the street and the Germans on the
other, hugging debris and sniping at one another. Now the man-to-man
business began to count. The Australian got across the street; he went
after the other fellow; he made a still hunt of it. This battle had
become a personal matter which pleased their sense of individualism; for
it is not bred into Australians to be afraid if they are out alone after
dark.

Having worked beyond their first objective, when they were given as
their second the rest of the village they took it; and they were not
"biffed" out of it, either. What was the use of yielding ground when you
would have to make another charge in order to regain what had been lost?
They were not that kind of arithmeticians, they said. They believed in
addition not subtraction in an offensive campaign.

So they stuck, though the Germans made repeated daring counter-attacks
and poured in shell fire from the guns up Thiepval way and off Bapaume
way with hellish prodigality. For the German staff was evidently much
out of temper about the "blunder" and for many weeks to come were to
continue pounding Pozieres. If they could not shake the Australian out
of the village they meant to make him pay heavy taxes and to try to kill
his reliefs and stop his supplies. How the Australians managed to get
food and men up through the communication trenches under the unceasing
inferno over that bare slope is tribute to their skill in slipping out
and in between its blasts.

Not only were they able to hold, but they kept on attacking. Every day
we heard that they had taken more ground and whenever we went out to
have a look the German lines were always a little farther back. One day
we were asking if the Australians were in the cemetery yet; the next
day they were and the next they had more of it as they worked their way
uphill, fighting from grave to grave; and the next day they had mastered
all of it, thanks to a grim persistence which some had said would not
comport with their highstrung temperament.

The windmill was a landmark crowning the Ridge; as fair a target as ever
artillery ranged on--a gunner's delight. After having been knocked into
splinters the splinters were spread about by high explosives which
reduced the stone base to fragments.

Sunburned, gaunt battalions came out of the vortex for a turn of rest.
With helmets battered by shrapnel bullets, after nights in the rain and
broiling hot days, their faces grimy and unshaven, their clothes torn
and spotted, they were still Australians who looked you in the eye with
a sense of having proved their birthright as free men. Sometimes the old
spirit incited by the situation got out of bonds. One night when a
company rose up to the charge the company next in line called out,
"Where are you going?" and on the reply, "We've orders to take that
trench in front," the company that had no orders to advance exclaimed,
"Here, we're going to join in the scrum!" and they did, taking more
trench than the plan required.

The fierce period of the battle was approaching when fighting on the
Ridge was to be a bloody, wrestling series of clinches. Now trenches
could not be dug on that bold, treeless summit. As soon as an aeroplane
spotted a line developing out of the field of shell-craters the guns
filled the trench and then proceeded to pound it into the fashionable
style for farming land on the Ridge.

Trenches out of the question, it became a war among shell-craters. Here
a soldier ensconced himself with rifle and bombs or a machine gunner
deepened the hole with his spade for the gun. This was "scrapping" to
the Australians' taste. It called for individual nerve and daring on
that shell-swept, pestled earth, creeping up to new positions or back
for water and food by night, lying "doggo" by day and waiting for a
counter-attack by the Germans, who were always the losers in this grim,
stealthy advance.

In Mouquet Farm the Germans had dugouts whose elaborateness was realized
only after they were taken. A battalion could find absolute security in
them. Long galleries ran back to entrances in areas safe from shell
fire. Overhead no semblance of farm buildings was left by British and
Australian guns. When I visited the ruins later I could not tell how
many buildings there had been; and Mouquet Farm was not the only strong
point that the Germans had to fall back on, let it be said. In the
underground tunnels and chambers the Germans gathered for their
counter-attacks, which they attempted with something of their old
precision and courage.

This was the opportunity of the machine gunners in shell-craters and the
snipers and the curtain of artillery fire. Sometimes the Australians
allowed the attack to get good headway. They even left gaps in their
lines for the game to enter the net before they began firing; and again,
when a broken German charge sought flight its remnants faced an
impassable curtain of fire which fenced them in and they dropped into
shell-craters and held up their hands, which was the only thing to do.

Soon the Germans learned, too, how to make the most of shell-craters.
The harder the Australians fought the greater the spur to German pride
not to be beaten by these supposedly undisciplined, untrained men. The
Germans called for more guns and got them. Mouquet Farm became a
fortress of machine guns. It was not taken by the Australians--their
successors took what was left of it. The nearer they came to the crest
which was their supreme goal the ghastlier and more concentrated grew
the shell fire, as the German guns had only to range on the skyline. But
this equally applied to Australian gunners as the Germans were crowded
toward the summit where the debris of the windmill remained, till
finally they had to fall back to the other side.

Then they tried sweeping over the Ridge from the cover of the reverse
slope in counter-attacks, only to be whipped by machine gun fire, lashed
by shrapnel and crushed by high explosives--themselves mixed with the
ruins of the windmill. At last they gave up the effort. It was not in
German discipline to make any more attempts.

The Australians had the windmill as much as anyone had it as, for a
time, it was in No Man's Land where blasts of shells would permit of no
occupation. But the symbol for which it stood was there in readiness as
a jumping-off place for the sweep-down into the valley later on when the
Canadians should take the place of the Australians; and before they
retired they could look in triumph across at Thiepval and down on
Courcelette and Martinpuich and past the valley to Bapaume.

The development of the campaign had given the Australians work suited to
their bent when this war of machinery, attaining its supreme complexity
on the Somme, left the human machine between walls of shell fire to
fight it out individually against the human machine, in a contest of
will, courage, audacity, alertness and resource, man to man. "Advance,
Australia!" is the Australian motto; and the Australians advanced.

The New Zealanders had their part elsewhere and played it in the New
Zealand way.

"They have never failed to take an objective set them," said a general
after the taking of Flers, "and they have always gained their positions
with slight losses."

Could there be higher praise? Success and thrift, courage and skill in
taking cover! For the business of a soldier is to do his enemy the
maximum of damage with the minimum to himself, as anyone may go on
repeating. Probably the remark of the New Zealanders in answer to the
commander's praise would be, "Thank you. Why not?" as if this were what
the New Zealanders expected of themselves. They take much for granted
about New Zealand, without being boastful.

"A blooming quiet lot that keeps to themselves," said a British soldier,
"but likable when you get to know them."

You might depend upon the average New Zealand private for an interesting
talk about social organization, municipal improvements, and human
welfare under government direction. The standard of individual
intelligence and education was high and it seemed to make good fighting
men.

The Australians had had to grub their way foot by foot, and the South
Africans on July 15th with veldt gallantry had swept into Delville Wood,
which was to be a shambles for two months, and stood off with a thin
line the immense forces of hastily gathered reserves which the Germans
threw at this vital point which had been lost in a surprise attack.

All this on the way up to the Ridge. The New Zealanders were to play a
part in the same movement as the Canadians after the Ridge was taken.
They were in the big sweep down from the Ridge over a broad front.
Across the open for about two miles they had to go, fair targets for
shell fire; and they went, keeping their order as if on parade, working
out each evolution with soldierly precision including cooeperation with
the "tanks." They were at their final objective on schedule time,
accomplishing the task with amazingly few casualties and so little fuss
that it seemed a kind of skilful field-day manoeuver. All that they took
they held and still held it when the mists of autumn obscured artillery
observation and they were relieved from the quagmire for their turn of
rest.




XVII

THE HATEFUL RIDGE

   Grinding of courage of three powerful races--A ridge that will be
   famous--Germans on the defensive--Efforts to maintain their
   _morale_--Gas shells--Summer heat, dust and fatigue--Prussian hatred
   of the British--Dead bodies strapped to guns--Guillemont a
   granulation of bricks and mortar and earth--"We've only to keep at
   them, sir"--Stalking machine guns--Machine guns in craters--British
   cheerfulness--The war will be over when it is won--Soldiers talk
   shop--An incident of brutal militarism--Simple rules for surviving
   shell fire--A "happy home" with a shell arriving every
   minute--Business-like monotony of the battle--Insignificance of one
   man among millions--A victory of position, of will, of _morale_!


Sometimes it occurred to one to consider what history might say about
the Ridge and also to wonder how much history, which pretends to know
all, would really know. Thus, one sought perspective of the colossal
significance of the uninterrupted battle whose processes numbed the mind
and to distinguish the meaning of different stages of the struggle.
Nothing had so well reflected the character of the war or of its
protagonists, French, British and German, as this grinding of resources,
of courage, and of will of three powerful races.

We are always talking of phases as the result of natural human
speculation and tendency to set events in groups. Observers also may
gratify this inclination as well as the contemporaneous military expert
writing from his maps. It is historically accepted, I think, that the
first decisive phase was the battle of the Marne when Paris was saved.
The second was Verdun, when the Germans again sought a decision on the
Western front by an offensive of sledgehammer blows against frontal
positions; and, perhaps, the third came when on the Ridge the British
and the French kept up their grim, insistent, piecemeal attacks, holding
the enemy week in and week out on the defensive, aiming at mastery as
the scales trembled in the new turn of the balance and initiative passed
from one side to the other in the beginning of that new era.

This scarred slope with its gentle ascent, this section of farming land
with its woods growing more ragged every day from shell fire, with its
daily and nightly thunders, its trickling procession of wounded and
prisoners down the communication trenches speaking the last word in
human bravery, industry, determination and endurance--this might one day
be not only the monument to the positions of all the battalions that had
fought, its copses, its villages, its knolls famous to future
generations as is Little Round Top with us, but in its monstrous realism
be an immortal expression, unrealized by those who fought, of a
commander's iron will and foresight in gaining that supremacy in arms,
men and material which was the genesis of the great decision.

The German had not yielded his offensive at Verdun after the attack of
July 1st. At least, he still showed the face of initiative there while
he rested content that at the same time he could maintain his front
intact on the Somme. The succeeding attack of July 15th broke his
confidence with its suggestion that the confusion in his lines would be
too dangerous if it happened over a broader front for him to consider
anything but the defensive. Thus, the Allied offensive had broken his
offensive.

Now he began drawing away his divisions from the Verdun sector, bringing
guns to answer the British and French fire and men whose prodigal use
alone could enforce his determination to maintain _morale_ and prevent
any further bold strokes such as that of July 15th.

His sausage balloons began to reappear in the sky as the summer wore on;
he increased the number of his aeroplanes; more of his five-point-nine
howitzers were sending their compliments; he stretched out his shell
fire over communication trenches and strong points; mustered great
quantities of lachrymatory shells and for the first time used gas shells
with a generosity which spoke his faith in their efficacy. The
lachrymatory shell makes your eyes smart, and the Germans apparently
considered this a great auxiliary to high explosives and shrapnel. Was
it because of the success of the first gas attack at Ypres that they now
placed such reliance in gas shells? The shell when it lands seems a
"dud," which is a shell that has failed to explode; then it blows out a
volume of gas.

"If one hit right under your nose," said a soldier, "and you hadn't your
gas mask on, it might kill you. But when you see one fall you don't run
to get a sniff in order to accommodate the Boche by asphyxiating
yourself."

Another soldier suggested that the Germans had a big supply on hand and
were working off the stock for want of other kinds. The British who by
this time were settled in the offensive joked about the deluge of gas
shells with a gallant, amazing humor. Going up to the Ridge was going to
their regular duty. They did not shirk it or hail it with delight. They
simply went, that was all, when it was a battalion's turn to go.

July heat became August heat as the grinding proceeded. The gunners
worked in their shirts or stripped to the waist. Sweat streaks mapped
the faces of the men who came out of the trenches. Stifling clouds of
dust hung over the roads, with the trucks phantom-like as they emerged
from the gritty mist and their drivers' eyes peered out of masks of
gray which clung to their faces. A fall of rain came as a blessing to
Briton and German alike. German prisoners worn with exhaustion had
complexions the tint of their uniforms. If the British seemed weary
sometimes, one had only to see the prisoners to realize that the
defensive was suffering more than the offensive. The fatigue of some of
the men was of the kind that one week's sleep or a month's rest will not
cure; something fixed in their beings.

It was a new kind of fighting for the Germans. They smarted under it,
they who had been used to the upper hand. In the early stages of the war
their artillery had covered their well-ordered charges; they had been
killing the enemy with gunfire. Now the Allies were returning the
compliment; the shoe was on the other foot. A striking change, indeed,
from "On to Paris!" the old battle-cry of leaders who had now come to
urge these men to the utmost of endurance and sacrifice by telling them
that if they did not hold against the relentless hammering of British
and French guns what had been done to French villages would be done to
their own.

Prisoners spoke of peace as having been promised as close at hand by
their officers. In July the date had been set as Sept. 1st. Later, it
was set as Nov. 1st. The German was as a swimmer trying to reach shore,
in this case peace, with the assurance of those who urged him on that a
few more strokes would bring him there. Thus have armies been urged on
for years.

Those fighting did not have, as had the prisoners, their eyes opened to
the vast preparations behind the British lines to carry on the
offensive. Mostly the prisoners were amiable, peculiarly unlike the
proud men taken in the early days of the war when confidence in their
"system" as infallible was at its height. Yet there were exceptions. I
saw an officer marching at the head of the survivors of his battalion
along the road from Montauban one day with his head up, a cigar stuck in
the corner of his mouth at an aggressive angle, his unshaven chin and
dusty clothes heightening his attitude of "You go to ----, you English!"

The hatred of the British was a strengthening factor in the defense.
Should they, the Prussians, be beaten by New Army men? No! Die first!
said Prussian officers. The German staff might be as good as ever, but
among the mixed troops--the old and the young, the hollow-chested and
the square-shouldered, mouth-breathers with spectacles and bent fathers
of families, vigorous boys in their late 'teens with the down still on
their cheeks and hardened veterans survivors of many battles east and
west--they were reverting appreciably to natural human tendencies
despite the iron discipline.

It was Skobeloff, if I recollect rightly, who said that out of every
hundred men twenty were natural fighters, sixty were average men who
would fight under impulse or when well led, and twenty were timid; and
armies were organized on the basis of the sixty average to make them
into a whole of even efficiency in action. The German staff had supplied
supreme finesse to this end. They had an army that was a machine; yet
its units were flesh and blood and the pounding of shell fire and the
dogged fighting on the Ridge must have an effect.

It became apparent through those two months of piecemeal advance that
the sixty average men were not as good as they had been. The twenty
"funk-sticks," in army phrase, were given to yielding themselves if they
were without an officer, but the twenty natural fighters--well, human
psychology does not change. They were the type that made the
professional armies of other days, the brigands, too, and also those of
every class of society to whom patriotic duty had become an exaltation
approaching fanaticism. More fighting made them fight harder.

Such became members of the machine gun corps, which took an oath never
to surrender, and led bombing parties and posted themselves in
shell-craters to face the charges while shells fell thick around them,
or remained up in the trench taking their chances against curtains of
fire that covered an infantry charge, in the hope of being able to turn
on their own bullet spray for a moment before being killed. Sometimes
their dead bodies were found strapped to their guns, more often probably
by their own request, as an insurance against deserting their posts,
than by command.

Shell fire was the theatricalism of the struggle, the roar of guns its
thunder; but night or day the sound of the staccato of that little arch
devil of killing, the machine gun, coming from the Ridge seemed as true
an expression of what was always going on there as a rattlesnake's
rattle is of its character. Delville and High Woods and Guillemont and
Longueval and the Switch Trench--these are symbolic names of that
attrition, of the heroism of British persistence which would not take No
for answer.

You might think that you had seen ruins until you saw those of
Guillemont after it was taken. They were the granulation of bricks and
mortar and earth mixed by the blasts of shell fire which crushed solids
into dust and splintered splinters. Guillemont lay beyond Trones Wood
across an open space where the German guns had full play. There was a
stone quarry on the outskirts, and a quarry no less than a farm like
Waterlot, which was to the northward, and Falfemont, to the southward
and flanking the village, formed shelter. It was not much of a quarry,
but it was a hole which would be refuge for reserves and machine guns.
The two farms, clear targets for British guns, had their deep dugouts
whose roofs were reinforced by the ruins that fell upon them against
penetration even by shells of large caliber. How the Germans fought to
keep Falfemont! Once they sent out a charge with the bayonet to meet a
British charge between walls of shell fire and there through the mist
the steel was seen flashing and vague figures wrestling.

Guillemont and the farms won and Ginchy which lay beyond won and the
British had their flank on high ground. Twice they were in Guillemont
but could not remain, though as usual they kept some of their gains. It
was a battle from dugout to dugout, from shelter to shelter of any kind
burrowed in debris or in fields, with the British never ceasing here or
elsewhere to continue their pressure. And the debris of a village had
particular appeal; it yielded to the spade; its piles gave natural
cover.

A British soldier returning from one of the attacks as he hobbled
through Trones Wood expressed to me the essential generalship of the
battle. He was outwardly as unemotional as if he were coming home from
his day's work, respectful and good-humored, though he had a hole in
both arms from machine gun fire, a shrapnel wound in the heel, and
seemed a trifle resentful of the added tribute of another shrapnel wound
in his shoulder after he had left the firing-line and was on his way to
the casualty clearing station. Insisting that he could lift the
cigarette I offered him to his lips and light it, too, he said:

"We've only to keep at them, sir. They'll go."

So the British kept at them and so did the French at every point. Was
Delville Wood worse than High Wood? This is too nice a distinction in
torments to be drawn. Possess either of them completely and command of
the Ridge in that section was won. The edge of a wood on the side away
from your enemy was the easiest part to hold. It is difficult to range
artillery on it because of restricted vision, and the enemy's shells
aimed at it strike the trees and burst prematurely among his own men.
Other easy, relatively easy, places to hold are the dead spaces of
gullies and ravines. There you were out of fire and there you were not;
there you could hold and there you could not. Machine gun fire and shell
fire were the arbiters of topography more dependable than maps.

Why all the trees were not cut down by the continual bombardments of
both sides was past understanding. There was one lone tree on the
skyline near Longueval which I had watched for weeks. It still had a
limb, yes, the luxury of a limb, the last time that I saw it, pointing
with a kind of defiance in its immunity. Of course it had been struck
many times. Bits of steel were imbedded in its trunk; but only a direct
hit on the trunk will bring down a tree. Trees may be slashed and
whittled and nicked and gashed and still stand; and when villages have
been pulverized except for the timbering of the houses, a scarred shade
tree will remain.

Thus, trees in Delville Wood survived, naked sticks among fallen and
splintered trunks and upturned roots. How any man could have survived
was the puzzling thing. None could if he had remained there continuously
and exposed himself; but man is the most cunning of animals. With gas
mask and eye-protectors ready, steel helmet on his head and his faithful
spade to make himself a new hole whenever he moved, he managed the
incredible in self-protection. Earth piled back of a tree-trunk would
stop bullets and protect his body from shrapnel. There he lay and there
a German lay opposite him, except when attacks were being made.

Not getting the northern edge of the woods the British began sapping out
in trenches to the east toward Ginchy, where the map contours showed the
highest ground in that neighborhood. New lines of trenches kept
appearing on the map, often with group names such as Coffee Alley, Tea
Lane and Beer Street, perhaps. Out in the open along the irregular
plateau the shells were no more kindly, the bombing and the sapping no
less diligent all the way to the windmill, where the Australians were
playing the same kind of a game. With the actual summit gained at
certain points, these had to be held pending the taking of the whole, or
of enough to permit a wave of men to move forward in a general attack
without its line being broken by the resistance of strong points, which
meant confusion.

Before any charge the machine guns must be "killed." No initiative of
pioneer or Indian scout surpassed that exhibited in conquering machine
gun positions. When a big game hunter tells you about having stalked
tigers, ask him if he has ever stalked a machine gun to its lair.

As for the nature of the lair, here is one where a Briton "dug himself
in" to be ready to repulse any counter-attack to recover ground that the
British had just won. Some layers of sandbags are sunk level with the
earth with an excavation back of them large enough for a machine gun
standard and to give the barrel swing and for the gunner, who back of
this had dug himself a well four or five feet deep of sufficient
diameter to enable him to huddle at the bottom in "stormy weather." He
was general and army, too, of his little establishment. In the midst of
shells and trench mortars, with bullets whizzing around his head, he had
to keep a cool aim and make every pellet which he poured out of his gun
muzzle count against the wave of men coming toward him who were at his
mercy if he could remain alive for a few minutes and keep his head.

He must not reveal his position before his opportunity came. All around
where this Briton had held the fort there were shell-craters like the
dots of close shooting around a bull's-eye; no tell-tale blood spots
this time, but a pile of two or three hundred cartridge cases lying
where they had fallen as they were emptied of their cones of lead. Luck
was with the occupant, but not with another man playing the same game
not far away. Broken bits of gun and fragments of cloth mixed with earth
explained the fate of a German machine gunner who had emplaced his piece
in the same manner.

Before a charge, crawl up at night from shell-crater to shell-crater and
locate the enemy's machine guns. Then, if your own guns and the trench
mortars do not get them, go stalking with supplies of bombs and remember
to throw yours before the machine gunner, who also has a stock for such
emergencies, throws his. When a machine gun begins rattling into a
company front in a charge the men drop for cover, while officers
consider how to draw the devil's tusks. Arnold von Winkelried, who
gathered the spears to his breast to make a path for his comrades, won
his glory because the fighting forces were small in his day. But with
such enormous forces as are now engaged and with heroism so common, we
make only an incident of the officer who went out to silence a machine
gun and was found lying dead across the gun with the gunner dead beside
him.

Those whose business it was to observe, the six correspondents,
Robinson, Thomas, Gibbs, Philips, Russell and myself, went and came
always with a sense of incapacity and sometimes with a feeling that
writing was a worthless business when others were fighting. The line of
advance on the big map at our quarters extended as the brief army
reports were read into the squares every morning by the key of figures
and numerals with a detail that included every little trench, every
copse, every landmark, and then we chose where we would go that day. At
corps headquarters there were maps with still more details and officers
would explain the previous day's work to us. Every wood and village,
every viewpoint, we knew, and every casualty clearing station and
prisoners' inclosure. At battalion camps within sight of the Ridge and
within range of the guns, where their blankets helped to make shelter
from the sun, you might talk with the men out of the fight and lunch and
chat with the officers who awaited the word to go in again or perhaps to
hear that their tour was over and they could go to rest in Ypres sector,
which had become relatively quiet.

They had their letters and packages from home before they slept and had
written letters in return after waking; and there was nothing to do now
except to relax and breathe, to renew the vitality that had been
expended in the fierce work where shells were still threshing the earth,
which rose in clouds of dust to settle back again in enduring passive
resistance.

There was much talk early in the war about British cheerfulness; so much
that officers and men began to resent it as expressing the idea that
they took such a war as this as a kind of holiday, when it was the last
thing outside of Hades that any sane man would choose. It was a question
in my own mind at times if Hades would not have been a pleasant change.
Yet the characterization is true, peculiarly true, even in the midst of
the fighting on the Ridge. Cheerfulness takes the place of emotionalism
as the armor against hardship and death; a good-humored balance between
exhilaration and depression which meets smile with smile and creates an
atmosphere superior to all vicissitudes. Why should we be downhearted?
Why, indeed, when it does no good. Not "Merrie England!" War is not a
merry business; but an Englishman may be cheerful for the sake of self
and comrades.

Of course, these battalions, officers and men, would talk about when the
war would be over. Even the Esquimaux must have an opinion on the
subject by this time. That of the men who make the war, whose lives are
the lives risked, was worth more, perhaps, than that of people living
thousands of miles away; for it is they who are doing the fighting, who
will stop fighting. To them it would be over when it was won. The time
this would require varied with different men--one year, two years; and
again they would turn satirical and argue whether the sixth or the
seventh year would be the worst. And they talked shop about the latest
wrinkles in fighting; how best to avoid having men buried by
shell-bursts; the value of gas and lachrymatory shells; the ratio of
high explosives to shrapnel; methods of "cleaning out" dugouts or "doing
in" machine guns, all in a routine that had become an accepted part of
life like the details of the stock carried and methods of selling in a
department store.

Indelible the memories of these talks, which often brought out
illustrations of racial temperament. One company was more horrified over
having found a German tied to a trench _parados_ to be killed by
British shell fire as a field punishment than by the horrors of other
men equally mashed and torn, or at having crawled over the moist bodies
of the dead, or slept among them, or been covered with spatters of blood
and flesh--for that incident struck home with a sense of brutal
militarism which was the thing in their minds against which they were
fighting.

With steel helmets on and gas masks over our shoulders, we would leave
our car at the dead line and set off to "see something," when now the
fighting was all hidden in the folds of the ground, or in the woods, or
lost on the horizon where the front line of either of these two great
armies, with their immense concentration of men and material and roads
gorged with transport and thousands of belching guns, was held by a few
men with machine guns in shell-craters, their positions sometimes
interwoven. Old hands in the Somme battle become shell-wise. They are
the ones whom the French call "varnished," which is a way of saying that
projectiles glance off their anatomy. They keep away from points where
the enemy will direct his fire as a matter of habit or scientific
gunnery, and always recollect that the German has not enough shells to
sow them broadcast over the whole battle area.

It is not an uncommon thing for one to feel quite safe within a couple
of hundred yards of an artillery concentration. That corner of a
village, that edge of a shattered grove, that turn in the highway, that
sunken road--keep away from them! Any kind of trench for shrapnel; lie
down flat unless a satisfactory dugout is near for protection from high
explosives which burst in the earth. If you are at the front and a
curtain of fire is put behind you, wait until it is over or go around
it. If there is one ahead, wait until another day--provided that you are
a spectator. Always bear in mind how unimportant you are, how small a
figure on the great field, and that if every shell fired had killed one
soldier there would not be an able-bodied man in uniform left alive on
the continent of Europe. By observing these simple rules you may see a
surprising amount with a chance of surviving.

One day I wanted to go into the old German dugouts under a formless pile
of ruins which a British colonel had made his battalion headquarters;
but I did not want to go enough to persist when I understood the
situation. Formerly, my idea of a good dugout--and I always like to be
within striking distance of one--was a cave twenty feet deep with a roof
of four or five layers of granite, rubble and timber; but now I feel
more safe if the fragments of a town hall are piled on top of this.

The Germans were putting a shell every minute with clockwork regularity
into the colonel's "happy home" and at intervals four shells in a salvo.
You had to make a run for it between the shells, and if you did not know
the exact location of the dugout you might have been hunting for it some
time. Runners bearing messages took their chances both going and coming
and two men were hit. The colonel was quite safe twenty feet underground
with the matting of debris including that of a fallen chimney overhead,
but he was a most unpopular host. The next day he moved his headquarters
and not having been considerate enough to inform the Germans of the fact
they kept on methodically pounding the roof of the untenanted premises.

After every battlefield "promenade" I was glad to step into the car
waiting at the "dead line," where the chauffeurs frequently had had
harder luck in being shelled than we had farther forward. Yet I know of
no worse place to be in than a car when you hear the first growing
scream which indicates that yours is the neighborhood selected by a
German battery or two for expending some of its ammunition. When you are
in danger you like to be on your feet and to possess every one of your
faculties. I used to put cotton in my ears when I walked through the
area of the gun positions as some protection to the eardrums from the
blasts, but always took it out once I was beyond the big calibers, as
an acute hearing after some experience gave you instant warning of any
"krump" or five-point-nine coming in your direction, advising you which
way to dodge and also saving you from unnecessarily running for a dugout
if the shell were passing well overhead or short.

I was glad, too, when the car left the field quite behind and was over
the hills in peaceful country. But one never knew. Fifteen miles from
the front line was not always safe. Once when a sudden outburst of
fifteen-inch naval shells sent the people of a town to cover and
scattered fragments over the square, one cut open the back of the
chauffeur's head just as we were getting into our car.

"Are you going out to be strafed at?" became an inquiry in the mess on
the order of "Are you going to take an afternoon off for golf to-day?"
The only time I felt that I could claim any advantage in phlegm over my
comrades was when I slept through two hours of aerial bombing with
anti-aircraft guns busy in the neighborhood, which, as I explained, was
no more remarkable than sleeping in a hotel at home with flat-wheeled
surface cars and motor horns screeching under your window. A subway
employee or a traffic policeman in New York ought never to suffer from
shell-shock if he goes to war.

The account of personal risk which in other wars might make a magazine
article or a book chapter, once you sat down to write it, melted away as
your ego was reduced to its proper place in cosmos. Individuals had
never been so obscurely atomic. With hundreds of thousands fighting,
personal experience was valuable only as it expressed that of the whole.
Each story brought back to the mess was much like others, thrilling for
the narrator and repetition for the polite listener, except it was some
officer fresh from the communication trench who brought news of what was
going on in that day's work.

Thus, the battle had become static; its incidents of a kind like the
product of some mighty mill. The public, falsely expecting that the line
would be broken, wanted symbols of victory in fronts changing on the map
and began to weary of the accounts. It was the late Charles A. Dana who
is credited with saying: "If a dog bites a man it is not news, but if a
man bites a dog it is."

Let the men attack with hatchets and in evening dress and this would win
all the headlines in the land because people at their breakfast tables
would say: "Here is something new in the war!" Men killing men was not
news, but a battalion of trained bloodhounds sent out to bite the
Germans would have been. I used to try to hunt down some of the
"novelties" which received the favor of publication, but though they
were well known abroad the man in the trenches had heard nothing about
them.

Bullets, shells, bayonets and bombs remained the tried and practical
methods there on the Ridge with its overpowering drama, any act of which
almost any day was greater than Spionkop or Magersfontein which thrilled
a world that was not then war-stale; and ever its supreme feature was
that determination which was like a kind of fate in its progress of
chipping, chipping at a stone foundation that must yield.

The Ridge seeped in one's very existence. You could see it as clearly in
imagination as in reality, with its horizon under shell-bursts and the
slope with its maze of burrows and its battered trenches. Into those
calm army reports association could read many indications: the telling
fact that the German losses in being pressed off the Ridge were as great
if not greater than the British, their sufferings worse under a heavier
deluge of shell fire, the increased skill of the offensive and the
failure of German counter-attacks after each advance.

No one doubted that the Ridge would be taken and taken it was, or all of
it that was needed for the drive that was to clean up any outstanding
points, with its sweep down into the valley. A victory this, not to be
measured by territory; for in one day's rush more ground was gained
than in two months of siege. A victory of position, of will, of
_morale_! Sharpening its steel and wits on enemy steel and wits in every
kind of fighting, the New Army had proved itself in the supreme test of
all qualities.




XVIII

A TRULY FRENCH AFFAIR

   A French lieutenant arm-in-arm with two privates--A luncheon at the
   front--French regimental officers--Three and four stripes on the
   sleeves for the number of wounds--Over the parapet twenty-three
   times--Comradeship of soldiers--Monsieur Elan again--Baby
   _soixante-quinze_--An incident truly French.


This was another French day, an ultra French day, with Monsieur Elan
playfully inciting human nature to make holiday in the sight of bursting
shells. There had been many other luncheons with generals and staffs in
their chateaux which were delightful and illuminating occasions, but
this had a distinction of its own not only in its companionship but in
its surroundings.

_Mon lieutenant_ who invited me warned me to eat a light breakfast in
order to leave room for adequate material appreciation of the
hospitality of his own battalion, in which he had fought in the ranks
earning promotion and his _croix de guerre_ in a way that was more
gratifying to him than the possession of a fortune, chateaux and
high-powered cars. I have seen him in the streets of our town "hiking"
along with the French marching step arm-in-arm with two French
privates, though he was an officer. He introduced them as from "my
battalion!" with as much pride as if they were Generals Joffre and
Castelnau.

What a setting for a "swell repast," as he jokingly called it! A table
made of boxes with boxes for seats and plates of tin, under apple trees
looking down into a valley where the transport and blue-clad regiments
were winding their way past the eddies of men of the battalion in a rest
camp, with the _soixante-quinze_ firing from the slopes beyond at
intervals and a German battery trying to reach a British sausage balloon
hanging lazily in the still air against the blue sky and never getting
it. A flurry of figures after some "krumps" had burst at another point
meant that some men had been killed and wounded.

As the colonel and the second in command were not present there was no
restraint of seniority on the festivity, though I think that seniority
knowing what was going on might have felt lonely in its isolation. We
had many courses, soup, fish, entree and roast, salad and cheese which
was cheese in a land where they eat cheese, and luscious grapes and
pears; everything that the market afforded served in sight of the front
line. Why not? France thinks that nothing is too good for her fighters.
If ever man ought to have the best it is when to-morrow he returns to
the firing-line and hard rations--when to-morrow he may die for France.

The senior captain presided. He was a man of other wars, burned by the
suns of Morocco, with a military moustache that gave effect to his
spirited manner. When my friend, the lieutenant, joined the regiment as
a private he was smooth-shaven and his colonel asked him whether he was
a priest or a bookmaker, or meant to be a soldier. Next morning he
allowed nature to have her way on his upper lip, the colonel's hint
being law in all things to those who served under him.

Every officer had his _croix de guerre_ in this colonial battalion with
its ranks open to all comers of all degrees and promotion for those who
could earn it in face of the machine guns where the New Army privates
were earning theirs. One officer with the chest of Hercules, who looked
equal to the fiercest Prussian or the tallest Pomeranian and at least
one additional small Teuton for good measure, mentioned that he had been
in Peking. I asked him if he knew some officer friends of mine who had
been there at the same time. He replied that he had been a private then,
and he liked the American Y.M.C.A.

His breast was a panoply of medals. Among them was the Legion of Honor,
while his _croix de guerre_ had all the stars, bronze, silver and gold,
and two palms, as I remember, which meant that twice some deed of his
out in the inferno had won official mention for him all the way up from
the battalion through brigade, division and corps to the supreme
command. The American Y.M.C.A. in Peking ought to be proud of his good
opinion.

The architect, tall, well built, smiling and fair-haired, with an
intellectual face, sat opposite the little dealer in precious stones who
had traveled the world around in his occupation. There was an artist,
too, who held an argument with the architect on art which _mon
capitaine_ considered meretricious and hair-splitting, his conviction
being that they were only airing a wordy pretentiousness and really knew
little more of what they were talking about than he. In politics we had
a Republican, a Socialist and a Royalist, who also were babbling without
capturing any dugouts, according to _mon capitaine_ who was simply a
soldier. It was clear that the Socialist and the Royalist were both
popular, as well as my friend, though he had been promoted to the staff.

Another present was the "Admiral," a naval officer, commanding the
monstrous guns of twelve to seventeen inches mounted on railway trucks,
who wrote sonnets between directing two-thousand-pound projectiles on
their errands of mashing German dugouts. He did not like gunnery where
he did not see his target naval fashion, but he had done so well that
he was kept at it. His latest sonnet was to an abstract girl somewhere
in France which the Socialist, who was a man of critical judgment in
everything and of a rollicking disposition, praised very highly and read
aloud with the elocution of a Coquelin.

While others had as many as three and four gold stripes on their sleeves
to indicate the number of their wounds, the Socialist had been over the
parapet twenty-three times in charges without being hit, which he took
as a sure sign that his was the right kind of politics, the Royalist and
the Republican disagreeing and _mon capitaine_ saying that politics were
a mere matter of taste and being wounded a matter of luck. Thereupon,
the Socialist undertook a brief oration rich with humor, relieving it of
too much of the seriousness of the tribune in the Chamber of Deputies,
where he will probably thunder out his periods one of these days if he
contrives to keep on going over the parapet without being hit.

A man was what he was as a man and nothing more in that distinguished
company which had gained its distinction by extinguishing Germans.
Comradeship made all differences of opinion, birth and wealth only the
excuse for banter in this variation of type from the tall architect with
his charming manner to the matter-of-fact expert in diamonds and opals,
from the big private of colonial regulars who had won his shoulder
straps to the fellow with the blue blood of aristocratic France in his
veins. The architect I particularly remember, for he was killed in the
next charge, and the dealer in precious stones, for a shell-burst in the
face would never allow his eyes to see the flash of a diamond again.

But let youth eat, drink and be merry in the shadow of the fortunes of
war which might claim some of them to-morrow, making vacancies for
promotion of privates down in the camp. Where Cheeriness was the
handmaiden of _morale_ with the British, Monsieur Elan was with the
French. Everybody talked not only with his lips but with his hands and
shoulders, in that absence of self-consciousness which gives grace to
free expression. They spoke of their homes at one juncture with a sober
and lingering desire and a catch in the throat and they touched on the
problems after the war, which they would win or fight on forever,
concluding that the men from the trenches who would have the say would
make a new and better France and sweep aside any interference with the
march of their numbers and patriotism.

We ate until capacity was reached and loitered over the black coffee,
with the private who had produced all the courses out of the dugout with
the magic of the rabbit out of a hat sharing in the conversation at
times without breaking the bonds of discipline. Finally, the cook was
brought forth, too, to receive his meed of praise as the real magician.
Then we went to pay our respects to the colonel and the second in
command. A sturdy little man the colonel, a regular from his neat
fatigue cap to the soles of his polished boots, but with a human twinkle
through his eyeglasses reflecting much wisdom in the handling of men of
all kinds, which, no doubt, was why he was in command of this battalion.

Afterward, we visited the men lounging in their quarters or forming a
smiling group, each one ready with quick responses when spoken to, men
of all kinds from Apaches of Paris to the sons of princes, perhaps,
while the Washington Post March was played for the American. Later,
across the road we saw the then new baby _soixante-quinze_ guns for
trench work, which were being wheeled about with a merry appreciation of
the fact that a battery of father _soixante-quinze_ was passing by at
the time.

Finally, came an incident truly French and delightful in its boyishness,
as _mon capitaine_ hinted that I should ask _mon colonel_ if he would
permit _mon capitaine_ to go into town and have dinner with my friend
and the admiral and myself, returning in my friend's car in time to
proceed to the firing-line with the battalion to-morrow. Accordingly I
spoke to the colonel and the twinkle of his eye as he gave consent
indicated, perhaps, that he knew who had put me up to it. _Mon
capitaine_ had his dinner and a good one, too, and was back at dawn
ready for battle.

It is not that France has changed; only that some people who ought to
have known better have changed their opinions formed about her after '70
when, in the company of other foreigners, they went to see the sights of
Paris.




XIX

ON THE AERIAL FERRY

   The "Ferry-Pilot's" office--Everybody is young in the Royal Flying
   Corps--Any kind of aeroplane to choose from--A flying machine new
   from the factory--"A good old 'bus"--Twenty planes a day from England
   to France--England seen from the clouds--An aerial
   guide-post--Stopping places--The channel from 4,000 feet aloft--Out
   of sight in the clouds midway between England and France--Tobogganing
   from the clouds--France from the air--A good flight.


Personal experience now intrudes in answer to the question whence come
all the aeroplanes that take the place of those lost or worn out, which
was made clear when I was in London for a few days' change from the
fighting on the Ridge through a request to a general at the War Office
for permission to fly back to the front.

"Why not?" he said. "When are you going?"

"Monday."

He called up another general on the telephone and in a few words the
arrangements were made.

"And my baggage?" I suggested.

"How much of it?"

"A suit case."

"The machine ought to manage that considering that it carries one
hundred and fifty pounds in bombs."

On Monday morning at the appointed hour I was walking past a soldierly
line of planes flanking an aerodrome field scattered with others that
had just alighted or were about to rise and inquiring my way to the
"Ferry-Pilot's" office. I found it, identified by a white-lettered sign
on a blackboard, down the main street of temporary buildings occupied by
the aviators as quarters.

"Yes, all right," said the young officer sitting at the desk, "but we
are making no crossings this morning. There is a storm over the
channel."

Weather forecasts, which had long ago disappeared from the English
newspapers lest they give information to Zeppelins, had become the
privilege of those who travel by air or repulsed aerial raids.

"It may clear up this afternoon," he added. "Why not go up to the mess
and make yourself comfortable, and return about three? Perhaps you may
go then."

At three I was back in his office, where five or six young aviators were
waiting for their orders as jockeys might wait their turn to take out
horses. Everybody is young in the Royal Flying Corps and everybody
thinks and talks in the terms of youth.

"You can push off at once!" said the officer at the desk.

Of course I must have a pass, which was a duplicate in mimeograph with
my name as passenger in place of "machine gunner;" or, to put it another
way, I was one joy-rider who must be officially delivered from an
aerodrome in England to an aerodrome in France. Youth laughed when I
took that view. Had I ever flown before? Oh, yes, a fact that put the
situation still more at ease.

"What kind of a 'bus would you like?" asked the master pilot. "We have
all kinds going over to-day. Take your choice."

I went out into the field to choose my steed and decided upon a big
"pusher," where both aviator and passenger sit forward with the
propeller and the roar of the motor behind them. She had been flown down
across England from the factory the day before and, tried out, was ready
for the channel passage.

"You'll take her over," said the master pilot to one of the group
waiting their turn.

Then it occurred to somebody that another official detail had been
overlooked, and I had to give my name and address and next of kin to
complete formalities which should impress novices, while youth looked on
smilingly at forty-three which was wise if not reckless. They put me in
an aviator's rig with the addition of a life-belt in case we should get
a ducking in the channel and I climbed up into my position for the long
run, a roomy place in the semi-circular bow of the beast which was
ordinarily occupied by a machine gun and gunner.

"She's a good old 'bus, very steady. You'll like her," said one of the
group of youngsters looking on.

There were no straps, these being quite unnecessary, but also there was
no seat.

"What is _a la mode_?" I asked.

"Stand up if you like!"

"Or sit on the edge and let your feet hang over!"

We were all laughing, for the aviation corps is never gloomy. It rises
and alights and fights and dies smilingly.

"I like your hospitality, but not having been trained to trapeze work
I'll play the Turk," I replied, squatting with legs crossed; and in this
position I was able to look over the railing right and left and forward.
The world was mine.

Flight being no new thing in the year 1916, I shall not indulge in any
rhetoric. The pertinence of the experience was entirely in the fact that
I was taking the aerial ferry which sent twenty planes a day to France
on an average and perhaps fifty when the weather had held up traffic the
previous day. I was to buffet the clouds instead of the waves on a
crowded steamer and have a glimpse behind the curtains of military
secrecy of the wonders of resource and organization, which are a
commonplace to the wonder-workers themselves.

It was to be a straight, business flight, a matter of routine, a flight
without any loitering on the way or covering unnecessary distance to
reach the destination. There would be risks enough for the plane when it
crossed into the enemy's area with its machine gun in position. The
gleam of two lines of steel of a railroad set our course. After we had
risen to a height of three or four thousand feet an occasional dash of
rain whipped your face, and again the soft mist of a cloud.

It was real English weather, overcast; and England plotted under your
eye, a vast garden with its hedges, fields and quiet villages, had never
been so fully realized in its rich greens. We overtook trains going in
our direction and passed trains going in the opposite direction under
their trailing spouts of steam. Only an occasional encampment of tents
suggested that the land was at war. The soft light melted the different
tones of the landscape together in a dreamy whole and always the
impression was of a land loved for its hedges, its pastures and its
island seclusion, loved as a garden. In order to hold it secure this
plane was flying and the great army in France was fighting.

After forty minutes of the exhilaration of flight which never grows
stale, the pilot thumped one of the wings which gave out the sound of a
drumhead to attract my attention and indicated an immense white arrow on
a pasture pointing toward the bank of mist that hid the channel. This
was the guide-post of the aerial ferry. He wheeled around it in order to
give me a better view, which was his only departure from routine before,
on the line of the arrow's pointing, he took his course, leaving the
railroad behind, while ahead the green carpet seemed to end in a
vaporish horizon.

Usually as they rose for the channel crossing pilots ascended to a
height of ten thousand feet, in order that they should have range in
case of engine trouble for a long glide which might permit them to reach
shore, or, if they must alight in the sea, to descend close to a vessel.
In both England and France along the established aerial pathway are
certain way stations fit to give rubber tires a soft welcome, with
gasoline in store if a fresh supply is required. It was the pride of my
pilot, who had formerly been in the navy and had come from South Africa
to "do his bit," that in twenty crossings he had never had to make a
stop. To-day the clouds kept us down to an altitude of only four
thousand feet.

Hills and valleys do not exist, all landscape being flat to the
aviator's eye, as we know; but against reason some mental kink made me
feel that this optical law should not apply to the chalk cliffs when we
came to the coast, where only the green sward which crowns them was
visible and beyond this a line of gray, the beach, which had an edge of
white lace that was moving--the surf.

Soldiers who were returning from leave in the regular way were having a
jumpy passage, as one knew by the whitecaps that looked like tiny white
flowers on a pewter cloth; only if you looked steadily at one it
disappeared and others appeared in its place. Otherwise, the channel in
a heavy sea was as still as a painted ocean with painted ships which,
however fast they were moving, were making no headway to us traveling as
smoothly in our 'bus as a motor boat on a glassy lake.

I looked at my watch as we crossed the lace edging on the English side
and again as we crossed it on the French side. The time elapsed was
seventeen and a half minutes, which is not rapid going, even for the
broader part of the channel which we chose. The fastest plane, I am
told, has made it at the narrowest point in eight and a half minutes.
Not going as high as usual, the pilot did not speed his motor, as the
lower the altitude the more uncomfortable might be the result of engine
trouble to his passenger.

Now, however, we were rising midway of the crossing into the gray bank
overhead; one second the channel floor was there and the next it was
not. Underneath us was mist and ahead and behind and above us only mist,
soft and cool against the face. We were wholly out of sight of land and
water, above the clouds, detached from earth, lost in the sky between
England and France.

This was the great moment to me. I was away from the sound of the guns;
from the headlines of newspapers announcing the latest official
bulletins; from prisoners' camps and casualty clearing stations; from
dugouts and trenches and the Ridge. Here was real peace, the peace of
the infinite--and no one could ask you when you thought the war would be
over. You were nobody, yet again you were the whole population of the
world, you and the aviator and the plane, perfectly helpless in one
sense and in another gloriously secure. Even he seemed a part of the
machine carrying you swiftly on, without any sense of speed except the
driving freshness of the air in your face. I felt that I should not mind
going on forever. Time was unlimited. There was only space and the
humming of the motor and the faintly gleaming circle of light of the
propeller and those two rigid wings with their tracery of braces.

We were not long out of sight of land and water, but long enough to make
one wish to fly over the channel again, the next time at ten thousand
feet, when it was a gleaming swath hidden at times by patches of
luminous nimbus.

The engine stopped. There was the silence of the clouds, cushioned
silence, cushioned by the mist. Next, we were on a noiseless toboggan
and when we came to the end of a glide of a thousand feet or more,
France loomed ahead with its lacework of surf and an expanse of chalk
cliffs at an angle and landscape rising out of the haze. A few minutes
more and the salt thread that kept Napoleon out of England and has kept
Germany out of England was behind us. We were over the Continent of
Europe.

I had never before understood the character of both England and France
so well. England was many little gardens correlated by roads and lanes;
France was one great garden. Majestic in their suggestion of
spaciousness were those broad stretches of hedgeless, fenceless fields,
their crop lines sharply drawn as are all lines from a plane, fields
between the plots of woodland and the villages and towns, revealing a
land where all the soil is tilled.

Soon we were over camps that I knew and long, straight highways that I
had often traveled in my comings and goings. But how empty seemed the
roads where you were always passing motor trucks and guns! Long, gray
streaks with occasional specks which, as you rose to a greater height,
were lost like scattered beads melting into a ribbon! Reserve trenches
that I had known, too, were white tracings on a flat surface in their
standard contour of traverses. There was the chateau where I had lived
for months. Yes, I could identify that, and there the town where we went
to market.

We flew around the tower of a cathedral low enough to see the people
moving in the streets, and then, in a final long glide, after an hour
and fifty minutes in the air, the rubber wheels touched earth, rose and
touched it again before the steady old 'bus slowed down not far from
another plane that had arrived only a few minutes previously. When a day
of good weather follows a day of bad and the arrivals are frequent,
planes are flopping about this aerodrome like so many penguins before
they are marshaled by the busy attendants in line along the edge of the
field or under the shelter of hangars.

We had had none of those thrilling experiences which are supposed to
happen to aerial joy-riders, but had made a perfectly safe, normal trip,
which, I repeat, was the real point of this wonderful business of the
aerial ferry. I went into the office and officially reported my arrival
at the same time that the pilot reported delivery of his plane.

"Good-night," he said. "I'm off to catch the steamer to bring over
another 'bus to-morrow."

Waiting near by was my car and soldier chauffeur, who asked, in his
quiet English way, if I had had "a good flight, sir;" and soon I was
back in the atmosphere of the army as the car sped along the road, past
camps, villages and motor trucks, until in the moonlight, as we came
over a hill, the cathedral tower of Amiens appeared above the dark mass
of the town against the dim horizon.




XX

THE EVER MIGHTY GUNS

   A thousand guns at the master's call--Schoolmaster of the guns--More
   and more guns but never too many--The gunner's skill which has life
   and death at stake--"Grandmother" first of the fifteen-inch
   howitzers--Soldier-mechanics--War still a matter of
   missiles--Improvements in gunnery--Third rail of the battlefield--The
   game of guns checkmating guns--A Niagara of death--A giant tube of
   steel painted in frog patches.


How reconcile that urbane gunner-general, a genius among experts you
were told, as the master of a thunderous magic which shot its deadly
lightnings over the German area! Let him move a red pin on the map and a
tractor was towing a nine-inch gun to a new position; a black pin and a
battery of eighteen pounders took the road. A thousand guns answered his
call with a hundred thousand shells when it pleased him. I stood in awe
of him, for chaos seemed to be doing his bidding at the end of a
pushbutton.

Whirlwind curtains of fire and creeping and leaping curtains were his
familiar servants, and he set the latest fashion by his improvements.
Had the French or the Germans something new? This he applied. Had he
something new? He passed on the method to the French and gave the
Germans the benefit of its results.

Observers seated in the baskets of observation balloons, aeroplanes
circling low in risk of anti-aircraft fire, men sitting in tree-tops and
others in front-line trenches spotting the fall of shells were the eyes
for the science he was working out on his map. Those nests and lines of
guns that seemed to be simply sending shells into the blue from their
hiding-places played fortissimo and pianissimo under his baton. He
correlated their efforts, gave them purpose and system in their roaring
traffic of projectiles.

Where Sir Douglas Haig was schoolmaster of the whole, he was
schoolmaster of the guns. After the grim days of the salient, when he
worked with relics from fortresses and anything that could be improvised
against the German artillery, came the latest word in black-throated,
fiery-tongued monsters from England where the new gunners had learned
their ABC's and he and his assistants were to teach them solid geometry
and calculus and give them a toilsome experience, which was still more
useful.

His host kept increasing as more and more guns arrived, but never too
many. There cannot be too many. Plant them as thick as trees in a forest
for a depth of six or eight miles and there would not be enough by the
criterion of the infantry, to whom the fortunes of war increasingly
related to the nature of the artillery support. He must have smiled with
the satisfaction of a farmer over a big harvest yield that filled the
granary as the stack of shells at an ammunition depot spread over the
field, and he could go among his guns with the pride of a landowner
among his flocks. He knew all the diseases that guns were heir to and
their weaknesses of temperament. A gun doctor was part of the
establishment. This specialist went among the guns and felt of their
pulses and listened to accounts of their symptoms and decided whether
they could be cared for at a field hospital or would have to go back to
the base.

Temperament? An old eight-inch howitzer which has helped in a dozen
curtains of fire and blown in numerous dugouts may be a virtuoso for
temperament. Many things enter into mastery of the magic of the
thunders, from clear eyesight of observers who see accurately to
precision of gunner's skill, of powder, of fuse, of a hundred trifles
which can never be too meticulously watched. The erring inspector of
munitions far away oversea by an oversight may cost the lives of many
soldiers or change the fate of a charge.

Comparable only with the surgeon's skill in the skill which has life and
death as the stake of its result is the gunner's. The surgeon is trying
to save one life which a slip of the knife may destroy; the gunner is
trying both to save and to take life. In the gunner's skill life that is
young and sturdy, muscles that are hardened by exercise and drill,
manhood in its pink, must place its trust. A little carelessness or the
slightest error and monsters with their long, fiery reach may strike you
in the back instead of the enemy in front, and instead of dead and
wounded and capitulation among smashed dugouts and machine gun positions
you may be received by showers of bombs. No wonder that gunners work
hard! No wonder that discipline is tightened by the screw of fearful
responsibility!

At the front we had a sort of reverence for Grandmother, the first of
the fifteen-inch howitzers to arrive as the belated answer of "prepared
England" who "forced the war" on "unprepared Germany" to the famous
forty-two centimeters that pounded Liege and Maubeuge. Gently
Grandmother with her ugly mouth and short neck and mammoth supporting
ribs of steel was moved and nursed; for she, too, was temperamental.
Afterward, Grandfather came and Uncle and Cousin and Aunt and many grown
sons and daughters, until the British could have turned the city of
Lille into ruins had they chosen; but they kept their destruction for
the villages on the Somme, which represent a property loss remarkably
small, as the average village could be rebuilt for not over two hundred
thousand dollars.

Other children of smaller caliber also arrived in surprising numbers.
Make no mistake about that nine-inch howitzer, which appears to be only
a monstrous tube of steel firing a monstrous shell, not being a
delicately adjusted piece of mechanism. The gunner, his clothes
oil-soaked, who has her breech apart pays no attention to the field of
guns around him or the burst of a shell a hundred yards away, no more
than the man with a motor breakdown pays to passing traffic. Is he a
soldier? Yes, by his uniform, but primarily a mechanic, this man from
Birmingham, who is polishing that heavy piece of steel which, when it
locks in the breech, holds the shell fast in place and allows all the
force of the explosion to pass through the muzzle, while the recoil
cylinder takes up the shock as nicely as on a battleship, with no
tremble of the base set in the debris of a village. He shakes his head,
this preoccupied mechanician. It may be necessary to call in the gun
doctor. His "how" has been in service a long time, but is not yet
showing the signs of general debility of the eight-inch battery near by.
They have fired three times their allowance and are still good for
sundry purposes in the gunner-general's play of red and black pins on
his map. The life of guns has surpassed all expectations; but the
smaller calibers forward and the _soixante-quinze_ must not suffer from
general debility when they lay on a curtain of fire to cover a charge.

War is still a matter of projectiles, of missiles thrown by powder,
whether cannon or rifle, as it was in Napoleon's time, the change being
in range, precision and destructive power. The only new departure is the
aeroplane, for the gas attack is another form of the Chinese stink-pot
and our old mystery friend Greek fire may claim antecedence to the
_Flammenwerfer_. The tank with its machine guns applied the principle of
projectiles from guns behind armor. Steel helmets would hardly be
considered an innovation by mediaeval knights. Bombs and hand grenades
and mortars are also old forms of warfare, and close-quarter fighting
with the bayonet, as was evident to all practical observers before the
war, will endure as long as the only way to occupy a position is by the
presence of men on the spot and as long as the defenders fight to hold
it in an arena free of interference by guns which must hold their fire
in fear of injury to your own soldiers as well as to the enemy.

With all the inventive genius of Europe applied in this war, the heat
ray or any other revolutionary means of killing which would make guns
and rifles powerless has not been developed. It is still a question of
throwing or shooting projectiles accurately at your opponent, only where
once it was javelin, or spear, or arrow, now it is a matter of shells
for anywhere from one mile to twenty miles; and the more hits that you
could make with javelins or arrows and can make with shells the more
likely it is that victory will incline to your side. Where flights of
arrows hid the sun, barrages now blanket the earth.

The improvement in shell fire is revolutionary enough of itself.
Steadily the power of the guns has increased. What they may accomplish
is well illustrated by the account of a German battalion on the Somme.
When it was ten miles from the front a fifteen-inch shell struck in its
billets just before it was ordered forward. On the way luck was against
it at every stage of progress and it suffered in turn from nine-inch,
eight-inch and six-inch shells, not to mention bombs from an aviator
flying low, and afterward from eighteen pounders. When it reached the
trenches a preliminary bombardment was the stroke of fate that led to
the prompt capitulation of some two hundred survivors to a British
charge. The remainder of the thousand men was practically all casualties
from shell-bursts, which, granting some exaggeration in a prisoner's
tale, illustrates what killing the guns may wreak if the target is under
their projectiles.

The gunnery of 1915 seems almost amateurish to that of 1916, a fact
hardly revealed to the public by its reading of bulletins and of such a
quantity of miscellaneous information that the significance of it
becomes obscure. At the start of the war the Germans had the advantage
of many mobile howitzers and immense stores of high explosive shells,
while the French were dependent on their _soixante-quinze_ and shrapnel;
and at this disadvantage the brilliancy of their work with this
wonderful field gun on the Marne and in Lorraine was the most important
contributory factor in saving France next to the vital one of French
courage and organization. The Allies had to follow the German suit with
howitzers and high explosive shells and the cry for more and more guns
and more and more munitions for the business of blasting your enemy and
his positions to bits became universal.

The first barrage, or curtain of fire, ever used to my knowledge was a
feeble German effort in the Ypres salient in the autumn of 1914, though
the French drum fire distributed over a certain area had, in a sense, a
like effect. To make certain of clearness about fundamentals familiar to
those at the front but to the general public only a symbol for something
not understood, a curtain of fire is a swath of fragments and bullets
from bursting projectiles which may stop a charge or prevent reserves
from coming to the support of the front line. It is a barrier of death,
the third rail of the battlefield. From the sky shrapnel descend with
their showers of bullets, while the high explosives heave up the earth
under foot. Shrapnel largely went out of fashion in the period when high
explosives smashed in trenches and dugouts; but the answer was deeper
dugouts too stoutly roofed to permit of penetration and shrapnel
returned to play a leading part again, as we shall see in the
description of a charge under an up-to-date curtain of fire in another
chapter.

Counter-battery work is another one of the gunner-general's cares, which
requires, as it were, the assistance of the detective branch. Before you
can fight you must find the enemy's guns in their hiding-places or take
a chance on the probable location of his batteries, which will
ordinarily seek every copse, every sunken road and every reverse slope.
The interesting captured essay on British fighting methods, by General
von Arnim, the general in command of the Germans opposite the British on
the Somme, with its minutiae of directions indicative of how seriously he
regarded the New Army, mentioned the superior means of reporting
observations to the guns used by British aeroplanes and warned German
gunners against taking what had formerly been obvious cover, because
British artillery never failed to concentrate on those spots with
disastrous results.

Where aeroplanes easily detect lines, be they roads or a column of
infantry, as I have said, a battery in the open with guns and gunners
the tint of the landscape is not readily distinguishable at the high
altitude to which anti-aircraft gunfire restricts aviators. When a
concentration begins on a battery, either the gunners must go to their
dugouts or run beyond the range of the shells until the "strafe" is
over. If A could locate all of B's guns and had two thousand guns of his
own to keep B's two thousand silenced by counter-battery work and two
thousand additional to turn on B's infantry positions, it would be only
a matter of continued charges under cover of curtains of fire until the
survivors, under the gusts of shells with no support from their own
guns, would yield against such ghastly, hopeless odds.

Such is the power of the guns--and such the game of guns checkmating
guns--in their effort to stop the enemy's curtains of fire while
maintaining their own that the genius who finds a divining rod which,
from a sausage balloon, will point out the position of every enemy
battery has fame awaiting him second only to that of the inventor of a
system of distilling a death-dealing heat ray from the sun.

And the captured gun! It is a prize no less dear to the infantry's
heart to-day than it was a hundred years ago. Our battalion took a
battery! There is a thrill for every officer and man and all the friends
at home. Muzzle cracked by a direct hit, recoil cylinder broken, wheels
in kindling wood, shield fractured--there you have a trophy which is
proof of accuracy to all gunners and an everlasting memorial in the town
square to the heroism of the men of that locality.

In the gunners' branch of the corps or division staff (which may be next
door to the telephone exchange where "Hello!" soldiers are busy all day
keeping guns, infantry, transport, staff and units, large and small, in
touch) the visitor will linger as he listens to the talk of shop by
these experts in mechanical destruction. Generic discussions about which
caliber of gun is most efficient for this and that purpose have the
floor when the result of a recent action does not furnish a fresher
topic. There are faddists and old fogies of course, as in every other
band of experts. The reports of the infantry out of its experience under
shell-bursts, which should be the gospel, may vary; for the infantry
think well of the guns when the charge goes home with casualties light
and ill when the going is bad.

Every day charts go up to the commanders showing the expenditure of
ammunition and the stock of different calibers on hand; for the army is
a most fastidious bookkeeper. Always there must be immense reserves for
an emergency, and on the Somme a day's allowance when the battle was
only "growling" was a month's a year previous. Let the general say the
word and fifty thousand more shells will be fired on Thursday than on
Wednesday. He throws off and on the switch of a Niagara of death. The
infantry is the Oliver Twist of incessant demand. It would like a score
of batteries turned on one machine gun, all the batteries in the army
against a battalion front, and a sheet of shells in the air night and
day, as you yourself would wish if you were up in the firing-line.

Guardians of the precious lives of their own men and destroyers of the
enemy's, the guns keep vigil. Every night the flashes on the horizon are
a reminder to those in the distance that the battle never ends. Their
voices are like none other except guns; the flash from their muzzles is
as suggestive as the spark from a dynamo, which says that death is there
for reaching out your hand. Something docile is in their might, like the
answering of the elephant's bulk to the mahout's command, in their
noiseless elevation and depression, and the bigger they are the smoother
appears their recoil as they settle back into place ready for another
shot. The valleys where the guns hide play tricks with acoustics. I
have sat on a hill with a dozen batteries firing under the brow and
their crashes were hardly audible.

"Only an artillery preparation, sir!" said an artilleryman as we started
up a slope stiff with guns, as the English say, all firing. You waited
your chance to run by after a battery had fired and were on the way
toward the next one before the one behind sent another round hurtling
overhead.

The deep-throated roar of the big calibers is not so hard on the ears as
the crack of the smaller calibers. Returning, you go in face of the
blasts and then, though it rarely happens, you have in mind, if you have
ever been in front of one, the awkward possibility of a premature burst
of a shell in your face. Signs tell you where those black mouths which
you might not see are hidden, lest you walk straight into one as it
belches flame. When you have seen guns firing by thousands as far as the
eye can reach from a hill; when you have seen every caliber at work and
your head aches from the noise, the thing becomes overpowering and
monotonous. Yet you return again, drawn by the uncanny fascination of
artillery power.

Riding home one day after hours with the guns in an attack, I saw for
the first time one of the monster railroad guns firing as I passed by on
the road. Would I get out to watch it? I hesitated. Yes, of course. But
it was only another gun, a giant tube of steel painted in frog patches
to hide it from aerial observation; only another gun, though it sent a
two-thousand-pound projectile to a target ten miles away, which a man
from a sausage balloon said was "on."




XXI

BY THE WAY

   The River Somme--Amiens cathedral--Sunday afternoon
   promenaders--Women, old men and boys--A prosperous old town--Madame
   of the little Restaurant des Huitres--The old waiter at the
   hotel--The stork and the sea-gull--Distinguished visitors--Horses and
   dogs--Water carts--Gossips of battle--The donkeys.


What contrasts! There was none so pleasant as that when you took the
river road homeward after an action. Leaving behind the Ridge and the
scarred slope and the crowding motor trucks in their cloud of dust, you
were in a green world soothing to eyes which were painful from watching
shell-blasts. Along the banks of the Somme on a hot day you might see
white figures of muscle-armored youth washed clean of the grime of the
firing-line in the exhilaration of minutes, seconds, glowingly lived
without regard to the morrow, shaking drops of water free from white
skins, under the shade of trees untouched by shell fire, after a plunge
in cool waters. Then from a hill where a panorama was flung free to the
eye, the Somme at your feet held islands of peace in its shining net as
it broke away from confining green walls and wound across the plain
toward Amiens.

The Somme is kindly by nature with a desire to embrace all the country
around, and Amiens has trained its natural bent to man's service.

It gave softer springs than those of any ambulance for big motor scows
that brought the badly wounded down from the front past the rich market
gardens that sent their produce in other boats to market. Under bridges
its current was divided and subdivided until no one could tell which was
Somme and which canal, busy itself as the peasants and the shopkeepers
doing a good turn to humankind, grinding wheat in one place and in
another farther on turning a loom to weave the rich velvets for which
Amiens is famous, and between its stages of usefulness supplying a
Venetian effect where balconies leaned across one of its subdivisions,
an area of old houses on crooked, short streets at their back huddled
with a kind of ancient reverence near the great cathedral.

At first you might be discriminative about the exterior of Amiens
cathedral, having in mind only the interior as being worth while. I went
inside frequently and the call to go was strongest after seeing an
action. Standing on that stone floor where princes and warriors had
stood through eight hundred years of the history of France, I have seen
looking up at the incomparable nave with its majestic symmetry, French
_poilus_ in their faded blue, helmets in hand and perhaps the white of
a bandage showing, spruce generals who had a few hours away from their
commands, dust-laden dispatch riders, boyish officers with the bit of
blue ribbon that they had won for bravery on their breasts and knots of
privates in worn khaki. The man who had been a laborer before he put on
uniform was possessed by the same awe as the one who had been favored by
birth and education. A black-robed priest passing with his soft tread
could not have differed much to the eye from one who was there when the
Black Prince was fighting in France or the soldiers of Joan or of Conde
came to look at the nave.

The cathedral and the Somme helped to make you whole with the world and
with time. After weeks you ceased to be discriminative about the
exterior. The cathedral was simply the cathedral. Returning from the
field, I knew where on every road I should have the first glimpse of its
serene, assertive mass above the sea of roofs--always there, always the
same, immortal; while the Ridge rocked with the Allied gun-blasts that
formed the police line of fire for its protection.

I liked to walk up the canal tow-path where the townspeople went on
Sunday afternoons for their promenade, the blue of French soldiers on
leave mingling with civilian black--soldiers with wives or mothers on
their arms, safe for the time being. One scene reappears to memory as I
write: A young fellow back from the trenches bearing his sturdy boy of
two on his shoulder and the black-eyed young mother walking beside him,
both having eyes for nothing in the world except the boy.

The old fishermen would tell you as they waited for a bite that the
German was _fichu_, their faith in the credit of France unimpaired as
they lived on the income of the savings of their industry before they
retired. You asked gardeners about business, which you knew was good
with that ever-hungry and spendthrift British Army "bulling" the market.
One day while taking a walk, Beach Thomas and I saw a diver preparing to
go down to examine the abutment of a bridge and we sat down to look on
with a lively interest, when we might have seen hundreds of guns firing.
It was a change. Nights, after dispatches were written, Gibbs and I,
anything but gory-minded, would walk in the silence, having the tow-path
to ourselves, and after a mutual agreement to talk of anything but the
war would revert to the same old subject.

On other days when only "nibbling" was proceeding on the Ridge you might
strike across country over the stubble, flushing partridges from the
clover. And the women, the old men and the boys got in all the crops.
How I do not know, except by rising early and keeping at it until dark,
which is the way that most things worth while are accomplished in this
world. Those boys from ten to sixteen who were driving the plow for next
year's sowing had become men in their steadiness.

Amiens was happy in the memory of the frustration of what might have
happened when her citizens looked at the posters, already valuable
relics, that had been put up by von Kluck's army as it passed through on
the way to its about-face on the Marne. The old town, out of the battle
area, out of the reach of shells, had prospered exceedingly.
Shopkeepers, particularly those who sold oysters, fresh fish, fruits,
cheese, all delicacies whatsoever to victims of iron rations in the
trenches, could retire on their profits unless they died from exhaustion
in accumulating more. They took your money so politely that parting with
it was a pleasure, no matter what the prices, though they were always
lower for fresh eggs than in New York.

We came to know all with the intimacy that war develops, but for sheer
character and energy the blue ribbon goes to Madame of the little
Restaurant des Huitres. She needed no gallant husband to make her a
marshal's wife, as in the case of Sans-Gene, for she was a marshal
herself. She should have the _croix de guerre_ with all the stars and a
palm, too, for knowing how to cook. A small stove which was as busy
with its sizzling pans as a bombing party stood at the foot of a cramped
stairway, whose ascent revealed a few tables, with none for two and
everybody sitting elbow to elbow, as it were, in the small dining-room.
There were dishes enough and clean, too, and spotless serviettes, but no
display of porcelain and silver was necessary, for the food was a
sufficient attraction. Madame was all for action. If you did not order
quickly she did so for you, taking it for granted that a wavering mind
indicated a palate that called for arbitrary treatment.

She had a machine gun tongue on occasion. If you did not like her
restaurant it was clear that other customers were waiting for your
place, and generals capitulated as promptly as lieutenants. A
camaraderie developed at table under the spur of her dynamic presence
and her occasional artillery concentrations, which were brief and
decisive, for she had no time to waste. Broiled lobster and sole,
oysters, filets and chops, sizzling fried potatoes, crisp salads,
mountains of forest strawberries with pots of thick cream and delectable
coffee descended from her hands, with no mistake in any orders or delay
in the prompt succession of courses, on the cloth before you by some
legerdemain of manipulation in the narrow quarters to the accompaniment
of her repartee. It was past understanding how she accomplished such
results in quantity and quality on that single stove with the help of
one assistant whom, apparently, she found in the way at times; for the
assistant would draw back in the manner of one who had put her finger
into an electric fan as her mistress began a manipulation of pots and
pans.

If Madame des Huitres should come to New York, I wonder--yes, she would
be overwhelmed by people who had anything like a trench appetite. Soon
she would be capitalized, with branches des Huitres up and down the
land, while she would no longer touch a skillet, but would ride in a
limousine and grow fat, and I should not like her any more.

People who could not get into des Huitres or were not in the secret
which, I fear, was selfishly kept by those who were, had to dine at the
hotel, where a certain old waiter--all young ones being at the
front--though called mad could be made the object of method if he had
not method in madness. When he seemed about to collapse with fatigue,
tell him that there had been a big haul of German prisoners on the Ridge
and the blaze of delight in his dark eyes would galvanize him. If he
should falter again, a shout of, "_Vive l'Entente cordiale! En avant!_"
would send him off with coat-tails at right angles to his body as he
sprang into the midst of the riot of waiters outside the kitchen door,
from which he would emerge triumphantly bearing the course that was
next in order. Nor would he allow you to skip one. You must take them
all or, as the penalty of breaking up the system, you went hungry.

Outside in the court where you went for coffee and might sometimes get
it if you gave the head waiter good news from the front, a stork and a
sea-gull with clipped wings posed at the fountain. What tales of battle
were told in sight of this incongruous pair whose antics relieved the
strain of war! When the stork took a step or two the gull plodded along
after him and when the gull moved the stork also moved, the two never
being more than three or four feet apart. Yet each maintained an
attitude of detachment as if loath to admit the slightest affection for
each other. Foolish birds, as many said and laughed at them; and again,
heroes out of the hell on the Ridge and wholly unconscious of their
heroism said that the two had the wisdom of the ages, particularly the
stork, though expert artillery opinion was that the practical gull
thought that only his own watchfulness kept the wisdom of the ages from
being drowned in the fountain in an absent-minded moment, though the
water was not up to a stork's ankle-joint. More nonsense, when the call
was for reaction from the mighty drama, was woven around these
entertainers by men who could not go to plays than would be credible to
people reading official bulletins; woven by dining parties of officers
who when dusk fell went indoors and gathered around the piano before
going into a charge on the morrow.

At intervals men in civilian clothes, soft hats, gaiters over everyday
trousers, golf suits, hunting suits, appeared at the hotel or were seen
stalking about captured German trenches, their garb as odd in that
ordered world of khaki as powdered wig, knee-breeches and silver buckles
strolling up Piccadilly or Fifth Avenue. Prime ministers, Cabinet
members, great financiers, potentates, journalists, poets, artists of
many nationalities came to do the town. They saw the Ridge under its
blanket of shell-smoke, the mighty columns of transport, all the
complex, enormous organization of that secret world, peeked into German
dugouts, and in common with all observers estimated the distance of the
nearest shell-burst from their own persons.

Many were amazed to find that generals worked in chateaux over maps,
directing by telephone, instead of standing on hilltops to give their
commands, and that war was a systematic business, which made those who
had been at the front writing and writing to prove that it was wonder if
nobody read what they wrote. An American who said that he did not see
why all the trucks and horses and wagons and men did not lose their way
was suggestive of the first vivid impressions which the "new eye"
brought to the scene. Another praised my first book for the way it had
made life at the front clear and then proceeded to state his surprise at
finding that trenches did not run straight, but in traverses, and that
soldiers lived in houses instead of tents and gunners did not see their
targets. Now he had seen this mighty army at work for himself. It is the
only way. I give up hope of making others see it.

So grim the processes of fighting, so lacking in picturesqueness, that
one welcomed any of the old symbols of war. I regretted yet rejoiced
that the horse was still a factor. It was good to think that the
gasoline engine had saved the sore backs of the pack animals of other
days, removed the horror of dead horses beside the road and horses
driven to exhaustion by the urgency of fierce necessity, and that a
shell in the transport meant a radiator smashed instead of flesh torn
and scattered. Yet the horse was still serving man at the front and the
dog still flattering him. I have seen dogs lying dead on the field where
the mascot of a battalion had run along with the men in a charge; dogs
were found in German dugouts, and one dog adopted by a corps staff had
refused to leave the side of his fallen master, a German officer, until
the body was removed.

The horse brought four-footed life into the dead world of the slope,
patiently drawing his load, mindless of gun-blasts and the shriek of
shell-fragments once he was habituated to them. As he can pass over
rough ground, he goes into areas where no motor vehicle except the tanks
may go. He need not wait on the road-builders before he takes the
eighteen pounders to their new positions or follows them with
ammunition. Far out on the field I have seen groups of artillery horses
waiting in a dip in the ground while their guns were within five hundred
yards of the firing-line, and winding across dead fields toward an
isolated battery the caisson horses trotting along with shells bursting
around them.

Upon August days when the breeze that passed overhead was only
tantalization to men in communication trenches carrying up ammunition
and bombs, when dugouts were ovens, when the sun made the steel helmet a
hot skillet-lid over throbbing temples, the horse-drawn water carts
wound up the slope to assuage burning thirst and back again, between the
gates of hell and the piping station, making no more fuss than a country
postman on his rounds.

Practically all the water that the fighters had, aside from what was in
their canteens, must be brought up in this way, for the village wells
were filled with the remains of shell-crushed houses. Gossips of battle
the water men, they and the stretcher-bearers both non-combatants going
and coming under the shells up to the battle line, but particularly so
the water men, who passed the time of day with every branch, each
working in its own compartment. When the weather was bad the water man's
business became slack and the lot of the stretcher-bearer grew worse in
the mud. What stories the stretcher-bearers brought in of wounded blown
off litters by shells, of the necessity of choosing the man most likely
to survive when only one of two could be carried, of whispered messages
from the dying, and themselves keeping to their work with cheery British
phlegm; and the water men told of new gun positions, of where the shells
were thickest, of how the fight was going.

It irritated the water men, prosaic in their disregard of danger, to
have a tank hit on the way out. If it were hit on the way back when it
was empty this was of less account, for new tanks were waiting in
reserve. Tragedy for them was when a horse was killed and often they
returned with horses wounded. It did not occur to the man that he might
be hit; it was the loss of a horse or a tank that worried him. One had
his cart knocked over by a salvo of shells and set upright by the next,
whereupon, according to the account, he said to his mare: "Come on,
Mary, I always told you the Boches were bad shots!" But there are too
many stories of the water men to repeat without sifting.

We must not forget the little donkeys which the French brought from
Africa to take the place of men in carrying supplies up to the trenches.
Single file they trotted along on their errand and they had their own
hospitals for wounded. It is said that when curtains of fire began ahead
they would throw forward their long ears inquiringly and hug close to
the side of the trench for cover and even edge into a dugout with the
men, who made room for as much donkey as possible, or when in the open
they would seek the shelter of shell-craters. Lest their perspicacity be
underrated, French soldiers even credited the wise elders among them
with the ability to distinguish between different calibers of shells.




XXII

THE MASTERY OF THE AIR

   "Nose dives" and "crashers"--The most intense duels in
   history--Aviators the pride of nations--Beauchamp--The D'Artagnan of
   the air--Mastery of the air--The aristocrat of war, the golden youth
   of adventure--Nearer immortality than any other living man can
   be--The British are reckless aviators--Aerial influence on the
   soldier's psychology--Varieties of aeroplanes--Immense numbers of
   aeroplanes in the battles in the air.


Wing tip touching wing tip two phantoms passed in the mist fifteen
thousand feet above the earth and British plane and German plane which
had grazed each other were lost in the bank of cloud. The dark mass
which an aviator sees approaching when he is over the battlefield proves
to be a fifteen-inch shell at the top of its parabola which passes ten
feet over his head. A German aviator thinking he is near home circles
downward on an overcast day toward a British aerodrome to find out his
mistake too late, and steps out of his machine to be asked by his
captors if he won't come in and have tea. Thus, true accounts that come
to the aviators' mess make it unnecessary to carry your imagination with
you at the front.

They talk of "nose dives" and "crashers," which mean the way an enemy's
plane was brought down, and although they have no pose or theatricalism
the consciousness of belonging to the wonder corps of modern war is not
lacking. One returns from a flight and finds that a three-inch
anti-aircraft gun-shell has gone through the body of his plane.

"So that was it! Hardly felt it!" he said.

If the shell had exploded? Oh, well, that is a habit of shells; and in
that case the pilot would be in the German lines unrecognizable among
the debris of his machine after a "crasher."

Where in the old West gunmen used to put a notch on their revolver
handle for every man killed, now in each aviator's record is the number
of enemy planes which he has brought down. When a Frenchman has ten his
name goes into the official bulletin. Everything contributes to urge on
the fighting aviator to more and more victims till one day he, too, is a
victim. Never were duels so detached or so intense. No clashing of
steel, no flecks of blood, only two men with wings. While the soldier
feels his weapon go home and the bomber sees his bomb in flight, the
aviator watches for his opponent to drop forward in his seat as the
first sign that he has lost control of his plane and of victory, and he
does not hear the passing of the bullets that answer those from his own
machine gun. One hero comes to take the place of another who has been
lost. A smiling English youth was embarrassed when asked how he brought
down the great Immelmann, most famous of German aviators.

Nelson's "Death or Westminster Abbey" has become paraphrased to "Death
or the _communique_." At twenty-one, while a general of division is
unknown except in the army an aviator's name may be the boast of a
nation. In him is expressed the national imagination, the sense of
hero-worship which people love to personify. The British aviation corps
stuck to anonymity until the giving of a Victoria Cross one day revealed
that Lieutenant Ball had brought down his twenty-sixth German plane.

Soon after the taking of Fort Douaumont when I was at Verdun, Beauchamp,
blond, blue-eyed and gentle of manner, who had thrilled all France by
bombing Essen, said, "Now they will expect me to go farther and do
something greater;" and I was not surprised to learn a month later that
he had been killed. Something in the way he spoke convinced me that he
foresaw death and accepted it as a matter of course; and he realized,
too, the penalty of being a hero. He had flown over Essen and dropped
his bombs and seen them burst, which was all of his story.

The public thrill over such exploits is the greater because of their
simplicity. An aviator has no experiences on the road; he cannot stop to
talk to anyone. There is flight; there is a lever that releases a bomb;
there is a machine gun. He may not indulge in psychology, which would be
wool-gathering, when every faculty is objectively occupied. He is
strangely helpless, a human being borne through space by a machine, and
when he returns to the mess he really has little to tell except as it
relates to mechanism and technique.

The Royal Flying Corps, which is the official name, never wants for
volunteers. Ever the number of pilots is in excess of the number of
machines. Young men with embroidered wings on their breasts, which prove
that they have qualified, waited on factories to turn out wings for
flying. Flight itself is simple, but the initiative equal to great deeds
is another thing. Here you revert to an innate gift of the individual
who, finding in danger the zest of a glorious, curiosity, the
intoxication of action, clear eye, steady hand answering lightning
quickness of thought, becomes the D'Artagnan of the air. There is no
telling what boyish neophyte will show a steady hand in daring the
supreme hazards with light heart, or what man whom his friends thought
was born for aviation may lack the touch of genius.

Far up in the air there is an imaginary boundary line which lies over
the battle line; and there is another which may be on your side or on
the other side of the battle line. It is the location of the second line
that tells who has the mastery of the air. A word of bare and impressive
meaning this of mastery in war, which represents force without
qualification; that the other man is down and you are up, the other
fends and you thrust. More glorious than the swift rush of destroyer to
a battleship that of the British planes whose bombs brought down six
German sausage balloons in flames before the Grand Offensive began.

I need never have visited an aerodrome on the Somme to know whether
Briton and Frenchman or German was master of the air. The answer was
there whenever you looked in the heavens in the absence of iron crosses
on the hovering or scudding or turning plane wings and the multiplicity
of bull's-eyes; in the abandoned way that both British and French
pickets flew over the enemy area, as if space were theirs and they dared
any interference. If you saw a German plane appear you could count three
or four Allied planes appearing from different directions to surround
it. The German had to go or be caught in a cross fire, and manoeuvered
to his death.

Mastery of the air is another essential of superiority for an
offensive; one of the vital features in the organized whole of an
attack. As you press men and guns forward enemy planes must not locate
your movements. Your planes with fighting planes as interference must
force a passage for your observers to spot the fall of shells on new
targets, to assist in reporting the progress of charges and to play
their proper auxiliary part in the complex system of army intelligence.

Before the offensive new aerodromes began to appear along the front at
the same time that new roads were building. An army that had lacked both
planes and guns at the start now had both. Every aviator knew that he
was expected to gain and hold the mastery; his part was set no less than
that of the infantry. Where should "the spirit that quickeneth" dwell if
not with the aviators? No weary legs hamper him; he does not have to
crawl over the dead or hide in shell-craters or stand up to his knees in
mire. He is the pampered aristocrat of war, the golden youth of
adventure.

He leaves a comfortable bed, with bath, a good breakfast, the
comradeship of a pleasant mess, the care of servants, to mount his
steed. When he returns he has only to step out of his seat. Mechanics
look after his plane and refreshment and shade in summer and warmth in
winter await alike the spoiled child of the favored, adventurous corps
who has not the gift and never quite dares the great hazards as well as
the one who dares them to his certain end. All depends on the man.

Rising ten or fifteen thousand feet, slipping in and out of clouds, the
aviator breathes pure ozone on a dustless roadway, the world a carpet
under him; and though death is at his elbow it is no grimy companion
like death in the trenches. He is up or he is down, and when he is up
the thrill that holds his faculties permits of no apprehensions. There
is no halfway business of ghastly wounds which foredoom survival as a
cripple. Alive, he is nearer immortality than any other living man can
be; dead, his spirit leaves him while he is in the heavens. Death comes
splendidly, quickly, and until the last moment he is trying to keep
control of his machine. It is not for him to envy the days of cavalry
charges. He does not depend upon the companionship of other men to carry
him on, but is the autocrat of his own fate, the ruler of his own
dreams. All hours of daylight are the same to him. At any time he may be
called to flight and perhaps to die. The glories of sunset and sunrise
are his between the sun and the earth.

You expect the British to be cool aviators, but with their phlegm, as we
have seen, goes that singular love of risk, of adventure, which sends
them to shoot tigers and climb mountains. Indeed, the Englishman's
phlegm is a sort of leash holding in check a certain recklessness which
his seeming casualness conceals. After it had become almost a law that
no aviator should descend lower than twelve thousand feet, British
aviators on the Somme descended to three hundred, emptied their machine
guns into the enemy, and escaped the patter of rifle fire which the
surprised German soldiers had hardly begun before the plane at two miles
a minute or more was out of range.

When Lord Kitchener was inspecting an aerodrome in France in 1914 he
said: "One day you will be flying and evoluting in squadrons like the
navy;" and the aviators, then feeling their way step by step, smiled
doubtfully, convinced that "K" had an imagination. A few months later
the prophecy had come true and the types of planes had increased until
they were as numerous as the types of guns.

The swift falcon waiting fifteen thousand feet up for his prey to add
another to his list in the _communique_ is as distinct from the one in
which I crossed the channel as the destroyer is from the cruiser and
from some still bigger types as is the cruiser from a battleship. While
the enemy was being fought down, bombs were dropped not by pounds but by
tons on villages and billets, on ammunition dumps and rail-heads, adding
their destruction to that of the shells.

There was more value in mastery than in destruction or in freedom of
observation, for it affected the enemy's _morale_. A soldier likes to
see his own planes in the air and the enemy's being driven away. The
aerial influence on his psychology is enormous, for he can watch the
planes as he lies in a shell-crater with his machine gun or stands guard
in the trench; he has glimpses of passing wings overhead between the
bursts of shells. To know that his guns are not replying adequately and
that every time one of his planes appears it is driven to cover takes
the edge off initiative, courage and discipline, in the resentment that
he is handicapped.

German prisoners used to say on the Somme that their aviators were
"funks," though the Allied aviators knew that it was not their
opponents' lack of courage which was the principal fault, even if they
had lost _morale_ from being the under dog and lacked British and French
initiative, but numbers and material. It was resource against resource
again; a fight in the delicate business of the manufacture of the
fragile framework, of the wonderful engines with their short lives, and
of the skilled battalions of workers in factories. The Germans had to
bring more planes from another front in order to restore the balance.
The Allies foreseeing this brought still more themselves, till the
numbers were so immense that when a battle between a score of planes on
either side took place no one dared venture the opinion that the limit
had been reached--not while there was so much room in the air and
volunteers for the aviation corps were so plentiful.




XXIII

A PATENT CURTAIN OF FIRE

   Thiepval again--Director of tactics of an army corps--Graduates of
   Staff Colleges--Army jargon--An army director's office--"Hope you
   will see a good show"--"This road is shelled; closed to vehicles"--A
   perfect summer afternoon--The view across No Man's Land--Nests of
   burrowers more cunning than any rodents--men--Tranquil preliminaries
   to an attack--The patent curtain of fire--Registering by practice
   shots--Running as men will run only from death--The tall officer who
   collapsed--"The shower of death."


"We had a good show day before yesterday," said Brigadier-General Philip
Howell, when I went to call on him one day. "Sorry you were not here.
You could have seen it excellently."

The corps of which he was general staff officer had taken a section of
first-line trench at Thiepval with more prisoners than casualties, which
is the kind of news they like to hear at General Headquarters. Thiepval
was always in the background of the army's mind, the symbol of rankling
memory which irritated British stubbornness and consoled the enemy for
his defeat of July 15th and his gradual loss of the Ridge. The Germans,
on the defensive, considered that the failure to take Thiepval at the
beginning of the Somme battle proved its impregnability; the British,
on the offensive, considered no place impregnable.

Faintly visible from the hills around Albert, distinctly from the
observation post in a high tree, the remains of the village looked like
a patch of coal dust smeared in a fold of the high ground. When British
fifteen-inch shells made it their target some of the dust rose in a
great geyser and fell back into place; but there were cellars in
Thiepval which even fifteen-inch shells could not penetrate.

"However, we'll make the Germans there form the habit of staying
indoors," said a gunner.

Howell who had the Thiepval task in hand I had first known at Uskub in
Macedonia in the days of the Macedonian revolution, when Hilmi Pasha was
juggling with the Powers of Europe and autonomy--days which seem far
away. A lieutenant then, Howell had an assignment from _The Times_,
while home on leave from India, in order to make a study of the Balkan
situation. In our walks around Uskub as we discussed the politics and
the armies of the world I found that all was grist that came to his keen
mind. His ideas about soldiering were explicit and practical. It was
such hard-working, observant officers as he, most of them students at
one time or another at the Staff College, who, when the crisis came, as
the result of their application in peace time, became the organizers and
commanders of the New Army. The lieutenant I had met at Uskub was now,
at thirty-eight, the director of the tactics of an army corps which was
solving the problem of reducing the most redoubtable of field works.

Whenever I think of the Staff College I am reminded that at the close of
the American Civil War the commanders of all the armies and most of the
corps were graduates of West Point, which serves to prove that a man of
ability with a good military education has the start of one who has not,
though no laws govern geniuses; and if we should ever have to fight
another great war I look for our generals to have studied at Leavenworth
and when the war ends for the leaders to be men whom the public did not
know when it began.

"We shall have another show to-morrow and I think that will be a good
one, too," said Howell.

All attacks are "shows;" big shows over two or three miles or more of
front, little shows over a thousand yards or so, while five hundred
yards is merely "cleaning up a trench." It may seem a flippant way of
speaking, but it is simply the application of jargon to the everyday
work of an organization. An attack that fails is a "washout," for not
all attacks succeed. If they did, progress would be a matter of
marching.

"Zero is at four; come at two," Howell said when I was going.

At two the next afternoon I found him occupied less with final details
than with the routine business of one who is clearing his desk
preparatory to a week-end holiday. Against the wall of what had been
once a bedroom in the house of the leading citizen of the town, which
was his office, he had an improvised bookkeeper's desk and on it were
the mapped plans of the afternoon's operation, which he had worked over
with the diligence and professional earnestness of an architect over his
blue prints. He had been over the ground and studied it with the care of
a landscape gardener who is going to make improvements.

"A smoke barrage screen along there," he explained, indicating the line
of a German trench, "but a real attack along here"--which sounded
familiar from staff officers in chateaux.

Every detail of the German positions was accurately outlined, yard by
yard, their machine guns definitely located.

"We're uncertain about that one," he remarked, laying his pencil on the
map symbol for an M.G.

Trench mortars had another symbol, deep dugouts another. It was the
business of somebody to get all this information without being
communicative about his methods. Referring to a section of a hundred
yards or more he remarked that an eager company commander had thought
that he could take a bit of German trench there and had taken it, which
meant that the gunners had to be informed so as to rearrange the barrage
or curtain of fire with the resulting necessity of fresh observations
and fresh registry of practice shots. I judged that Howell did not want
the men to be too eager; he wanted them just eager enough.

This game being played along the whole front has, of course, been
likened to chess, with guns and men as pieces. I had in mind the dummy
actors and dummy scenery with which stage managers try out their acts,
only in this instance there was never any rehearsal on the actual stage
with the actual scenery unless a first attack had failed, as the Germans
will not permit such liberties except under machine gun fire. A call or
two came over the telephone about some minor details, the principal ones
being already settled.

"It's time to go," he said finally.

The corps commander was downstairs in the dining-room comfortably
smoking his pipe after tea. There would be nothing for him to do until
news of the attack had been received. "I hope you will see a good show,"
he remarked, by way of _au revoir_.

How earnestly he hoped it there is no use of mentioning here. It is
taken for granted. Carefully thought out plans backed by hundreds of
guns and the lives of men at stake--and against the Thiepval
fortifications!

"Yes, we'll make it nicely," concluded Howell, as we went down the
steps. A man used to motoring ten miles to catch the nine-thirty to town
could not have been more certain of the disposal of his time than this
soldier on the way to an attack. His car which was waiting had a right
of way up to front such as is enjoyed only by the manager of the works
on his own premises. Of course he paid no attention to the sign, "This
road is shelled; closed to vehicles," at the beginning of a stretch of
road which looked unused and desolate.

"A car in front of me here the other day received a direct hit from a
'krump,' and car and passengers practically disappeared before my eyes,"
he remarked, without further dwelling on the incident; for the Germans
were, in turn, irritated with the insistence of these stubborn British
that they could take Thiepval.

Three prisoners in the barbed-wire inclosure that we passed looked
lonely. They must have been picked up in a little bombing affair in a
sap.

"I think that they will have plenty of companions this evening," said
Howell. "How they will enjoy their dinner!" He smiled in recollection
as did I of that familiar sight of prisoners eating. Nothing excites
hunger like a battle or gives such zest to appetite as knowledge that
you are out of danger. I know that it is true and so does everybody at
the front.

As his car knew no regulations except his wishes he might take it as far
as it could go without trying to cross trenches. I wonder how long it
would have taken me if I had had a map and asked no questions to find my
way to the gallery seat which Howell had chosen for watching the show.
After we had passed guns with only one out of ten firing leisurely but
all with their covers off, the gunners near their pieces and ample
ammunition at hand, we cut straight up the slope, Howell glancing at his
wrist watch and asking if he were walking too fast for me. We dropped
into a communication trench at a point which experience had proven was
the right place to begin to take cover.

"This is a good place," he said at length, and we rubbed our helmets
with some of the chalk lumps of the parapet, which left the black spot
of our field glasses the only bit of us not in harmony with our
background.

It was a perfect afternoon in late summer, without wind or excessive
heat, the blue sky unflecked; such an afternoon as you would choose for
lolling in a hammock and reading a book. The foreground was a slope
downward to a little valley where the usual limbless tree-trunks were
standing in a grove that had been thoroughly shelled. No one was in
sight there, and an occasional German five-point-nine shell burst on the
mixture of splinters and earth.

On the other side of the valley was a cut in the earth, a ditch, the
British first-line trench, which was unoccupied, so far as I could see.
Beyond lay the old No Man's Land where grass and weeds had grown wild
for two seasons, hiding the numerous shell-craters and the remains of
the dead from the British charge of July 1st which had been repulsed. On
the other side of this was two hundred yards of desolate stretch up to
the wavy, chalky excavation from the deep cutting of the German
first-line trench, as distinct as a white line on dark-brown paper.
There was no sign of life here, either, or to the rear where ran the
network of other excavations as the result of the almost two years of
German digging, the whole thrown in relief on the slope up to the bare
trunks of two or three trees thrust upward from the smudge of the ruins
of Thiepval.

Just a knoll in rolling farm country, that was all; but it concealed
burrows upon burrows of burrowers more cunning than any rodents--men.
Since July 1st the Germans had not been idle. They had had time to
profit from the lesson of the attack with additions and improvements.
They had deepened dugouts and joined them by galleries; they had Box and
Cox hiding-places; nests defensible from all sides which became known as
Mystery Works and Wonder Works. The message of that gashed and spaded
hillside was one of mortal defiance.

Occasionally a British high explosive broke in the German trench and all
up and down the line as far as we could see this desultory shell fire
was proceeding, giving no sign of where the next attack was coming,
which was part of the plan.

"It's ten to four!" said Howell. "We were here in ample time. I hope we
get them at relief," which was when a battalion that had been on duty
was relieved by a battalion that had been in rest.

He laid his map on the parapet and the location and plan of the attack
became clear as a part of the extensive operations in the
Thiepval-Mouquet Farm sector. The British were turning the flank of
these Thiepval positions as they swung in from the joint of the break of
July 1st up to the Pozieres Ridge. A squeeze here and a squeeze there;
an attack on that side and then on this; one bite after another.

"I hope you will like our patent barrage," said the artillery general,
as he stopped for a moment on the way to a near-by observation post. "We
are thinking rather well of it ourselves of late." He did not even have
to touch a pushbutton to turn on the current. He had set four as zero.

I am not going to speak of suspense before the attack as being in the
very air and so forth. I felt it personally, but the Germans did not
feel it or, at least, the British did not want them to feel it. There
was no more sign of an earthly storm brewing as one looked at the field
than of a thunderstorm as one looked at the sky. Perfect soporific
tranquillity possessed the surroundings except for shell-bursts, and
their meagerness intensified the aspect, strangely enough, on that
battlefield where I had never seen a quieter afternoon since the Somme
offensive had begun. One could ask nothing better than that the
tranquillity should put the Germans to sleep. To the staff expert,
however, the dead world lived without the sight of men. Every square rod
of ground had some message.

Of course, I knew what was coming at four o'clock, but I was amazed at
its power and accuracy when it did come--this improved method of
artillery preparation, this patent curtain of fire. An outburst of
screaming shells overhead that became a continuous, roaring sweep like
that of a number of endless railroad trains in the air signified that
the guns which had been idle were all speaking. Every one by scattered
practice shots had registered on the German first-line trench at the
point where its shell-bursts would form its link in the chain of
bursts. Over the wavy line of chalk for the front of the attack broke
the flashes of cracking shrapnel jackets, whose bullets were whipping up
spurts of chalk like spurts of dust on a road from a hailstorm.

As the gun-blasts began I saw some figures rise up back of the German
trench. I judged that they were the relief coming up or a working party
that had been under cover. These Germans had to make a quick decision:
Would they try a leap for the dugouts or a leap to the rear? They
decided on flight. A hundred-yard sprint and they would be out of that
murderous swath laid so accurately on a narrow belt. They ran as men
will only run from death. No goose-stepping or "after you, sir" limited
their eagerness. I had to smile at their precipitancy and as some
dropped it was hard to realize that they had fallen from death or
wounds. They seemed only manikins in a pantomime.

Then a lone figure stepped up out of a communication trench just back of
the German first line. This tall officer, who could see nothing between
walls of earth where he was, stood up in full view looking around as if
taking stock of the situation, deciding, perhaps, whether that smoke
barrage to his right now rolling out of the British trench was on the
real line of attack or was only for deception; observing and concluding
what his men, I judge, were never to know, for, as a man will when
struck a hard blow behind the knees, he collapsed suddenly and the earth
swallowed him up before the bursts of shrapnel smoke had become so thick
over the trench that it formed a curtain.

There must have been a shell a minute to the yard. Shrapnel bullets were
hissing into the mouths of dugouts; death was hugging every crevice,
saying to the Germans:

"Keep down! Keep out of the rain! If you try to get out with a machine
gun you will be killed! Our infantry is coming!"




XXIV

WATCHING A CHARGE

   The British trench comes to life--The line goes forward--A modern
   charge no chance for heroics--Machine-like forward movement--The most
   wicked sound in a battle--The first machine gun--A beautiful
   barrage--The dreaded "shorts"--The barrage lifts to the second
   line--The leap into the trenches--Figures in green with hands
   up--Captured from dugouts--A man who made his choice and paid the
   price--German answering fire--Second part of the program--Again the
   protecting barrage--Success--Waves of men advancing behind waves of
   shell fire--Prisoners in good fettle--Brigadier-General Philip
   Howell.


Now the British trench came to life. What seemed like a row of
khaki-colored washbasins bottom side up and fast to a taut string rose
out of the cut in the earth on the other side of the valley, and after
them came the shoulders and bodies of British soldiers who began
climbing over the parapet just as a man would come up the cellar stairs.
This was the charge.

Five minutes the barrage or curtain of fire was to last and five minutes
was the allotted time for these English soldiers to go from theirs to
the German trench which they were to take. So many paces to the minute
was the calculation of their rate of progress across that dreadful No
Man's Land, where machine guns and German curtains of fire had wrought
death in the preceding charge of July 1st.

Every detail of the men's equipment was visible as their full-length
figures appeared on the background of the gray-green slope. They were
entirely exposed to fire from the German trench. Any tyro with a rifle
on the German parapet could have brought down a man with every shot. Yet
none fell; all were going forward.

I would watch the line over a hundred yards of breadth immediately in
front of me, determined not to have my attention diverted to other parts
of the attack and to make the most of this unique opportunity of
observation in the concrete.

The average layman conceives of a charge as a rush. So it is on the
drill-ground, but not where its movement is timed to arrival on the
second before a hissing storm of death, and the attackers must not be
winded when there is hot work awaiting them in close encounters around
traverses and at the mouths of dugouts. No one was sprinting ahead of
his companions; no one crying, "Come on, boys!" no one swinging his
steel helmet aloft, for he needed it for protection from any sudden
burst of shrapnel. All were advancing at a rapid pace, keeping line and
intervals except where they had to pass around shell-craters.

If this charge had none of the display of other days it had all the more
thrill because of its workmanlike and regulated progress. No
get-drunk-six-days-of-the-week-and-fight-like-h--l-on-Sunday business of
the swashbuckling age before Thiepval. Every man must do his part as
coolly as if he were walking a tight rope with no net to catch him, with
death to be reckoned with in the course of a systematic evolution.

"Very good! A trifle eager there! Excellent!" Howell sweeping the field
with his glasses was speaking in the expert appreciation of a football
coach watching his team at practice. "No machine guns yet," he said for
the second time, showing the apprehension that was in his mind.

I, too, had been listening for the staccato of the machine gun, which is
the most penetrating, mechanical and wicked, to my mind, of all the
instruments of the terrible battle orchestra, as sinister as the
clicking of a switch which you know will derail a passenger train. The
men were halfway to the German trench, now. Two and a half minutes of
the allotted five had passed. In my narrow sector of vision not one man
had yet fallen. They might have been in a manoeuver and their goal a
deserted ditch. Looking right and left my eye ran along the line of
sturdy, moving backs which seemed less concerned than the spectator. Not
only because you were on their side but as the reward of their
steadiness, you wanted them to conquer that stretch of first-line
fortifications. Any second you expected to see the first shell-burst of
the answering German barrage break in the midst of them.

Then came the first sharp, metallic note which there is no mistaking,
audible in the midst of shell-screams and gun-crashes, off to the right,
chilling your heart, quickening your observation with awful curiosity
and drawing your attention away from the men in front as you looked for
signs of a machine gun's gathering of a human harvest. Rat-tat-tat-tat
in quick succession, then a pause before another series instead of
continuous and slower cracks, and you knew that it was not a German but
a British machine gun farther away than you had thought.

More than ever you rejoiced in every one of the bursts of stored
lightning thick as fireflies in the blanket of smoke over the German
trench, for every one meant a shower of bullets to keep down enemy
machine guns. The French say "_Belle!_" when they see such a barrage,
and beautiful is the word for it to those men who were going across the
field toward this shell-made nimbus looking too soft in the bright
sunlight to have darts of death. All the shell-bursts seemed to be in a
breadth of twenty or thirty yards. How could guns firing at a range of
from two to five thousand yards attain such accuracy!

The men were three-quarters of the distance, now. As they drew nearer to
the barrage another apprehension numbed your thought. You feared to see
a "short"--one of the shells from their own guns which did not carry far
enough bursting among the men--and this, as one English soldier who had
been knocked over by a short said, with dry humor, was "very
discouraging, sir, though I suppose it is well meant." A terrible thing,
that, to the public, killing your own men with your own shells. It is
better to lose a few of them in this way than many from German machine
guns by lifting the barrage too soon, but fear of public indignation had
its influence in the early days of British gunnery. The better the
gunnery the closer the infantry can go and the greater its confidence. A
shell that bursts fifteen or twenty yards short means only the slightest
fault in length of fuse, error of elevation, or fault in registry, back
where the muzzles are pouring out their projectiles from the other side
of the slope. And there were no shorts that day. Every shell that I saw
burst was "on." It was perfect gunnery.

Now it seemed that the men were going straight into the blanket over the
trenches still cut with flashes. Some forward ones who had become eager
were at the edge of the area of dust-spatters from shrapnel bullets in
the white chalk. Didn't they know that another twenty yards meant death?
Was their methodical phlegm such that they acted entirely by rule? No,
they knew their part. They stopped and stood waiting. Others were on the
second of the five minutes' allowance as suddenly all the flashes ceased
and nothing remained over the trench but the mantle of smoke. The
barrage had been lifted from the first to the second-line German trench
as you lift the spray of a hose from one flower bed to another.

This was the moment of action for the men of the charge, not one of whom
had yet fired a shot. Each man was distinctly outlined against the white
background as, bayonets glistening and hands drawn back with bombs ready
to throw, they sprang forward to be at the mouths of the dugouts before
the Germans came out. Some leaped directly into the trench, others ran
along the parapet a few steps looking for a vantage point or throwing a
bomb as they went before they descended. It was a quick, urgent,
hit-and-run sort of business and in an instant all were out of sight and
the fighting was man to man, with the guns of both sides keeping their
hands off this conflict under ground. The entranced gaze for a moment
leaving that line of chalk saw a second British wave advancing in the
same way as the first from the British first-line trench.

"All in along the whole line. Bombing their way forward there!" said
Howell, with matter-of-fact understanding of the progress of events.

I blinked tired eyes and once more pressed them to the twelve diameters
of magnification, every diameter having full play in the clear light. I
saw nothing but little bursts of smoke rising out of the black streak in
the chalk which was the trench itself, each one from an egg of high
explosive thrown at close quarters but not numerous enough to leave any
doubt of the result and very evidently against a few recalcitrants who
still held out.

Next, a British soldier appeared on the parapet and his attitude was
that of one of the military police directing traffic at a busy
crossroads close to the battle front. His part in the carefully worked
out system was shown when a figure in green came out of the trench with
hands held up in the approved signal of surrender the world over. The
figure was the first of a file with hands up--and very much in earnest
in this attitude, too, which is the one that the British and the French
consider most becoming in a German--who were started on toward the
first-line British trench. All along the front small bands of prisoners
were appearing in the same way. There would have been something
ridiculous about it, if it had not been so real.

For the most part, the prisoners had been breached from dugouts which
had no exit through galleries after the Germans had been held fast by
the barrage. It was either a case of coming out at once or being bombed
to death in their holes; so they came out.

"A live prisoner would be of more use to his fatherland one day than a
dead one, even though he had no more chance to fight again than a rabbit
held up by the ears," as one of the German prisoners said.

"More use to yourself, too," remarked his captor.

"That had occurred to me, also," admitted the German.

During the filing out of the different bags of prisoners two incidents
passed before my eye with a realism that would have been worth a small
fortune to a motion picture man if equally dramatic ones had not been
posed. A German sprang out of the trench, evidently either of a mind to
resist or else in a panic, and dropped behind one of the piles of chalk
thrown up in the process of excavation. A British soldier went after him
and he held up his hands and was dispatched to join one of the groups.
Another who sought cover in the same way was of different temperament,
or perhaps resistance was inspired by the fact that he had a bomb. He
threw it at a British soldier who seemed to dodge it and drop on all
fours, the bomb bursting behind him. Bombs then came from all directions
at the German. There was no time to parley; he had made his choice and
must pay the price. He rolled over after the smoke had risen from the
explosions and then remained a still green blot against the chalk. A
British soldier bent over the figure in a hasty examination and then
sprang into the trench, where evidently he was needed.

"The Germans are very slow with their shell fire," said Howell in the
course of his ejaculations, as he watched the operations.

Answering barrages, including a visitation to our own position which was
completely exposed, were in order. Howell himself had been knocked over
by a shell here during the last attack. One explanation given later by a
German officer for the tardiness of the German guns was that the staff
had thought the British too stupid to attack from that direction, which
pleased Howell as showing the advantage of racial reputation as an aid
to strategy.

However, the German artillery was not altogether unresponsive. It was
putting some "krumps" into the neighborhood of the British first line
and one of the bands of prisoners ran into the burst of a
five-point-nine. Ran is the word, for they were going as fast as they
could to get beyond their own curtain of fire, which experience told
them would soon be due. I saw this lot submerged in the spout of smoke
and dust but did not see how many if any were hit, as the sound of a
machine gun drew my attention across the dead grass of the old No Man's
Land to the German--I should say the former German--first-line trench
where an Englishman had his machine gun on the _parados_ and was
sweeping the field across to the German second-line trench. Perhaps some
of the Germans who had run away from the barrage at the start had been
hiding in shell-craters or had shown signs of moving or there were
targets elsewhere.

So far so good, as Howell remarked. That supposedly impregnable German
fortification that had repulsed the first British attempt had been taken
as easily as if it were a boy's snow fort, thanks to the patent curtain
of fire and the skill that had been developed by battle lessons. It was
retribution for the men who had fallen in vain on July 1st. Howell was
not thinking of that, but of the second objective in the afternoon's
plan. By this time not more than a quarter of an hour had elapsed since
the first charge had "gone over the lid." Out of the cut in the welt of
chalk the line of helmets rose again and England started across the
field toward the German second-line trench, which was really a part of
the main first-line fortification on the slope, in the same manner as
toward the first.

What about their protecting barrage? My eyes had been so intently
occupied that my ears had been uncommunicative and in a start of glad
surprise I realized that the same infernal sweep of shells was going
overhead and farther up on the Ridge fireflies were flashing out of the
mantle of smoke that blanketed the second line. Now the background
better absorbed the khaki tint and the figures of the men became more
and more hazy until they disappeared altogether as the flashes in front
of them ceased. Howell had to translate from the signals results which I
could not visually verify. One by one items of news appeared in rocket
flashes through the gathering haze which began to obscure the slope
itself.

"I think we have everything that we expected to take this afternoon,"
said Howell, at length. "The Germans are very slow to respond. I think
we rather took them by surprise."

They had not even begun shelling their old first line, which they ought
to have known was now in British possession and which they must have had
registered, as a matter of course; or possibly their own intelligence
was poor and they had no real information of what had been proceeding on
the slope under the clouds of smoke, or their wires had been cut and
their messengers killed by shell fire. This was certain, that the
British in the first-line German trench had a choice lot of dugouts in
good condition for shelter, as the patent barrage does not smash in the
enemy's homes, only closes the doors with curtains of death.

"I hope you're improving your dugouts," British soldiers would call out
across No Man's Land, "as that is all the better for us when we take
them!"

We stayed on till Howell's expert eye had had its fill of details, with
no burst of shells to interfere with our comfort; though by the rules we
ought to have had a good "strafing," which was another reminder of my
debt to the German for his consideration to the American correspondent
at the British front.

"What do you think of our patent barrage, now?" said the artillery
general returning from his post of observation.

"Wonderful!" was all that one could say.

"A good show!" said Howell.

The rejoicing of both was better expressed in their eyes than in words.
Good news, too, for the corps commander smoking his pipe and waiting,
and for every battalion engaged--oh, particularly for the battalions!

"Congratulations!" The exclamation was passed back and forth as we met
other officers on our way to brigade headquarters in a dugout on the
hillside, where Howell's felicitations to the happy brigadier on the way
that his men had gone in were followed by suggestions and a discussion
about future plans, which I left to them while I had a look through the
brigadier's telescope at Thiepval Ridge under the patterns of shell fire
of average days, which proved that the Germans were making no attempt at
a counter-attack to recover lost ground. I imagined that the German
staff was dumfounded to hear that their redoubtable old first line could
possibly have been taken with so little fireworks.

It was when I came to the guns on our return that I felt an awe which I
wanted to translate into appreciation. They were firing slowly now or
not firing at all, and the idle gunners were lounging about. They had
not seen their own curtain of fire or the infantry charge; they had been
as detached from the action as the crew of a battleship turret. It was
their accuracy and their cooerdination with the infantry and the
infantry's cooerdination with the barrage that had expressed better than
volumes of reports the possibilities of the offensive with waves of men
advancing behind waves of shell fire, which was applied in the taking of
Douaumont later and must be the solution of the problem of a decision
on the Western front.

Above the communication trenches the steel helmets of the British and
the gray fatigue caps of German prisoners were bobbing toward the rear
and at the casualty clearing station the doctor said, "Very light!" in
answer to the question about losses. The prisoners were in unusually
good fettle even for men safe out of shell fire; many had no chalk on
their clothes to indicate a struggle. They had been sitting in their
dugouts and walked out when an Englishman appeared at the door. Yes,
they said that they had been caught just before relief, and the relief
had been carried out in an unexpected fashion. If they must be taken
they, too, liked the patent barrage.

"I'll let you know when there's to be another show," said Howell, as we
parted at corps headquarters; but none could ever surpass this one in
its success or its opportunity of intimate observation.

This was the last time I saw him. A few days later, on one of his tours
to study the ground for an attack, he was killed by a shell. Army custom
permits the mention of his name because he is dead. He was a steadfast
friend, an able soldier, an upright, kindly, high-minded gentleman; and
when I was asked, not by the lady who had never kept up her interest so
long in anything as in this war, but by another, if living at the front
is a big strain, the answer is in the word that comes that a man whom
you have just seen in the fulness of life and strength is gone.




XXV

CANADA IS STUBBORN

   What is Canada fighting for?--The Kaiser has brought Canadians
   together--The land of immense distances--Canada's unfaltering
   spirit--Canada our nearest neighbor geographically and
   sentimentally--Ypres salient mud--Canadians invented the trench
   raid--A wrestling fight in the mud--Germans "try it on" the
   Canadians--"The limit" in artillery fire--Maple Leaf spirit--Baseball
   talk on the firing line--A good sprinkling of Americans.


One day the Canadians were to lift their feet out of the mire of the
Ypres salient and take the high, dry road to the Somme front, and anyone
with a whit of chivalry in his soul would have rejoiced to know that
they were to have their part in the big movement of Sept. 15th. But let
us consider other things and other fighting before we come to the taking
of Courcelette.

When I was home in the winter of 1915-16, for the first time the border
between the United States and Canada drew a line in sharp contrasts. The
newspapers in Canada had their casualty lists, parents were giving their
sons and wives their husbands to go three thousand miles to endure
hardship and risk death for a cause which to them had no qualifications
of a philosophic internationalism. Everything was distinct. Sacrifice
and fortitude, life and death, and the simple meaning words were masters
of the vocabulary.

Some people might ask why Canada should be pouring out her blood in
Europe; what had Flanders to do with her? England was fighting to save
her island, France for the sanctity of her soil, but what was Canada
fighting for? As I understood it, she was fighting for Canada. A blow
had been struck against her, though it was struck across the Atlantic,
and across the Atlantic she was going to strike back.

She had had no great formative war. Pardeburg was a kind of expedition
of brave men, like the taking of San Juan Hill. It did not sink deep
into the consciousness of the average Canadian, who knew only that some
neighbor of his had been in South Africa. Our own formative war was the
Revolution, not the Civil War where brother fought brother. The
Revolution made a mold which, perhaps, instead of being impressed upon
succeeding generations of immigrants may have only given a veneer to
them. A war may be necessary to make them molten for another shaping.

No country wanted war less than Canada, but when war came its flame made
Canada molten with Canadian patriotism. As George III. brought the
Carolinas and Massachusetts together, so the Kaiser has brought the
Canadian provinces together. The men from that cultivated, rolling
country of Southern Ontario, from New Brunswick and the plains and the
coast and a quota from the neat farms of Quebec have met face to face,
not on railroad trains, not through representatives in Parliament or in
convention, but in billets and trenches. Whatever Canada is, she is not
small. She is particularly the land of immense distances; her breadth is
greater than that of the United States. All of the great territorial
expanse of Canada in its manhood, in the thoughts of those at home, was
centered in a few square miles of Flanders.

I was in Canada when only the first division had had its trial and
recruiting was at full blast; and again when three hundred and fifty
thousand had joined the colors and Canada, now feeling the full measure
of loss of life, seemed unfaltering, which was the more remarkable in a
new country where livelihood is easy to gain and Opportunity knocks at
the door of youth if he has only the energy to take her by the hand and
go her way. I may add that not all the youth about Toronto or any other
town who gave as their reason for not enlisting that they were American
citizens actually were. They were not "too _proud_ to fight," whatever
other reason they had, for they had no pride; and if honest Quakers they
would not have given a lying excuse.

Out in France I heard talk about this Canadian brigade being better than
that one, and that an Eastern Canada man wanted no leading from a
Western Canada man, and that not all who were winning military crosses
were hardy frontiersmen but some were lawyers and clerks in Montreal or
Toronto--or should I put Toronto first, or perhaps Ottawa or
Winnipeg--and more talk expressive of the rivalry which generals say is
good for spirit of corps. Moose Jaw Street was across from Halifax
Avenue and Vancouver Road from Hamilton Place in the same community.

As I was not connected with any part of Canada, the Canadians, with
their Maple Leaf emblem, were all Canadians to me; men across the border
which we pass in coming and going without change of language or
steam-heated cars or iced-water tanks. Some Canadians think that the
United States with its more than a hundred millions may feel patronizing
toward their eight millions, when after Courcelette if a Canadian had
patronized the United States I should not have felt offended. I have
even heard some fools say that the two countries might yet go to war,
which shows how absurd some men have to be in order to attract
attention. All of this way of thinking on both sides should be placed on
a raft in the middle of Lake Erie and supplied with bombs to fight it
out among themselves under a curtain of fire; and their relatives ought
to feel a deep relief after the excursion steamers that came from
Toronto, Cleveland and Buffalo to see the show had returned home.

To listen to certain narrators you might think that it was the Allies
who always got the worst of it in the Ypres salient, but the German did
not like the salient any better than they. I never met anybody who did
like it. German prisoners said that German soldiers regarded it as a
sentence of death to be sent to the salient. There are many kinds of mud
and then there is Ypres salient mud, which is all kinds together with a
Belgian admixture. I sometimes thought that the hellish outbreaks by
both sides in this region were due to the reason which might have made
Job run amuck if all the temper he had stored up should have broken out
in a storm.

This is certain, that the Canadians took their share in the buffets in
the mud, not through any staff calculation but partly through German
favoritism and the workings of German psychology. Consider that the
first volunteer troops to be put in the battle line in France weeks
before any of Kitchener's Army was the first Canadian division, in
answer to its own request for action, which is sufficient soldierly
tribute of a commander to Canadian valor! That proud first division,
after it had been well mud-soaked and had its hand in, was caught in
the gas attack. It refused to yield when it was only human to yield, and
stood resolute in the fumes between the Germans and success and even
counter-attacked. Moreover, it was Canadians who introduced the trench
raid.

If the Canadians did not particularly love the Germans, do you see any
reason why the Germans should love the Canadians? It was unpleasant to
suffer repulse by troops from an unmilitary, new country. Besides,
German psychology reasoned that if Canadians at the front were made to
suffer heavy losses the men at home would be discouraged from enlisting.
Why not? What had Canada to gain by coming to fight in France? It does
not appear an illogical hypothesis until you know the Canadians.

However, it must not be understood that other battalions, brigades and
divisions, English and Scotch, did not suffer as heavily as the
Canadians. They did; and do not forget that in the area which has seen
the hardest, bloodiest, meanest, nastiest, ghastliest fighting in the
history of the world the Germans, too, have had their full share of
losses. The truth is that if any normal man was stuck in the mud of the
Ypres salient and another wanted his place he would say, "Take it! I'm
only trying to get out! We've got equally bad morasses in the Upper
Yukon;" and retire to a hill and set up a machine gun.

When a Canadian officer was asked if he had organized some trenches that
his battalion had taken his reply, "How can you organize pea soup?"
filled a long-felt want in expression to characterize the nature of
trench-making in that kind of terrain. Yet in that sea of slimy and
infected mush men have fought for the possession of cubic feet of the
mixture as if it had the qualities of Balm of Gilead--which was also
logical. What appears most illogical to the outsider is sometimes most
logical in war. It was a fight for mastery, and mastery is the first
step in a war of frontal positions.

Many lessons the Canadians had to learn about organization and staff
work, about details of discipline which make for homogeneity of action,
and the divisions that came to join the first one learned their lessons
in the Ypres salient school, which gave hard but lasting tuition. I was
away when at St. Eloi they were put to such tests as only the salient
can provide. The time was winter, when chill water filled the
shell-craters and the soil oozed out of sandbags and the mist was a
cold, wet poultice. Men bred to a dry climate had to fight in a climate
better suited to the Englishman or the German than to the Canadian.
There could be no dugouts. Lift a spade of earth below the earth level
and it became a puddle. It was a wrestling fight in the mud, this,
holding onto shell-craters and the soft remains of trenches. The Germans
had heard that the Canadians were highstrung, nervous, quick for the
offensive, but badly organized and poor at sticking. The Canadians
proved that they could be stubborn and that their soldiers, even if they
had not had the directing system of an army staff that had prepared for
forty years, with two years of experience could act on their own in
resisting as well as in attacking. "Our men! our men!" the officers
would say. That was it: Canada's men, learning tactics in face of German
tactics and holding their own!

When all was peaceable up and down the line, with the Grand Offensive a
month away, the Germans once more "tried it on" the Canadians in the
Hooge and Mount Sorrell sector, where the positions were all in favor of
the Germans with room to plant two guns to one around the bulging
British line. For many days they had been quietly registering as they
massed their artillery for their last serious effort during the season
of 1916 in the north.

Anything done to the Canadians always came close home to me; and news of
this attack and of its ferocity to anyone knowing the positions was
bound to carry apprehension, lasting only until we learned that the
Canadians were already counter-attacking, which set your pulse tingling
and little joy-bells ringing in your head. It meant, too, that the
Germans could not have developed any offensive that would be serious to
the situation as a whole at that moment, in the midst of preparations
for the Somme. Nothing could be seen of the fight, even had one known
that it was coming, in that flat region where everyone has to follow a
communication trench with only the sky directly overhead visible.

There was an epic quality in the story of what happened as you heard it
from the survivors. It was an average quiet morning in the first-line
trenches when the German hurricane broke from all sides; but first-line
trenches is not the right phrase, for all the protection that could be
made was layers of sandbags laboriously filled and piled to a thickness
sufficient to stop a bullet at short range.

What luxury in security were the dugouts of the Somme hills compared to
the protection that could be provided here! When the first series of
bursts announced the storm you could not descend a flight of steps to a
cavern whose roof was impenetrable even by five-hundred-pound shells.
Little houses of sandbags with corrugated tin roofs, in some instances
level with the earth, which any direct hit could "do in" were the best
that generous army resources could permit. High explosive shells must
turn such breastworks into rags and heaps of earth. There was nothing to
shoot at if a man tried to stick to the parapet, for fresh troops fully
equipped for their task back in the German trenches waited on demolition
of the Canadian breastworks before advancing under their own barrage.
Shrapnel sent down its showers, while the trench walls were opened in
great gaps and tossed heavenward. Officers clambered about in the midst
of the spouts of dust and smoke over the piles and around the craters,
trying to keep in touch with their men, when it was a case of every man
taking what cover he could.

"The limit!" as the men said. "The absolute limit in an artillery
concentration!"

But they did not go--not until they had orders. This was their kind of
discipline under fire; they "stayed on the job." One group charged out
beyond the swath of fire to meet the Germans in the open and there
fought to the death in expression of characteristic initiative. When
word was passed to retire, some grudgingly held on to fight the
outnumbering Germans in the midst of the debris and escaped only by
passing through the German barrage placed between the first and second
line to cover the German advance on the second. The supports themselves
under the carefully arranged pattern of shell fire held as the
rallying-points of the survivors, who found the communication trenches
so badly broken that it was as well to keep in the open. Little knots of
men with their defenses crushed held from the instinctive sense of
individual stubbornness.

To tell the whole story of that day as of many other days where a few
battalions were engaged, giving its fair due to each group in the
struggle, is not for a correspondent who had to cover the length of the
battle line and sees the whole as an example of Maple Leaf spirit. The
rest is for battalion historians, who will find themselves puzzled about
an action where there was little range of vision and this obscured by
shell-smoke and the preoccupation of each man trying to keep cover and
do his own part to the death.

In the farmhouses afterward, as groups of officers tried to assemble
their experiences, I had the feeling of being in touch with the proof of
all that I had seen in Canada months previously. Losses had been heavy
for the battalions engaged though not for the Canadian corps as a whole,
no heavier than British battalions or the Germans had suffered in the
salient. Canada happened to get the blow this time.

The men, after a night's sleep and writing home that they were safe and
how comrades had died, might wander about the roads or make holiday as
they chose. They were not casual about the fight, but outspoken and
frank, Canadian fashion. They realized what they had been through and
spoke of their luck in having survived. From the fields came the cry of,
"Leave that to me!" as a fly rose from the bat, or, "Out on first!" as
men took a rest from shell-curves and high explosives with baseball
curves and hot liners between the bases, which was very homelike there
in Flanders. Which of the players was American one could not tell by
voice or looks, for the climate along the border makes a type of
complexion and even of features with the second generation which is
readily distinguished from the English type.

"What part of Canada do you come from?" asked an officer of a private.

"Out west, sir!"

"What part of the west?"

"'Way out west, sir!"

"An officer is asking you. Be definite."

"Well, the State of Washington, sir."

There was a good sprinkling of Americans in the battle, including
officers; but on the baseball field and the battlefield they were a part
of the whole, performing their task in a way that left no doubt of
their quality. Whether the spirit of adventure or the principle at stake
had brought her battalions to Flanders, Canada had proved that she could
be stubborn. She was to have her chance to prove that she could be
quick.




XXVI

THE TANKS ARRIVE

   The New Army Irish--Irish wit--And Irish courage--Pompous Prussian
   Guard officer--The British Guards and their characteristics--Who
   invented the tank?--The great secret--Combination of an armadillo, a
   caterpillar, a diplodocus, a motor car and a traveling
   circus--Something really new on the front--Gas attacks--A tank in the
   road--A moving "strong point"--Making an army laugh--Suspense for the
   inmates of the untried tanks.


The situation on the Ridge was where we left it in a previous chapter
with all except a few parts of it held, enough for a jumping-off place
at all points for the sweep down into the valley toward Bapaume. In the
grim preliminary business of piecemeal gains which should make possible
an operation over a six-mile front on Sept. 15th, which was the first
general attack since July 14th, the part that the Irish battalions
played deserves notice, where possibly the action of the tried and
sturdy English regiments on their flanks need not be mentioned, as being
characteristic of the work they had been doing for months.

They were the New Army Irish, all volunteers, men who had enlisted to
fight against Germany when their countrymen were largely disaffected,
which requires more initiative than to join the colors when it is the
universal passion of the community. Many stories were told of this Irish
division. If there are ten Irishmen among a hundred soldiers the stories
have a way of being about the ten Irishmen.

I like that one of the Connaught man who, on his first day in the
trenches, was set to digging out the dirt that had been filled into a
trench by a shell-burst. Along came another shell before he was half
through his task; the burst of a second knocked him over and doubled the
quantity of earth before him. When he picked himself up he went to the
captain and threw down his spade, saying:

"Captain, I can't finish that job without help. They're gaining on me!"

Some people thought that the Sinn Fein movement which had lately broken
out in the Dublin riots would make the new Irish battalions lukewarm in
any action. They would go in but without putting spirit into their
attack. Other skeptics questioned if the Irish temperament which was
well suited to dashing charges would adapt itself to the matter-of-fact
necessities of the Somme fighting. Their commander, however, had no
doubts; and the army had none when the test was made.

Through Guillemont, that wicked resort of machine guns, which had been
as severely hammered by shell fire after it had repulsed British attacks
as any village on the Somme, the Irish swept in good order, cleaning up
dugouts and taking prisoners on the way with all the skill of veterans
and a full relish of the exploit, and then forward, as a well-linked
part of a successful battle line, to the sunken road which was the
second objective.

"I thought we were to take a village, Captain," said one of the men,
after they were established in the sunken road. "What are we stopping
here for?"

"We have taken it. You passed through it--that grimy patch
yonder"--which was Guillemont's streets and houses mixed in ruins five
hundred yards to the rear.

"You're sure, Captain?"

"Quite!"

"Well, then, I'd not like to be the drunken man that tried to find his
keyhole in that town!"

It was a pity, perhaps, that the Irish who assisted in the taking of
Ginchy, which completed the needful mastery of the Ridge for British
purposes, could not have taken part in the drive that was to follow. We
had looked forward to this drive as the reward of a down hill run after
the patient labor of wrenching our way up hill. Even the Germans, who
had suffered appalling losses in trying to hold the Ridge, must have
been relieved that they no longer had to fight against the inevitable.

Again the clans were gathering and again there ran through the army the
anticipation which came from the preparation for a great blow. The
Canadians were appearing in billets back of the front. If in no other
way, I should have known of their presence by their habit of moving
about roads and fields getting acquainted with their surroundings and
finding out if apples were ripe. For other portions of the country it
was a little unfair that these generous and well-paid spenders should
take the place of the opulent Australians in villages where small boys
already had hordes of pennies and shopkeepers were hastening to
replenish their stocks to be equal to their opportunities.

At last the Guards, too, were to have their turn, but not to go in
against the Prussian Guard, which those with a sense of histrionic
fitness desired. When a Prussian Guard officer had been taken at
Contalmaison he had said, "The Prussian Guard feels that it is
surrendering to a foe worthy of its steel when it yields to superior
numbers of the English Guard!" or words to that effect according to
reports, only to receive the answer that his captors were English
factory hands and the like of the New Army, whose officers excused
themselves, in the circumstances, for their identity as politely as
they could.

Grenadiers, Coldstreams, Scottish, or Irish, the Guards were the Guards,
England's crack regiments, the officers of each wearing their buttons in
a distinctive way and the tall privates saluting with the distinctive
Guards' salute. In the Guards the old spirit of gaiety in face of danger
survived. Their officers out in shell-craters under curtains of fire
joked one another with an aristocratic, genial sangfroid, the slender
man who had a nine-inch crater boasting of his luck over the thickset
man who tried to accommodate himself to a five-inch, while a colonel
blew his hunting-horn in the charge, which the Guards made in a manner
worthy of tradition.

Though the English would have been glad to go against the Prussian Guard
with bayonet or bomb or a free-for-all, army commanders in these days
are not signaling to the enemy, "Let us have a go between your Guards
and our Guards!" but are putting crack regiments and line regiments in a
battle line to a common task, where the only criterion is success.

The presence of the Guards, however, yielded interest to another new
arrival on the Somme front. When the plan for a style of armored motor
car which would cross shell-craters and trenches was laid before an
eminent general at the War Office, what he wrote in dismissing it from
further consideration might have been more blasphemous if he could have
spared the time to be anything but satirically brief. Such conservatives
probably have prevented many improvements from materializing, and
probably they have also saved the world from many futile creations which
would only have wasted time and material.

Happily both for geniuses and fools, who all, in the long run, let us
hope, receive their just deserts, there is no downing an idea in a free
country where continued knocking at doors and waiting in hallways
eventually secure it a trial. Then, if it succeeds, the fellow who
thought that the conception was original with him finds his claims
disputed from all points of the compass. If it fails, the poor thing
goes to a fatherless grave.

I should like to say that I was the originator of the tank--one of the
originators. In generous mood, I am willing to share honors with rivals
too numerous to mention. Haven't I also looked across No Man's Land
toward the enemy's parapet? Whoever has must have conjectured about a
machine that would take frontal positions with less loss of life than is
usual and would solve the problem of breaking the solid line of the
Western front. The possibility has haunted every general, every
soldier.

Some sort of armadillo or caterpillar which would resist bullet fire was
the most obvious suggestion, but when practical construction was
considered, the dreamer was brought down from the empyrean, where the
aeroplane is at home, to the forge and the lathe, where grimy machinists
are the pilots of a matter-of-fact world. Application was the thing. I
found myself so poor at it that I did not even pass on my plan to the
staff, which had already considered a few thousand plans. Ericsson
conceiving a gun in a revolving turret was not so great a man as
Ericsson making the monitor a practicable engine of war.

To Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton, of the Engineers, was given the task of
transforming blue-print plans into reality. There was no certainty that
he would succeed, but the War Office, when it had need for every foundry
and every skilled finger in the land, was enterprising enough to give
him a chance. He and thousands of workmen spent months at this most
secret business. If one German spy had access to one workman, then the
Germans might know what was coming. Nobody since Ericsson had a busier
time than Swinton without telling anybody what he was doing. The
whisperers knew that some diabolical surprise was under way and they
would whisper about it. No censor regulations can reach them. Sometimes
the tribe was given false information in great confidence in order to
keep it too occupied to pass on the true.

The new monster was called a tank because it was not like a tank; yet it
seemed to me as much like a tank as like anything else. As a tank is a
receptacle for a liquid, it was a name that ought to mask a new type of
armored motor car as successfully as any name could. Flower pot would
have been too wide of the mark. A tank might carry a new kind of gas or
a burning liquid to cook or frizzle the adversary.

Considering the size of the beast, concealment seemed about as difficult
as for a suburban cottager to keep the fact that he had an elephant on
the premises from his next-door neighbor; but the British Army has
become so used to slipping ships across the channel in face of submarine
danger that nobody is surprised at anything that appears at the front
unheralded.

One day the curtain rose, and the finished product of all the
experiments and testing appeared at the British front. Hundreds of
thousands of soldiers were now in the secret. "Have you seen the tanks?"
was the question up and down the line. All editors were inventing their
own type of tank. Though I have patted one on the shoulder in a familiar
way, as I might stroke the family cat, it neither kicked nor bit me.
Though I have been inside of one, I am not supposed to know at this
writing anything about its construction. Unquestionably the tank
resembles an armadillo, a caterpillar, a diplodocus, a motor car, and a
traveling circus. It has more feet than a caterpillar, and they have
steel toenails which take it over the ground; its hide is more resistant
than an armadillo's, and its beauty of form would make the diplodocus
jealous. No pianist was ever more temperamental; no tortoise ever more
phlegmatic.

In summer heat, when dust clouds hung thick on the roads behind the
shell clouds of the fields, when the ceaseless battle had been going on
for two months and a half, the soldiers had their interest stimulated by
a mechanical novelty just before a general attack. Two years of war had
cumulatively desensitized them to thrills. New batteries moving into
position were only so many more guns. Fresh battalions marching to the
front were only more infantry, all of the same pattern, equipped in the
same way, moving with the same fixed step. Machine gun rattles had
become as commonplace as the sound of creaking caisson wheels. Gas
shells, lachrymatory shells and _Flammenwerfer_ were as old-fashioned as
high explosives and shrapnel. Bombing encounters in saps had no
variation. The ruins of the village taken to-day could not be told from
the one taken yesterday except by its location on the map. Even the
aeroplanes had not lately developed any sensational departures from
habit. One paid little more attention to them than a gondolier pays to
the pigeons of St. Mark's. Curtains of fire all looked alike. There was
no new way of being killed--nothing to break the ghastly monotony of
charges and counter-charges.

All the brains of Europe had been busy for two years inventing new forms
of destruction, yet no genius had found any sinuous creature that would
creep into dugouts with a sting for which there was no antidote.
Everybody was engaged in killing, yet nobody was able to "kill to his
satisfaction," as the Kentucky colonel said. The reliable methods were
the same as of old and as I have mentioned elsewhere: projectiles
propelled by powder, whether from long-necked naval guns at twenty
thousand yards, or short-necked howitzers at five thousand yards, or
rifles and machine guns at twenty-five hundred yards, or trench mortars
coughing balls of explosives for one thousand yards.

True, the gas attack at Ypres had been an innovation. It was not a
discovery; merely an application of ghastliness which had been
considered too horrible for use. As a surprise it had been
successful--once. The defense answered with gas masks, which made it
still more important that soldiers should not be absent-minded and leave
any of their kit out of reach. The same amount of energy put into
projectiles would have caused more casualties. Meanwhile, no staff of
any army, making its elaborate plans in the use of proved weapons, could
be certain that the enemy had not under way, in this age of invention
which has given us the wireless, some new weapon which would be
irresistible.

Was the tank this revolutionary wonder? Its sponsors had no such hope.
England went on building guns and pouring out shells, cartridges and
bombs. At best, the tanks were another application of an old,
established form of killing in vogue with both Daniel Boone and
Napoleon's army--bullets.

The first time that I saw a tank, the way that the monster was blocking
a road gorged with transport had something of the ludicrousness of, say,
a pliocene monster weighing fifty tons which had nonchalantly lain down
at Piccadilly Circus when the traffic was densest. Only the motor-truck
drivers and battalions which were halted some distance away minded the
delay. Those near by were sufficiently entertained by the spectacle
which stopped them. They gathered around the tank and gaped and grinned.

The tank's driver was a brown-skinned, dark-haired Englishman, with a
face of oriental stolidity. Questions were shot at him, but he would not
even say whether his beast would stand without hitching or not; whether
it lived on hay, talcum powder, or the stuff that bombs are made of; or
what was the nature of its inwards, or which was the head and which the
tail, or if when it seemed to be backing it was really going forward.

By the confession of some white lettering on its body, it was officially
one of His Majesty's land ships. It no more occurred to anyone to
suggest that it move on and clear the road than to argue with a bulldog
which confronts you on a path. I imagined that the feelings of the young
officer who was its skipper must have been much the same as those of a
man acting as his own chauffeur and having a breakdown on a holiday in a
section of town where the population was as dense as it was curious in
the early days of motoring. For months he had been living a cloistered
life to keep his friends from knowing what he was doing, as he worked to
master the eccentricities of his untried steed, his life and the lives
of his crew depending upon this mastery. Now he had stepped from behind
the curtain of military secrecy into the full blaze of staring,
inquiring publicity.

The tank's inclination was entirely reptilian. Its body hugged the earth
in order to expose as little surface as possible to the enemy's fire; it
was mottled like a toad in patches of coloring to add to its low
visibility, and there was no more hop in it than in the Gila monster.

The reason of its being was obvious. Its hide being proof against the
bullets of machine guns and rifles, it was a moving "strong point" which
could go against the enemy's fixed strong points, where machine guns
were emplaced to mow down infantry charges, with its own machine guns.
Only now it gave no sign of moving. As a mechanical product it was no
more remarkable than a steam shovel. The wonder was in the part that it
was about to play. A steam shovel is a labor-saving, and this a
soldier-saving, device.

For the moment it seemed a leviathan dead weight in the path of traffic.
If it could not move of itself, the only way for traffic to pass was to
build a road around it. Then there was a rumbling noise within its body
which sounded like some unnatural gasoline engine, and it hitched itself
around with the ponderosity of a canal boat being warped into a dock and
proceeded on its journey to take its appointed place in the battle line.

Did the Germans know that the tanks were building? I think that they had
some inkling a few weeks before the tanks' appearance that something of
the sort was under construction. There was a report, too, of a German
tank which was not ready in time to meet the British. Some German
prisoners said that their first intimation of this new affliction was
when the tanks appeared out of the morning mist, bearing down on the
trenches; others said that German sausage observation balloons had seen
something resembling giant turtles moving across the fields up to the
British lines and had given warning to the infantry to be on the
lookout.

Thus, something new had come into the war, deepening the thrill of
curiosity and intensifying the suspense before an attack. The world, its
appetite for novelty fed by the press, wanted to know all about the
tanks; but instead of the expected mechanical details, censorship would
permit only vague references to the tanks' habits and psychology, and
the tanks were really strong on psychology--subjectively and
objectively. It was the objective result in psychology that counted: the
effect on the fighting men. Human imagination immediately characterized
them as living things; monstrous comrades of infantry in attack.

Blessed is the man, machine, or incident that will make any army laugh
after over two months of battle. Individuals were always laughing over
incidents; but here hundreds of thousands of men were to see a new style
of animal perform elephantine tricks. The price of admission to the
theater was the risk of a charge in their company, and the prospect gave
increased zest to battalions taking their place for next day's action.
What would happen to the tanks? What would they do to the Germans?

The staff, which had carefully calculated their uses and limitations,
had no thought that the tanks would go to Berlin. They were simply a new
auxiliary. Probably the average soldier was skeptical of their
efficiency; but his skepticism did not interfere with his curiosity. He
wanted to see the beast in action.

Christopher Columbus crossing uncharted seas did not undertake a more
daring journey than the skippers of the tanks. The cavalryman who
charges the enemy's guns in an impulse knows only a few minutes of
suspense. A torpedo destroyer bent on coming within torpedo range in
face of blasts from a cruiser's guns, the aviator closing in on an
enemy's plane, have the delirium of purpose excited by speed. But the
tanks are not rapid. They are ponderous and relatively slow. Columbus
had already been to sea in ships. The aviator and the commander of a
destroyer know their steeds and have precedent to go by, while the
skippers of the tanks had none. They went forth with a new kind of ship
on a new kind of sea, whose waves were shell-craters, whose tempests
sudden concentrations of shell fire.

The Germans might have full knowledge of the ships' character and await
their appearance with forms of destruction adapted to the purpose. All
was speculation and uncertainty. Officers and crew were sealed up in a
steel box, the sport of destiny. For months they had been preparing for
this day, the crowning experiment and test, and all seemed of a type
carefully chosen for their part, soldiers who had turned land sailors,
cool and phlegmatic like the monsters which they directed. Each one
having given himself up to fate, the rest was easy in these days of
war's superexaltation, which makes men appear perfectly normal when
death hovers near. Not one would have changed places with any
infantryman. Already they had _esprit de corps_. They belonged to an
exclusive set of warriors.

Lumberingly dipping in and out of shell-craters, which sometimes half
concealed the tanks like ships in a choppy sea, rumbling and wrenching,
they appeared out of the morning mist in face of the Germans who put up
their heads and began working their machine guns after the usual
artillery curtain of fire had lifted.




XXVII

THE TANKS IN ACTION

   How the tanks attacked--A tank walking up the main Street of a
   village--Effect on the Germans--Prussian colonel surrenders to a
   tank--Tanks against trees--The tank in High Wood--The famous Creme de
   Menthe--Demolishing a sugar factory--Germans take the tanks
   seriously--Differences of opinion regarding tanks--Wandering
   tanks--German attack on a stranded tank--Prehistoric turtles--Saving
   twenty-five thousand casualties.


With the reverse slope of the Ridge to conceal their approach to the
battle line, the tanks squatting among the men at regular intervals over
a six-mile front awaiting the cue of zero for the attack at dawn and the
mist still holding to cover both tanks and men, the great Somme stage
was set in a manner worthy of the debut of the new monsters.

A tactical system of cooerdinated action had been worked out for the
infantry and the untried auxiliary, which only experienced soldiers
could have applied with success. According to the nature of the
positions in front, the tanks were set definite objectives or left to
find their own objectives. They might move on located machine gun
positions or answer a hurry call for help from the infantry. Ahead of
them was a belt of open field between them and the villages whose
capture was to be the consummation of the day's work. While observers
were straining their eyes to follow the progress of the tanks and seeing
but little, corps headquarters eagerly awaited news of the most
picturesque experiment of the war, which might prove ridiculous, or be a
wonderful success, or simply come up to expectations.

No more thrilling message was ever brought by an aeroplane than that
which said that a tank was "walking" up the main street of Flers
surrounded by cheering British soldiers, who were in possession of the
village. "Walking" was the word officially given; and very much walking,
indeed, the tank must have seemed to the aviator in his swift flight. An
eagle looked down on a tortoise which had a serpent's sting. This tank,
having attended to its work on the way, passed on through Flers bearing
a sign: "Extra Special! Great Hun Victory!" Beyond Flers it found itself
alongside a battery of German field guns and blazed bullets into the
amazed and helpless gunners.

The enemy may have heard of the tanks, but meeting them was a different
matter. After he had fought shells, bullets, bombs, grenades, mortars,
bayonets and gas, the tank was the straw that broke the camel's back of
many a German. A steel armadillo laying its bulk across a trench and
sweeping it on both sides with machine guns brought the familiar
complaint that this was not fighting according to rules in a war which
ceased to have rules after the bombing of civilian populations, the
sinking of the _Lusitania_, and the gas attack at Ypres. It depends on
whose ox is gored. There is a lot of difference between seeing the enemy
slaughtered by some new device and being slaughtered by one yourself. No
wonder that German prisoners who had escaped alive from a trench filled
with dead, when they saw a tank on the road as they passed to the rear
threw up their hands with a guttural: "Mein Gott! There is another!
There is no fighting that! This is not war; it is butchery!" Yes, it was
butchery--and butchery is war these days. Wasn't it so always? And as a
British officer remarked to the protestants:

"The tank is entirely in keeping with Hague rules, being only armor,
machinery and machine guns."

Germans surrendered to a tank in bodies after they saw the hopelessness
of turning their own machine gun and rifle fire upon that steel hide.
Why not? Nothing takes the fight out of anyone like finding that his
blows go into the air and the other fellow's go home. There seemed a
strange loss of dignity when a Prussian colonel delivered himself to a
tank, which took him on board and eventually handed him over to an
infantry guard; but the skipper of the tank enjoyed it if the colonel
did not.

The surprising thing was how few casualties there were among the crews
of the tanks, who went out prepared to die and found themselves safe in
their armored shells after the day's fight was over, whether their ships
had gone across a line of German trenches, developed engine trouble, or
temporarily foundered in shell-holes. Bullets had merely made
steel-bright flecks on the tanks' paint and shrapnel had equally failed
to penetrate the armor.

Among the imaginary tributes paid to the tank's powers is that it "eats"
trees--that is to say, it can cut its way through a wood--and that it
can knock down a stone wall. As it has no teeth it cannot masticate
timber. All that it accomplishes must be done by ramming or by lifting
up its weight to crush an obstacle. A small tree or a weak wall yields
before its mass.

As foresters, the tanks had a stiff task in High Wood, where the Germans
had held to the upper corner with their nests of machine guns which the
preliminary bombardment of British artillery had not silenced and they
began their murderous song immediately the British charge started. They
commanded the front and the flanks if the men continued to advance and
therefore might make a break in the whole movement, which was precisely
the object of the desperate resistance that had preserved this strong
point at any cost against the rushes of British bombers, trench mortars
and artillery shells for two months.

Soldiers are not expected to undertake the impossible. Nobody who is
sane will leap into a furnace with a cup of water to put out the fire.
Only a battalion commander who is a fool will refuse, in face of
concentrated machine gun fire, to stop the charge.

"Leave it to me!" was the unspoken message communicated to the infantry
by the sight of that careening, dipping, clambering, steel body as it
rumbled toward the miniature fortress. And the infantry, as it saw the
tank's machine guns blazing, left it to the tank, and, working its way
to the right, kept in touch with the general line of attack, confident
that no enemy would be left behind to fire into their backs. Thus, a
handful of men capable, with their bullet sprays, of holding up a
thousand men found the tables turned on them by another handful manning
a tank. They were simply "done in," as the tank officer put it. Safe
behind his armor, he had them no less at his mercy than a submarine has
a merchant ship. Even if unarmed, a tank could take care of an isolated
machine gun position by sitting on it.

One of the most famous tanks was Creme de Menthe. She had a good press
agent and also made good. She seemed to like sugar. At least, her
glorious exploit was in a sugar factory, a huge building of brick with a
tall brick chimney which had been brought down by shell fire. Underneath
the whole were immense dugouts still intact where German machine gunners
lay low, like Br'er Rabbit, as usual, while the shells of the artillery
preparation were falling, and came out to turn on the bullet spray as
the British infantry approached. British do the same against German
attacks; only in the battle of the Somme the British had been always
attacking, always taking machine gun positions.

Creme de Menthe, chosen comrade of the Canadians on their way to the
taking of Courcelette, was also at home among debris. The Canadians saw
that she was as she moved toward it with the glee of a sea lion toward a
school of fish. She did not go dodging warily, peering around corners
with a view to seeing the enemy before she was seen. Whatever else a
tank is, it is not a crafty boy scout. It is brazenly and nonchalantly
public in its methods, like a steam roller coming down the street into a
parade without regard to the rules of the road. Externally it is not
temperamental. It does not bother to follow the driveway or mind the
"Keep Off the Grass" sign when it goes up to the entrance of a dugout.

And Creme de Menthe took the sugar factory and a lot of prisoners. "Why
not?" as one of the Canadians said. "Who wouldn't surrender when a beast
of that kind came up to the door? It was enough to make a man who had
drunk only light Munich beer wonder if he had 'got 'em!'"

Prisoners were a good deal of bother to the tanks. Perhaps future tanks
will be provided with pockets for carrying prisoners. But the future of
tanks is wrapped in mystery at the present.

This is not taking them seriously, you may say. In that case, I am only
reflecting the feelings of the army. Even if the tanks had taken Bapaume
or gone to the Kaiser's headquarters, the army would have laughed at
them. It was the Germans who took the tanks seriously; and the more
seriously the Germans took the tanks the more the British laughed.

"Of all the double-dyed, ridiculous things, was the way that Creme de
Menthe person took the sugar factory!" said a Canadian, who broke into a
roar at the recollection of the monster's antics. "Good old girl, Creme
de Menthe! Ought to retire her for life and let her sit up on her
haunches in a cafe and sip her favorite tipple out of barrel with a
garden hose for a straw--which would be about her size."

However, there was a variation of opinions among soldiers about tanks
drawn from personal experience, when life and death form opinions, of
the way it had acted as an auxiliary to their part of the line. A tank
that conquered machine-gun positions and enfiladed trenches was an
heroic comrade surrounded by a saga of glorious anecdotes. One which
became stalled and failed in its enterprise called for satirical comment
which was applied to all.

We did not personify machine guns, or those monstrous, gloomy, big
howitzers with their gaping maws, or other weapons; but every man in the
army personified the tanks. Two or three tanks, I should have remarked,
did start for Berlin, without waiting for the infantry. The temptation
was strong. All they had to do was to keep on moving. When Germans
scuttling for cover were the only thing that the skippers could see,
they realized that they were in the wrong pew, or, in strictly military
language, that they had got beyond their "tactical objective."

Having left most of their ammunition where they thought that it would do
the most good in the German lines, these wanderers hitched themselves
around and waddled back to their own people. For a tank is an auxiliary,
not an army, or an army staff, or a curtain of fire, and must cooeperate
with the infantry or it may be in the enemy's lines to stay. There was
one tank which found itself out of gasoline and surrounded by Germans.
It could move neither way, but could still work its guns. Marooned on a
hostile shore, it would have to yield when the crew ran out of food.

The Germans charged the beast, and got under its guns, pounded at the
door, tried to bomb and pry it open with bayonets and crawled over the
top looking for dents in the armor with the rage of hornets, but in
vain. They could not harm the crew inside and the crew could not harm
them.

"A noisy lot!" said the tank's skipper.

Tactical objective be--British soldiers went to the rescue of their
tank. Secure inside their shell, the commander and crew awaited the
result of the fight. After the Germans were driven away, someone went
for a can of gasoline, which gave the beast the breath of life to
retreat to its "correct tactical position."

Even if it had not been recovered at the time, the British would have
regained possession with their next advance; for the Germans had no way
of taking a tank to the rear. There are no tractors powerful enough to
draw one across the shell-craters. It can be moved only by its own
power, and with its engine out of order it becomes a fixture on the
landscape. Stranded tanks have an appearance of Brobdingnagian
helplessness. They are fair targets for revenge by a concentration of
German artillery fire; yet when half hidden in a gigantic shell-hole
which they could not navigate they are a small target and, their tint
melting into the earth, are hard to locate.

Seen through the glasses, disregarding ordinary roads and traveled
routes, the tanks' slatey backs seemed like prehistoric turtles whose
natural habitat is shell-mauled earth. They were the last word in the
business of modern war, symbolic of its satire and the old strife
between projectile and armor, offensive and defensive. If two tanks were
to meet in a duel, would they try to ram each other after ineffectually
rapping each other with their machine guns?

"I hope that it knows where it is going!" exclaimed a brigadier-general,
as he watched one approach his dugout across an abandoned trench,
leaning over a little as it dipped into the edge of a shell-crater some
fifteen feet in diameter with its sureness of footing on a rainy day
when a pedestrian slipped at every step.

There was no indication of any guiding human intelligence, let alone
human hand, directing it; and, so far as one could tell, it might have
mistaken the general's underground quarters for a storage station where
it could assuage its thirst for gasoline or a blacksmith's shop where it
could have a bent steel claw straightened. When, finally, it stopped at
his threshold, the general expressed his relief that it had not tried to
come down the steps. A door like that of a battleship turret opened, and
out of the cramped interior where space for crew and machinery is so
nicely calculated came the skipper, who saluted and reported that his
ship awaited orders for the next cruise.

Soon the sight of tanks became part of the routine of existence, and
interest in watching an advance centered on the infantry which they
supported in a charge; for only by its action could you judge whether or
not machine gun fire had developed and, later, whether or not the tanks
were silencing it. The human element was still supreme, its movement and
its losses in life the criterion of success and failure, with an eternal
thrill that no machine can arouse. If the tanks had accomplished nothing
more than they did in the two great September attacks they would have
been well worth while. I think that they saved twenty-five thousand
casualties, which would have been the additional cost of gaining the
ground won by unassisted infantry action. When machines manned by a few
men can take the place of many battalions in this fashion they exemplify
the essential principle of doing the enemy a maximum of damage with a
minimum to your own forces.




XXVIII

CANADA IS QUICK

   Canada's first offensive--The "surprise party"--Over nasty
   ground--Canada's hour--Germans amazed--Business of the Canadians to
   "get there"--Two difficult villages--Canadians make new
   rules--Canada's green soldiers accomplish an unheard of
   feat--Attacking on their nerve--The last burst--Fewer Canadians than
   Germans, but--"Mopping up"--Rounding up the captives--An aristocratic
   German and a democratic Canadian--French-Canadians--Thirteen
   counter-attacks beaten--Quickness and adaptability--Canada's soldiers
   make good.


The tanks having received their theatric due, we come to other results
of Sept. 14th when the resistance of the right was stiff and Canada had
her turn of fortune in sharing in the brilliant success on the left.

It was the Canadians' first offensive. They knew that the eyes of the
army were upon them. Not only for themselves, after parrying blows
throughout their experience at the front, but in the name of other
battalions that had endured the remorseless grind of the Ypres salient
they were to strike the blows of retribution. The answer as to how they
would charge was written in faces clear-cut by the same climate that
gave them their nervous alertness.

On that ugly part of the Ridge where no stable trench could be made
under the vengeful German artillery fire and small numbers were shrewdly
distributed in shell-craters and such small ditches as could be
maintained, they crept out in the darkness a few days before the attack
to "take over" from the Australians and familiarize themselves with this
tempest-torn farming land which still heaved under tornadoes of shells.
The men from the faraway island continent had provided the jumping-off
place and the men from this side of the Pacific and the equator were to
do the jumping, which meant a kind of overseas monopoly of Pozieres
Ridge.

The Germans still hated the idea of yielding all the crest that stared
down on them and hid the slope beyond which had once been theirs. They
would try again to recover some of it, but chose a time for their effort
which was proof enough that they did not know that a general attack was
coming. Just before dawn, with zero at dawn, when the Canadians were
forming on the reverse slope for their charge, the Germans laden with
bombs made theirs and secured a footing in the thin front line among the
shell-craters and, grim shadows in the night lighted by bursts of bombs
and shells, struggled as they have on many similar occasions.

Then came the "surprise party." Not far away the Canadian charge waited
on the tick of the second which was to release the six-mile line of
infantry and the tanks.

"We were certainly keyed up," as one of the men said. "It was up to us
all right, now."

Breasting the tape in their readiness for the word, the dry air of North
America with its champagne exhilaration was in their lungs whipping
their red corpuscles. They had but one thought and that was to "get
there." No smooth drill-ground for that charge, but earth broken with
shell-craters as thick as holes in a pepper-box cover! A man might
stumble into one, but he must get up and go on. One fellow who twisted
his ankle found it swollen out of all shape when the charge was over. If
he had given it such a turn at home he would not have attempted to move
but would have called for a cab or assistance. Under the spell of action
he did not even know that he was hurt.

It was Canada's hour; all the months of drill at home, all the dreams on
board the transport of charges to come, all the dull monotony of
billets, all the slimy vigil of trenches, all the labor of preparation
come to a head for every individual. Such was the impulse of the tidal
wave which broke over the crest upon the astounded Germans who had
gained a footing in the trench, engulfing them in as dramatic an
episode as ever occurred on the Somme front.

"Give yourselves up and be quick about it! We've business elsewhere!"
said the officers.

Yes, they had business with the German first-line trench when the
artillery curtain lifted, where few Germans were found, most of them
having been in the charge. The survivors here put up their hands before
they put up their heads from shelter and soon were on their way back to
the rear in the company of the others.

"I guess we had the first batch of prisoners to reach an inclosure on
the morning of the 14th," said one Canadian. "We had a start with some
coming into our own front line to be captured."

On the left Mouquet Farm, which, with its unsurpassed dugouts and
warrens surrounded by isolated machine gun posts, had repulsed previous
attacks, could not resist the determined onslaught which will share
glory, when history is written, with the storming of Courcelette. Down
hill beside the Bapaume Road swept the right and center, with
shell-craters still thick but growing fewer as the wave came out into
open fields in face of the ruins of the sugar factory, with the tank
Creme de Menthe ready to do her part. She did not take care of all the
machine guns; the infantry attended to at least one, I know. The German
artillery turned on curtains of fire, but in one case the Canadians
were not there when the curtain was laid to bar their path. They had
been too rapid for the Germans. No matter what obstacle the Germans put
in the way the business of the Canadians was to "get there"--and they
"got there." The line marked on their map from the Bapaume Road to the
east of the sugar factory as their objective was theirs. In front of
them was the village of Courcelette and in front of the British line
linked up on their right was Martinpuich.

Spades now! Dig as hard as you have charged in order to hold the freshly
won position, with "there" become "here" and the Ridge at your backs!
The London song of "The Byng Boys are Here," which gave the name of the
Byng Boys to the Canadians after General Byng took command of their
corps, had a most realistic application.

With the news from the right of the six-mile front that of a continuing
fierce struggle, word from the left had the definite note of success.
Was General Byng pleased with his Byng Boys? Was his superior, the army
commander, pleased with the Canadians? They had done the trick and this
is the thing that counts on such occasions; but when you take trenches
and fields, however great the gain of ground, they lack the concrete
symbol of victory which a village possesses.

And ahead were Courcelette and Martinpuich, both only partially
demolished by shell fire and in nowise properly softened according to
the usual requirements for capitulation, with their cellars doubtless
heavily reinforced as dugouts. Officers studying the villages through
their glasses believed that they could be taken. Why not try? To try
required nerve, when it was against all tactical experience to rush on
to a new objective over such a broad front without taking time for
elaborate artillery preparation. General Byng, who believed in his men
and understood their initiative, their "get there" quality, was ready to
advance and so was the corps commander of the British in front of
Martinpuich. Sir Douglas Haig gave consent.

"Up and at them!" then, with fresh battalions hurried up so rapidly that
they had hardly time to deploy, but answering the order for action with
the spirit of men who have been stalled in trenches and liked the new
experience of stretching their legs. With a taste of victory, nothing
could stop these highstrung reserves, except the things that kill and
wound. The first charge had succeeded and the second must succeed.

German guns had done the customary thing by laying barrages back of the
new line across the field and shelling the crest of the Ridge to prevent
supports from coming up. It was quite correct form for the German
commander to consider the ceremony of the day over. The enemy had taken
his objective. Of course, he would not try for another immediately.
Meanwhile, his tenure of new line must be made as costly as possible.
But this time the enemy did not act according to rules. He made some new
ones.

The reserve battalions which were to undertake the storming of the
village had gone over the ground under the barrages and were up to the
first objective, and when through the new line occupied by the men who
made the first charge they could begin their own charge. As barrages are
intermittent, one commander had his men lie down behind one until it had
ceased. Again, after waiting on another for a while he decided that he
might be late in keeping his engagement in Courcelette and gave the
order to go through, which, as one soldier said, "we did in a
hundred-yard dash sprinting a double quick--good reason why!" When the
fresh wave passed the fellows in the new line the winners of the first
objective called, "Go to it!" "You'll do it!" "Hurrah for Canada!" and
added touches of characteristic dry humor which shell fire makes a
little drier, such as a request to engage seats for the theatre at
Courcelette that evening.

Consider that these battalions which were to take Courcelette had to
march about two miles under shell fire, part of the way over ground
that was spongy earth cut by shell-craters, before they could begin
their charge and that they were undertaking an innovation in tactics,
and you have only half an understanding of their task. Their officers
were men out of civil life in every kind of occupation, learning their
war in the Ypres salient stalemate, and now they were to have the
severest possible test in directing their units in an advance.

There had been no time to lay out pattern plans for each company's
course in this second rush according to map details, which is so
important against modern defenses. The officers did not know where
machine guns were hidden; they were uncertain of the strength of the
enemy who had had all day to prepare for the onslaught on his bastions
in the village. It was pitched battle conditions against set defenses.
Under curtains of fire, with the concentration heavy at one point and
weak at another, with machine gun or sniping fire developing in some
areas, with the smoke and the noise, with trenches to cross, the
business of keeping a wave of men in line of attack for a long
distance--difficult enough in a manoeuver--was possible only when the
initiative and an understanding of the necessities of the situation
exist in the soldiers themselves. If one part of the line was not up, if
a section was being buffeted by salvos of shells, the officers had to
meet the emergency; and officers as well as men were falling, companies
being left with a single officer or with only a "non-com" in charge.
Unless a man was down he knew that his business was to "get there" and
his direction was straight ahead in line with the men on his right and
left.

With dead and wounded scattered over the field behind them, all who
could stand on their feet, including officers and men knocked over and
buried by shells and with wounds of arms and heads and even legs which
made them hobble, reached the edge of the village on time and lay down
to await the lifting of the fire of their own guns before the final
rush.

After charging such a distance and paying the toll of casualties exacted
they enjoyed a breathing space, a few minutes in which to steady their
thoughts for the big thing before, "lean for the hunt," they sprang up
to be in for the fray with the burst of the last shells from their guns.
They knew what to do. It had been drilled into them; they had talked it
and dreamed it in billets when routine became humdrum, these men with
practical minds who understood the essentials of their task.

There were fewer Canadians charging through the streets than there were
Germans in the village at that moment. The Canadians did not know it,
but if they had it would have made no difference, such was their spirit.
Secure in their dugouts from bombardment, the first that the Germans, in
their systematized confidence that the enemy would not try for a second
objective that day, knew of the presence of the Canadians was when the
attackers were at the door and a St. Lawrence River incisiveness was
calling on the occupants to come out as they were prisoners--which
proves the advantage of being quick. The second wave was left to "mop
up" while the first wave passed on through the village to nail down the
prize by digging new trenches. Thus, they had their second objective,
though on the left of the line where the action had been against a part
of the old first-line system of trenches progress had been slow and
fighting bitter.

The Canadians who had to "mop up" had the "time of their lives" and some
ticklish moments. What a scene! Germans in clean uniforms coming out of
their dugouts blinking in surprise at their undoing and in disgust,
resentment and suppressed rage! Canadians, dust-covered from
shell-bursts, eyes flashing, laughing, rushing about on the job in the
midst of shouts of congratulation and directions to prisoners among the
ruins, and the German commander so angered by the loss of the village
that he began pouring in shells on Germans and Canadians at the same
time! Two colonels were among the captured, a regimental and a battalion
commander. The senior was a baron--one cannot leave him out of any
narrative--and inclined to bear himself with patrician contempt toward
the Canadian democracy, which is a mistake for barons in his situation
with every Canadian more or less of a king that day. When he tried to
start his men into a revolt his hosts acted promptly, with the result
that the uprising was nipped in the bud and the baron was shot through
the leg, leaving him still "fractious and patronizing." Then the little
colonel of the French-Canadians said, "I think I might as well shoot you
in a more vital part and have done with it!" or something equally to the
point and suddenly the baron became quite democratic himself.

One of the battalions that took Courcelette was French-Canadian. No
other Canadian battalion will deny them the glory that they won that
day, and it must have been irritating to the German baron to surrender
superior numbers to the stocky type that we see in New England factory
towns and on their farms in Quebec, for they now formed the battalion,
the frontiersmen, the _courrier de bois_, having been mostly killed in
the salient. Shall I forget that little private, forty years old if he
were a day, with a hole from shrapnel in his steel helmet and the bit
of purple and white ribbon worn proudly on his breast, who, when I asked
him how he felt after he received the clout from a shell-fragment,
remarked blandly that it had knocked him down and made his head ache!

"You have the military cross!" I said.

"Yais, sir. I'm going to win the Victoria Cross!" he replied, saluting.
Talk about "the spirit that quickeneth!"

Or, shall I forget the French-Canadian colonel telling his story of how
he and the battalion on his left in equal difficulties held the line
beyond Courcelette with his scattered men against thirteen
counter-attacks that night; how he had to go from point to point
establishing his posts in the dark, and his repeated "'I golly!" of
wonder at how he had managed to hold on, with its ring of naive
unrealization of the humor of being knocked over by a shell and finding,
"'I golly!" that he had not been hurt! They had not enlisted freely, the
French-Canadians, but those who had proved that if the war emotion had
taken hold of them as it had of the rest of Canada they would not have
been found wanting.

"'I golly!" they had to fight from the very fact that there were only a
few to strike for old France and for the martial honor of Quebec. And
they held all they took as sturdily as the other Canadian battalion in
front of the village when the Germans awakened to revenge for the loss
of Courcelette.

From start to finish of that great day it had been quickness that
counted; quickness to realize opportunities; alertness of individual
action in "mopping up" after the village was taken; prompt adaptability
to situations which is the gift of the men of a new country; and that
individual confidence of the Canadian once he was not tied to a trench
and might let his initiative have full play, man to man, which is not a
thing of drill or training but of inheritance and environment. On the
right, Martinpuich was taken by the British and also held.

It was in rain and mist after the battle, while the dead still lay on
the field, that I went over the Ridge and along the path of the Canadian
charges, wondering how they had passed through the curtains of fire when
I saw shrapnel cases so thick that you could step from one to another;
wondering how men could survive in the shell-craters and the poor,
tumbled trenches in the soft, shell-mashed earth; wondering at the whole
business of their being here in France, a veteran army two years after
the war had begun. I saw them dripping from the rains, mud-spattered,
but in the joy of having made good when their turn came, and in a way
that was an exemplification of Canadian character in every detail. "Heap
good!" I suppose that big Sioux Indian, looking as natural seated in a
trench in his imperturbability as if he were seated in front of his
tepee, would have put it. He was seeing a strange business, but high
explosives shaking the earth, aeroplanes overhead, machine guns rattling
in the war of the Pale Faces he accepted without emotion.

With the second battle of Ypres, with St. Eloi, Hooge, Mount Sorrell,
and Observatory Ridge, Courcelette had completed the cycle of soldierly
experiences for those who bore the Maple Leaf in France of the
_Fleur-de-lis_. Officers and men of every walk of life called to a new
occupation, a democracy out of the west submitting to discipline had
been inured and trained to a new life of risk and comradeship and
sacrifice for a cause. It will seem strange to be out of khaki and to go
to the office, or the store, or to get up to milk the cows at dawn;
"but," as one man said, "we'll manage to adapt ourselves to it without
spending nights in a mud hole or asking the neighbors to throw any bombs
over the fence in order to make the change gradual."




XXIX

THE HARVEST OF VILLAGES

   High and low visibilities--Low Visibility a pro-German--High
   Visibility and his harvest smile--Thirty villages taken by the
   British--The 25th of September--The Road of the Entente--Twelve miles
   of artillery fire--Two villages taken--Combles--British and French
   meet in a captured village--English stubbornness--Dugouts holding a
   thousand men--Capture of Thiepval.


Always we were talking of the two visibilities, high and low. I thought
of them as brothers with the same meteorological parent, one a good and
the other an evil genius. Every morning we looked out of doors to see
which had the stage. Thus, we might know whether or not the "zero" of an
attack set for to-day would be postponed, as it was usually if the sun
gave no sign of appearing, though not always; sometimes the staff gave
those who tried to guess what was in its mind a surprise.

Low Visibility, a pro-German who was in his element in the Ypres salient
in midwinter, delighted in rain, mist, fog and thick summer
haze--anything that prevented observers from seeing the burst of shells,
transformed shell-craters into miniature lakes and fields into mire to
founder charges, and stalled guns.

High Visibility was as merry as his wicked brother was dour. He sent the
sunlight streaming into your room in the morning, washed the air of
particles enabling observers to see shell-bursts at long range, and
favored successful charges under accurate curtains of fire--the patron
saint of all modern artillery work, who would be most at home in Arizona
where you could carry on an offensive the year around.

During September his was a glad harvest smile which revealed figures on
the chalk welts a mile away as clearly as if within a stone's throw
under the glasses and limned the tree-trunks of ruined villages in sharp
outlines. He was your companion now when you might walk up the Ridge
and, standing among shell-craters still as a frozen sea where but lately
an inferno had raged, look out across the fields toward new lines of
shell fire and newly won villages on lower levels. He helped to make the
month of September when he was most needed the most successful month of
the offensive, with its second great attack on the 25th turning the
table of losses entirely against the Germans and bringing many guests to
the prisoners' inclosures.

These were days that were rich with results, days of harvest, indeed,
when the ceaseless fighting on the Ridge and the iron resolution of a
commander had its reward; when advances gathered in villages till the
British had taken thirty and the French, with fresh efforts after their
own chipping away at strong points, also had jumping-off places for
longer drives as they swung in with their right on the Somme in
combination with British attacks.

The two armies advanced as one on the 25th. The scene recalled the
splendor of the storming of Contalmaison which, if not for its waste and
horror, might lead men to go to war for the glory of the
panorama--glorious to the observer in this instance when he thought only
of the spectacle, in a moment of oblivion to the hard work of
preparation and the savage work of execution. Our route to a point of
observation for the attack which was at midday took us along the Road of
the Entente, as I called it, where French battalions marched with
British battalions, stately British motor trucks mixed with the lighter
French vehicles, and Gaul sat resting on one side of the road and Briton
on the other as German prisoners went by, and there was a mingling of
blue and khaki which are both of low visibility against the landscape
yet as distinct as the characters of the two races, each with its own
way of fighting true to racial bent yet accomplishing its purpose.

Just under the slope where we sat the British guns linked up with the
French. To the northward the British were visible right away past Ginchy
and Guillemont to Flers and the French clear to the Somme. We were
almost midway of a twelve-mile stretch of row upon row of flashes of
many calibers, the French more distinct at the foot of a slope
fearlessly in the open like the British, a long machine-loom of gunnery
with some monsters far back sending up great clouds of black smoke from
Mt. St. Quentin which hid our view of Peronne.

Now it was all together for the guns in the preliminary whirlwind, with
_soixante-quinzes_ ahead sparkling up and down like the flashes of an
automatic electric sign, making a great, thrumming beat of sound in the
valley, and the 120's near by doing their best, too, with their wicked
crashes, while the ridges beyond were a bobbing canopy of looming,
curling smoke. The units of the two armies might have been wired to a
single switchboard with heartbeats under blue and khaki jackets timed
together in the final expression of _entente cordiale_ become _entente
furieuse_.

The sunlight had the golden kindness of September and good Brother High
Visibility seemed to make it a personal matter to-day against the
Kaiser. Distinct were the moving figures of the gunners and bright was
the gleam of the empty shells dropping out of the breach of the
_soixante-quinze_ as the barrel swung back in place and of the loaded
shells going home; distinct were paths and trenches and all the detail
of the tired, worn landscape, with the old trenches where we were
sitting tumbling in and their sides fringed with wild grass and weeds,
which was Nature's own little say in the affair and a warning that in a
few years after the war she and the peasant will have erased war's
landmarks.

The lifting of the barrage as the infantry went in was signaled to the
eye when the canopy of shell-smoke began to grow thin and gossamery for
want of fresh bursts and another was forming beyond, as if the master
hand at such things had lifted a long trail of cloud from one set of
crests to another; only, nature never does things with such mathematical
precision. All in due order to keep its turn in the program the German
artillery began to reply according to its system of distribution, with
guns and ammunition plentiful but inferior in quantity to the French.
They did not like that stretch of five hundred yards behind a slope
where they thought that the most troublesome batteries were, and the
puffs of shrapnel smoke thickened dimming the flashes from the bursting
jackets until a wall of mist hung there. A torrent of five-point-nines
was tearing up fresh craters with high explosives back of other gun
positions, and between the columns of smoke we saw the French gunners
going on unconcerned by this plowing of the landscape which was not
disturbing them.

Far off on the plain where a British ammunition train was visible the
German loosed more anger, whipping the fields into geysers; but the
caissons moved on as if this were a signal of all aboard for the next
station without the Germans being aware that their target was gone. A
British battery advancing at another point evidently was not in view of
the Germans two thousand yards away, though good Brother High Visibility
gave our glasses the outline of the horses at five thousand yards.

Thus, you watched to see what the Germans were shooting at, with
suspense at one point and at another the joy of the observer who sees
the one who is "it" in blind man's buff missing his quarry. Some
shrapnel searching a road in front and a scream overhead indicated a
parcel of high explosives for a village at the rear. In Morval where
houses were still standing, their white walls visible through the
glasses, there was a kind of flash which was not that of a shell but
prolonged, like a windowpane flaming under the sun, which we knew meant
that the village was taken, as was also Gueudecourt we learned
afterward.

Reserves were filing along a road between the tiers of guns, helmets on
the backs of heads French fashion when there is no fire, with the easy
marching stride of the French and figures disappeared and reappeared on
the slope as they advanced. Wounded were coming along the winding gray
streak of highway near where we sat and a convoy of prisoners passed led
by a French guard whose attitude seemed to have an eye-twinkling of "See
who's here and see what I've got!" Not far away was a French private at
a telephone.

"It goes well!" he said. "Rancourt is taken and we are advancing on
Fregicourt. Combles is a ripe plum."

All the while Combles had been an oasis in the shell fire, the one place
that had immunity, although it had almost as much significance in the
imagination of the French people as Thiepval in that of the English.
They looked forward to its storming as a set dramatic event and to its
fall as one of the turning-points in the campaign. Often a position
which was tactically of little importance, to our conception, would
become the center of great expectations to the outside world, while the
conquest of a strong point with its nests of machine guns produced no
responsive thrill.

Combles was a village and a large village, its size perhaps accounting
for the importance associated with it when it had almost none in a
military sense. Yet correspondents knew that readers at the breakfast
table would be hungry for details about Combles, where the taking of the
Schwaben Redoubt or Regina Trench, which were defended savagely, had no
meaning. Its houses were very distinct, some being but little damaged
and some of the shade trees still retaining their branches. This town
nestling in a bowl was not worth the expenditure of much ammunition when
what the Germans wanted to hold and the Anglo-French troops to gain was
the hills around it. Rancourt was the other side of Combles, which
explains the plum simile.

The picturesque thing was that the British troops were working up on one
side of Combles and the French on the other side; and the next morning
after the British had gathered in some escaping Germans who seemed to
have lost their way, the blue and the khaki met in the main street
without indulging in formal ceremonies and exchanged a "Good morning!"
and "_Bon jour!_" and "Here we are! Voyla! Quee pawnsays-vous!" and "Ca
va bien! Oh, yais, I tink so!" and found big piles of shells and other
munitions which the Germans could not take away and cellars with many
wounded who had been brought in from the hills--and that was all there
was to it: a march in and look around, when for glory's sake, at least,
the victors ought to have delivered congratulatory addresses. But tired
soldiers will not do that sort of thing. I shall not say that they are
spoiling pictures for the Salon, for there are incidents enough to keep
painters going for a thousand years; which ought to be one reason for
not having a war for another thousand!

As for Thiepval, the British staff, inconsiderate of the correspondents
this time--they really were not conducting the war for us--did not
inform us of the attack, being busy those days reaping villages and
trenches after they were over the Ridge while High Visibility had Low
Visibility shut up in the guardhouse. Besides, the British were so near
Thiepval as the result of their persistent advances that its taking was
only another step forward, one of savage fighting, however, in the same
kind of operations that I have described in the chapter on "Watching a
Charge." The debris beaten into dust had been so scattered that one
could not tell where the village began or ended, but the smudge was a
symbol to the army no less than to the British public--a symbol of the
boasted impregnability of the first-line German fortifications which had
resisted the attack of July 1st--and its capture a reward of English
stubbornness appealing to the race which is not unconscious of the
characteristic that has carried its tongue and dominion over the world.

Point was given, too, by the enormous dugouts, surpassing previous
exhibits, capable of holding a garrison of a thousand men and a hospital
which, under the bursts of huge shells of the months of British
bombardment, had been safe under ground. The hospital was equipped with
excellent medical apparatus as well as anaesthetics manufactured in
Germany, of which the British were somewhat short. The German battalion
that held the place had been associated with the work of preparing its
defenses and were practically either all taken prisoner or killed, so
far as could be learned. They had sworn that they would never lose
Thiepval; but the deeper the dugouts the farther upstairs men inside
have to climb in order to get to the door before the enemy, who arrives
at the threshold as the whirlwind barrage lifts.

As I have said, Thiepval was not on the very crest of the Ridge and on
the summit the same elaborate works had been built to hold this high
ground. We watched other attacks under curtains of fire as the British
pressed on. Sometimes we could see the Germans moving out in the open
from their dugouts at the base of the hill in St. Pierre Divion and
driven to cover as the British guns sniped at them with shrapnel.
Resistlessly the British infantry under its covering barrages kept on
till the crest and all its dugouts and galleries were gained, thus
breaking back the old first-line fortifications stage by stage and
forcing the German into the open, where he must dig anew on equal terms.

The capture of Thiepval did not mean that its ruins were to have any
rest from shells, for the German guns had their turn. They seemed fond
of sending up spouts from a little pond in the foreground, which had no
effect except to shower passing soldiers with dirty water. However much
the pond was beaten it was still there; and I was struck by the fact
that this was a costly and unsuccessful system of drainage for such an
efficient people as the Germans to apply.




XXX

FIVE GENERALS AND VERDUN

   Sixty miles an hour to meet General Joffre--Joffre somewhat like
   Grant--Two figures which France will remember for all time--Joffre
   and Castelnau--Two very old friends--At Verdun--What Napoleon and
   Wellington might have thought--A staff whose feet and mind never
   dragged--The hero of Douaumont, General Nivelle--Simplicity--Men who
   believe in giving blows--A true soldier--A prized photograph of
   Joffre--The drama of Douaumont--General Mangin, corps commander at
   Verdun--An eye that said "Attack!"--A five-o'clock-in-the-morning
   corps--The old fortress town, Verdun--The effort of
   Colossus--Germany's high water mark--Thrifty fighters, the
   French--Germany good enough to win against Rumania, but not at
   Verdun.


That spirited friend Lieutenant T., at home in an English or a French
mess or walking arm-in-arm with the _poilus_ of his old battalion,
required quick stepping to keep up with him when we were not in his
devil of a motor car that carried me on a flying visit to the French
lines before I started for home and did not fail even when sixty miles
an hour were required to keep the appointment with General Joffre--which
we did, to the minute.

Many people have told of sitting across the table in his private office
from the victor of the Marne; and it was when he was seated and began to
talk that you appreciated the power of the man, with his great head and
its mass of white hair and the calm, largely-molded features, who could
give his orders when the fate of France was at stake and then retire to
rest for the night knowing that his part was done for the day and the
rest was with the army. In common with all men when experience and
responsibility have ripened their talents, though lacking in the gift of
formal speech-making, as Grant was, he could talk well, in clear
sentences, whose mold was set by precise thought, which brought with it
the eloquence that gains its point. It was more than personality, in
this instance, that had appeal. He was the personification of a great
national era.

In view of changes which were to come, another glimpse that I had of him
in the French headquarters town which was not by appointment is
peculiarly memorable. When I was out strolling I saw on the other side
of the street two figures which all France knew and will know for all
time. Whatever vicissitudes of politics, whatever campaigns ensue,
whatever changes come in the world after the war, Joffre's victory at
the Marne and Castelnau's victory in Lorraine, which was its complement
in masterly tactics, make their niches in the national Pantheon secure.

The two old friends, comrades of army life long before fame came to
them one summer month, Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Staff, were
taking their regular afternoon promenade--Joffre in his familiar short,
black coat which made his figure the burlier, his walk affected by the
rheumatism in his legs, though he certainly had no rheumatism in his
head, and Castelnau erect and slight of figure, his slimness heightened
by his long, blue overcoat--chatting as they walked slowly, and behind
them followed a sturdy guard in plain clothes at a distance of a few
paces, carrying two cushions. Joffre stopped and turned with a
"you-don't-say-so" gesture and a toss of his head at something that
Castelnau had told him.

Very likely they were not talking of the war; indeed, most likely it was
about friends in their army world, for both have a good wit, a keen and
amiable understanding of human nature. At all events, they were enjoying
themselves. So they passed on into the woods, followed by the guard who
would place their cushions on their favorite seat, and the two who had
been lieutenants and captains and colonels together would continue their
airing and their chat until they returned to the business of directing
their millions of men.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was raining in this darkened French village near Verdun and a passing
battalion went dripping by, automobiles sent out sprays of muddy water
from their tires, and over in the crowded inclosures the German
prisoners taken at Douaumont stood in the mud waiting to be entrained.
Occasionally a soldier or an officer came out of a doorway that sent
forth a stream of light, and upstairs in the municipal building where we
went to pay our respects to the general commanding the army that had won
the victory which had thrilled France as none had since the Marne, we
found that it was the regular hour for his staff to report. They
reported standing in the midst of tables and maps and standing received
their orders. In future, when I see the big room with its mahogany table
and fat armchairs reserved for directors' meetings I shall recall
equally important conferences in the affairs of a nation that were held
under simpler auspices.

This conference seemed in keeping with the atmosphere of the place:
nobody in any flurry of haste and nobody wasting time. One after another
the officers reported; and whatever their ages, for some would have
seemed young for great responsibilities two years before, they were men
going about their business alert, self-possessed, reflective of the
character of their leader as staffs always are, men whose feet and whose
minds never dragged. When they spoke to anybody politeness was the
lubricant of prompt exchange of thought, a noiseless, eight-cylinder,
hundred-horse-power sort of staff. If the little Corsican could have
looked on, if he could have seen the taking of Douaumont, or if
Wellington could have seen the taking of the Ridge, I think that they
would have been well satisfied--and somewhat jealous to find that
military talent was so widespread.

The man who came out of the staff-room would have won his marshal's
baton in Napoleon's day, I suppose, though he was out of keeping with
those showy times. I did not then know that he was to be
Commander-in-Chief; only that all France thrilled with his name, which
time will forever associate with Douaumont. At once you felt the dynamic
quality under his agreeable manner and knew that General Nivelle did
things swiftly and quietly, without wasteful expenditure of reserve
force, which he could call upon when needed by turning on the current.

There was a stranger come to call; it was a rainy night; we had better
not drive back to the hotel at Bar-le-Duc, he suggested, but find a
billet in town, which was hospitality not to be imposed upon when one
could see how limited quarters were in this small village. Some day I
suppose a plaque will be put up on the door of that small house, with
its narrow hall and plain hat-rack and the sitting-room turned into a
dining-room, saying that General (perhaps it will be Marshal) Nivelle
lived here during the battle of Verdun. It is a fine gift, simplicity.
Some great men, or those who are called great, lack it; but nothing is
so attractive in any man. No sentry at the door, no servant to open it.
You simply went in, hung up your cap and took off your raincoat.

Hundreds of staffs were sitting down to the same kind of dinner with a
choice of red or white wine and the menu was that of an average French
household. I recall this and other staff dinners, in contrast to costly
plate and rich food in a house where a gold Croesus with diamond eyes
and necklace should have been on the mantelpiece as the household god,
with the thought that even war is a good thing if it centers ambition on
objects other than individual gain. Without knowing it, Joffre,
Castelnau, Foch, Petain, Nivelle and others were the richest men in
France.

A colonel when the war began, in the sifting by Father Joffre to find
real leaders by the criterion of success General Nivelle had risen to
command an army. Wherever he was in charge he got the upper hand of the
enemy. All that he and his officers said reflected one spirit--that of
the offensive. They were men who believed in giving blows. A nation
looking for a man who could win victories said, "Here he is!" when its
people read the _communique_ about Douaumont one morning. He had been
going his way, doing the tasks in hand according to his own method, and
at one of the stations fame found him. Soldiers have their philosophy
and these days when it includes fame, probably fame never comes. This
time it came to a soldier without any of the showy qualities that fame
used to prefer, one who, I should say, was quite unaffected by it owing
to a greater interest in his work; a man without powerful influence to
urge his promotion. If you had met him before the war he would have
impressed you with his kindly features, well-shaped head and vitality,
and if you know soldiers you would have known that he was highly trained
in his profession. His staff was a family, but the kind of family where
every member has telepathic connection with its head; I could not
imagine that any officer who had not would be at home in the little
dining-room. Readiness of perception and quickness of action in
intelligent obedience were inherent.

Over in his office in the municipal building where we went after dinner
the general took something wrapped in tissue paper out of a drawer and
from his manner, had he been a collector, I should have known that it
was some rare treasure. When he undid the paper I saw a photograph of
General Joffre autographed with a sentiment for the occasion.

"He gave it to me for Douaumont!" said General Nivelle, a touch of pride
in his voice--the only sign of pride that I noticed.

There spoke the soldier to whom praise from his chief was the best
praise and more valued than any other encomium.

When I spoke of Douaumont he drew out the map and showed me his order of
the day, which had a soldierly brevity that made words keen-edged tools.
The attacking force rushed up overnight and appeared as a regulated
tidal wave of men, their pace timed under cover of curtains of fire
which they hugged close, then over the German trenches and on into the
fort. Six thousand prisoners and forty-five hundred French casualties!
It was this dramatic, this complete and unequivocal success that had
captured the imagination of France, but he was not dramatic in telling
it. He made it a military evolution on a piece of paper; though when he
put his pencil down on Douaumont and held it fast there for a moment,
saying, "And that is all for the present!" the pencil seemed to turn
into steel.

All for the present! And the future? That of the army of France was to
be in his hands. He had the supreme task. He would approach it as he
had approached all other tasks.

       *       *       *       *       *

You had only to look at General Mangin commanding the corps before
Verdun to know that attack was not alone a system but a gospel with him.
Five stripes on his arm for wounds, all won in colonial work,
sun-browned, swart, with a strong, abutting chin which might have been a
fit point for Nivelle's pencil, an eye that said "Attack!" and could
twinkle with the wisdom of many campaigns!

"General Joffre sat in that chair two hours before the advance," he
said, with the same respectful awe that other generals had exhibited
toward the Commander-in-Chief.

The time had come for the old leader, grown weary, to go; for the
younger men of the school which the war has produced, with its curtains
of fire and wave attacks, to take his place. But the younger ones in the
confidence of their system could look on the old leader while he lived
as the great, indomitable figure of the critical stages of the war.

A man of iron, Mangin, with a breadth of chest in keeping with his chin,
who could bear the strain of command which had brought down many
generals from sheer physical incapacity. Month after month this chin had
stood out against German drives, all the while wanting to be in its
natural element of the offensive. His resolute, outright solution of
problems by human ratios would fit him into any age or any climate. He
was at home leading a punitive expedition or in the complicated business
of Verdun. Whether he was using a broadsword or a curtain of fire he
proposed to strike his enemy early and hard and keep on striking. In the
course of talking with him I spoke of the contention that in some cases
in modern war men could be too brave.

"Rarely!" he replied, a single word which had the emphasis of both that
jaw and that shrewd, piercing eye.

"What is the best time to go out to the front?" I asked the general.

"Five o'clock in the morning!"

The officer who escorted me did not think anything of getting up at that
hour. Mangin's is a five-o'clock-in-the-morning corps.

Shall I describe that town on the banks of the Meuse which has been
described many times? Or that citadel built by Vauban, with dynamos and
electric light in its underground chambers and passages, its hospitals,
shops, stores and barrack room, so safe under its walls and roof of
masonry that the Germans presciently did not waste their shells on it
but turned them with particular vengeance on the picturesque old houses
along the river bank, neglecting the barracks purposely in view of their
usefulness to the conquerors when Mecca was theirs. There must be
something sacred to a Frenchman in the citadel which held life secure
and in the ruins which bore their share of the blows upon this old
fortress town in the lap of the hills, looking out toward hills which
had been the real defense.

Interest quickened on the way to the Verdun front as you came to the
slopes covered with torn and fallen trees, where the Germans laid their
far-reaching curtains of fire to catch the French reserves struggling
through mud and shell-craters on those February and March days to the
relief of the front line. Only when you have known the life of an army
in action in winter in such a climate can you appreciate the will that
drove men forward to the attack and the will of the defenders against
outnumbering guns, having to yield, point by point, with shrewd thrift,
small bands of men in exposed places making desperate resistance against
torrents of shells.

Verdun was German valor at its best and German gunnery at its mightiest,
the effort of Colossus shut in a ring of steel to force a decision; and
the high-water mark of German persistence was where you stood on the
edge of the area of mounds that shells had heaped and craters that
shells had scooped by the concentration of fire on Fort Souville. A few
Germans in the charge reached here, but none returned. The survivors
entered Verdun, the French will tell you with a shrug, as prisoners.
Down the bare slope with its dead grass blotched by craters the eye
travels and then up another slope to a crest which you see as a cumulus
of shell-tossed earth under an occasional shell-burst. That is
Douaumont, whose taking cost the Germans such prolonged and bloody
effort and aroused the Kaiser to a florid outburst of laudation of his
Brandenburgers who, by its capture, had, as Germany then thought,
brought France to her death-gasp.

On that hill German prestige and system reached their zenith; and the
answer eight months later was French _elan_ which, in two hours, with
the swiftness and instinctive cohesion of democracy drilled and
embattled and asking no spur from an autocrat, swept the Germans off the
summit. From other charges I could visualize the precise and spirited
movement of those blue figures under waves of shell fire in an attack
which was the triumphant example of the latest style of offensive
against frontal positions. There was no Kaiser to burst into rhetoric to
thank General Nivelle, who had his reward in an autographed photograph
from Father Joffre; and the men of that charge had theirs in the
gratitude of a people.

Fort Vaux, on another crest at the right, was still in German hands, but
that, too, was to be regained with the next rush. Yes, it was good to
be at Verdun after Douaumont had been retaken, standing where you would
have been in range of a German sniper a week before. Turning as on a
pivot, you could identify through the glasses all the positions whose
names are engraved on the French mind. Not high these circling hills,
the keystone of a military arch, but taken together it was clear how, in
this as in other wars, they were nature's bastion at the edge of the
plain that lay a misty line in the distance.

Either in front or to the rear of Souville toward Verdun the surprising
thing was how few soldiers you saw and how little transport within range
of German guns; which impressed you with the elastic system of the
French, who are there and are not there. Let an attack by the Germans
develop and soldiers would spring out of the earth and the valleys echo
with the thunder of guns. A thrifty people, the French.

When studying those hills that had seen the greatest German offensive
after I had seen the offensive on the Somme, I thought of all that the
summer had meant on the Western front, beginning with Douaumont lost and
ending with Douaumont regained and the sweep over the conquered Ridge;
and I thought of another general, Sir Douglas Haig, who had had to train
his legions, begin with bricks and mortar to make a house under shell
fire and, day by day, with his confidence in "the spirit that
quickeneth" as the great asset, had wrought with patient, far-seeing
skill a force in being which had never ceased attacking and drawing in
German divisions to hold the line that those German divisions were meant
to break.

Von Falkenhayn was gone from power; the Crown Prince who thirsted for
war had had his fill and said that war was an "idiocy." It was the
sentiment of the German trenches which put von Falkenhayn out; the
silent ballots of that most sensitive of all public opinion, casting its
votes with the degree of its disposition to stand fire, which no officer
can control by mere orders.

With the Verdun offensive over, the German soldiers struggling on the
Ridge had a revelation which was translated into a feeling that
censorship could not stifle of the failure of the campaign to crush
France. They called for the man who had won victories and the Kaiser
gave them von Hindenburg, whom fortune favored when he sent armies
inspirited by his leadership against amateur soldiers in veteran
confidence, while the weather had stopped the Allied offensive in the
West.

Imagine Lee's men returning from Gettysburg to be confronted by
inexperienced home militia and their cry, "The Yanks have given us a
rough time of it, but you fellows get out of the way!" Such was the
feeling of that German Army as it went southward; not the army that it
was, but quite good enough an army to win against Rumania with the
system that had failed at Verdun.




XXXI

_AU REVOIR_, SOMME!

   Sir Douglas Haig--Atmosphere at headquarters something of Oxford and
   of Scotland--Sir Henry Rawlinson--"Degumming" the inefficient--Back
   on the Ridge again--The last shell-burst--Good-bye to the mess--The
   fellow war-correspondents--_Bon voyage_.


The fifth of the great attacks, which was to break in more of the old
first-line fortifications, taking Beaumont-Hamel and other villages, was
being delayed by Brother Low Visibility, who had been having his innings
in rainy October and early November, when the time came for me to say
good-byes and start homeward.

Sir Douglas Haig had been as some invisible commander who was
omnipresent in his forceful control of vast forces. His disinclination
for reviews or display was in keeping with his nature and his conception
of his task. The army had glimpses of him going and coming in his car
and observers saw him entering or leaving an army or a corps
headquarters, his strong, calm features expressive of confidence and
resolution.

There were many instances of his fine sensitiveness, his quick
decisions, his Scotch phrases which could strip a situation bare of
non-essentials. It was good that a man with his culture and charm could
have the qualities of a great commander. In the chateau which was his
Somme headquarters where final plans were made, the final word given
which put each issue to the test, the atmosphere had something of Oxford
and of Scotland and of the British regular army, and everything seemed
done by a routine that ran so smoothly that the appearance of routine
was concealed.

Here he had said to me early in the offensive that he wanted me to have
freedom of observation and to criticise as I chose, and he trusted me
not to give military information to the enemy. When I went to take my
leave and thank him for his courtesies the army that he had drilled had
received the schooling of battle and tasted victory. How great his task
had been only a soldier could appreciate, and only history can do
justice to the courage that took the Ridge or the part that it had
played in the war.

Upstairs in a small room of another chateau the Commander-in-Chief and
the Commander of the Fourth of the group of armies under Sir
Douglas--who had played polo together in India as subalterns, Sir Henry
Rawlinson being still as much of a Guardsman as Sir Douglas was a
Scot--had held many conferences. Sir Henry could talk sound soldierly
sense about the results gained and look forward, as did the whole army,
to next summer when the maximum of skill and power should be attained.
In common with Nivelle, both were leaders who had earned their way in
battle, which was promoting the efficient and shelving or "degumming,"
in the army phrase, the inefficient. Every week, every day, I might say,
the new army organization had tightened.

With steel helmet on and gas mask over the shoulder for the last time, I
had a final promenade up to the Ridge, past the guns and Mouquet Farm,
picking my way among the shell-craters and other grisly reminders of the
torment that the fighters had endured to a point where I could look out
over the fields toward Bapaume. For eight and ten miles the way had been
blazed free of the enemy by successive attacks. Five hundred yards ahead
"krumps" splashing the soft earth told where the front line was and
around me was the desert which such pounding had created, with no one in
the immediate neighborhood except some artillery officers hugging a
depression and spotting the fall of shells from their guns just short of
Bapaume and calling out the results by telephone, over one of the
strands of the spider's web of intelligence which they had unrolled from
a reel when they came. I joined them for a few minutes in their retreat
below the skyline and listened to their remarks about Brother Low
Visibility, who soon was to have the world for his own in winter mists,
rain and snow, limiting the army's operations by his perversity until
spring came.

And so back, as the diarists say, by the grassless and blasted route
over which I had come. After I was in the car I heard one of the wicked
screams with its unpleasant premonition, which came to an end by
whipping out a ball of angry black smoke short of a near-by howitzer,
which was the last shell-burst that I saw.

Good-bye, too, to my English comrades in a group at the doorway: to
Robinson with his poise, his mellowness, his wisdom, his well-balanced
sentences, who had seen the world around from mining camps of the west
to Serbian refugee camps; to "our Gibbs," ever sweet-tempered, writing
his heart out every night in the human wonder of all he saw in burning
sentences that came crowding to his pencil-point which raced on till he
was exhausted, though he always revived at dinner to undertake any
controversy on behalf of a better future for the whole human race; to
blithesome Thomas who will never grow up, making words dance a tune,
quoting Horace in order to forget the shells, all himself with his coat
off and swinging a peasant's scythe; to Philips the urbane, not saying
much but coming to the essential point, our scout and cartographer, who
knew all the places on the map between the Somme and the Rhine and heard
the call of Pittsburgh; to Russell, that pragmatic, upstanding expert in
squadrons and barrages, who saved all our faces as reporters by knowing
news when he saw it, arbiter of mess conversations, whose pungent wit
had a movable zero--luck to them all! May Robinson have a stately
mansion on the Thames where he can study nature at leisure; Gibbs never
want for something to write about; Thomas have six crops of hay a year
to mow and a garden with a different kind of bird nesting in every tree;
Philips a new pipe every day and a private yacht sailing on an ocean of
maps; Russell a home by the sea where he can watch the ships come
in--when the war is over.

It happened that High Visibility had slightly the upper hand over his
gloomy brother the day they bade me _bon voyage_. My last glimpse of the
cathedral showed it clear against the sky; and ahead many miles of rich,
familiar landscape of Picardy and Artois were to unfold before I took
the cross-channel steamer. I knew that I had felt the epic touch of
great events.


THE END





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